§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
rose to call attention to the need for a more perfect representation of the electors in this House and in other representative bodies, and moved,
" That, inasmuch as the present systems of electing representatives, whether to Parliament or municipal bodies, result in grave anomalies and injustices, it is expedient to test the system of proportional election, and for that purpose to empower municipal boroughs to apply that system in the election of their councils."
I had hardly intended to trouble this House with any speech of mine so early in my Parliamentary life had it not been that the fortune of the ballot gave me an opportunity of bringing to the notice of the House a subject which seems to me of very great practical importance—a subject of a non-party character, bearing considerably upon the present crisis, because it seems to me that whatever makes more representative our representative bodies tends to decrease the difficulties involved in the present constitutional crisis. I should like to particularly emphasise the fact that I do not ask this House to approve of the principle of Proportional Representation, but merely to approve of the idea that it is well to test that system if we can find any municipal body willing to test it. I desire to call attention to the anomalies and injustice of the present systems of electing representatives. Those systems are very various, but not one of them can be depended upon to give a complete and accurate representation of the electorate upon elected bodies.
I will not attempt to enumerate all those different systems. There is, first of all, the single-Member Constituency, which applies mostly to Parliamentary elections in our boroughs, and to some of the wards of our provincial municipalities. The ward returns three members, one of whom retires at the end of each year, and there is always one returned every year. Then there is the double-Member Constituency, which exists in a comparatively few boroughs and in some of the wards of our provincial municipalities. There is also the multiple-Member Constituency, which is chiefly exemplified in London in the borough council elections, where you have wards returning three, six, or nine members, all of whom retire together and are re-elected together every three years. 1388 I am not going to weary the House by examining in detail the effect of all these different systems, but I will pay special attention to two of them, namely, the single-Member Constituency in Parliamentary elections, and the multiple-Member Constituency in London municipal elections. First of all, my Resolution refers to anomalies and injustices, which I propose to deal with under two heads: (1) So far as they are local, and (2) so far as they are national. Locally we have the anomalies and injustices connected with the I three-cornered fights, the evils of which I are well known, resulting often in the representative being not really the representative of the majority of the constituency, but of a minority. All that concerns three-cornered fights is so well known to this House that I need not further dwell upon them. But I must call attention to another evil of a local character connected with single-Member Constituencies. The evil I refer to is, to my mind, a very-grave one, and it is the permanent disfranchisement of very large bodies of people in different districts. There are many people who, although they have come to middle life and sometimes to old age, have never been represented in this House, for the simple reason that the man they have voted for has always been defeated, and will, in all probability, be defeated to the end of the chapter in the districts in which they happen to live. Those people are permanently disfranchised.
It is not only in particular constituencies that this is so, but it exists over large areas of the country. In my native country of Wales you have the permanent disfranchisement of the Conservative minority almost throughout the whole of the Principality. On the other hand, in the Birmingham district you have had for many years the permanent disfranchisement of the Liberal minority. You have in Ireland, in one part, the permanent disfranchisement of the Unionist party; whilst in another part of Ireland you have the permanent disfranchisement of the Nationalists. Those are very great evils, and I hope to be able to show that it is quite possible to have a system of effective voting so that practically every citizen of this country will be represented by some man for whom he has voted, and who really holds the opinions he wishes to have represented. Closely connected with my last point is the very great bitterness which attaches to the contests in ordinary constituencies, and I think that bitterness arises very largely from the fact that each 1389 party is in effect not only trying to get itself returned, but also tries to prevent the other side from getting any representation at all. In the present system there is no way of getting yourself represented in the single-Member Constituency except by preventing the people from whom you differ from getting any representation at all, and that creates very great bitterness.
If you consider the national aspect of the matter you find there are very important bodies of opinion which are practically not represented in this House. For instance, the old-fashioned individualistic Liberals are hardly represented here at all. The Free Trade Unionists are hardly represented here at all; and the Social Democrats, who form an appreciable minority in various parts of the country are not represented here at all. The Socialist party is hardly represented at all here, except so far as certain hon. Members belonging to other parties may happen to hold Socialistic views. That is a very grave injustice to these parties, and it is also a very great loss to the country, because their point of view is not put forward authoritatively here and we lose the services of very able and prominent members of those parties. It would be an immense advantage to us to know exactly the strength of these different bodies of opinion, instead of having to guess at it from the rough-and-ready data to be derived from the present system of elections.
I would particularly emphasise how the middle point of view, which happens not to be my own, under our present system, tends more and more to be squeezed out from the representative bodies in this country, although it is held by many thousands of people. It was the same in Belgium before they adopted the proportional system of representation. The old-fashioned Belgian Liberals were being steadily crushed out, and the Parliament of that country was tending to be more and more composed of Clericals and Conservatives on the one hand and a party of Socialists on the other. With the introduction of Proportional Representation it was found that the middle party was a real power almost everywhere throughout the country, and although they were insufficient under the old system to get representation, under the new system they became a powerful party, holding a strong moderating position in the Belgian Parliament. So much for those who are not represented at all.
With regard to the parties who are represented under our present system, they 1390 are largely misrepresented. In the first place our present system very often exaggerates a party majority. For instance, in 1900 the Unionists in this House had a majority of 134 after the General Election, but according to the votes actually cast their majority should have been sixteen. In 1906 the Home Rulers had a majority, taking them all together, of 356 in this House, but that majority, according to the votes cast, should really have been 104. That is according to the number of votes, not according to the number of voters, because then you come to the problem of plural voting. I am not going to deal with that to-night—I merely mention it in passing to show that I have not overlooked it. Then, on the other hand, you sometimes find that the majority comes back with a smaller majority in the elective body than it ought to have. I believe that was the case with regard to the London County Council at the election which took place only the other day. Then, worse perhaps than all, sometimes the minority of votes actually gets a majority of seats. It is not sufficiently known that in 1886, although a majority of Members was returned to this House against Home Rule there was actually a small majority of the votes in the country for Home Rule. In the same way in 1874 a majority of seats in this House was held by a minority of votes in the country. The same thing has happened in the United States, in New South Wales, and elsewhere. I do not think I can do better, to sum up what I have said with regard to these imperfections, than to remind the House of the words which the Prime Minister used last night, when he spoke of a General Election as—A process rude, imperfect, and in many ways unsatisfactory.I would like to make another quotation from the right hon. Gentleman. I might make many, but I will only give this one more. Speaking to a deputation which waited upon him a year or so ago upon the subject of Proportional Representation, he said:—It is not merely that under our existing system a minority in the country may return a majority in the House of Commons, but what more frequently happens, and what I am disposed to agree is equally injurious in its results, is that you almost always have a great disproportion in the relative size of the majority and minority in the House of Commons as compared with their relative size in the constituencies.Going on to describe the proportional system to the House I wish again to emphasise the fact that I am not asking the House definitely to approve of that system. I am only asking the House to 1391 say that it is desirable to test it if municipal bodies are found to test it.
I will explain the machinery of Proportional Representation. It is suggested in the first place that they should be large constituencies, at any rate constituencies returning several Members The least constituency you can have for Proportional Representation is a constituency of three Members. I will take a constituency returning seven Members as a sort of typical Proportional Representation constituency. Where you have a very sparse population it would not be necessary to apply the system at all. You might have constituencies returning three, four, or five Members, but you may take seven as a useful constituency for our present purpose to illustrate the subject. The City of Glasgow would represent such a constituency polled as one unit. Each voter would have one vote. If I were a voter I should have to put the figure "1 "against the name of the gentleman for whom I wished to vote. The ballot papers would bear the names of all the candidates nominated. Having put the figure "1" against the name of the man for whom I wished to vote, I need not do anything more, but, if I like, I could put the figure "2" against the name of the man to whom I would like my vote to be transferred if my first choice were not for some reason available. I could go on to put the figure "3" against my third choice, indicating that my vote was to be transferred to him if neither my first nor my second choice were available. The only thing I need do to vote is to put the figure "1" against the name of the man to whom I desire to give my vote. There is nothing complicated in that.
The rest is merely a question of counting the votes and following out the preferences indicated by the voters. It is a mechanical and mathematical process with no great complexity. It leaves no room for extraneous or illicit things to come in to modify the result. The result is absolutely and exactly what the electors have, indicated as their wish. You first of all count the votes. You divide them into parcels, one parcel for each candidate. You find certain candidates have a surplus and others have so few votes that they cannot possibly be elected. The surplus votes in the one case, and the votes given to a man who cannot possibly be elected in the other case are, so far as the first choice of the voter is concerned, ineffective votes, and you proceed to transfer them to the candidates who are indicated as the 1392 second or other next available choice. In that way, the votes of the voters who give surplus votes, and of those who vote for impossible candidates who come out at the bottom of the poll, are still effective, not for their first choice, but for their second, third, or some later choice. Thus the result will be that each party nominates its list, the voter selects, no party can carry all the seats, the majority always gets the majority of the seats, and all important bodies of opinion get representation. Moreover, the most popular men in each party will, of course, get most votes from their own side, and they will be the men elected for that party. Where you have a really strong independent man, there will also be an opportunity for him to be elected. I do not suppose that will happen in a great many cases, but there would be the opportunity, and it would certainly happen where there was a strong independent man.
I am afraid I must trouble the House with a little more full explanation of the machinery of this matter. Let us say that there is a seven-Member constituency and that five Liberal, five Conservative, and other candidates are nominated. Altogether, we will say there are fifteen candidates. Let us also suppose that 80,000 votes are cast, which would be about the case. Remember, we are dealing with a city about the size of Glasgow as one constituency. First we should count the votes according to the names which had the figure "1" against them, a parcel for each candidate. The next step would be to ascertain what is called the quota, that is to say, the number of votes which it is necessary for a man to get in order to be sure to be returned. That is easily done, and I think the House will very readily follow the principle on which it is done. It is quite clear that if you have a single Member constituency, never mind how many candidates there are, any man who gets half the votes, plus one, is sure to be returned, because there are not half of the votes left for any other man. In the same way, if you have a two-Member constituency and people are only allowed to vote for one man, then any man who gets a third of the votes and one over is sure to be returned, because, if two men get a third of the votes with one over, there is not a third for all the other candidates. In the same way, if you have a three-Member constituency, it is a fourth of the votes and one over that is the quota or the qualifying number. Whatever your number of Members is, you have to add one 1393 to that number, divide the total number of votes, and add one to the quotient in order to get the number necessary to return a Member of Parliament.
In the present case, with seven seats you divide by eight and add one. Assuming 80,000 votes, the quota would be 10,000 plus one. If you will allow me, I will take names which are well known and honoured by us all here, and suppose these were the five Liberal candidates in the constituency: Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Bright, Mr. Childers, Mr. Lowe, and Lord Hartington. We may suppose that Mr. Gladstone had got 1,000 surplus votes, that is the full quota, and 1,000 over. The problem is to transfer the 1,000 votes to the next choices of the electors—to the people whom the electors had indicated as their next choices. I want to emphasise that there is nothing arbitrary in this; it is simply following out the will expressed by the electors. The question is, of course, whom you should transfer them to. Really we do not know, out of these 11,000 votes, which thousand has to be treated as the surplus thousand. If all those who voted for Mr. Gladstone had also voted for Mr. Bright second, there would be no difficulty. The thousand would be transferred bodily to Mr. Bright. If, of those who voted for Mr. Gladstone first, one-half had voted for Bright second, and the other half for Childers second, there would be no difficulty, because half the surplus would be transferred to Bright and half to Childers. Where the second choices were more varied, we should have to ascertain in what proportion those who gave first votes to Gladstone gave second votes to Bright, Childers, Hartington or Lowe, or of course to other candidates respectively. Then we would divide the surplus thousand among this second choice in the same proportion. I think the House will see there is nothing very difficult about that. It is really a thing involving the rule of three. You recount the whole of Gladstone's papers, dividing them into sub-parcels, according to the men indicated in the second choice. Let us suppose that three-tenths of the ballot papers showing first votes for Gladstone showed Bright second, two-tenths Childers second, four-tenths Hartington second, and one-tenth Lowe second, you transfer the 1,000 second votes in the same proportions, 300 to Bright, 200 to Childers, 400 to Hartington, and 100 to Lowe. In the result you would leave Gladstone with exactly a quota of votes, 10,001, and of the surplus votes given to him not one would be wasted, but they would be distributed 1394 equitably among the persons indicated by the electors as their second choice upon the Gladstone papers. I think the House will agree that there is no great difficulty in this matter. What would be the result of this? It would be in the first place that almost every voter would be represented effectively. At the second test election, which we held in the Caxton Hall, over 21,000 persons voted, and at the end of the election there were 18,000, or six-sevenths of the whole, who were able to say that the man for whom they gave their first vote was returned. That is an enormous improvement to introduce upon our present system.
Under the present system, taking the country as a whole, nearly half the people who vote have the mortification of feeling after all that they are represented by a man who embodies the very opposite of their own views. Under this system fully six-sevenths of the people would be able to feel that the man whom they had made their actual first choice was returned to Parliament, and of the remainder a great many would know that at any rate their second or third choice had got in. That, I think, is a very important thing in itself. Beyond that, every full quota, in this case 10,001, would get a representative, and all important bodies of opinion would be represented. The largest party would, of course, get the most quotas, and, therefore, the majority of votes would always get the majority of seats. The most popular men in the party would get the most votes, and would be returned, and any really striking independent man would be very likely to be able to get a following equal to the quota, and he also would be returned. Moreover, the voter, instead of having only one man of his own party before him, would be able to choose, amongst several, the best man of his own party, and give his vote to the man he agreed with upon most or, indeed, probably all important questions. You would get, in a sense, a perfect photograph of the electorate in the elected body, whereas now after the General Election we at once begin asking what is decided. Somebody says in one part of the country such and such a thing was decided, and in other parts of the country they will say the issue was quite different, and in other places even the people living there do not know what is really decided. There is often real doubt about this matter, and always a sufficient excuse for those who wish to do so to suggest immediately after 1395 a General Election under the present system that there is no certainty at all as to what has been decided. Under a proportional system you will have absolute certainty as to the decision of the whole country not only upon the one big issue, but practically upon every issue that was before the electors at the time.
I ask the House to consider what an amount of strength this would give to any representative body. How boldly such a body would be able to speak to its enemies. I should like to deal with the vast improvement that would be brought about by this system in the position of the representatives, but I think I can leave it to Members themselves. They will see, if they think over it, what it would be for a man if, instead of having a very mixed constituency behind him, he had a consistent body of opinion which he represented upon all important questions. I think it would be an immense improvement. We should have another great advantage. There is a small body of people now who do not really think about political questions and who fly from side to side for extraneous reasons. They are able to turn the balance in a very large number of constituencies, so that in each election the turnover of seats is much greater than the real turnover of votes. We should be able to get over that evil. I come now to the latter part of the Resolution. We ask the House to say that they are prepared to allow a municipal body, that is willing, to test this system. In Belgium the system was applied to municipal bodies four years before it was applied to the National Assembly. Lord Courtney some time ago introduced into the House of Lords a Municipal Representation Bill allowing municipal boroughs to adopt the proportional system. It was very thoroughly and carefully examined by a Committee of the other House and passed through that House. Last Session it was introduced into this House, but not being fortunate in the ballot could not make progress, but if there is any encouragement for doing so that Bill will be introduced again in this House. I cannot go fully into what happens in the London municipalities. I may say the London System is the French scrutin de liste. There is a ward system: a ward with three, six, or nine representatives. The whole of the municipal representatives go out at the end of three years, and each voter has the same 1396 number of votes as there are representatives for the wards—three, six, or nine. The result is that very often the majority carry every seat in the ward, and not only that, but where you have a borough similarly situated throughout, the majority has carried every seat in the borough.
It sometimes happens, on the other hand, that where the wards are various the majority in the borough will only get a minority of seats and the minority will be in a majority. Sometimes it happens where the margin is small that a clean sweep is made. At Lewisham on one occasion they were nearly all of one party in the council. At the next election the whole of the party was swept out and a council was returned belonging to the other party. I need not dwell upon the evils that this system introduces into municipal work. I believe there are London boroughs that would be willing to try the proportional system if they were allowed to have a choice. I ask the House to say, and I hope the Government will give me some encouragement in the same direction, that it is desirable to let them have a choice and to let them try this system. It is a system which is no novelty. It has worked elsewhere. Proportional Representation in one form or another is at work in Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, South Africa, Tasmania, and elsewhere, and we want to have it tested here under the conditions prevailing in this country. I hope that the House and the Government will allow me to carry this Resolution and affirm the principle that it is desirable to have it tested so that we may get real information as to its practical working.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
I beg to second the Motion. It seems to me very proper that the Resolution which my hon. Friend has moved, and which I have the honour to second, should be interposed in a period in which we are discussing the problem raised by the Resolutions now before the House. That discussion, I think, has revealed this. That we are face to face with the great problem of the fitness of a Second Chamber, and the grounds on which a Second Chamber should be constructed without there having taken place any adequate education of the electorate by discussions on the platform. Hon. Members opposite taunt Members on this side with being divided, some of them believing in a Second Chamber, and some of them rejecting the principle. On the other hand, hon. Members opposite appear 1397 to be unanimous in favour of a Second Chamber without the least idea of what it is to be like. So I think the honours are even. The House and the country not for the first time in their history find themselves fully up against a grave political problem without any adequate discussion of principles having preceded the measure, and that drawback does not only attach to the problem of a Second Chamber. The discussion has revealed one ground of agreement between the two parties to the controversy, and that is that what is to predominate in the long run is the will of the country, but as to how the will of the country is to be really ascertained there has been even less consideration than has been given to the question of what the Second Chamber ought to be. The Leader of the Opposition yesterday gave as an illustration of the way in which the existing Second Chamber can secure that the will of the country is really given effect to, the election of 1886. He gave that as a special illustration, but, as my hon. Friend has shown, that very election was one in which a minority of the total electorate returned to this House a majority of 104 Members. The actual majority for the defeated party was some 60,000 votes, and if we could ascertain the number of plural voters in the matter it would probably be found that the will of the country was even more grossly misrepresented than it was in the returns made to this House. In the fact of facts like these how can hon. Members on that side of the House feel any confidence that any Second Chamber they may set up will secure in any real sense the will of the country at all, assuming that that will is not secured by the ordinary process of an election?
I think the figures which my hon. Friend gave, and other figures which might be given, will thoroughly establish the proposition that the existing system of choosing representatives in this country never gives the slightest security that the real will of the majority of the country will be given proportional effect to in this House. You can have a minority of electors returning a powerful majority of Members, and you can have a comparatively small majority of electors returning an overwhelming majority of Members. It is notorious that that has happened in practically every election for many years past. One party or another is represented in this House, it may be as in 1886, on the basis of an absolute minority, by a very large majority out of all proportion to the 1398 votes cast at the poll. It would, therefore, surely be expedient at the time when we reconsider the basis of our Constitution that we should go to the very bottom of the matter and inquire if there should not be a radical reform on this point. I recognise, of course, that we cannot hope to carry Proportional Representation until certain other vital reforms are carried; above all, the limitation of the vote to the exclusion of what we call plural voters. So long as that exists Proportional Representation would only continue to give effect to the inequalities of the existing system, but my hon. Friend's Resolution proposes that the principle should be tested by its application to municipalities, and that objection does not lie in that case. Therefore there can be no reasonable objection, I think, to the carrying of my hon. Friend's Resolution and giving effect to it in legislation. If we consider the fundamental principles involved, you might put the matter thus: The whole principle of representative Government is defended, I suppose, from the point of view of one or two rough ideals. Broadly speaking, we elect representatives by counting heads, on the principle that that is the best way of avoiding civil war. Instead of trying strength, we agree to count numbers, and let that settle it. That proposition at once raises a qualifying one, and demands that you should allow minorities to be heard. If you do not merely want to count heads and then roughly decide what should be done before you do anything effecting them, you listen to the minority.
Our existing system secures neither of those two ideals. You do not really count heads in any rational manner. Your fate is decided by a lot of chances at the election. I believe it is a fact that a slight turn of chances in fifty, sixty, or, say, seventy constituencies, where Members are returned by a very small majority, a slight turn in chances, involving a few votes all over the country, might have annihilated on the hand, or on the other hand might have doubled the existing Ministerial majority. Under such existing conditions as this how have you secured that the will of the country should be given effect to when it can only be revealed in such an extremely inadequate way, that, as my hon. Friend said, there is a continuous, perpetual failure to provide adequate representation for Toryism in Wales, in Ireland, and in Scotland. These are considerations which should appeal to hon. Members opposite. In addition to this, we may point out how in city constituencies 1399 in the last election the system works out. For instance, in Nottingham the Liberals had a majority of 2,000 votes all told, and yet they had only one seat out of three. In Sheffield the Liberal majority would have been 3,000 votes, and yet the Liberals only had two seats out of five. The same fortune will also tell against hon. Members opposite. The justification for this Motion is that it is not proposed in the interest of any political party whatever, all alike stand to gain and to be protected by it, and, of course, the sequel, we hope, will be the application of that principle to Parliamentary elections. The result would be to give greater moral stability to the whole of the representative system and save us from such a crisis which we are now facing with very dubious prospects on both sides. It can be specifically urged, in support of my hon. Friend's Resolution, that the municipal elections conducted under the system which he recommends would be a school for the application of the principle and for the preparation of the electors as against the time when we may be able to apply the principle to Parliamentary elections. One of the standing objections against any system of Proportional Representation is that the voter would not understand. I have heard that objection made to Bills introduced in favour of applying the transferable vote to cases in which there are three candidates for one seat. I have heard it argued that a large number of the electors would be incapable of understanding even the simple plan of putting a (1) for one candidate and a (2) for another. I think the answer to that is that it is a little unpatriotic to take for granted that we are the stupidest nation in the world.
If the people of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and some of the Swiss Cantons can work the proportional system, surely our countrymen are capable of working it. If there are a certain number of them who would be absolutely reduced to imbecility by the problem of putting more than one figure on a voting paper, it might be suggested that the loss to the nation from their practical disfranchisement would not be of the very gravest kind. In regard to the point raised by the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) something might be said as to the effect that this reform would have on the party system. The Noble Lord, if I understood him, regarded it as a very calamitous thing that a Member, who nominally belongs to a party strongly 1400 opposed to the majority on some great issue, should fail to keep his seat under the present electoral system, and he pointed to the case of Mr. Harold Cox. But while I consider that the application of the proportional system would certainly give more chances, especially in municipalities where the number of candidates is large, to the independent Member, I will not say I think politicians like Mr. Cox would be very much surer of being elected than they are at present; and I do not think after all that we can seriously, as believers in the representative system, set ourselves to construct a system which would make it certain that they should be elected. After all, the object of a representative system is the election of representatives. If a man holds a political creed, one-half of which is repugnant to nine-tenths of a half of the electors, while the other half is repugnant to nine-tenths of the other half, whatever may be your admiration for his intellectual qualities and your enjoyment of his contributions to the Debates in this House, you can hardly argue that he is typically representative, and you cannot seriously propose to reconstruct your system with a view of giving him a very good chance of getting in. That is not to be looked for. After all, there is always a great field in the country outside for a man of that cast of mind, and I do not know that we in this House are in possession of such absolutely incomparable privileges that we need regard him as being in outer darkness if he has another and a larger area for the exercise of his gifts. But the application of the representative system to larger constituencies would give a proportionately larger chance to a strictly independent man than he has at present, and that ought to be a recommendation in the eyes of Members on both sides.
There is just one serious objection which is sometimes made to the principle as a whole and to the application of the principle of Proportional Representation all round that could not be made to the application of it to municipal elections. That is the increase in the size of the constituency. On the one hand it increases the burden of the cost, and, on the other hand, it increases very seriously the burden of the labour laid upon the candidate. That is to say, if a man is candidate for a whole county, or for the whole of' Manchester or Birmingham, the task 1401 laid upon him becomes very much heavier, and most candidates are disposed to consider that the tasks laid on candidates already are heavy enough; but I think that analysis of the problem will show that that objection is only seemingly valid. As it is, already, the work of candidates is very largely taken out of their hands or shared with them by organisations which support them, and the tendency of our politics is more and more in the direction of every kind of organisation of that kind, and the same thing as regards the burden of costs. If we should come to apply this principle to parliamentary elections where you have a whole city as a constituency, the choice of candidates by each party representing the prevailing opinion gives a special chance for the independent man. The burden of costs for the majority of the candidates will be decidedly less than at present, and as these costs are, in the ordinary course of political evolution, being more and more spread over the party, and as the practice of leaving a man to bear the whole burden of costly contest is probably destined to die out on the principle that a man should not be penalised for trying to serve his country, the application of this principle of proportional representation would probably have the effect of widening the area of choice of the electors by enabling a larger number of men of capacity to come before them, and the obstacles now set up by the possession of means in so many cases will be, if not absolutely removed, greatly minimised. A municipal election, on the lines of municipalities as they stand at present, would not involve any addition to the total cost, and would mean a reduction of the total cost, and there would be no serious difficulty, in view of the present condition of municipal politics and in view of the fashion in which parties in municipal politics work together, running what might be called the party ticket.
That phrase suggests one other objection sometimes made, that wherever the party ticket system holds, you tend to make more and more of the caucus. I should be dispose to say in reply to that objection what Mr. Matthew Arnold said in regard to the theatre. Many objections were made to the theatre on the score of morals, and so on. His answer was, "You cannot keep it out; try and make it better. The theatre is irresistible; organise the theatre." In the same fashion, I should say the caucus is simply the application of the principle of organisation to politics. The caucus must come; organise the caucus.
§ Sir ALFRED CRIPPS
I agree with what the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution have said, that this Question ought not to be approached in any sense from the party spirit, and I rise from the Unionist Benches in order to give my most hearty support to the Resolution. I think most of the difficulties urged against Proportional Representation may be swept on one side very shortly. For a large number of years after the question of Proportional Representation came to the front it was said either to be impracticable in its application or so difficult in its application that you could not trust the electorate really to understand the system by which they were asked to give expression to their views and opinions. I do not think that an objection of that kind can possibly be held to be valid at the present moment. The charge of impracticability has been shown to be a false charge as regards any proper system of Proportional Representation. It exists in Belgium, Denmark, Wurtemberg, Sweden, Finland, several cantons in Switzerland, and in a very large number of municipalities in the United South Africa for the election of a Senate, although it was not introduced for the election of the more popular Assembly, and not only has it been found to be practicable in those very numerous cases, but I do not think anyone nowadays will be found to state that if a system of Proportional Representation is in itself good it can really be attacked on the ground that it is difficult of application or that those who are asked to apply it could not apply it so as to bring about its full results. Perhaps I may give one other illustration. In the organisation of the Scottish railway-men it was found that without Proportional Representation the election of representatives was not satisfactory. In other words, you did not get a true representation of the men who sought to be represented on the central body, and, therefore, that organisation, for the purpose of getting better representation, has introduced, or is going to introduce, a system of Proportional Representation. One need not argue further as to the first part of the proposition, namely, that Proportional Representation is good in itself. It is quite easily applied, and its applicability has been shown to be a success in a large number of instances. Assuming that it is a practical system, I doubt whether any other question is of greater importance at the present moment than the question of Proportional Representation. I entirely 1403 agree with what has been said by the Proposer and Seconder of the Resolution, that under the existing system it cannot be said that we get a true representation of the people in the House of Commons. I do not know whether we ought to talk of it as the "voice of the people" or the "will of the people," but as a matter of fact, under existing conditions, you get neither the one nor the other. You get very different results as regards the political questions, and in future these might have an important bearing in relation to the condition of the country. You get merely a representation of the majority, and even so far as the representation of the majority is concerned you can get a very contorted representation, inconsistent with the wishes and desires of the people, as compared with what would be given if the majority of the people were truly represented.
But I think there is something very much more important than that. If you wish a true system of representation, and if you wish this House to be what it claims to be —a representation, not of sections of the people, but of the people as a whole—you must have fair representation both of minorities and majorities. I strongly object myself to what was once said by a leading Member on the Ministerial Bench that "minorities must suffer." I think the expression "minorities must suffer" implies that majorities are likely to be unjust and tyrannous. I think the proper principle is that minorities must be represented. If they are represented you prevent their suffering, and you take away the temptation from majorities of using their power harshly or unjustly. The representation of majorities really means the representation of power rather than right. This at least is certain, that if you are to have any representative system which can fully claim to be representative in this House it must be so adjusted that every class and every minority shall have its fair representation, and in that way alone you get the representation of the people as apart merely from the representation of a majority or the representation of a class. I might refer for a moment to what was said long ago by Mill in his "Representative Government." He pointed out there that the representation of the majority was inconsistent with the true idea of the representation of the people. He, of course, was a strong advocate of Proportional Representation, and I should like to endorse every word we find in Mill's well- 1404 known work, that whereas representation in the true sense is the best safeguard of rights and liberties, the representation of majorities alone gives temptations to the unjust use of power, and even presses hardly on the rights of minorities.
Another illustration may be given as regards the effect of the present system. Sometimes it has been referred to as contorted representation, and sometimes it has been likened to what we have in the game of dice. Let me give one or two illustrations of both sides to show that this is not a party question at all. The minority in Wales in the last Parliament was un-represented altogether, and that was very unjust. Even in the present House the representation of Wales is comparatively quite out of proportion to the numbers of the minority. It is true that there are two Members in this House who have been sent here by very slender majorities, but I do not think that anyone will say that the minority in Wales is properly represented at the present time. Now I take the other side of the question. For Kent, Surrey, and Sussex there is no representation on the Ministerial side of the House. As a matter of fact there are over 144,000 voters who represent the same opinions as are represented on the Ministerial side of the House. I think they ought to have a fair voice if this House is to be, as it is claimed to be, representative of the voice and will of the people of the country. It is no consolation to the un-represented minority in one part of the country that there is some other minority in another part of the country suffering in the same way. It has been pointed out that at the present moment we are discussing somewhat large constitutional questions. I do not want to go into these questions on the present occasion, but is it not of the essence of the whole claim of the House of Commons to exercise their powers and their authority that they should be a truly representative body, representing not a majority, representing not a class, but representing all classes in all parts of the country, and giving a fair share of power to minorities as well as to majorities? I think it is only in that way this House in the long run will be really and truly representative either of the voice or will of the people.
There is one other reason why I am very strongly in favour of Proportional Representation. I know it is not popular in this House to suggest that the character 1405 of the representatives might be improved. But I do believe myself—without any reference to any particular Members of the House, I need hardly say—that as a matter of principle the character of the representatives in this House would be improved on the whole by a proper system of Proportional Representation. I believe it for this reason. It would give undoubtedly greater independence to Members of this House. It would allow such a gentleman as has been referred to, namely, Mr. Harold Cox, to be returned as a representative in this House, and it would give larger scope to a number of representatives who on particular points may not agree with the party ticket, and who yet might find a large share of support as regards the opinions of the country at large. It is a very important matter, not only that this House should be representative in that sense, but that it should attract to itself the best possible Members, having regard to the great duties and responsibilities which are entrusted to it by the country. The form of this Resolution is merely to give an option to municipalities to adopt the principle of Proportional Representation. I see the President of the Local Government Board opposite me, and no doubt he will speak upon this subject presently. I wish to put the question to him: Can there be any reason why municipalities who desire to adopt the principle of Proportional Representation should not be allowed to do so? It is not to be forced upon them. They are merely to be given an option to adopt it if they think in that way they can get a better body and better representation for local purposes. I am sure he will bear in mind, when he considers this question, all the great advantages which have been conferred on municipalities outside this country by the adoption of this principle of Proportionate Representation. For these reasons I heartily support the Resolution before the House, and I hope that it may be adopted in no party spirit.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I myself am in a similar position to the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. We are both able to rejoice in the fact that this question is in no way a party issue. I believe it is quite true to say that neither of the parties represented in this House has yet adopted it as one of their points. On the other hand, it is equally true to say that neither of the parties represented here has yet rejected the issue. On this question I 1406 am in the position of being unable to speak on behalf of the party with whom I customarily act, because we are in a like position to the other parties in this House, in that we have not yet made a definite declaration on the point. Nevertheless, I have supported for some time the principle of Proportional Representation, because of the fact that I am a democrat in politics. I believe, I may say, that all British parties are democrats, inasmuch as they recognise that the will of the people should prevail. In the prevailing order it is not correct to say that the voice of the people is adequately represented in this House. The three previous speakers have called attention to the great injustice and anomalies which have marked the recent election, and which proved to us that majorities have been greatly exaggerated in this House. One case has been cited of an actual minority of votes cast at the General Election giving a majority of representatives in this House. A system that allows such anomalies as that to be effected cannot be defended. We are a democratic people, and I have not yet learned that there is any party in the State that is going to alter the principle of democratic representation. Therefore it seems to me it is but right that we should seek to have conditions so adjusted so as to allow the actual state of thought in the country to be properly reflected in the representation in this House. We all admit that majorities must rule. At the same time, we claim that minorities should be represented in this House. Yet it is quite possible by an understanding or collusion of political forces in this country to make it utterly impossible even for considerable minorities to have representatives in this House at all.
I am able to recall an experience in my own career which first of all forced this principle to my notice. I had for some years worked in the public life: of a particular city, and I could there see the possibility that, although the party with which I was associated might ultimately grow to be almost half the electorate, yet a combination of other political forces made it utterly impossible for that party ever to secure representation in that district. I am simply pointing that out as a reason which compelled me to give some consideration to this question of Proportional Representation. Now it is often alleged that the adoption of this principle would lead to the disruption of the two-party system. Personally I am of the view that such a condition is absolutely inevit- 1407 able. I do not think you can decree for all time that there shall be two parties and two parties alone in the State. The group system is already developing in this country, and if Proportional Representation did in any way facilitate that process of development, on the other hand I feel that even if you do not adopt the principle you will not prevent the group system coming into existence. I am a Member of a group in this House. We claim, and I think we are able to demonstrate, that we represent at least some proportion of the electorate who are entitled to direct representation in this House, and yet it is possible by an understanding between other parties, absolutely to wipe out this form of representation, which, I think all will agree, is a state of things that never should be allowed to exist. I do not say it is probable that such an eventuality should ever arise. I simply point out that it is possible under the prevailing order, my point being this, that the right of minorities to be represented in this House should not be determined by the attitude of other parties towards them.
We claim that the principle of democratic representation makes it imperative that those persons who are able to carry with them votes in the country should have corresponding representation in this House. As has been pointed out to me, probably the party with which I am associated might not gain under the system of Proportional Representation. I do not look at this matter merely from the standpoint of party expediency. I claim that the party with which I am associated, or any other party, has the right to the representation that its numerical strength in the country warrants. On the other hand, it has a right to no more than that strength gives them. in the country; and I support the principle because I believe it to be absolutely just, not alone to one party, but to every party in the State, because of the fact that nothing that any other party in the State could do could prevent any particular party or persons securing some representation in this House. Under the existing order, there is no doubt a great grievance, and many cases have been cited, such, for instance, as the 97,000 Unionist voters in Wales who were only able to get representation in this House by what is admitted to be almost a fluke at the last election; a state of things like that cannot possibly be defended. On the other hand, in the 1408 southern counties, although the Ministerialist party hold some 135,000 votes they were unable to secure one representative in this House. I maintain that any groups of electors put in a position of a hopeless minority, or, on the other hand, any groups of electors put in a position to secure a majority, causes a state of affairs which is not good for the civic life of our country, and Proportional Representation, I believe, is a principle which would modify that unfortunate condition of things. The hon. and learned Gentleman who preceded me pointed out that the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, at any rate the Scottish branch of that organisation, have decided to adopt the principle of Proportional Representation in the election of its delegates to be sent to the Trades Union Congress. It is sometimes said that Labour movement has been very slow in taking up this great Question of electoral reform, but here we have, at any rate, one of the largest trade unions of the country embracing the principle in an experimental form. We cannot emphasise too strongly the fact that the promoter of the Resolution before the House are not asking the House of Commons to adopt and immediately apply the principle of Proportional Representation, but they are asking it to declare it to be expedient that this principle should be experimented with by municipal bodies in their local elections in accordance with that principle. Another interesting fact of the period is to be observed in the fact that the Social Democratic party in the German Reichstag initiated a Resolution there, and I believe carried it through that Assembly, in favour of the principle of Proportional Representation, proposed to be granted to Alsace-Lorraine. Those are very interesting observations, and are intended as much for the edification of some of my colleagues as for the edification of hon. Gentlemen in other portions of the House. The principle is in no way novel, as has been pointed out. It is in application in many other parts of the world, and to say that is so complex and so difficult that the British people would fail to apprehend it is, as the hon. Member put it, to cast a reflection on our own population. Surely the proposal we are making is no more complex or difficult than the processes which prevail in urban and other elections, where the voters have to wade through long lists placed before them; and if ordinary instructions were given to them they might be relied upon to place their figures before 1409 the names they thought proper. In Switzerland the principle has been in practice during the last twenty years for cantonal purposes, and here again it has proved to be so satisfactory that the requisite number of Swiss citizens have already signed a requisition, known as the "Initiative," I believe, so that the whole matter is to be subsequently submitted by Referendum to the people, and there is every reason to believe that the system will be adopted for a general Federal election as well. In the Belgian elections, under the Proportional Representation system, in the year 1908, the Liberals and Socialists, who ran, I believe, on a joint line on that occasion, secured forty-three seats, while the exact proportion to which they were entitled on the proportional system was forty-four. The Catholics secured thirty-seven seats, and the exact proportion to which they were entitled was thirty-six. In Finland the Socialists secured eighty-four seats, and were entitled to eighty, and the Old Finns secured forty-eight and were entitled to forty-seven. In the German Reichstag elections the Social Democrats polled 3,259,029 votes, and secured forty-three seats, and were entitled to 115; the Conservatives polled 1,532,072, and secured eighty-four seats, and were entitled to fifty-four.
It is urged that the proposal would necessarily increase the cost and general work of an election. Some hon. Gentlemen regard it as absolutely essential that there should be personal contact between the candidate and everyone of the electors. Personally, I feel that this is hardly a desirable state of affairs. I think that with the increased facilities for education and the greater distribution of party literature, there is not so much need for that direct personal contact which hitherto has been regarded as absolutely essential. Rather, it is my hope that the British people will develop that intellectual and civic quality which will induce them to vote for principles rather than for individuals. I believe that under this proportional system there would not be the same need for this personal contact. I generally support the system of Proportional Representation because I believe it will increase activity and give greater stability to parties in the House of Commons, and will avoid those violent oscillations from one side to the other which have become almost a tradition of politics. I heartily support the Motion, and I venture to point out that it does not pledge hon. Gentlemen to the adoption of the principle, though it 1410 will afford an opportunity for very valuable experiments being conducted in our country. I believe those experiments would remove the doubts which exist in the minds of many, while they would very largely fulfil the expectation of the advocates of Proportional Representation. Certain I am of this, that once it was generally understood it would give considerable satisfaction to every party, because they would know they had received fair play, that they had secured representation in exact proportion to their numerical strength, and that a majority would still be secured in this House at the same time that the minorities would have legitimate means of being heard.
§ Sir WILLIAM ANSON
We enjoyed in the earlier part of the day discussion as to one branch of the Legislature, and we are now discussing the mode of representation in this House, and there seems to be a general desire to come to a conclusion satisfactory to all parties. The Mover of the Resolution and my hon. Friend behind me, as well as other speakers, have gone fully into the anomalies, I may say the absurdities, which result from our present system of election. We have large areas in the country in which one party is at a disadvantage, or grossly under-represented, and no one has suggested that this is really a right thing to happen. I think some party manager, giving evidence before the Commission appointed by the Prime Minister, and which sat during the greater part of last year, suggested that these things were the fortune of war, and that inequalities of one place were redressed by inequalities in another, and that on the whole we had better make shift with the system we have. I cannot think that it is any satisfaction to the Unionists in Wales to feel that the Radicals in Birmingham are almost entirely, if not entirely, devoid of representation. These anomalies are so gross that the attention of the Government has been properly called to them, and I hope that both parties will use their best efforts to redress them. One of the great evils of the present system is not merely the permanent disfranchisement of many capable citizens but also the violent oscillations of parties which takes place at successive General Elections. We recollect the extraordinary change which took place in the position of the two parties in 1885 and 1886, and again in 1895. I do not like to say how many of my political friends lost their seats in 1906, and I think 120 or more of the followers of the 1411 Government are now considering how to redress their ill-fortunes in the country at the present moment. I think these oscillations are attributable to the fact that in the single particular constituency you have a narrow choice for the electors who very often do not wish for either candidate, and vote for him whom they regard as the lesser of two evils. At the next election the elector thinks that A was much less satisfactory than he expected him to be, and he says, "I will now try B." The result is that one party secures an immense majority at one time and another at another time. Although in the present state of things we have not an overwhelming majority on either side of the House still we know enough of what happens in this House to feel that these violent changes do not conduce to good government.
It is worth ascertaining what are the possibilities in the matter. What are the chances of any Government bringing in a measure which would carry out any system of Proportional Representation. It is almost too much to expect that a Government with a very large majority would do so, because the inevitable result would be that the majority would be diminished, if not extinguished, at the next election. The Government might say to themselves, "Though we are bound to be in the minority, yet the swing of the pendelum in a few years hence will bring us back with the same overwhelming majority." I doubt whether the Government, flushed with the success of a great majority, would be likely to bring in a Bill for Proportional Representation. Is a Government with a small majority likely to do so? If a Government with a large majority will not, a Government with a small majority cannot, for the very good reason that Proportional Representation involves redistribution, and redistribution involves a considerable reduction in the representation of Ireland. A Government with a small majority, on whichever side of the House it sits, could not be independent of a solid Nationalist vote averse to any reduction in the representation of Ireland. That seems to me, under ordinary conditions, to put Proportional Representation very much out of the range of practical politics. We now have in this House four solid, distinct, independent views, and we have no party which is really independent of the support of any one of those. A Government, under those circumstances, must live 1412 from hand to mouth. Suppose the Labour party and the Nationalist party were to say, "We are not satisfied with either the Government or the Opposition," and that they were to go away from them, what would be the position of the Government? They would be entirely dependent on the help and disengagement of their supporters. If five Members of the Government party were afflicted with influenza and the whole of the Opposition in good health, the Government would go out. It is a question whether Proportional Representation would perpetuate this state of things, or whether a series of General Elections would perpetuate them; and whether this may not bring parties together to consider whether the representation of the country cannot be improved so that it should be a real reflection of political opinion of the country, and not what it is now, a purely haphazard result of the inclination or disinclination of the electors with a limited choice of candidates.
It is quite clear that the continuance of the present state of things is not desirable in the interests of the country. It is not desirable that one Government after another should have an overwhelming majority and do exactly what it likes, and that its supporters should be ordered about without regard to their individual opinion, nor is it desirable that the Government should be dependent on the support of two or three people. But while we have this system let us consider what are the other evils which are involved besides the oscillations to which I have referred, and besides the permanent disfranchisement of a considerable number of the electors. Nobody can regard with satisfaction the fact that there are many men interested and active in politics who go to the poll time after time with the settled conviction that they will be always in a minority, and that they will never have the opportunity of cheering their candidate as a successful man, and who never feel that their vote is really of any weight in the determination of the affairs of the country. That cannot be a happy position for anyone to contemplate who takes an interest in the politics of this country. One merit of the scheme of Proportional Representation, as so clearly set forth by the Mover of the Resolution, is that everybody would feel that his vote was at any rate worth something, and that it did not go into the ballot box as a waste paper basket and as a worthless contribution to the political life of the country. 1413 That alone, I think, would be a substantial advantage.
Then there is the question of the exclusion from Parliament of men who cannot fall exactly into line with their party, and who, under our present rigorous party organisation, are excluded from politics. Names have already been mentioned to which I need not again refer. No doubt there are men whose critical faculties are so acute that they find it very difficult to agree with anybody, and whose powers of expression are so admirable and so incisive that they make their disagreement unpleasantly conspicuous to their best friends. It is possible that such men cannot hope to find places in an Assembly in which it may be necessary to subordinate their views at a particular time to those of the party with whom they act. But there are many cases of men habitually loyal to their party who nevertheless at some point or other differ from them. Confining ourselves to the past, during the latter half of the last century there may be found men who, if the party organisation had been as close as it is to-day would have been excluded from this House, and whose exclusion would have made a difference to the country. If party organisation between 1880 and 1885 had been what it is now the late Mr. Goschen would not have found a seat in this House, because he differed from his party. I think, also, that if hon. Members were to follow out the career of the late Mr. Gladstone during the period when he was passing from the Conservatism of his youth to the Liberalism or Radicalism of his later years, they would find that he too, if he had not been the representative of a university might have found it difficult to secure a place in this House. Another aspect of the matter is that this close party organisation, with the exclusion of men who are independent and capable of expressing forcibly their differences with their party, leads to an extraordinary increase in the power of the Executive Government. It is the Cabinet and the Prime Minister who determine how the party is to vote. In view of the tremendous oscillations of political opinion in the country, and the great risk a Member runs of not securing re-election, especially if he has been in Parliament for a couple of years or more, a Government which can threaten its party with a dissolution if they do not obey orders exercises a tremendous control. We had a singular instance of that the other day when, owing to a very interesting confes- 1414 sion of Lord Marchamley, we got what we so seldom get, a glimpse of the soul of a Whip. We know now what nobody would have believed at the time, that when the late Liberal Whip was shepherding his flock into the Division Lobby on Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's Veto Resolutions, in his heart of hearts he was not shepherding his flock into the fold, but was sending them down a steep place into the sea.
I believe that a system of Proportional Representation, giving free play to the choice of the electors, and somewhat freer play to the action of the representatives in Parliament, would correct many of the evils from which we suffer under our present system. I by no means wish to run down or to despair of the party system or the representative system. I believe that our representative system can be made really representative of the country. If any Government would boldly come forward and take this matter up, I am sure we should all endeavour to make this House representative, as it ought to be, of every shade of political opinion in the country, and to secure that no substantial minority was left without a voice in the conduct of the affairs of the nation. I believe also that it is quite possible to retain the party organisation for the purposes of government without putting that strain on individual opinion which, unhappily, it does now. I have ventured to make these remarks because I believe most strongly in Proportional Representation as a cure of many of the disadvantages of the present system. The discussion so far has been in a friendly spirit, and we have yet to hear the President of the Local Government Board. I do not suppose the Resolution can have any practical effect for some time to come so far as Parliamentary representation is concerned; but if Proportional Representation can be tested wherever that test can be applied—and it can be applied in our municipal government with great ease—I feel sure we should watch its working with great interest.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. John Burns)
I would ask permission to split the Motion into two parts, so that it can be more efficiently dealt with from the Government point of view. The Motion is: "That, inasmuch as the present systems of electing representatives, whether to Parliament or municipal bodies, result in grave anomalies and injustices, it is expedient to test the system of proportional 1415 election, and for that purpose to empower municipal boroughs to apply that system in the election of their councils." So far as Parliament and Parliamentary elections are concerned, my hon. Friend hopes by this Motion and the principle that it embodies, if legislative effect be given to it, to remove many grave anomalies and injustices. So far as he is desirous of removing anomalies and injustices from our electoral system, we go with him to the fullest possible extent. But there are anomalies and injustices in our present electoral system which Proportional Representation would not eradicate, and there are a few which it might extend. The Government take the view that there are anomalies and injustices. For instance, we think that the election for this House spread over six weeks is an anomaly and an injustice that ought not to be continued; that it is prejudicial to trade, I believe it is annoying to the candidate, and the expenses incurred in that process do not result in the best type of man being returned. Riches and a capacity to fight elections for a long period, and the character and quality of the House of Commons do not always go together. Proportional Representation may remove some defects. There are others it would not remove, such, as I have said, the election spread over six weeks, plural voting, possible personation—which is probable in many cases —and the cost of elections. The expenses under Proportional Representation of five or nine-Membered constituencies would unquestionably increase if one of the candidates did not happen to be on the selected or approved list. Then there is the whole cost of election expenses; the question as to whether we should not vote all on one day, or on two days. There is the question of University representation—which some regard as both an anomaly and an injustice. There is a larger question of redistribution, which, whatever you do with Proportional Representation, would still exist, and this Motion would not remove it. There is the question of the second ballot. I am not so sure that after recent experiences all sides would not agree that grave anomalies and injustices were committed by the extension— almost the intolerable extension—of persistent house-to-house canvassing, which in some respect has gone beyond peaceful picketting, and has become absolute intimidation. I am not so sure that from the point of view of the peaceful and æsthetic 1416 conduct of elections that we would not nearly all agree upon some stoppage, if not actual prohibition, of the coarse and ugly placards that disfigured the walls, and which, in my judgment, prostituted the elections where some of those abominable cartoons were exhibited.
I only mention these eight or nine anomalies and injustices to point the moral and prove the wisdom and justice of the Government in anticipating what is practical, immediate, and possible in this Motion by the appointment of a Royal Commission to go into what this Motion embodies, and the other anomalies and injustices which I think it is time we considered. A year ago the Government appointed a Royal Commission, the reference to which I think it is appropriate I should read:—To examine the various schemes which have been adopted or proposed in order to secure a fully representative character for popularly elected legislative bodies, and to consider whether and how far they, or any of them, are capable in this country in regard to the existing electorate.This Commission has been sitting now a year. I have every reason to believe that its Report will be soon before the public. I gather from one of the Members of the Commission, who has done his country a service by being a Member of it, that the Report will be almost immediately presented, and as the subject of Proportional Representation has been put before the Committee by competent witnesses, and the other side has also been heard, I think the Government were wise in their decision to anticipate this Motion by instituting the Commission.
It is, I think, appropriate, that I should refer to, and I think the House will join with me and share with me the profound sorrow that we all have in the unfortunate, the tragic, death of Mr. Robertson, the Secretary of the Commission, in the recent mountaineering accident in Wales.
I would like to point out to the Mover of this Motion that it must not be taken for granted that all anomalies and injustices are going to be removed if the Government accepted this particular Motion. In my judgment people have not sufficiently realised that even with Proportional Representation, whether it be by transferable vote by a method of quota or multiple transferable vote, a very small and very select minority would be excluded as larger minorities sometimes now are. As a matter of fact it is as well 1417 for all of us to confess that there is no absolute, remedy for any electoral grievance. There is a relative remedy for the disparity that now exists between minorities who sometimes get a majority of seats, and, worse still, majorities who get a minority of seats under the present system. It is also to be borne in mind that some of the injustices of the municipal electoral system which this Motion seeks to rectify are qualified to some extent by the system of voting a certain proportion of aldermen and others on councils, and increasingly the process of co-opting outsiders—very often people who would not be elected at a severely contested election —as members of education and other committees, and thus has removed some of the crudities that attach to the present system. I am really very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle emphasised the difficulty which would accrue even under Proportional Representation in large areas, where the constituency has three, five, six, or nine candidates. In these, days, with rapid transit by motorcar, it is a very favourable advantage on the side of men who can command the largest number, and is a handicap on the poor man, who cannot command any motor car at all. Proportional Representation in itself would not remedy the anomaly and injustice which prevailed in the last election on both sides by the indecent use of motor cars to keep other people out.
There is another aspect of this Motion which I would ask the minorities in this House to bear in mind. My own view is that in respect to some of these existing minorities, or, to call them by a colloquial term, "groups," it is a moot point as to whether the views that they hold as strongly as they do would secure the advantage they at present have if Proportional Representation were applied to the electoral system of this country. I am under that impression because I have been invariably on the side of minorities. I doubt whether the Labour Members would find that it would be the advantage to them that for the moment their spokesman to-night thought it might possibly be. The absence of the Irish Members from this Debate indicates that they are content with the present system, and that they are suspicious of the merits of this particular Motion. It is a mistake to assume altogether that Proportional Representation is going to lead to an election of a higher quality and character and personnel such as was implied by one or 1418 two speakers in the House. Belgium has been quoted as an illustration of the way in which everybody has been made contented and happy by Proportionate Representation. I have only to read one or two paragraphs from a report which has been furnished to show a different view:—Those on the extreme Left especially view it with a certain dislike, and the Socialists instinctively feel that even though they themselves way, in Opposition, derive benefit from it, it is on the whole a Conservative, or as they would say an obtrusive and reactionary agency ‥‥ On the other hand the present system is open to the criticism that it in some respects defeats its own professed ends. It is in practice fatal to the representation of small minorities or to the presence in the Chambers of independent members. ‥‥It is no doubt an unsatisfactory symptom in almost all the Legislatures of the present day that the old system of alternative Government by two, or at most three, great parties, the Right, Centre, and Left of the Continent, and the Tories, Whigs and Radicals of England, is being modified throughout Europe by the detachment from these main bodies of numerous smaller political groups, many of them class or local, or what is sometimes vulgarly called ' faddist,' and that, even the Mother of Parliaments is not quite exempt, from this tendency, which finds perhaps its most extreme expression in the German Reichstag. That Belgium, unlike her neighbours, unlike even the sister kingdom of the Netherlands, should so far have resisted, it may be an advantage or the reverse, but it is at least a somewhat singular consequence of a reform one of whose main objects was to protect and voice the interests of minorities.So it is evident that the evidence from Belgium is not quite so conclusive as some hon. Members seem to suggest.
When I heard my hon. Friend the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Alfred Cripps) suggest that if we had a proper system of representation, instead of there being two Conservative Members for Wales and a majority of twenty-two there would be eight or ten, I felt a suspicion that progressive politicians from Wales are not enamoured of a system at the moment which would convert the two Conservatives into eight or ten. It is no compensation for Wales to say that Surrey and Kent and Sussex, which now return no Liberal or Radical Member at all, would have, under this system of Proportional Representation, twelve or fourteen. I only mention this not in any party or controversial spirit, but to illustrate that minorities, even under a Proportional Representation, may suffer. I believe that some of the minor anomalies and injustices Proportional Representation would remove would be supplanted by others unless you had electoral reforms of a more substantial character following closely on the heels of Proportional Representation.
Now I come to the question of personnel and character of Members of Parliament. I have only been eighteen years a Member of this House, and I do not believe, 1419 whether we have Proportional Representation or any other, the character, quality, and personnel of the Members of this House would be materially affected. I am one of those who share the view that the personnel of this House is not worse than it used to be. I believe, from the point of view of its loyalty, disinterestedness, honesty, and incorruptibility it will compare to-day with any Parliament of twenty or fifty or one hundred years ago. The only reason I mentioned that is I do not want those who favour Proportional Representation to get it into their heads that it would mean the return of a number of glorified superior persons, who, however excellent they may be, are, from the point of view of Government or Parliament, better away from the House of Commons than in it. If these people are of such transcendent ability and genius, and if they have all the talent which has been attributed to some of them, and if they are defeated at one election, I am sure other opportunities will be given to them to look elsewhere; and if they cannot get an ordinary constituency some of them may find in a university constituency a refuge which is not always a sanctuary. I am asked what the Government are going to do with regard to this Motion. That makes my task very simple. The Government, so far as the principle of Proportional Representation is concerned, as embodied in this Motion, are going to let the House have its own way, and do its own bidding according to the views of individual Members. The Whips are not going to be put on—that is a sign this is a reasonable Government. We intend, so far as the principle of Proportional Representation is concerned, as expressed in this Motion, to leave the matter to the House. With regard to the second portion of the Motion, which speaks" of empowering municipal boroughs to apply that system in the election of councils," the suggestion was that this could be done either by the simple consent of the Local Government Board or by the issue of certain electoral orders, or by a general order giving the local authorities the power to carry out these experiments if they wished. Before I come to say a final word upon this point I would like to say that I do not see that the municipalities are in favour of conducting municipal elections under a system of Proportional Representation. On the contrary, I believe that 295 towns, large and small, have expressed themselves in 1420 favour of the present provincial system of electing one-third of their members at a time. They regard that as being an infinitely better system than that which prevails, I think unfortunately, in the London Metropolitan Borough Councils, when all the members go out together. It destroys the continuity of municipal representation and administration. Beyond expressing themselves in favour of the provincial system and not the system which prevails in London, none of the municipalities have given a strong lead, so far as I can gather, in favour of Proportional Representation even being applied to municipal elections. I do not want to throw the least element of discord into this Debate by quoting distinguished politicians and statesmen who, on previous occasions, have spoken on this subject, but I may mention that men like John Bright and Lord Beaconsfield were under the impression that any serious departure from the two-party system tempered by one or two reasonably large groups would tend to instability, and would perhaps threaten a complex and large Empire, as the British Empire is through its Parliamentary institutions, and expose it to shocks and caprices under Proportional Representation which would not be possible under the two-party system. My right hon. Friend on my right has very sound views on nearly all questions, both public and private, but I do not think I am saying more about his view on this subject than I ought to do when I say that he regards Proportional Representation as politically the eighth deadly sin; that Proportional Representation should take the position of bimetallism and perpetual motion; and that just as it is one of the most fascinating, so it is one of the most illusory problems that could disturb mankind. Whether that view is shared by many it is not for me to inquire into, but I put it to the friends of Proportional Representation that several of the cases they have quoted are not apposite and cannot be applied to a system like we have, which is ancient, governed not only by tradition and history, but by a long continuance of the two-party system. It is not apposite to give instances like Wurtemburg and Austro-Hungary where acute religious differences, have determined the introduction of Proportional Representation apart from any great regard for political equity. It is hardly fair to quote the election by a Scottish trade union of one of their officials by a system of alternative vote, because the conditions are different. 1421 There the question to be determined was the personal fitness and capacity of the man to be officially elected for an administrative post. In such an election you do not get religion, social forces, and political hostility introduced as we do at Parliamentary elections, and sometimes at municipal elections. In conclusion I have to say that as to Proportional Representation being applied as expressed in this Motion, we will leave that to the House to decide by vote, but I must tell the House that we cannot accept that part of the Motion which relates to giving local authorities the option to apply this principle to elections. If we could do that by an order or by the simple consent of the Local Government Board our answer would be relatively easy, but to do what the Motion requires, namely, to pledge ourselves to bring in a Bill this Session to give effect to the latter part of the Resolution, the Government are not in a position to give that pledge.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
Should I be in order in suggesting that I really did not ask the Government to promise a Bill, and I submit, with all respect, that there is nothing in the wording of the Resolution which implies that. I only ask the House to approve of the principle. I will bring in the Bill.
§ Mr. BURNS
It was worth my while to emphasise that to elicit the clear and direct statement my hon. Friend has just made. If all he wishes is for the House to vote on the principle of Proportional Representation, and if the Motion, however it may be treated, is not to be regarded as a pledge to bring in a Bill either this Session or next, or to take definite action until the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform reports, then we apply to the latter portion of the Motion the condition we apply to the, former part; and the Government is prepared to leave this matter to a vote of the House itself.
§ Sir HENRY KIMBER
I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that this Question was started, and very wisely, by the Mover as a non-party Question, and as one which really ought not to have mixed up with it the question of its effect upon parties. The Mover was very careful to keep it in that position, and the Seconder also, except that he referred to its effect upon parties in coming to the conclusion that it would not in any way affect the action of parties. It remained for the occupants of the Front Benches on 1422 both sides—and it was very natural they should—to look at the Question from the point of view of its effect upon the position of the parties inside this House. Hon. Members should not allow their minds to be occupied by the effect of the system upon the parties here. The sole question is how the will of the nation—which I understand to be the nation's opinion—should be best expressed inside this House. Whether it affects this party or that disadvantageously is immaterial. It is only right that on the democratic principle on which this House is formed, the true representation of the people and of the people's mind, their opinion should be given a reflex in this House, regardless of consequences. In order to be a direct representation of the people, this House must reflect the people in a fairly proportionate manner, all the opinions of the people outside. That is a question not merely of the representation of the people, but of the distribution of seats, which is a part of a much greater question of Proportional Representation. It is a question which I have laboured at during the last eighteen years in this House. I have succeeded in extracting the assent of successive Prime Ministers, representing both sides of the House, and I have got the subject into two King's Speeches, and yet nothing has been done. What have been the facts? During the twenty-five years I have been in this House the disparity in the representation of the people here has risen from eight to one to thirty to one. By sight to one I mean the proportion of the largest constituency to the smallest. At the time of the last Reform Bill, after which I entered Parliament, that was the proportion as represented here. It was not a large disparity, but it has increased year after year and has now risen to the enormous disparity of thirty to one. The result upon the whole is this, that some two-thirds of this House are returned by one-third of the electors of the country. One-half of the total electorate, which is 7,700,000 odd, sends 454 Members to this House, and the other half only sends 216, making up 670. How can we be said, in any fair sense, to represent the people or the people's opinions outside? You can take it another way. The one-half which returns the 454 Members, that is, more than two-thirds of the House, elect them by an average of 8,400 odd electors; and the other half, send the 216, who have on the average 17,287 electors. How can that represent the opinion of the people? Yet we pretend we represent the people. 1423 When we come inside the House we split up in a different fashion, but unfortunately it does not correspond with the numbers. It would be easy to show how one-half of our Members—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is dealing with an entirely different problem which has nothing to do with Proportional Representation; he is raising the whole question of redistribution.
§ Sir HENRY KIMBER
I will abandon that. My only object was to show the position we are now in, and our desire, the desire of the whole House, will be, I believe, to remedy this disparity under which we suffer. I admit it is only a part, a small part, of the larger question. It might be immaterial in the early centuries of Parliamentary Government that minorities should be un-represented. What the country wanted then was to get able business men who were willing to come to Parliament, and it was necessary sometimes to use force. I believe it is on record that some Members, Knights of the Shire, and Members for boroughs, were put in durance vile for not attending diligently and daily in this House, but we must bear in mind that all through this House has consisted, and still consists of 670 representatives of majorities only, and that there are 670 important minorities which are not represented at all. It was immaterial at a time when everybody was intent when they were sent to this House on doing one thing, and that was to administer the affairs of the country to the best advantage. The party system sprung up in the course of centuries, and now it has become grossly accentuated to such a degree that the commonweal of the country is apt to be lost sight of, and it is becoming so intense that we have seen in this Debate how Gentlemen on the Front Benches have been constrained to look upon this question from the effect upon their particular party. I do say that the one thing we want represented in this House is the nation's will, and we must represent now, not only majorities but minorities, and the only question that remains is how best to do that. There are several ways in which that can be done. The second ballot is one way suggested. That has proved a failure and to be an instrument in the hands of wire-pullers who can defeat the very object we have in view. Proportional Representation is the only method that I have yet seen or 1424 studied which can meet the difficulty. It may appear at first sight to be a little complex and difficult to understand, but if anyone will give a small half-hour to the study of it they will see that it is one of the simplest things on the face of the earth. I am gratified at the sympathetic reception which the proposal has received from the President of the Local Government Board. and I do hope that the system may be tried in a small way in municipal affairs, and that eventually we may succeed in getting it adopted for the election of Members of this House. I cordially support the Motion.
§ Mr. W. P. BEALE
I do not propose to add anything to the argument about the general Question, but I do ask to touch on one point which the President of the Local Government Board made when he referred to the difficulty in the way of making a concrete experiment of this method of election upon municipal bodies. However difficult it may be to get them to adopt it, possibly on account of the matter which he mentioned that they prefer a system of retirement every three years, I want to call attention to the fact that there is one case where the experiment could be very easily tried, I think, with very beneficial results, namely, the election of the Scottish School Boards. There, so far from its being a matter against which any opinion is pronounced, I am told that resolutions have been passed expressing approval of a new departure in this direction in Glasgow, Dundee, and Govan. In the system which is advocated in the main, that which was elaborated in the Schedule to the Municipal Reform Bill introduced recently, the difficulty does not exist of first defining the areas. The areas already exist in the Scottish school boards—that is to say, the districts already returning several members—and the simple question, therefore, presents itself how best to secure that the representation of different interests or different opinions in that electoral district shall be in proportion to the numbers who have those interests or hold those opinions. It is a very simple case upon which to try the experiment. I have prepared a Bill for this very purpose, but have, of course, delayed its introduction until this Motion is disposed of. The subject is not a new one. It has been well considered. It was suggested on the Committee stage of the Education Bill, and there it received approval in the proportion of eighteen votes to two. It 1425 would have been brought on again on the Report stage, but the Secretary for Scotland preferred, in order to shorten discussion, that the people who wanted to provide for the representation of minorities should return to the cumulative system.
The question, therefore, which presents itself in applying Proportional Representation to these particular elections would be a question between the existing cumulative vote and the system of proportion. The Mover of the Resolution made it clear that the principle only requires to be understood, and that when you know the number of votes given and the number of vacancies to be filled you can ascertain the number, which may be called a quota, which will serve as a perfectly solid basis for declaring when a man is elected. The principle is only carried further in this way, that if votes are given to a man who has more than the quota, those votes are literally not represented, and there is a certain amount of voting power which is not effective. It is right therefore that these should be transferred to the other non-elected candidates, and so on until you have exhausted all who have voted. Then comes in the old principle that when none of them have a quota you take the one who has least, and in order that the votes given to him may be effective you transfer second preferences to the other non-elected candidates. In this way it is clear that the majority cannot get any more representatives elected than they are entitled to by their numerical strength. It is also equally clear that whenever the minority have one more than the proportion they must be able to secure representation. I will only mention one other, advantage of the system, which, I think, has not been mentioned. Under the ordinary system a minority cannot protect itself except by elaborate caucusing, but under the proportional system a minority which is entitled to one representative would get representation. I only mention that because it is one of the advantages of this system which should not be lost sight of. I know it is irksome to try to understand the full arithmetical process of counting the votes, but I hope hon. Members will take it on faith that the system is possible, and that they will keep an open mind for giving it a trial in the election of Scottish school boards or of any other boards where it may be found practicable.
§ Sir MARK STEWART
I have had as large an experience as any Member in this House in regard to Scottish school boards and the system of electing members. I stand here as the oldest chairman of a school board in Scotland, and I have had my lot cast in a very argumentative and polemical county. A very ordinary number for a school board in Scotland is five or seven. It is always a great point on the part of the electors to get a majority of members, so that the party having the majority of members may have the election of the chairman. If the Board has seven members the effort is to get four of one party returned. Party feeling runs higher in these elections than in any other, whereas there ought to be no party feeling whatever. The best men in the parish ought to be elected for the school board or the parish council, and I think this system of Proportional Representation would put a stop in a great measure to that party feeling. I hope the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. A. Williams) will consent to put in the words "or school board." I think if he would do so he would confer a great gain on the political morality of Scotland in regard to school board elections. The adoption of the system of Proportional Representation would not only be a good thing on the whole in connection with Scottish elections, but it would do away with the absurd system of cumulative voting, which is a great hindrance and annoyance in school board elections. Under the system of cumulative voting one candidate may get a large number of votes, while another candidate who only gets a few votes may be the better man of the two. I have great pleasure in supporting the Resolution.
§ Mr. CRAWSHAY-WILLIAMS
I rise to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Plymouth. I do so more particularly, in the first place, as it does not involve any pledge on the principle of Proportional Representation; and, in the second place, because it is not proposed to introduce this system nationally, but only municipally and only experimentally; and, in the third place, because the system proposed is entirely permissive. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board said that no instances had been given which could be taken as a likely parallel to the principle proposed in this Motion. But, as a matter of fact, the same principle has been applied in our 1427 Colonies—in Johannesburg and Victoria. In these two places it has proved successful, so successful that it was proposed to extend the principle very much further afield. One thing which stood out during this Debate is the general consensus of opinion as to the defects of our present electoral system. Those defects may be classed under two heads. First, where with a single-Member constituency there are more than two candidates and a Member is returned who does not represent a majority of the electors voting at the election. A second, and very much more far-reaching difficulty, is that over any number of single-Member constituencies the results are not usually an accurate representation of the voice of the people. The remedies for those two defects fall also into two classes. If you are only going to deal with single-Member constituencies some form of second ballot, preferably that known as the alternative vote, is amply adequate. But if you wish to obtain an absolutely accurate photograph of the opinion of the electorate over the whole of these Islands, some system of Proportional Representation is the only system which will effect what is needed. The whole system centres in the matter of the constituencies. Are you going to go for the single-Member constituencies or large multiple-Member constituencies?
The alternative of large multiple-Member constituencies is undoubtedly open to some objections. There is the objection, of course, that these large constituencies would be rather difficult to manage for the candidates. I have a certain amount of sympathy with that when I think of travelling all over Leicestershire in the case of Leicestershire returning seven Members. Another objection is that it would not be understood of the people. I do not want to cast reflections on the intelligence of the people of this country, and to say that they are more stupid than the inhabitants of any other country, and I do not think that that is a valid objection, because whenever it has been tried it has been found that the people do understand it, and understand very quickly. But we must remember that we live in a country which I am afraid I must call more or less essentially conservative. The people are doubtful of change, even, I am sorry to say, when the change is for the better, and in finding some remedy for the present inequality I do not think that that 1428 remedy should be too far-reaching or too ideal. At this stage we should be more or less practical, and not try to do too much. Another objection that has been advanced to the Proportional Representation system is that you would be likely to get Members into this House with, if I may say so, only one idea in their heads. There is something, I think, in that objection. An anti-vivisectionist may be a very great authority on vivisection, but I submit that an accurate knowledge of vivisection may not entirely qualify him to deal with the question of the House of Lords, though perhaps it might be considered so on this side of the House. But I think that there is undoubtedly that objection to be advanced against the Proportional Representation system. By some it is said that the Government would be unable to carry on business with such small majorities and such heterogeneous parties as would be obtained under Proportional Representation. That, I think, is not such a valid objection as appears at first sight. The question of by-elections will also have to be considered in connection with Proportional Representation; and lastly, I think, there is undoubtedly a preference in this country for personal rather than corporate representation—for representation by a responsible person whom you can see and question rather than by a body of men. That may or may not be a proper feeling, but undoubtedly it exists. You have to consider all these things in connection with Proportional Representation. On the other hand, you have also to consider the disadvantages of the single-Member system, and there are very grave disadvantages. There are ample figures which show that that single-Member system would lead to unequal representation. It does seem to me that some hybrid scheme might be possible. In towns, where the level of intelligence may be slightly higher than in the surrounding districts, you may possibly find the electorate ripe for Proportional Representation. In the country districts, to my mind, the system of the alternative vote would meet the case for the present. Any scheme, if it is to be a real one, must involve equal electoral districts, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth pointed out, redistribution is not an absolute necessity to the introduction of Proportional Representation. Any scheme to be real must be rounded off 1429 by some method of dealing with the plural vote. I think this question of Proportional Representation is one which ought to be approached in an absolutely non-party spirit, and is one on which we can all unite. I believe we all desire to see the wishes of the people properly represented, And undoubtedly a step in that direction would be these experiments by municipalities in Proportional Representation. I do not think there is the slightest necessity to fear the result of such experiments. The principle has been tried in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and all the prophecies of evil with regard to it have been shown to be wrong. Success has attended the experiment. In the first place it was said that there would be many spoiled votes, but though the population of Johannesburg, coming from all parts, is to a certain extent illiterate, the number of spoiled votes amounted to only 1 or 2 per cent, of the whole of the votes. It was also said that there would be a difficulty in candidates getting in touch with the electors, and also a difficulty with regard to expenses. But the expenses were not great. The evidence shows that two Labour candidates who were returned out of three who stood incurred expenses which only amounted to £6 each. That does not show that the cost of an election under the Proportional Representation system would be increased to any considerable extent. As to the advantages, you do, I think, with all due deference to my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, tend to get a better personnel. The hon. Member quoted as follows from an opinion in the "Morning Post" as to elections in Johannesburg:—It is hoped that in this way the force of the appeal to sectional interests may be minimised, and that men of known standing and integrity, who are not prepared to sacrifice the interests of the whole community to those of a few streets, will stand a better chance of being elected. If that is so, men of this description will be more encouraged to come forward in the future than they have been in the past few years, and we may look for an improvement in the personnel of the Council.Those hopes have, I think, been fulfilled. At any rate, in the reports I have read they have been said to have been fulfilled. The chance of expression and the trial of strength of the different parties in a municipality, or for the matter of that, in the State, under a system of either alternative voting or Proportional Representation, will be able to be made without resulting friction and resulting minority representation of the wrong 1430 kind, which at present is the outcome. I do believe that opinion is quite favourable to some experiment in this direction in this Kingdom. This proposal is only a permissive proposal. It is not a pledge of any kind as regards Proportional Representation, and I think that some chance ought to be given to any pioneers who are ready to start along this path and to try whether it is possible for us in this Kingdom. For these reasons I support the Motion myself, and I ask the House to support it also.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I would like to point out the extraordinary position in which we are. In the earlier part of the sitting to-day we were occupied with improving another place, and now, in the evening, we are occupied in improving ourselves, or supposed to be. I think, first of all, we had better improve ourselves before we attempt to improve the other place; and when we have we can think of what we can do in other directions. We had the President of the Local Government Board making a most Conservative speech, with which, if I may be allowed to say so, I thoroughly concur. I only wish that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was here. He probably would have described his Radical colleague as being one of those who stuck in the mud and went back to old-fashioned ideas. He and I are together on this occasion, and if there is a Division I am not at all sure we may not tell together. I wish to express the hope that what is merely a pious opinion may not be pressed to a Division. It is nothing but a pious opinion. We are nothing but a debating society at present, and the hon. Gentleman who Moved has assured us be is not introducing a Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.