Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [1st February].
That this House welcomes the proposal of His Majesty's Government to set up a Conference on Electoral Reform and Redistribution of Seats and to invite Mr. Speaker to preside:"—[Mr. Herbert Morrison.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Greenwood (Wakefield)
I should like, in the first place, to express the satisfaction of the House at the knowledge that you, Mr. Speaker, will preside over the Conference which is to deal with this question. It will add further to your onerous duties but I am quite sure the House shares my view that you will carry out the duty with distinction and dignity, and with a desire to secure the maximum of agreement on a large number of highly controversial issues. Leading statesmen have made it clear that this is a war for democracy. Here we have an opportunity to make our Parliamentary democracy more effective than it has been in the past. Hitler's challenge was a challenge to our Parliamentary institutions. I have said before that Hitler hates the British Parliament, as being the symbol of an order of democracy, which he loathes and despises.
We are now in a new situation. The last General Election was held in 1935; there has been no election register made up since 1938; there are millions of people in the country, who are now carrying heavy strains and stresses and burdens, who have never had an opportunity of casting a vote, and it is right that we should have this new generation of citizens especially in mind during this Debate. They have been taught that this is a fight for democracy, and they are entitled, when the opportunity arises, to be able without let or hindrance, or undue influence, to make their contribution to the future of our nation. There are provisions in our electoral law which seem to me to defeat the true ends of political democracy. I think we have long passed the time when we should retain the system of plural voting, whether it be the business vote or the university vote. Citizenship, and the rights of citizenship, are not based either on wealth or—[An HON. MEMBER: 1289 "Brains."] The hon. Member who interrupts has said so, not I. What I say is that citizenship is not based on either wealth, or social position, or educational advantage. Citizenship is based on a common heritage. Those who are members of the community are entitled to share in its life and in the decisions which affect its life, and it seems to me now, that there can be no justification whatever, for the continuance either of the business vote or the university vote. I do not believe that political wisdom is doubled in the case of a business man or of a university voter. We have had many illustrations in this House of people who possessed neither of these additional qualifications and yet have made a great contribution to the work and activities of Parliament. Similarly, I think the time has passed when we should not tolerate any longer double-Member constituencies. They may lead and, indeed, in the past have led, to rather questionable deals between two political parties. I am not saying that my own party has been altogether free from discussions of that kind, but double-Member constituencies do tend to lead to hack-stair arrangements which blur the edges of political principle and may result in a number of Members in the House of Commons trying to play in two camps at the same time.
The Speaker's Conference ought to give some consideration to expenditure in Parliamentary elections, not merely to the expenditure of candidates, but to what may be a far more important and far more sinister influence, the expenditure of political parties as such and of organisations not avowedly established for political ends but using their resources during an election in order to achieve political ends. Here again we ought to tidy up a matter which may prevent the full and unfettered expression of the opinion of the people. A smaller matter, but still one which is important, is the use of vehicles during General Elections. I speak as a Member of a party which has been ill supplied with vehicles in General Elections——
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am against anything which limits the possibilities of any political party. This question of the use of 1290 vehicles really ought to be examined. I am not against the use of vehicles. There is a case for them in the widely scattered rural areas and for the sick and crippled, but I would like to see an educated democracy which will prefer to walk rather than not vote at all. If we have to make provision of this kind, as we must, the provision that is made ought not to depend on the wealth of the candidate or of the party for which he stands. As it is to-day, in this and some other respects into which I will not enter, the dice are loaded against the free expression of the people, because wealth now—it is an undeniable fact, and it may be pleasant for the Conservative Party—plays a far bigger part than it ought to do in political warfare.
What is the basis of politics in this country? Broadly speaking, there are two types of mind—the adventurous and the cautious. I will put this as objectively as I can. [Interruption.] It is extremely difficult, but I have been under suppression for four and a half years and the day may come when my mind, thought and expression may be freer than they are today. There are people who are desirous always of marching forward. There are those who, cautious in mind and temperament, prefer to conserve and maintain what has been achieved and fear to risk further advance. My party represents the spirit of the forward march. The Conservative Party has always represented an excessive caution and an unwillingness to move. Let it be said that the Conservative Party in days long past has on occasion done things which have been for the credit of this country. The adventurous spirits are an essential element in any progressive community. The conservative spirit, the cautious spirit, is equally essential. It can apply, and rightly applies, the brake to the wheel. That is a function which is essential in any democratic institution. I would, therefore, prefer to keep the two-party system. A complication of parties tends to confuse political issues, and the strength of our position, as against that of certain continental countries, has lain in the fact that we have been primarily a two-party system country. We have, I think, now arrived at the time when the people outside the two predominant parties should make up their minds under which umbrella they will come. It is in the interests of political controversy that 1291 issues should be as clearly defined as possible, and the two-party system, if it can be achieved, is obviously the best system. I speak as one who represents a party that was an interloper in the hegemony established by the Liberals and Conservatives, but we are in a stronger position now and we can take a rather more independent view.
It is because that is the broad situation as I see it that I think Proportional Representation would be a national danger. It would result in a good deal of misrepresentation and the establishment of groups whose interests were narrowly divided on one particular problem out of all relation whatever to the broad sweep of national problems that must come before Parliament. I cannot think that it is an ideal situation to freeze the population on election day and take a still picture of it, and say, "That represents the mind of the nation" because I do not think that is the case. It is important that broad trends of opinion on the major questions of politics should, if need be, be exaggerated in accordance with the predominant trend of the time. I am not much concerned about the mathematical accuracy of the representation of parties. If the tide is with the Conservative Party, if the trend of the country's thought is in favour of caution, there is no harm in that being somewhat exaggerated. If, on the other hand, the mood of the nation is in favour of a forward march, I see no reason why that trend of thought in the ballot result should not be somewhat exaggerated.
§ Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he felt that way in 1931?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am prepared in political life to take my licking when it comes to me. You cannot have a system which works in favour of one party all the time and against another party all the time, and if we suffer in consequence of an exaggeration of voting that is our misfortune and, maybe, the country's. There have been occasions when this party has been slightly over-represented, 1292 though I do not believe that was a national disaster. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend and his colleagues only nearly escaped disaster.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not feel that the system of Proportional Representation is suited to the political conditions of this country, and I should hope that quite definite conclusions to that effect will emerge from the Speaker's Conference. I am interested really, in making our political system as effective an instrument as we can for the expression of the minds and the wills of the people, and I appeal to hon. Members opposite to support this broad case: that in the interests of the fulfilment of Parliamentary democracy, and in the interests of those millions of young people on whom heavy responsibilities will fall after this war is over, we should do everything at the Speaker's Conference to end this subtle pressure of wealth and privilege, do everything we can to ensure that men and women can speak freely their own minds, vote as they wish and stand for Parliament if they wish, without being required to possess enormous resources, either personal or corporate. If we can do that we shall have done a very good piece of work for the country, and I look forward to the results of the Conference with a certain amount of hope. I think hon. Members opposite realise that many of our practices are now outworn and do not fit the needs of a new and developing democracy, and that they feel that in the interests of justice and decency and freedom we should reorganise and reform our electoral system so that the mind of the people can be properly represented.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I should like to be allowed to reiterate, and we cannot do so too often, how much we all appreciate your willingness, Mr. Speaker, to take on the additional burden, with all your great responsibilities, of presiding over this Conference that is to inquire into the whole system of elections. It is a guarantee that the Conference will do its work, under your guidance, in such a way that every point 1293 of view will be heard, considered and weighed on its merits. This Conference has a special responsibility, perhaps a bigger responsibility than that of any Committee that this House has set up. We are an old Parliament, nine years old. We were elected for five years, but owing to the exigencies of war we have year by year renewed our life, As the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) very well pointed out, there are vast sections of the electorate who have never had an opportunity to express their views or exercise votes. Those who voted in the General Election of 1935 were at least 21 years old. That means that there are few men and women under 30 who have had an opportunity to vote for this House of Commons except at by-elections and who can feel they are represented in it. There is this significance about that fact, that they are the very section of our people that have borne the main brunt of the fighting in the war. Many of them, I know, have a feeling of frustration and are wondering what will become of them when the war is over. It is therefore vital that they should have confidence in the Parliament that will be elected when this one is dissolved, and that they should feel that there are Members in that Parliament who will express their point of view.
There is bound to be discontent after a great upheaval like this war. I was in the last war Parliament though I was out of the post-war Parliament, but I remember there was very severe criticism of the character and quality of that postwar Parliament. It was, rightly or wrongly, and I believe rightly, regarded as reactionary and not representative of the nation, but the war Parliament, to do it justice, did make drastic reforms, did make a gallant attempt to bring that post-war Parliament more into line with modern conditions. It set up a Speaker's Conference, and, incidentally, I would remind the Home Secretary that it was not in the fifth year of the war but in the third. He has been an unconscionable time in making up his mind. It has taken a great deal of pressure and persuasion, in the fifth year of the war, to bring about this step, but we are thankful for small mercies and only hope that when this Conference is selected it will be an impartial one, and that it will approach its problems without prejudice and with a 1294 desire to do what it can to improve Parliament.
The last Speaker's Conference did some very drastic things. It recommended adult suffrage and the extension of the franchise to women, which in those days was regarded as a very revolutionary proposal. It was an issue of burning controversy, which had divided parties, and yet that Conference did introduce that most revolutionary reform. Thirdly, and I want to emphasise this, because it is sometimes overlooked, it made recommendations for an experiment in the method of elections. Some of those things did not come off, however. During the last quarter of a century many anomalies have been revealed. As my right hon. Friend so well said, the cost of entering Parliament is too great. It has been proved that unless a Member has private means, or has a powerful organisation behind him, it is almost impossible to enter the House of Commons.
The last quarter of a century has also shown that elections are very much of a gamble. The fluctuations and changes in public opinion have been much more violent, whatever the causes, in the last 25 years than in the years before the war. We are rather inclined to forget that we had three elections in three years, in 1922, 1923 and 1924, which imposed a great physical strain upon candidates and was a terrible drain on their purses. Here I run counter to the right hon. Member for Wakefield who suggests that minorities are adequately represented. In many parts of Great Britain there are vast numbers of Liberal and Labour voters who are not represented in this House of Commons. What is more serious, the public know there is no chance of their getting representation, and that discourages candidates from standing. In a very long speech yesterday the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) supported my right hon. Friend who has been speaking to-day for the Labour Party. He thinks it is a good thing that minorities should not be represented. He is against third parties. I put it to them that there was a time when the Labour Party was a third party. In the gamble of politics, partly by cross voting and partly from other causes, they have now become the second party, but there is no guarantee that either the Conservatives or the Labour Party may not some day be the third party. Is it 1295 to be suggested that because they are the third party they are to be completely snuffed out by the electoral system, not because the electors do not want to see them in Parliament but by the weakness or faults of the machinery of elections? That is a travesty of democracy.
New parties are coming up. I do not want to give them undue publicity, but there is a great growth in Communism, though it is true that up to the present we have had only one Communist Member. Another party is also coming into existence and has representatives here. It is possible that during the next few years there will be a sweeping change in the country. I do not like to make prophecies, especially in the House of Commons, where they are recorded, but I suggest that in the next five or six years the Conservative Party may have a very rude awakening. They had a very rude awakening in 1906, and I am convinced that in the next few years they will have a severe struggle for existence, and may—it is more than likely—in the gamble of politics find themselves as the third party and much regretting their opposition to any change in the electoral system. The Liberal Party made that mistake. We were largely responsible, through our own folly, for cutting our own throats. With the majority which we had in 1918 we voted against any change in the electoral system.
I resent profoundly the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague the Member for East Stirling, it is an undemocratic idea, that we should force the electors to vote for either one party or the other and that minorities have no rights of representation. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) that that is the doctrine of Hitler, of a totalitarian State. The two parties might get close together and collaborate and form a Coalition Government. After this war we might have a close marriage between the Conservatives and the Labour party, to set up a permanent National Government, with letters and coupons being sent to candidates, and with terrific pressure from powerful organisations like the F.B.I. and the great Trades Union Congress to prevent minorities being represented. The country will not stand for that. The electors do not want to have Members 1296 dictated to them by powerful organisations. There was the Skipton election recently—
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
Is the right hon. Member suggesting that the electors of Skipton did not vote for a policy, but had their Member dictated to them?
§ Sir P. Harris
What I am pleading for is that the electors should be entitled to express their views, that they should be represented in any way they like, and that the electoral machinery should be such that minorities have a fair deal. As a matter of fact, the Labour Party has been a sufferer in the past from the weakness of our electoral system. In 1931, we were deprived, for a very considerable period, not only of the presence of my right hon. Friend, but also of the most distinguished leaders of his party. In 1929, the Labour Party with 8,000,000 votes, got 288 seats and they were in office. In 1931, only two years afterwards, with 6,500,000 votes they were reduced to 46 seats. That is a travesty of representation. Then, again, in 1935, they got as many votes as in 1929, when they were in office, but they only got 146 seats.
I think everybody who followed the agricultural Debates last week noted the lack of balance in the system of elections, the significant absence of agriculturists on the Labour side, of Members who could claim to represent rural constituencies. In the rural areas there are vast numbers of both Liberal and Labour electors. In the area south of Thames and Severn that includes the Home Counties. In 1924, although Labour polled very nearly 500,000 votes they got no seats; the Liberals polled 445,000—and got one seat, while the Tories, who polled less than 1,500,000, secured 84 seats. Obviously, there is something wrong; it is not healthy. Conversely the same applies to some of our industrial areas where there are a large number of Conservative and Liberal electors who are not represented, such as South Wales and West Durham. Besides, the present electoral system is such a gamble. We had an example of this in Cornwall in 1924, where all five seats were Tories but, in 1929, with a comparatively small turnover, all these seats went Liberal. There were many electors in both cases who did not feel 1297 they had a voice in the discussions and in the Debates in this House. I think we all agree that there is nothing sacrosanct in our present electoral system, the system of single-Member constituencies. I am not in love with any particular alternative, but what I do care for and what I want the Speaker's Conference to examine impartially, is the question of making the House of Commons more representative for various points of view. I ask them to approach the problem, as far as possible, without prejudice. We are in the age of invention, the age of the aeroplane and wireless. We are making all kinds of progress in various ways, in our industrial, social and economic life, and it ought not to be beyond the wit of man or the wit of the Speaker's Conference, to find a satisfactory solution. That is all I ask and, I think, all I have a right to ask.
There are many methods. There is the list system which is general on the Continent, a system which I, personally, dislike. There is the alternative vote system, which I believe is used in Australia, and then there is this system of Proportional Representation which apparently raises so much controversy between its advocates and its opponents. When this system was discussed yesterday, one would have thought that it was some new invention, although the Home Secretary was able to say that even Mr. Gladstone had heard of it. There was a Debate on that system as long ago as 1885. A kind of Proportional Representation has worked in Scandinavian States, but on the list system, but I want to make it quite clear that the list system is not the same as Proportional Representation as advocated here. This sort of system operated in Switzerland and in Belgium, and, in case anybody should say that these are foreign countries, I would point out that a system of Proportional Representation has been in operation in Tasmania for 30 years where it has not produced a great number of parties.
We are a peculiar Parliament in many ways: we are sometimes charged with being hypocrites. When we are dealing with another country, whether it be India or Ireland, we do not say then that this single constituency basis is the right one, but insist, as a condition of self-government, that they should have Proportional Representation. They had it in Northern Ireland for five years and dropped it, but the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. 1298 O'Neill) yesterday showed that it was quite easy to work and that there were few spoilt ballot papers. In Southern Ireland it has been in operation now for 20 years, and there has not teen a multiplication of parties. On the contrary, there are fewer parties in Southern Ireland than there are here. We must not forget that there are eight parties in this House. They may be of varying size, but there they are. In Southern Ireland, under this system there has only been a reasonable number. While the system has given representation to the minorities, you have greater stability there than in any other part of the British Commonwealth. They have only had two Governments in the last 20 years, the Governments of Mr. Cosgrave and Mr. De Valera. I do not ask the Speaker's Conference to favour any one particular system, but to examine all proposals without prejudice.
We have had France trotted out as an example. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) who produced France from his sleeve, as a trump card. The system France had just after the last war was described by a Committee which examined it as a travesty, a caricature of Proportional Representation In France you have four-year Parliaments in which the Prime Minister has no power to ask the President to dissolve it. The consequence was you had constant changes, uncertainty and lack of responsibility of members. That is the reason why it is generally admitted that the Parliamentary machinery in France did not work, but I might add the Gallic spirit also had something to do with the situation, with the breaking up into a number of groups.
What I want to emphasise is that the Speaker's Conference in 1917 recommended, with no uncertainty, that 100 areas should have a system of Proportional Representation applied to them and it was embodied in an Act of Parliament. If hon. Members will look at the Representation of Peoples Act of 1918, Section 20, Sub-section (2, a), they will find that provision is made for its application and that commissioners were to be set up to select 100 suitable seats. Incidentally, Clause 41 defines and explains the system of the single transferable vote.
The Commissioners were duly appointed, and they selected a number of 1299 towns, after careful examination and inquiry. It was this list of towns which was not accepted. The Act of Parliament was carried, but it was the vested interests of various Members which threw over the actual list. Proportional Representation was again recommended by the 1930 Committee, which was not, as has been suggested, a Speaker's Conference. It was the Ullswater Committee. Lord Ullswater is one and the same person as Mr. Speaker Lowther, and he presided over another Committee which, by a majority only, again recommended a change in our electoral machinery for part of the country.
In conclusion, I plead that when the Committee comes to deliberate, it should examine the whole electoral machinery. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for keeping the terms of reference as broad as possible. I have a shrewd suspicion what his approach is to the problem. It was very statesmanlike to give this Conference, which I hope will represent all that is best in the House of Commons, a free hand. The Committee will have a great responsibility. We know that a very strong case is going to be made for a continuation of national government, after the war, and I think there is a feeling, not confined by any means to one party, but general throughout the country, that the problems of peace will be so difficult and complex that, at any rate immediately after the war, a national government should be kept in existence. On the other hand, and let us be frank with ourselves, Liberals and Labour—and I believe that I am speaking now for both parties—will not be prepared to stabilise the House of Commons on the present basis. No one has said this from the Labour benches. The impression made on my mind by the hon. Member the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) is that he wanted to keep things as they are. I believe that the feeling of the Liberal and Labour Parties, and among the Independents is, that they are not prepared to stabilise the present basis. When we come to the General Election, a coupon system, which was so unfortunate in the last post-war Parliament, should not be repeated.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
If the right hon. Gentleman is in any doubt about the matter, may I say that neither this party, nor the country itself, would stand for a 1300 repetition of what happened after the last war?
§ Sir P. Harris
That strengthens my position and makes my case very much stronger. I thought I was speaking for his party in this matter. That, post-war experience was very unfortunate and I think there is an overwhelming feeling against any system of coupons. If we are to have a national Government, and if the two minority parties in this House are dead against any pact or any attempt to stop candidates standing, it will be vital to devise some machinery so that there can be a free run, while at the same time supporting for the moment the continuation of a national Government. I believe that can be done by some system of Proportional Representation. The Speaker's Conference may find some other way out, but, if it really does its duty and justifies its existence, it must face the fact of the difficulty of a post-war election.
It would be a tragedy to have the ordinary cat-and-dog political fight just after the war, but if there is to be reasonable representation of various sections of public opinion there must be some fundamental change in the machinery of election. I press that point, which is a strong case for an investigation of various systems or methods of election. I believe that the next Parliament will have appalling problems. It will have to devise a system of maintaining peace. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has disclosed in his autobiography how difficult it was when he was Prime Minister, and how he was handicapped at Versailles by the pressure groups, unrepresentative as it proved, from this House of Commons. We know the kind of Parliament we want after this war, representative of all that is best in the country, to help the Government to build peace on firm foundations. There will also be appalling economic problems to solve. I am not one of those who believe that those problems will be simple, that there will be plenty of work and no unemployment. We shall need all the skill of the Government and of Parliament after the war, if we are to avoid civil war and revolution—I do not mind saying it—and economic upheaval. Only if we have a Parliament which is truly representative of all that is best in the country, and if—and I insist upon this point as perhaps the most important of all—minorities 1301 can express their opinions in the House of Commons through duly elected Members and will not feel that, because of the crudity of our electoral machinery, they are prevented from being heard and have to resort to revolutionary methods, can we hope to rebuild our country in the postwar years on sound, democratic political principles.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall (Lewisham, East)
It is usual, if one has a personal interest of a financial nature in a matter under discussion, to avow it frankly. I happen to have a very substantial financial interest in this question, by reason of the fact that I have for some time represented by far the largest constituency in the county of London, and also by the fact that my election expenses have been appreciably larger in the consequence. There has for some time been an interesting report in the Library, from part of which we are not at liberty to quote. I was amused to see that it was referred to as an electrical report and not an electoral report. Apparently this vigorous report is of such a nature that it galvanised the Government into activity and gave rise to dynamic repercussions throughout the country, in the way of changes not from the electricity point of view but from the electoral point of view.
I propose to give a certain number of figures to the House. They will be related to the 1939 electorate, and we are, of course, at liberty to mention them as they were published before the war, and not any other figures that may be in that Report. The hon. Member for Hendon (Sir R. Blair) was speaking yesterday of the anomalies, of which we are all aware, in county boroughs. In the county of London, we also have one very considerable anomaly, which I will just mention. East Lewisham happened to have 96,300 electors in 1939, which is about twice the size of the normal constituency. I have been at pains to look up other 1939 figures, and I find that we had more electors in that one constituency than the five boroughs of Bethnal Green, Bermondsey, Paddington, Hammersmith, and Poplar. Those five boroughs, each with two Members of Parliament, had double the representation of East Lewisham, which had appreciably more electors. An even greater anomaly is to be found in Southwark, which has three Members of 1302 Parliament, and an appreciably smaller electorate than East Lewisham. The reason is a simple one and is because of two housing estates put up after the last war. I am wondering how many Members have found their electorates more than doubled. So, I have a considerable financial interest in redistribution.
The broad position is practically agreed upon. It is hardly necessary, after yesterday's speech by the Home Secretary and other speeches, to argue in favour of redistribution, but I should like, as a town Member, to make one point. I want to see a certain amount of weighting given to agricultural seats. I never sat for an agricultural seat, but I know the great difficulties of contact caused by geography and a scattered population. My suggestion would be a weighting of roughly one quarter, or some figure of that sort, given to seats which are mainly agricultural, say two-thirds town, and one-third agricultural. Where the seat is mainly agricultural a figure of 40,000 for the electorate would seem to be sufficient, and 50,000 seems to be the right level for a purely urban seat.
On that basis I have ventured to work out a sum with regard to the future membership of this House. The electorate in 1939 was slightly over 31,000,000. Assuming that the electorate after redistribution would be in the neighbourhood of 32,000,000, if you gave 50,000 electors per seat, you would have 640 Members in this House. That excludes Northern Ireland and the universities. I am going to assume that their representation remains unaltered at 24. Then I take about 100 agricultural seats. I cannot say off hand whether the number should be 90 or 110, but I think that 100 is roughly the number that the Commissioners would find were entitled to a weighting, as I have just suggested. I count those seats as returning not 100 Members but 125, having weighted them, in order that the 40,000 electors in a seat of an agricultural character should have the same representation as a town constituency of 50,000. We should get 689 Members on this plan as the membership for the next House of Commons. In prewar days, when I used to discuss redistribution with my friends, they rather took the line that we could not have more than 615 Members, for seating and other reasons. Very few people realise that 1303 before the last war there were 670 Members of Parliament and that after the last war the conference of Mr. Speaker Lowther put down 707 as what they thought would give a fair representation.
Since before the last war, our electorate has, roughly speaking, quadrupled. In round figures there were over 7,000,000 electors. In 1939 there were a little over 31,000,000. I do not think the addition of 20 or 30 Members unfair to represent a more than quadrupled electorate. I. do not think the country could say, as the electorate has been more than quadrupled, that it was not in proportion to the increase in population, apart from the increase in the electorate. I am very anxious that there should be periodical readjustments. Had there been such adjustments it may be that I should not now have the privilege of representing 96,000 electors. In Canada, and I think Australia, it is done at regular intervals. It would seem to me that we could make some definite provision that this readjustment should come in intervals of not more than ten years. The years I suggest would be the census years. It would be very easy indeed for there to be automatic consideration of these questions by the statutory boundary commissioners in a census year, unless it was thought that on the figures as shown by the census it was not necessary, or of course action could be taken in one of the intervening years. This thing should not be left for the Government to have to take the initiative as has been taken now, and as was taken in the last war. It is a very difficult initiative to take which causes all sorts of political passions to rise. I think it ought to be taken right away from party politics and should be at regular intervals, I suggest not less frequently than every ten years.
My right hon. Friend dealt with Proportional Representation which he believes in. I happen not to, but I will not go into that at any length. My right hon. Friend mentioned Cornwall. I agree that Cornwall had five Liberal seats in 1929 and that they all went in 1931, but if you are to have Proportional Representation you must surely have very much larger units both in population and distance. It would probably mean a five Member constituency in Cornwall, which would mean that an unfortunate individual would have to 1304 canvass the whole county of Cornwall and then sit for the whole county. Between elections his public duties would entail going round the whole county. The strain on a Member of Parliament is sufficiently severe in these days. Do let us try to concentrate our activities rather than increase them fivefold. I am tempted to twit my right hon. Friend by pointing out that in 1906 my friends were grossly under-represented here. We had about 150 in the Opposition, while on the other side there were in round figures 500. Obviously we had far more than a quarter of the votes. Surely this was the time for the Liberal Party to bring in a measure of Proportional Representation.
§ Sir P. Harris
May I say that the Liberals are largely themselves to blame. The Liberal Party, I agree, through their own folly in not seeing the weakness of the electoral system, are now suffering. What I am suggesting is that my hon. and gallant Friend and his party may find themselves in 1948 or some other date in a similar position.
§ Sir A. Pownall
As my right hon. Friend has mentioned the folly of the Liberal Party in the past I will not pursue that subject further, but it shows how difficult these things are that these two different views have been held by the Liberal Party.
There are two other points I want to make with regard to the facts given yesterday. I have been at pains to look up the Scottish position. A certain amount of anxiety was displayed by my Scottish friends with regard to the position of Scotland in a measure of redistribution. Taking the 1939 figures I find that in the case of Scotland there would be four or fide fewer Members if it was on a strict mathematical basis, but of these three would come from Glasgow where, presumably, there has been a movement outwards in the same way that there has been from the inner boroughs in London. There are Caithness, the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the Western Islands. No one wishes to disfranchise these large scattered electorates and these would come under my theory of weighting agricultural seats, and I think if three Members were taken away from Glasgow our Scottish friends' anxieties would be considerably relieved, because for the reasons I have given the numbers of Scottish 1305 candidates would be maintained and Scotland would have only three Members less and not a large number as was suggested yesterday.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking) spoke about polling cards and suggested that they might go out officially and not be sent by individual Members. I myself, with this large electorate, have in recent General Elections instead of going to the trouble and expense of printing 96,000 polling cards, addressing 96,000 envelopes, and arranging for the distribution of art extra 96,000 missives, which do not come under the free postage—the candidate usually uses this for his election address—with a little opposition at first from old ultra Conservative friends, sent out my polling card with the election address. It worked very well. Many Members, I do not doubt, do the same thing. May I, in conclusion, wish you, Mr. Speaker, the very best of good fortune. I do not entirely envy you your task but I am quite sure that, under your guidance, we shall come to decisions fair to all parties.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I am very grateful for the opportunity of offering one or two observations on these proposals. Before I do so, I would like to say a word or two in reference to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary yesterday that the question of redistribution was a very tricky business. The view I hold is that this question must not be discussed in a very tricky way, because to do so would be, in my judgment, in respect to those constituencies which may be affected, a travesty of justice. With regard to redistribution I incline to the view that it is putting the cart before the horse because I do not believe that the question of the redistribution of seats is a practical proposition until a resettlement of the population has taken place. Stable conditions do not now exist and are unlikely to return for a considerable period after an Armistice. Moreover, the wartime movements of the population furnish no evidence as to the extent, direction or rate of anticipated counter movements during the period within which a General Election is to be expected. Taking as an example the borough of Poplar, part of which I represent, there are several factors operating now, which bear out very fully 1306 the reasons for the belief I have just stated.
There may be some hon. Members who believe that because a particular constituency has been heavily bombed, that is a reason why it should be done away with, or joined with another constituency. It has to be understood that large numbers of the population, again taking my own borough as an example, are only temporarily residing elsewhere and at the earliest possible moment they will return. Some Members may ask why. The answer is that large numbers of our people have had to go out, because of the misfortunes they have suffered. Large numbers have been sent away under the direction of the Ministry of Labour and are only temporarily residing in lodgings or with relatives. Many of these will return. Even if we take the population figure to-day, it has to be borne in mind that the average family in the constituency in which I live, has three to four members serving in the Forces at the present time. It has also to be remembered that this is their home, that they are potential voters, and they are looking forward to returning to the place that they knew as their home.
An important factor that affects places like the East End concerns those men who work in our docks and ship repairing yards. We should realise that these people are only temporarily living outside the district, because of circumstances such as I have explained, and I would ask Members, especially those who will have the opportunity of discussing these problems in the Conference, to realise the inconvenience these men are putting up with to-day in order to win the war. They have to travel an hour and a half in the morning in crowded trains to get to work, and another hour and a half to get home when they have done their hard day's work. We know what the position will be after the final whistle goes. They will take the first opportunity of returning to our division, whether it be to one room or two rooms. They will return because, for years, they have had to live near their work; they will return because it is their livelihood and because their family and their forbears have all lived in that part of the world. It is because of these problems that the question of redistribution must be considered in the light of the situation such as that of which I have spoken and I 1307 am sure that the Committee, when they consider these problems, will have due regard to that situation.
There is also the question of rebuilding. The housing programmes of the London County Council—of which I am a member—and other local authorities, will, alone, determine the return of a large number of people to those districts. I would like to draw attention to the question of Parliamentary and local government votes. It is absurd that we should allow men and women to vote for legislators and not for administrators, although one is as important as the other. I suggest that the Committee should amalgamate the two votes. I listened very carefully yesterday to many of the speeches, and I got the impression that quite a number of Members anticipated that they would not return to this House after the next election, for they spoke of welcoming the younger men and women as Members of Parliament. Many of my colleagues on this side, at any rate, were enabled by the training we had in local government to come to this great Chamber when we were called upon to do so. It seems to me quite clear that the joining together of the Parliamentary and local government votes would be to the advantage of Parliament. I am grateful for the opportunity of saying these few words, and I hope that what I have said will be given due weight by those responsible for the final decision.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
With regard to what the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) has said about the movement of population, I agree to some extent, and I would like to make a few remarks on the subject later. I was rather anxious about some of the things said by the right hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). As he is absent off parade, I will deal very gently with him. He referred to the folly of the Liberal Party in the past, and suggested that the Conservative Party might, in tike future, become the third party in the State. I think I am reasonably correct in saying that. I would like to remind the right hon. Baronet of an old Latin saying which starts "Experientia stultos docet," the meaning of the next line, roughly, being that wise men learn by the experience of others. I hope that the Conservative Party will learn by the errors of others.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
That is a very rough translation.
§ Mr. Bull
Perhaps so. The right hon. Baronet referred to Eire, and said that Proportional Representation resulted there in only two parties. If that is so, I cannot see why the Liberal Party should be interested in Proportional Representation in this country. Yesterday one Member said that, in view of the numbers of the electorate and other considerations, people ought to have the right to see their candidates. I am, of course, not referring to any candidate in particular, but I wonder whether, if the electors were all enabled to see their candidates how many of us would be here. I have travelled the world as much as most. I heard the case of Scotland pleaded forcefully and well. I am partly Scottish myself, and I agreed with it, but if we are going into the number of Members which Scotland has, we might also go into the question of how many divisions in this country, or anywhere else, are represented by Scotsmen. We are met to decide something for the good of the people of the United Kingdom, and, as the Debate has gone, I think we subscribe to that idea, entirely irrespective of party feeling—at least, I hope so. The question is the common good of the people. I cannot conceive, to judge from the speeches made in this House to-day and yesterday, that any Member does not feel that way about it. If this House acts in any other spirit, it is just as dust in the balance, and once that is found out it is taken away and does not amount to anything. The main principle goes back to an old saying—whether this will be a rough quotation or not, perhaps the Foreign Secretary will advise me—that what we are looking for isGovernment of the people, by the people, for the people.This issue may be decided in any way that Members think fit, but unless we keep before our minds that picture ofGovernment of the people, by the people, for the people,we shall be found wanting. On this question of redistribution, if we are to do it at all, we should do the job properly, or as nearly properly as we can. There has been talk of the university vote, with which I personally agree. I think it has been a great asset to the deliberations of this House. Also, we have heard about 1309 the business vote, about which there has been controversy. About Proportional Representation, I should like to say only that I shall vote against it on every conceivable opportunity. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) referred yesterday to the Constitution of Tasmania. I would ask him and anyone else favouring Proportional Representation, including the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green, who also referred to Tasmania, whether they can honestly say that they have found a Constitution which worked better than the British Constitution, as revised and amended from time to time. Personally, I have not found such a Constitution. We do not want a multiplicity of parties such as they had in France. Our people want a straight issue, to pay their money and take their choice.
§ Mr. Bull
I am going to speak for about a quarter of an hour. I will go on as long as other people want me to, but I would rather just read off what I have written here first. If we do not have some redistribution soon, whatever principle you work upon, democracy becomes a farce. Being a Conservative, and therefore belonging to the party of progress, I think that if we go on like this, with enormous constituencies and very small ones, we shall have to come to something like a referendum; but if we can set up a Committee to rearrange the constituencies from time to time, we shall have a referendum of the people all the time. Therefore, if this House is to represent the country, we must have redistribution, and we must have it soon. I agree that some boundaries must be defined geographically, but there are enormous areas which it is impossible for a candidate to cover, and such areas must have a smaller number of electors than some of the highly industrialised divisions and that local interests must be considered. But I think we are all generally agreed on the old saying, "One man, one vote"—or perhaps, if you wish to be strictly honest, you should say, "One woman, two votes." But, however that may be, I can see no reason why we might not have an immediate partial redistribution. You can take any fair division; 1310 suppose that you leave alone any constituency of not below 30,000 or 40,000, and not above 70,000 or 80,000, whatever figure you may choose. You can then take a mean average of something like 54,000 people, which should form a reasonable division, but, to make up for leaving some divisions which were too small in population untouched, it would be necessary perhaps to increase the number of Members of Parliament, because you must have personal contact with your constituency. The Home Secretary referred yesterday to a great small arms factory employing 20,000 people, and said that we could not tell what would happen to these people after the war. He said that that was a very great problem, whether you were to take into account these 20,000 people or not. My reply on that is that if those 20,000 people are not employed after the war, and for many years to come, in that or in other small arms factories, we shall have another war on our hands in 20 years' time; so he must take them into account.
Take the case of the Lord President of the Council, who represents, very ably, of course, a reasonably small division, and also the case of the right hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green. The right hon. Baronet said—I think I quote him reasonably correctly—that if they had more Members they would have a voice in the discussions in this House. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I think he contributes his share, albeit he represents a small division, just think, if we increased the size of his division and gave him two or three times as many constituents, how many more letters he would receive. He would then be able to speak even more often.
§ Mr. Bull
Yes, but he would have more to say if he got more letters. I do not think that we are working on the principle now of, "one man, one vote." If you have a constituency of 25,000 or 30,000 and another constituency of 170,000 electors, that is not "one man, one, vote." The man in the right hon. Baronet's Division has really four or five votes compared with the man in the larger division. These smaller divisions should be redistributed. There are two 1311 Member constituencies which are smaller than some of the single-Member constituencies and, obviously, that is wrong and these patent anomalies should be corrected as soon as possible. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) said yesterday that he did not know of an occasion when the Conservative Party did not produce a dirty trick at the last moment. I stand open to correction, but I think that the hon. and learned Member said something of that character. I would reply to him, that I wonder whether there is ever an occasion when the Labour Party do not produce a dishonest promise at the last moment, a promise of something which cannot be fulfilled.
§ Mr. Bull
I still assert that fact. In any event, we want to hear the voice of the people the whole of the time, and, therefore, we should have a permanent commission sitting on redistribution and some redistribution should be effected every few years, determining whatever Mr. Speaker's Conference decreed. Some of us would no doubt have bad luck, and some of us good luck, but it should be done as soon as possible and in a thoroughgoing manner.
In regard to election expenses and subscriptions to local associations and things of that sort, if it is true that young men of ability are not adequately represented in any party in this House, and if we are all serious and agreed about this matter, the reason, surely, is obvious—it is financial in character. Each party has shown itself either unable or unwilling to put its own house in order and therefore the law must come in and lay down what is to be done about these things.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green also referred to the cost of entering Parliament and I read an admirable leading article in "The Times" this morning. You do not want to falsify representation and therefore the best thing to do is to increase the deposit that any candidate or his backers have to put up when such a candidate wishes to put himself forward for election to the House of Commons. We should increase the deposit, and if the candidate or his backers are serious and think that he has a chance, he would get his money back if he polled a certain percentage 1312 of the votes. That, in my opinion, would put an end to people who were inclined to split the vote. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) about housing and I, like him, am very worried about it. I hope that we are going to get on with this question as soon as possible.
§ Sir Robert Young (Newton)
In rising to take part in this Debate, I am afraid I shall be rather matter of fact in what I have to say and I trust that I shall not bore hon. Members who are in the House and have to endure it. I am one of those who have grown weary in times past of repetition of argument, but in a Debate of this kind it is hardly possible to avoid it. I trust that, if I happen in any way to stress what has been said by others, I shall be forgiven. We are having a two days' Debate on what I consider to be an agreed Motion. I do not think that anyone in this House will get up and say, "Leave things as they are; it is of no use bothering with electoral reforms." When the proposed Conference is set up there will be many conflicting problems to settle, but what is puzzling me is that I cannot see how any arrangement made for the next General Election can be of a permanent character for the elections that will come after. It is altogether impossible to settle the geographical boundaries of constituencies until the soldiers have returned and have settled in their homes and until the population have found somewhat more permanent locations than they have to-day. I am one, nevertheless, who believes that reform is due. It was due before the war. It is much more due now seeing that the war has taken place. I therefore trust that before very long we shall have a new method of electoral representation, because at the present time many of the electors no longer reside where they are registered. Constituencies in many parts of the country have been depleted and in other parts they suffer from repletion to a very large extent. Where these people ultimately are going to settle I do not know, and neither do they, and, therefore, to settle the boundaries of any constituency before the population has more or less settled itself after the war seems to me to be an impossible thing to do.
I listened with great interest to the informative speech of the Home Secretary. I agree with a good many of the things 1313 he said, but with none did I agree more enthusiastically and fervently than with the statement that every vote, as far as possible, should be of the same value. If that is not accomplished at the Speaker's Conference in their suggestions to us, and if any future House of Commons, or this one, passes a Bill which does not make each vote of equal value, then it is nothing more or less, from the point of view and on the part of the Members of this House passing the new Act, than a deliberate fraud on the electors of the country. The size of constituencies and the inconvenience to candidates and Members are of secondary importance to the great object of securing equal voting power throughout the land for all the people who are represented in this House. Therefore, I agree with those who say that double constituencies should be abolished. There should be no preferential localities anywhere. The duty of this House should be to make elections easy, inexpensive and thoroughly representative of the voters, and if this House, deliberately or otherwise, fails to make itself a reflection of the nation's opinion, then we shall be doing a disservice to democracy.
Democracy has taken many forms. In this country it has been a growth. From 1215 to 1919 the struggle went on to get full Parliamentary voting power, more and more becoming democratic, and in the countries to which reference has been made, democracy has been built up into a fabricated institution. Perhaps they have not been so successful in other countries as has been the case in this country, because the parties have said, "There is a democracy; let us copy them," and very often, in making their advance, they took great pains to safeguard their own particular interests as parties in those countries. Democracy in these countries has, as has been alluded to by one hon Member, taken the form of not voting for individual Members or representatives, in the sense of those who are in this House, but of voting for the party as such, and according to the number of votes cast for the party, the number of votes in the assembly was allocated. There was also in some other parts of the world a system of election by colleges. I am glad that neither of these methods operate in this country. Democratic to a little extent, as they may be, they are all in the direction of totalitarianism in the end.
1314 Somebody has said that the biggest gamble in the world is a British General Election, and I think I agree with that. This House has never been thoroughly representative of the constituencies of the country during the 25 years I have been in it. The present system is not truly representative. Members come into the House—I am often amazed at it, the only party I can exempt is the party below the Gangway, we all do it—say that they represent a constituency as a whole. That is an impossibility. How can a minority candidate represent a constituency as a whole? How can Conservatives represent Labour, or Liberals represent Conservatives? And how can we represent either Tories or Liberals? We may do our best for each individual constituent on matters of grievance, but politically, and in the sense that it is sometimes used of representing the constituency, it is only a figure of speech and means nothing.
If we examine past elections we find curious results. I find in this House there was a majority of Members of one party representing a minority in the country, speaking of the House as a whole. Surely, that is altogether wrong. I came into this House in 1918, which was the same year in which Mr. Speaker came, and there are few of us left in it. Five of us of that year have sat in the Chair, more or less, as Chairmen of Ways and Means or as Deputy-Chairmen. That was a coupon election. There was a very meagre retinue of Labour supporters in this House in 1918. Two-fifths of the electorate of the country voted against the coupon election. Was that fair to the Labour Party? That is the present system. I do not like it, and I must confess that I am sorry to find that so many of my friends seem to think it is the best system. That was in 1918. What about 1924? There was a 200 majority for the Government party, but they were in an actual minority in the country. I give the House the figures. In 1924, the Conservatives received 7,861,402 votes. The other parties combined received 8,774,134 votes. Yet the Conservatives had a majority of 200 or thereabouts. Is that fair? Is that representative of the constituencies in the country? Was that equal voting? Was it even "One man, one vote"? Certainly not—neither justice in the House nor justice to the electors. Let me take 1929. There were 150 Conservative Members in this House who had a minority vote in 1315 their constituencies, 118 Labour Members who had a minority vote in their constituencies and 40 Liberal Members who had a minority vote. Is that democratic franchise? Is that equal voting? Is that fair to the electors? Certainly not.
Let us come to 1935. The majority was 247 Members—a very large majority, but not so very large a majority in the country, however. The Government vote in 1935 was 11,791,461. The Opposition vote was 9,992,710. Yet, with that difference, the party that sits on the other side had a majority of 247. What is the good of talking about democratic franchise if it is to work out in this way? What is the good of saying the people of the country are represented in this House if it is to work out like that? We know perfectly well, and I know from my 25 years in this House, that we have never had a true reflection of the votes of the people in the country.
The present system does not work as some people would like to believe it does. Perhaps, in making these remarks after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), I should say that I am speaking for myself in this respect. For a long time it has been recognised that our present system does not work properly, Some reformers have suggested a Second Ballot. My objection to it is that it is expensive. It is a second election, and leaves itself open to bargaining between parties. A combination of parties could destroy some other party. You can even lose seats by the Second Ballot. The Social Democrats in Germany at one time lost a very large number of seats in the Second Ballot. I do not want the Second Ballot, because I think it would be a second election, with increased expense, interference with business and, worst of all, many of the electors would not take the trouble to go to the polling booth twice in succession in a short time.
Another suggestion is the alternative vote. I have a hazy idea that the Labour Party seemed to prefer it and put it in a Bill. It went to the other House and was taken out. We disagreed with the other House, and we sent it back. It went to the other House again and was taken out again. To save the Bill we had to leave the thing alone. The alternative vote is only a Second Ballot in one election. That is all it amounts to. It is 1316 an improvement on the Second Ballot, but that is all it is, and it tends to three-cornered contests, especially in industrial areas. It also is open to a combination of parties in bargaining and doing everything possible to damn a new party. You can plump for a candidate. I am old enough to remember how, in Glasgow, they plumped for a candidate in days gone by, and, to make sure that he would get elected, they wasted some of their votes when there was more than one vote in a constituency.
The alternative vote has been tried, and I want my friends to consider it. It has been tried in Alberta. Listen to the result. The United Farmers received 42 seats, and the Liberals, Labourites and Conservatives only 8 by the alternative vote method. Yet the Farmers' vote was 68,921 and the vote for all the others was 68,073, and the difference of representation was 43 to 8. An hon. Member who spoke before me does not want anything to do with Proportional Representation. I was not quite sure whether he also agreed with the alternative vote, but, to make Alberta still more clear to Members, the Liberal vote was 36,693 and they got only five Members returned. The Conservatives polled 26,197, and they got none—and it served them jolly well right if they will stick to the present system—but the most remarkable thing was that Labour got 5,183 votes, and, by alternative voting, managed to get three seats.
Let us try another of our Dominions—the Australian Commonwealth Senate. In 1925 the National and County parties in Australia received 1,537,282 votes and got 22 seats. Labour polled 1,262,912 votes and got none by the alternative vote. When we are considering these matters, and I have no doubt the Conference will do so, I want to say to some of my friends, and to others, that we have all this experience behind us. Fools do not, but wise men learn from experience. I have said that there are various systems—the present one, the Second Ballot, the alternative vote and Proportional Representation. I prefer Proportional Representation. I say that this matter should have no relation to party interests. I want a representative House, with equal value for equal votes.
Proportional Representation, where it has been tried, has been in the main a 1317 success. In Eire, in Tasmania, in United South Africa, in Belgium, Finland and Sweden it has been a success. Most remarkable of all is that this Government of Liberals, Labour and Conservatives, in dealing with India, proposes Proportional Representation for the electorate which is to be formed in that vast country. There is some reason, perhaps, why the illiterate people should have some education to teach them to vote. That is the position, as I see it, and I cannot understand why an hon. Member should be opposed to Proportional Representation in this country, where we are not supposed to be illiterate, when we are proposing it for India. There is something more to be said for Proportional Representation. It has advantages which other systems have not. It will encourage the electors to vote, in my estimation, and it will make coupon elections impossible. You can issue your coupon, but that will not keep candidates from coming forward and doing their best. I want to quote a gentleman for whom I have a great regard—Dr. Harold Butler, former Director of the I.L.O., who said:Only in the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia can it be said that the problem of reconciling strong Executive action with the free play of popular representation has been satisfactorily solved.In all these countries Proportional Representation has been exercised for a good many years. It has been objected that it will be expensive. Why should it? I fail to see why it should be expensive. It is not more expensive than the present system; it should be far less, in my estimation. Johannesburg municipal election was run on Proportional Representation. The Labour Party ran three candidates, got two of them in and the total expenses of the three were £18—and you know what sort of a place Johannesburg is. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams)—I am sorry he is not in his place—said yesterday:So far as ordinary people are concerned, give me enough money and a system of Proportional Representation, and I will elect any people you wish. The system is more open to corruption than any system I know. All you have to do is to subsidise a number of Independent candidates, collecting all the crank votes, and advise all the people to give their second preference to yourself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st February; col. 1176, Vol. 396.]I suppose my hon. Friend includes his 1318 own party in that when he talks about ordinary people, and suggests that a large number of his own constituents and others can be bought in relation to their vote. I felt when I read it that that was utter nonsense. I must say that, although I have known the hon. Member for a long while, before we came to this House, and although we have been friends ever since, I cannot see that there will be any possibility of buying votes under Proportional Representation more easily than now. If I have any ill wish against the hon. Member it is that I wish he was a wealthy man and that we had Proportional Representation. He would lose his money in trying to buy votes under that system.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
What my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) said was that it would be easy under Proportional Representation to secure freak candidates by paying their election expenses. He did not suggest buying votes.
§ Sir R. Young
I do not think it makes much difference. The hon. Member said that all you have to do is to subsidise a number of Independent candidates and these people would get in. If that is not a method of buying votes I do not know what is. At any rate we buy votes now, as has been stated, by the use of motor cars for a large number of persons who will not go to a polling booth unless they can travel in a car. I remember that in 1918 my opponent and I agreed not to run any cars except for our own personal use. I do not know whether it was ever done anywhere else. The other side did not strictly keep to the agreement, although that was not the Conservative candidate's fault. Once we found a parson disobeying the agreement. We told him about it, and he said he was sorry, but later he was found in another part of the constituency doing the same thing. A lady, when asked whether she did not know about the agreement, said, "The candidates can make any agreement they like. This is my car and I intend to use it." There was no getting over that. I preferred the lady to the parson, because she was exercising her right——
§ Sir R. Young
I am not a member of my party's administrative council, so I am not included in that. On the grounds of expense I do not see how Proportional Representation could be more expensive, and as for the difficulties in voting I cannot understand that either. A great many people spend their spare time today in doing football coupons. Those who can do that can easily master a voting paper. We are told that the system would create innumerable parties in the House. There are 10 parties here now. It has not done so in other parts of the world and I do not see why it should do so here. I would like to pass from the different kinds of representation to the question of redistribution, which will bring surprises and create difficulties for us all. I am in favour of redistribution, but those who have safe seats now will find them not so safe, and those whose seats are not so safe now will find they are hopeless. No arrangement can guarantee that any seat will be safe. May I give an experience from my own constituency? Before 1918 a Conservative and Labour Member, in turn, came to this House, but with very small majorities. Redistribution took 5,000 miners out of the constituency. I was told that every house was a committee room for the Labour candidate. It was a coupon election, yet in spite of the 5,000 miners taken out and the fact that it was a coupon election, I happened to be sent to this House instead of the other candidate who had been assured that it was a "snip" for the Tory Party. Therefore, do not let any of us make up our minds that we can make sure of our own seats.
We know that some Members are elected because of their past and present local services, some because of their benefactions, some because of their personal popularity, probably some because of their party and others because of their own personal policy, All these things will be minimised in the future. When the Bill of the President of the Board of Education goes through it will give us, I trust, an educated democracy that will stand up for its rights, that will be politically conscious, that will have wisdom in selecting its representatives and will be able properly 1320 to use its political power. I have taken this opportunity of expressing my views on this matter because, as I have said, I have no particular concern in this discussion about the welfare of any party. All I am concerned with is seeing equal votes of equal value from one end of the land to the other.
§ Colonel Sandeman Allen (Birkenhead, West)
I do not wish to take up the time of the House for more than a few minutes but I have had many opportunities of talking to hundreds of men, both of the Fifth and Eighth Armies during the past few weeks, on this subject of electoral reform. These men are not particularly interested in Proportional Representation. I am reminded of one soldier who said, "I like the heads and tails system; why go on with the poker dice system? Somebody throws foul aces and somebody else throws four knaves and the joker. He 'swipes' the kitty, shouts 'Imshi' and the answer is a lemon." That seemed to be their point of view on the whole but where they were moved was on the subject of the proxy vote, about which they showed great concern. They do not want the proxy vote and I hope the Speaker's Conference will take this very carefully into consideration. These men say that they may as well kiss by proxy as vote by proxy, and I agree with them. When the major hostilities are over bomber planes will be available to take ballot papers to where soldiers are situated. Something on these lines could, I think, be organised. I want to press that very strongly. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) said, "One woman, two votes, is the answer." That is exactly what a great many of the soldiery are feeling. The difficulties I have mentioned can be overcome, I think, and should be studied carefully with a view to overcoming them, particularly the difficulty about the proxy vote.
§ Mr. Loverseed (Eddisbury)
I rise on this occasion because I feel that certain Members of this House and thousands of people outside, do not realise the full seriousness of this Debate, for which the Government—and I am grateful—have allowed two days. I was always taught that the fundamental concept of democracy was the right of the people to govern themselves through their representatives in this House. The present composition of this House is, itself, a 1321 denial of that principle of democracy. Apart from the methods of the last Election, when certain misrepresentations were admittedly made, the present Government are enjoying a majority of 235 seats where they should have, on the votes of the people, enjoyed a majority of only 41 seats. Nor was that confined to the last Election. Ever since the last Armistice—when the Coalition Government of 1918 had a majority of 347, instead of the majority of 75 which they should have had—Governments have been elected on much larger majorities than they would have enjoyed had the true wishes of the people been known.
The seriousness of the effects of this cannot be over-estimated. It has led Governments to pursue blindly policies which were leading us to disaster against the wishes of the British people. Secure in the knowledge that they could not be defeated in this House they have pursued such policies and have treated with contempt such opposition as has been raised from this side of the House. Had the people of this country been represented according to the way they would have been represented by Proportional Representation then many of the disastrous policies of the past would have been modified, if not actually reversed. The Prime Minister stated in a recent Debate that he looked forward to the time when Parliament could be refreshed by contact with the electorate. Many of us are looking forward to that time, and I would only add that that refreshment should take place in accordance with the true wishes of the electorate. I cannot think that a House which was really representative of the British people would for one moment have tolerated such things as the betrayal of Abyssinia, the sabotage of the League of Nations, the betrayal of democracy in Spain, the German occupation of the Rhineland, German re-armament, or the appeasement of any Fascist or semi-Fascist who raised his head in the world. In fact, I believe this war would have been avoided had we had Proportional Representation 15 years ago. [Laughter.]
Hon. Members may laugh, but I am quite certain that had we had the wishes of the people represented here, then those things which so obviously were leading to war would never have been tolerated for one moment, and the rise of Fascism would have been stifled years ago. In 1322 the years before this war the Prime Minister himself had been warning this House constantly of the dangers into which we were running in which he was supported by certain hon. Members from the other side. I submit that had the majority been 41 instead of 235, then the Prime Minister would have brought about the overthrow of the last shocking Government in this country long before, and would have averted many of the catastrophes we suffered at the beginning of this war. Even now I feel that if this House were truly representative, we—the British people—would insist through our representatives here, and would insist with success, on the far better treatment of our men and women in the Forces to-day, who are facing such terrible risks and sacrifices. I feel the people would have insisted that the disabled men receive fairer and better pensions, that our old people receive better treatment, and that the Beveridge Report be implemented, or steps taken to see that that was done.
Looking at this from another standpoint, I have always been taught that all votes in this country were of equal value, that the vote of a farm worker in, say, the Eddisbury constituency was of the same value as a vote of the farmer or as a vote of the noble lord who owns that farmer's land. But the record of the past, under the existing electoral system, disproves that time and time again. In 1918 13,000 votes were necessary to elect a Coalition candidate. No less than 51,000 votes were necessary to elect a non-Coalition candidate. In other words one Coalition vote was worth four other votes. That has happened in every election since the last war except the 1923 election where, by some fluke or by some freak circumstance, things worked out approximately right. But we cannot guarantee that will happen again within the next thousand years.
§ Mr. Loverseed
The reform of this out-of-date electoral machinery is obviously necessary, and I welcome the setting up of the Conference to examine these proposals. I feel that Proportional Representation is the only system which gives a fair reflection of the views of this nation. At the same time, however, I would not for one moment support a system which took power away from the people of a constituency 1323 and placed it in the hands of a party caucus. I feel that already the parties and the Whips hold, if anything, too much power. Members of this House are primarily representatives of the people in constituencies, and not necessarily of parties. At the same time I would not support a system of electoral reform which encouraged the growth of splinter parties and made for unstable Governments. The cases I have cited and, in fact, the record of the past two years, show that it is not the small parties but the major parties in this country which have suffered as a result of the defects in our electoral machinery of the past and in order to get Proportional Re-presentation for these major parties I feel that Proportional Representation should, be brought into being. Of the various types of Proportional Representation, I feel that the single transferable vote meets the first objection I raised, and the experience of Eire over the last few years shows that splinter parties are not likely to crop up.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend? In Eire at the last election, held recently under Proportional Representation, a new party was created—a farmers' party—of 17 members to begin with. Quite a big splinter.
§ Mr. Loverseed
As the hon. Member has pointed out, a party can come along and claim 17 members as having gained a fair proportion of the votes, and I feel they are entitled to that, and that is not exactly what would be known as a splinter party. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) raised one point which I feel I must deal with. He said that a minister of religion had written a pamphlet in which he said that true democracy could only be represented through one party. The hon. Member also stated that this minister addressed a Common Wealth meeting. I would point out in this respect that Common Wealth branches frequently invite speakers of other parties to address them, and at that particular meeting the gentleman who addressed them was a well known member of the Communist party. We have had a personal assurance from the hon. Member for South Bradford that he had no intention of implying that the Common Wealth Party shares the single party view of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
§ Sir H. Holdsworth
I would like to say that I had not the slightest intention of saying that this man was a member of the Common Wealth Party. What happened in Bradford was that when invitations to this meeting of the Common Wealth Party were sent out, that particular person was included in the invitation to the meeting, and it is quite true that he did address a Common Wealth meeting. I do not think I said anything more. I accept the statement made by the hon. Member that he does not act in the interests of a single party, although I think there is a relation between the Common Wealth and the Communist Parties.
§ Mr. Loverseed
I am grateful to the hon. Member for bringing up that point. I thought I made it perfectly clear that I took the view that he had informed us that he had no intention of connecting the speaker in any way with the Common Wealth Party.
With regard to the redistribution of seats, I feel that the simplest way of doing this would be to carry on the redistribution and the grouping of seats by Proportional Representation simultaneously. That would be much the simplest way of bringing it about. I hope we shall have Proportional Representation and, as it is obvious that we shall make certain mistakes in the first instance, I hope the machinery will be left elastic so that we may sort out those difficulties as they arise. There is one point I feel it is only right to raise at this time, and I do this with very great respect. The party which I represent believes that constituents in every constituency of this country should be adequately represented. We do not wish at any time to oppose the Speaker of this House of Commons; in fact, we hope that he will continue to preside over us for many years to come. But I feel that while electoral reform is being discussed, consideration should be given to the possibility of creating a Speaker's constituency—if you like, a St. Stephen's constituency—for which the Speaker of the House shall sit and, on taking office, he shall vacate the constituency for which he sat previously. That is fair because, in our opinion, it is not right that thousands of constituents in any constituency of this country shall be without 1325 representation. I say this with very great respect, in which spirit I hope it will be accepted.
I am very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Birkenhead (Colonel Sandeman Allen) raised the question of the men in the Forces. I raised this point during a previous Debate, and received no answer at that time. I am most anxious that every man and woman in the Forces, whether he or she be here or overseas, shall have the opportunity of voting. I am not sure that they have been made aware of their rights in this respect, or of the machinery for registering as absent voters. I suggested once before in this House that the onus of getting these people on the register should be placed in the hands of commanding officers and not left to the men themselves. I would like to press that again, and to support my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion that their ballot papers shall be flown out to them and that they shall all have the opportunity of recording their vote. In conclusion, I can only remind hon. Members that there is a world outside this House which is at present largely gagged or muzzled, but its voice will become more insistent as victory and the prospect of peace draw nearer. If we fail to provide effective machinery for giving true expression to that voice, then we shall invite the inevitable catastrophe which must follow our neglect.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South Eastern)
It is customary to start a speech by saying "I do not propose to follow the previous speaker". I do, however, propose to deal for a little with the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Loverseed) who took the view that Proportional Representation would have great advantages because, if we had had it hitherto, very few of the trials that came upon us in recent years would have appeared. He spoke with some satisfaction of a Government majority of 41. I think that none of us, to whatever party we belong, could wish for anything worse during any period of crisis than to have a Government with so small a majority that it might, at any moment, by party manoeuvre be forced to make compromise decisions out of weakness. In fact, my hon. Friend laid his finger upon what would be the real disadvantage of Proportional Representation, that time after time you would have 1326 Governments with small majorities nervous of doing anything with the threat of a General Election at any moment hanging over their heads, and a General Election which would simply mean very much the same people being returned with about the same majority. My hon. Friend in one of his more oratorial flourishes, fell into an electoral error. He observed that he wanted to see every farm worker with a vote counting for as much as that of the noble lord who happened to employ him. He apparently forgot that the only people who have not got votes for Parliament are Members of the House of Lords, so I advise him to think a little before that little flourish is produced again.
§ Mr. Loverseed
I was wrong in referring to the Noble Lord but the observation applies to all landlords, most of whom have votes.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes
For the very excellent reason that I propose, if I am permitted by the hon. Member, to develop my own speech in my own way. Proportional Representation is being dealt with on the ground that it has succeeded fairly well in a number of countries, but there is one point which I think has not been made during the Debate. You have had in Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland and elsewhere a fairly stable form of government under Proportional Representation but what sort of government have you had? In practically every country that has adopted it, there have been rather mild, gentle coalitions, moving slowly with the times and always saving on armaments. These countries could play no part in the League of Nations because they had not armaments behind them and, from the point of view of dealing with an invader, they were utterly and completely useless in the conditions in which they were. If we were to have in this country a long period of perpetual mild, compromising coalitions, with no real vigour behind them the same might occur here. I would sooner see a working majority of the Opposition in the House of Commons any 1327 day than see the sort of up and down Governments with very small majorities which make for indecisive policies.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
Is the hon. and gallant Member really attributing to Proportional Representation, the absence of defences in certain European countries? Would he apply that to America and other countries where there is a shortage of armaments? Where does it lead to?
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes
I am merely pointing out that the fact remains, that the number of small countries which have been held up, time and time again, in these Debates, as perfect examples of how Proportional Representation works were, in point of fact, the sort of small countries which were deficient in armaments, and it seems to me not unnatural to consider that that perpetual form of rather mild coalition was one of the elements which led to their weakness. Looking to the future I believe that the two party form of Government which has been our historic system apart from a few oddments, is best for the nation. If, as has been suggested, an ungodly combination were formed between the Labour and Conservative Parties, the Liberal Party would have a much better chance of being returned to power than ever they would have under Proportional Representation, for any such coalition would be kicked out by the country. That is one of the few things which I could prophesy with complete confidence. As the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) pointed out yesterday, in university elections you have more spoilt ballot papers than anywhere else, and, oddly enough, universities are the only places in this country where Proportional Representation is adopted. Generally, the average elector in a university election should, at any rate, know how to read and write. [Interruption.] University graduates do a good many odd things. I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition on this point. The number of university Members returned is far too few really to affect Parliamentary representation, one way or the other. I believe they add a certain variety and spice to the House, and I am not at all sure that they are the type of Member who would be as good on the platform as in the House.
§ Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)
Is there any reason why they should have two votes, one as ordinary citizens and one as university graduates?
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes
Supposing you had one vote for everybody, and if you used your university vote, you could not use any other vote, the inevitable result would be that the ordinary man would, in point of fact, vote in his own locality, your university representative being returned by a microscopic vote. If you are to maintain your universities, it is better that there should be a reasonable number of votes cast for the Members.
I should like to make a constructive suggestion to the Speaker's Conference in regard to election expenses. We are not going to deal with election expenses by playing about and reducing by a penny the permitted amount to be spent per elector in county and borough seats. It is not big enough to touch the question of the comparatively young man who wants to enter political life. I think, if a man is to pull his full weight in Parliament, he should enter, for the first time, between the ages of about 30 and 45. If he is younger than that, he has no knowledge of the world, and although some who are over that age have been a great success it is late to come in for the first time. You would have these men, probably married, with young families, at an age when they have not saved very much money, suddenly called upon to find £1,000 or more to fight an election, with the knowledge that there may be another in, perhaps, a couple of years, or else they will have to be paid for by some big vested interest—I do not care whether it is a trade union or an employers' association. A great many men cannot and will not stand for Parliament under such conditions. Simply to cut down a little the present limit in boroughs and counties does not really meet the case at all. I have 100,000 electors in my constituency. Roughly speaking, I am allowed under the present system to spend £2,500. I spent £800 at the last election, and I think I should have been a fool to spend more. It would not make any difference to myself or anyone else contesting my seat if, by a small drop in the amount per elector, the maximum was reduced from £2,500 to £2,000, or even £1,000, because the average constituency election under present conditions generally 1329 costs somewhere between £600 and £1,000 at least.
I understand that the object of the scheme is to stick to single-member constituencies and it is suggested we should take a mean of about 50,000 electors per constituency with a bit off for widely scattered country districts. I think you might very well, instead of basing the cost of an election purely upon the number of electors at fivepence or sixpence a head, bear in mind that it is quite as expensive, I should imagine, to contest an enormous district like Sutherland with only 20,000 or 30,000 electors as it would be to contest a more densely populated county seat which is not nearly so scattered. I think the Conference should consider definitely laying down a pretty low limit for what can be spent on elections, slightly more in counties than in boroughs, but not based on a mathematical basis of per capita calculation. A county with 50,000 electors should not have a lower maximum than a county with, say, 40,000 or 30,000 electors. I suggest, for example, a maximum expenditure of £800 for counties or £600 for boroughs. I merely, quote those as possible figures.
Here is my revolutionary suggestion which I do not suppose anyone will accept. I should be inclined to think that, if you want good candidates, you will have to come down to the lowest level at which an election can be fought, I do not mean politically but financially, and that the State might pay half the election expenses of any candidate who does not forfeit his deposit. A man who cannot find £1,000 or £800 may be able to find some £300, if he is keen on the job, without becoming hopelessly indebted to some big organisation outside. If you do that, I believe you will improve the type of Member and you will get younger men in all parties coming to the House. I believe the character of our Members is more important to the future of the country than their political complexion and I want to see young men in all parties, who are not of necessity rich but are keen, have a fair opportunity to come in without burdening with debt their wives and families for the rest of their lives.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I am very pleased that the Speaker's Conference is to take place and I was very pleased when the Home Secretary informed us 1330 that every party in the House would be represented on it. I understood what he meant when he looked at me and added "wherever practicable." I do not know how much effect his words will have on you, Sir, but my party is one of the biggest in the country from the point of view of individual membership and financial and other support from the masses of the people, and should be represented on the Conference. I should like to say—as I do not think anyone will say it—that I have had a lot of experience of committees, and the sorting out all kinds of difficult problems, and I am certain that if you, Sir, decide to invite me, I shall be of very great assistance to you. So much for that.
The next thing is that the Home Secretary, in presenting this question of the Speaker's Conference, emphasised the wrong subject. He dealt with redistribution as the most important question with which the Conference would have to deal. He mentioned the difficulties that would arise and said how pleased he was to throw the burden of solving them on to anyone other than himself and his Department. He drew our attention, for instance, to a country area where a factory had been built for war purposes with 20,000 employees, and asked what was to happen to those who were housed about the factory. He said that that was one of the problems which the Speaker's Conference will have to deal with. I heard one Member say that the Home Secretary made a statesmanlike speech. That is possible because he is an expert at dealing with trifles and in dodging the big things.
How is it possible for the Home Secretary to present as the problem an industry in some country district with 20,000 employees in view of the fact that the House has discussed time and again the question of the redistribution of industries? That is the big problem; it is not that of some small industry which has been erected in a country district. One of the most urgent questions before the Government is that of the location of industries, whether they are to be concentrated as they have been in one or two areas, or whether the big monopolies are to be broken up so that other parts of the country can have a share of factories and employment. How is it possible for the Speaker's Conference to decide on redistribution 1331 unless they know what the Government's plans are in connection with the location of industries? Are we to get a situation in which the Government hope that the Conference will decide on a scheme of redistribution and then they will be able to say, "We cannot discuss the location of industries now"? Or are we to have a scheme of redistribution before we decide on the location of industries, so that we should have to have another Speaker's Conference to make a new redistribution after we decide on the location of industry? The Conference cannot tackle redistribution in any serious way unless we have the Government's plans for reconstruction after the war, with particular reference to the location of industry.
The big question is who is to vote and how they will vote, and one thing which the Conference should consider is the age of voting. Lads of 18 are being conscripted to work and to defend the country. Are they to get a vote at 18? The Speaker's Conference must decide that. If my life depended on it, I would rather place myself on the mercy of these lads of 18 than on any of the ancient and anything but venerable objects on the other side of the House. How are they to vote? An amazing speech was made yesterday by the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). He used to parade himself throughout Scotland as an authority on Marxism. He could write a fine thesis on how he has degenerated from pseudo-Marxism to real Conservatism. At all casts, he says, we must preserve things as they are. That was the whole theme of his argument. If we have a change, he says, anything can happen. I would point out that the Labour movement was built up on urging on the masses of the people the need for change. The Labour movement was going to force Liberals and Tories into one camp and then by a frontal attack sweep the capitalist system, the capitalist class and the capitalist parties out of existence. Now, says the hon. Member, preserve things as they are and do not let us have any change. He does not put a question on moral grounds like the Common Wealth Member did. The leader of Common Wealth had an awful job the other day explaining the morality of the warriors.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
The hon. Member is going rather too much into party questions. We might get back a little more on to election questions.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I just got into a side issue in view of the representative of Common Wealth being desirous of dissociating Common Wealth from the Communists. I want to make it clear that he need have no fear of the Communists in any way trying to follow the high moral sentiments of Common Wealth, which so easily are turned into an alliance of expediency. They can still make their alliance with the non-warriors in front, if they so desire. The hon. Member for East Stirling never suggested that the present method was a better or fairer method than the single transferable vote. He never took into account the rightness or wrongness from the point of view of representation. The only thing he could think of was that there would be splinter parties formed at the expense of the Labour Party; the Conservative Party would remain constant and the bad effect would be felt by the Labour Party. Obviously he has forgotten anything he ever knew about politics or Marxist dialectics if he can make such a suggestion as that.
If we had the position politically as it existed in 1939 or 1935 and had Proportional Representation, the Labour Party would have a far bigger representation and the Conservative Party a far smaller one. Since 1935, and particularly since 1939, there has been a terrific political development in this country. Look at the millions of new people, many of them women who have been brought into industry. What are they thinking about and discussing? Are they discussing Conservatism? No, they are miles ahead of the people on the other side, the people who cheered the last Prime Minister and stood on their feet and hooted the present Prime Minister out of the House. If there is an election on the basis of Proportional Representation I am positive, judging from the political development that has taken place in this country, that the Labour Party would have a substantial majority. Any splinters would be splinters from the Conservative Party. The Common Wealth is a splinter from the Conservative Party playing up to the middle class and the weakness of the Labour Party. The Labour Party has not 1333 attracted the middle class because of the weakness of its policy, and Common Wealth has taken advantage of this.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson
Has the hon. Gentleman any knowledge of how the votes were cast in the recent by-election at Skipton? I can assure him that the bulk of the votes for me were Labour votes.
§ Mr. Gallacher
But the hon. Member himself, when speaking the other day, said that the decisive factor was the farmers' votes in view of their dissatisfaction with the Government. With Proportional Representation the whole tendency will be to split sections away from the Conservative Party, not from the strongly organised working-class movement. If there were any tendency to weakness in the labour movement it would not be because of Proportional Representation. It would arise from the fact that the leadership of the Labour movement and the movement as a whole were not prosecuting strongly enough the policy for which the party has always stood. That is the only thing that will hinder the growth of the Labour Party. With Proportional Representation the party could have a majority at the next election. I have not the faintest doubt about that from whit I know of the working class in both urban and rural centres. Let the Labour movement seriously consider this and go for the best method of getting the feelings and opinions of the masses of the people expressed. I am certain that if they go for the best method they will see that the single transferable vote will provide a better opportunity for that.
The Speaker's Conference should finish for ever the university and business man's vote. They are anomalies which represent the past, and they should be dead and buried with the past. I agree with those who have taken up the question of cars and expenses. Those sources of minor corruption should be eliminated and rules and regulations laid down for regulating them. I think that the £150 deposit should be abolished. We should not reduce an election to the position of a sheriff's court imposing a penalty on those who happen to be insufficiently strong to get a certain number of votes. We should have, instead of a deposit, 150 signatures to the nomination paper. That number would represent a considerable vote in support of a candidate, and they would guarantee that the candidate actually 1334 represented a basis of feeling in a constituency. The Speaker's Conference would be well advised to overhaul the electoral system and to try for the first time a new method of getting the best and the most effective representation of the will of the people.
§ Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)
Yesterday and to-day we have heard the views of representatives of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As the first Member for a Welsh constituency to have the good fortune to catch your eye, Sir, I welcome the opportunity of congratulating my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the fair and impartial manner in which he has presented the Motion. In spite of what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has said, it is inconceivable that any Member would oppose such a Motion in the Lobby. Indeed, it is only a war of a magnitude hitherto unknown in history which could have prevented the Motion being presented years ago.
When the Motion has been accepted by the House, and the consequent machinery has been put into motion, it will be a further step towards ordered and fair Parliamentary representation. The first step, of course, has already been taken. The House has passed the Parliamentary Elections and Meetings Act which will correct the absurd position which exists to-day up and down the country in regard to the franchise. At the moment it is fantastic, I think, for this House to know that in the birthplace of the Mother of Parliaments, no person under 30 has ever voted at a General Election and no person under 26 years of age has voted at a by-election.
The report of the Committee on Electoral Machinery, commonly known as the Vivian Committee, disclosed conditions of inequality in the representative status of Members which no true and sincere supporter of a Parliamentary form of government could possibly defend. The Vivian Committee expounded the following principles; the sense of which, I gather from the speech of the Home Secretary has, for practical purposes, been incorporated in the terms of reference which are to be submitted to Mr. Speaker's Conference. The Vivian Committee used the following words:
To take first, the question of quotas, I gather that the figure of 54,000 or 55,000 electors per Member has been mentioned. I feel sure that hon. Members will share the view that this figure is about the limit of the load which a Member of Parliament can usually carry in times of peace and discharge his duties to his constituents with that full efficiency he would like. I gather, too, that if redistribution took place on those lines, it would only result in the membership of this House being increased by approximately 15 to 20 Members. In expressing that view, I do hope I carry with me the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and the hon. Members for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) and West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) because in 1941 they only had an estimated electorate of under 18,000. At least, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir R. Blair) and the hon. Gentleman who represents Rom-ford (Mr. J. Parker) will agree as they both had an estimated electorate of between 210,000 and 220,000—an impossible task, even for their acknowledged abilities.
- "1. Equal representative status of Members as a basis of representative government.
- 2. The necessity for the fixing of a quota for the determination of areas to which seats
1335 should be assigned in their equal content of persons to be represented."
Of course, in Wales the position is a little different. We do not go in for the ultra big or the ultra small constituencies. As the House is aware we are not so extreme in the Principality. There are only four seats out of the 36, which are over 1,000 electors or so, in excess of what, undoubtedly, will be a normal constituency. Flintshire, for instance, has over 82,000 electors, Llanelly (Carmarthenshire) over 70,000; Neath in Glamorganshire over 65,000 and Llandaff and Barry over 82,000. The rest of the county and boroughs seats in the Principality are of a moderate and normal size, except Merionethshire, which only has under 30,000 electors. I was very interested yesterday in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) because I assumed from what he said that he was speaking officially on behalf of the Labour Party, and he seemed to me to express some doubt as to whether it would be possible either to carry out partial or complete redistribution before a general election takes place. These doubts affirmed by the representatives of 1336 his Party who signed the Minority Report of the Vivian Committee. These representatives set down reservations which appeared to me to apply to any redistribution now or in the future. They objected to a redistribution now on the grounds which the remainder of the Committee did not consider convincing to either a full or a partial redistribution, notwithstanding the undoubted maldistribution disclosed in the report. Personally, I want to say I found myself in agreement with the majority of the Committee and I am surprised to find members of the Labour Party supporting a system which favours the rich, and sometimes the incompetent, candidate.
I hope Mr. Speaker's Conference will accept the recommendation of His Majesty's Government to set up a Boundary Commission of a permanent character with permanent functions because this would allow adjustment to be made automatically at given periods without the Government of the day having to come to the House from time to time and go through the machinery of Debate, conferences and legislation. Moreover, it will bring our legislation and practice into line, now that we have passed the Elections and Meetings Act. I hope that subject always to a measure of discretion the principle of coterminous boundaries, for Parliamentary and local government constituencies, will be adopted as I feel it would make for the better representation by the Member of Parliament. Take the city of Cardiff, for instance. It is hard to justify, I think at the moment, certain portions of adjoining county constituencies being included in the city's Parliamentary divisions. Whether this would benefit the sitting Conservative Members I am far from convinced, but from the view of community interest, and the more general interest of Cardiff itself, especially when it will, I hope, be the seat of the Welsh Office to be, there can be no doubt that a change of Parliamentary boundaries would be in the public interest.
The object, as I see it, is to make the political interest of areas as uniform and compact as possible. In general, too, I think it would be conceded that a county division, owing to the difficulties a "Knight of the Shire" has in covering wide distances, needs special consideration. We have listened to a lot of arguments 1337 to-day on the question of Proportional Representation, proposals largely put forward by members of the Liberal Parties and supported in one or two isolated instances by the British Common Wealth Party and a Member who spoke from the Front Bench of the Labour Party.
It is interesting to note that in the last General Election in Wales in 1935 Liberals of all parties, groups and pockets, including the Ernest Brown Liberal Nationals, polled over 196,000 votes in the Principality with the result that they returned 10 Members to this House. On the other hand, the Conservative Party polled 204,000 votes and returned only six Members. In other words, we polled 8,000 more votes than the Liberals and returned four less members. I only make this reference to observe that, in spite of that unfortunate experience, we are still opposed to Proportional Representation. We take the view that there is sufficient log-rolling as it is, without our 36 members being divided into still smaller groups and smaller pockets with the resultant bargaining and back-scratching which would have to take place whenever the Parliamentary representatives of Wales were anxious to present a united front in the interests of their people.
I have always taken the view that the success of our Parliamentary system has been in a large measure due to the party system—nothing in this world being perfect. From the experience of groups in the French Chambre des Deputies I shudder to think what might happen in this country, if we were faced with a similar situation. What this country requires for the next 25 years at least is a strong Government, with a strong majority behind it. Minority governments, dependent on the good will of a number of small parties or groups, would not get our people through the troubles which this country will have to face in the future and, in my view, Proportional Representation might very well bring that state of affairs about. Proportional Representation is another device to revive a system that is inefficient and antiquated. It faces none of the vital problems of political and social organisation, and its adoption would prolong an illusion that everything for the best is being done. I, personally, do not like Proportional Representation even in universities and I hope when universities 1338 come under review at the Conference that the aspect of their election will also be examined. I do venture to express the hope, however, that university representation will not be abolished in this House. From time to time, the universities do produce some very interesting and rare specimens, and now that the activities of universities are widening, I hope their representation in this House will long continue. Quite frankly, I firmly believe that the rarefied atmosphere which is cast on our Debates in this House and on the problems in our industries by the learned and hon. Gentlemen who hailed from Aberystwyth, Oxford and Cambridge and other distant parts is very beneficial to the body politic.
I want to say a word or two about expenses. I think that in a large measure we ourselves are to blame for the very high expenses of elections. I feel that candidates of all political parties, and particularly of my own, are involved in high expenditure at the time of election—not from the point of view of necessity—but from the point of view of custom. There are a lot of people one finds associated with oneself at election times, who are "on the make" and who look upon such times as a unique opportunity to "make a quid or two on the side"—as a right. They say, "We are not spending the same amount of money as our opponents in this particular ward. Why do we not"—we, mark you—"spend more?" They forget they are spending nothing and only increasing the candidate's expenditure, and I feel there is no necessity to expend even the amount of money which is allowed under the law as it exists to-day. I well remember in 1931, at the time of the financial crisis, I cut my election expenditure down by two-thirds and retained my seat, in fact, increasing my majority. If we want to face the expense of plastering our constituencies with very flattering and untrue photographs in the form of posters, at the cost of hundreds of pounds, it is no good coming to this House and complaining. I hope that your Conference, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to sit, will examine this all important question of expenses, because in every quarter of the House we are anxious for the gates to be as wide open as possible to talented and experienced young men who would make a valuable contribution in this House, irrespective of financial standing.
1339 There are many ways in which expenses can be cut down, some have already been suggested in the course of the Debate, and they include distribution of the poll cards by the authorities instead of by the candidates. I have always followed the practice mentioned by other hon. Members and only used the free postage which has been placed at my disposal. I have never indulged in the luxury of an extra paid postage, as one can do. In other ways expenditure could be cut down. If agents were not faced with the necessity of hiring halls and including the cost in their election expenses it would go some way towards reducing expenditure. Perhaps halls might be provided by the local authorities at the public cost.
In conclusion, please allow me to express the hope that it will be possible for an interim report on questions of redistribution of seats to be submitted to the Government with all possible speed so as to ensure that the new Measure is ready before a General Election takes place. We have all expressed our true belief in a democratic form of Government. Let us therefore take this opportunity to prove to the world, by our unanimous acceptance of this Motion, and by the setting up of your Conference, Mr. Speaker, as well as by the passing of the subsequent legislation, that our system and practice is not only worthy of the Mother of Parliaments but from now on will always be up-to-date and in step with changing conditions.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I do not propose to follow or to reiterate what has already been said in the course of the Debate. I have a profound feeling that there is a great deal of unreality associated with the Debate. What is the subject matter of it? The principal matter that concerns most Members of this House is redistribution, and the alleged reasons for redistribution of seats. It throws a very interesting light on the anarchy of our political and economic life in these islands. It is agreed that the Conference over which you have consented to preside, Mr. Speaker, is being brought into being because of the great shiftings and movements that have taken place in our population. For a few minutes I want to examine the causes of those movements, and I must say, with all respect, that merely dabbling with our political system, without paying regard to the economic and 1340 industrial life of our people, and that attempting to establish an improved political organisation and system on those shifting sands, will lead us nowhere and can only mislead the people of this country.
Regarding this talk about the redistribution of seats, why has the population of our country shifted and shifted so substantially during the last quarter of a century? It has been uncontrolled and it has been determined by only one thing, the enforced pursuit on the part of millions of our people of the means of subsistence, the means to live. What were these economic causes? I have had no assurance, either during this Debate or during preceding Debates on all sorts of subjects, that any kind of control will be placed upon further movements of our population. These causes which compel our people to be uprooted from their own communities and be buffeted up and down these islands are presumably not to bb touched at all. At any rate, I have seen no signs on the part of this Government that they propose seriously to tackle these causes at all.
I repeat the question; why has this need for the redistribution of our seats been raised, what has compelled it to be raised in this Debate? The principal causes were that, during the inter-war period, 2,000 of our collieries were closed, rendering populous communities derelict; hundreds of factories and workshops were closed down, most of our shipbuilding yards abandoned, and hundreds of thousands of acres of food-producing land abandoned, as the means of livelihood, of subsistence, of our people were taken away from them. And we are still talking about stabilising and improving our political representation in this country on the assumption that these movements will not take place, and, that we may possibly reverse, willy-nilly, the course which events took between the two wars. I must be perfectly frank. I cannot be persuaded that the Government are sincere in facing this problem. The same causes that brought about the partial destruction of many communities in this country after the last war, will, presumably, operate after this war, and the same uprooting of hundreds of thousands of our families will be the consequence. Industries will be closed, presumably, without any consultation with this 1341 Government. Up to now, the Government have refused to take measures to control industry in this country, and unless economic and industrial security is to be granted to the people of this country, we can talk until Doomsday about redistributing the Parliamentary seats of this country. My own small county lost 500,000 men, women and children between the two wars, and the Government were indifferent, or afraid to obtrude upon the inviolability of the anarchists who were responsible for plunging millions of our own people into poverty between the two wars. What was the result of that? Most of our local government services were hamstrung. As I said, hundreds of thousands of our people were plunged into poverty. Our medical services could not cope with the work confronting them.
§ Mr. Davies
My point is that this Conference, I say this with profound respect, Mr. Speaker, must be abortive, unless the basic conditions that control life in this country and control the movements of our people are first dealt with.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member did not go further, it would be all right, but to go on to describe each one of those basic conditions in detail, would lead the Debate on to subjects which are quite irrelevant to that now under discussion.
§ Mr. Davies
If I get an opportunity I shall vote against the Motion on the Order Paper, and I have a feeling as a humble Member of this House, I am entitled to give my reasons as to why I should vote against it. I am not satisfied that the Government are sincere in this matter. I, like many people in the country, am getting tired of the strenuous ineptitude of the Government. I do not wish, in any way, to cut across your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I have always shown at least a desire to recognise it, but I must say I have a feeling that you, Sir, with all the kindness and concern you have ever shown, not only to this House but to the people of this country, are being placed at an impossible disadvantage. No political structure satisfactory to the people of this country can be reared upon the shifting sands of private ownership. Unless control of industry and control over the location of the industries of this country can 1342 be achieved, I am of the opinion that the Government are perpetrating a farce, adding to the injuries that other Governments of the kind have perpetrated at the expense of our people in the past. If I get an opportunity of protesting against the sham which is being perpetrated I shall do so. It is a sham unless the Government can be forced to make up their mind to tackle the basic conditions of life for our own people, to guarantee that those basic conditions shall be provided for them in the communities wherein they dwell at present.
Unless that be done I am confident of one thing, and this confidence brings me no pleasure—that within five years of this war Coming to an end, there will be another clamour for redistributing seats. Life cannot be organised unless the Government are determined to organise it, and we shall again suffer from the consequences of the anarchy which destroyed so much of the productive forces of this country and so many of our industries and plunged so many of our own people into poverty, and drove them away from their homes, after the last war. That is just what the Government are proferring to us now. They are presenting us with shams, and they are not prepared to get down to the hard basic facts of human existence in these islands of ours.
§ Mr. Hewlett (Manchester, Exchange)
I am not going to attempt to follow the last speaker, but I want to say that I was most impressed with the speech of the Home Secretary yesterday. I entirely agree with him on the four headings under which he suggested that electoral reform might be achieved. I listened with attention to the excellent and well-reasoned speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), and I agreed with him generally, although I consider he did not pay sufficient attention to anomalies in the Provinces; he concentrated on the anomalies in London and the Home Counties. I am strongly in favour of redistribution. If it is felt that general redistribution cannot take place at present, I consider that partial redistribution is necessary to take care of some of the more serious anomalies.
I am going to bring to the notice of hon. Members one of the most outstanding anomalies. It occurs in the constituency in which I reside. Altrincham, with an electorate of 119,290, embraces also 1343 Wythenshaw, which is a satellite town of Manchester, and which had 20,572 voters under the Local Elections and Register of Electors (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939. It has been decided by the Manchester City Council that the first houses to be built shall be on the Wythenshaw estate, and that 11,000 houses shall be built there. Assuming two voters to each house, this will mean an additional 22,000 voters, bringing the number in Wythenshaw to over 42,000. These extra 22,000 will increase the Parliamentary electorate of Altrincham by approximately a similar number. Here is an outstanding anomaly. The 42,000 voters will be, for municipal purposes, voters in the City of Manchester, but, under present conditions, they will continue to be in the Parliamentary borough of Altrincham, which is in the county of Cheshire. I maintain that municipal voters in the City of Manchester should be Parliamentary voters in the city of Manchester also, and not Parliamentary voters in another city which is in a different county. I want to refer to the question of free postages. I think that there should be one free postage, as at present. I agree with the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking) that the State should assume the obligation, through the returning officer, of sending the elector his polling card and that it should be despatched by the returning officer or his deputy within a stipulated period prior to the election date. It should then be made illegal for any candidate to send a voter a polling card. This would effect a general reduction in expense and stop duplication. I am in favour of all schools which receive grants from public funds and all elementary schools available under the present law being placed at the disposal of candidates for public meetings, without any charge of any description. I am strongly in favour of the continuance of the business vote.
It will hardly be possible to abolish the business vote without a general redistribution. The effect on the small traders of abolishing the business vote would be unfortunate, having regard to the undertakings which have been given in connection with post-war reconstruction. The reasons which govern the exception generally made for the City of London, as in the Labour Govetnment's Bill of 1931, 1344 apply equally to the business electorates of the other large boroughs. With the exception of the City of London, which has 33,542 business voters and two Members, the constituency that I represent has the largest number of business voters in the country, 14,244, out of a total electorate of 44,959. I ask my Labour friends why should they suggest that the City of London should continue with the business vote and not allow the same consideration to Manchester (Exchange) and other constituencies? We in the North maintain that our constituents are entitled to the same consideration as those of the City of London. I am not arguing for what is termed big business, as the big business houses, the insurance companies, the banks and other such organisations are invariably limited liability companies, and therefore are not entitled to votes.
The people I am speaking for are the small traders and others who pay rates and taxes in my constituency and therefore in my opinion are fully entitled to a continuance of the business vote. In the case of the City of London reference was made to its historical traditions, but Manchester (Exchange) has also historical traditions. It was at one time known as-Manchester (North West Division), and has in the past been represented by such outstanding personalities as the late Mr. Bonar Law, the late Sir William Joynson-Hicks and our present Prime Minister, all of whom have made their contributions to history and tradition and have represented the very heart of the business and commercial interests of the City of Manchester. I wonder whether any other constituency can boast that it has had two Prime Ministers and one Home Secretary to represent it in recent times.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Although Proportional Representation and redistribution and election expenses are all extremely important, there is one other item on the agenda for the Conference which has been hardly touched upon, at any rate in the speeches I have heard. In an attempt to secure brevity—or shall I say, an absence of long-windedness?—I will confine myself to one aspect of this particular point. I refer to the reform of the franchise. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) touched very slightly in passing on the point that I want to make in a little further detail. I 1345 want to suggest that the Conference should consider seriously the extension of the vote to all men and women who have reached the age of 18. I know that the first reaction of many people to this suggestion, when it is first made to them, is an instantly negative reaction: it seems too drastic, too sweeping, a reform of our franchise. But I imagine that that was also the reaction when the question of voles for women was first raised, or any of the many reforms which have in the course of centuries been made in our franchise.
I should like to urge that it should be considered on its merits, and not simply in an emotional way. The emotional argument for it, which was put briefly by the hon. Member for West Fife, is, of course, quite obvious, and is not necessarily invalid because there is the element of emotion in it. It is simply that if you conscript young men to fight and to die for their country, and if you conscript them to go down the pits and dig coal for their country, you should allow them at the same age a reasonable exercise of their citizen rights and their votes. This emotional appeal is strongest in war-time, and it has been recognised in some of our Dominions and in other countries. Australia allows votes at 18 for the Forces overseas. New Zealand allows voles at 18 for all members of the Forces.
Incidentally, if this is any consolation, it was the Service vote which recently saved the New Zealand Government. In the Soviet Union, the franchise at 18 is universal. In the United States, the Office of War Information has been good enough to inform me, the House Joint Resolution proposing the extension of the franchise to 18 was still under consideration by a committee of the House of Representatives on 23rd December last, and there has been no further news about it since then. If this matter is worth consideration by a Congress Committee in the United States, it might also, I suggest, be worth consideration by the Conference over which you, Sir, it is hoped, are to preside.
If I may, with the greatest possible respect, give a passing illustration of this principle much nearer home, without going overseas at all, it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that this House recently endorsed unanimously the constitutional theory that the Heir to the Throne comes of age and enters upon full, 1346 responsible maturity, at 18. It surely cannot be suggested that the children of ordinary middle-class or working-class families, or, for that matter, boys and girls who have been to public schools, are necessarily and innately more likely to be backward when they reach the age of 18 than the children of kings or commissars. At any rate, if it can be so suggested, it is a very serious reflection upon our educational system. That brings me to what is perhaps the strongest point in this argument, that such a reform as that I am advocating would tie up very conveniently with the great new educational reforms that the President of the Board of Education is now initiating. You are going to take your youths and your girls and educate them continuously, for part of the time at any rate, up to the age of 18, and you then discharge them on the world as reasonably mature citizens. Part of this scheme is to be, we are told—and many Members of this House have urged—that they are going to be given, during the years of adolescence, education in citizenship; and it seems rather a pity that there should be a gap of three years before they can exercise that citizenship after having been initiated into it at the age of 18. Moreover, with General Elections at an interval of five years or so, normally, there will be, as there has been in the past, a regrettable extra delay before many of them can exercise their vote, even when the franchise is extended to those of 21, as it is nominally now, but only nominally owing to the obsolete register. If it were extended to those of 18, the age at which most people in this country would be able, in practice, to vote would obviously be lowered also, and very beneficially.
Many people will say that at the age of 18 a boy's mind or a girl's views are not sufficiently formed to enable them to vote sensibly and with judgment. This is a purely subjective argument. You cannot very well give statistical data on either side. But my impression is that the formative years in these matters are from 16 to 18, and that, if a boy is flippant and frivolous at the age of 18, he will probably still be flippant and frivolous at the age of 21, and if, vice versa, he is politically minded and serious and takes an intelligent interest in things at the age of 21, that process will probably have started by about the age of 18. There is really a strong case to be made, both in 1347 sentiment and in logic, for this extension of the franchise, and I hope that it may find a place on the agenda and be considered by the Conference with scrupulous care and with that impartially which your chairmanship, Sir, will guarantee.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
The hon. Member for the Maldon Division (Mr. Driberg) has put an attractive point to the House in an attractive way, and I am sure he will forgive me if I do not endeavour to deal with his point at any great length. The short answer seems to me to be this. The Speaker's Conference will have to deal with our electoral law for a very long time ahead. Although most of us would gladly extend the franchise to these young people who have been called upon to serve during the war, there is a question involved of much greater significance. Ought we to decide that a young person on reaching the age of 18 should be entitled to the Parliamentary franchise? That seems to be a much wider and a more serious question than the immediate question of whether young persons of that age who have served in the war should be given the vote. Before we determine that the Parliamentary franchise should be extended in this way, we ought to consider very carefully the full implications of such a fundamental change in an electoral law.
I followed very carefully the speech made by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) and the speech made by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). The argument which the hon. Member for Merthyr put was that, until decisions had been taken upon fundamental economic questions affecting the structure of our national life, it would be wrong for the Speaker's Conference to attempt any substantial measure or indeed, any measure at all, of redistribution. I represent a constituency with 123,000 electors. It is the biggest single Member borough in the country, and, if you take the county divisions, there are only four county divisions with a greater number of electors than that. These people are insufficiently represented at present in Parliament. The argument developed by the hon. Member for Merthyr and the hon. Member for West Fife seems to lead to this, that those persons are to go on being inadequately represented for an almost indefinite period of time, until decisions 1348 have been taken upon matters which really have no direct relation to the question of Parliamentary representation at all.
Up to a point, I agree with the hon. Member for West Fife that the immediate future will not prove to be the right time for carrying out a permanent measure of redistribution. But that does not preclude a measure of partial redistribution which can, and ought, to be carried out before the next General Election takes place, so as to afford an adequate and sufficient Parliamentary representation to those great populations which at present are not sufficiently represented in this House. I make the suggestion that the Conference should consider whether that partial redistribution might not be carried out in this way. First, you should fix an upper limit above which no constituency, so far as is possible and practicable, should be allowed to continue without some measure of readjustment. Secondly, you should fix a lower limit below which a constituency should not be allowed to enjoy continued independent existence. That, generally speaking, would produce the result that those constituencies which are so great that their people now justly corn-plain they have not sufficient representation would be given the representation which they are entitled to have, and that those constituencies which are so small that their continued independent representation amounts really to an injustice to other parts of the country should cease to have a separate existence. I found myself very much in agreement with something which was said by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) yesterday. I hope that, when this rearrangement of constituency boundaries takes place, the Commission will bear in mind the point which the hon. Member made—that, where a constituency has what is sometimes called a community of interest, they should not be so exact in their adjustment of boundaries as to destroy that common interest which so many constituencies at present possess.
Even in these very large constituencies, the representation under present conditions of these great masses of population is made possible by the fact that in many cases these constituencies possess a very strong community of interest. I doubt whether it would be possible for the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) to discharge the duties which he does discharge 1349 to his constituents if that was not true of his constituency, as well as mine. Perhaps that is more true in a borough than in a county constituency; but it would be a regrettable thing if the Boundary Commissioners in their search for uniformity destroyed this very valuable characteristic. That observation applies to the smallest with just the same force as to the biggest. The small constituency which has for many years enjoyed separate representation often possesses this characteristic of community of interest. I should be sorry if they ceased to enjoy a separate existence.
Let me pass from the question of redistribution to a topic about which I think very little has been said—the question of the local government franchise. I think that the last thing that all of us desire is that local government elections should be postponed in future for any substantial period of time. I believe that the country desires to go back again to the system of elections in local government and I believe that the sooner we do it the better. It is not at present a practicable proposition, for many reasons. There are difficulties about staff, and difficulties of population and all the other matters which make local elections a very difficult thing. At the same time, I think that the public wish to go back to local elections as soon as they can. No obstacles connected with the Register ought to delay that taking place.
Much has been said in this Debate upon the subject of Proportional Representation. I have no intention of entering into that subject. Except to say this, that I hope that the Conference will not come to the conclusion that Proportional Representation ought to be tried out first in local government. I know there are certain quarters in which the view is held that local authorities would be the proper subject for experiment in the first place. Without entering into the merits or demerits of Proportional Representation, let me say this: All the objections which have been advanced in different parts of the House to the system of Proportional Representation apply with equal force, or in some cases with greater force, to the local government franchise. The hon. Baronet shakes his head, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that the objections to Proportional Representation apply with equal force in the sphere of local government elections.
§ Sir P. Harris
Does the hon. and learned Member not know that there are boroughs in London where there is no minority representation at all—some boroughs which are entirely Conservative and others entirely Labour? It is a hopeless system and I have nothing to say for it.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Proportional Representation is not going to produce any different result in local government elections, any more than it has done in university elections. I hope the Conference will not recommend that experiment. With regard to the business vote in local government elections, my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mr. Hewlett) has already stated the reasons why the business vote ought to be retained. All those reasons apply with equal forces in the sphere of local government. I hope that, here again, if an alteration is made in the local government franchise, the business voter will not be excluded from his right to determine the policy of the authority, to whom he is called upon to make such substantial contribution in rates.
In one or two quarters of the House, though not many, it has been suggested that university representation is an anomaly which should come to an end. In these days, when we attach so much importance to education, it would not be much encouragement to those who look for an advance in our system of education to begin by withdrawing this special privilege—for I agree that it is a special privilege—of the unversity graduate to a separate vote. There is this further argument, perhaps it is an even stronger argument. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon said yesterday that, if we lost the university Members from this House, we should lose a valuable element which is not to be found in ordinary constituency representation. For that reason, if for no other, let us retain the practice which has existed for so long and keep our university representatives. In conclusion, I trust, Mr. Speaker, that your Conference will enter upon their task knowing that they possess the full confidence of this House and that we shall all look forward to benefit from the results of your labours.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
I would like to make it clear that I am not speaking on behalf of my party officially, but as one who is interested in the question of 1351 redistribution. The first point I would like to make, and one of local patriotism is this: My constituency, despite what has been said by others in this Debate, still claims to be the largest in the country at the present time. Taking the most recent war-time figures compiled, by the various town clerks whose areas are in my division there are 205,000 registered persons with food cards. If you take account of the Service people attached to these families, the number is about 275,000 adults, who would have the right to vote in my constituency at a normal election. That is an enormous number and it is difficult for one man to try to represent that number of people in this House. Since the war, the position has worsened as a result of the blitz, which has brought populations from other areas, notably the East End of London, into my constituency.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
The hon. Member said there were 205,000 people with food cards. Does that include children?
§ Mr. Parker
I am sorry, I meant 205,000 people of 21 and over. When you consider any proposals for redistribution you have to take into account both the rebuilding of destroyed areas and the new housing areas that may be planned for after the war. It will be difficult to carry out fairly at the present time any big scheme of redistribution but I would argue this: If redistribution is to take place, I would much prefer a general system to a partial system. I am quite certain that a partial system would come out unfairly as between the parties, taking their position in the country as a whole. Even given the difficulties of having a scheme of general redistribution, I prefer that, because with a general system I am quite certain that that will be fairer as between the parties throughout the country. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking) or the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), who are in favour of a partial system of redistribution.
Another difficult point is that if you have a partial scheme in wartime and a general scheme at a later date when is that general scheme to be carried out? People have assumed that there will be 1352 some period of normality soon after the war so that you could carry out a general scheme of redistribution. I do not see a period immediately following the war when we shall have a stabilised population. The Government have stated that they are planning a 10 years' housing programme after the war. At what period in this programme is this redistribution to take place? As I have said, given all the difficulties of having redistribution at the present time I think that is much better than a partial scheme now and a more general scheme immediately after the war. In making an attempt at general redistribution now the Boundary Commission however would have to take into account a number of difficult factors and try to weigh them in as impartial a way as possible. They would have to take into account the present population, the 1939 population and also any housing or industrial plans that would be well advanced with regard to the post-war period. I agree that it would be difficult to come to a fair decision, taking all these factors into account, but it will have to be done. It would be much fairer to have a general redistribution rather than a partial one, especially bearing in mind that on all sides of the House there is agreement that we should set up a permanent Boundary Commission which can review the situation as alterations take place in the postwar years.
Another strong reason for a general scheme now is that local government reform is obviously overdue. It is a subject which the Government do not feel inclined to tackle. They are taking the line that they must prepare schemes of reconstruction in many fields and that they will postpone the question of local government reform until after they have brought forward their other reconstructional schemes. It looks as though proposals for local government reform and alteration of boundaries will take place some time after the war and certainly not during the war. If you have your general redistribution, now the Boundary Commission can, after the war, rearrange or alter boundary constituencies to suit the alterations that may then be made in local government boundaries. If we are not to have general redistribution now you automatically postpone the question until local government reform has been dealt with, probably some considerable time after the war.
1353 I agree that so far as possible Parliamentary boundaries should coincide with local government boundaries. May I give an example from my own experience? I was a candidate once in the Holland with Boston Division of Lincolnshire. During that period there were boundary alterations. The county boundaries were old and followed the old watercourses, and it was arranged by adjacent county councils to alter them and run them along important dykes, which were much better boundaries. It meant that continuously one had to face the fact that the local government area was different from the Parliamentary area. If you had a permanent Boundary Commission in being when these local government alterations took place then, automatically, recommendations could be made to this House to bring the boundaries into line. This would mean a simplification of election machinery, among other things. This permanent boundary commission should be able, not merely from time to time to make big alterations, but to make small alterations of this kind as the need arose.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
What kind of local government boundary is the hon. Member talking about? Is he talking about urban and rural district boundaries or is he including parish boundaries? Would he say that the dividing line between the Parliamentary and local government constituencies should follow the course of the parish boundary?
§ Mr. Parker
I think with regard to the constituency boundaries, unless the parish alterations affected larger units, one would normally have to stick to the district boundary, but that would obviously be a matter which the Boundary Commission would consider, and if there were important alterations to be made in parish boundaries, they would have to make a recommendation to the House on the matter.
To leave this question of the permanent commission which, I think, will do very valuable work and greatly simplify electoral machinery in dealing with boundary questions, I would like to speak about local government and national elections in law and practice. A case has been put forward for having one franchise for local government elections and national elections. I agree with that, but I would 1354 also ask the Speaker's Conference to consider unifying the whole of election law as far as possible, to have one codified system of law for local government and for national elections. With regard to the hours of elections, a few years ago we had a very peculiar chaos of arrangements about the hours of elections for local government purposes. It was a fact that in urban districts the county council could fix whatever hours it liked for local government elections. That is still the position. In my own constituency, it happens, that the town of Rom ford changed from an urban district to a borough, whereupon it came under another law and its hours were automatically restricted to 8 o'clock in the evening, whereas, previously it had been 9 o'clock. Owing to the kindness of Members of this House, I was able to get a small Bill through under the Ten Minute Rule which enabled boroughs also to extend their hours. But there are still a number of anomalies in this particular field, and I would suggest it would simplify the whole position, if all the arrangements with regard to elections, both local and national government, were unified to get rid of these anomalies.
I was very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Charley (Sir D. Hacking) attack contributions to charities by Members or candidates in their constituencies. I hope that point will be gone into by the Speaker's Conference. It is one of the biggest abuses at present that wealthy Members can give large donations to local hospitals and so on and thus unduly affect the result of an election. Possibly some arrangement might be made for a two year's ban on the Parliamentary candidature of anyone giving to charities in that area and a schedule of the kind of charities covered drawn up.
With regard to business votes, I am quite certain if it were a question of creating now a business vote for the first time the case has not been proved. The argument has taken place on its possible abolition, but if it had not existed and we had to create it as something new, I say quite definitely the case has not been proved in this Debate. We are told that big business does not make much use of the business vote, but that small tradesmen living in one place and having business premises elsewhere, or solicitors and other professional people who live in one 1355 place and have an office somewhere else ought to have a double vote. Why should they, when the man who happens to live over his shop does not have it? Why should they have it, when the doctor in the small town may have a separate house and surgery but both being inside the same constituency only has one vote? The logical conclusion to that argument of my hon. Friend is that everyone should have a double vote who lives and works in different places. If that is the argument put forward, my hon. Friends on this side of the House would probably take a very different attitude towards the business vote. That is the only logical conclusion of this argument because the business vote, as it has now become, is a special privilege given to one section of the community who are given two votes for no particular reason.
On the question of university elections, I share the views of my hon. Friends on this side of the House in favour of their abolition but I think it is unlikely they will be abolished in this Parliament, so I would like to draw the attention of the Speaker's Conference to the many anomalies which take place at present in university elections which are very undesirable indeed. I am quite certain that it was the intention of this House when university constituencies were created, and particularly in 1918, that all graduates—both men and women—should have a vote but that is not the case at present. Only a handful of the graduates in the University of London have the vote and elect the Member of Parliament for that university because the position in London, and in a great many other universities, is that you have to contract in to have the university vote and pay a special registration fee. It so happens that the majority of people passing through the university and looking for a job are penniless at the time they graduate and so do not then contract in. They have nothing to spare and do not take out their registration to get the graduate vote. [An HON. MEMBER: "They can get it any time throughout their lives."] Yes, but it is only drawn to their attention when they are penniless and are, therefore, unlikely to take it out. It is a very unsatisfactory position indeed.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
Is it not correct in the case of most universities that a 1356 composition fee is taken on graduation which includes the Parliamentary register?
§ Mr. Parker
I was coming to that point. In the University of Oxford, unlike the University of London, somewhere about the year 1930 it was agreed that graduates should contract out instead of contracting in, so that the normal fee would cover University registration. If graduates do not want that, they have to say so. This means that most graduates in Oxford since that date have become university voters but, even so, the total number of Oxford voters is only a proportion of the total number of graduates of the University. I am not certain what the position is in my hon. Friend's constituency, or in Cambridge, but I would say that in considering this position of the university constituencies some uniform procedure should be adopted. I would suggest an arrangement by which everybody getting a University degree automatically goes on the register if this form of constituency is kept in being, otherwise the university franchise, especially in London, means absolutely nothing. I understand also that the Ballot Act does not apply to them, and there is no secrecy of the franchise in university elections. The reason for this is that it is very difficult to keep up a list of the addresses of University graduates. Therefore both the university and the electoral parties, or the organisations supporting candidates, have all to draw up the best lists of addresses they can. The different candidates, as well as the university, send out the voting papers with the election addresses to all the people whose addresses they can get hold of. That means that a person may receive a ballot paper from many different people if there are many candidates and, when the count takes place, there has to be a check to see that one person does not vote more than once.
§ Mr. Parker
I am mentioning the University of Oxford at the present moment. The register is gone through, the Labour people are ticked off red and the Tories blue, and everyone knows exactly how everybody has voted. That is the only way elections can be run at present in order to make certain that a person has voted only one. I would suggest that the only way to overcome that difficulty 1357 would be to have a list of addresses prepared by the university itself and the ballot papers sent out by the University only and a check-up by the University authorities of the votes coming in, thus ensuring some kind of secrecy.
The absence of secrecy often has undesirable results in university politics in the wider sense of the word. I understand that, on one occasion, a crisis took place at the London University in university politics, because the person advocating a particular policy knew that the person opposing it had voted against him in the election. It is very unfortunate that we should have this lack of secrecy in university elections. If we are to keep university seats, there should be a uniform scheme under which elections are conducted which will give the vote to all graduates, and we should have some system of vote by ballot. I am glad that the Conference is to take place and I hope we shall have substantial agreement between parties on the issues that will come before it.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
The object of the Debate is to pass a formal Resolution setting up a Conference under your chairmanship, Sir, if you are good enough to accept the invitation, and, secondly, to put forward certain considerations to which Members wish to draw the attention of the Conference. In the course of a rapid speech the hon. Member who spoke last raised a number of very interesting points and I should like to follow him in considering many of them, but the time is very short. I should like to say, however, how much I agree with him on his first point that if, as we hope, there is to be a redistribution of seats, it shall be complete, and that no constituency shall be, as it were, left out of consideration. That is not to say that it is necessary in each case to alter the boundaries of all existing constituencies. It will be far better to follow the words of a Lord Shaftesbury of previous time that it is the height of good sense to know when to leave well alone. None the less, there is a very large number of big constituencies which are unwieldy in these very difficult times of stress for Members of Parliament.
I admit that in logic it is difficult to defend the business vote. Some claim that it is virtually indefensible but I think the real answer to the contention of the other 1358 side is that small businesses have more to contend with, in ordinary times, than has the normal citizen. They are working with their own money and their own property against very great difficulties. They are struggling not only against neglect but sometimes against the positive action of Parliament which, though not intended, has the effect of putting many of them out of business. They have a very great struggle and it seems to me that they are perhaps entitled to some weighted preference in the part they are playing in sending representatives to Parliament. I sincerely hope that university representation will not be abolished. Far from being what some would call a prerogative of the capitalist class, the universities, out of 12 Members, only return two Conservatives to Parliament. There are many representatives of universities who, if they had not been returned for those universities, would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to get in for an ordinary division. Nevertheless, when they get in by means of the university vote they are welcomed, their contributions are good, often extremely good, and of great academic interest, particularly in Debates which concern education. We are in the process of reforming the whole of our educational system. Coal miners can be heard through their trade union representatives and there are many other industries represented in the House on both sides but there are extraordinarily few schoolmasters or university dons unless they are elected as representatives of universities.
I should like to say a word on the subject of Proportional Representation. The hon. Member for the Combined Universities (Mr. Harvey) was rather ingenuous yesterday when he suggested that those who were so fortunate as to be chosen to attend your Conference, Sir, should go with an open mind on this question, but it was clear that he himself, as well as the right hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), had both very definitely made up their minds on the question. [Interruption.] It is not a bad thing to have either an open mind or to have preconceived notions as to whether Proportional Representation is or is not a bad thing. All I am saying is that Members should not be be shut out because they have certain determined ideas on the matter. Much of the argument on behalf of Proportional Representation is really unsound. The object of elections is 1359 to send people to Parliament, broadly, as far as they can, to represent the people's will and to carry on the King's Government, and a purely mathematical lay-out of representation will not necessarily give more desirable results than the present law of the land.
I think under the present system many minorities are either unrepresented or under-represented, but we should look on the other side. A purely mathematical pedagogic system, such as Proportional Representation, may give accurate results at the moment at which the election is taking place but there is no guarantee that with a floating opinion in respect of part of the electorate such as we have in this country, as well as in many others, opinions or votes will apply to large sections of the population even three months later than a General Election or a by-election and that these mathematically exact results will still hold good. Against that, you have the almost complete disappearance, by reason of huge constituencies, of the personal element, which is so immensely important. I find it difficult, sitting for a geographically big division, to cover my constituency adequately even in times of peace. If I were a Member for the whole of Cornwall, it would be infinitely more difficult, and on that argument alone I maintain that Proportional Representation is not suitable to the people of this country. I have not time to go into the results of Proportional Representation on the Continent but in almost every case of a big country where Proportional Representation or any other system of indirect vote has obtained the result has been sooner or later the splitting up of parties with the results of weakness, gerrymandering, graft, and a general de-dine of the whole standard of Parliamentary government. I should like to say again how much I welcome the Conference and I hope it will redound to the prestige and honour of Parliament in the recommendations that it makes.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
It would seem from this full Debate that the Conference over which you, Mr. Speaker, will preside—and we all wish you luck—may be able to come to agreement fairly easily on the more technical questions such as redistribution 1360 and reducing the costs of elections. It seems to me that there is real disagreement on the fundamental principle whether we should make an attempt to make our representative institutions more representative. Many speakers, most of them connected rather closely with the organisation of the Labour Party and many Conservatives have a horror of any fundamental alteration of our present system. I was horrified by the speech of the hon. gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), who envisaged this business of facing the electors with only two alternatives, so that whether they liked it or not they would be forced to vote for one or the other. I have the responsibility for the organisation of a small party, and if I could get into that position I should be glad, but I do not think it is in the interests of the country that that should be the situation.
It is right that we as Members of Parliament should discuss alterations, but I hope that those who go to the Speaker's Conference will remember that there is a large public outside which is getting rather sceptical about the House of Commons. The Services are sceptical as to whether the House of Commons is functioning well and there is a gulf between Members and the general public. That is a dangerous tendency. There is also great scepticism about organised and powerful parties. The Conservative Party was the most powerful party outside the totalitarian countries before the war. It was a wealthy, effective and able party and it managed its affairs very skilfully. It could not have succeeded in surviving on the votes it got unless it was skilful. It did not get a majority of votes and yet it got into power. Is that really desirable? Perhaps this point might appeal to the Leader of the House as Foreign Secretary. When I listened to Members saying that it does not matter if the result of a general election puts into power a Government which has a minority of the votes, I remembered the case of Spain. One of the issues there was whether the electoral system had given the Government duly elected a majority of the votes or not. We are faced with minority problems in Europe and we have some responsibility to Europe and the world to see that there are fair democratic systems in those countries.
1361 I would ask the Leader of the House to clear his mind of party advantages and to look at this problem on a broader basis, to try and make the House in the difficult times that will come after the war representative, not only in the sense of representing particular groups and parties fairly, but in the sense of representing the types of younger people, Service personnel and others, who have taken a great part in this war and have not in the past had a fair place in politics. The hon. and gallant Member for South East Essex (Flight-Lieutenant Raikes) drew attention to the case of the young Service man who is feeling that he wants to take a responsible place in politics after the war. The scales are now weighted against him. They are obviously weighted in the Labour Party against anyone who has not served in the Labour movement. [HON. MEMBER: "No."] That is my view of the results. They are weighted in the Conservative Party against the sort of individual who has not made his way in the world. Most of our Prime Ministers came into the House at a very early age Cannot we devise a system which gives less authority and power to the party caucus, that gives the individual who may not be always a very good party man, the young man who is anxious to serve his country, a greater opportunity?
I plead that some alteration such as Proportional Representation will do that. Before the war we took for granted that our electoral machinery was the most perfect in the world. I doubt it. We have things to learn from other countries. In the United States they have their primary elections. In this country the ordinary people have no voice in choosing their candidates. In the present by-elections they are given the alternative of a Conservative candidate and an Independent. One reason why Independents are elected is that the electors may not like the type of candidate which the Conservative Party caucus puts forward. The power of the party caucus is overwhelming and it leads to a sense of frustration, to a sense that the public have no voice in the choice of candidates, and to a sense that organised vested interests, trade unions and big business, are placing the candidates before the public. It may be objected that Proportional Representation may have the effect of enlarging constituencies, but it would give the public, where they have to elect more than one Member, an opportunity 1362 of choosing the Member they like. It would lead to the advantage of making democracy a live and vital force. There is now a growing sense of separation between the public and Members of the House of Commons, and that is a dangerous thing in British public life. I therefore plead that Members should go to your Conference, Mr. Speaker, with as open a mind as possible and try to make an instrument which is vital in our democratic institutions. Other countries like the United States elect their own President. Here everything depends on the constitution of the House of Commons. It depends on the quality of the Members who get here. The House of Commons is the heart of democracy in this country. If we are to have a vital and vigorous country after the war there are many radical improvements which we must make in our electoral system.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden) rose——
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
May I say, Mr. Speaker, without delaying the proceedings, that because some of us have not caught Mr. Speaker's eye during this last two days, I hope you will not think that we are not interested in the Speaker's Conference.
§ Mr. Eden
I hope that you will take that testimonial, Sir, to the wide interest there is in your effort. This is such a House of Commons occasion and not a Government occasion that the speeches from the Government Front Bench have been relatively few and exceedingly brief. Indeed, there is another reason why our speeches have to be brief. Hon. Members in all parts of the House are fully at liberty to state their own individual opinions on all these most attractive and sometimes controversial subjects, and we have, in our ranks, slightly divergent views on these issues ourselves. We are not very good at this particular form of three-legged race. I. would like to give some comfort to the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), who has just given us such a very gloomy account of the relationship of Parliament to the country. I have noticed at intervals in Parliament, that one is apt to take rather a gloomy view on that matter, in proportion to the numbers 1363 of the representation of the particular party to which one is attached. It is quite natural, and I have taken it myself. No doubt, as Parliamentary fortunes go, I shall take it again, but I shall not really believe it to be true. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be unduly unhappy on that score. I do not think he need be. I believe that the relationship of this Parliament to the country is much the same as that of other Parliaments to the country—pretty close, intimate and true.
It is not for me to enter into a number of the controversial topics that have been raised. I was a little surprised at one time at the claims and counterclaims for Proportional Representation around which the battle chiefly raged. I understood from one hon. Member that, if only we had had it before, we might not have had this European war. I must say that that point had not occurred to me before, and it is a refreshing thought that Hitler can share the blame for it with somebody. Another of my hon. Friends thought that some countries would have armed much faster if they had not had Proportional Representation. That, too, had not occurred to me before. Debates do enlighten one on these topics. Then an hon. Member from Wales said that he did not want Proportional Representation as they had already got enough log-rolling in Wales. As an Englishman, I had never had that thought before. Upon all these matters, you, Sir, will have received valuable information, and I do not want to enter into that arena. We have had some very valuable speeches—and it would be invidious to single them out—notably from my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and from my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) yesterday. I noted that he did not receive the approval of the Communist Party, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me for saying that I do not think it was any the worse for that.
§ Mr. Eden
And it was not the worse for that, either. There are two specific questions to which I would like briefly to reply. I was asked whether the rules relating to corrupt practices and expenses 1364 which apply to Parliamentary elections, could be extended or assimilated to apply to local government elections. That is a matter, which I think the hon. Member was right in saying, is probably not covered by our terms of reference at the present, and I can tell him that the Government would like to consider it, to see whether, with your approval, Mr. Speaker, any wider terms of reference would be desirable to cover it.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Is it proposed to alter the terms of reference without having to come back to this House? Surely it is not proposed to take what some hon. Members say, and to alter them?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I hope that the Government are not going to be committed to wholesale interference with local government elections, without some kind of comment made in this House.
§ Mr. Eden
I promise my hon. Friend that I am not going to be committed to anything at present, except to an undertaking that we shall consider the matter, in order to see whether it is desirable to take the action which my hon. Friend asks. If we think so, no doubt we shall follow it up with whatever action may seem necessary, but I do not want to be committed to saying that.
The other question was as to charitable contributions in the constituencies. Obviously, that raises very complicated issues and that, too, we shall look at, but I am not at present in a position to say whether we shall ask for it to come within the terms of reference or not. I was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead (Colonel Sandeman Allen) about troops abroad. He said that they disliked the method of proxy voting. I think that is quite true. The method was adopted to enable them to be registered, and consequently to enable them to vote under existing conditions; but, in our view, it would be within the purview of Mr. Speaker's Conference for this matter to be examined there. It is not at all excluded, as we see the position.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
If that is to be agreed, it is a matter of supreme importance to all members of the three Services overseas. Will my right hon. Friend also agree that this special means of voting shall be made as identical as possible with conditions at home, in order to make the troops feel that they are taking part in elections, not only now but in the future?
§ Mr. Eden
All I can say is that this matter can be examined by Mr. Speaker's Conference, and that it will be for hon. Members to put their points of view there.
I am speaking in this matter, not as a Member of the Government but as an individual Member of the House of Commons. I do not want to enter into topics which have been well canvassed on all sides of the House, but to one theme which seemed to emerge from this Debate I would like briefly to refer. More than one hon. Member spoke of the importance which the constituency plays, not merely as a piece of electoral machinery but as a living part of our national life. I hope it is a part of our national life that will never be overlooked. A Member and his constituency have a certain friendship after a number of years, a certain intimacy, and a Member may often find, in bad times, support in his constituency when he does not get it elsewhere. That kind of relationship, and the fact that, once a Member is elected, he does not consider himself as representing the Tory or the Labour Parties but as the Member for the area, is one of the most valuable and steadying factors in our political life. It is essentially English—I beg pardon, British—and there has never been anything quite like it on the Continent of Europe.
I would classify that, with our peculiar habit of Question Time, as being perhaps the two most exclusively British characteristics of our Parliamentary system. They are very important, and they are ones that we should never forget. Every one of us, whatever we are doing in the Government, knows all the time that a constituent can write a letter and ask us to see him and that we are going to hear him when he comes to see us. On the very rare occasions when the Government do not do what the hon. Member wants, a Question can be put down and, possibly, even an Adjournment Motion moved. All these things are open; they are all links 1366 in the chain between the ordinary constituent and the Member of Parliament. I would only say that we must not overlook that fact in the work that we do.
The other matter to which I would like to refer is this question of redistribution. It struck me that an earlier speaker made a very true point when he said that this is not really a problem entirely created by the war. Before the war, we were beginning to get into a position where some form of redistribution was called for. What your Conference, Mr. Speaker, is faced with is, as I see it, the dual problem of the need for redistribution which was being created by the position before the war, and secondly, anomalies arising from the war itself. I agree with the Home Secretary that it is a very difficult problem to resolve. I hope that the Conference will do its utmost to resolve it, because, although I am not an enemy of anomaly, some of them to-day are somewhat glaring and I think we should try to meet them.
May I say a word on the subject of expenses mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking). If, as a result of these deliberations, the limit of expenditure is reduced I really do not think anyone will complain. For my part, I do not see how, otherwise, it will be possible for younger men to get into this House. The burdens are too heavy, the risks are too great, taxation is too high. It seems to me so important that these young men should have the chance in the post-war years to come and help us in our work. I, personally, hope that there something may be done.
§ Mr. Eden
Of course, and women, too. I have listened to this two-day Debate, and I cannot but feel, Mr. Speaker, that the task you have so nobly undertaken, or are about to undertake, at the wish of all the House, will not be a particularly easy one. It has seemed to me from time to time that there were quite considerable divergencies in the House. It has been our desire to draw these terms widely so that all these matters may be considered. I also hope, Sir, that the Members of your Conference, from all parties, will go to it, determined to do all they can to help you reach agreed solutions 1367 and present them to this House. I join issue again with the hon. Member for North Cumberland. We cannot often talk about ourselves in the House of Commons. I would do so briefly before I close. I think that, looking back over these four war years, this House has reason to be proud of its record. We have been virtually alone, certainly alone in Europe, as a Parliamentary institution which has kept going despite enemy action, which has discussed domestic problems and international problems, however difficult the general situation might be, and I believe that, in the world at large, there is a real respect for the British Parliament. I believe it stands high.
What we hope your Conference will do, Mr. Speaker, is to improve our machinery where it needs improving, so that in the post-war period and the last years of this war, which are yet to be very stern years, Parliament may acquit itself as well as it has done since the war broke upon us. That is the help we are asking of you and your Conference. We believe you can do it for us. We are happy to place the matter under your guidance; we believe that, as a result, Parliament will be further strengthened, and, in all sincerity, we wish you well.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
In the two or three minutes which I have left before the Debate ends, I would like to say I am sure that the right hon. gentleman's speech will be well received in all parts of the House, particularly the reference he made with regard to the reduction of expenses. I hope that when the Speaker's Conference comes to deal with what the Home Secretary calls the various heads of Conference particular attention will be paid to this question of the reduction of expenses allowed in elections, not only for the reasons which the right hon. gentleman the Leader of the House gave, but for one particular reason which I have just a few minutes to state. Whatever we have discussed in these two days, in regard to electoral machinery, the reform of the franchise and the rest of it, I have not heard one single speech which referred to the tremendous importance of wireless broadcasting in the general elections of the day.
It may be that before the next Speaker's Conference we shall have television complete 1368 and available at a cheap rate for most of the homes in this country, at any rate to a vast proportion of the electorate. We may well see with that television almost the abolition of the political meeting as we know it to-day and knew it years ago. We have gone a long way from Eatanswill. I know a right hon. Gentleman of this House who was giving a lecture on one occasion when the Prime Minister was to make a broadcast speech. This right hon. Gentleman was an attractive speaker, the meeting was well advertised, but it was a dark and cold night, and the result was that most of the people stayed in their homes to hear the Prime Minister's great national hook-up broadcast. Whether we like it or not, what is said in those broadcasts by the leaders of the parties, before and during the election, will, with great respect, Sir, have more effect upon an election than some of the things that we are going to refer to your Conference. It is said "He who controls the microphone controls the future." It may be 20 years before we have another Speaker's Conference. With this tremendous development of wireless broadcasting, millions of the new electorate will hear of these political issues for the first time from the broadcasts of the political leaders. The public is wireless minded.
As one hon. Member said, no one under the age of 30 in this country has ever voted in a General Election, and no one under the age of 26 in a by-election. I believe that during the last election, when the I.L.P. made representations for certain wireless facilities to broadcast their case, they were told that if they had 25 candidates they would be considered. The B.B.C. then fully controlled broadcasting, and the Charter was vested in the Postmaster-General. To-day it is vested in the Minister of Information who I understand has taken counsel's opinion on his war-time responsibilities on this. When we come nearer to a General Election, who is going to say how much time is to be allotted to the newer parties, the Communist Party, to Common Wealth, to Independent if you like and others? If the decision is controlled by the Minister of Information effectively during the war period, and we have a General Election during the war, who is to decide how much time is to be allotted to the different parties? What is needed is an impartial body to consider the whole future relationship 1369 of the broadcasting monopoly to the political parties, particularly when the broadcasting monopoly is vested in the Government of the day. The terms of reference of the Speaker's Conference may not allow full inquiry and investigation on this point, but I hope, in view of the fact that it may be a long time before this subject is thoroughly examined again, that some attention will be given to it, and I hope in particular that the Government themselves will look at this, because I believe that eventually the development of wireless and television is going to transform completely the whole character of General Elections, and that it will be vital to set up an impartial body to see that all political parties get a fair and equal opportunity.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the proposal of His Majesty's Government to set up a Conference on Electoral Reform and Redistribution of Seats and to invite Mr. Speaker to preside.