HL Deb 20 June 1975 vol 361 cc1080-2

11.10 a.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when, following Lord Harris of Greenwich's statement in the debate of 23rd April, it is intended to institute an examination of the reform of the electoral system by means of a Speaker's Conference or otherwise.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, the Prime Minister hopes shortly to initiate consultations between the leaders of the Parties about reconvening a Speaker's Conference, and one of the matters for consideration will be whether such a Conference should examine the question of electoral reform.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is now widespread recognition of the need for electoral reform? In the light of this, should not the first step be a clear statement of principle in favour of reforming the electoral system, and would it not then be appropriate to set up some body—not necessarily a Speaker's Conference—to study the details and to report to Parliament without delay?


My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that this matter was debated in the House on 23rd April. On that occasion the matter was gone into in very considerable detail, and I do not wish today to add anything to what I said then.


My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that when the noble Lord talked about "widespread support" he was talking about a widespread propaganda campaign which is being waged at the present time in favour of electoral reform? Also, will he bear in mind the very great danger that under such a system as the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches proposes, it might turn out that a very small minority Party in this country could wield the ruling power in Parliament?


My Lords, may I ask the Government whether they realise that this is not a pure propaganda campaign, but that there is very widespread feeling throughout the country that this matter should be examined? It would be a great mistake to take the point of view of the noble Lord who has just spoken, and take a pre-judged view of the matter, until it has been properly examined.


My Lords, I have noted the views expressed by the noble Lord opposite who initiated the debate in April, and by my noble friend. However I repeat, in the light of what I have said today, that I do not think it is appropriate for me to add anything.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is taking into consideration the effect of different kinds of representation in other countries, the unfortunate result of which is that in some of them the direct representation of the people in the constituencies is very severely damaged by other methods, and that our method is as good as any that you can find anywhere?


My Lords, this is no doubt one of the matters which could be discussed at the Speaker's Conference.


My Lords, had not we all better keep open minds if the matter is to be examined?


My Lords, are the Government aware that in Scotland there is a very strong feeling in favour of proportional representation to be applied to the proposed Assembly?