§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to proposed Amendment to Question, as amended [11th June], "That this House approves of the Instructions appended to the warrants appointing Commissioners to determine, for the purposes of the Representation of the People Bill, the number of members to be assigned to the several counties and boroughs in England and Wales and in Scotland, respectively, and the boundaries of such counties arid boroughs and divisions thereof.
§ Provided that the Commissioners may depart from the strict application of these Instructions in any case where it would result in the formation of constituencies inconvenient in size or character, or where the narrowness of margin between the figure representing the estimated population of any area and the figure required for any of the purposes of these Instructions seem to them to justify such a departure.
§ Provided also that it be an Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners to have regard to electorate rather than population where it appears that the proportion of electorate to population is abnormal," at the end thereof, to add the words,
§ "Provided also that in carrying out these Instructions the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that proportional representation is not adopted."—[Colonel Sir H. Jessel.]
§ Which Amendment to the proposed Amendment was after the word "shall," to insert the words "except in boroughs entitled on a basis of population to return three or more members."—[Major Newman.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the proposed Amendment." Debate resumed.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
The Debate on proportional representation was twice interrupted last night, and it is perhaps worth while seeing at what point we have arrived. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Sir H. Jessel) moved his Amend- 786 ment, which is an Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners to disregard entirely in any shape or form any kind of proportional representation. To that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Newman) moved an Amendment which took up a suggestion made by the Home Secretary in introducing the Bill that proportional representation should be confined to those large urban or county boroughs which were at present, without any accretion of population, entitled to return three members. That was held, out, and has been accepted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Newman) as a protagonist of proportional representation, as an olive branch to opponents. But the opposition is not I understand, taking the olive branch. If it had been accepted as a settlement of this question, I for one should not have objected very greatly, although I do not think it is a very good plan. But it is not accepted as any settlement, and I for one should rather suggest to the Mover that he might withdraw it on reconsideration, as it does not meet with agreement. It is not really the moment on these Instructions to settle in what precise area proportional representation should be adopted. That surely should be done in Committee on the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Sir H. Jessel) suggests to us that we should at this stage say that under no circumstances, neither in London nor in the great boroughs, nor in any shape or form, is proportional representation to be accepted. Therefore, I think that all those who are prepared to accept proportional representation, either in London or the provinces, or in any shape or form, should vote against his Amendment.
There is another reason for voting against it. He leaves in the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners the Instruction that they are to create constituencies returning three or more Members. If you do not have proportional representation in such constituencies you will have a very unfair state of things indeed. If you have simply three, four or five-member constituencies and 51 per cent, of the votes polled returning the whole five en bloc that would be monstrously unfair, and either the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to go much further and strike out the possibility of having three-member constituencies altogether or else we ought to reject this Amendment, and that I hope will be done. 787 I hope then that when we get into Committee on the Bill we shall settle, as I think is right, whether proportional representation should be applied in London or in boroughs. That is the right place to do it, but until we arrive at that place we ought not to close our mind against any possibility of introducing it.
I want to go over the ground explaining why this scheme and some change from our single-member system appeals to my own mind. I do not pretend to be an expert on the matter. I do not know in any great detail the working of the experiments abroad, but looking at it merely from at home I think we may very well take the opportunity of seeing whether this single-member system works altogether fairly. It is not a very old system. We are not interfering with the wisdom of our ancestors. It has only been in full operation since 1885. So far as the wisdom of our ancestors goes, I think there was a good deal more to be said for the plan of Edward I., who summoned two members from each county and two from each borough, at all events in this, that a plan of that kind gave more latitude for the expression of different shades of opinion. The statesmen of 1885 in the Redistribution Act thought otherwise, and I think anyone looking over our political experience in the last 30 years will see certain features in it which are not wholly satisfactory. They will see violent revulsions and reactions in political opinion. They will see great distortions and exaggerations of representation in this House as compared with the votes polled. They will see a hardening of party lines and the growing power of the party caucus, and I think constant and increasing difficulty in securing adequate representation for minorities. On all these points I think proportional representation will introduce improvements.
May I clear away, as briefly as I can, one or two misconceptions which seem to me to lurk about our minds in regard to this subject? I think sometimes the advocates of proportional representation have put their case a good deal too high. One hon. Member last night said that he thought if there had been this reformed system of proportional representation in this country there would have been no War. I think I know what is in his mind, and T wish I could think that we could 788 have averted the War by any change in our electoral machinery. Another hon. Member told us that if we had this system there would be an end to all the corrupt influences and briberies, traces of which hang about our present electoral system. I would not say that there may not be some possibilities even under this reformed system for illegitimate forms of nursing constituencies, though I think on the whole it is true that under such a system as is proposed the relation of the Member to his constituency would rather be a relation based upon community of ideals and political aspirations, and not upon the somewhat questionable incidents of nursing a constituency. Another misconception which influences the minds of hon. Members with whom I have spoken is that they think this change will break up and perhaps destroy our old historic parties, and will divide us into groups, and that we shall have representation in this House confined to fanatics, cranks and men of one idea; let us say the advocates of phonetic spelling, or some other question which appeals to a very limited number of people. On that the history of proportional representation in other countries is really, I think, conclusive. The old parties do not disappear. Under the system which is proposed in this Bill you cannot get representation unless 17 per cent, or 25 per cent., according to the constituency, of the voters are polled. It is that figure under proportional representation which entitles you to representation. Fortunately, the cranks, fanatics and people of one idea, though they do exist, are not so numerous as all that. Proportional representation would not break down parties, but would give a freer play for differences of opinion inside a party. It allows larger room inside a party for various shades of opinion. Parties become less narrow, less dragooned by the majority, more comprehensive in their views, and more tolerant towards those who may not be of the strict official type.
I do not see how anybody who has looked into the matter can say that the voter will not understand such a system. He has only got to mark his card 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in accordance with his preference, and it is a libel on the intelligence of the electors to suggest that they cannot do what has been done in many other countries. Neither am I intimidated by the difficulty which is always put with 789 regard to by-elections and the difficulties of an extensive area. When a by-election occurs, and when only a single seat is to be filled, you cannot make any representation of the minority. The proposal in this Bill—there may be other proposals— is that in a by-election where one seat is vacant to have the by-election in the whole area of the constituency under proportional representation. I think those who are staggered and intimidated by-that have failed to realise that these three-member constituencies are great centres of population; they are covered by a local Press and equipped with large halls. So far as the strain of an election goes, I would infinitely sooner have that kind of fight than the wearisome, fight in a very extensive county constituency under the present circumstances. I think hon. Members who are expressing themselves about the enormous difficulty of meeting the larger constituencies have forgotten the useful electioneering assistance of the motor car. If anyone will think what electioneering was in pre-motor days, they will realise that almost any kind of electioneering now is very greatly simplified compared with what it was in the past. We now accept the doctrine of one vote one man. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] With slight modifications in exceptional cases, broadly speaking, we accept one vote one value. When you look at the results of a General Election under our present system of single Members, you do not get one vote one value. It is one vote, but the value of it is determined by the mere accident of geographical distribution. It must be so if you look at it. If you judge a General Election as a test, there is no election which has taken place since 1885 where the representation corresponds with the number of votes cast. It varies capriciously from General Election to General Election by no ascertainable rule. It is difficult to be sure about figures, because you have got to make allowances for uncontested seats, but there are some good students of our electoral system who tell us that Mr. Gladstone just won the General Election of 1886 instead of being beaten by a huge majority. It is theoretically quite possible that a majority of voters polled may find themselves returning a minority of numbers to this House. Locally, that often occurs. A General Election under our present system is not a test. It is a gamble in local majorities with no rule to decide how the thing will result. If this system is 790 democracy at all, it is democracy entangled in the caprice of a very vicious electoral system. I admit it appeals to the Whips. It generally works out by exaggerating the majority. To some extent under the limited experiment we are making these majorities will continue to be exaggerated, but I believe the intervention of proportional representation for a certain number of seats will exercise a steadying influence on the elections. I do not think that enormous turnovers of public opinion are really helpful for the party which profits by them by being returned to power. In 1906 the dominant party had a majority of 354, where it was entitled, if the election had been regarded as a plebiscite, to a majority of 94. I think that the enormous exaggeration of its representation, as compared with the votes polled, created a false impression in the minds of the party of that day as to its strength, and perhaps it would have been a wiser party if it had remembered that it had not behind it so great a majority of votes as might be imagined from, the number of members returned. I was referring last night—but was not able to do so fully—to the strange results which one finds in reference to London. London Liberal Members, are all apparently against proportional representation. I ask them to look at their own experience. In 1910 the representation worked out fairly as compared with the number of votes polled; but in 1895 the Liberals in London only got eight representatives in ibis House when they ought to have had twenty-five according to the votes polled, and the Unionists got fifty-four when they ought to have had only thirty-seven. In 1900 exactly the same thing occurred. On the other hand, in 1906, they got forty-two Members when they ought to have had twenty-three, and the Unionists only got twenty when they ought to have had twenty-nine. The present proportion may be correct, but there is absolutely no guarantee that at the next trial of strength you will not get results such as you got in 1895 and 1900, and then I am inclined to think that the London Members may regret their opposition to this proposal.
The other objections which occur to my mind are these: You get, of course, solid blocks of opinion—I must not refer to solid blocks of opinion in the homo 791 counties or in Wales, because proportional representation as now proposed would not affect them—but everyone knows of boroughs where the minority are not getting fair representation, both Unionist boroughs and Liberal boroughs where there is a minority which is en titled to representation, the accident of the geographical distribution of votes prevents them from getting what they are entitled to. It is suggested that things square themselves, that there is virtual representation, that the Unionist in a Liberal city gets representation through the over-representation of his party in some other city; but directly in matters of representation you begin to talk of virtual representation, that is only a way of disguising that there is no representation, because, after all, there are different shades of local opinion which should be represented, and these solid blocks of opinion which are the product of the single-member system might, I think, be well broken into as I think they would under proportional representation. I do not want to put too high the effect of proportional representation. It is said that it would be a check on the excessive power of the caucus and the tyranny of the candidate. I think that that is sometimes put too high. I think that people get an idea of the independence of a Member of Parliament with a solid mass of 25,000 voters behind him, whom he has captured, and who will follow him in all his vagaries. I do not think that that is likely to happen. If he quarrels with his party he will almost certainly find that some of the 25,000 who have returned him under proportional representation will turn against him. He may have his chance, of course, of swaying others so as to make up' his quota. It would be easier for him to make up his quota in a three, four, or five-member constituency than if he has to fight as at present for the last odd vote which secures him a majority in the single-member constituency. I do not think that it would enable a single Member to maintain such a position as has been referred to, but I think it would enable a party to keep within its ranks men of independent mind, men who may diverge slightly, or perhaps largely, from the ordinary official type, but whom it would be very desirable to have in the House.
792 We all know men of the cross bench type of mind in this country who have been driven out under the present system and many of whom would be of great value to this House. The present system leaves no place for them. The change would give them a much better chance of retaining their influence and contributing something to the independence and usefulness of this House. If proportional representation is wanted anywhere it becomes more necessary where you have more than two parties in the field. I think that that is a justification for trying it at first in the great industrial and urban centres where, of course, there are two or three or perhaps more parties anxious for representation. Here again you are going to deal with that in the present Bill by means of the alternative vote in single-member constituencies. It would be out of order for me to refer to the alternative vote now. All I say is that it would be better than the present plan and also better than the second ballot. But it is theoretically unsound, and in practice I am inclined to think that it will not work in the way that seems to be anticipated. In Belgium they found it very unsatisfactory, and they found the only way out of it was to go in for a scheme of proportional representation, and as I believe the alternative vote will have very unexpected results, I am very anxious that those of us who are alive to the difficulties of securing representation for minorities, should have going on before our eyes an object lesson in proportional representation, so that we may learn to correct the defects, which other nations have found in the alternative vote and which I expect we shall find too. What I think proportional representation does, so far as the minority is concerned, is this: it weakens the powers of inconsiderable minorities, but strengthens the influence of substantial minorities.
Under the present system of single members, when you have got a minority anxious for some particular reform it is tempted, and sometimes driven, to exercise wrecking tactics. Sometimes votes are given against the party to which it looks for its objects in order to teach that party a lesson. That would be exceedingly difficult to work under a system of proportional representation. I do not think it would be any great disadvantage if that system were stopped. I have had some experience of those 793 tactics. They are very familiar in temperance matters. For instance, what happens if you use them is this, that you force upon an unwilling section of a party a reform which that party partially assimilate, and when they have got in by those tactics you do not find them very anxious to put that particular reform on the Statute Book. Those tactics certainly will be used so long as the present system lasts, and therefore I think it would be far better to direct the attenion of minorities to the better chance which they get under a system of proportional representation. I notice, for instance, that the hon. Member for Leicester attacks proportional representation because it deprives certain minorities of their chance in places where they have only a limited number, because it makes it impossible for them to use these wrecking tactics which they have used in the past. I think that they would do far better if they turned their attention to trying their chance of convincing, say, 20,000 electors, and so gradually building up a party by which they would be represented in this House. In that way I believe that the effect would be to weaken the powers of inconsiderable minorities and strengthen those of substantial minorities.
There would be one other good result. Everyone feels that the extreme bitterness of party feeling which prevailed before the War has been diminished as the result of the experience of the War. We all realise how much more we had in common than we believed in the pre-war days; but after the War parties no doubt will revive, though party feeling will not, I hope, lead to the old party bitterness. I am quite certain that by having proportional representation there will be less tendency to indulge in bitter personalities. Candidates thinking of second votes will be anxious not to offend, and we shall be laying very much more stress on the soundness of our own utterances than on the defects of our opponents. Those are arguments which have carried weight in my mind. I have not hitherto been a member of the Proportional Representation Society, but for the reasons which I have mentioned the reform does appeal to me now, and I think that it appeals with growing conviction. But if they do not carry conviction to other members as they have carried it to me, I still say to all those who do not feel themselves fully informed 794 on the subject, to those who have not got strong convictions, to those who would not object to see it tried, that they ought to pay very great attention to the representations of the Conference. I do not want to attribute too high a value to the Conference. Last night it was said that the Conference accepted this scheme casually and lightly. We do not need to be assured that was not the case. I am quite certain that members of the Conference have explored the subject fully and deliberately, and having so explored it, they have propounded these recommendations to us. I feel that the onus lies on the other side to prove that the recommendations of the Conference are unsound. Further, I think that burden lies upon them to prove that proportional representation can be safely detached from the composite scheme of the Report. The scheme of the Report represented the greatest common measure of agreement on these contentious points of electoral reform. If you strike out any vital part of the compromise, will you improve the prospects of the measure? Proportional representation has some enemies. Will not its excision from the Bill raise up still more? Its maintenance would conciliate some who would object to other parts of the scheme. The true friends of the Bill would be unwise to begin by throwing anything in the scheme overboard. If you want to get the Bill into safety, the true course of safety is to stolid fast by the recommendations of the Report.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)
The question before the House is one on which freedom is given to it in coming to a decision, and I avail myself of that freedom to trespass upon its attention for a few minutes. I do not propose to give a final vote now on the proposal under consideration, but for many years I have, both publicly and privately, expressed my sympathy with the movement in the direction of proportional representation, and I should not care that a Debate should take place in this House on the subject without my offering some observations. I do not propose to argue the question in detail at this stage, for that would seem to me to be anticipation of a discussion which the sense of fairness and perspective of the House will hold should take place at a later stage. I do not think that this is the time at which to enter into a detailed discussion; rather is it the time to 795 examine the views which have been laid before the House. I think we should strike out, once for all, the various considerations that for many years have been put before the country in regard to proportional representation, and the main objection which has been advanced comes from those who have vaguely insisted upon its unintelligibility and its impracticability. Those of us who have in the course of the past ten years, followed the practical experimental elections which have been carried on under the system of proportional representation, know very well that it is not unintelligible, but that it is quite practicable as a means of arriving at an exact decision. If one were to enter into the considerations of the general arguments which may be urged, they would perhaps tend to show that no one, so far as I know, in criticising the proposals contained in proportional representation, has ever been bold enough to insist upon the contention that it would not furnish a more exact numerical proportion of the views of the constituency than is ascertainable under any alternative system in any ordinary constituency, whatever it may be. The abuses of our present system are notorious, and here I will deal with the matter perfectly candidly. I do not suppose for a moment that my political friends of Liverpool, with whom I have been intimately associated, side by side with whom all the political battles of my life have been fought, agree with my view; and equally I am sure that in any great city, where all the representation has been in the hands of one party, those who are officially associated with the fortunes of that party would be found, in that city, to be against proportional representation. It is certain, it is human nature, after you have spent all your political life in supporting with loyalty and with courage your party—possibly at the cost of many private friendships—and have been successful in a small area in securing nearly the whole of the representation, that you would be opposed to proportional representation, which would tend to remove two or three seats to the opposite party. But instead of that being an argument against proportional representation, it is, on analysis, the strongest possible argument in its favour. Take Liverpool: One one side it is a great source of pride to those of 796 us who fought these party controversies, held the fortress there, while the whole of Lancashire, or almost the whole of Lancashire, went against us, but it would be stupid to ignore the fact that there was during all that time a strong Liberal minority that never had any proper representation at all. I think only one of the Members who came from Liverpool voted against the late Government, and that was the senior Member for Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor).
I submit that the system of proportional representation is not merely theoretical, and that experiments have shown its practicability in various directions. In fact it has been adopted and is in operation in various democratic communities, and so far as I know in no country that has adopted that principle has there ever been found a single practical difficulty in attempting to carry it out. I think we are at least entitled to invite those who are in the habit of indulging in vague attacks upon this proposal, to attempt to explain to us how it is that this system of proportional representation has worked with smoothness and success. There is another more important consideration which I would venture to press upon the Committee with all the earnestness at my command. When the Commission presided over by Mr. Speaker was appointed to commence its inquiries and deliberations, I certainly was amongst those who doubted that they would ever find it possible to reach a conclusion. Remembering the bitterness of our party controversies upon so many of these topics during the last ten years, remembering the fruitless attempts we made, and the long discussions we had, even over small fragments of this vast subject, it did not seem to me to be possible that the men who had been put upon that Commission, representing views so diverse, with preoccupations and prejudices so apparent, would arrive at a unanimous decision. That Commission, to my amazement, arrived at conclusions, and that circumstance, in itself, is of such priceless value to the years which must follow the conclusion of this War, that the very reflection that we should be able to approach the immense work of reconstruction after the War, with that great obstacle removed from controversy, is one that must rejoice and warm the hearts of every man who is concerned for the welfare of his country and its reconstruction after the War.
797 The Commission arrived at a conclusion which was unanimous, with one single exception. That exception was the question of the female franchise. I will say at once, as one who has been long in this House, that on every occasion that has offered I have opposed the franchise for females, and I am still opposed to it; but I recognise, and I am bound to recognise, that the whole perspective of the controversy is altered, and that many of the arguments on which I and my friends in the past relied, have been rendered, by this War, no longer effective arguments. I recognise another argument which is of the greatest weight, though it would not be in order to insist upon it now, and it is the argument connected with the industrial situation of the future. There is in front of us the prospect of new industrial strife, and more and more, owing to the wasted power of our male population, women must become active competitors, and it would be hard that they should have to enter this struggle in circumstances where their male competitors have the vote, with all that that means, and they should not have it. While I say in regard to this controversy, if I had autocratic power I should not do it, yet I have to consider the findings of the Conference as a whole, and I tell the House perfectly frankly that I approach these recommendations, after all I have said in this House, with a desire to give them full and dispassionate consideration, and with a desire to do full justice to the conclusions arrived at. Though there re much to which I object and to which my hon. Friends object, still I welcome the Debate which has taken place. There is much in all these proposals to which the Unionist party and many of my old colleagues, are strongly opposed. Nobody denies that. Taking the whole of these proposals together, and taking the profound fact, perhaps the most remarkable political phenomenon that has been produced by the War, that agreement had been reached over the whole of this range of topics, I for my part made up my mind that I would abandon my objection to the question of the vote for women in return for the acceptance by the House of Commons of these proposals as a whole. It was to me a great concession, but one of the things that reconciled me to it was this particular question of proportional representation.
798 What is the position? I find that whereas the Committee only recommended by a majority that the vote should be given to women, and in circumstances Which will certainly require most careful consideration of the Committee when we approach that part of the Bill, the recommendation in favour of proportional representation was an absolute recommendation of the Commissioners. In other words, it cannot be distinguished from any other one of the recommendations of the Commissioners. If you can assail this one, you can assail any other, because these recommendations recommend themselves to the House as a compromise, the result of the deliberations of patient and sagacious men who were prepared to bargain. We can only defend 90 per cent, of these recommendations on that ground. Here we have a recommendation, carefully considered, which many Members of Parliament coming from all parties, dearly prize, and they are asked while accepting all that to which they object, to consent to the suppression of that which was unanimously agreed upon by the Commission. I venture to warn the House of Commons that if that course is adopted they are striking a deep blow at the whole sub-structure of this great concordat. I do most earnestly impress upon the House the impropriety and injustice at this stage, without even detailed discussion, of ruling the whole thing out in the manner in which they are asked to do. I am a member of the Government, and I am bound naturally as long as I remain a member by their decisions. I accept their decision that this matter is to be left to the vote of the House of Commons. All I can do, speaking as we are allowed to speak on this particular subject with the freedom which is conceded to every one of us is to record my deep conviction that if the House of Commons at this stage rules out this proposal, they will have inflicted a deeper wound on this concordat as a whole than any party in this House can inflict
§ Sir FRANCIS LOWE
I am extremely sorry to find myself in disagreement with my right hon. and learned Friend. As a rule, in times past, I generally have been in the closest agreement with him. I find myself on this occasion in profound antagonism to the opinions that he has expressed. I do not at all agree with him that we shall show any want of 799 respect to the recommendations of the Speaker's Committee by voting against this proposal of proportional representation. Nor do I agree with him in saying that it is in the same category with the other recommendations of the Committee. The very fact that the Government have agreed to leave it an open question shows that it is in quite a different category and on a different plane to all those other questions. As regards woman suffrage, although we are informed that that was not a unanimous recommendation on the part of the Speaker's Conference, personally I am quite prepared to support that part of the proposals, and indeed every other proposal contained in the Report, with the exception of this one of proportional representation. I, like my right hon. Friend, represent a constituency in a city which is practically all Unionist, but that is not the motive that animates me in opposing this proposal. I oppose it because I think that it is unfair, unworkable, and quite contrary to the electoral conditions which have hitherto prevailed in this country. I profoundly disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend in his statement that this is not at all the suitable or proper time to discuss this question. I say that it is the most appropriate time, and that it is most desirable that as soon as possible we should come to a decision in reference to it, because until it is settled how can the Boundary Commissioners possibly know how the large boroughs are to be divided up or whether some of them are to be divided up at all? They cannot possibly know that until this question is settled, and that means they must really produce two alternative plans—one in case proportional representation is adopted, and the other to be acted upon in case it is not. It seems to me that that is placing a very large amount of unnecessary work on the Boundary Commissioners, including you, Mr. Speaker, and they certainly will have quite enough to do to carry out the large amount of work put on their shoulders in carrying out the other provisions of the Bill. I personally do not hesitate to say that I hope the effect of the decision of the House will be to entirely eliminate this question from the purview of the Commissioners, and that they will be left perfectly free to carry out their arduous and responsible task of mapping out and 800 defining the boundaries of the new constituencies without being hampered by new-fangled notions of this kind.
I myself consider that the adoption of proportional representation now would be a retrograde step, because it would be going back upon the principle of the single-member constituency which was adopted after a great deal of careful thought and consideration in the year 1885. The adoption of the single-member constituency system was strongly supported by Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Bright, Mr. Chamberlain and most of the other great leaders of political thought at that time, and it has since been found in practice to work exceedingly well. Moreover, the whole question of the efficacy of our present electoral system was most exhaustively inquired into by a very representative Royal Commission so recently as the year 1910. At that time the merits and demerits of proportional representation were also most thoroughly considered. The result of that inquiry was that after fully reviewing the evidence, facts and figures and arguments put before them, the Commission came to the conclusion that they were not able to report that a case had been made out for the transferable vote being applied to elections to the House of Commons. They further reported that as a result of their investigations, they had come to conclusion that the principle of single-member constituencies was deliberately adopted in 1895 because it was simple, economical and calculated to secure a variety of representation, and they further reported at that time other systems of minority representation had also been thoroughly examined and had been deliberately rejected. I am bound to say I am in entire sympathy with the findings of that Commission. The only country in which anything like what is proposed in this Bill has so far been adopted is the comparatively small and unimportant country of Tasmania. That does not seem to me to be a very good precedent for us to follow. It certainly does not follow that what is good for Tasmania is good for a country like our own. I myself have always regarded proportional representation as a sort of fanciful, high-flown scheme, more suited for philosophers, doctrinaires and visionary idealists than it was for practical statesmen and politicians. I believe there are very few people who know exactly what it means.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
Did the hon. Member say just now that Tasmania was the only country that had adopted it?
§ Sir F. LOWE
I said that it was the only country that had adopted the particular form contained in this Bill. I think it is very likely that my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Sir G. Reid) will be able to put me right on that subject. I regard it as a fanciful idea, and I think there are very few people who know exactly what it means. Personally, I had not the least idea what it meant until just recently, and although it has been explained to me a good many times, I am not sure that I know exactly what it means now. You may say that is due to my own stupidity, but if I am stupid a good many other people are stupid as well. I think no one would accuse the Prime Minister of any want of perception, but when he was speaking the other day he said he did not profess to understand this question, and he certainly did not lead us to suppose that he cared very much about it one way or the other. If this question is so complicated and so involved that the average person of ordinary intelligence, like members of this House, finds some difficulty in understanding what it means, what about the ordinary average elector who, without any extraneous assistance is to be called upon to mark his ballot paper in accordance with this elaborate and complicated scheme? It is evident what will happen. He will make a hopeless mess of it, and the ballot paper will either be wrongly marked, or it will be spoiled altogether. That instead of simplifying the method of voting and leaving the elector free to vote for the candidate of his choice, would throw him more and more into the hands of the political wire-pullers and political agents. It would, in effect, be reverting to the old days before 1885, when our present system was adopted, only that the method of voting would be far more complicated and perplexing than it was then. I remember what happened in Birmingham. Birmingham at that time was an undivided borough returning three members to Parliament. As far as I remember, each elector had two votes. He could either give one vote to each of two candidates, or both votes to one candidate.
§ Sir F. LOWE
At all events, it was very complicated. At that time the Liberal 802 party, with Mr. Schnadhorst as their wire-puller, were all powerful in Birmingham. They could not possibly have returned all three Liberal members for Birmingham if the electors had been left to themselves and allowed to go their own way, so Mr. Schnadhorst invented a very ingenious and elaborate plan whereby each elector was told exactly how he was to dispose of his vote. That came to be known as the "vote-as-you-are-told" system, and it worked so effectually that for ever after all three Liberal members were returned without any difficulty to the House of Commons. All that was put an end to in the year 1885 when single-member constituencies were established; Birmingham was divided into seven Parliamentary divisions, and from that time the electorate have been left free to exercise their own choice and to decide for themselves for whom they should vote. They have been perfectly competent and able to do so, because there has been no complication whatsoever, and they have only had to decide whether they would vote for one candidate or for the other. Supposing this new plan were adopted, that Birmingham were divided into three or four Parliamentary divisions, that there were four or five members for these divisions, and that this new system were applied to the election of the-members for those divisions, what would happen to that free and independent elector? If he was called upon to fill up his ballot paper with these magic figures, 1, 2, 3, 4, in proper order, and to place the right number against each candidate's name, I think myself that possibly in the smaller proportion of cases he might be able to do it, but that in nine cases out of ten elaborate instructions would have to be issued by the political agents on either side, and that unless the electors obeyed these instructions to the letter the candidate they wished to support would run a very grave risk of not being elected.
It has also to be borne in mind that a great many new electors will be added to the register who have not had previous experience of elections, while matters will be still further complicated by the fact that the amount that each candidate will be allowed to spend upon his candidature will be very considerably less than it was, and therefore his facilities for impressing on the electorate the manner in which he would like them to vote will be very considerably reduced. Personally, I am 803 sufficiently an Englishman to prefer a straightforward, stand-up fight, win or lose, a fight fair and square, in which the best man—that is, the man who obtains the greater number of votes—will win, and let the devil take the hindmost. I have no sympathy whatsoever with any plan which forces a man who really succeeds in obtaining the majority of votes to stand down and make way for a man who has not succeeded at the poll. It is so complicated that I do not quite know who has what votes, and I am perfectly certain that some minority candidate who has received a less number of votes than those above him on the poll will be returned.
I am not at all sure whether we have not proportional representation now. What does proportional representation mean? If it means anything at all, it means taking the whole country as one constituency. I should like to know whether, as a rule after a General Election, the state of parties in this House does not faithfully and accurately represent the state of feeling in the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I say it does. There are exceptions, I admit. There was the election of 1906. That was a very exceptional occasion, and I am not at all sure whether my party did not deserve the beating they then got at the poll, and whether the state of parties in the House after that election did not accurately represent, the feeling of the country with regard to the Government which had been turned out of office. If we had an election now, what should we find? We should find an overwhelming majority in favour of fighting the War to a finish, and the pacifist party would find themselves in a hopeless minority. Does that or does it not reflect the state of opinion in the country at the present time? Most certainly it does; and I say that in nine cases out of ten—you must allow for exceptional cases—the state of parties in this House clearly and accurately represents the state of feeling in the country after any General Election. Then there is the question of by-elections. We will say that there is a constituency returning four or five members, and that one dies or retires. How is the successor to that member to be elected? Is he to be of the same complexion as the member who has retired or died, and, if so, is it likely that the majority of the electorate which may be of the opposite way of political thinking would consent not to put forward an opponent for that vacancy? That is a 804 matter which requires explanation. There are a good many other conundrums of this kind which I could propound and bring forward to show that this scheme is unfair, impracticable, unworkable, and is unsuited to our present conditions. I do not, however, wish to trespass on the indulgence of the House, and I will only conclude by saying that I hope this Amendment to the Resolution of the Home Secretary will be carried by an overwhelming majority, in order that a stop may be put to the coquetting with this mischievous scheme, which I say cannot be productive of any good, and may be productive of an infinite amount of harm.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
I, along with my hon. Friend who has just spoken, represent one of the large county boroughs, and I venture to say that on this point of policy we are really the only Members who ought to be listened to. [HON. MEMBEES: "Hear, hear!"] That is so.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
We are the people, as an hon. Gentleman says, who are to be experimented upon. The proposal is that the experiment should be made on the very few large county boroughs. I do not think there are more than seven.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
No; I am speaking of paragraph (9)—Provided that a constituency returning more than five members shall be divided into two or more constituencies, each returning not less than three nor more than five members.I am speaking of the large county boroughs who are now or will be entitled to return five or more members, and I am 805 perfectly right in saying that there are only seven or eight. The point is, has the system of single-member constituencies which was established in 1885 acted properly and well in regard to those constituencies? My experience—and I suppose one's experience is of some use to this House—is that it has acted extremely well. I am going to give the House my reasons, and the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts), who seconded the Amendment, will, I am sure, sympathise with what 1 am going to say, because if this is carried all these objections which apply to the large county boroughs will, I think, apply to London. The present system is that one member is responsible for a fairly average constituency, with numbers not too numerous, and an area not too large. He is solely responsible, and after he has been elected, generally speaking, for all questions outside politics and for all practical purposes he is the member for that division, and we are only too glad to be approached by our political opponents if we can help them. Let me take one point, and I am quite sure I shall have the sympathy of the whole House. During this terrible War how many letters and applications have we not received on behalf of soldiers, and from soldiers' families, about the pensions and the numerous questions which arise out of those subjects? If any constituency were multiplied four or five times, as is proposed, it would be impossible for any member of Parliament to attend to all that correspondence effectively. Under the present system a member is responsible for his fairly small area, and his constituents know that. What is going to happen if his constituency is to be multiplied three, four, or five times? He is not going to be the sole member. He is going to be the joint member with several other gentlemen, some of his own party thinking, some opposed to him. He will be responsible for the whole constituency equally with his colleagues. He cannot be selected as representing one particular area of his constituency. He must be responsible for the whole, and I am quite sure I am speaking the opinion of most of the county members when I say that if you multiply the responsibility of each of the large county borough members by three, four, or five times what it is now, his work will be impossible if it is to be done efficiently. I am not going to talk about the expense, but it will be a matter of importance to the poor man.
806 5.0 P.M.
I wish to mention another phase of this matter which is not unimportant. Under the present system a large county borough is divided up into five, six, or seven single-member constituencies, and after they have been elected my experience is that there is no friction between those members. They keep to their divisions and do not invade each other's divisions. We do not in Sheffield, at any rate. My hon. Friends do not come into my division and I do not go into theirs. It is an extremely good rule; but when some common object arises for the benefit of the city I and my colleagues meet together and do our best in the matter. Can any system work more smoothly? But if you adopt this system there will be friction and jealousies not only during the election, but before the election, during the election, and, alas! after the election. There will be competition not only between the members of adverse political opinions, but, unfortunately, between members of the same political opinion—competition among those gentlemen for the highest degree of popularity in that large area. Those two reasons, in my opinion, are very grave reasons which this House ought to consider most carefully before they throw this system at us. I do not think myself that we have any right to a say in this matter, because we are only the people elected. I understand that the Home Secretary was good enough to Bay that the Government would leave this question open to the House. If they are going to do that, may I make an appeal to the large majority to be careful what they are doing because if this system of proportional representation is adopted it will certainly extend and the population of the large urban constituencies, as they increase, will be brought into the mesh of proportional representation. If that is so it is a very grave reason why Members of this House who do not represent large county boroughs now should be very careful how they vote on this question. Just a word as to the machinery. I think it will be admitted that it is most complicated. I have not studied it very much, but what I have studied I cannot understand, and I am quite sure the ordinary elector will not. I suppose the ballot paper will contain the names of the candidates, and it is proposed that the electors should put 1,2,3 opposite certain names. How do you know he will not put three votes? That is the danger of the proposal. A great 807 many electors have been accustomed to put an "X." They may be told that they can vote for more than one Member and they may put 3 opposite the name of the man they wish to vote for. In the first place, what is this proposal for? It is to make an experiment on the county boroughs to try to introduce a new system by which minorities should be more fairly represented. But taking the whole country together, they balance each other. That was the evidence before the Royal Commission.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
It comes to the same thing. The proportional part of the Bill, in my opinion, is dangerous, and I hope the Committee will not agree to these proposals. I am not only speaking for myself and the Party to which I have the honour to belong in my own city, but I am expressing the opinions of the West Biding of Yorkshire to some extent. At a meeting the other day of chairmen and agents representing Conservative associations in South Yorkshire attention was given to this matter of proportional representation, and a resolution was passed expressing the hope that their leaders would take the necessary steps to get it struck out of the Bill.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I rise as a London Member to support the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras (Colonel Jessel) and to oppose the Amendment proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield (Major Newman). The hon. Member for Sheffield (Sir S. Roberts) said that proportional representation was to be tried as an experiment and is going to be applied to the large county boroughs in the country, and also especially to the great county of London. The hon. and gallant Member for Enfield seems to me to put a proposal before Parliament which is the most absurd I have ever heard as regards electoral law. May I quote two or three lines from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member. He said:For instance, Chelsea would be left as it is Hammersmith and Fulham would be left as they are These would not come under proportional representation, but Islington, which is a borough returning four members, would come under this scheme.I am in favour of this Bill, which does not go as far as I would wish on a great many subjects, but the one reason I have supported the Bill and one reason I wish 808 to see it passed is that it simplifies our method of election in this country. Can anything be more mixed than the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield? It means that we are going to add in this county of London, and I am more entitled to speak as a London Member than for the country, at least four systems of election, if his Amendment is carried. You are going to have the city of London retaining its two Members where the voting will be as at present on. the ordinary "X" system, Hammersmith, Chelsea and Fulham are going to be left though their election will be by "X" system as now, and in the case of three candidates for two seats, if the alternative vote is carried, you will have the voting by numbers and not by "X." Then you come to a large district like Islington, where you are going to have proportional representation in another area of London. Can anything be more absurd, more ridiculous, than in one electoral area the people should have a different method, and that we should have four varying systems of election in this great county of London? I have been connected with the inner workings of politics in London for a good many years, and I say that what we require in election law is simplicity. I believe the simplest plan is the single-member division, where the constituencies can vote by an "X" for the candidate of their choice. As I listened to the speeches of those in favour of proportional representation I wondered if it is going to solve all the problems, why it should not be adopted for the whole of the country. Why should it be applied to urban districts only, and districts like London and the big county boroughs?
§ Mr. GILBERT
The Attorney-General says it is a compromise, but we are not bound to accept everything the Speaker's Committee has put forward. I understand he did not like the compromise on the women's vote in the Bill. I am old enough to remember the old large constituencies in London. The constituency I have the honour to represent was carved out of one of the old constituencies in London. That was before 1885, when we had two members. The old borough of Lambeth has now been carved up into constituencies which return nine single members. Remembering the experience in my early political days of a big constituency like Lambeth. I venture to say 809 that in this great county of London it is quite impossible, if you are to get true representation, to go back to those old large divisions. I have in view the problems which are coming forward after the War, in which all of us who think anything at all of the questions of reconstruction and of labour and numerous other questions which will arise after the disbandment of the Army, are interested. It is necessary that we should have small divisions that Members may be in touch with their constituents on all the big questions which must arise immediately after the War. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Sir S. Roberts) has raised the question of by-elections. I have heard it raised over and over again. I have never yet had an answer to the question how a constituency which comes under proportional representation is to select a member in the case of a by-election. It would be useful if those who defend proportional representation would give to the House, before a Division is taken, a simple plan as to how they propose to deal with by-elections. I do not believe they can satisfactorily deal with such a plan if the majority are going to rule. The proportional representation scheme specially applies to London and I believe of the great majority of London Members you will not get two on either side of politics who will vote for proportional representation being applied to London. If that is the case, I think we should endeavour to see that proportional representation is not applied to London. The party for which I have had the honour of working for a good many years are strongly against proportional representation being applied to London. We believe that we can get the best representation under single-member constituencies, and the political organisation of both parties has been established in those constituencies on these lines. These divisions are the boundaries of your local electoral area, to a great extent, and in this system of proportional representation the Bill does not propose to apply it to local elections, so that if you get proportional representation in the Bill you will get local elections carried on under the old system. I suggest that if you have this varying system of elections nothing can be more conducive to confusion amongst the electors and muddling to a man as to how he is going to vote, so that you will not get a proper result. I hope the House will carry the Amendment of the hon. and 810 gallant Member for St. Pancras (Colonel Jessel). I believe that if proportional representation is such a good thing as its advocates say it is they ought to be quite honest and apply it to the whole country, not only to the boroughs. As a London Member I believe I should meet the views not only of my own electors, but a great majority of the party to which I belong, who are opposed to this scheme, if I voted in the manner I have indicated against this kind of thing being tried in London.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I will do my best to take up the challenge which fell from the hon. Member for West Newington (Mr. Gilbert) and put before the House what I suggest is the simplest way of dealing with by-elections. In my view a very undue importance has been attached to this question, but I think it is a point which must be dealt with-, and I want to say a word about that, as I do about a good many other essential points, which ought to be dealt with first of all in this House. I do not mean to say they are points of such little importance that if Members are not satisfied about them in Committee still it would be right for them to vote in favour of the general principle of proportional representation. For the purpose of my present argument I am prepared to admit that on certain points—as, for instance—by-elections, in Committee, if those whose objections to proportional representation are based on those points are not satisfied, they would be justified on Report in voting against the Clause dealing with that matter. I do, however, very earnestly appeal to the House to distinguish between the question of principle and questions of detail, particularly in regard to the alleged difficulties of the system in practice. These matters, no doubt, must be fully considered in Committee. At once I say that if on balance the objections based on working difficulties in detail are not adequately met, then, as a firm believer in proportional representation I accept the challenge and say: "Judge by results." There is another class of objection which is made. It is similar, bat not quite the same. It is this: That this is a system of voting which is difficult to understand. I am going to ask the House—each member of it—not to go into the Lobby on this question and vote against the principle unless they can honestly say to themselves: "I have read up the subject sufficiently to understand it."
§ Mr. SCOTT
In answer to the courteous question put to me by my hon. Friend on my left as to how much time is wanted for that purpose, I will undertake to say, if anybody will give one hour to the question they can understand it. But I was addressing myself for the moment as to which Lobby hon. Members should go into, and was dealing with the suggestion of hon. Members and of my hon. Friend who has just spoken, and of my hon. Friend who has just intervened, and was saying that they should not go into the Lobby against the principle unless they have really been into the question sufficiently to say: "I am satisfied (1) that it is contrary to the sound principles of democratic representation, or (2), that it is good in theory, but cannot work in practice." Unless hon. Members can say this to themselves: "I know enough about the matter to be satisfied on one of these two points against it," I say do not go into the Lobby against this question of principle; keep your objections to Committee and raise them in Committee; if you are not satisfied, then vote against it on Report or on the Third Reading. I venture to submit to the House very respectfully that this really is the line upon which a proposal of this kind should be judged. I cannot add to, because I simply endorse with respectful admiration, the forcible way in which the Attorney-General put the points of the Speaker's Conference. Several objections have been made as to possible difficulties. My hon. Friend near me (Mr. S. Roberts) in his speech said that he did not think the Speaker's Conference could really have considered one or two of these questions. Knowing the Conference, knowing the thoroughness of Mr. Speaker, and the time spent on this matter in the Conference, I venture to think that a query of the kind is really—I am sure he will forgive me in saying it, and in using the word—ridiculous. They went into the thing with real knowledge, got up the whole question thoroughly, and looked at it from every point of view. In regard, therefore, to objections of that class I venture respectfully to rule them out. As regards the other question of principle, I do respectfully submit that great weight is entitled to attach to this big historical fact: that although there are differences of detail in proportional representation according to the method of dealing with the voting papers, this broad fact is 812 common to all methods of proportional representation that have been adopted in any country whatever—no country has ever gone back on it. It is a history of continual progress; of one country after another following the experience of the country near it which has adopted it, and of saying: "We choose to adopt this-method because it has worked so well."
Take a typical example—the case of Holland. That recently, from its knowledge of the working of the system in Belgium, has decided to adopt it for the Lower House, for municipal elections, and for the Upper House if Parliament decides to adopt it for its Upper House. What is the force of that fact? It is that Holland is next door to Belgium, speaks the same language as half of Belgium, is on terms of personal intimacy as regards the great bulk of its leading statesmen and politicians with Belgium statesmen and politicians, consequently it knows to the full how the system is worked in Belgium. They have said, "We adopt it." Take the case of France on the other side of Belgium. Just before the War proportional representation was in the process of being introduced. The Bill was in the House. I have not got a copy of it, but it was there, and the great bulk of French opinion was absolutely in favour of it, having at an earlier stage been against it—because they did not understand it! It is only the War that is responsible for the fact that to-day France is not under a system of proportional representation. We have applied it to South Africa, and it works very well there; and to Tasmania. It has been adopted in New Zealand. A couple of months ago, at the general elections in Australia—and my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, will probably know about this—Mr. Cook, the Leader of the Liberal party, said that it was the right system for Australia, It is now to-day one of the planks of the Liberal party's programme in Australia. The hon. Baronet who represents the Edgbaston Division of Birmingham (Sir F. Lowe) said in the course of his speech that he believed that the only country in the world which had adopted the proposal was Tasmania. I ventured to interrupt to ask if the hon. Baronet really meant what he had said. The reply was that he did mean it in the sense that this particular form of proportional representation, which I believe to be the simplest form—others are compli- 813 cated or difficult in practice—was the one that had been adopted in Tasmania, and that it had been adopted in Tasmania only. So I understood him to say. It is not correct! It has been adopted for municipal purposes in certain towns in New Zealand. I do not know whether it is general or not, but I know the municipal elections of Christchurch, New Zealand, were carried out on the very system adopted in this Bill. I know that Denmark has this very system. I know that the South African Senate, under the Act passed by this House, has this very system of proportional representation, and that in the Transvaal it is the system adopted for all municipal elections. The thing is progressing all the time.
This particular system is not in use in so many countries as is the system that is called the Belgium system, because the Belgium system is an older one. The system of proportional representation that we advocate is a simplification and an improvement. Because this particular system has only been adopted in a comparatively limited number of countries, to say that proportional representation as a whole has not been successful is, I venture to submit, making a statement that is not justified by any facts; it will not be made by anybody who has really followed closely the history of proportional representation. I am sorry to have occupied the House so long with these aspects of the matter, although they are of very great importance. I want, however, in a few minutes to deal with one more general aspect of the matter which personally I regard as of vital importance. It is objected that, without doubt, once proportional representation, as proposed in this Bill, is adopted it will bring into this House the representatives of trivial and insignificant minorities of opinion. I do not for a moment imagine that it is going to bring more of such cases as some of us think are already unnecessarily present in this House, but it will undoubtedly produce representatives of substantial and important minorities in districts where they are at present absolutely without representation at all.
Take, for instance, the case of Liverpool and Manchester. In Liverpool there are nine members. Reverting to pre-war terminology there were eight Conservatives and one other member, but the proportions of voters were something like as fifty-five to forty-five. In Manchester almost the opposite was the case. Till 814 quite recently, although the population was pretty nearly equally divided, approximately so, the representation of Liberals was greatly in excess of the Conservatives. I say that for the purpose of reconstruction after the War it is of the highest importance that every important minority of opinion should be adequately represented in this House. We are going to deal with questions of reconstruction, with all sorts of unknown issues, issues that are unknown in the sense that we have no real experience of them, or very little. We shall have new questions. Many were to a large extent outside the immediate purview of practical politicians before the War. I say that in dealing with these new questions it is most important that we should, in this House, have every conceivable assistance from separate bodies of opinion. We do not want unduly to exaggerate the system of party representation, and it is because I believe profoundly that proportional representation, whilst preserving the true party system or the main party system in its essence, will give greater elasticity and greater opportunity for the entrance within these broad party lines of the representatives of different views of opinion, that I say we require it.
Take the question of by-elections. First of all I have said even if there be a difficulty it has not been an insuperable difficulty anywhere else. It has not led any nation that has adopted proportional representation to give it up. It is essentially a matter for Committee. But I think it is an important question. The system that I understand was put before the Speaker's Conference on behalf of the Proportional Representation Society, that society which has been advocating it for many years, was this—it is not the system which was embodied in the Speaker's Conference proposal, but it is one which is perfectly simple in working. Take a constituency consisting of five members elected under proportional representation. Say there is a by-election. There are several ways of dealing with it—half a dozen These will have to be dealt with in Committee. I am going to put before the House only one method. Take the election of these five members. Let the sub divisions of the constituency, so to speak, be five in number. That is approximately the sort of constituency—and single-member constituency—that we have to-day. On the election of the five mem- 815 bers, let one be assigned to each one of those sub-divisions, as the member for that sub-constituency for this purpose.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I would say they might choose in order of seniority, or it might be better that it should be done by lot. Then if one dies, say the member who by lot or choice has been appropriated to constituency C or D, as the case may be, that particular constituency would be polled as a single-member constituency. The thing is perfectly simple. If opinion in this House thinks that by-elections under the party system are so important as an indication of the trend of the opinion of the country, then poll the whole constituency for one member; but obviously if proportional representation is right in principle, this sort of difficulty is not sufficient to justify its rejection. There are two further comments on this by-election question. I venture to submit that it is germane to the inquiry by the House into the Speaker's Conference proposals in this Bill to consider whether we should not abolish that archaic and ridiculous practice of calling for the resignation of a Member of this House when he is given office. If that were done, which I venture to think is the only course consistent with common sense, then obviously the number of by-elections would be enormously reduced. Lastly, I want to remind the House of the experience under the large constituencies before 1885. In those days, where there was a minority member elected with two majority members, so to speak, what happened? Take the case of Manchester, which had three members at that time, two being Liberals and one Conservative. In 1883 the Conservative died. The Liberals were in a majority. If they had chosen they could have forced the election of another Liberal on that vacancy occurring. They said "No, we cannot oppose the election of a Conservative to succeed the Conservative who was in." Dr. Pankhurst put himself up as an unofficial Liberal, and got himself ridiculously beaten, because all the Liberals took the official view and said, 816 " No, it is not decent; it is not right. Let the Conservative keep the seat to the end of this Parliament." I personally believe that that would happen in a great number of cases at by-elections under the proportional system. Where it was desirable to have a contest, you could have it by either of the two systems suggested—either the one in the Bill, that is by polling the whole constituency, or, as I suggest, by dividing the constituency into wards. In either case you get your by-election without any difficulty at all.
Another point of detail was that raised by the hon. Member for the Edgbaston Division of Birmingham (Sir F. Lowe). It was this; that the House ought to come to a decision on this question to-day, and disregard all the considerations I have been putting to the House as to raising this question in Committee, because it will be difficult for the Boundary Commissioners to go on with their work if we do not. I believe it is not the case. This proposal of proportional representation is very limited in extent, and I doubt whether the Boundary Commissioners will have to make two alternative schemes, even for that limited number of areas where it is to be applied. But even if they do, it will not involve very much extra work when they have all the facts before them. If they were instructed to be ready for any event, my suggested system of by-elections by wards would be ready in working order for adoption. There is only one more point. It has been thrown in the teeth of those who, like myself, are convinced believers in the soundness of proportional representation, that we have not put down an Amendment proposing to apply it throughout the country, or to the country as well as to towns. The answer is a very simple one. We considered that question, and we said, "No, it is not right. This proposal is based upon the Speaker's Conference. One party may not be satisfied, or think it is getting as much as it wants, or as much as it may be entitled to; but it ought, in a spirit of sound practical common-sense, take the compromise as a whole." That is the reason we did not do it. Let me give one more reason. We believe that proportional representation, when it is once adopted, will prove in working so extremely satisfactory that it will not be many years before the country is satisfied as a whole that it is the right system to adopt. All we say is, try it! 817 Try it either as proposed by the Bill, or as proposed in the limited form of the hon. and gallant Member's sub-Amendment. It is enough for us in either form. All we want is that you should try it. The form in which it has been proposed has been ridiculed by the hon. Member for West Newington (Mr. Gilbert). I agree that I should like to see it universally applied. But the basis of the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend was simply this: If you do not want to create any new three or four-member constituencies in order to try it, simply take those constituencies which, on the basis of 70,000 population per member, will have three or more members. You keep the boundaries of the London boroughs. You will not cut across any of the lines of demarcation made by the London Government Act, and at the same time you will have an experiment sufficiently extensive to show conclusively the merits of the system. I do ask the House not to throw this out on principle, but to keep any objections for Committee, and then, if not satisfied, vote against it on Report.
§ Sir GEORGE REID
I think the House must be indebted to the hon. Members who have spoken in support of this principle of proportional representation, inasmuch as they have put the arguments in its favour in the strongest possible way. I would hardly intrude upon the notice of the House in a matter of this kind if the principle which is now under the notice of the House had not been before me for many years as one of the leaders of the political parties of Australia. In my career out there, we had to consider the principle very carefully, and it was pressed upon our notice by a number of enthusiastic supporters. When the Federation Electoral Law was established, all the leading statesmen of the different States were in the Federal Parliament, and they very maturely considered the principles upon which the franchise and representation of the new Commonwealth should be based. We had the desire that minorities should be represented, but the form in which we carried that out—and it was carried out in a very liberal way—was this: in our Instructions to our Boundary Commissioners, we gave them a discretion which was so liberal that it amounted to two-fifths of the quota—that is to say, the quota arrived at in the Federal system by dividing the number of electors in each State 818 by the number of members returned by that State to the- House of Commons. In order to meet such a case as that of minorities the Commissioners were allowed to go 20 per cent, below the quota or 20 per cent, above the quota, which was a range of 40 per cent., and the practical effect was that an urban constituency with a crowded population would have only one member for 40,000 to 50,000 votes, whilst a country area, where the population was scattered and communications were difficult, was allowed a member to perhaps 10,000 to 15,000, or a smaller number of electors. Our idea out there was this: We endeavoured to put our system on as fair a basis as we could, and we were not entangled amongst ancient difficulties, but, writing on a clean sheet of paper, we came to the conclusion that by creating single-seat constituencies we gave, better than in any other way, minorities a fair chance in our electoral system, because by multiplying the number of your electorates you give a better chance to minorities in any particular part of the country. But, so far as the principle of proportional representation was concerned, we did not accept it—we have accepted the alternative vote—and I do not think there is any Dominion, South African, Canadian, or Australian, which has adopted this principle.
I would like to point out that there is a great distinction between this matter and the other important matters in the Bill. Quesions of principle of great importance and gravity are in the Bill. This matter is not put before the House as a question of principle at all. It is put before the House as an experiment. If a principle, it ought to be applied to all the minorities in the United Kingdom. It cannot be a principle if it is only applied, as it happens, to some of the great centres of population in this country. It is an experiment. May I suggest, respectfully, that in a Bill of this sort, which is to bring millions of new electors into our system of government, that it would be a little more expedient to allow that great new electorate to decide for itself, on the reformed register, whether it will go in for experiments of this kind? It seems to me that that is a question that belongs to the electors of the future, and it does also seem to me that when you are admitting these millions of new electors, to attempt by this means to modify or qualify the voice and power of the millions of your electors by any system of this sort, very 819 much resembles trying to sweep back an advancing tide with a very insufficient broom. Let the electors on this brand-new register decide whether this experiment shall be adopted or not.
The Attorney General made one of the most skilful speeches which a skilful advocate can make in his arguments in favour of this Bill, but we stand in rather a singular contrast. I voted against the introduction of this measure, although I believe in all its leading principles, because my view is that when the crisis of the War is on and when the end of the War is not in sight, we should not be entangled with a question of this sort and it ought to be postponed. My right hon. and learned Friend voted on the other side in favour of this Bill, although he is opposed to female suffrage. The Government have taken this unusual course of interrupting the proceedings in order that the House should have an opportunity of giving them some clue with reference to the great labour of setting up these new boroughs. I think the Government took a wise course when they did that, but may I suggest that on this occasion the onus of proof is not upon us. There is a substantial amount of disagreement on this Bill. The spirit of the Conference was "we will invite the House to deal with the measure as a whole. We hope the House will accept all our proposals, but if there is any substantial disagreement on any part it is a matter which the Government must take into serious consideration." If there is no substantial disagreement on this question, we cannot expect the Government to take much notice of the views of those who are opposed to this principle.
If there is a substantial objection to this principle, approaching near to a majority in this House, it must be a matter for the serious consideration of the Government whether they ought to add to the great burdens they have undertaken by persisting in what is not one of the principles of the Bill, but is an experiment on a limited scale. In the Colonies we are prepared for sudden changes, and we take them with a light heart; but you are throwing the greatest city on the face of the earth back to a system which it discarded not long ago— that is the three-member constituency system. I understand that London constituencies were altered to single con- 820 stituencies not so very long ago, and that must have been done after due consideration, when the House was dealing with the matter in a normal temperature, and I must assume that the House had good reasons for believing in the adoption of single constituencies as the best way of dealing with the electoral problem. I submit in view of the extra labour which must be thrown on the Government and the Boundary Commissioners and all the officials who will have to work the new system out, and with every respect for the motives and objects of those who advocate proportional representation— and I have no quarrel with the principle—you do not achieve any appreciable result in the direction required by the adoption of artificial methods of that kind.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
My right hon. Friend who has just spoken has argued with much conviction and in a very uncompromising fashion against the principle of proportional representation, and the hon. and learned Member who preceded him has appealed to the House with equal conviction and with very great force in favour of that principle. But from conversations which I have had with hon. Members, I am sure there are still many who have not come to any such definite and settled views as the hon. Members who have just spoken. I do not remember any case in which so many Members of this House have frankly declared themselves still to be in a state of some uncertainty and doubt, and in which the decision the House is likely to arrive at remained so undecided as it does at the present time. The reason is not merely that the attention of hon. Members is concentrated on other matters, but because both the opponents and the supporters of this principle are able to address so many sound and appealing arguments. It is of course the case that the direct effect of proportional representation will be to make this House a more perfect mirror of the mind of the nation, and after all the first object of a representative system is to be really representative. Further, it would contribute I have no doubt to assisting groups or parties or bodies of citizens who may be comparatively small in number in any constituency, but who have very strong convictions on some particular point, to secure representation in Parliament. I think you ought to take into account the strength of 821 political conviction as well as mere numbers. And further, it would enable the citizen who is now in a minority in a constituency and who does not feel that he has any Member who directly represents him, because he does not feel really represented by a Member elected by somebody else in some other constituency, it would enable him to secure a representative whom he can feel speaks for him in Parliament. Those are all valid and powerful arguments.
On the other hand, it appears to me a very great objection to the system of proportional representation that it involves, and necessarily involves, large constituencies. I put that first because I think it is the greatest disadvantage. A three-member constituency would, in deed, permit the principle to be applied to some extent, but it could not be adequately or fully applied, and the real advantages expected from it could not be attained, unless you have at least five-member constituencies. I think that will be agreed by most of the advocates of proportiinal representation. A five-member constituency on the basis of redistribution proposed in this Bill would have a population of about one-third of a million, and it would have about 125,000 electors under the new franchise law. I think it would be quite impossible for a member to get into real effective touch with so large an electorate as that, and what is perhaps even more important, it would be very difficult indeed for the electors to keep a watchful eye on five members at once. Now it is difficult for electors to exercise proper supervision over a single member, but if each constituent has to carry n his mind and watch the action on each political matter of no fewer than five representatives, for whose election he is or may be in some degree responsible, the control of the electorate over the member will, I think, be very greatly diminished.
Another disadvantage of these very large constituencies is that owing to the difficulty of a representative visiting with sufficient frequency all parts of the division and getting in touch with the electors, it considerably increases the power of the Press. The member, under those circumstances, must depend very greatly upon the newspapers for representing his views to the constituency. I think the power of the Press is already too great, and the power of the platform finds it 822 difficult to cope with it now, but with an electorate of 125,000 and constituencies, containing one-third of a million population it would be more difficult still, I know these are conjectural consequences, and no one can be quite certain that they will follow, but in my belief they will follow. There has been a considerable division of opinion as to whether or not proportional representation will increase or diminish the power of the party caucus. I believe that even the advocates of proportional representation, so-far as I have read their views, are divided in opinion on that matter Some say it will diminish the power of the party caucus, and introduce a large number of independent voters, while others say that experience shows that under it party organisation is maintained unimpaired.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I think the believers in proportional representation are quite satisfied that it will reduce the power of the caucus, whilst maintaining the main lines of party organisation.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
That is an interesting example of facing both ways, and my hon. and learned Friend is making the best of both worlds. He practically says that it will increase the power of the party system and that it will not increase it. He says that it will increase the power in good things and diminish it in the case of the evil ones, and I agree that that is a satisfactory consummation if only it can be reached. I am, however, disposed to think that anything which introduces complication into our electoral system will in the long run strengthen the party machine, and will give greater necessity and larger scope for detailed, skilful professional organisation of the electorate. This will be more so if we take into account the fact that with a five-member constituency, even under the very reduced scale of election expenses allowed by this Bill, which will be further reduced in the case of proportional representation scats, the cost will be 4d. per head, and therefore an independent candidate will have to face an expenditure of £2,000 before he could contest a seat. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] At any rate, he must be prepared to face that unless he is prepared to be placed at a considerable disadvantage as compared with his opponents in the effectiveness of his propaganda.
823 6.0 P.M.
That is the reason, of course, why that able representative of a minority party, the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), who speaks for the Independent Labour Party, opposes proportional representation, although one would imagine that, belonging to a party which it is supposed would be benefited by the opportunity of obtaining minority representation, he would be glad to welcome this scheme. The by-election difficulty is a very real one. The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) has proposed various schemes for getting over the by-election difficulty, but those, as has been pointed out, are not in the Bill. We shall have to consider in Committee whether any such scheme can be proposed in a practical form and presented for the consideration of the House. No less than one-fourth of the Members of this present House have been returned at by-elections. Of course, this is a very old House of Commons, and the circumstances are exceptional, but still it shows the importance of this matter, and, if proportional representation is applied, I agree that it will be absolutely essential to abolish the law which requires a Member on obtaining office to seek re-election at the hands of his constituents.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I speak with feeling, because I have been twice the victim of this law, and I am sure that it would be very hard on any hon. Member representing, say, a combined constituency in Liverpool who accepts, it might be, a law office under the Crown to be put to the trouble and to the very great expense of seeking re-election in a constituency so vast. The last consideration which I will present to the House on this side of the account is one, of course, that would have more weight if it were proposed to apply proportional representation to the whole of the country. The strongest argument of all to my mind against such a scheme as that was the one which was advanced by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) in its favour. He declared, or, rather, he did not go so far as that, he forecasted that the result of the general adoption of proportional representation would be 824 that we should have in this House a Ministerial majority never exceeding thirty or forty, and that we should always have an almost equal balance of parties. In other wards, we should have an almost unworkable legislature. That might square very well with his political ideas, for I am disposed to think that in his view the ideal legislature is one in which everybody discusses a great deal with the best of intentions, and in the most intelligent manner, but in which nobody does anything. To those of us who think that there are a great number of things that want doing and that ought to be done, the prospect of a series of Parliaments equally divided between the parties with the result that the Government of the day is weak, is bound to consider minor and personal interests, is vacillating and is ineffective to carry any programme, either of the one kind or the other, is one we can only regard with dismay.
Of course, if it were the case that in this country the whole of the electorate moved together, we should have at once to face all these difficulties, and to make the best of them. It has been mentioned that in British Columbia, for example, in 1912, the whole of the Liberal party, which till then had been a powerful organisation, was wiped out at the election for the Provincial Legislature, and not a single member of that school was represented. Their opponents, the Conservatives, had complete possession of power unchecked by any opposition or even by any criticism in the Provincial Parliament, with the result, apparently, that they so misused their power that this year there has been an almost complete, reversal, and the Liberals now have come back with hardly any Conservatives in the British Columbian Legislature. This situation, indeed, has arisen in the South of Ireland, where the Unionists have a very real grievance of which to complain, and for these reasons it was thought necessary and desirable in the Home Rule Act to apply the principle of proportional representation to the Senate, although I tremble to think what would happen if there was a by-election, and the whole of the Province of Ulster was called upon to vote for one member. Further, proportional representation was to be applied in Ireland to seven borough and two county constituencies.
825 This country, however, does not move as a whole, and it is not proposed to apply proportional representation everywhere. It is only proposed to make an experiment. I have frankly stated, although the views that I have come to have been arrived at not without some very prolonged consideration of the subject, that I quite realise that they are in the realm of conjecture and prophecy, and that it might be found, if the experiment were tried in this country, that the advantages did considerably outweigh the disadvantages of the scheme. I feel so much doubt about the scheme that I should certainly oppose its extensive application, but I do not think that we ought to oppose a test over a comparatively moderate field. After all, if it is found that those of us who consider that the disadvantages are likely to outweigh the advantages are right, it can be undone. It is not the same in a matter like women suffrage or the abolition of plural voting. If you enact women's suffrage or abolish plural voting, you will never be able to go back upon it, but if you make an experiment, as the Speaker's Conference proposes, with proportional representation and you find that it succeeds, you can extend it, and if, as I am disposed to think is likely, you find it does not succeed, then you can abolish it. It is only by experience that you can really tell whether these disadvantages which many of us foresee will be real disadvantages or not.
The Speaker's Conference proposes, as the Instructions to the Commissioners propose, that the experiment should be made in three directions: First, that it should be made in London; secondly, that it should be made in boroughs that return three to five members; and, thirdly, that contiguous boroughs should be grouped together, in order to form constituencies of from three to five members, for the purpose of securing proportional representation. The objections to it in London seem to be very strong. Almost all the representatives o£ London who have spoken in this House are opposed to it, and, from information which reaches me, those outside who take an interest in this matter are for the most part also opposed to it. I do not know that the House is justified in forcing upon London the experiment if it objects to it. There hi not the same objection with regard to the large boroughs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, yes, there is!"] Well, I have made 826 inquiries, and I have been informed from sources that ought to be reliable that opinion in those boroughs is rather moving in that direction.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I think, when we come to the Committee stage of the Hill, we ought to attach great weight to the opinions of those in the constituencies. I do not know whether this House would feel itself justified in trying an experiment, because from my point of view it is an experiment and nothing more. Hon. Members may see from my speech that I do not regard it as a matter of profound principle. That is very obvious. I make no concealment of the fact. I think many hon. Members agree with me that the matter is one of very great doubt. It may be very easy to express a strong, vigorous opinion, but it may not be a wise one, and it may be disproved by events. This is one of the matters in which we ought to be guided by experiment in this and in other countries, and there is nothing weak or foolish in saying that, before coming to a definite conclusion, one would like to see an experiment made. I should like to see an experiment made, but I do not think we ought to force it upon constituencies which vehemently resist it and are opposed to it. Therefore, for my own part, I shall vote against the Motion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Sir H. Jessel), which would rule out the whole of the experiment at this stage and say that the House would have nothing to do with it; but if any hon. Member moves an Amendment to exclude London from its purview I shall vote for that, and I shall vote for the experiment being made in a number of provincial boroughs. My view does not seem to commend itself to hon. Members. There is nothing inconsistent, however, in saying that we ought to make an experiment, but that we ought not to make it where it is strenuously resisted and that we should so frame our Instructions to the Commissioners and our Bill in Committee as to achieve that purpose.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
The Prime Minister has laid it down, as a rule of conduct for members of the Government both great and small, that, while they are expected generally to adhere to the compromise laid down in the Bill founded upon the Speaker's Conference, they are to have perfect liberty to vote as they please on two matters, one relating to proportional representation and the other relating to women's suffrage. My right hon. Friend the learned Attorney-General (Sir F. E. Smith) has taken full advantage of that rule of conduct laid down, and he is not only intending to vote in favour of proportional representation, but he has come down to this House at a time when he is usually otherwise occupied and addressed a very powerful and eloquent speech in favour of proportional representation. I therefore claim the same liberty for myself as one who is root and branch opposed to proportional representation. There is nothing undecided about me. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. Samuel) has also made a very powerful and well-argued speech. He showed that proportional representation will result in weaker Governments, in huge constituencies in which the people can neither keep in touch with the member nor the member with the people, in increased cost, and in increased power of the caucus and of the canvasser, but he nevertheless came to the conclusion that he was driven by these reasons to vote in the opposite Lobby to that in which I intend to vote so that at all events some experiment may be made. When he came to choosing the victims, I found myself thoroughly in agreement with him. I and my colleagues for London constituencies are to be exempted. Here is a new experiment in the operating theatre. We have the old system of splendid surgery that has been tried, but here is a brand-new experiment. The patient may live or the patient may die, but it is not to be tried on London! I thank my right hon. Friend for that. I leave my hon. Friends who represent the big boroughs to say whether they are willing that they should be the first people to be laid on the table and subjected to this new experiment by a new and untried surgeon.
I am not merely going to argue this question on principle; I am going to argue it to a certain extent in detail. What does the hon. Member for Enfield propose? First, he is shocked with the 828 idea that you should take away Members of Parliament from the single-member constituencies, which were created in London in 1885, and so he says that so far as your Parliamentary area and your local government area are concerned he will not interfere with them, but that constituencies like Chelsea, Hammersmith, Fulham, and many others, which were built up in 1885 upon a single-member principle, shall be left alone. He will not try the experiment upon them. What is the answer to him? I might vote for this Amendment if I were merely self-interested in my own Constituency, because my own Constituency would not be made the victim of this experiment. But I have rather larger thoughts than those merely for my own Constituency. I quite agree with my lion. Friend the Member for West Newington (Mr. Gilbert) that it would be a very great mistake to carve London up into two different sets of constituencies, one half of which will be single-member constituencies, where you will vote by placing a cross against the name of the candidate whom you choose, and the other half of which would be another set of constituencies, where you must be educated up to the now idea of putting the number 1, 2, or 3, according to your choice. I know that there is a good deal of ridicule poured upon the suggestion of proportional representation from the point of view that it is very difficult for those who have to exercise it to do so. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), who is a great student of this subject, says that he will undertake to teach anybody in this House how to do it in an hour. Yes, but my hon. and learned Friend is himself a very learned Gentleman. I am not going to say of my colleagues in this House that they are not also very learned Gentlemen. But what about the poor unfortunate elector, the sort of man who once said to me, "Well, sir, what time have I to read or think about anything? I go out with the van at six o'clock in the morning and come back at eight or nine o'clock at night, and the only time I have to look at a paper is on Sunday." I am sure there would be an enormous number of spoilt papers if we adopted proportional representation. I do not say that in time, of course, they might not be educated up to the one, two, or three system, but it will be a very long time before they are, and 829 an enormous number of men will be deprived of their votes and disfranchised in the meantime.
§ Mr. FISHER
The hon. Gentleman will have his chance of saying where it is in operation, in what countries, in how many counties, and he will be able to tell us how many spoilt papers there have been. I am not able to state them. I pursue the argument and say that it is a bad thing altogether to divide London into two sets of constituencies, in one of which you have to vote under the single-member system by putting a cross against the name of the man for whom you want to vote, and another in which you have to go through the very elaborate system of putting one, two, or three against the name of the man of your choice. Anybody who knows London, knows that 33 per cent, of the electorate in London, in the most populous constituencies, changes every year. You are going to shorten the qualification, you will have many removals in the area. Men may move from Fulham, which is my Constituency, just across the river to Wandsworth. If they vote in Fulham they may do so by putting a cross against the name of the candidate, but if they vote in Wandsworth they will have to go through the new system and be educated up to it. So it will be in many other parts. I do not apologise for my attitude. I think we London Members have a right to speak on this matter. Although my right hon. Friend does not want to subject us to this experiment, yet Mr. Speaker's Conference did want to do so, and sooner or later we shall have to meet the argument that this system of proportional representation should be applied as an experiment to London. We can meet it now, or we can meet it on Clause 15. I think it is much better to meet it now. Why should the Boundary Commissioners be held up, as they are being held up, while the House of Commons decides whether or not to carve London into eight or ten huge constituencies with from three to five members each? The hon. Gentleman says that the Boundary Commissioners can act on an alternative. It is not so easy to act on an alternative.
What, after all, is the proposal that sooner or later London Members will have to meet? The proposal of the Conference is that London shall go back to the pre- 830 1885 position—that is, to the system of huge, unwieldy, shapeless constituencies, with nothing but purely artificial boundaries. By this system you would end the single-member system and strike a deadly blow at the whole of the corporate life of London—that corporate life which many of us, not confined to one side in politics, have been trying to build up for the last thirty years, and in which we believe we have been successful. Years ago we were often told, as a great reproach, that we in London had no local patriotism. We were asked why we did not imitate Sheffield, Nottingham, and other great provincial cities. Our reply was that we could have no chance of securing that local patriotism as long as we were kept to the huge, unwieldy constituencies, miles upon miles in length and breadth, which no one could work properly and in which there could be no local enthusiasm, but that when we had a proper system by which our Parliamentary area was made coextensive with" the local government area, and when we had the general municipal equipment of a mayor, corporation, or council that was given to other great cities, we would give them this local patriotism. We have gone on producing it. There is nothing more ex-hilirating to me as a London Member than to see this great enthusiasm growing. In this great War constituency after constituency has risen to the opportunity. My own Constituency raised three great brigades of Artillery in a very short time. That is one result of local patriotism. It was the appeal from the town hall, and from the Member of Parliament going down to assist him. The locality begins to take a real interest in the place, the men who live in it take a real interest in it, and so do those who were born in it. That has been growing, and growing to the great advantage of London itself and the country generally. I have taken part, with many others on both sides, because it is not confined to one side, in politics, in helping to build up that system. Am I now to be told that I am to take part in shattering all that we have done and in saying that we are no longer to have Members for our constituencies and that no longer is the Parliamentary area to be the local government area? When I am told by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that I must vote for this because it is part of a scheme of compromise, I should like 831 to call his attention to another Resolution of Mr. Speaker's Conference, namely, Resolution 14 (a) which says:The boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies shall, as far as practicable, coincide with the boundaries of the administrative areas.This scheme of proportional representation as applied to London, carving it up again into some ten gigantic constituencies, is going to smash up completely the idea of the local government area and the Parliamentary area being the same. It will be a bad day for London if it is ever done. It is impossible for those of us who represent London seats to sit down quietly and be told that it is part of the compromise and that we must vote for it. Let us not forget that there is a very great difference between the question of proportional representation and the questions of female suffrage, the extension of the franchise, or even of redistribution. Take our constituents. These questions of the extension of the franchise, redistribution and women suffrage—have they not been argued up and down over and over again? There are very few Members of this House whose opinions on all those questions is not well known to their constituents. But has a single London constituency ever been addressed at any time on the subject of proportional representation and had a scheme put before them or a scheme in regard to which they have been informed that they would lose their Parliamentary representation, lose their identity as a Parliamentary community, and be rolled back again into those great constituencies which existed before 1885? I undertake to say that of the sixty Members representing London not one single Member has ever addressed his constituents on that subject.
§ Mr. FISHER
The right hon. Gentleman informs me that before he was elected he had addressed his constituents and had told them that there was a proposal, and that he was in favour of it, by which the single-member constituency would be done away with and London would be rolled back again to the system that existed previously to 1885. I accept that, of course. The right hon. Gentleman is the one exception. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is another!"] If the right hon. Gentleman is going to vote for this system of proportional representation being applied to London, he and one 832 other are the only two London Members out of sixty who are going to vote for it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!] The whole of the remaining London Members are going to vote against it. I am informed by those able to inform me, and, indeed, the hon. Member for West Newington has informed us that he believes the whole of his party are opposed to it. In all boldness I say this to the House: Compromise or no compromise, would the House think it fair to impose upon the London constituencies a huge revolution—because it is nothing short of that—of this kind, simply because Mr. Speaker's Conference has taken it as part of the scheme? If I had heard that there was a scheme under this Bill for applying proportional representation to Lancashire as an experiment, and that it was not to be applied to any other county, and if I heard that all the Members for Lancashire were solid against it, I should not feel justified in pressing it for Lancashire without Lancashire Members having had a single chance of informing their constituents of what was being done.
I admit that there is one strong and powerful argument for proportional representation, although it is really in the nature of a conjecture. I would not personally like to combat the idea that, if you had a fair system of proportional representation and applied it all over the country, you would get a fairer system of representation according to the votes, and therefore in favour of minorities. That, however, is in the region of conjecture. I am quite willing to make the friends of proportional representation a present of that and to say that they will get a rather fairer system of representation. But if that be so, then why apply it only to London and a few of the big boroughs? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, who speaks with such enthusiasm for proportional representation, says that it is most important that all minorities in our large towns should be represented in the next Parliament when we are dealing with reconstruction. Why limit it to the large towns? If it is important that all minorities should be represented in this House when we come to deal with reconstruction, of all the minorities that ought to be represented I should think it was the minorities in counties; yet this is not to be applied to counties. You have three member counties to which you could apply it. The great argument that has 833 always been used in favour of proportional representation is drawn from Wales, the iron and steel and mining districts of England and Scotland, and from the home counties. The home counties, it is quite true, do not give an adequate and fair representation to Liberal minorities. Equally, the minority of the party to which I belong does not get adequate and fair representation in some of the coal, iron, and steel districts.
§ Mr. FISHER
Then why not apply it to Wales? Why not apply it to the home counties? Why not apply it to the iron and steel districts? If by having your system of proportional representation you can cure this evil, and can get adequate representation for minorities, why only apply it to London and a few of the large provincial towns? Why not apply it all round? I should suggest that the scheme be thoroughly well examined before we apply it. I think there is a great deal in what my right hon. Friend (Sir G. Reid) said. We are going to admit many millions of new electors to the franchise. Let them have a first chance of voting in the simple old way by placing a cross against the name, and then if, after a little thought and education, they come to the conclusion that proportional representation would be a better system to adopt, let them adopt it. But in war-time this is not a thing which we ought to apply as an experiment, certainly in London, and not a thing which we ought to take merely because the Speaker's Conference, "whether by a majority or unanimously I know not, has come to a favourable conclusion.
One more argument about London. I have not heard it suggested, but I wish hon. Members would keep this in their minds: if you are going to carve up London into large constituencies for Parliamentary purposes, what are you going to do about the county council elections? At present there are two county council representatives attached to each Parliamentary constituency. Are they still to be so attached? If so, you are going to have two different electoral areas, two different sets of registers, and two different sets of machinery. If they are not to be attached, if you roll such a place as Chelsea into Westminster, Fulham into Hammersmith and roll half a dozen other places into something else, I suppose they will not have their separate members for 834 the London County Council. When you join them up you ought to have another system of proportional representation, of which they also are members. It is going to bring great chaos and great confusion into London. That is quite certain.
And will it improve the ordinary standard of members? I do not believe it. I believe you are going to drive all decent people out of Parliamentary life if you adopt this system. I cannot imagine anyone who has enjoyed being alone, single-handed, often perhaps in a triumphant position, but who has enjoyed on the whole the single gladiator's feat in his own constituency, and enjoyed the triumph of representing that constituency standing on his own, going into a new sort of contest on a ticket system. I am not going to begin to educate myself with four others to write a joint election address. How could I have done it a few years ago on Tariff Reform? How could other people do it, perhaps to-day, on many things? It would be a very weak, diluted sort of thing if all these five were to agree to it. And yet if they were to issue separate election addresses, just think, five members for a constituency—five Unionists, five Liberals and five Labour men, fifteen candidates at least, and the more you cheapen elections the more it is worth while for people to have just the advertisement of having a go for it. I am sorry for the electors. Fifteen election addresses perhaps. And then when you get in, when you become a member a fifth of a member for a huge constituency, what are you all doing for six months before the election? Candidates again, some with long purses and some with short; some able to establish their popularity by years of contribution to many clubs. There again the popular wife— always asked to open all bazaars, and at the Town Hall always put forward to sing popular songs. What about the other candidates whose wives cannot speak and cannot sing, but perhaps the best of the lot, the most independent and those most likely to make a contribution towards the welfare of the State. One of the very best things you get by this system is the contact and the touch between the member and his constituency. Some of the best things that we really do for our constituents, far better than the measures we pass, are the many little acts of kindness that we can and do give them. That close touch and contiguity are well worth retaining. You 835 cannot retain them if you are one member out of live for a constituency of which you can Know nothing. I was a candidate in the early days against the late Sir Charles Dilke for the old borough of Chelsea. I spent three nights a week in it for the best part of a year, and then I had not covered the constituency. It is now broken up into five—North and South Kensington, Fulham, Hammersmith, and Chelsea. Sit Charles Dilke, than whom I never knew a greater authority on local government or a man who knew London better, yet was one of the founders of the scheme of single-member constituencies.
Whether you regard it from the point of view of London or of the country, proportional representation is a gigantic experiment which has yet to be justified. It is useless to tell me that it has been tried in Tasmania. A system of this sort might be very successful in Tasmania and might be a simple failure in a great city like London. I hope and trust that the experiment will not be made on London. I should like us in London to sit by and see it made in Liverpool, where it appears to be so popular and which has produced two great champions for the scheme today. I hope they will have their way, and I hope the House will do nothing to deter them from making this experiment for the benefit of us all, but I hope and pray that the voice of London Members may be listened to and may not be overruled by the Members of this House, and that we, at all events, shall be exempted from having such a horrible experiment, tried on us. I have been one of the most ardent supporters of this Bill—the extension of the franchise, redistribution, cheaper elections, votes for women. I am not going to say if this were carried eventually I should go into opposition to the Bill. I will not use any threat of that kind. When my right hon. Friend talked about the Bill being in peril if the proportional representationists did not have their way, after all you may have to listen to the voice of London outside this House. When it becomes known that the single-member constituencies, which have been tried and not found wanting, are to be destroyed and the old system of artificial, boundless constituencies created in their place and you will no longer have the Parliamentary area the same as the local government area and the identity of these great populous boroughs is to be destroyed, you may have some trouble 836 with them. The peril is not altogether on one side. I quite agree that we ought all to approach this Bill in a true spirit of compromise. Having had permission not only to vote as I like, but to state my views, I have taken the opportunity, and I trust I have not abused it.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
We have listened to a most animated, brilliant, and persuasive speech from my right hon. Friend,, on which I have much satisfaction in congratulating him. I think he is a little over-interested in what are really subordinate aspects of the question—the effect on the convenience of members, the way in which it will work from the point of view of electioneering, and the like, but I do not believe he is right even about those minor points. He tells us that the local patriotism of London will be shaken. All that will be done is that a certain number of municipal boroughs will be grouped together for the purpose of Parliamentary representation. Why-should that shake local patriotism?
§ Lord H. CECIL
It is quite true it is not very strong, but at all events it will not be very much worse because you go back to the areas which used to exist. Those areas were unpopular in the old time because they had all the disadvantages of a single-member constituency without the advantage of its smallness. They gave no representation to the minority. They were much larger and less easy to work, and therefore we naturally welcomed the change to smaller constituencies. No one had tried proportional representation. The advantages of it are therefore unknown, and it is rather hastily assumed that it will not have the advantages which I think it will have to counterbalance whatever may be the inconvenience of a larger constituency. As to the objection of members not working together, of expense, and of the work thrown upon members, these all apply to a large extent now to double-member constituencies. There one member is pitted against another just as much as he would be under proportional representation. They applied almost in the same degree to the three-member constituencies that existed before 1885. The City of London then returned four members. No one suffered from those particular difficulties. The expense question ought to be dealt with by Parliament defraying the permitted election expenses of every serious 837 candidate. The country should defray that expense, and I would do that instead of giving a salary to members for sitting here. That would not be very difficult, and it would make for the independence of members of Parliaments. If their election expenses were paid it would make them not afraid of an election, and it would be much better than giving them a salary while they sit here, which must, sooner or later, make them afraid of an election and cause them to vote against a Dissolution. It is often forgotten that this is the only Parliament of considerable importance which decides on its own Dissolution and has payment of members. So far as work goes, every member of Parliament works now as much as he can, and he cannot work more. It does not depend upon the size of the constituency. If you had a larger constituency you would work it in a rather different way. The true limit of work really lies in the capacity of the candidate. I am confident that no one will find practically that he has more to do in a large constituency than in a small constituency, because he already does all that he can do.
These questions are altogether insignificant compared with the main argument in favour of proportional representation. I said on the Second Reading, and with the utmost respect I repeat to-day, that people hardly seem to realise how immensely defective our representative system is now, and how enormously important is the change that proportional representation would make, and how beneficial that change would be. All the smaller questions fade away in comparison with that main argument. The present House of Commons fails to represent the people accurately in respect of great numbers of seats. No Parliament, except the Parliament of 1892, since the Reform Bill of 1885, can be called anything but grossly unrepresentative. People hardly realise that. Plural voting, and all these other things, are insignificant in comparison. Let me tell the Committee what are the figures for the various Parliaments since 1885. The difference between the actual House of Commons and the one which ought to have been elected under a system of proportional representation was in 1885, seventy-two seats—that is enormous; in 1886, 112 seats; in 1892—the only case where it nearly came right-—seven seats; in 1895, 138 seats; in 1900, 118 seats; in 1906, no less than 252 seats; in the first 838 election 1910, sixty-two seats, and in the second election of 1910 it was eighty-eight seats wrong. These are immensely important figures. Nothing could be more untrue than to say, as the hon. Member for Birmingham says, that this is an academic, philosophic question. It is an intensely practical question. The whole couse of Parliamentary history would be utterly different if those Parliaments had been proportional and not as they were. Sometimes it was the Unionist party and sometimes the Liberal party which benefited. It is a peculiarity of the present system that it always intensifies majorities and never diminishes them. In every case it was the majority that was made greater. It always increases the swing of the pendulum. Let me remind my Unionist friends that if there had been a proportionately elected Parliament, according to these figures, the Budget Act of 1909 could not have passed this House. Neither the Parliament Act, nor the Home Eule Act, nor the Welsh Disestablishment Act could have possibly passed as they did and in the shape they did. It would have been quite impossible to have passed them with a working majority of thirty-eight votes. I know that the right hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel) regards that as an argument against proportional representation. I would suggest to him that even from the narrow point of view of partisanship it does not turn out well. We see in Ireland how unwise it is really, and how badly the representative system works when it is not truly representative, and when it is possible for a party to have its own way and to carry things through with a high hand.
Apart from all that, can anyone who is a democrat defend the present system? We sit here by no title except that this House represents the people. If it does not represent the people why should it exist at all? If it is so elected that it grossly misrepresents the people, how is it more important than any other equal number of intelligent men? If it were once realised that if you do not have proportional representation the whole system of representation is false and invalid, then I think people would begin to judge the thing in due degree, and see how comparatively slight and unimportant are these questions, whether it is difficult or easy to work a big constituency or a small one. When we were in Committee on the Bill, several Members—the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. 839 Banbury) in particular—had a disappointing experience, but I had one encouraging and almost intoxicating moment, because I made a disciple. That is not often done in this House. I was fortunate in convincing someone, and that was the right hon. Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon). It is strange how light sometimes shines even in the darkest places. One might have expected rather to have found a convert on the Treasury Bench, but I am reluctantly obliged to say that the Home Secretary, the Colonial Secretary, and the Secretary to the Local Government Board were quite obdurate. Sweetness and light were tried upon them, the sweetness by my right hon. Friend and the light from below the Gangway, but in vain. It was from the other bench that the convert came. What was the ray that illumined the mists that enshrouded the right hon. Gentleman's naturally ingenuous understanding. It was that the foundation principle of this Bill is to treat every citizen as having a common right to the franchise, and to think of him no longer as a member of a particular constituency, but as a citizen of the whole country, to whom there ought to be assured an equal voice in the representative system. If you adopt that view, you must adopt proportional representation. It is obvious that proportional representation is the only way by which that ideal can be realised. If it be true that we are carrying legislation which would never have been carried in a truly representative Parliament; if it be true that so far from every citizen having an equal voice the whole representative system is vitiated and becomes deceitful owing to the machinery of it, then it is quite ridiculous to set up against that argument considerations about the convenience of candidates or the difficulty of working larger or smaller constituencies.
There is a second argument to which I attach equal importance. I would say to those who look upon this matter from the narrow point of view of the convenience of Members of Parliament that under proportional representation you would get a very much greater number of safe seats than you do now. When the system had been working a very short time and it had become ascertained that there was an unvarying proportion of Liberals or Conservatives—or whatever the parties in the future may be —in the particular constituencies, people 840 would not commonly have a contest, but, if they did have a contest, the members would be conscious that their seats were safe, because they would be elected, as no one is elected now, by people who agreed with them, and who had become their supporters because they did agree with them. My argument relates to proportional representation as a whole, and I only accept the proportion which is proposed because it is a step in that direction. Suppose I take the case of a large constituency in the West Riding returning five members to Parliament. At least one of those five would be a moderate Liberal, elected by moderate Liberals. He would not sit, as he does now when he sits for a West Riding constituency, as the instrument of a coalition of persons in his constituency who have agreed to elect him as a Parliamentary candidate. Now almost every Member in this House stood as a party candidate, representing not merely the members of the party who really agree with him, but also the whole party, many members of which do not agree with him at all, although they agree with him more than with his nominal political opponent. Therefore, lie is in the weak position which is so familiar in this House of depending upon a coalition, like the present Government, lie has to look to more than one set of supporters, and accordingly his only chance of being elected is to keep tight to the party platform. The moment he becomes independent of the party platform he loses one part or other of his common support. Therefore he is not in the least independent. He must be a partisan or nothing.
Under the system of proportional representation there would be what in the language of the scheme is called a quota of voters, who would really agree with him. You have to get one-fifth of the total vote to elect a member. He would know that he had got a number of voters who really agreed with him, and that would give him real independence. He would be in a different position from that held by any Member of this House to-day. Very often he would not have a contest, but when he did it would give him very little anxiety, because he would know that his position in the constituency was based on real agreement and not based, on party ingenuity—not based on keeping out of sight part of his convictions to please one set of supporters and bringing forward another part of his convictions to please 841 another set of supporters. He would really sit as the representative of voters who agreed with him. I believe that would be a most important effect of proportional representation, which would strengthen beyond measure the House of Commons in the best sense. That does not mean strengthening it with cranks and self-advertising politicians. It does not mean strengthening it in the sense of the party machine, as we know it now, but it means real strength for the representative principle. The defects of the House of Commons now spring from the fact that it is not representative, that it is always elected by the ingenious manipulation of machinery which results in totals grossly unrepresentative. If you could get back to the primitive idea of representation, when a number of persons sent to the representative assembly people who represented their opinions and in whom they had confidence, then you would make the thing live again, and remedy the flaws of Parliamentary life which come from the want of a rational measure of independence—not the independence of the self-advertising and self-seeking politician. It is the want of that independence in the representative that we must remedy. If we have the true representative character, much of the mischief in the House of Commons would be got rid of.
We are engaging on a great experiment. We are going to enfranchise 8,000,000 electors. As a Conservative I find that a very alarming prospect. I am able sometimes to induce even Liberals to share my anxiety. I have a formula which disturbs them a great deal. I say, look at the effect of the War on people's minds. These 8,000,000 voters are not only going to be enfranchised, but they are going to be enfranchised at this time when everyone is doing rather odd things which certainly he would not do in calmer times. Take the Colonial Secretary. He is an ardent supporter of this Bill. Certainly in the calm times of peace he would not be an ardent supporter of a Bill to enfranchise 8,000,000 electors. Then comes the alarming question: "If the effect of the times is such upon the mind of the Colonial Secretary that he is moved to enfranchise 8,000,000 voters, which he would not do in the calm times of peace, what will the effect of the times be upon the 8,000,000 voters themselves? "And I find that even sturdy Liberals grow pale when they contemplate this question.
842 But, seriously, we are embarking on a tremendous experiment, an experiment dangerous it seems to me both by reason of its extent and opportunity. We are going to give 8,000,000 voters their first vote, the vote which experience shows is almost always a more Radical vote than any subsequent vote that is given. The first time a man or woman gives a vote he is apt to think that something tremendous can be done. There is going to be a new Heaven and a new earth. Generally the contending parties offer a new Heaven and a new earth. Then there is a tendency to vote for unlimited reform. You are making this experiment under this Bill and on this occasion, and now it is proposed to strike out from the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference the only thing of really important Conservative influence in it. There are one or two small details, but this is the only thing which really operates as a check on extravagant revolutionary tendencies. I think that is a very dangerous thing to do.
I quite recognise that parties will go on very different lines after the War from those on which they went before. As far as I can see the main contest will be between State control and the freedom of the individual. Another reason which greatly strengthens my conviction in favour of proportional representation is that Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Webb, the great supporters of State control, are entirely opposed to it, curiously enough for the very reason for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland is opposed to it, because you will get nothing done. It seems to be assumed that it would be a good thing to do something whether the people want it or do not want it. Personally the first task, to which I look forward after the War, is the restoration of the liberty of the individual from State control, the Defence of the Realm Act, the Munitions Act, and all thesis other Acts by which we are kept under control. We want to make our country again a free country, and that is a task eminently requiring what I call wise conservative statesmanship, and there is this danger, that this very odious and disagreeable system of control may produce a formidable movement of opinion which will go much further than we as reasonable advocates of liberty would desire, and may produce something like anarchy or revolution, and at that moment you are trying this experiment 843 when the electors are fresh from Lord Devonport's meatless days and Lord D'Abernon's drinkless hours. Is that a time when you are dealing with the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference to cut out the only proposal which is really the only substantial safeguard against revolution? I believe it to be most unwise. Though I cannot say that I shall be anything but an opponent of this Bill, whatever may be the outcome of this Division, certainly if you drop proportional representation, I shall be convinced that the insanity, which I trace in so many minds as a consequence of the War, has become ascendant in Parliament, and that there is nothing for those of us who look for Conservative statesmanship but to look forward with what apprehension we can to the wisdom of 8,000,000 electors giving their first votes without the smallest constitutional security.
§ Major NEWMAN
I desire to withdraw the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
We have listened to a very interesting speech indeed. The argument on which the Noble Lord appeals for proportional representation is that he desires an accurate mirror of the opinions of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton appealed on stronger grounds. He suggested that those who are opposed to this system of proportional representation do not desire to have a perfect and accurate mirror of opinion in the country. I am one of those who say that I do not desire an absolutely perfect mirror of opinion through the country, and on this ground: The hon. Member for Oxford has practically admitted that if you did have a perfect mirror, and minorities were adequately represented, you would create a far greater difficulty in the carrying on of Government by this House, and that brings me to the point that this particular proposal is differentiated from all other proposals adopted by the Conference, because it touches not only the question of representation and redistribution of seats, but it actually touches the constitutional position of this House, and the powers of this House; and, so far from agreeing with the argument that as this was one of the measures adopted by the Conference, 844 and that we ought to pass it without question, I say that it stands quite apart from all the other points covered by the Conference, which dealt with questions of reform in the franchise, registration of electors, methods and cost of elections, soldiers and sailors, and even women suffrage. This touches the powers of this House. For, if you alter your system of representation in such a manner that you get an unstable system of Government in this House, then you touch a matter which goes to the root of our Constitution, and which ought to be treated as fundamental to the Constitution, and by no means be covered by mere matters of electoral reform and registration, which are the two matters dealt with by the Conference. Then the appeal is made by the Attorney-General: "Are you prepared to say that you do not desire this House to be a perfect mirror of feeling in the country? "I am one of those who are prepared to answer that question in the affirmative, because it is one which has been thought over by those who are best qualified to judge and guide us on constitutional points; and I think I would be quite justified in quoting the opinion of Mr. Walter Bagehot as to what should be desired by those who are anxious for both a stable and perfect Government. As long ago as 1859, in his discussions and essays on Parliamentary reform, he said:If every minority had exactly as much weight in Parliament, as it has in the nation there might be risk of indecision. We need a counteracting influence, and it will be no subject for regret if that influence is tolerably strong. It is, therefore, no disadvantage but the contrary that a diffused minority in the country is in general rather inadequately represented. A strong conviction in the ruling power will give it strength of volition. The House of Commons should think as the nation thinks, but it should think so rather more strongly and with somewhat less of wavering.Those words embody the views which I venture to hold. He thinks it would be a disadvantage if you did not give the majority after an election a rather greater power than the number of their numerical votes would justify them receiving. The hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, the twin apologist for this scheme with the Attorney-General, appealed to us in moving tones to try it. Why it was tried, and in a very considerable measure, though this has not been adverted to, and it was found wanting. It was the system established for the purpose of elections for the School Board of London. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am afraid that I cannot withdraw what I said, because on reading the Debate which took place in 1885, when they were still using 845 the system for that purpose, I find that it is expressly adverted to by Mr. Shaw Lefevre, and the elections for the school board had failed because they prevented a majority returning representatives in proportion to their true strength, and gave an unfair advantage to cliques. I accept that statement by Mr. Shaw Lefevre in preference to any contradiction given to me from benches in this House. If you will turn back to the Debate in 1885, you will see that it contains all the arguments that have been presented to-day. There has been no advance of any sort. There has been no ground suggested why we should support to-day what failed thirty years ago. What was then said is that it was most complicated, and that it gave too great an advantage to minorities, and that it was not understood. Is it really understood in any constituency at all in any of the boroughs or large towns of this country'?
The hon. Member for the Exchange Division said that in an hour he would undertake to teach any Member of this House. May I suggest that he would have a very receptive class to whom he is going to impart his information. But what chance is there of being able to educate the ordinary elector in the same way, or would he say that all the electors share the same receptive ability which distinguishes Members of this House? When you admit that, surely you condemn the scheme root and branch. One other argument has been put forward. It is said that this system of proportional representation has been tried in other countries and, once tried, has never been Abandoned. Belgium, in particular, has been referred to. I had an opportunity of reading a full description of an election in Belgium, given at length in Mr. Humphrey's book on proportional representation. It was interesting as showing that in order to count the votes you require to have a body of arithmetical experts to go round the country to ascertain the quota and so on; but it was quite dear, from the election which he had taken, that the whole system of voting had been arranged by, I will not say a caucus, but by some agents who acted on behalf of the various candidates put forward. It was necessary, first of all, to decide how many candidates each of the lists should contain. Then the method adopted is this, that the voter, in the form given him, has to put his mark against the name of the person for whom he desires 846 to vote, and, if he likes, he can accept the whole list or vote for individual candidates. But it is quite plain that there is a desire in most cases to accept the whole list of candidates put forward by the parties—the Socialist or the. Catholic party, or the Liberal party, or whatever they were—and to adopt the candidate of a particular party because it was the least trouble and secured the return of the candidate.
We are asked this question, "Does not proportional representation work smoothly in foreign countries where it is adopted? "The answer is," Yes, it does; but it is because it is put forward and worked by a system of agents, who undoubtedly make a very great study of it, and the voters are content to accept their instructions from those who are qualified to give them." It must be so. If one is asked whether the voter will not be able to place the third, or fourth, or possibly the fifth candidate, I reply that it is not possible for him to make the distinction. For my part, I should be quite ready to decide the first and second candidates, but it becomes a matter of subtlety to put the third, fourth, and fifth in the right place. I have got before me in a book on proportional representation a list of candidates which contains the best-known public men. The Attorney-General said that this system had been tried in certain mock elections, or something of that sort, and had been found to work perfectly, and that therefore you can decide whether or not you can give a vote for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, for instance, or one of the right lion. Members for the City of London. But that presents no difficulty at all. I find in this list in the book to which I refer, that it gives six, eight, or nine names of gentlemen, and for myself I should find it quite impossible to fill in the list accurately, certainly when I came to the sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth of these candidates. I do not think that an elector of the country, if asked to fill up the paper containing five names, would be able to do so of his own motion. What will he do? Of course he will go to the agent, who will be quite ready to instruct him, and, therefore, you would bring the matter back to a position in which you would give enormous power to what is commonly called the caucus, but if I may use a less definite word, I would say the 847 agents of the various parties and groups whose candidates are submitted to the electors.
But there are one or two other points which must not be overlooked. Suppose you obtain in this House a perfect mirror of all points of view in the country. Our rules and our system have been developed over a long period of time in order to give minorities very considerable power. If, therefore, you are going to get a very closely balanced set of parties, who have got perhaps no preponderating majority which makes for stability, you will have to reconsider the rights of minorities as regards the rules of this House; otherwise, the only way in which that somewhat weak majority could proceed would be by means of the gag and the guillotine—instruments which one would hope the War has taught us to lay aside altogether. I think that if you have proportional representation in the country you will be handing your elections over very much more largely to those who are prepared as agents to help electors who are unable to make a choice themselves, while in Parliament you will have empowered the precarious majority to use those instruments which certainly have not tended to Parliamentary good work. Before the War, under that odious system, attacks were made on a great deal of the independence of judgment of members, and what we have done during the War illustrates the fact that by a certain amount of free play, by interchange of opinions, we can secure, even on the most difficult subjects, good work, without the instruments which enforce the will of the majority upon the minority. I submit that you are going to create difficulties which to my mind are very serious, and for what?—for the possible chance of getting a better reflection of the views of minorities in this country. Speaking generally, in the single-member constituency you have this fact, that in certain areas, or in certain parts of the country, you may have a consistent majority belonging to one party or the other, but taking it over a number of general elections there could not be much blame laid upon the representation which is produced by our present system.
There is one point which has been pressed very strongly indeed. Are we to say that we are prepared to lose the individuality which belongs to the single 848 member constituency, and that it is to become a unit among a large body of members who have no constituents in particular? For my own part, I believe that a great deal of good is done by the close relations that exist at present between the single-member constituency and the member. I do not myself think that it is at all to the advantage of either one side or the other that this condition of things should be altered. I think that the opportunity a member has of consulting persons whom he knows in his constituency, and whose judgment is worth consulting, has an excellent effect upon him, and probably enables him to ascertain what are the true and the well-judged views of his constituency. I do not think he would be able to have the same personal touch and knowledge of the value of opinions of a large and amorphous constituency. Therefore I think it is better for the member himself that he should be elected to a particular constituency in which he has an opportunity of exchanging views which it is very important he should learn to understand. If you take away all that, you are also going to take one of the most pleasant sides of political life. I think there can be nothing more uninteresting than to have little touch with persons in the constituency, and merely to deal with them as a whole, without any of those opportunities of acquaintance and friendship which belong to the system of single-member constituencies. Upon consideration of the whole matter, it appears to me that you are going to try and secure an end which is problematical, that of getting this House to be a better mirror of the thought of the country. I believe that those who seek to do it by proportional representation are doomed to disappointment, and that, with many voices, they will be unable to reach a real conclusion, or a conclusion which in itself will be worth asking for.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
The hon. and learned Member who has just sat down said proportional representation had been used in the School Board elections, and quoted as his authority Mr. Lefevre, but the form of voting used then was not proportional representation but the system known as the cumulative vote. In dealing with proportional representation the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to couple it unfairly with the cumulative 849 vote, and say that it was a fair trial of the system of proportional representation.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I quoted Mr. Lefevre, and I have the words here, if the hon. Gentleman would like to see them.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Mr. Lefevre's words apply to the experiment of the cumulative vote, which is a very different thing from the system of proportional representation now before the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman on the whole put his case very lucidly and very accurately, but he repeated a number of objections that had already been made by various speakers, and which are more or less familiar to those who have discussed this subject in the past. The Debate to-night resolves itself into a kind of Second Reading Debate on the principle of proportional representation, and those of us who lay store by that system of election feel bound to state the case, though it may involve the repetition of certain points, which, however, I hope I shall not do, as against the very strong and indeed the rather vehement opposition to the proposal we have before us to-day, in particular on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher), who scouts the idea that the recommendations of the Conference have application to such a proposal as this. I can only say that if the right hon. Gentleman in any future stage of this Bill appeals to the House in the name of the unanimity of the Speaker's Conference, it ought to fall on deaf ears. I confess that if this recommendation of the Conference is to be set aside, I am unable to attach any weight to the other recommendations on any other points. We have been told that the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference are unanimous. Is that so?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The trouble began with the Prime Minister when he made the announcement to this House that he did not understand the question of proportional representation. That may have been his reason for treating this question in a different way from that in which the other recommendations were treated.
It is very important that this matter should be made clear. If proportional representation is an open 850 question so far as voting is concerned, is it in order to say that it is a fundamental part of the Report of the Conference?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The recommendation of the Conference on this point was unanimous. Some Members laid great store by the recommendation and others will not take it at any price because their holiest traditions, it would seem, are bound up with the sectional representation of a section of London and because they feel so very strongly on such a point as that the Government thinks it prudent to leave the matter to the free vote of the House I do not want to protest against anything being left to the free vote of the House, but I do say that the right hon. Member for Fulham has no right to appeal to hon. Gentlemen to support the Speaker's Conference on other items in the Bill, and if he does do that he ought to be told that he is trifling with the House.
Let us consider the value of the objections that have been made. We have, for instance, the very familiar objection that, this system is far too hard to understand. The system has been put in operation by a number of trade unions in their private elections, and that was done a generation ago by the miners of Northumberland. The system of proportional representation is not merely worked in Tasmania and in Belgium, but it has been worked for half a century in some respects in Denmark. It has recently been worked in Sweden, in Finland, to some extent in Serbia, in some Swiss cantons and in Würtemberg, and it was on the verge of being adopted—
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
That is only one of a number of ways of applying the principal of proportional representation, but the transferable vote is a system, I believe I am accurate in saying, used by a railway trade union and miners in this country. If miners are able to work such a system, surely the average elector would be able to do so, and I am quite sure the hon. Member (Sir F. Lowe) would be perfectly able to do so if he would do himself the justice of bringing 851 an open mind to the question. He told us it always seemed to him a system framed for philosophers, and he went on to say that it was worked in Tasmania. Does he think that Tasmania is the philosophic spot upon this earth's surface to which the philosophers of Europe go? The hon. Member, I think, was not quite seriously dealing with the subject in using such arguments as that. I can assure him we can give him an abundance of evidence that there is really no practical difficulty in working the scheme at all. One hon. Member predicted that there would be multitudes of spoiled papers. I call that kind of prophecy a profligate exercise. I do not know by what right a prophet undertakes to say that certain evils will happen if you try some system, when he can give no evidence from actual experience that evils of the kind ever took place. It is notorious that a great many papers are spoiled under the present system, which is said to be the acme of simplicity. Where you have electors who go about their work seriously like the Northumberland miners and the members of a railway union, the number of spoiled papers is singularly small. When one thinks of all that is involved in indicating n preference, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, I think it will be realised that the papers likely to be spoiled will be no more numerous than at present, when that occurs from a variety of causes.
We have heard a great deal of the objection from the point of view of the London constituencies. The Member for West Newington (Mr. Gilbert) laid great stress on that point of view. He put two points which I am bound to say were worth putting and to which he is entitled to a reply. One of his arguments has been put by a whole series of Members, and notably the Member for Fulham, namely, that if proportional representation is just it ought to be applied to the whole country, and that if you do not apply it to the whole country you are doing an unjust thing. I claim that that is an eminently unfair argument against a proposal which arises in the Conference. If that kind of argument is going to be pressed those of us who have supported the Bill in other points will be entitled to recall our support in the future. I am asked in the Bill to continue university representation. University representation is, to me, thoroughly unfair. I recognise no principle under 852 which the holder of a university degree should have more voting power than anyone else. The very fact that he has a degree means probably that in ordinary life he has more power to advocate his own views and to make them heard. If you are going to apply that principle at all you ought to give more votes to the ignorant man than to the rich, because he needs them more for his protection. But I swallow this principle because of the circumstances under which the Bill has been drawn up and because we have a concordat and are all anxious to come to an agreement, and we accept on those grounds principles or propositions that we think unjust and unsound. When we have accepted them, and after we have been induced to vote to secure on the ground of general expediency agreement and collaboration, and when we come to a proposal on which the Conference was unanimous, we are told that is to be dropped, and it is even argued against by members of the Government.
Many of the arguments used to-day were really of no great weight, but perhaps the one deserving of most weight was that used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel), who looked at the problem from both points of view, and with his judicial mind took more pains than anyone else. My right hon. Friend saw arguments in favour of the system. I do not suppose that anyone has denied to-day that the system is an attempt to meet evils which are, on the face of them, of a very serious kind. Nobody pretends that the present system secures anything like equality of representation all round in this House. My right hon. Friend recognised that, but he had this objection, that under this this system you will have very small majorities in this House, and that you will not be able to do the things you want to do. It is really extremely risky to predict what kind of majorities you will get under this system in a few years time. The system will give results that will not be merely arithmetical. You will introduce by it a new kind of candidate, a new tone, and you will probably alter the whole tone of your politics for the better. No one can say what the majorities will be. As regards the theory that the happiness of this country hangs on alternate majorities for the two sides, let me remind hon. Members that under our present system of the alternate swing of the 853 pendulum Home Rule was kept swinging for half a century, while one of the most important reforms carried in this generation was the imposition of the Death Duties in 1892, passed by a small majority without even the use of the closure. Those are the possibilities of legislation with small majorities. Those who defend the system of alternative Governments by a series of flukes must remember that under that system parties alternately undo each other's work. You have the swing one way, and then another. A system which gave you a truer notion of the real views of the people would be a system under which probably more progress would be made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Sir G. Reid) argues that it is vain to try to stop the advancing tide with a broom. He had, I suppose, in his mind the argument of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford, who seemed to regard the enfranchisement of new voters with alarm. He made admirable play with equality of representation, but as soon as he found that 8,000,000 new voters were to be enfranchised he gets alarmed and this method of representation ceases to appeal to him as a remarkably fine thing, and his great object was to take precautions against it. Perhaps that was what the right hon. Member for St. George's was thinking of when he told us that it would be vain to seek to stop an advancing tide in that way. I quite agree proportional representation is not to be advocated as an attempt to stop an advancing tide. The proposal is one that ought to appeal to the Liberals on the ground that it is just. Instead of calculating what their party is to gain or lose, they should put to themselves the Liberal question whether it is the right thing to do in the terms of the principles they profess. I think it is over fifty years since John Stuart Mill, writing on representative Government, declared that it would be a very good thing if Conservatives would always support the things that are conservative with a little "c," and if Liberals would always support the things that are liberal with a small "' 1." He went on to say that in this matter of proportional representation the thing was eminently both the one and the other, Conservative from the point of view of what is rational in Conservatism, and Liberal from the point of view of what is most rational in Liberalism.
854 I would like to urge on the House one consideration which, I think, has not come before us in this Debate at all. We have had eloquent protests that by increasing the size of a constituency you are taking away a close local connection. We have been told it will wreck local patriotism, as if there was any good in a local patriotism that interfered with the larger patriotism, and as if there was not to be any London patriotism, but all sectional. We have had that kind of appeal. We have also had the appeal that it is a wicked thing to experiment on London, and we are asked to take the advice of the right hon. Member for Cleveland and save London, and try this somewhere else. We have had appeals from Members who are thinking of their own constituencies. One hon. Member for Sheffield appealed to us very warmly. One is not surprised at that when we realise the fact that he sits for one of the five Sheffield constituencies, three of which give a total Unionist majority of a little over 500, while the other two, which alone were held by supporters of the Liberal Party, are held by majorities which in the two come to 2,473.
The hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts) sits by a majority of 190. No wonder he wants to retain the system that permits of such representation as that. Surely at this time, when we all at least profess to consider the needs and future of the nation as a whole, we might ask ourselves what proportional representation has been seen to do for the nations that have tried it. Let me remind the House of this very important matter that has been brought forward several times in the discussions on proportional representation. It is the considered opinion of a large number of highly expert politicians in the United States that had the system of proportional representation existed there the Civil War would probably not have taken place. The very clear explanation of that view is that under the old system, the very strong minority vote which would be against slavery and in favour of the Union was practically annihilated and had no opportunity to assert itself, while the South was driven into a solid division, because there was no machinery which permitted the friends of the Union and the friends of freedom in the Southern States to show that they differed from the slave owners around them. Another instance is that 855 of Belgium, which a dozen or twenty years ago was utterly unstable as the result of its old system of election, under which you could get Brussels returning all its members against the Government in June and all the members for it in July. That old and unstable system in Belgium has been replaced by a system of proportional representation, and it has conferred on Belgium the stability that has enabled it to face and endure the present War. I think that if we are to be allowed conditional arguments I am entitled to say that you would not have had a united Belgium in this War if they had not substituted proportional representation for the previous system.
Since we should have so many arguments as to what hon. Members think might or would happen, may I point out that if we had proportional representation in Ireland we should then know that there is a minority in Ulster that does not hold the Ulsterian view, and that similarly in the South there is not a solid block in favour of Nationalism and Home Rule? [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] In South Africa at this moment the state of things would be more stable and hopeful if a system of proportional representation were introduced. In view of such considerations as this, I think it would be deplorable if at this early stage of the Bill, before we have ever come to the full consideration of the principle of proportional representation, we should be led by a mere wrecking Amendment of the kind before us to rule the principle out altogether and absolutely to dash to the ground at the very outset the hopes that have been confidently based on this Bill by a number of members of the Conference, and certainly by a large number of the Members of this House.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
I do not rise for the purpose of taking any part in the Debate on this question. His Majesty's Government desire to leave this matter entirely to the free and unfettered judgment of the House. As to myself, as the Minister in charge of the Bill, I think it better that I should not express my opinion either by voice or vote. What I want to ask the House is whether the time has not come when they might come to a decision. I recognise the great importance, of the matter and that it has been, if I may say so, very fully and very effectively debated on both sides.
§ Sir G. CAVE
As the right hon, and learned Gentleman says, another opportunity may occur on the Committee stage when we come to Clause 15. I think it would be for the convenience of the whole House if we could now come to a decision on this very important point, and pass on.
§ Sir F. BANBURY rose—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I did not address the House yesterday; neither have I addressed it to-day. We have only debated this question practically since four o'clock, and it is now not quite eight o'clock. This is one of the most important parts of the measure, if not the most important, and yet we are asked to come to a conclusion without having had an opportunity for Members to express their views or to inform the House what part they propose to take in the Division. The Home Secretary says there may be an opportunity of a second discussion. I do not know whether that is so or whether it is not. Suppose that the Amendment is carried and that proportional representation is thrown out, how can we discuss it again then? It does not appear to me to be at all certain that there will be an opportunity of discussing this very important matter, and I am afraid that it does not conduce to getting this measure through the House if, after four hours of discussion of a matter of this sort, when the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that the speeches have been of a most interesting character, we are suddenly called upon to divide at eight o'clock. We ought to go on with this discussion certainly until eleven o'clock, and everyone who desires to have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on this matter ought to have that opportunity. I had the privilege of listening for a certain time to the arguments which were brought forward at the Conference in favour of this proposal. There were on the Conference certain members who were very anxious that this proposal should be carried, and who had great knowledge of the matter. I myself have not been able thoroughly to understand it. It is a very difficult matter, and I thought then, and I still think, that it is very improbable that the electors will be able thoroughly to-master all the intricacies and difficulties of this particular problem. I am not at all 857 sure that I understand it myself, though I have endeavoured to give considerable attention to it; and I am not at all sure that the correct result will be arrived at by the Returning Officer. On the other hand, there are other things which ought to have been noted, and I have been, to a certain extent, influenced by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon). I do not agree, however, that it is only the Liberal Party that is animated with a desire to do the right thing. I think the Conservative party is equally animated by the same desire, and because I am desirous of doing the right thing I should like to consider this question a little more carefully.
London, as a whole, is very much opposed to any system of proportional representation, and I think the arguments advanced for that have a certain amount of foundation. I do not, however, believe that large constituencies are, on the whole, going to be less easy to manage than small constituencies. With regard to the institutions, the cricket clubs and charitable institutions, to which the member is expected to subscribe, they will flourish just as much in the large constituency as in the small. I am inclined to think that they will flourish more in the large constituency than in the small. It will be very difficult to trace them. I always endeavour to trace them and see if they are genuine, but it is a very difficult matter in a large constituency, and the conclusion I draw is that they will flourish in the large constituency. I think that, on the whole, the burden of the member's acts of kindness will be shared by other members, and that he will not, perhaps, have quite so much to do in that direction. I do not myself see the objection to sharing the representation of a constituency with other members. I have shared the representation of the City for eleven years, and I have never had any difficulty with the right hon. Gentleman who shares it with me. We have always been the best of friends, and I have always found it easier to get on with a colleague than without one. I may be wrong, but I think all these small matters are not likely to occur and are not of much importance. What we have to look at is what is going to be the result of this very great revolution which, if the Bill passes, is going to be thrown on the country, and what ought we to do to steady the unchecked power of the large number of voters who will constantly be thrown upon the country, possibly swayed by the impulse of the 858 moment, with power to settle the destinies of the country for a considerable number of years. My Noble Friend (Lord H. Cecil) said there were going to be 8,000,000 new electors. How did he know that? I think it quite possible that we may have 15,000,000 new electors. If the franchise is extended to women below the age of thirty, we shall have something like 15,000,000 new electors, and not 8,000,000. What is before us, therefore, is very, very serious—namely, whether it is possible to take some steps to ensure that the minorities, which will run the risk of being absolutely flooded out, may have some possibility of representation.
I came down to this House with my mind unmade up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] It does not often occur. The question seemed to me to be so complicated, however, that I really could not make up my mind which way I ought to vote, but I have come to the conclusion that I shall vote in favour of proportional representation, having been influenced by the speech of my Noble Friend, also to a certain extent by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]— and not having been altogether greatly influenced by the speech of my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir G. Cave). I moved several Amendments last week, and I have always been met by this statement, "I should like to accept it. I would do so if we were introducing a new law, but I cannot accept it because it is against the compromise arrived at by the Conference." I have taken the trouble to look up the Report of the Conference, and I find this was one of the things unanimously agreed to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] What then becomes of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, when I bring forward an Amendment, that it is not to be accepted because it is against the compromise, but that when he has something that he does not agree with we must away with the compromise and the Amendment must be carried? We are really in a very difficult position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] And it is not made easier by hon. Members, who apparently think that this is a matter that ought to be passed when only a few Members have been allowed to express their opinions upon it. It is not a thing which ought to be divided upon in a hurry at eight o'clock. [An HON. MEMBER: "Divide!"] If the hon. Member is in a hurry, he can always go home to dinner. 859 I am not quite sure who it is, but I think it is the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Duke).
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
I am very much amazed that the hon. Baronet should attack me.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I did not make any attack. I thought it was the right hon. Gentleman, but, if I am wrong, I am wrong. I will only say this, that I think the only thing to be done at the present moment, in view of the startling revolution which
§ is going to take place, is to support any safeguard, whether you are sure it may be a safeguard or not, which may tend to ensure that the passions of the populace will not be dominant.
§ Question put, "That the words 'Provided also that in carrying out these Instruction the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that proportional representation is not adopted' be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 149; Noes, 141861
|Division No. 50.]||AYES.||[8.1 p.m.|
|Ainworth, Sir John Stirling||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Parrott, Sir James Edward|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Greig, Colonel J. W.||Partington, Hon. Oswald|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Gretton, Colonel John||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Barnett, Capt. R. W.||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)|
|Barran, Sir Rowland Hurst (Leads, N.)||Haddock, Major George Bahr||Pennefather, De Fonblanqus|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Hall, Captain D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Radford, Sir George Heynes|
|Bigland, Alfred||Higham, John Sharp||Rawson, Colonel R. H.|
|Bird, Alfred||Hills, Major John Walter||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Hinds, John||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)|
|Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue||Hoare, Sir Samuel John Gurney||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H.||Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H.|
|Boyton, James||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Brookes, Warwick||Hope, Harry (Bute)||Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Horne, E.||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Houston, Robert Paterson||Rowlands, James|
|Butcher, John George||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rutherford, Sir John (Lanes., Darwen)|
|Cawley, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick||Hunt, Major Rowland||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Jackson, Lt. -Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Clive, Captain Percy Archer||Jackson, Sir John (Devonport)||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Clynes, John R.||Jacobean, Thomas Owen||Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Kenyon, Barnet||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Keswick, Henry||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Kiley, James Daniel||Sutton, John E.|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Kinloch-Cooks, Sir Clement||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.|
|Dairymple, Hon. H. H.||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Levy, Sir Maurice||Tootill, Robert|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Touche, Sir George Alexander|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Lowther, Col. C. (Cumberl'nd, Eskdale)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Falconer, James||Macleod, John Macintosh||Whiteley, Herbert James|
|Fell, Arthur||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wilson, Colonel Leslie G. (Reading)|
|Finney, Samuel||Magnus, Sir Philip||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. w. Hayes||Malcolm, Ian||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Gardner, Ernest||Meux, Hon. Sir Hedworth||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Gastrell, Lieut.-Col. Sir W. Houghton||Meysey-Thompson, Colonel E. C.||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Gelder, Sir W. A.||Molteno, Percy Aiport||Younger, Sir George|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Morgan, George Hay|
|Gilbert, J. D.||Morison, Hector (Hackney, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Goldman, C. S.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Col. Sir H. Jessel, and Sir T. Whittaker.|
|Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Greene, Lieut.-Colonel Walter Raymond||Parkes, Sir Ebenezer|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Baird, John Lawrence||Bathurst, Capt. C (Wilts, Wilton)|
|Adamson, William||Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Beale, Sir William Phipson|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Beck, Arthur Cecil|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Beckett, Hon. Gervase|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Barran, Sir John N (Hawick Burghs)||Bethell, Sir J. H.|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Barton, Sir William||Boland, John Plus|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hudson, Walter||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Hume-Williams, William Ellis||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Ingleby, Holcombe||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Bull, Sir William James||John, Edward Thomas||Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.|
|Buxton, Noel||Johnston, Sir Christopher||Robinson, Sidney|
|Byrne, Alfred||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Carew, C. R. S.||Joyce, Michael||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Cautley, H. S.||Keating, Matthew||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Cacil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Kellaway, Frederick George||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Chancellor, Henry George||King, Joseph||Shortt, Edward|
|Collings, Major Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Larmor, Sir J.||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Lundon, Thomas||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Henry Page||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)|
|Currie, George W.||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk. B'ghs)||Snowden, Philip|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||M'Kean, John||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby N.||Mackinder, Halford J.||Swift, Rigby|
|Doris, William||M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Laics)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Donald||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Macmaster, Donald||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Field, William||Maden, Sir John Henry||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Goldstone, Frank||Manfield, Harry||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Grant, J. A.||Marriott, J. A. R.||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs, Ince)|
|Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones||Martin, Joseph||Wardle, George J.|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Watson, J. B. (Stockton)|
|Hancock, John George||Middlebrook, Sir William||Wedgwood, Commander Josiah C.|
|Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Millar, James Duncan||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Melloy, Michael||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Muldoon, John||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Haslam, Lewis||Nolan, Joseph||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Nuttall, Harry||Williams, Llewslyn (Carmarthen)|
|Hemmerde, Edward George||O'Dowd, John||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|Hewart, Sir Gordon||Ogden, Fred||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs, N.)|
|Hill, Sir James (Bradford, C.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Holmes, Daniel Turner||Parker, James (Halifax)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pratt, J. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Major|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Edin., Midlothian)||Pringle, William M. R.||Newman and Mr. Aneurin Williams.|
§ Mr. EUGENE WASON
I beg to move, after the words last added, to add the words,Provided also that the number of members for Scotland shall be retained as at present.We are not asking a great deal, and I should like to take the opportunity of thanking the Home Secretary for the very valuable concession he made by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mason), which goes a considerable way towards what we desire. If that concession had not been made we in Scotland should have been redistributed almost out of existence. I have gone through the list very carefully, and I find that we should have had fourteen counties and eight boroughs. I myself represent two whole counties, Clackmannan and Kinross, and I have a bit of Stirling and Perth and West Fife, and I am told I am to be swept out of existence. I have every confidence in the Scottish Boundary Commissioners who are going to settle this matter. I believe they will see that Scotland is fairly and equitably dealt with. I have been told by some of my hon. Friends that it might be possible we should lose 862 as many as eight or nine representatives; of Scotland. I can hardly believe it is possible, but we should like very much, if it can be done, to have the representation of Scotland remain as it is at present. We are a separate nationality, we have our own system of laws, our own education. system, and our own marriage laws. In Scotland the sexes are equal, and, as a matter of fact, we are constantly getting rebuked by our constituents that we do not act like the Irish party, and then they say we might be able to do something for Scotland. I am not one of those who want to see an independent Scottish party in this House in the same sense as there is an independent Irish party, nor do I begrudge Ireland its separate representation. But in Scotland we feel we are, and have been, somewhat severely neglected. Some years ago Lord Rosebery well put it that, "So far as Scotland was concerned, it was a case of neglect; and so far as Ireland was concerned, it was a case of the shoe pinching." We want to assist the Government in every possible way. I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, but I should like to quote what a leading 863 newspaper in Scotland stated the other day that "if this Bill were passed as it was the representation of the areas, except Lanarkshire and Glasgow, would be depleted." I put down my Amendment more with a view really of ascertaining from the Government as to whether or not there is any danger of us losing any of our representatives, and I hope I shall get an assurance from the Home Secretary—who met us very fairly yesterday following what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs—that we may, at any rate, be continued as at the present time with our full quota of members— seventy-two—so that the interests of Scotland, be long as we remain here —may be fully and adequately represented.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
The appeal which the hon. Member has made to the Government is one that has the backing of nearly every one of the important bodies in Scotland. I had the honour last week of introducing to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary a deputation representative of the whole Labour movement in Scotland One of the questions which we brought to his notice is dealt with by the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. Not only is the whole Labour movement in favour of Scotland retaining its seventy-two Members of Parliament, but other important bodies in Scotland, such as the Glasgow Town Council and the Convention of Burghs of Scotland are also in favour of it. One can, therefore, fairly say that all the important bodies in Scotland are in favour of the proposal that my right hon. Friend has just put forward. In putting forward a proposal of this kind I do not think we are asking the English Members of this House to agree to a proposal that is unfair. If one goes back over history for 100 years or thereabouts it will be found that for a considerable number of years Scotland was under-represented in this House. In 1801 we find that the average population represented per member in England and Wales numbered 17,354, whereas at the same time the average population represented per member in Scotland was 35,743. Coming down to 1831, we find that the average population represented per member in England and Wales was 22,793, whereas in Scotland it had risen to 44,611. Coming still further down to 1861, we find 864 that the average population represented per member in England and Wales was 40,581, whereas in Scotland it was 51,038. It is only after the redistribution following on the election of 1881 that we find that the average number represented per member in England and Wales rises rather over the average represented per member in Scotland. The English members, I think, will be with me when I say that we are not asking them to agree to anything that is unfair when we ask that we shall retain at least our seventy-two members. Recently we had a good deal of discussion on the question of areas. We went into some considerations affecting more the question of nationality than that of areas. If we look at the contribution that Scotland has made to the national life, not only within recent years, but for the whole time England and Scotland have been associated, I think it is not an unfair proposition to ask that full weight should be given to that contribution to the national life of the United Kingdom. I hope that the claim of my right hon. Friend is going to be sympathetically considered by the Government, and that we shall have some assurance that Scotland shall retain at least her seventy-two members as at present.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am quite sure that any request from Scotland will always receive the very careful consideration of the House, and specially the request that Scotland should have its fair and adequate representation. This Amendment suggests that the number of Members for Scotland shall be retained as at present, and that Scotland should have neither more nor less members than now. It appears to be the view of some hon. Members that under the redistribution scheme Scotland may lose a considerable number of members. My right hon. Friend behind me mentioned eight or nine. I want at once to reassure him. I believe that even without the change we made yesterday in the Instructions to the Commissioners that that gloomy forecast would not have been realised, or anything like it. That may be right or may be wrong, but I am confident of this, that the Amendment to my Motion which the House adopted yesterday, with the full concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman, will operate for the benefit of Scotland. One of the strongest things in the mind of myself and my hon. Friend, when we decided to accept the Amendment yesterday, was the thought of cases that came 865 from the Highlands of Scotland. We felt very strongly that if the Instructions stood as they were there was a possibility that difficulty might be caused in the Scottish counties having large areas with comparatively sparse populations, and it was to a great extent, with a view to meeting that real grievance, that we decided to accept the Amendment. Having done that, I am very unwilling to go further. I think it is rather unfortunate that to-day, for the first time, a distinction should have been drawn between two parts of Great Britain. The Bill is based upon the principle of equality of value of votes, subject, of course, to special considerations. If this is asked for Scotland, of course it will be asked for Wales, and it would be very difficult to refuse Wales what we had granted to Scotland. You cannot have a hide-bound system under which various parts of these islands are bound down to a fixed number. I think that is not only undesirable in principle, but if the time should come when the population of Scotland increases in greater proportion than the population of England, hon. Members of those days, would, I think, rather regret the precedent which my hon. Friend asks us to accept. I am sure that every request and every demand for Scotland will be considered by me, and by all of us with the greatest desire to do what is fair, but I hope this Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I think it is very satisfactory indeed that my right hon. Friend brought forward his proviso, because it has elicited from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a reply which, on the whole, I think will be regarded as satisfactory. [An HON. MEMBER; "No!"] My hon. Friend behind me is very difficult to satisfy on all occasions, and I am not the least surprised he remains in doubt. That is his natural condition. At the same time, I was under the impression myself, looking carefully at the figures, that Scotland might lose a certain part of its representation if we had adhered to the figures in the Speaker's Report. I think now, with the Amendment accepted yesterday, and the confidence I have in the good sense and the administration of those new Instructions by the Boundary Commissioners, that there is not any fear whatever of Scotland losing its representation in any kind of way. Therefore I would strongly urge my right hon. Friend not to press 866 this Amendment for this reason: This Amendment does not end the matter. This discussion is purely preliminary. The Schedules are ultimately to be filled up and come before this House, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does not intend to have his Bill wrecked on the Schedules, and that he most certainly would have if those Instructions of the House of Commons, which are now given for the first time to the Boundary Commissioners as to the elasticity and non-rigidity of their action, are not followed by the Boundary Commissioners. The Bill in that case would not pass, and I venture to say the Bill ought not to pass. Under these circumstances, I have no fear whatever that the Home Secretary is perfectly right and that Scotland need be under no fear.
§ Mr. GULLAND
I agree very thoroughly with the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, and I could have wished that the Home Secretary would have accepted it. Scotland certainly is quite strong in its belief that whatever happens it will get justice. It has always managed it one way or the other when it has made up its mind for it. I should just like to put one or two points why Scotland, is entitled to some separate treatment. There is for instance, the question of distance from the seat of government. I think it was always laid down by Mr. Gladstone as a special case which would be considered, and n the case of Scotland it is peculiarly apt at the present time. It is extremely difficult, and very expensive, for Scottish Members to come to London to carry on their work. It is far more expensive, and takes up far more time than in the case of any member from an English constituency. Then if Scotland is to have Scottish representatives, it is much more difficult for them to come here than for the ordinary London Member, or for any English Member, and if we get in this House, as we should have, men who are Scotsmen carrying on their business or profession in Scotland, it follows that you never can have your full list of members. As a matter of fact, it is so. Some of them are always in Scotland, it may be carrying on their profession or their business, or doing public work there. We always find, for instance, that one or two Scottish Members are in Scotland on commissions or committees, so that it seems to me there is a very special case why, because of the distance from the seat of Government, there should 867 be a distinct understanding that the representation of Scotland should not be reduced because its population has fallen slightly. The population of Scotland did fall at the last Census, and I suppose at the computation of the population in 1914 it had perhaps slightly further fallen. I am not quite sure about it, but, at any rate, I think we all felt that it was a surprise to discover at the last Census that the population had fallen. I think it was probably a temporary fall in the population, and I think Scotland ought to be insured against that. Some of us may say that because of the neglect of Scottish legislation in this House, the difficulty of finding time in this House for the consideration of Scottish matters the population was reduced, and that therefore this House ought not to make Scotland suffer in a double way because of that neglect. I hope the Home Secretary will not think that it is only the Highlands of Scotland which have to be considered, because there are many districts in the Lowlands, and all through Scotland indeed, which are just as much entitled to consideration as the Highlands. I should have hoped the Home Secretary could have accepted this Amendment, but if he does not I think we must take care to be very watchful as Scottish Members that we do not lose our rights.
Mr. T. WILSON
I am somewhat surprised at the most illogical arguments used by the last speaker. His arguments were that under present conditions the expenses enforced upon Scottish Members were very large indeed. I suggest to him that if, unfortunately, the number of members from Scotland is reduced by this Bill, the expenses will be reduced. We cannot get behind that fact. Democracy, according to Scotsmen, means that England must have a population of 70,000 people in each constituency or no member, but that Scotland must have its seventy-two members, whether they represent on the average 30,000, 40,000, 50,000, or whatever the population may be. I believe in democracy, and whatever this Bill may say with regard to population of a given district or area, or constituency, then that population should apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. I would like to say that, during the eleven years or more I have been in this House, Scotland has never failed to make its voice heard, irrespective of whether the Member speaking for Scotland represents a population 868 of 10,000 or 100,000, and I do say it is extremely selfish on the part of Scottish Members to ask that Scotland should be over-represented in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are they asking for that?"] I agree that whatever population may be assigned to a constituency for England and Wales the same should apply to Scotland. I would not like to say that Scotsmen are not impartial, but they are extremely cautious, and if there is anything going they like to get it, and it possible they like to get above their share, and the Amendment proves that conclusively. I hope the Government will persist in its opposition to this Amendment. I will go further and I ask the right hon. Gentleman in the interests of democracy—I do not apply that word to England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, but to the United Kingdom—I appeal to him in the interests of the workpeople of this country to withdraw this Amendment. If a referendum could be taken of the workmen and the workwomen of the United Kingdom, I believe the majority against this proposition would be a very large one. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in Scotland!"] Surely we are not going to be told to-day that Scotland is so extremely selfish that she wants to be represented here by a number of members which she is not entitled to have? [An HON. MEMBER: "We do!"] If that is so, then I am losing faith in human nature, and particularly in Scottish human nature.
§ Mr. MORTON
I put my name to this Notice of Motion before the Amendment was agreed to yesterday, but having heard the explanation of the Home Secretary I am satisfied that we ought not to think of pressing this Amendment to a Division. I cannot understand the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, for he seems to have forgotten that Scotland is the principal part of the Empire. I should like to say to my right hon. Friend that I hope he will withdraw the Amendment, and that neither he nor anyone else will forget the handsome way in which the Home Secretary has treated this question.
§ Mr. D. MILLAR
The right hon. Gentleman has not shown the usual Scottish caution which we associate with him when he has asked that the representation of Scotland should be retained as at present. It would have been more suitable if he had stipulated that the Members for Scotland should not be 869 less than they are at present. Judging from the remarks of the Home Secretary, I gather that it is quite open to the Boundary Commissioners to consider whether or not the number should be increased. I think that is a point which might very well be brought before them. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that the result of the widening Amendment adopted yesterday might be to enlarge the representation of Scotland, which, without that Amendment, would remain as it was. I hope the Boundary Commissioners will take that point of view into account. So far as the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners are concerned, the words "substantially as at present" seem to cover very largely the case of the present representation of Scotland. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the absolute confidence of the Scottish Members in the fairness of mind of the Commissioners who have been appointed.
§ Mr. MILLAR
I think we may leave this matter upon the assurance of the Homo Secretary, which I hope the Secretary for Scotland will be able to endorse, for the right hon. Gentleman has stated that under the proposed Instructions no injury will be done to Scotland, and that we may look forward to the Schedule containing at least the same number of representatives as we at present possess. I am glad the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) brought out the point that we should have a full opportunity of considering this matter upon the Schedule. I think it is desirable that the House should keep in view that after the Boundary Commissioners have reported, if we are dissatisfied the matter is not concluded with this Debate, that we shall have a full opportunity of discussing whether we are satisfied with their Report. Upon these grounds I join in the appeal to my right hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment, and to await the Boundary Commissioners' Report.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I hope my right hon. Friend will insist upon this Amendment and go to a Division. There seems to be a great misapprehension in this House on the subject of Scottish representation. We have had some arithmetical arguments provided by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) as to the democracy across the Tweed and on 870 this side of the Tweed. I have not been as long a Member of this House as some hon. Members here, but I have been long enough here to know that no Scottish question of any kind has ever got any justice in the British House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Over and over again when by a majority vote of the Scottish Members of this House in Grand Committee we have decided among the Scottish Members, with a proportional representation of English, Irish and Welsh representatives upstairs, upon a particular question, the conclusions we arrived at upstairs have been thrown overboard in this British House of Commons by the English Members of this House, who knew nothing at all about the arguments produced upstairs, but who answered the party and the political call on those subjects when they were brought down to the floor of this House. Consequently the argument that we in Scotland are a small people and do not forget to state our case, and state it often, whether we represent 5,000 or 50,000, altogether falls to the ground when you consider the importance to the Scottish people of the questions discussed here. We in Scotland are not concerned so much as to whether we shall have seventy or seventy-two representatives, and if you want to reduce the number lake away the representation of our universities, and thus get rid of the most undemocratic institutions in Scotland and of the representatives who come here representing nobody. Everybody in Scotland would be glad to see university representation swept away.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Then there is one exception. There is not a single Scottish newspaper that has a word to say for university representation in Scotland, and university representation would not be carried by any Referendum to the people of Scotland. We know very well what kind of representatives we have of the universities of Scotland. There is not one who could stand for a constituency in Scotland and get returned. If you want to reduce the representation of Scotland, therefore, get rid of the university representatives; but let the Secretary for Scotland clearly understand that if there is any attempt to cut down the representation of Scotland, beyond the two university representatives whom I give you with all the joy in the world—
§ Mr. HOGGE
If we are to get three, it is three too many. We do not want representation of the universities, but representation of the people. I am a university voter as well as an ordinary voter, and I am not represented by the Members who are supposed to represent our universities. I warn the Government, if they attempt for one moment to interfere with the number of Scottish representatives in this British House of Commons for any purpose whatever, this Bill will not get through this House of Commons, and will not become the law of the country. [An HON MEMBER: "Who says so?"] We in Scotland say so, and you know what the people of Scotland can do through their representatives. We want Scottish affairs attended to. Give us a Scottish Parliament and get rid of us if you like.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend below me says "Heaven forbid!" but again he is the exception. Every sane business man, except my hon. Friend, who is both a business man and sane, agrees that what we want is a Parliament in Scotland for our own affairs. If you give us that, we do not care a straw how many members come to Westminster. You can get rid of us altogether if you give us a Parliament of our own to deal with Scottish affairs. You yourself have presided over some of these Grand Committees upstairs, and you yourself, in this House, have seen the result of weary days which we have spent upstairs on Scottish business. I myself had the good fortune, through the ballot, to introduce one of the last Scottish Land Bills on which Scottish members sat in Grand Committee longer than they had ever sat before, but when it came down to this House of Commons the opponents who represented a minority of opinion in Scotland put down again all the Amendments which had been discussed in Grand Committee and brought to their aid English and Welsh Members to bar the progress of the Bill.
We will have no interference with the number of our Members unless we are to have a Scottish Parliament. If you give us a Scottish Parliament the Members for Scotland will consider willingly the question of Scottish representation in this Parliament. I beseech the Secretary for Scotland not to invite trouble when nobody wants to give trouble. I am in favour of any measure for widening the franchise. I would give every man and 872 woman on attaining a certain age—whatever age we care to agree upon—the franchise. The bigger and the broader the franchise the better for me, but while this country is so constituted that you have in this House an overwhelming number of English Members and can dictate the time at which and the terms under which Scottish business shall be discussed Scotland is not going to make any headway here, and, if there is any attempt made to reduce the Scottish representation there will be trouble. Somebody has said something about the Commissioners and how every Scottish Member trusts them. I do not trust the Boundary Commissioners, for the reason that they have been appointed by a, Government in which there are no typical Scottish representatives beyond the Secretary for Scotland.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Member is really going beyond the matter before the House.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Yes, I admit that at once —three parties. We have got a Tory judge as one of the Boundary Commissioners, and we have got an old man, absolutely out of touch with Scottish opinion, as the other. I do not trust these two men doing the fair thing by our Scottish constituencies. I am quite honest and frank about 873 it. I do not trust them, and I venture to repeat that if there is any attempt made to reduce the Scottish representation below seventy—you may have the university men, if you like, with pleasure—then this Bill will not have a smooth passage through this House of Commons.
§ Colonel GRETTON
There is a distinct English question involved in the Amendment now before the House. Numbers is the whole basis of the proposal of the Government, and yet everybody gets up and claims special representation apart from numbers. That is the meaning of this Amendment. Under the old franchise, Scotland, I agree, has exactly the right number of members. Apparently, Scottish Members are doubtful what their position will be under the Bill, and they are claiming that they shall receive some special consideration, and, whatever may be the fair and right adjustment, that they shall have the present number of members, or more members, to represent Scotland here. The same claim, I gather from the speech of the Home Secretary, is expected from Wales, and there is also a provision in these Instructions that the total number of Members in the House shall be kept the same. The population of Great Britain is increasing. It is not increasing in Wales, and, by the confession of hon. Members, it is decreasing in Scotland. Is the whole principle of the Bill to be upset at the expense of the English representation? If the Bill is to go through the House, it must go through on the principle of numbers on which it is based, and those hon. Members who support it will find themselves in great difficulty if they depart from that principle. I am very glad to see that they do so in one particular, because I do not think that numbers alone, even as the ultimate basis of representation, provide a satisfactory principle. You ought to represent districts, communities, and national interests as they are distributed in the different parts of the United Kingdom, and that this Bill does not propose to do. Scottish Members cannot expect to receive any sympathy from English Members if they make special claims at the expense of English constituencies to have exceptional representation for Scotland. A protest should be made by an English Member on this occasion. I shall certainly support what the Home Secretary said in substance, although in the spirit of what he said I am afraid he did not mean to carry out the substance 874 of his speech, because he clearly indicated that the Instructions given to the Boundary Commissioners are to be stretched and extended to the utmost limit in order to favour certain Scottish constituencies.
§ Colonel GRETTON
If that is not the case, I am glad to hear it, because there are many English constituencies which will require special consideration, and at a later stage I may have to trouble the House with a case of that description. However that may be, we are poaching and trenching upon the principle that the number of Members of this House should be kept as it is at present. That might easily be adjusted by applying this Bill to Ireland, but I take it that the Government do not intend to do that. If special consideration is to be extended in any direction, the Government will have to increase the number of members, at any rate until the Irish question is settled.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
I had not the slightest intention of taking part in this Debate, but after the speeches which have been made by my colleagues from Scotland I think it would be only respectful to them that I should say a few words. I am glad that the question has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and Kinross (Mr. Eugene Wason), because it is an important question, and, in dealing with it, I am quite sure that I shall not be regarded as lacking in sympathy with any views which are put forward by my Scottish colleagues, or with any views which are designed to promote the welfare of the country in which they and I are interested. While that is so, I feel bound, most respectfully, to recommend them, if I may, to rest content with the assurance which the Home Secretary gave at an earlier stage in this Debate. I do so for more reasons than one. To begin with, the terms of the Amendment which has been proposed by my right hon. Friend, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for North-East Lanarkshire (Mr. Duncan Millar) are not that Scottish representation should not suffer a reduction. The effect of the Amendment as proposed is to stereotype Scottish representation at seventy-two. I am quite sure that, my hon. Friend the Member for East 875 Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) would be extremely surprised if he were found to be associated with a project for preventing the increase of the membership from Scotland, which might very well be the result of the deliberations of the Commissioners, for all that I know.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I do not agree with my hon. Friend in that. In any event I suggest it ought to be carefully considered, before this Amendment is accepted, that the effect will be not to ensure that there will not be a diminished representation, but to stereotype the representation at the present figure. Apart from that, it has become quite clear as the Debate has proceeded that if this Amendment were accepted it would provoke reprisals in many quarters. That has been made quite clear by the hon. Member for the Westhoughton Division (Mr. Tyson Wilson) and by the hon. Member for the Rutland Division (Colonel Gretton). That would be very undesirable in connection with a Bill of this sort. We should have similar claims advanced by Wales, which it might be difficult to concede. If individual claims are made by the various countries it would be very difficult to deal with them in that particular way. But I am reassured when I reflect that the Amendment which was yesterday accepted —I think in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh—for the purpose of diminishing the rigidity which it was feared might attach to the Instructions to the Commissioners, and for increasing their elasticity, will have the most beneficial results in the country in which my colleagues and I are interested. In fact, that Amendment was accepted after a very full survey of the situation, not only in England, but in Scotland—a full survey of the situation which was taken by the Home Secretary and myself. Although I cannot in any way bind the Commissioners, because that is not my affair, I feel sure I am at least entitled to say this: that, according to the best advice I can get at the present moment, there is no reasonable probability that the membership from Scotland, especially in view of the relaxation introduced yesterday evening, will be in any way diminished. After all, that is a matter which we are not foreclosing now. The Commissioners who 876 have been appointed will have to consider this question in all its bearings. I for one differ from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh in that I have the fullest confidence in their discretion and in their judgment. I must say I regretted very much to hear the observations which my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh thought it proper to make with regard to the two Commissioners selected for Scotland. I am bound to say that if you wanted to look for men who were entirely dissociated from politics, I do not know where you could find them more appropriately than in the person of a judge of the Supreme Court and a member of the Civil Service. Neither the one nor the other is entitled to have any political views, or to express them, or to give effect to them, and so far as I know they do not do so. Speaking for myself, I regret the reflections which have been made by my hon. Friend on these two Commissioners. My hon. Friend was good enough to say that I am the only Scottish member in the Government in whom, I think he said he had confidence.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I am prepared to abide by the result. When you consider that this matter is fully open to the Commissioners who have been appointed, in whom I, for one, have the fullest confidence, and that it will be open for discussion again on the Schedule to the Bill—in view of these circumstances and the considerations I have put before the House, I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House proceeded to a Division, but as no Member was willing to act as Teller for the Ayes MR. Deputy-Speaker declared that the Noes had it.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I beg to move, after the words last added, to add the words, "Provided also that regard shall be had to the probable expansion of the popula- 877 tion as well as to the actual population contained in any area and that the Commissioners shall have power, when regrouping boroughs, to extend such grouping to boroughs in contiguous counties."
I understand that the Home Secretary does not see his way to accept the first direction in this Amendment, namely that regard shall be had to the probable expansion of the population, and I suppose I shall not be able to press that part of it, though I believe he will accept the second part, but I think it is a pity that he should deliberately make up his mind to exclude a proposal which is going to make some of our constituencies quite different from what the Speaker's Conference intended they should be. The figures in point of fact are going to be obsolete almost before the constituency ceases to exist. Take, for example, two very important cases in Scotland, Gretna and Rosyth. Of course, anyone who had a direction of this kind and knew the circumstances of the case would naturally group Dunfermline and Rosyth as one constituency. Dunfermline now includes Rosyth in its boundaries, and Rosyth is expected in a very short time to number something like 30,000 inhabitants. You could not, therefore, form a single constituency right there, but we shall have some other burghs attached in order to make up the requisite number, and you will have much too large a constituency in a very short time and one entirely out of touch—in size, at all events —with other constituencies in Scotland of the same character. Then let me take the case of Gretna, on which millions of money have been spent by the Government, and which, I believe, it is intended to continue in operation afterwards as the greatest explosive factory of the State, and where there are bound to be, not only in Gretna itself, but in the neighbouring town of Annan, still larger increases of population of a more permanent character, at all events, than those which exist at present. Is it to be suggested that Dumfries Boroughs is to be wiped entirely out of existence when probably you could create a perfectly good constituency with the requisite number of members by adding Gretna and Annan? We should all be very glad to allow the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gulland) to come back with a few less votes, knowing perfectly well that the next time he goes to address his constituents at an election he will be pretty sure to find the necessary number 878 to keep him out if necessary. Apart from these two outstanding cases, you have the agricultural case. You have the case of the millions of acres which it is expected will be broken up in Scotland, as well as in England and Ireland, during 1918. That increase in the cultivable area of our counties is certain to add very largely to the population of many of those counties which at present are under the 50,000 figure, and in the certain knowledge that that is coming, and coming to stay, if we are going, as we apparently are, to ensure the farmer a reasonable profit on his labour; it seems to me a stupid thing to ignore those increases and not to deal with them. However, the responsibility will be the responsibility of the Government if they refuse it, and it is a pity to give redistribution with the knowledge that within a very short time it will have anomalies so glaring that we shall have another agitation for a new redistribution. That ought to be avoided if possible.
I come now to the other point of the Amendment, which I think is likely to receive a better fate at the hands of the Home Secretary, that is to eliminate from the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners the direction that in grouping or regrouping new boroughs they shall have regard to the fact that all shall be within the limits of one county. That is a perfectly impossible suggestion to make in the circumstances which at present exist. Take the case of Galashiels, which is one of the Hawick burghs, and is in two counties already. I do not exactly know how you are going to limit that group of burghs if they are to be in one county, but close by you have Peebles and other burghs which, attached to those at present existing, would make a perfectly excellent group, all having a community of interest but being in three different counties. They have existed for all these years in three different counties. There is no particular reason why you should not continue that system in the future, as they are so near together. That is the case of the Hawick burghs.
Take another case which I alluded to the other day without mentioning the names. I am not suggesting that these things ought not to be done. I am only suggesting what seems a reasonable thing to propose in certain circumstances. Stirling, of course, will remain the centre of a group. There is no difficulty about Stirling. There is no difficulty about grouping it with a sufficient number of 879 burghs of a large size in its own county in order to make quite a good group, leaving Dunfermline to form the centre of a new group of burghs. That is a very simple matter. But not very far from Stirling you have the city of Perth, one of the most ancient towns in the kingdom, with very interesting historical associations, a military town just as Stirling is and a county town of the same character, which will be differentiated under the new proposals, as it has not nearly the 50,000 limit, below which it comes, I think, to a very considerable extent. Why should Stilling and Perth not be grouped together? They are quite close to one another. That is a case which might be met if the ancient historical right of the burgh to have a member is to be continued. I have not looked at the figures, but I only mentioned this as an instance of the sort of thing that might be quite reasonably carried out provided the other circumstances justified it. There has been a suggestion—I do not know whether it will work out—in regard to some of the Lowland Burghs, which might be grouped together. There is the Secretary for Scotland's grouping, the Wick Burghs, which looks like disappearing with some others. If there is certain community of interests and reasonable contiguity these groups, which we have got used to in Scotland, and which serve a good purpose, should not suffer simply from the rigid fact that the Speaker's Conference has by an entire mistake, through not having looked properly into the circmstances, made a suggestion that groups should always be in the same county. After all, a county boundary is pretty much an imaginary sort of thing. Suppose we illustrate it by the Gangway opposite which separates two burghs, one below the Gangway being occupied by the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) and the other above the Gangway by the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire (Mr. Molteno). It is absurd to say that these two should not go together because of that division between them. They ought to go together. Parts of various counties might be taken. It is quite possible to form an island constituency in the Hebrides. It is much wanted there. I have had letters from important people there to point out that their interests are wholly different from those of other people living there. The population of these Hebrides islands 880 makes it a reasonable demand, and one which for many reasons it is desirable to grant. I have every confidence in the gentlemen on the Boundary Commission for Scotland. If one of them is a Tory judge the other has been a Liberal all his life and owes his appointment to a Liberal Government, so that the Lord Advocate has been perfectly impartial in his appointment of Boundary Commissioners from the point of view of party politics, which not many of us are thinking about at the present time, if at all. If the Government cannot be persuaded to deal with the question of prospective population, I suppose I must be content with getting the regrouping.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
My hon. Friend put this Amendment down in a hurry last night, and certainly it does bear some marks of having been put down in a hurry. But it is quite intelligible now that he has explained it. I think for the latter part of his Amendment he has made out a very good case. My hon. Friend cannot expect me, nor would the Committee think it right, that I should give any indication as to how far I agree with the particular regrouping which my hon. Friend has indicated in his speech—[SIR G. YOUNGER: "They were only suggestions!"]—with far greater knowledge of Scotland than I ever hope to possess, although I pay very frequent visits to that part of the United Kingdom. The latter part of his Amendment he is right in anticipating the Government will accept with regard to giving power to the Commissioners to extend the regrouping of boroughs to boroughs in contiguous towns. My hon. Friend in anticipating that that part of the Amendment might be very well accepted by the Government equally anticipated that the first part of the Amendment, which is a far more extensive Instruction, could not be accepted. The hon. Member generally says what he means, but I doubt whether he meant what he said when he charged the Government with great folly in not having put this particular Instruction into the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners. He argued the case of Gretna and Rosyth and pointed out that the growth of Gretna and Rosyth was not going to be of a temporary or fleeting character, merely due to the War, but that the work which is on now will be carried on after the War, and that in the case of the great munition works at Gretna they are so solid in their founda- 881 tions that they will be used more or less permanently for some manufacturing or industrial work of great use to the country. If Gretna and Rosyth stood alone, or if they had been joined with two or three other places which we could have very well covered, and we could say that we could speak with a fair amount of certainty that the population which has rushed into these places on account of the War will be retained there after the War, it might be possible to give some instructions to the Commissioners which they could interpret with a fair amount of accuracy, and so make allowance in awarding the number of members for the expansion and population at those places. Of course you cannot say with certainty that in a few years' time that the growth of population may not be so rapid that certain places will much outgrow the representation which you allow to them. I recollect that in 1885 Sir Charles Dilke, who had very much to do with the redistribution scheme of the Government of that time, pointed out that the particular borough which I represent was a borough which should have a member, although it was below the 50,000 basis which had been taken as the population unit. He argued that in view of its possible rapid expansion it ought to have a member. The particular borough which I now represent had not a population then of 50,000, although it has now a population of 160,000.
Whatever unit you take you will always have certain places in which it seems clear that in a few years they will have a population which would entitle them to an increase from one Member to two Members, but when it comes to giving a general Instruction to the Boundaries Commissioners that they should have regard to the probable expansion of population, there will be a great difficulty in carrying that into effect. The whole House approves of the policy which is laid down, and is approved of throughout the country, that we should break up some 3,000,000 acres of pasture land and lay it down in cereals. But if you do break up that 3,000,000 acres of pasture land and lay it down in cereals obviously there must be a large expansion in the agricultural population, wherever that increase takes place. But how would the Commissioners be able to say where this pasture would be broken up, to what extent it would be broken up, and how far the various towns and 882 villages of that agricultural area would be affected in the matter of population, and whether or not those who labour on particular farms might live close to the farms, or might come by bicycle, or by some other way from some constituency over the border into an adjoining constituency where this expansion of agriculture has taken place? How could the Commissioners act upon Instructions so as to cover these matters? You must make your Instructions to a very large extent not general, but precise. You must not leave too much to the judgment and decision of the Boundary Commissioners, or to mere accident.
The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill was most particular as to the exact wording of the Amendment, which was accepted after a good deal of discussion in this House. My right hon. Friend in my presence emphasised how important it was to measure most carefully and most precisely the exact words to be put into the Instructions. But it would be most difficult to give precise Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners as to the probable expansion of population from the agricultural point of view, because we all hope that farmers will grow more corn and less grass. Are the Commissioners to go down to agricultural constituencies and say that there are large numbers of farms which ought to be broken up in the interests of the public, and that when they are broken up there will be an enormous influx of agricultural labour into that particular constituency, and therefore we ought not to take away its Member, but we ought to add a Member? There is a matter of very great difficulty. I think that I have shown the House how much personally I would like to find some words which would have indicated to the Commissioners in certain cases, where it is almost certain that there would be an increase of population, but it has been found unpracticable to draw any Instruction, that would be precise or accurate, and there would be the danger always of misleading, or at all events making it difficult to come to a decision. I trust, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not press the first part of the Amendment, but I will be very glad, on behalf of the Government, to accept the second part of the Amendment.
§ Colonel ORMSBY-GORE
I represent a borough constituency in Wales, and all the borough constituencies in Wales, 883 except Cardiff and Swansea, are, under the existing scheme, abolished unless this Amendment is accepted, and I do sincerely hope that some of these North Welsh boroughs may be saved as borough constituencies by the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs, because it seems to me that they have a definite character of their own. They have a long Parliamentary history behind them, and certainly one of the boroughs which I represent — Wrexham—is a typical borough constituency which is rapidly increasing in population, and the only means of saving that borough as a borough constituency is to join it up with either Flint or Montgomery or Carnarvon boroughs, all of which counties are contiguous to Denbighshire. Therefore, I hope that the Boundaries Commissioners will also have regard to this particular point, to the historic claims of these boroughs in Wales. I regret that the right hon. Member has not been able to accept the Amendment as a whole, because we have in Wales, South Wales, clear evidence, from the recent census statistics, of very rapid growths of population, and there is every sign that those growths will continue. The opening of the South Wales coalfields is only in its infancy, and if we take the curve of increase of the population of a city like Cardiff and a borough like Bury St. Edmunds it is clear what conclusion we should draw.
As a result of the 1885 redistribution, Cardiff was given one member and Bury St. Edmunds was given one member. Cardiff has increased by, I forget exactly what percentage, and the other borough has hardly increased at all. Therefore I think that under this Amendment we have an opportunity of giving an Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners that they should study the economic and industrial conditions which exist, and should not be tied up by a particular return of population, but should have regard to the recent increase of population, so that if possible we may avoid the frequent review of schemes of redistribution in this House, and consequently always have a basis for it in the unequal representation of some particular district as compared with another. Therefore on both these points, as to the desirability of preserving borough constituencies by joining them with boroughs in adjoining or contiguous counties, and having re- 884 gard to probable increase of population in certain important districts of the country,. I beg to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs
I desire to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs, and to emphasise his point as regards the expansion of population, which I think the right hon. Gentleman who replied did not quite appreciate. I admit that if it is a matter of natural increase of population it is almost impossible for the Commissioners to take that into account. Even in an area which has been increasing for years past, it is most difficult to ask the Commissioners to calculate how the increase of population is likely to go on in the years to come, but the case which I want to bring to the notice of the Government really rests on an entirely different footing. The case of Rosyth was dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board as if it was a district by itself, which might expand, and about which the Commissioners could not, therefore, make any correct calculation. Rosyth is included in the Dunfermline municipal borough boundary. That borough recently extended their boundary in order to take in this part of the district, so that Dunfermline is one of the largest towns in Scotland with regard to area. Within this borough is the naval base which has been established at Rosyth, and houses are being erected at the rate of 1,000 a year, even during war-time. As this is a very special case, the Provost of Dunfermline came to the Admiralty last week in order to ascertain their view as to the likelihood of an increase of population in this district, and although, of course, they could not commit themselves to any particular statement, they said in all probability this Rosyth area would increase to something like a population of 30,000 people within the next five or ten years. That is a perfectly artificial increase. There you have an area in which increase of population is encouraged, and houses are going to be specially erected for the purposes of the naval base out of public money, and it does seem to me, therefore, to constitute a problem quite apart. If in making the group for Dunfermline and the surrounding boroughs you take the population of Dunfermline at about 33,000, and leave out of account the whole area altogether, you will dislocate your scheme in time to come, and have to make a fresh adjust- 885 ment. I would like the Secretary for Scotland to assure me that, although this particular form of Amendment cannot be accepted by the Government, that a special case of artificial expansion of population such as I have described will not be left entirely out of account, and that the Commissioners will not be bound strictly to the 1914 basis of population in making their calculation, because if they do that, and they make a group round Dunfermline, or they absorb Dunfermline in the county, leaving out of account this 30,000, it will obviously be a very great disadvantage. While I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that you cannot bind the Commissioners to take into account a future increase of population, I should like the Secretary for Scotland to give some assurance that this very special case, which I think is unique, will not be left out of account by the Commissioners.
§ Mr. ANNAN BRYCE
I am glad the, Government have indicated that they are likely to accept the latter part of the hon. Baronet's Amendment. It is exceedingly desirable that there should be greater elasticity allowed in grouping boroughs such as the Inverness Burghs, identified with the promotion of small holdings, and likely to lose very considerably in representation. With regard to the position of areas, I think that in any case, in the grouping of boroughs and counties, it would be a great misfortune if that peculiar feature of Scotland, the crofting interest, suffered in respect of representation. I hope it will be possible to preserve that in some way, and certainly the acceptance of the latter part of the Amendment is likely in some, degree to lead to the maintenance of a better representation than would have been the case under the Instruction as it stood. I hope very much that the Boundary Commissioners will be allowed to consider that point. I would like to support what the hon. Baronet said with regard to this matter, for I think there are certain boroughs in Scotland which show signs of expansion, and it would be a great pity that that should not be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. GULLAND
I am glad that the point of expansion has been taken into account, but I quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that it is impossible for the Commissioners to foresee what will be the future population of any particular district. I confess I hoped that the particular case brought forward 886 by the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs, that of Gretna, now a very large township, might go a long way to save the Dumfries Burghs, which I have the honour to represent. I quite see the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that this question is one which applies, not to England at present, but to Wales and to Scotland; and I am a little surprised to notice that the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs has spelt the word "burghs" in the English way, but I hope it will not be held that this prevents the application of this priviso to the burghs in Scotland. I do not know whether the Home Secretary will accept the Amendment in this form, or whether he will change the spelling to "burghs," a form of the word which in Scotland is affectionately regarded. I am very glad indeed that the Government are going to accept the second part of this Amendment, because it only carries out the existing situation in Scotland. The counties in Scotland have smaller populations than in England, and there is no reason whatever why what has existed for so long should not be continued there. In regard to the constituency I have the honour to represent, the particular grouping of the Dumfries Burghs has been in existence since the Act of Union, 1707, and it is a district which is now in two counties. There are many other similar instances—the Ayr Burghs, Kilmarnock Burghs, Stirling Burghs, Elgin Burghs, Wick Burghs, and Inverness Burghs. There is a large number of them and I do not say that they will all be retained, but, at any rate, there is no reason why their retention should not be considered. I am sure that anyone who considers the question of redistribution in Scotland will see that there are many possible ways of redistributing the constituencies in that country, and that is all that is asked for by this Amendment, part of which I am very glad that the Government are going to accept, so that the Commissioners shall not find themselves committed against any proposal for redistribution.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I desire to refer to the first part of the proposal made by the hon. Baronet. The real difficulty is that you cannot have a Redistribution Bill every year or every five years. Experience shows that a Redistribution Bill every twenty or thirty years has to serve the purpose. I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary did not give a rather more friendly reception to my hon. Friend's suggestion, and I think 887 he was rather sorry also. My object in rising is to see if I can make a practical suggestion to enable us to carry out the right hon. Gentleman's wishes. If I were asked whether it would be right and safe to trust the Boundary Commissioners with unlimited discretion to consider in all classes of constituencies probable or possible expansion of population or diminution, I would say I scarcely think it would be right to do so, and in the general case I do not think that one would take up that position beyond a certain point. I should be quite willing to fix a limit of, say, 5 per cent, or 10 per cent, as compared with the 1914 population, and within that fixed limit to give the Commissioners, in whom we have complete confidence, discretion to deal with the old or create new constituencies. But I think that cases like Gretna and Rosyth are really exceptional, and should be treated as such. When the United States took over Texas they found themselves face to face with a difficulty of a somewhat similar kind, and there is a provision in the American Constitution if and when Texas reaches a certain point in population it will be broken up into two States, and then three States, and eventually as many as five States. My practical suggestion is that Gretna and Rosyth and other places, either in Scotland or elsewhere where circumstances may be somewhat of a similar kind, that the Commissioners might be authorised to lay it down now, if and when the population reached a certain requisite point to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State or the sheriff of the county, that automatically, without a further Redistribution Bill, they should become constituencies, or that some redistribution of seats in their neighbourhood should take place which would give effect to this contention.
I believe, if the Government would do that, and also rather more specifically instruct the Commissioners to regard the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetlands, and perhaps Sutherland and Caithness as exceptional cases, on lines as to which they might say something definite to the Commissioners they would not only save the Commissioners a great deal of trouble at present, but would do much to add permanently to the lasting usefulness of this Redistribution Bill. I regret that any suggestion has been made in any responsible quarter that there is any lack of confidence in the Boundary Commissioners whom the Secretary for Scotland has 888 suggested. We have in Scotland in all quarters unlimited confidence both in the judgment and integrity of those Gentlemen. The only suggestion I might make is that as the fluctuation of population largely arises out of labour considerations pure and simple, the addition of a Labour Commissioner would certainly do no harm, and might, I think, be found to be a very considerable convenience and add to the authority of the Commission. I do not attach so much importance to the latter as to the previous suggestion. I think if the Government could make specific provision ahead for population in places like Gretna and Rosyth they would steer clear of a difficulty not only now, out one which sooner or later will face them.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I desire to say a few words on this subject which a number of my Scottish colleagues have discussed. Let me remind the House, first of all, of the position of the Government as my right hon. Friend stated it. The Government is prepared to accept the latter part of the Amendment with a slight variation, but it is not prepared to accept the first part. With regard to the second part, I do not desire to say anything more than has been said, but I desire to say a word or two regarding the earlier part, of the Amendment, which deals with possible or probable expansion. With regard to what fell from my hon. Friend who spoke last, he seemed to suggest that the Commissioners who have been appointed were appointed to represent certain sectional interests in the community.
§ Mr. MUNRO
The hon. Member spoke about a Labour representative. I want to assure him that in the selection of these Commissioners there was no idea of giving representation upon the Commission to any of the various sections of the community, be they Labour, Liberal, or Conservative, and that the Commissioners were chosen on quite other, and I venture to think, stronger grounds. I would ask the House to distinguish between the two different kinds of expansion discussed in this Debate. Reference has been made to natural expansion of towns. It seems to me to be extremely difficult to frame any Instructions to the Commissioners under which they could safely deal with the probable natural expansion of a community. That would be to invite them to 889 fill the rôle of seer rather than of Commissioner. They would have to consider, for example, the number of persons who would be likely to arrive in the constituency, and to decide where precisely those people were, likely to reside, whether on one side of the border line or another, and they would have to decide how long those people were likely to remain there in the performance of their avocations. All those difficult tasks, to use the language of my right hon. Friend, are more appropriate to the rôle of prophet than of Commissioner. Having listened to all that has been said on this particular point I am unable to see that any case has been made out for departing from the view which I originally formed, and which was ably expressed by my right hon. Friend.
When you come to deal with the special cases of Rosyth and of Gretna, I agree that new considerations come into play. I do not think it would be possible to accept the Amendment which has been proposed in order to deal with those specific cases, but I would have no difficulty in giving ray hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) an assurance on the lines which he asked me to give. I should have no hesitation in saying that the Government would be prepared to draw the special attention of the Commis-special. I have not heard anything Rosyth. Those two cases are entirely special. I have not heard anything about any other similar case. They are cases of artificial as distinguished from natural growth. So far as those two areas are concerned, distinguished as they are by an entirely artificial growth, which I think can be measured with a certain amount of accuracy, I should be prepared to offer the assurance that the Commissioners' special attention shall be drawn to those cases in order that they should report upon them, and having got their report before us, then it will be for consideration whether any action is desirable or possible on the lines of the report. If I had the power, certainly I have not the desire to commit the Commissioners to any particular case; but after the Debate to which we have listened, I think the majority of the House will agree that two cases of a very special character have been made out with regard to these two areas, and in the circumstances I suggest to the House that to draw the attention of the Commis- 890 sioners to these areas is a reasonable course to pursue, and I am prepared to adopt it.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am very sorry indeed that the Government have seen fit to agree to any part of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger). There are two reasons, I think, that, generally speaking, can be advanced against effect being given to either the first part or the second part of the Amendment. Dealing with the last part first—the grouping of contiguous burghs—if this is done you will only add to the difficulties of the Boundary Commissioners, because if you are to group contiguous burghs with a view of keeping these constituencies alive, then you are going to lose the county constituencies so far as many of the Scottish counties are concerned. If you are to have anything like the number that have been recommended by the Conference over which you presided, Mr. Speaker, in these constituencies you are bound to throw a number of the burgh groups in Scotland into these counties. With regard to the special plea that has been put forward on the ground of probable population, this policy will, to my mind, seriously increase the work of the Boundary Commissioners, if effect is given to it, and for this reason: If you are to give effect to a probable increase of the population, you are to do an injustice to those parts of the country that at the present time are very much under-represented in this House. We have during the past two or three days, when this Bill has been under discussion, had a lot of special pleading on behalf of agriculture, on behalf of area as against population. What does that mean? If it means anything it is that you are going to do a gross injustice to the industrial parts of this country. When I look at the figures so far as Scotland is concerned—and I think the position in Scotland will fairly represent the position in England and Wales— I find that that part of the people on behalf of whom this appeal is being put forward, namely, agriculture, represents less than 10 per cent, of the population of the country. The special plea on behalf of agriculture has been put forward for the purpose of retaining a considerable number of the agricultural constituencies that under this scheme would be entirely eliminated. What does that mean? It means that we are having seriously proposed to this House that we should still 891 continue to have the industrial parts of this country largely unrepresented in order to give this special privilege to agriculture. What is the plea that is put forward? The plea that has been put forward as to why this should be done is that we are asking the farmers of this country to break up a lot of land that has been lying under pasture, and that in order to stimulate them to do this we ought to give them larger representation than this proposal of your Conference, Mr. Speaker, provides for. What about the other argument that we have heard often repeated in this House, that the business people of this country should make a special effort to capture German trade? If the argument that has been adduced during these two or three days' Debate—that if the farmer is to break up more land it will increase the population in the agricultural districts—is sound, then if you are to capture German trade it will increase the population in the industrial parts of the country. What are you going to do to provide for the increased population so far as the industrial parts are concerned? I think the Government ought to be very careful about the concessions they are giving to the bodies that are putting forward this special plea. The industrial parts of the country have been for a very long time under represented in this House. This Bill provides the opportunity of giving them some measure of justice, and I hope that the Home Secretary is not going to continue to give concession after concession and to perpetuate this injustice to the industrial parts of the country. I am very sorry that the Secretary for Scotland delivered that speech and then left the House before I had an opportunity of saying a word or two in regard to the two special cases which he promised to consider.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am not reflecting on the right hon. Gentleman individually, but I am only sorry that he left before I had an opportunity of dealing with the two special cases to which he promised to give very careful consideration, namely, Rosyth and Gretna. It so happens that I know at least one of these parts, possibly as intimately as any of the Members of this House, and I think even more intim- 892 ately than the Secretary for Scotland himself. What is the position there? The hon. Member for Stirling Burghs who has put forward the special plea that Dunfermline should have the Rosyth district thrown in—because while at the present time it is part of Dunfermline for political purposes it is in the county of Fife and is not represented by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs—he seems to forget that even if Rosyth were thrown in it would take not only the burgh of Dunfermline with Rosyth added, but that it would take also Beith. It would take the parish of Dunfermline with the parish of Beith and Inverkeithing added to make up the number that has been recommended by your Conference, Mr. Speaker, as being the number required for a constituency, namely, a population of 70,000. The Home Secretary can, therefore, see that it will take a very long time before the burgh of Dunfermline, even with Rosyth thrown in, will come up to the necessary population in order to entitle it to a member. I think that the situation at Gretna is very similar to the one I have described at Dunfermline. It will take a very long time indeed for Gretna to have a sufficient population to entitle them to a member, and I hope that the Government is not going to give very serious consideration to the very special pleading that has been put forward both in regard to population in the ordinary sense and in these two special cases. I hope also in giving Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners the Government will have due regard to doing justice to the industrial parts of this country. The industrial parts of this country have been very much under-represented up to the present time, and I hope this opportunity is not going to be lost of giving some measure of justice to them. With regard to the suggestion that was made by the hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Currie) about the complexion of the Boundary Commission, the Home Secretary is aware that he had a deputation last week from the labour movement of Scotland urging upon him the advisability of appointing on the Boundary Commission for Scotland a representative from the labour movement, not, as the Secretary for Scotland put it, with any political bias at all, but as a representative of the Scotch labour movement. In the labour movement we have men of all shades of politics. We have Labour men, Liberals, and Conservatives, and what we claimed 893 from the Home Secretary was that our representative for Labour should be put on the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It would have no political significance at all. He would have been put on as a representative who had close intimate and personal knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the life of a large section of the people of Scotland, and that, to my mind, would have had no political significance whatever. So far as the two members of the Boundary Commission for Scotland are concerned, I have nothing to say against their personal character. All I have to say is that I do not think they represent all sections of the Scottish people, and that it would have been a good thing if the Government had seen their way to give effect to the request of the Scotch Labour movement for one representative to be placed on the Boundary Commission.
§ Mr. HOLT
I want to protest very much against the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the promise he gave for consideration to the areas mentioned. I want to protest against what has been called the probable increase being considered in connection with increased representation. We have been listening for two days to that sort of argument. Yesterday we had an argument with regard to boroughs which were going to fall short of the line. It was pleaded that they should have special representation. Then we have heard of Chester and Worcester, and it would have been interesting to compare the remarks with those who represent neighbouring towns. If every hon. Gentleman is correct in the anticipation of a probable increase in his constituency the whole population is going to increase in a most extraordinary way. If that were so it would seem that the War is going to increase the total number of Members of this House and those who are entitled to vote at the polls. If you are going to take into consideration the probable increase of the population of any area you have also to take into consideration the probable increase in the number of the population which would entitle a member of Parliament to a seat. If you do not do that-you will get into a hopeless state of confusion, because you will find that the total number of the members of Parliament you have provided for is ridiculously in excess of the total number you are entitled to in this House. The whole thing is really absurd. You are entering into a problematical calculation 894 which must be wrong, because nobody who looks at the horrible casualties occurring every day can believe that during the next few years the total population is going to show a remarkable expansion. It seems improbable, and if you are going to speculate on the probable increase of population in one area you must speculate on a probable decrease in another area. If you reverse those propositions and tell the Commissioners that the probability is there will be an average decrease in the population we shall have a considerable disturbance in the House. But you cannot ask the Commissioners to draw upon the probable increase in one area unless you show them there will be a probable decrease in another.
Take two special cases. Rosyth is a town which has been more or less established by the policy of this House in starting a naval base there. My hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby), in common with a large number of other Members, thinks there may be a decrease in armaments. If an agreement between nations to diminish armaments takes place Rosyth will not expand. The expansion of Rosyth is entirely problematical, and the hon. Member asked on that speculation that you should give Rosyth a consideration which you have not given to any other part. Now as to Gretna, I venture to say the whole of the House is in complete mystification. It is a place brought into existence through the exigencies of the War. There is no official information as to what is going on in Gretna, and, as far as we know, when the War is over Gretna will disappear. It is of mushroom growth, called into existence for the special purposes of the War, and we believe it is going to disappear when the War is over. But if you are going to deal with that part of Gretna which is in Scotland, you have to remember that it covers an area which affects the growth of Carlisle. You have to consider North Cumberland and Carlisle. I venture to submit to the House that we ought absolutely to refuse to depart from taking the population of 1914 as the basis of population. We ought to refuse to depart from that and to enter upon a speculation what the population is going to be in 1918, a speculation which in every single urban district may be falsified.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I regret that any departure has been made from the Instructions originally framed for the 895 Commissioners. The changes already made seem to be unwise changes, as the subsequent course of proceedings on the Bill will prove to the Government. We are now discussing an Amendment under which additional changes are apparently accepted by the Government. I understand that the latter part of the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs (Sir George Younger) has been accepted, namely, that where boroughs are in contiguous counties they may be regrouped. I do not think the change here will amount to very much in practice. My own recollection is that the Instruction to which the hon. Baronet now objects was an Instruction drafted by himself for the benefit of the Conference. I think as it was originally framed it was sound. I believe the only case where you can successfully group are the boroughs which are in the same county. These are practically the only cases. The imaginary case of Stirling and Perth is not one that I think would ever commend itself to Boundary Commissioners that were seeking to set up good working constituencies. Perth is the county town of one county with its interests closely associated with the county. Stirling is the county town of another county with its interests very closely associated with that county. To take both of these county towns out of their respective counties in order to make them a constituency without any common interest can only be justified as a piece of gerrymandering. I believe that when the Commissioners came to consider the constitution of this constituency in relation to the population that remained in the county they would find the thing" hopelessly impracticable.
There are cases where you may have a regrouping. You may have it in the county area of Lanark. In that county area there are two groups of boroughs, one on the coast and one inland. Both of them are alike in character and each could, with advantage, be grouped together for the purpose of sending members to Parliament. In the same way you could get two groups in the industrial constituencies in Lanarkshire. They possess the requisite population, and though to some extent they have different interests from the surrounding county, these seem to me to be cases where you can group the boroughs. It was simply because these eases were in view that the recommendations to the Commissioners by the Con- 896 ference was confined to such cases. As I understood the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, the Government intend to go somewhat further to meet the earlier part of my hon. Friend's Amendment which deals with prospective increases. If we are going to take into account prospective increases of population I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that you are going to send the Boundary Commissioners on a hopeless task. Who are to judge as to the permanence of these increases and as to the likelihood of their continuance after the War? It is true that Rosyth is a case where the probabilities are in favour of permanence, but even there they change in national policy, a change which my hon. Friend opposite ardently desires, and would set on one side the prognostications which ho has indulged in to-night. The same thing applies to Gretna. As I understood the Secretary for Scotland, and I hope the Home Secretary will be able to say whether or not it is to be done, the Secretary for Scotland suggested that some more instruction should be given to the Commissioners to have regard to special cases.
§ Sir G. CAVE was understood to demur.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Oh, yes! It is very unfortunate that the different members of the Government do not hear each other's speeches. I listened to the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, and, as I understood the right hon. Gentleman, he said that the Commissioners would receive instruction to have regard to special cases like Gretna and Rosyth. I do not know where you are going to if you do that. Gretna and Rosyth are not the only cases where you have had an increase of population in consequence of the War. There are areas in the West Riding of Yorkshire where there have been very large increases. There are areas in Lancashire and London where there have been large increases, and areas in the West of Scotland too. For example, there is a completely new town in the county of Renfrew. It seems to me to be hopeless to speculate upon the permanence of these artificial growths of population during the War. If we are to consider all the changes that have been suggested during this Debate, we are going to have an extraordinary increase of population in the coming years. The counties are to increase because 3,000,000 acres are to be put under the plough. The munition areas are to continue to produce on the same 897 basis as during the War, and therefore they must receive special consideration. I suppose my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife would suggest that when our manufacturers have been stirred up to capture German trade in all these new industrial areas they also will be blessed with an increase of population?
It seems to me obvious that if you are going to have increases in certain areas you must equally have decreases in certain other areas. If you are going to maintain the representation of the country in the House at its present figure, which I think is desirable—indeed, I think it would be desirable to reduce it—and you have increases of population maintained in the way suggested, it is absolutely essential then you should also allow for diminution in those areas where that is likely to take place. I hope, however, that we shall receive an assurance from the Home Secretary now that we are going to have no more of these fancy Instructions to Commissioners—Instructions which are framed solely to meet the cases of special constituencies, and to enable Members here who represent these constituencies to prove to those whom they represent that they have been solicitous for the interests of their constituents. Let us have these matters decided on public grounds and in the true interests of the people of this country.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House looked upon this as a sort of mandatory proposal. After all, right or wrong, it is entirely a matter of discretion—I am speaking of the latter part of the Amendment. Inasmuch as the thirteenth Instruction enables a borough to be combined with another borough within the county, it does not seem out of the way to regroup boroughs in contiguous counties. We all know there are special cases, and surely it is not irrelevant to put those special cases before the House. I would suggest to the Home Secretary, without giving a mandate or anything of that kind, that it is only reasonable that those boroughs which together have a population of over 50,000 should, if the Commissioners think fit, be regrouped so as to be included in one constituency even although in two counties. I do suggest to the Home Secretary that it is only reasonable to give the Commissioners the power to do this if they wish. If it is a bad case, the Commissioners will find that it is a bad case. On the other hand, if it is a 898 good case, let the Commissioners have the power to regroup boroughs even although in different counties.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle) concluded by making an appeal to Members to discuss, this matter on public grounds, and not from the point of view of individual cases, which may or may not affect their own constituency. So far as I am concerned, I have no difficulty in responding to that appeal. Hon. Members have argued that no regard should be had to possible increases of population because that is purely speculative—because it may not be easy for the Boundary Commissioners to determine with any great accuracy what the prospective increase may be, and, therefore, they are in this position: that rather than accept a basis which may have an element of speculation in. it, they prefer to take a basis which is certainly wrong. Nothing can possibly be more certainly wrong than the basis of population taken in 1914. I suppose that probably in the whole history of this country there has never been a short period in which there has been such wholesale movements of population as between 1914 and the present time. It may be said that these movements are not likely to prove permanent, but that is a matter which nobody can decide. All we can decide with certainty is that a system of redistribution which would come into effect based upon the redistribution of population in 1914 must be grotesquely wrong. When you have to choose between these two methods it is best to combine the two, leaving a large discretion to the Boundary Commissioners, in such a way that, having regard to all the circumstances of each case, when they come before the Boundary Commissioners they may be at liberty to correct the obvious and certain errors of the 1914 distribution of population by such prospective increases which they may think on the evidence is likely to accrue in one place or the other.
I think the Secretary for Scotland said a short time ago that this would be an impossible thing to do, and he drew imaginary pictures of the problems with which the Boundary Commissioners would find themselves confronted if they had to take into account prospective increases, and how many people were likely to come in within the next few years, what particular part of the area they were likely to settle in, and so forth. It is very easy 899 to suggest difficulties of that sort as a pretext for rejecting any definite proposition. Those difficulties are only imaginative as all these matters of the increase or decrease of the population, and so forth, have been by scientific methods worked out on scientific lines. We all know the way in which curves of increases are shown on diagrams, and curves of decreases and growth, and there would be very little difficulty in examining the history of certain districts and determining from their past history, taking the average of decades and so forth, with a fair degree of accuracy, the likelihood of any increase or decrease in that area in the immediate future. My hon. Friend opposite said, if you take into account increases of the population you must also take into account decreases. I think we should all agree with that proposition, and when some hon. Members who have been opposing this Amendment have suggested that we would defend it notwithstanding a great growth of population in these Islands, I say that nothing was further from our thoughts. It is not a question of growth all over the country, but the undoubted fact that there have been and will continue to be shiftings of population, and the country is anxious to see that those shiftings of population should be recognised and effect given to them in the scheme of redistribution which will affect the life of the country for many years to come; and that is why we want greater elasticity in the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners. I think my right hon. Friend has put forward as one of the possible difficulties the suggestion that if this principle were carried out it would be necessary to increase the total number of this House. That nobody wants to do. Nobody wants to increase the total membership of this House, but there is one circumstance which I do not think has been noticed in connection with this subject.
The House will remember that the redistribution scheme embodied in this Bill is not to extend to Ireland, and of course we all realise why no redistribution scheme is suggested to be applied to Ireland. It is because the Government is proceeding upon the assumption that the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, is in operation. If that is so, instead of the membership of this House being maintained at its present figure it will be sixty below it, and there will therefore be a considerable margin for the Government 900 to play with. There will be fifty or sixty members they can allot to constituencies in different parts of the country which are now being brought to the attention of the Government I want to press upon the Government that with this spare membership in hand it would be possible for them to give effect to the demand which has been made upon them for a fairer treatment of the rural districts. The movement of population in the near future must, on the declared policy of the Government, on the whole be from the urban to the rural districts, and with that movement in view the Government could reduce the standard of population required for the representation of the constituencies in the rural areas as compared with the standard of population for the constituencies in the urban districts. It would be possible for them to do that with the spare membership which they have, and it would also be justifiable on the grounds which have been put forward in this Amendment by the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger). I do hope, before we come to the end of the discussion on this Bill, that the Government will give still further consideration to this point, and will see whether they cannot meet those of us who put forward this view in some such way as I have suggested.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
May I withdraw the Amendment as it stands and move it in the form in which the Government are prepared to accept it?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment proposed: After the words last added, to add the words, "Provided also that the Commissioners shall have power when regrouping boroughs to extend such grouping to contiguous counties."—[Sir G. Younger.]
§ Mr. D. MASON
I hoped that the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Younger) was going to withdraw the whole of his Amendment, but the hon. Member is an astute electioneerer, and the House is indebted to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr Adamson) and to the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) for expressing what was in the mind of the hon. Baronet. The Instructions originally given to the Commissioners, as amplified by the Home Secretary, are adequate to meet any case where it is necessary to have a regrouping of boroughs. The House will see that this particular Amendment, if they read it more care- 901 fully, gives power to extend such grouping to boroughs in contiguous counties. I think it will be admitted that there is a general tendency for Liberals to concentrate in boroughs and Conservatives in counties, and to pick the boroughs out of the counties is like picking out the eyes of the counties for the sake of the party which the hon. Baronet represents. The hon. Baronet does not move his Amendment in a general sense, but for the benefit of the party which he adorns. I do not think it is any disparagement of the hon. Member to say that he is an astute electioneerer.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
Does the hon. Member think that the right hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. E. Wason) is an astute electioneerer?
§ Mr. MASON
I cannot say so much for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan, but we know the distinguished part which the hon. Baronet has taken in elections, and I do not think that it is any disparagement to say that he had the elections in view when he moved his Amendment. Apart from that, I appeal to the general sense of the House to say that to give the Government power to pick the boroughs out of contiguous counties is quite unnecessary. The general Instructions already give the power necessary to group any set of boroughs, and it does not require any Instructions by this House that the Commissioners should go out of their way to take boroughs out of contiguous counties and thus render those boroughs likely to vote for one particular party as against another. If my hon. Friends decide to divide against the adoption of this Amendment I shall certainly support them. We arc entitled to have from the Home Secretary some idea of how he proposes to carry out this Instruction. Does he really propose to pick out the boroughs from the contiguous counties for the purpose of regrouping them? There is no necessity for doing so. There can be only one object in view, that is, to take away from counties that part of them which has been regarded as more or less agreeing with a particular party. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesea (Mr. E. Griffith) said that this was not a mandatory Instruction. Of course it is not, but it gives power to the Government, if the House accepts the Amendment, to go out of its way to take 902 boroughs out of contiguous counties. I hope the Government will pause before they take that course.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The hon. Member completely misunderstands the purport of the Instruction. It does not require the Government to do anything at all. It simply gives power to the Commissioners, who are wholly independent of the Government, if they think fit, to group boroughs, not only boroughs which are in the same county, but boroughs which are in contiguous counties. It is only common sense. I am told that there is one borough in Scotland partly in one county and partly in another. Why should not that borough be included in one and the same constituency? Why should it not be grouped, if there is to be any grouping?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am afraid that the powers already given require them to group only boroughs in the same county. The whole object of the Amendment, which we accept, is that if the Boundary Commissioners, whether in England or Wales or Scotland, find that there is a case where a group of boroughs can fitly be formed by combining the boroughs in two counties—not only boroughs in one county—they shall have power to make that arrangement. So far as I am concerned, there is nothing whatever behind this. I am not conversant with the details of this subject. I only say it is a fair and reasonable proposal that is made, and that it is fair to give this power to the Commissioners.
§ Mr. HOLT
I understand they are not now in contiguous counties. I believe that the Wick Burghs also are not in contiguous counties. The real spirit of the proposal would be better given effect to by dropping the word "contiguous" 903 and substituting the word "different." If you take the technical sense of the word "contiguous," the whole object of the scheme falls to the ground.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I particularly drew the Home Secretary's attention to the fact that if he accepts the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Younger) and groups boroughs in contiguous counties, he will in many cases in Scotland take away part of the county representation. The right hon. Baronet cited Perth and Stirling. To group the two together would, in the case of Perth, certainly lose a county Member to Perth, while it would disarrange entirely county membership in Stirling, and all through the Scottish constituencies if you give effect to the Amendment. You will increase the difficulty of the Boundary Commissioners in respect to the county constituencies, and I think the Government would be well advised, notwithstanding that they said they would give favourable consideration to the latter part of the Amendment, to give serious consideration to this matter before they agree to his Amendment. I certainly will divide the House if I can find enough to support me in the Lobbies against any such proposal being put into operation.
§ Colonel ORMSBY-GORE
I think we should be informed whether the word "contiguous" means only two counties or three or four, provided they are all touching.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I think there is a good deal of force in what was said by the hon. Member (Mr. Holt) on the point of contiguous counties. I should like to know if I should be in order in moving to leave out the word "contiguous," and insert the word "different."
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I should hope my hon. Friend will not do that. That is extending the principle much too far. I suffer from Ayr Burghs being in different counties. I think we ought to have counties which are at least touching.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I should like to ask the Home Secretary to clear up this definition of the word "contiguous." In the case of three counties, A, B and C, B may be contiguous to both A and C. In that sense one not being in three coun- 904 ties, but if you are to allow three counties stretching right across the United Kingdom to be united in that way the point would be absurd.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I do not quite understand why my right hon. Friend's Amendment is not reasonable. It makes it more logical to give special representation to the boroughs taken out of different counties, and not to stop at contiguous counties. As regards my hon. Friend's point about the Atlantic, contiguous, as denned by the right hon. Member for Walthamstow, pays no attention to ocean or sea; it is wherever you draw a line, when there is no intervening county coming between it is contiguous. Why should not the very simple Amendment to put in the word "different" instead of "contiguous" be accepted? It cannot possibly do any harm. As my hon. Friend is out of order through having exhausted his right to speak, as Mr. Speaker is in the Chair, I will move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "contiguous," and insert instead thereof the word "different."
§ Mr. KING
I beg to second the Amendment. I have tried to follow this Debate from the beginning, but I have found it rather difficult—first of all, because the Amendment on the Paper was not moved, and because it has undergone various alterations, omissions, and additions since it was moved. It is, therefore, in a sort of nebulous or impalpable condition. Another reason which has made it additionally difficult is because although the wording of the Amendment says nothing to connect it with Scotland more than with any other country, the discussion upon it has taken the nature of a purely Scottish Debate. Scottish Members have almost entirely taken part, and the illustrations have been almost entirely in reference to Scotland. I wish generally to say that I regret very much that the Government have not stood firm to the original lines of the Instructions to the Commissioners. I believe they have added greatly to their own difficulties.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I understood the hon. Member was rising to second the Amendment to insert "different" instead of "contiguous." Is that so?
§ Mr. KING
I was coming round to that. The Government have departed from safe and reasonable lines in allowing Amendments varying the original Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners. This particular Amendment in substituting "different" for "contiguous" has very special support because it is more general and is vaguer. I want the Instructions to the Commissioners to be as general as possible on the lines already laid down by the Conference Report, and anything which tends to make the lines on which they have to go more restricted or restricted in a different way is going to make their work more difficult and, consequently, is going to take us away from the original proposals of the Report of Mr. Speaker's Conference.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think that the Instruction in the Amendment proposed goes far enough in allowing the grouping of boroughs in contiguous counties. It is not desirable to widen it by extending it to other counties. I should be glad to have a decision taken on this Amendment, whatever its importance may be, to-night, and on the Instruction and, if possible, upon the Motion, so that we may put an end to this business, at all events, and proceed.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House proceeded to a Division and Captain Guest and Mr. James Hope were named as Tellers for the Ayes, but there being no Member willing to act as Teller for the Noes, MR. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
On a point of Order, Sir. May I ask your ruling in regard to an Amendment which stands in the name of my colleague in the representation of the City of York and of myself for the purpose of ensuring that the City of York, as well as the City of London, shall continue to return two members? We desire, if we are allowed to do so, to raise this question now and to point out to the House of Commons the special reasons, or combination of reasons, why the City of York 906 should continue to retain its two members. I should like to ask whether we are to be allowed to raise that question now, and, if not, when will it be open to us to raise it?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The proper time to raise the Amendment is when the Schedule is reached. If it only gives one Member for York, the hon. Member can move that the number be two Members; but if it gives two Members, there will be no necessity for the hon. Member to raise it. We are only now dealing with the general Instructions.
§ Lord H. CECIL
You say, Sir, that we are only dealing with the general Instructions. That is a matter for the House to consider and not for the Chair. It is for the House to consider what it is proper to add at the end of this Motion. I think that it is a great invasion of the right of this House that a particular Amendment should be ruled out of order merely because the Chair thinks that it is particular rather than general in its nature.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sure the Noble Lord would exercise the functions of Speaker extraordinarily well, but, unfortunately, the duty devolves upon me, and I endeavour to carry it out in a common-sense way. I may observe that every hon. Member would be entitled to raise the case of his particular constituency.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I have given notice of an Amendment that the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that the word "borough" shall include divisions of existing boroughs.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It seems to me to be contrary to the whole of the Instructions, and the result of the hon. Member's proposal would be that boroughs are not to be treated as boroughs, but divisions of boroughs are to be treated as boroughs. It would be contrary to what is contained in the Instructions and to the lines upon which we have been proceeding throughout.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I understood that I would have an opportunity to put my case before the House as to the treatment of county boroughs with a population of 50,000 while divisions of boroughs with a 907 much larger population than that are ruled out under the general Instruction. Certainly the local authority in my district feel very keenly about this, and they would very much like to have the case put before the House. As a general Instruction might very well be put before the House, if I am allowed to move my Instruction, I will do so.
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided that in carrying out these Instructions the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that 'borough' shall include divisions of existing boroughs."
The case I want to put before the House regards the Instructions contained in paragraph 2 of the Instructions issued to the Boundary Commissioners, which says, "A county borough (other than the City of London) with a population of less than 50,000 shall continue to have separate representation."
§ It being Eleven o'clock, the Debate stood Adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.