HL Deb 26 March 1974 vol 350 cc531-78

3.41 p.m.

LORD WADE rose to draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the need to change the electoral system of the country so that the number of seats obtained at General Elections and at local government elections reflects more accurately the number of votes cast for each Party respectively; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am conscious of the fact that I am competing with the Budget Statement in another place, but electoral reform is none the less important and I am grateful to those noble Lords who have expressed their intention of taking part in this debate.

It will be observed that the Motion embraces both Parliamentary and local government elections; and the principles involved are in many respects similar. In my view, it is fitting that your Lordships' House should discuss this subject, in the first place because it raises matters of constitutional importance which concern everyone, and secondly because, so far as local government is concerned, I am well aware that a number of Members of your Lordships' House have given valuable service on local authorities as county councillors and borough councillors.

I think I should make my own position clear at the outset; namely, that I favour proportional representation by the single transferable vote in multimember constituencies. For example, the City of Leeds would be one constituency with, say, five or six Members. Incidentally, that was an illustration used many years ago by Mr. Winston Churchill (as he then was) advocating P.R. We have of course a precedent in the Northern Ireland Assembly Act which was fully discussed and approved in this House last year. So far as the method of voting and the voters are con- cerned, it is a simple matter: instead of putting a cross on the voting paper they put "1", "2", "3" and so on, according to their preference.

Turning for a moment to local government, in particular, I think there should be a threefold aim. In the first place, there should be fair representation of the various Parties and peoples in the local government electorate. There should be fair representation on the elected council. I think we all know that under our present system it does not always work out that way—in fact generally it does not. There have been occasions, certainly in urban areas rather more than in rural areas, where there is 100 per cent. control by one Party with no opposition at all, and I do not think anyone can suggest that that is the best form of democratic local government. That then is the first point: that we need to have a fair representation on our local councils.

Secondly, I should like to see more opportunity for people of independent mind. I do not mean Independents: that is not necessarily the same thing, though I mean no disrespect to Independents. I should like to see people with more independent minds, and one tends to get that with the form of voting that I am advocating.

Thirdly, in local government it is undesirable, in my view, that there should be excessive swings one way or the other, clearing out at one sweep a number of worthy councillors and replacing them with others. It is exaggerating the national swing, and I mention the national swing because so often it depends on the popularity or otherwise of the Government of the day, or maybe on the failings of the Opposition. That has its effect on local government. There may be a local authority working quite well and on the whole doing useful work, but all those councillors who happen to belong to the Party that is unpopular nationally all lose their seats because of the national swing, which under the present system is exaggerated. The system I am proposing would not alter that entirely, but there would not be that exaggeration of the national swing affecting local government. If these tests are valid, I suggest that electoral reform on the lines I am proposing is essential.

I turn now to the larger Assemblies. Clearly, P.R. should be introduced for the proposed new Assemblies for Scotland and Wales when they come into being. If one looks at the Kilbrandon Report one finds that there are differences of views on many points, but the members of the Committee were all completely agreed on one thing: that the method of election should be by proportional representation by the single transferable vote, with multi-member wards or constituencies. So we are gradually reaching the position in which the United Kingdom Parliament and England are becoming the odd man out. We have the concept introduced for the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we have it proposed for Scotland and Wales. Only England and the United Kingdom Parliament is left as the odd one out, and I suggest that it is now time we reformed our system.

I am not going to make a forecast as to what will happen politically in the future. It would be most unwise to do so. I will merely say that, in my view, for a good many years ahead we shall find that no one political Party nationally in this country will have overall support over all other Parties. That is part of the facts of life, and again I think it indicates that Parliament should be more representative of the views of the electors. Quite apart from that, the present situation is obviously unjust. That has become so apparent that it scarcely needs stressing. Your Lordships are aware that there were 6 million Liberal votes cast at the last General Election and the Liberals gained 14 seats. If that result is justified, and something that we ought to put up with, it means that, on the same basis, the present Government would have 27 Members in the House of Commons. If my calculations are correct, I think the Conservatives would have 27½ seats, or perhaps 28. If that is absurd, the position is equally absurd for the Liberals, and surely something should be done.

I do not want to detain the House by giving too many statistics, but I noticed that in Yorkshire at this last Election the Labour Party gained 850,383 votes, or 39.2 per cent. of the electorate in Yorkshire, and obtained 28 seats. The Conservatives polled 810,128 votes, 37.3 per cent., and gained 16 seats. So with about the same number of votes they got roughly half as many seats. The Liberals polled 509,786 votes—over half a million —or 23 per cent. of the votes cast, and got one seat. I met a number of people—not Liberals—who said that the whole thing was a scandal and they could not think how it had happened. But my answer to that is that it does happen; it has happened before. I can recall the time a good many years ago, when I was first elected to the House of Commons when, under the strange vagaries of our electoral system, it happened that in England (excluding Scotland and Wales, where we did rather well, so far as the system permitted) over 2 million people voted Liberal, yet only two Liberal M.P.s, of whom I was one, obtained seats. I used to say that I regarded myself as representing over one million electors. That had disadvantages because I used to receive letters from all over the country from people who said that they regarded themselves as being completely disfranchised, I was the only Liberal they knew, and they were going to write to me. But that is from the past.

My Lords, since then our vote—the Liberals' vote—has grown, but not our corresponding strength in Parliament. Of course, if the Liberals had been rather more militant and rather more given to using force, no doubt we should have had proportional representation a long time ago. But I prefer to see constitutional change brought about by reasoned argument and a sense of justice. It is not only a sense of justice that makes this relevant; there are matters of practical importance—for example, the elections in Northern Ireland. As your Lordships will be aware, so far as concerns the elections to Westminster, in Northern Ireland the last General Election took place under the old system, and the failure to reflect more accurately the wishes of the people has had, I think, very unfortunate consequences. As my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley pointed out in this House last Thursday, 41.2 per cent. supported the pro-Assembly Party which got only one seat. So this subject really has taken on a new relevance.

In the old days one used to hear the argument that proportional representation would lead to a multiplicity of Parties; and people used to say, "Look at France." I was told often, "Look at France"; but that is completely irrelevant. In the first place, I have never met anyone who suggested that the prede Gaulle system in France should be applied here. Secondly—and this is a point that is not often brought out—in those old days they could change a Government every week if they liked; there was no risk of a General Election. If I may misquote an old saying, it is surprising how a General Election concentrates the mind. I am not sure we did not have an illustration of this during the debate on the Address, but to deal with that would involve referring to what happens in another place. I think a better illustration, if we are to look at other countries, is the Republic of Ireland.

My Lords, since proportional representation was introduced in 1932 there has been a pretty stable Government in the Republic of Ireland. We saw the Cosgrave Government from 1923 to 1932; we saw the Fianna Fail from 1932 to 1944; there were some periods when there were quite narrow margins between one Party and another, and at present there is a Coalition. But I do not think anyone can deny that during the whole of this period the Republic of Ireland has had, under the system we are advocating for this country, stable Governments. I believe that in Southern Ireland, on the whole, the Government has been more stable and peaceful for the very reason that Parliament has fairly represented the views of the electorate; there has not been the same reason for animosity to arise on the grounds of unfair representation, which raised so much argument in Ulster. As your Lordships will be aware, in Southern Ireland they have had the opportunity of deciding from time to time whether they wanted to go on with proportional representation. They have always come to the conclusion that they wished to continue their present electoral system.

My Lords, I do not suggest that a particular system necessarily produces precisely the same kind of result in every country, because countries vary in custom, in character and in political attitudes. Nevertheless, we have learnt quite a lot about electoral systems over the last quarter or even half a century. We have learnt to see that our "first passed the post" method is becoming outmoded. I do not know how far the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to go in speaking for the Government—maybe he will be able to indicate whether there is to be a Speaker's Conference. If so, I hope it does not mean that the issue will be shelved, but merely that such a body may consider how to implement the changes. For example, there is a case for saying that in one or two exceptionally large constituencies we should retain the single-member representation, although using the single transferable vote. That is a matter for discussion, and does not affect the general principle.

My Lords, I wonder whether, for a short while, I may turn to another reason why I think electoral reform is important at this precise moment. We are told that when the negotiations and renegotiations with the other member countries of the E.E.C. have taken place it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to put the issue to the electorate. How are they going to do it? We are told that it will be either by referendum or at a General Election. Now I am well aware that all three Party Leaders—Mr. Heath, Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Thorpe—have pointed out that a referendum is contrary to the customs of our Constitution. Nevertheless, since it has been mentioned we must give some thought to the question of whether it should be done by a referendum or by a General Election. Personally, I cannot see how wording can be devised for a referendum that would produce a simple answer, "Yes" or "No", on this complex issue as to whether or not we should remain in the E.E.C. Let us take the most favourable circumstances. Suppose that after these renegotiations have taken place the Government say, "We think we have improved on the position; we have done the best we can. We think these changes are quite good, and we recommend to the country that Britain remains in the Common Market and ask you to say, 'Yes' or 'No' by referendum". There will be all kinds of different points of view: it will not be easy for people to say, "Yes" or "No".

There are those who will say: "I am not so much concerned about these renegotiated terms; what I want to know is, what is the attitude of Britain to the whole future of the Common Market? You must ask us that before we say whether we are in favour of remaining in or not." Then there will be others who will say: "We have always been sceptical about being in the Common Market, but we are in. What we are uncertain about is the cost of coming out. What are we going to lose in exports? What are the other expenses involved? That is the question you should be asking me, not whether I approve of these renegotiations." And, thirdly, there will be those who will say, "We do not care tuppence about your negotiations. We have always been against the Common Market and we are still against it. That is the point we want to make." So what I fear is that the form of the question will be such that one can only answer it "Yes" or "No". Some of our most thoughtful voters, whom we ought to encourage, told that they must say "Yes" or "No", and nothing else, will, I think, feel cheated.

It may be that it is possible to have a referendum on the E.E.C. We know, of course, that some countries, like Norway, provide for this in their constitutions, though some, I think, have regrets. However that may be, I cannot see any way of devising wording for pulling out. I think a referendum is quite impracticable. If that be so, the alternative is a General Election. Immediately, owing to the nature of the electoral system, we come up against the dilemma of which some voters have already been well aware at this last Election. Then Conservatives who disliked the Common Market found that they had either to vote for a Conservative who was pro-Market or follow the advice of Mr. Powell and vote Labour. I had people coming to me—goodness knows why they should ask my advice!—asking: "What shall we do? We have no chance of voting for a pro-or anti-Market Conservative." There were Labour voters who were passionately in favour of the Common Market, but their candidate was anti. What were they supposed to do—vote Liberal perhaps? They were in a dilemma because they had not the choice.

Precisely the same situation arises if the issue is put before the electorate under our present system. Therefore, if the Government seriously mean that the electors should have a choice they really must give them some choice; they must have a chance, if they so wish, to vote for candidate A or candidate B of the same Party, without being told that they are splitting the Party vote. It seems to me that if you really wish to offer a choice you must first have a reformed electoral system in which there really is a choice. Proportional representation would, I think, give an opportunity of assessing the views of the electors on our relationship with Europe. If only by examining the first preferences you would see how people were thinking. Therefore, if the issue is to be put to the people, you must be sure that you ascertain their real intentions. So much for that.

In conclusion, basically electoral reform is a matter of justice. It is no good a Government saying that their policy is based on social justice if they intend to retain a system of electoral injustice. Of course, those Parties that may temporarily lose some support in terms of seats will have to be magnanimous; but the fact remains that the Government, and, if they fail, another Government, will have to decide whether they have the courage to be fair. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, it was, I believe, Harold Laski who drew attention to the many options in the field of proportional representation, and, although I am not sure how many he eventually settled for, I think there are a great many. Certainly we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for explaining the main features of one or two of them, and for the very clear case he has put to the House this afternoon. If this country were to relinquish the system of one man one vote, I believe that the electorate would need to be convinced of the fairness of the alternative system.

Three of your Lordships who were in another place in 1931 and are taking part in the debate this afternoon will think that perhaps the use of adjective is a little less than fortunate, if the debates on the Representation of the People Bill in 1931 are any guide. The Labour Government of the day then proposed to introduce the alternative vote, a system which depends upon allocating the second preferences of the losing candidates so that the Member of Parliament shall eventually have an overall majority. Winston Churchill said on the Third Reading of the 1931 Bill: Imagine making the representation of great constituencies dependent on the second hind- most of the hindmost candidates; the hindmost candidate would become a personage of considerable importance and the old phrase, 'Devil take the hindmost' will acquire a new significence. But behind this very real warning, so far as the alternative vote is concerned, lies, I think, a general consideration, that any alternative to our present system of simple majority—or relative majority, as the Kilbrandon Commission called it—really must be seen as reasonably fair and also straightforward. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, has explained the case for proportional representation with great clarity. There is no question that the number of votes cast does not always produce the same proportion of seats won; this is evident from the results of the recent General Election.

Before I knew that my noble friend Lord Brookeborough and the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, were taking part in this debate, I thought it might be of interest if I said just a word or two so that your Lordships could examine one or two features of another method favoured by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, by which the grievance of the Liberal Party could be remedied, namely, the single transferable vote, which is already in use in Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord has said, S.T.V. is cast in multimember constituencies by the simple process of voting one, two, three, four and so on, for as many or as few of the candidates in the constituency as the voter may choose. However, when the moment comes to do a little counting I am reminded of Lord Palmerston, who said that there were only three men who understood the Schleswig-Holstein question: one had gone abroad, another had gone mad, and the third was himself, and he could never actually remember any of the details.

The single transferable vote does have one feature which is absolutely clear cut. As your Lordships will probably know better than I, the returning officer fixes a "quota"; it is based on the total national poll and the total number of candidates, and anyone who gains the quota on the first count is declared elected. It is when the successful candidates have their surplus votes above the quota distributed, when candidates are eliminated and other candidates achieve the quota on the second or subsequent counts, that an element of mystery creeps into this system. Any of your Lordships who may have read The Times of last Wednesday will perhaps have seen a letter from which it appears that in 1945, in the vote for the two University seats conducted under the single transferable vote, the second place was finally secured by the candidate who had been placed fourth on the counting of the first preferences.

The single transferable vote in Northern Ireland—and I stand to be corrected by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough—seems to me to have worked well. The poll was big. The number of spoiled ballot papers was minimal. I myself saw people voting in several polling stations, and perhaps because this system was being used following the same system having been used in the local government elections there, or perhaps because there had been a massive publicity campaign, not one single voter appeared to ask for advice on how to complete the voting form. It would, I know, be rash for a Member of your Lordships' House to predict how people ought to vote. But I think in broad terms it can reasonably be argued that the main Parties achieved representation in the sort of proportions which could have been expected, although it was noticeable that the Alliance Party, the Party occupying the centre in politics in Northern Ireland, did not in fact secure as many seats as some people had forecast.

But the reason for reintroducing proportional representation in Northern Ireland in 1973 was distinct from the reasons for the case for proportional representation which have been so clearly argued by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, with reference to the United Kingdom. The single transferable vote was introduced as an integral part of a series of constitutional proposals to make power sharing possible. In a sense these proposals aimed to achieve a Coalition Government, and in this objective I think that the policy followed during 1972–73 and now in 1974 has met with considerable success. I do not know whether those of your Lordships with very long Parliamentary experience in another place and in this House will agree, but I should have thought that there are moments in the history of the United Kingdom when a Coalition or a National Government is our country's need. But for reasons which my noble friend Lord Windlesham deployed in the debate on the gracious Speech, an element of competition is necessary for the normal working of Parliamentary democracy in this country.

The element of competition, as it has evolved at Westminster, has a characteristic which I think appeals particularly to your Lordships' House—it works. It breeds an Opposition which is constantly preparing itself not only to oppose but also to take Office, so that at a change of Administration there are those who are immediately ready to accept positions so that the Government of the country may be carried on. When the Party verdict is confused and a minority Government formed, the machinery of Government continues to function—after all, this afternoon the Budget Statement is being made—although, of course, a programme has to be trimmed to the prevailing majority opinion of the time if the Government are to continue.

I think that our system works even when a Government secure a very large majority—and I think that all of us listened with great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said about this—for even then it is possible for different views in our system to prevail. After all, the revising function of your Lordships' House can be used on important Bills. I should have thought that the trend of opinion in another place and throughout the country even when there is a large Parliamentary majority can, and often does, make itself felt with effect. I am certainly one of those least qualified to draw on examples, but perhaps the most dramatic example of this was the vote of May 8, 1940, when over 30 of the Government's supporters voted with the Opposition and a further 60 abstained. As the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, and my noble friends Lord Dundee and Lord Boothby will well remember, Neville Chamberlain was left after all with a majority of over 80, yet the blow was mortal and the Prime Minister resigned.

Undeniably proportional representation would also encourage competition, but surely it would be competition of a rather different kind. It could be competition between what Ramsay Macdonald once criticially called, "a mathematical representation of minorities". I think that we delude ourselves if we disregard the motive which is generated by proportional representation for the splintering of existing political Parties. At a General Election no longer would the electorate vote to continue the Government or to turn it out on the great issues of the day. Although I know the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said that we must not look across the Channel, I believe that the fear that proportional representation could engender the sort of interminable minority groupings which almost destroyed the Fourth Republic in France is a real fear, and that it is open to doubt whether there is a system as flexible and effective as election by simple majority.

In the past your Lordships' House has been active in the interest it has shown in this subject. In 1918, the House carried an Amendment in favour of proportional representation against the already expressed wish of another place, which promptly reversed the Amendment on consideration and a clash ensued, until finally the Government accepted a Lords Amendment for a Commission to prepare an experimental scheme for 100 M.P.s to be elected by the single transferable vote—an objective which was never fulfilled. In 1931 the House carried an Amendment, which would have somewhat restricted the Government's proposal for the alternative vote, before the Government fell and the Bill was lost.

Obviously, there are arguments on both sides which touch further and more specifically upon this subject. There are arguments for increasing the number of independent Members, and certainly men of independent mind, in another place. On the other hand, there must be reservations about any system which could reduce the moderating influences within the main Parties by encouraging the constituent elements of the Parties to fragment. How, under S.T.V., by-elections are to be equitably arranged is something I do not know, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, could give us a little guidance on this, for it is an outstanding matter in Northern Ireland. What is the position of a Member of Parliament, who is elected really representing a section of opinion in a constituency, remain unclear to me.

This leads to one final point, which is absolutely fundamental. In arguing this case the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is really doing more than just calling for a change in the casting and counting of votes. Unless agreement could be reached on the use of both the single transferable vote and the alternative vote in the more spread-out and thinly populated constituencies—and the use of both systems would be a very open question—the introduction of the single transferable vote alone would greatly diminish the number of constituencies and, correspondingly, greatly increase them in size.

In Northern Ireland the Government were advised that the number of candidates in each constituency ought to range between four and eight in number for the best effects of proportional representation to take effect. The total number of Members in the former Stormont House of Commons and Senate was 78, and this was the total number which was fixed on for the new Northern Ireland Assembly, which gives the 12 constituencies in Northern Ireland five, six or seven Assembly Members each. But by our standards the Northern Ireland constituencies are large. The average size of constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales taken together is 57,000; in Northern Ireland the average total is 86,000. It is fair to say that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, did not consider in any depth the size of constituencies under S.T.V., which is the system he favoured. Perhaps the Government could assist the House with some estimates of size in this matter, or possibly the noble Lord, Lord Wade, could give the House his views at the conclusion of the debate on this aspect of the subject, but on the present average figures surely we must be talking in terms of, perhaps, 150,000 to 200,000 people voting in a constituency if, let us say, only three or four Members were to be returned in each constituency for a House of Commons of the existing size.

I understand that the larger the constituency the more effectively "proportional" results can be achieved, but to many people the advantage of size would end there. After all, the strain of winning and representing a reasonably closely contested seat of average size is considerable. Large multi-Member constituencies would bring the temptation for Members of Parliament to concentrate on their own interests and their own supporters, and it could be detrimental to the sound principle that a Member represents all his constituents.


My Lords, perhaps I may intervene here since the noble Lord has asked a question. I understand that under S.T.V. the best composition would be five to seven Members. According to the figures I have seen, if you had that sort of membership and sought to maintain the House of Commons at about its existing size you would have constituencies ranging from 200,000 to 450,000.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the information which he has given us and your Lordships will draw your own conclusions from it. I listened with great interest and attention, as I am sure all of your Lordships did, to what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said about local government. I do not attempt to follow him down that avenue of argument, but I thought what he said was compelling and of the greatest interest. If he will forgive my saying so, I am not attempting to consider the effect of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution in connection with to-day's debate. As my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross explained three months ago, the previous Government took the view that wide discussions were necessary on that massive and important Report, and it is possible that the present Government take the same view, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his colleagues supported the principle of the single transferable vote for any regional legislatures which might be set up in the future, and clearly the logistical arguments against the single transferable vote for Westminster, which has just been discussed across the Floor, need not apply in the same way for regional government.

Many of us who listened to the arguments on this subject may be forgiven for finding some difficulty in reaching firm conclusions. Speakers in favour will argue most logically that true democracy favours the principle of proportional representation. They will criticise the apparent inequalities of the simple majority and will show how other methods have been tried in countries abroad with considerable success. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, has deployed these and other formidable arguments to very great effect. But contrary speeches will be made contradicting the assumptions and discounting the assertions of the case; warning against the loss of valuable political safeguards if the simple majority is relinquished and proclaiming, like Gilbert, that every live birth is bound eventually to add either another little Liberal or else a little Conservative to the register—with perhaps some "floating voters" gleaned by the third Party opposite from time to time.

The reasonable conclusion would seem to be that this subject could merit further inquiry. The Speaker's Conference of 1944 overwhelmingly rejected the idea of introducing proportional representation and the alternative vote, and I think I am right in saying that the 1965 Speaker's Conference did not have the issue included in its terms of reference. In the published exchange of letters following February 28, my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition informed the Leader of the Liberal Party that the former Conservative Cabinet: … would be prepared to support the setting up of a Speaker's Conference to consider the desirability and possibility of a change in our electoral arrangements". The same letter concluded: We should then be ready to co-operate in seeing that the conclusions and recommendations of the Conference were put to Parliament in the customary way. This remains our view. Since 1916, questions of electoral reform have habitually been referred to Speaker's Conferences. On this side of the House, we understand the concern of the Liberal Party on this issue; but, as I have sought to submit to the House, the introduction of proportional representation would raise other issues of electoral reform including a fundamental alteration to constituencies, and would call in question many of the existing arrangements for the work of the House of Commons. However, these matters could be inquired into by a Speaker's Conference and if that is the view of Her Majesty's Government then, surely, that is the way that Parliament should proceed.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has addressed your Lordships with clarity, with courtesy and with persuasion, but—if he will forgive my saying so to one whom I have known and respected for years—with rather less moral content than I expected from one who once accompanied me to the Vatican to receive the blessing of His Holiness the Pope. Not having the privilege of knowing the last speaker but having long enjoyed the privilege of knowing the first speaker, I must honestly reluctantly come down in favour of the second speaker who, it seemed to me, put forward arguments of considerable cogency and was sometimes on the verge of saying something that I am now about to say.

First, let me say this with passion in case I forget to say it—and I do say it with passion. Parliament alters from year to year. I was elected for a two-Member constituency in 1945, and so was my noble friend Lord Shackleton and, I believe, my noble friend Lord Segal. From 1950, I represented a one-Member constituency which was contained in Lancashire, in an industrial conurbation where even the natives do not know what town they are in as they walk along a street. I do not think that the work of a Back Bench Member of Parliament really consists of tramping through the Lobby 350 times a year to vote for things he has never had time to read about, or to vote for or against as instructed. The real democracy served by the individual Member is in his relationship with his constituents; in the contacts, the personal knowledge, the association with the local authority—one which has to be carefully worked—in the growing mutual confidence in which the Member learns most from his constituents, and in the service which a constituency can obtain from art active Member. I do not wish to be particularly controversial but I do not want to abstain wholly. The advantages of a change in the system were not readily apparent to Mr. Thorpe during the Election; and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, seemed singularly forgetful—I would not for a moment say "ignorant"—of the history of the Liberal Party. I was also a Liberal candidate for Parliament a long time ago. We had a sounding of the horn of Roland from Bude instead of Roncesvaux. We had Drake's Drum rattling this time over radio and television from Barnstaple. East and West and South and North the messengers rode fast to summon their array. In an increasing mood of euphoria whole counties were being captured by the Liberals. The vote was going up. Even Mr. Joe Coral was offering odds against a Liberal majority of over 100. One day the walls of Sidcup fell with thunder like the walls of Jericho. There was all this right up to the mood of the Election, when the tone of Mr. Thorpe's speech rather resembled that of Napoleon at Savona when he first met the weary troops and said, "You have languished here, you have endured, you have never been paid your wages, you have been stuck here serving France as best you may, but over the hill there are the richest plains of Europe. Over there are the seeds of power. Over there I propose to lead you to the advantage of France and to the enrichment of yourselves".

I did not know about the clock on the wall opposite until I read the colour supplement in the Observer on Sunday, and I cannot read it now. But I should like to say one word about elections. My most recent reference book at home is the Encyclopædia Britannica published in 1911, which I bought for £5 in about 1930, and it is full of information on this subject. Proportional representation was first propounded in 1857. Before the end of the century there were 300 systems of proportional representation adumbrated, all based mainly on alternative votes. In the elections of 1892 and 1895 (someone seems to have "pinched" the notes of my speech, which is probably an advantage, certainly for the House) there were the same sort of unbalanced results. There never has been an Election in the period in which it was not manifest that the voting never corresponded with the results.

I come to the Election of 1906, which was an important one. Your Lordships will remember that after all these disparities and inequalities, and after the weakness of the system was demonstrated—but not the weaknesses of the other 299 systems which had never been tried (I think eight countries had attempted to try some system, but each chose a different system, which is important) there came the great Election of December, 1905, and the Parliament of 1906, when the Liberals, knowing all these things, had the largest majority in their political history. The Liberals, with only 217,000 votes, won every seat in Wales. They won three out of four seats in Warwickshire with a total vote less than that of the Tories. Here was their great opportunity—and what did they do? They set up a Royal Commission. I have been on a Royal Commission, too, and setting up a Royal Commission is not a particularly effective method of dealing promptly with what appears to some to be a great social issue.

There followed of course an electoral period in which we had these things demonstrated year after year. In the two Elections from 1910 the Tories and Liberals were in each case almost exactly equal and it was left to the Irish Nationalists, who were always classified with the Liberals, and the Labour men, who strongly objected to being so classified, to provide the Liberal majority which carried on. Before one looks at the later voting it is necessary for me to deal with the definition of "Liberal", not my definition contankerously but as used by the psephologists themselves when they provide their figures. It is not easy. To start with a Liberal Unionist is always counted as a Tory, and after the First World War a Lloyd George Liberal was counted in 1918 as pro-Coalition. Lloyd George was pro-Coalition in 1918, anti-Coalition in 1931 and Liberal in the period between, when I stood as a Liberal.

In the Election of 1931, when we had this phoney Coalition which won a majority of nearly 500,000, the Simonite Liberals (again I am quoting figures without my notes, but with a fairly accurate memory for a man of my age) needed about 40,000 votes to get a seat; the Samuelite Liberals needed over 50,000 votes to get a seat, while the Lloyd George Liberals needed nearly 90,000 votes to get a seat. This did not present very fruitful opportunities for effective electoral reform. We are often told that there is some abrogation of principle, but I do not see any principle in the choice of one, three or four hundred alternatives. Obviously, one desires to give the best practical representation. The danger of these reforms is that they would encourage more and more candidates and encourage more and more splitting. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has read the article by Mr. Philip Williams in the Guardian, which I saw this morning, in which he advocates a system of the alternative vote on the quite plain ground that it would give a large and deserved advantage to the Liberals. It would not do any good to Labour, and it would permanently dot one in the eye of the Tories, who would lose substantially on Mr. Philip Williams's own estimate of how the votes of a second candidate out of three or a third candidate out of four might be distributed on his second choice.

So we come to a situation in which each advocate is supporting largely the system which serves him best.

I do not know whether your Lordships go back as far as my encyclopædia and recall the wonderful story of the Electoral Commission in America of 1876 when, in the Presidential election, Mr. Tilden, the Democrat, got 184 votes and Mr. Rutherford Hayes, a member of the grand old Party, got 163. These votes were uncontested, but there were 22 contested votes which arose from the delightful position that four States, with a total of 22 votes, had sent in two returns, one of which declared 22 votes to the Republican, the other declared 20 votes for the Democrat, and two for the Republican. This had something to do with the workings of Coalition, too, because the United States said that they stood by "Government of the people, by the people and for the people", and set up an Electoral Commission consisting of five Democrat Congressmen selected for their probity, five honest Republican Congressmen, two Democratic Supreme Court Judges and two Republican Supreme Court Judges. Those four judges appointed an independent Supreme Court Judge as chairman who was regarded in America as relatively non-political but who always voted Republican.

One would have thought that the problem was simplified by the fact that two of the four States had in fact cast their conditional votes for the Democrat. You really could not oust the Democrat at all with his majority of 21 unless you gave all the disputed 22 votes to the Republican candidate. This was what this impartial Commission proceeded to do. Mr. Rutherford Hayes became the unchallenged President of the United States by a majority of one. I do not remember that Mr. Tilden was ever heard of much again. I am not saying that this is the probity of England today, although I do not think that its probity nowadays is as high as it has been in the past. I lament the disappearance of the old integrity from public life, but I cannot think that to come along now and say, "Let us try it again because this will help the Liberals" really faces the difficulties. I fear the abandonment of a principle, which has worked pretty well and enabled us to have stable Governments while French Prime Ministers were falling every month, which enabled us to have results that, on the whole, were acceptable to the country, should be put in jeopardy without a great deal more evidence than we have heard today.

I recall a very old story about principle. Counsel, addressing the jury, said, "Members of the jury, the Scriptures tell us that Pontius Pilate inscribed upon the outermost and most impregnable walls of mighty Nineveh the mystic words, Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin', which being interpreted …". At that moment the judge interrupted and said, "Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones" (perhaps today I ought to say, "Mr. Robinson, Mr. Robinson") "the Scriptures do not tell us that Pontius Pilate wrote up any such words upon a wall anywhere." The indignant counsel paused for a moment and said, indignant almost to anger, "My Lord, the Scriptures certainly do tell us that someone wrote up those very words upon a wall somewhere, and, whoever the person and wherever the wall, the principle is the same." My Lords, I do not accept it. I think these are matters of pragmatism, and in point of fact the results of the Election do conform to the present laws of thermodynamics.

According to Mr. Lyall Watson, in his recently published book—I think it is entitled, Supernature—The Natural History of the Supernatural—chaos is coming. Random distribution of matter is the result of modern theories of thermodynamics. By St. Mary, my Lords, there is comfort in store, because I have a word of comfort for the mover of this Motion; and I am happy to give it. Mr. Lyall Watson refers to the work published in 1934 by Professor Tchivesky, who had spent 40 years in Siberia and had ample opportunities for profound cogitation. He came to the conclusion that the peak period of the great plagues was invariably connected with the maxima cycle of sunspots, and he added as additional information that a study of the politics of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1930 had shown that the maxima periods of sunspots invariably coincided with a peak of Liberal enthusiasm and success, while the minima brought joy to the Tories. As the cycle is about eleven years, there is a real chance in 1980 of a Liberal Government, unless it is that the sunspots do not recognise the difference between Liberal and Labour, which I suspect is possible.

My Lords, I observe the figure on the minute clock, and I apologise. Quite frankly, I have addressed your Lordships to-day purely on medical advice. I saw my friend and consultant, who I believe is one of the original Barretts of Wimpole Street, and he told me that my duodenal would not stand listening to another Budget speech. He said, "You cannot do it. Even if it does not kill you, it will send you further round the bend." I said, "What can I do?". He said, "Try to find some very attractive spot with some very gifted and charming people, and try to get into conversation with them and talk about something on which you are not terribly well informed." My Lords, that is what I have done.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the Motion which has been moved in such a very interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition to consider this question carefully, not in the interests of any political Party but in the interests of free and effective Parliamentary government in the future. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Belstead say that he thought the matter was worthy of further consideration. I do not know that we could expect him to say much more in present circumstances. I do not think it would be particularly useful, in a Private Member's debate in your Lordships' House, to go into any kind of detail about the average size of constituencies under proportional representation. Obviously, you would have some, like the extreme North of Scotland, like Sutherland and Caithness, with probably only one Member, and quite a lot of others, perhaps with five; but these are all details for a Speaker's Conference to consider. What I think it is better for us to consider is the general principle of electoral representation.

I think that some people have always been aware of the need for electoral reform for the last seventy years, but there has never been quite enough of them all at the same time to get anything effective done. My noble friend Lord Belstead referred to what happened in 1917 and 1918 concerning the Representation of the People Act. That was a time when it really looked as if something was going to be done in another place. A considerable number of leading members of the Party to which both my noble friend Lord Belstead and I belong, the Conservative Party, spoke in favour of proportional representation. One was Arthur Balfour, the former Prime Minister who had been Leader of the Party before. Two others were his cousins, Lord Hugh and Lord Robert Cecil. Another was Leo Amory, who was afterwards a wartime Minister with Winston. One of the most interesting ones was the great F. E. Smith. They all supported it at that time. I think what happened in the Commons was that there were some who were in favour of proportional representation and others of the alternative vote, and I think the alternative vote, as against proportional representation, was carried by only one vote. When it came up to your Lordships' House, this House altered it and made an amendment in favour of proportional representation. That may have been a good thing to do, but, unhappily, when it got back to another place the opposition against any electoral reform at all had revived again, and finally nothing was done, which in my own view (it is a matter of history now) was a very great pity.

I think that at one time the official policy of the Labour Party—the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will correct me if I am mistaken—was in favour of electoral reform. That was from 1900 onwards. I think they left it out of their Party's official policy in about 1926. That may possibly have been because they had realised that in the 1910s it usually happened that the Left Wing vote was split between Labour and Liberal in favour of the Tories, whereas in the 1920s it was the other way round; it was a Right Wing vote which was being split between the Conservatives and the Liberals to the advantage of the Socialists. Anyhow, as a result of our electoral system they encountered extreme vicissitudes, both extreme good fortune and extreme ill-fortune, very soon afterwards.

The Bill to which my noble friend referred was in the early part of 1931, before the crisis, National Government and election. I got into Parliament in the autumn and the Party situation was perfectly ridiculous, as at that time there were only 50 Labour Members out of a total of 640, as I think we had then—less than one-twelfth of the total membership of the House. But if they had been represented in proportion to the number of votes they got in the country in the 1931 Election, they would have had, not quite half the seats, of course, but more than 250 seats. That was perfectly ridiculous and very disabling and hampering to Parliament that the chief Opposition Party, which had got more than two-fifths of the votes of the country, should have only 50 seats. Stanley Baldwin was quite grumpy about it. He complained that he had got too big a majority and wished a lot of them had never come here. But he did not do anything about it and did not introduce any measure of electoral reform.

Fortune then turned the other way in favour of the Labour Party. In 1945 they got a majority of about 150 over all other Parties combined. But they actually got less than half the votes cast in the country—which some people may think is a good thing but which I personally do not. It would have been much better at that time to have had proportional representation.

My noble friend referred to a Speaker's Conference in 1944. But before that, Winston, who was then Head of the wartime Coalition Government, of which I was for a time a junior member, was in favour himself of electoral reform and, to use his own phrase, he "took the sense" of the various Parties about it. The Labour Party was predominantly against it, especially Clem Attlee, the Leader of the Labour Party, who was a colleague in the Cabinet with Winston. The Conservative Whips went round and collected the views of the Conservative Party and they found that the majority of the Conservative Party was against proportional representation. So the Prime Minister, with nearly all the Labour Party and the majority of the Conservatives against him, could do nothing. I regretted that because I felt then, and looking back I still feel now, even more strongly, that if we had had a proportional representation Parliament after the war our political development and our economic growth would have been very much sounder and better than it has been in fact.

It seems to me that the great fallacy of the opponents of electoral reform is the idea that good Government is identical with a large working majority by one extreme Party alternating with another large majority from the other extreme Party every few years. It does not seem to me to be at all beyond question that this is the best kind of government we can have, especially under modern conditions when our economy is growing more and more complex and is so much more dependent upon what the Government do. In fact the popular idea of the opponents of electoral reform is that good government consists of a kind of prize fight between two large powerful champions, one of whom must knock out the other—which is a good sporting event—and they resent the intrusion of third and fourth Parties who come butting in and spoiling the fun. But, my Lords, it seems to me that in a complex society such as we have now, that kind of Government, the prize-fight Government, the knock-out Government, the alternating working majority Party Government, is likely to do more harm than good to our economy.

I am sure that many of your Lordships must often have realised that all Governments, however good a Party majority they may have in another place, are continually and uncomfortably conscious of the fact that a swing of only 2 or 3 per cent. in the electorate—and the 2 or 3 per cent. which swings may not be the most sensible and thoughtful 2 or 3 per cent. of the electorate; it may possibly be the least thoughtful and the least sensible—can make a difference of 80 or 100 seats, which is very disproportionate. That is continually happening. Do your Lordships not think that it may adversely affect the consistency and the soundness of the economic policy of any Government—whether it be a Government of the Right or a Government of the Left?

Has it not sometimes occurred to your Lordships that nearly every Government when they have some economic difficulties to deal with, may be a little infirm of purpose when they think of one way of dealing with the situation, not because they have changed their minds but because they realise that this measure perhaps temporarily to cure inflation may result in, not a permanent but a temporary increase of unemployment just at the moment when there is likely to be a General Election? That kind of consideration may continually bedevil the economic policy of any Government. The economic policies of Governments are far more important to the country now than they were two generations, or even one generation, ago because our economy is growing in such a way that industry, whether it is owned by the State or by private enterprise, is much more subject than it used to be to mistakes or changes in Government policy.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Wade, say that we always used to exclaim, "Oh! look at the French! Look how badly they do!" Well, my Lords, the fact that since the war our principal European neighbours have passed and surpassed us, and managed to make their economies grow so much more quickly and with so much more stability than ours, is very largely because they do not have alternating Governments of different extreme Parties. My noble friend mentioned the fact that French Prime Ministers used to change very quickly. That is true, but people did not always notice that the other Ministers in each successive French Government were nearly always the same people.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for one moment with what I hope is a relevant point? It used to be said that there were certain advantages in being an ex-Prime Minister and if there was a change every week at any rate there were certain individuals who got some advantage out of it.


Yes, of course; there were sometimes intervals when France did not have a Government at all. That was not always a disadvantage compared with Britain, because in Britain we always have a Government and it nearly always does harm, whereas if we do not have a Government it cannot. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is not here at the moment, but when he was Ambassador in Paris he very kindly invited me to a Caledonian dinner in Paris—I think it was in 1957. I had the honour to sit next to M. Maurice Schumann—that was long before he became Foreign Secretary; he was only a private Deputy then. But at that time there happened to be no Government in France at all and they were in the middle of a great foreign crisis—largely arising from what was happening in Tunisia. He was discussing this with me and I said, "The trouble with France is that you haven't got a Government." Whereupon, M. Schumann immediately retorted, "The problem with England is that you have got a Government!" I think there is a very great deal in that.

My noble friend Lord Belstead told us some interesting things about how proportional representation has worked in Northern Ireland. I should like to ask him also to study what has happened in Southern Ireland, because that is equally interesting. When we set up the Irish Free State in 1921–22, we insisted that they should have proportional representation as part of their Constitution. We treated them as a kind of guinea pig— "Let's try it out on the Irish and see whether it works or not". My Lords, it has worked extremely well for fifty years, but nobody here has paid the slightest attention to it. However, the Irish politicians tried to bring it to an end because they got tired of hardly ever having a working Parliamentary majority. I think they grew tired of compromising with each other, and so they tried to bring in an Act to abolish proportional representation which had been provided for in the Constitution. But a change in the Constitution must be confirmed by a referendum, and on two occasions the electorate of Southern Ireland (now the Irish Republic) have thrown out the Government's measures to abolish proportional representation. I would say that this is because the Irish people know better than the Irish Government does what is good for them.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, mentioned electoral reform in relation to the possible devolution of Parliamentary work in Scotland and Wales, and I should like to conclude with a brief word on that subject. As the noble Lord knows, there are a number of alternatives before us, and although the reform of the Imperial Parliament is a far more important question than the constitution of some devolutionary Parliament, the devolutionary Parliament may be a more immediate question than the Imperial Parliament, because it is a matter which is mentioned in the Queen's Speech: there we have the promise to consider devolution, and the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, is to be the Government's adviser on the subject. There is nothing in the speech about reforming the Imperial Parliament.

My Lords, there are three proposals before us. First, there is that of the Kilbrandon Report, which was debated by your Lordships in December. Then there is the Note of Dissent by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, who has since been appointed by the Prime Minister as his adviser on this question. And there is also the Report of Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Committee on Scottish Government which had just finished its work before the late Conservative Government came into office in 1970 and which made certain recommendations. They may now be out of the running—I do not know—but Mr. Heath, when Prime Minister, promised last year to proceed with implementation of the recommendations although they had been severely criticised at the Scottish Annual Unionist Conference.

The first two, the Kilbrandon Report and the Crowther-Hunt Note of Dissent, definitely recommended that all the devolutionary Parliaments, whatever they might be called, should be elected on a system of proportional representation. The Kilbrandon Report, after a discussion of the alternatives, comes down on the side of proportional representation. The Crowther-Hunt Note of Dissent produces a much more succinct and definite recommendation which, as it is short, I will read to your Lordships. It is as follows: There will be a single chamber Assembly of about one hundred Members. They will be elected on the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. It sounds almost like a pronouncement from Mount Sinai, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hale, who is interested in religious pronouncements of this kind, might care to read it: it will not take very much time. That is a definite recommendation which encourages me. As to Sir Alec's Committee, I gave evidence to its members some four years ago before the Report was published. My evidence consisted mainly of putting the case for having a Scottish Convention (as Sir Alec wanted to call it) elected on a system of proportional representation. When the Report was published I was encouraged to see that this had not been turned down—because at that time the climate of opinion was not so amenable to electoral reform as I now believe it to be. The Report stated: Evidence was presented to us in favour of adopting a system of proportional representation for election to an assembly. After mentioning that this is open to some doubts, the Report concludes by saying that the matter should be given further consideration. That is exactly what my noble friend Lord Belstead said a few moments ago. However, I have been given to understand that lately a number of very distinguished people who were on Sir Alec's Committee are now much more definitely in favour of proportional representation for this proposed devolutionary Parliament than they were at the time the Report was published. I am very glad indeed to hear that.

I should like to conclude by saying that I know my fellow countrymen in Scotland rather well, and I am perfectly sure that if there was a devolutionary Parliament there based on a system of direct election, a single-Member majority vote, so that you have an assembly consisting predominantly of two big Parties, they will spend nearly the whole of their time trying to abuse and discredit each other in order to get a majority the other way round next time. That means they will neglect what is supposed to be the primary duty of bodies such as these, which is to criticise, check and keep up to the mark our growing bureaucracy. It is growing throughout the United Kingdom but is particularly rife in Scotland, because it is so far away and Westminster simply has not time to give it the criticism which it must have if it is to grow without getting too much out of hand. That, I submit, is the most *** important function of a local devolutionary assembly in Scotland, and I have no doubt that the same is true of Wales. I would submit to your Lordships that in regard to devolutionary Parliaments it is a necessity that the assembly should be elected on a system of proportional representation. With regard to the Imperial Parliament, I would say that some reform of this kind is now about sixty years overdue.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it necessary to make a speech to-day. I only want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for having raised this question at this moment, because I think it is absolutely vital that electoral reform in this country should be carried out in the measurable future. It is no good pretending that 6 million Liberal votes, represented by 14 seats in another place, is anything but a travesty of democracy in any sense of the word. It does not work out, and my sole purpose tonight is to ask Her Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry, either a Speaker's Inquiry or a Royal Commission, into our electoral system, because the system is wrong. We in this country have to get accustomed to several Parties. There is the rising Scottish National Party. They are not to be ignored; they are important. I left a clear majority of 10,000 in my old constituency and that was turned into a majority of 6,000 for the Scottish Nationalists at the last Election. I sometimes wonder whether my life's work was thrown away, but I do not think so. It is not unreasonable, and it is the way we are going. We have to get accustomed to minority Governments; we may have to get accustomed to Coalitions. I am not very much in favour of Coalitions, except in times of war, but we may have to get accustomed to that situation as they have done on the Continent of Europe.

We are undergoing a transformation, and the old system of two Parties, omnipotent, all-powerful, one in power and the other out of power, is going, and I think the answer is a reform of our electoral system, because the British people are fundamentally moderate. I would say that they are slightly left of centre. That is what they want and that is what they voted for at the last Election. I hope that the Budget that has been produced to-day is slightly left of centre because that is what the people of this country really want. But we have to do a great deal of rethinking on this policy and I think that the Liberal Party is right in complaining bitterly over the treatment that they received at the last Election. There was no justification for it—absolutely none. It is the antithesis of democracy. Therefore I say to Her Majesty's Government, "Set up a Commission". It may take two or three years, but that might suit them. I think there should be a Royal Commission or a Commission under the Speaker-ship of the House of Commons, to reexamine our whole electoral system.

I remember that after the war, when I was pretty close to Churchill, he produced an elaborate scheme for reform: proportional representation and differences for the urban constituencies and rural constituencies. But it was overborne by the Conservative and Labour Parties. Churchill once said to me: "It is bound to come; we cannot go on with this two-Party system alone. You can have a coalition in time of war"—and we had a successful one during the war —"but in time of peace we are bound to have reform, and I want to see the Liberal Party given a reasonable chance of being represented in the House of Commons and in the country as a whole. It will come in time." I had several discussions with him on the subject and, as I have said, he was overborne by the Labour and Conservative Parties, who wanted to stick to the old system of two Parties, one with a clear majority over the other and governing in those terms.

I believe that the last Election has changed all that. I do not believe in my own heart that we shall ever completely go back to the old system again. I think that the Conservative Party will never have a clear majority in another place in my lifetime or the lifetime of many noble Lords who are here to-day; many here are young. I do not think that the Labour Party will ever have a clear majority because the country does not want the militant Left or the Selsdon Man. The Selsdon Man was a fatal image; but the people do not want the militant Left either. They want what Jeremy Thorpe has described as moderation and participation in industry. That is what they voted for at the last Election, and that is what they will get in the long run because it is a very tough democracy and a very old one. The people want moderation—neither extreme Right nor extreme Left.

I started my political life as Private Secretary to Stanley Baldwin, and in that capacity I remember very well travelling in a train with him to Edinburgh. He was going to make a speech in Edinburgh. As I looked out of the windows at the smokeless towns (because there was grave unemployment in the country at the time) which surrounded us, I ate his lunch as well as my own; he had produced a packet of delicious sandwiches which were so good that I ate the lot. He watched this proceeding with great amusement, and I saw the light in his eye as he said to me, "You know what you have done; you have eaten my lunch as well as your own". That was very characteristic of the man; he was a moderate man. But, looking out of the carriage window, he said, "I have one great ambition in life: to stop the class war becoming a reality in this country. There is always a danger of that." So he would not have adopted the Selsdon policy. That was the creed in which I was brought up, the creed of moderation. Baldwin was a great moderate. He failed in foreign affairs because he took no interest in them; but he was a great solvent of the class war and he would not have allowed the present situation to arise. He would never have introduced the Industrial Relations Act.

Therefore I say to Her Majesty's Government on this occasion, "Set up an inquiry into the electoral system". It must be a fair system; it obviously is not fair at the present time and I shall not go into the details. There are so many complications and alternatives: alternative votes, proportional representation, this for the urban towns and that for the country. Those matters are for the Commission to decide. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, even though it is unfortunate that he should have raised this subject on Budget Day—because I am afraid he will be obliterated from the news to-morrow—has rendered a great service to this country in raising this vital matter which has to be solved in the near future.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, except in one respect I would echo wholeheartedly what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has said. Perhaps I had better deal with the difference first of all. I do not myself share his view of Selsdon Man. I believe if Selsdon Man had not lost his nerve and not done his U-turn the economy of this country would have been in a very much stronger position and we should still be sitting on that side of the Chamber. I do wholeheartedly support what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said particularly about the manifest unfairness and absurdity of the Election result so far as the 6 million Liberal votes were concerned. There were 6 million people in this country who said in effect, "A plague on both your houses !", and those 6 million people are virtually unrepresented. That does seem to me to be an unjustifiable state of affairs.

My noble friend Lord Belstead, in a most persuasive and moderate and I thought attractive speech, backed by far more knowledge than I possess on this subject, said that that did not really matter so much because we had ways of giving moderate opinion or central opinion the power to express itself, and he adduced what seemed to me—if he will forgive my saying so—a most extraordinary example. That was the Norway debate of 1940 when he said, quite rightly, that although the Chamberlain Government had a majority of 80 after the Division still it fell. It would seem to me that whatever its inefficiencies, whatever difficulties there may be, the cost of die kind of measure which the noble Lord, Lord Wade recommends would not equal the cost of that Division and the road which we had to tread to that Division from the assassination of Dolfuss, the summoning of Schusnigg to Berchtesgarten, the Anschluss, Munich, the rape of Czechoslovakia, and six months of war which we were on the point of losing. I think proportional representation of some form or another whatever its disadvantages may be would be a better solution than that.

I know very little of this subject but I have thought very deeply about it since the Election. I have not got the knowledge of my noble friend Lord Dundee who made what I think the whole House recognised as a very powerful speech indeed. One of the points with which I most agree was that "strong" Government—and I think one must put "strong" in quotes—is not necessarily the same as good Government; that if we had had (I think this was my noble friend's argument) weaker Governments in the last 30 years we would hardly be in the mess that we are in to-day. As my noble friend pointed out, a strong Government, in the terms in which we usually use the adjective, does not mean a Government strong in the quality of its judgment; it simply means a Government with a working majority which can steamroller through Parliament any measure, however grotesque and however harmful it may be in the long run. For my part, after watching as a spectator 30 years of strong Government I think what this country needs now more than anything else is 30 years of weak Government.


My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me? It just happens that at this moment I am reading with fascination the biography of the late Mr. Baldwin—Earl Baldwin before he died—and, of course, Mr. Bonar Law occurs and recurs often in the book. What fascinates me is that what the noble Lord is now saying is so opposite from the view which Mr. Bonar Law took. He thought that a weak Government was disastrous and did not spare much effort to bring it down. He thought that a strong Party Government was the one that suited this country best. I am not trying to make any point out of family connection but I just wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, had taken this into account.


I most certainly have taken it into account, and the first comment I would make on it is that the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, is referring to events which took place more than half a century ago, and things have changed very much since then. The second comment I would make is that I probably knew my father better than the noble Lord did and I am pretty sure that if he had been faced with the kind of situation with which this country has been faced since the war he would never have imagined that he had the solution in his own hands. I think he would have taken a much more humble view than that. He would probably have taken the view which I have been trying to express to your Lordships.

My Lords, more than one noble Lord—my noble friend Lord Dundee, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby—have said that the day of the two Party system is over. I do not know whether its day is over or not but I am sure that it ought to be over. We cannot afford a continuation of this seesaw between one blunder and the opposite blunder which has characterised politics and our Parliamentary system since the war. My Lords, the two Party system worked well enough when there were two Parties which were playing the same game on the same ground and under the same rules; in other words when there was a general agreement between the Parties as to the objective of Government, as to the nature of society and as to the place of man in society. All that has gone I do not mean that there is disagreement between, say, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and myself on these points but there is certainly fundamental disagreement between the extreme Left Wing of the noble Lord's Party and any section of the Conservative Party, and in that situation I cannot see how the two Party system can effectively operate.


My Lords, will the noble Lord equally recognise that there is a good deal of difference between the Labour Party and the extreme Right of the Conservative Party?


My Lords, I wonder where the extreme Right of the Conservative Party is.


Not far off, my Lords.


If the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, thinks I am on the extreme Right of the Conservative Party, I do not think that anybody has anything very much to fear because, in spite of any evidence to the contrary, I am not, in fact, a Fascist hyena.

My noble friend Lord Belstead referred to the difficulties arising from the huge constituencies which might result from one form of proportional representation. He was reinforced by what struck me as a slightly unholy alliance, in the intervention of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. With modern methods of communications, is it really impossible to conceive of a constituency of even 200,000 or 300,000 electors? I am sure that so far as communications are concerned that could be got over. What I think would be changed is this. It would no longer be possible for what is a relatively new development in our Parliamentary system to continue. The Member of Parliament has increasingly tended to become a sort of welfare officer for his constituents. If that aspect of his work were removed from him one might get a very much more effective House of Commons, and one very much more able to control the excesses of the Executive arm of the Government. Like the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, I am an old man, and perhaps my memory plays tricks; but I seem to remember talks I had with the late Lord Attlee when we were colleagues in the same Government. I think he shared the view I have just expressed, that it was not the purpose of the Member of Parliament to be a welfare officer. One does not want to go into the argument between Burke and the electors of Bristol—whether the Member represented his constituents or was their delegate. But I, in my own mind, am certain that the real function of the Member of Parliament is to do his best in Parliament for his constituents, and in particular in restraining the excesses of the Executive branch of Government. As I say, my Lords, I have nothing like the knowledge or the experience of my noble friend Lord Dundee, but I most heartily support him in the plea which he has made for reconsideration of this matter.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, almost everything that I wanted to say has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and with far more eloquence than I could say it. I am not so much concerned with the Motion as it stands, but I believe most passionately that we must make some changes in our form of Government if our democracy is to survive as anything that can work satisfactorily. We have to-day got to the stage where many people have said that we have divided the nation in two. I submit, my Lords, that that is exactly what the Election has shown. That is why so many people voted Liberal. By some means or other I feel that we have got to find a method where the views of those six million can be represented in Parliament. I would not for one moment comment on the ways in which this might be done. Just before I came into the Chamber somebody said, "Well, why are you getting up to speak?" All I am certain about is that there are methods by which this can be done which do not necessarily lead to the instability of government we have found in France.

I think it would be extremely presumptuous of me even to suggest possible solutions. I believe that one has to look at this matter very carefully; one has to look at experiences in other countries. But that something has to be done I have absolutely no doubt. I also believe, my Lords, that something has to be done about a great deal in our political system. Yesterday, with the intention of being provocative, I put down an Unstarred Question. It was originally slightly more provocative for I was persuaded to slightly moderate its tone. It is perhaps only one tip of the iceberg of what I am trying to attack or trying to get changed and will try to put before your Lordships on other occasions in the future. I should like to read the Question that I have tabled: To ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of the results of the recent Election, what steps they are going to take to change and elevate the conduct of Party politics, and whether they agree that the public have the impression that a dichotomy exists between what politicians say in public and the facts on which a judgment should be made. I did not say that unless the real issues, the ones that matter, can be put before the public with candour, I do not see how democracy can flourish and improve as a system of government. I know that some people will say: "Of course, in the circumstances, this was the cleanest Election we have had". But that really is not the point. I am sure that we must present to the public the issues that really matter, with information on how they should make their judgment, in a far more honest way than has occurred in the past. It is no good saying that the system is exactly the same as has gone on for years. Circumstances have changed greatly.

My Lords, I look upon proportional representation, or some solution on those lines, as one of the ways in which we may succeed in elevating our own politics. It is a sad fact, of course, that however perfect the system one originates, sooner or later it has to be changed. It needs changing. Sometimes I think that here and in another place, though we should value our traditions—and they stand for a very great deal—we should never be afraid of moving into something new which will provide a better answer. I give your Lordships one illustration of how the best intentions ultimately go wrong, and that is the American system of election, particularly of their President. What more high-minded and better system could one possibly imagine? Yet what is it to-day? No, my Lords, as circumstances change, we must change. Therefore, I add all the weight I can to what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said and to what the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, said.

I believe one constructive thing we should do straightaway is to set up a Royal Commission, or something of the sort, to see what changes one might make to get this representation of smaller Parties, the Liberals in particular, without necessarily producing an unstable Government. The one thing we cannot afford to do is to go down the road we are on at the moment, with each Party at opposite ends dividing the nation and nobody in the middle who is able to pull it together again. That is why so many people have advocated a National Government. Most of your Lordships believe that this is not likely to work. Well, there are other alternatives, and I suggest that one of them is certainly to try to revise our electoral system.

Finally, it is questionable whether we were right to introduce politics in local government. I know many people feel that without it we should not have got the change and the movement which Party politics gives us. Nevertheless, I believe that the arguments for it are much less than they are for the nation as a whole. And I should certainly have thought that we could introduce without harm a much stronger measure of proportional representation in local politics than we could afford to do, perhaps, in the nation as a whole.

I hope that in the future I shall be returning in one way or another, depending on what your Lordships' reactions may be to what I have said now and to the Question I have put down, to suggest other ways in which I think our Party political system can be improved. Probably the first thing is to realise that it needs improvement. I am not sure that everybody yet recognises even that fact.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say how pleased I am to be able to take part in this debate and how much I feel intimidated by the speeches which have been made in advance of mine by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and every succeeding speaker. My noble friend Lord Belstead has enabled me to put a blue pencil through about 90 per cent. of what I was going to say, and the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, another 5 per cent. I should like to recommend, with a little more enthusiasm than my noble friend Lord Belstead was conveying, that this matter should certainly be considered; but I do not think this is a matter which we should move on very fast, because basically what we have is still the best form of democracy of which I know. The perfect political electoral system, like a woman, is in the eye of the beholder, and everybody has his own favourites if he gets down to becoming an electoral expert.

However, one or two items have come out of the debate. First, what we have been talking about is the survival of our democracy and our good government. They are two separate items. When I was listening to various noble Lords discussing the problem of the two-Party system, with the confrontations and changeover confrontation from one Party to another, I could not help feeling that our whole life in this country has probably been debased by this business of confrontation between two sections. In my own part of this Kingdom I have seen the presentation of an extreme Protestant, on one side, and an extreme Republican, on the other, in a television confrontation. The presenters of that media believe that by presenting two extremes they get a balanced middle. I wonder whether that is not an exaggeration of what is happening in Government. In practice, so many of these schemes have their flaws, but I do not believe that that is any reason why we should not re-examine the position again. Our history shows us that we have had to re-examine our systems and principles many times.

Many people have referred to the inequalities which have been suffered by the Liberal Party. In Northern Ireland, as my noble friend Lord Belstead said, quite correctly, eleven Members were elected by 51 per cent., and only one Member by 41 per cent., of the electorate. This point undoubtedly reinforces what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has said. Indeed, when one gets down to the actual number of those who are elected in particular areas, one finds that the number of Members who are elected by a minority vote is extraordinarily high, while the votes of the majority have counted for nothing.

As my noble friend Lord Belstead said, in the Northern Ireland Assembly we use the single transferable vote for multi-seat constituencies. Our constituencies vary from five to seven. One of the reasons, I believe, why the development of the S.T.V. multiple seats was a justifiable operation in Northern Ireland has been what I would call politics of confrontation. I wonder whether this country is not possibly running into a similar system of confrontation. I see the Labour Party from the outside; I am speaking without detailed knowledge of it, and am not suggesting that their problems are the same as in my Party; but in my Party, the Unionist Party, we have definitely had a deliberate and determined attempt of people, with a vested interest in a narrow way, to exercise control by caucus operation—a determined method for which nobody can blame them, because it is up to us to attend those meetings at which a small number of delegates are elected to go to the next tier. I wonder whether, if confrontation politics and confrontation Government continue, there will not be a danger of more narrow-minded caucus operations, particularly in the Labour Party.

The selection of candidates in my Party has been a very difficult procedure. A candidate has sometimes been selected by as few as 40 delegates, for 80,000 people. The reason why only 40 attend is that ordinary, moderate people will not attend long, boring and fractious meeting. They simply cannot be bothered to burn the midnight oil while determined people hoe their own row. We have found with the multiple-seat constituency that, if you think you can win six seats, you have to put up one black, one white and four khaki, and this then negatives the effect of the caucus. If you do not do it, you will not get people elected.

There is no doubt, I believe, whatever may be said, that inevitably we shall end up, if we go for this system, having no Party in the majority. Whether that leads to minority Government or Coalition, I do not know. But I believe there is a great danger if it goes to a Coalition, because one of the problems we face is the disillusionment of the electorate in our Government and in our political system. At least at present with a simple majority and a Party elected to power with a workable majority, the electorate have chosen that that Party will be the Government. I think we must be careful before we automatically run ourselves into a position of having a Coalition Government, because by that means we substitute the right to choose a Government from the electorate to politicians who, having been so elected, wheel and deal, and I think the great danger is that we shall run ourselves into more disrespect.

When you stand as a candidate in a multiple seat you may find yourself with 16 or 30 candidates all fighting for your place in these constituencies, and the advantage that I hold, having a name beginning with "B", coming early in the alphabet, is something which should be prized fully, and I think that many politicians will have to change their names by deed poll to "Abel" or something like that!

It is a difficult job to educate an electorate on how to vote, and some quite unusual results have come out of it. I do not think people should accept that S.T.V. automatically means moderation, because it does not. In Northern Ireland we have had strong representation from Parties of the extreme with Mr. Craig and Mr. Paisley getting in on the second, third and fourth preference vote and sometimes even on the sixteenth or seventeenth count. So it does not always produce moderation. I should like to issue a warning—and I feel very strongly about this—on the size of the constituency, because it really is difficult to get round and put yourself over to the electorate. You often have to divide up the constituency between the members of your Party. You say, "That is his area" in order that he may get enough first preference votes; because when it comes to the count you must have a minimum number of first preference votes or else you are out and your votes are not counted for transferring elsewhere. The result is that when you go round many areas you have to say, "I am really a jolly good chap but this candidate is the best one". You then find that one or two other people within your Party are not playing absolutely straight and they have a little slip saying, "Brooke for Vote 1". That leads to complications and as you go round you find yourself in considerable difficulty. We have had an interesting debate. I feel that no system is perfect and no system should be excluded from re-examination. Therefore I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, will be well satisfied with the quality of the debate, and also the attendance throughout the afternoon despite the interest that clearly arises in another place. I am sure, too, that the House will have listened with great care to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, because he speaks from the part of the United Kingdom that has the traditional Westminster form of election and also proportional representation, and certainly I shall look with particular care at what he said. I intend to do two things. First, I intend to be brief, and secondly I am going to put away the brief that was carefully prepared for me because this is not the first occasion that one has found that the most carefully prepared brief is not entirely appropriate to the occasion.

It has been said a number of times this afternoon that democracy in this country is in danger, I suppose due to the situation that exists in another place, where there is no one Party with an overall majority and there is a degree of fragmentation between the three main political Parties, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. But I think one thing should be quite clear in everybody's mind—and it is very clear in mine as a consequence of participating actively in the last General Election. I am not now being critical of noble Lords opposite, but we commenced that General Election (did we not?) with a very emotive call by the late Government for strong Government basically to deal with one section of the community. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has had just as much, or even more, experience in Party political conflict as I have—and also the noble Lord, Lord Boothby—and I think they will agree that no campaign has ever been so pleasant or so free from acrimony or strife as the last campaign. If democracy is based upon a deep, conscious effort, I have no doubt in my mind that the democratic processes in this country are as strong to-day as they have ever been before, if not stronger.

We have what one might call a phenonemon in the House of Commons to-day. I do not know whether it would be repeated. I do not necessarily share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, or the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, that the days of the two main political Parties are over, or that we may be moving into a period when some centre Party will hold the balance. I have no doubt at all, at least so far as my own Party is concerned, that we are a coalition of many views. So I believe also is the Conservative Party, and it was in no mean way that I raised the point with the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, about the Right Wing of the Conservative Party, because the Conservative Party is in itself a coalition.

In this political situation, and taking the political structure of the two Parties—or even the three Parties—one does not know how politics will develop. I can only remind the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that there was a time when the Labour Party was the minority Party and his Party was one of the major Parties. Under the existing electoral system the Labour Party has become the Government of this country and the Liberal Party is now in a minority position. I fully accept that when one looks at the General Election results it appears to be unfair that there should be some 6 million of the electorate who voted for the Liberal Party, but I think it would be wrong to say that they have been disfranchised. If one were to argue that, one might as well argue that the 9 million people who voted for a Conservative or a Labour candidate but who failed to support the winner have been disfranchised. I do not believe that this is worthy of consideration, because within our system—and I think this is something in which we ought to take great pride—the Member of Parliament is responsible to all the electorate in his constituency. And this is, I believe, a fundamental part of our democratic and Parliamentary procedures.

But the case has been made—and it is a case that is worthy of consideration—that there are alternatives to the present arrangements. I am willing to consider them. They have been considered in the past and may be worthy of consideration in the future. But all the alternatives seem to me to have two basic weaknesses: certainly S.T.V.—the single transferable vote—with five to seven Members in a constituency of 200,000 to 450,000. If that is what is being offered, one may get the Parties represented in Parliament, but will one get the voter represented? Will a voter be able to feel that he has someone to go to? I do not decry the role of the Member of Parliament in connection with the welfare of his constituency. I think it is right that a member of the electorate should be able to go to his Member of Parliament when that Member has his weekly or monthly surgery, to discuss problems and difficulties, because at the end of the day this is the only way in which a Member of Parliament can know what is acceptable to the electorate, and can become aware of the pressures and problems within the general community. So I would hesitate to support a proposal that would produce a very large constituency and under which, at the end of the day, one would be voting not for candidates or individuals but basically on a Party base. My instinct would be very much against this.

My Lords, the second reason is the possibility of a Coalition. I am not against Coalitions because, as I have already said, the Party I belong to is a coalition. Maybe in war time, when there is the single issue of winning the war, a Coalition is justified, but to me government (and here I hesitate to use the words "strong government") needs to be decisive. I believe that decisions have to be taken even when they are hard and tough, particularly in the economic field. I would hesitate to say that in a Coalition Party one would get the hard and tough decisions if they struck at the pockets of ordinary people. I doubt it very much. I suspect that, in the end, no Party which was a member of that Coalition would wish to take the responsibility for putting through a tough measure. I know of one territory where we devised a sophisticated Constitution under which there would be no Ministers; everything would be decided by a Committee in which the two Parties participated. This was wonderful on paper, but we had to get rid of it within three years because, when the moment of decision arrived, no Party was willing to take it and always blamed the other.

When one is looking at a Constitution and an electoral system, I believe it is not only right and proper to consider how persons could be represented, and how their views could be taken into account, but absolutely fundamental that one should consider the character and quality of the Parliament and the Government which will arise. I believe very passionately (and I say this without ruling out further consideration of this matter by the British Government) that the single transferable vote system, with its Party lists, is unlikely to produce the character, quality and capability on which an effective Parliament could arise. These are matters of opinion.

My Lords, I have spoken perhaps a little more forcibly and contentiously of the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, than I intended at the beginning, and I hope he will forgive me. But in conclusion I would say this to the noble Lord and to the House, although I am really replying to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Labour policy has always been that of reform. This is one of the differences there may have been between the Party of the noble Earl and our own. We have favoured reform, and noble Lords opposite have favoured more cautious approaches. This is a matter we will carefuly consider. If it is felt that there should be consultations between the major Parties, then I have no doubt at all that such consultation will take place as to the best method of considering the electoral system. I do not know what such an inquiry will produce. I was looking at the Report of the Speaker's Conference in 1968 when, by 19 votes to one, they decided, "No change". I do not know whether there has been any radical change of view in another place between 1968 and now, but I would accept that on the face of it the case that has been made by the noble Lord, and by the other Parties, that there should be some review, has been made out. I will undertake to bring to the attention of my colleagues all that has been said this afternoon, and I am sure they will give it the closest possible consideration.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate, and I am very grateful to all those noble Lords who have taken part. There has been so much support for the Motion, at any rate in principle, that I do not feel there is a great deal I need say in reply. I should, however, like to make just one or two comments.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that a new system might be difficult to understand, but if there is so much agreement that the Scots can understand it, I really do not see why the English should not be able to do so. As to the element of competition in politics, of course I do not foresee any elimination of political conflict in reform. On the point of splintering of Parties, I do not think that would necessarily arise. The point was considered when the new system was set up in Western Germany. In their Federal Parliament they have a method which has the effect of limiting the number of Parties to the major ones, but I must not enter into that theme. I repeat that there would not necessarily be any splintering of Parties.

My Lords, as to the size of the constituency, I should have thought that, broadly, it would be roughly approximate to a county, although I agree that counties vary in size. I appreciate also the fact that probably members of one Party would tend to work together as a team, allocating particular parts which are their special responsibility. That might be so. These are details which would have to be considered.

I listened with great interest to the discourse by the noble Lord, Lord Hale. When he was talking about the year 1906, I think he possibly overlooked the fact that many reforms did not get through because of obstruction from the House of Lords. The noble Lord might have been more to the point had he referred to what occurred in 1917. Unfortunately a decision on the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill led to the deletion of this particular reform. There was a good deal of cross-voting at the time. But that is very much past history.

I was most grateful for the support of the noble Earl. Lord Dundee. I agree that different Parties suffer at different times, but I felt that his was a powerful speech in favour of electoral reform. It was a most important speech. I was interested of course to hear that the members of Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Committee are coming round in favour of proportional representation—that is, with reference to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said that this was absolutely vital and that the way in which the Liberals have been denied the seats they ought to have is a travesty. Needless to say, on that point I agree with him. In fact it is rather interesting to note, with regret, from my point of view, that at this last Election the Liberals increased their votes by 4 million and got only three more seats. That is not exactly a fair system. If I disagree at all with Lord Boothby, it is, I think, that I regard it as a matter of rather more urgency: I am not sure how long a Royal Commission will take.

The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, made a very powerful speech in favour, and I am very much obliged to him for all that he said. I agree with him that the present position is manifestly absurd. I also agree with him in the distinction he made between strong government and good government. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, was in favour certainly of change, though he did not wish to pin himself down to a particular kind of electoral reform. I would assure him that one can find in studying other countries—and he recommended studying other countries—examples of considerable stability. I should have thought Sweden was a good example. I do not think anyone would deny that Sweden has had long periods of stable government. We all, I am sure, appreciated the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, with his knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland, and I agree with him that two extremes do not necessarily produce a balanced middle.

I am almost enticed into making another long speech in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, but I will refrain. At least I agree with him that the present state of affairs is unfair. Perhaps I may make one point about the position of the electors. Where you have a considerable area of the country in which one Party only gets elected (I could give some good examples, and I have no doubt that the noble Lord knows some; I am told that Surrey is one, and there are others) there is no doubt that the electors themselves will not be satisfied to be told that there is a Labour man in Durham and a Liberal in Rochdale; they feel tint their votes are wasted in Surrey. That is the point.

I mentioned Leeds earlier because it was Winston Churchill who mentioned Leeds. My knowledge of that city is that people may know vaguely that Mr. So-and-so is one of the M.P.s for Leeds but very few of them know what part of it he represents. This is particularly marked in cities. I do not think they would mind very much if there were five Members for Leeds. In fact, it was Winston Churchill who said that he would be proud to be a Member for Leeds rather than a Member for one bit of Leeds.

Fundamentally on this issue, the theme which has run through this debate about good government and powerful government and so on, I think we do want to give Parliament more responsibility and we should not be too frightened of minority Governments. I have not been listening to what has been going on in another place, but I imagine they have not been so frightened, after all, by the introduction of a Budget and tough measures from a minority Government. It is the responsibility of Parliament that really matters in the end, and we should not be afraid of that.

Now, my Lords, what about a vote on my Motion? I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is far more interested in that than in anything I say. This subject is so important, and there has been so much support for my Motion, that it would be difficult for me to explain why I should withdraw it. On the other hand, I quite appreciate that this is ultimately a matter for the House of Commons to decide. I am also aware that my Motion is for Papers. I think that clearly it is a matter for the voices, and if from the voices it appears that there is no great enthusiasm for more Papers and that it would not help very much to have more Papers, I shall not regard the decision on those lines as in any way a setback to the reform for which I am appealing.


My Lords, perhaps I might help the noble Lord. Clearly it is difficult to have a Division on the sort of Motion that we have here, and I think it is equally recognised that it is not desirable to have Divisions on Motions of this sort. One should clearly indicate to the House that it is the intention to resolve the matter in a Division. But if the noble Lord would like Papers I would advise your Lordships to allow the noble Lord to have his Motion, and I will see that he gets I will not say a superabundance of Papers, but at least a piece of paper.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has an idea of what I had in mind. It may be that the Motion will not be carried. I shall not be very concerned if it is not.

On Question, Motion disagreed to.