HC Deb 25 January 1977 vol 924 cc1327-451

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Rifkind

—about the first elections for the Assembly. Maybe one party will do well or badly, but the system will exist for the forseeable future and there will be many elections to the Assembly. It is not inconceivable that at some stage a party that is returned with only minority support will use a position of control in the Assembly to try to force through a major constitutional change against the majority of people in Scotland.

Mr. Adley

My hon. Friend mentioned Quebec. I was in Quebec just before the election to which he referred. Is he aware that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) has made a fair point and that Le Parti Québecois offered itself for election on the clear understanding that its proposals contained a referendum safeguard so that anyone who voted for it knew perfectly well that there was no question of Quebec attaining independence solely on the votes that were cast in the election? Is my hon. Friend further aware that public opinion polls taken immediately prior to the election and immediately following the election indicated that the amount of electoral support for independence fell away by almost half—namely, from 20 per cent. to 11 per cent.?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not doubt that that happened for a moment. I am concerned with promises given as to whether there should be a referendum. I am concerned about whether the electoral system as such is likely to encourage the emergence of a grave constitutional crisis. In the present situation Quebec provides a perfect example. Popular support for the Parti Quebécois increased relatively moderately but its representation increased tenfold. That is a cause for concern.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Taking up the hon. Gentleman's fortuitous example of Quebec, I put to the hon. Gentleman the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead)—namely, that a national aspiration will be expressed and that a country will get nationhood if it pushes. What makes the hon. Gentleman think that it was not the expression of the people of Quebec that was reflected in the vote?

Mr. Rifkind

I have no desire to express any view about why the people of Quebec voted for the separatist party. I merely point out that the separatist party has still not yet obtained the support of a majority of the electorate in Quebec although it has moved from a position of relative insignificance to total dominance of the Assembly because of a relatively small improvement in its political vote. Whether it is Le Parti Québecois or any other political party, I do not believe that such an example bodes well for a healthy, stable parliamentary system or a system that anyone would sensibly wish to defend.

There are a number of powerful arguments which point to a system of proportional representation being appropriate for the Assembly. I have an amendment on the Order Paper concerned with the size of the Assembly. This is a matter which has not yet been referred to by any hon. Member. Nevertheless, I feel I must mention it, however briefly, at the present time, because I have no way of knowing whether I shall catch the eye of the Chair, or what may happen, by the time the question of PR has been fully ventilated.

I simply believe that the Government's decision to have an Assembly of 150 members is absurd and indefensible. I hope the Government will give serious reconsideration to it. When the Kilbrandon Commission recommended its proposals for devolution it proposed that the Assembly for Scotland should consist of about 100 members. In rejecting that view the Government have not yet put forward any argument in defence of their proposition for an Assembly with a composition 50 per cent. greater than proposed by Kilbrandon.

They have merely indulged in an arbitrary arithmetical exercise by doubling the existing membership of parliamentary constituencies in Scotland and topping up with an additional one or two members in constituencies that have a particularly large electorate.

I have no firm view about a specific number of members, but I feel that an Assembly with far fewer than 150 is eminently desirable. I would suggest that an assembly of 71 members is quite sufficient to meet the type of devolution proposed by the Government. The Government's proposal is astonishing when one thinks that the rôle of the Assembly is to be responsible for approximately half the responsibility of Scottish Members of Parliament. Although the Assembly will only be concerned with half the present responsibility of a Scottish MP, each constituency will require two Assemblymen to be responsible for half the work that is presently done by one Member of Parliament. In seven constituencies I think that it will require three Assemblymen to do what is presently done by one MP.

If the Government were to contemplate an Assembly half that size, there would be a substantial number of benefits. There would be a significant cost benefit. We are all conscious of cost at the moment. None of us knows what the salary of an Assembly member will be. It is unlikely to be a full-time salary, but it is difficult to imagine that it will be significantly less than £3,000 a year. If the size of the Assembly were reduced in the way that I have suggested, that would mean a saving in one single swoop of about £250,000 every year. Taking into account extra secretarial expenses, travelling expenses and other administrative expenses, one could achieve a saving of at least £500,000 a year simply by having a smaller Assembly.

There are other factors at work. I believe that all political parties in Scotland will find it difficult to get 150 candidates of sufficient calibre when they will also have to find candidates for parliamentary, district and regional elections and, soon, candidates for the European Parliament. In view of the reduced cost to the political parties in Scotland I think a reduction of this type would be well received. It would enable the Royal High School—the site of the Assembly—to be adapted much more easily to the requirements of the Assembly.

Mr. Dalyell

In addition, how is this plethora of committees to be manned?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman had waited for 30 seconds, I would have dealt with that matter. The important point when one is determining the size for each Assembly is to decide not the maximum size but the minimum size required for the Assembly to carry out its proper functions.

For the purposes of the argument, I confine myself, to the kind of devolution that the Government are proposing. As yet we do not know how many departments there will be in the Scottish Executive, but, given the functions to be devolved to the Assembly, we can assume that there are likely to be departments for housing, education, health, legal affairs, social services, possibly industrial matters and probably planning and local government.

It is unlikely that the Executive will consist of more than 10 or at the most 12 Ministers or members of the Executive. If we add half a dozen junior Ministers or junior members of the Executive, the total number of the Executive would be not more than 18. In an Assembly of 71 members we can assume that the Executive has the support of the majority of the Assembly. Therefore, the Assembly would have the support of at least 36 members, and there would be at least 18 Government Back Benchers plus a minimum of 35 Opposition Back Benchers. That is sufficient to meet all the requirements of the system of devolution proposed by the Government.

The old Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland, with a Prime Minister, Ministers and a similar structure of government, managed with 52 members, 19 fewer than I am proposing and 100 fewer than the Government are proposing for the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. John Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the population of Northern Ireland is not much over 1 million, whereas the population of Scotland is 5 million?

Mr. Rifkind

I am delighted that the Minister rests his argument on that point. If he wishes to think in terms of population, I refer him to California, a State of the United States of America which has its own Assembly. The population of California is 20 million—four times the population of Scotland. It has a State Assembly of 80 members. If California, with four times the population of Scotland, can make do with an Assembly of 80 members, Scotland might just be able to make do with an Assembly of about the same number.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I shall not take time to argue against the hon. Gentleman's case for reducing the number of members, but surely he is being unduly defeatist in saying that the parties could not find 150 candidates of suitable calibre. I am sure that in the Conservative Party the hon. Gentleman knows of individuals who for various reasons cannot stand for Westminster.

Mr. Rifkind

No doubt there will be plenty of people with low ability, but whether there will be a sufficient number with sufficient ability I doubt. That will apply to all parties.

The Minister claimed that the example of Northern Ireland was invalid because of its smaller population—

Mr. John Smith

The point I want to put here is that if there were 36 members in the governing party it would be necessary to choose for the Executive one out of every two of those elected, which is a high proportion. Not all might be willing to serve on the administration, so there might be a very restricted choice and a narrow group from which to pick the administration. Why not have more?

Mr. Rifkind

The Minister say "Why not have more?"—as if there is virtue in having as many as possible.

Mr. John Smith

It allows for better choice.

Mr. Rifkind

Perhaps in his own party the Minister would like a bigger choice to enable him to get persons of sufficient calibre, but that is not a criterion that we need worry about too much.

Let us look to the experience of other independent States, for example, New Zealand in the British Commonwealth. The New Zealand Parliament is responsible not merely for devolved matters but for all matters of government, including defence, foreign affairs, taxation, social security, industry and energy, which are not being devolved to the Scottish Assembly. The New Zealand Parliament has 87 members. Iceland, another totally independent country, makes do with a Parliament of 60 members.

Mr. Donald Stewart

What is the population of Iceland?

Mr. Rifkind

I have already given the example of California, with four times the population of Scotland, which makes do with 87 members. The size of the population is not the determinant factor because, irrespective of which country or State one takes, each one has decided the size of its Assembly or Parliament on the basis of its local requirements.

As yet, the Government have not sought to justify the figure they have determined for the Assembly. They have simply taken the existing parliamentary constituencies, doubled the number, and made minor adjustments for overpopulated areas. That is not good enough.

10.15 p.m.

There may be an argument for the figure the Government are putting forward, but they did not advance it in the White Paper, in the supplementary White Paper, on Second Reading, or on any other occasion. Other hon. Members agree with me that the demands of the type of devolution proposed by the Government could be met if the Assembly were far smaller than 150. Good arguments have been put forward, and the Committee deserves an answer.

I have confined myself to the two basic issues of proportional representation and the size of the Assembly. Other hon. Members have spoken very strongly on electoral reform. The Government made it quite clear on Second Reading that they would adopt a flexible approach throughout the passage of the Bill. We have not yet seen many signs of that flexibility.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

We have seen no signs.

Mr. Rifkind

If Ministers expect even superficial support from hon. Members who cannot be channelled through the Government Lobby just because they are members of the Government party, they must show a flexible response. This is not simply a party political matter. The whole future of the United Kingdom is at stake. The Government have stated that this is a matter of profound significance to the whole British nation. if they show some flexibility in their response to the amendments—

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman says that the Government have not shown any flexible response to what hon. Members have suggested. I remind him that the Government accepted the proposal for a referendum, which was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. We took into account what the Committee said about it.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman, who gave the assurance about flexibility in relation to the Committee stage, knows perfectly well that acceptance of the referendum was a deathbed conversion during the Second Reading debate, a last attempt to persuade some of his hon. Friends to go through the right Lobby. I compliment him, because he succeeded in his purpose. He is no doubt very pleased with the concession. But we have a long way still to go, and the Government will be aware that they do not exactly have the enthusiastic support of all Labour Members for all the provisions of the Bill, and that if it is to reach the statute book, it must command the support of some hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. We have had no sign of flexibility on the amendments with which the Committee has dealt so far, no sign of an objective, non-partisan approach by Ministers. I hope that today will prove an exception.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

I listened to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) with interest, particularly when he talked about the 39 per cent. of the electorate that supported the present Government in 1974 and the problems that might arise should the Government be prepared to put through a constitutional measure on the basis of such a minority vote. But I remind the hon. Gentleman that during the period 1970–74 the Conservative Government also had a minority of the vote but felt in no way inhibited from putting through the Industrial Relations Act. The hon. Gentleman may well say that that was not a constitutional measure. If so, it will be clear that he makes certain distinctions. I suspect that the Conservative Party has always made distinctions in regard to electoral systems, democracy and a number of relevant matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) suggested that there was something rather strange about the fact that we were discussing proportional representation against the background of a devolution Bill. He appeared to suggest that there was no point in that exercise until we had clarified the whole question of devolution per se, and I think that you had to call him to order, Sir Myer. It seems to me that if we accept, as I do, that the Bill should become law, we also accept that there will be two Assemblies, one in Scotland and one in Wales. The logical consequence is an examination of how those Assemblies should be elected.

Against that background, I believe that PR is relevant to the situation created by the Bill. The Bill gives us an excellent opportunity to test within the United Kingdom whether PR could be made viable for the whole Kingdom. What better test than introducing it at this stage and allowing Scotland and Wales to elect Assemblies on that basis?

Many of my hon. Friends would reject that argument on some grounds of democracy. That is what I find puzzling. Several definitions of "democracy" are trotted out from time to time. The word means "people's rule" or "people's power" as it obtained in the Athens city States. If we accept that it means the direct involvement of people, with free choice and free speech, in the government of themselves, we must examine whether our present electoral system produces the maximum involvement of people in the decision-making processes of society.

Some may argue that that is not the intention, that democracy means majority rule, that we have a system that produces a majority of one party in this House. But if we consider majority rule in another context—that is, rule by those selected or elected by the majority of the people—it is clear that we do not have that sort of a system and have rarely had it for the best part of this century.

"Power to the people", a slogan which has been put forward in many varied situations over the past 50 or 100 years, involves a recognition that when people choose in an election by voting, the end product should reflect their demands and opinions as closely as possible. I think that it was Rousseau who said that Britain had a democracy every five years, implying—with some validity—that once the election was over, the people were no longer involved in making decisions. But from another point of view what he said was incorrect, because we do not have a democratic system of election.

Many of my hon. Friends would argue that we do not need democracy in the context of which I am speaking, that all we need is power because that it what politics is about, and that the party which has power can legislate in accordance with the people's wishes. I can accept that approach, but not if it is presented as a democratic approach to our political problems. If it is our position that we are not interested in anythting but the two-party system, with one or other elected because it is first past the post, we should end the pretence of democracy in terms of our electoral system.

There are those who address themselves to the speculative problem of coalitions which are likely to emerge from a PR system. One begins to get a clue about what is at the backs of their minds and why they are so worried about the PR system. The issue for them relates to who will win under such a system rather than whether it will provide the people whom they allege to represent from time to time with the opportunity to express their will. Those people, if they are not going to win, are not interested in the expression of the people's will.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), with whom I have had a long political association, rightly drew attention to the absence of democracies in certain Socialist countries. He was right to make that criticism, but I found it difficult to accept the way in which he could attack the lack of democracy in those countries but at the same time reject any criticism of our electoral system in Great Britain.

I believe that in the short run there is likely to emerge some sort of coalition, which I personally would find politically unacceptable. I view with no satisfaction the prospect of a Tory-Liberal coalition in Scotland, Wales or anywhere else. There has been much hypocrisy from the Liberals on the subject of proportional representation because they cannot hide the fact that at the turn of the century the Liberal Party would have had no part of proportional representation if it had involved any loss of power for it.

In the process of the emergence of a coalition in the short run I believe that the people, in whom I have every confidence, will begin to realise in a short space of time what coalitions between parties such as the Tories and the Liberals mean in terms of a changing society and of meeting the needs of ordinary people. I believe that once the initial elections in Scotland or Wales result in a Right-oriented coalition, it will not be long before the contrary position emerged and we had a Left-influenced coalition.

I foresee a situation in which the major party of the Left, the Labour Party, will become the dominant party, irrespective of questions of proportional representation. I appreciate that we have a long way to go before we reach that situation. It behoves us on the Labour Benches to remind ourselves that in 1974, with a manifesto which many of us felt was the best document of that sort produced for 20 or 30 years, we could muster only 11 million votes against the 13½ million votes that Labour polled in 1951. We have done little on the Labour Benches and in the Labour movement generally to examine the reasons for that tremendous drop of 2½ million votes in a situation where the electorate increased.

It is not sufficient to dismiss the matter by saying that there is an increasing number of people who fail to identify the differences between one or other Government, be it Conservative or Labour. I suggest that there is an increasing disenchantment in Britain, which has been growing over the last 20 or 30 years, with the two-party system per se.

10.30 p.m.

There is a growing feeling that there has to be some alternative to the two monolithic structures that appear to exist in British politics. It is interesting to record that in the other two-party system—in the United States—the election results in about 60 per cent. participation. Our figure has been falling, and I would hate to see the day when the participation figure in a General Election in Britain reached that level. The appalling thing is that there are some constituencies, such as Liverpool Exchange, where about 50 per cent. to 55 per cent. of the electorate participated. We must have a serious examination of the reasons for this.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

Does this call for a serious examination mean that my hon. Friend is in favour of PR for the United Kingdom as a whole?

Mr. Thorne

Yes, I am in favour of it for the United Kingdom as a whole. I am trying to keep to the terms of this Bill because you, Sir Myer, have a habit of calling hon. Members to order if they stray too wide.

There are those who would argue that I should not be in favour of PR because it might affect my job, and I know that many hon. Members look at it in that way. But it is irrelevant whether it affects our jobs. To me the basic question is which is the more democratic of the two systems. Should we advocate the first past the post system or proportional representation for representation of this Chamber? As far as possible, the systems we create should represent the opinions outside, and I tend to accept that the latter is more democratic than the former.

In the final analysis it seems to me that many of us who claim to be on the left wing of the Labour Party will be judged by time and history in accordance with whether we were prepared to accept the more democratic system, even though there was, perhaps, an initial price to be paid. Nevertheless we should accept it on the basis that it is more democratic.

To many members of my own party this is a simplistic and naive approach. I cannot escape the notions that I have about this matter. I believe that PR is more democratic, and I claim to be a democrat. Therefore, logically, I must accept the amendment on PR. Whether the system being advocated in Amendment No. 50 is the best is very difficult to determine in the short run, but it has the virtue of being something which can be easily and readily applied with the passing of this Bill, and the opportunity exists thereafter to introduce other means of reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

I should have liked personally to see the STV system but at this stage of the discussions on the Bill it is not possible, and on that basis I shall vote for the amendment.

Mr. Reid

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Wigley) got the basic purpose of this debate right, as he so often does, when he set two issues, not one, before the House. The first was the general issue of principle. It was whether the Committee tonight takes the first step, however tentative, towards electoral reform for two of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, recognising that if it takes that step the Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff may move away from adversary politics to consensus politics, and even coalition Government, but realising that the people of Scotland and Wales will be getting what they vote for in their Assemblies.

The second issue is consequent upon the first. It is what type of electoral reform should be applied to the Assemblies. Should it be AMS, as put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), AV plus AMS, as advocated by the SNP, or STV, as advanced by the Liberals? These points, however, are less important than the general principle of electoral reform. The SNP has always stood firm throughout its 50 years' history for straight electoral reform, even though, of all parties in the House of Commons, we are best placed in the current Scottish situation to benefit from the first past the post system of voting.

Two of my hon. Friends have worked with the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian on the amendment that stands in the hon. Member's name tonight. The hon. Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) seem to find something sinister and suspicious in that. The former indicated that the amendment was a heaven-sent opportunity for the SNP because it would be seen in Scotland as an attempt to dish the nationalists. When asked why in that case the SNP was going into the Lobby with the hon. Members for Berwick and East Lothian and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) he was somewhat at a loss and could only hint darkly that the SNP was extremely clever and good at manipulation. Frankly, that is nonsense.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Does the hon. Member mean that he is not?

Mr. Reid

From the opinion polls in Scotland today it would appear that there is a three-way split between the main parties. What those opinion polls do not show, however, is the 20 per cent. "don't know" factor. In the General Elections in February and October 1974 the SNP picked up about 60 per cent. of the "don't know" votes. If it was able at the next General Election to do the same it might go up from 30 per cent. of the vote to about 36 per cent. of the vote. The positions of the SNP and the Labour Party would then be reversed, the SNP going from 11 to 41 seats, and the Labour Party falling in the opposite direction.

Against that background I am grateful to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) for his kind words. He said that the SNP had been honest in this matter, that it had a continuing commitment to electoral reform. The cynics in this House will find something curious in that. Why should a party which stands to gain without it advance electoral reform as openly as we do?

Mr. Buchan

The proposals that the SNP makes are not the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). The SNP is proposing the additional member plus the alternative vote which, as Professor Bellinger points out, would mean 51 SNP seats in Scotland. Any cynicism on the part of hon. Members would be justified in those circumstances.

Mr. Reid

We have proposed AV plus AMS, come the second Assembly election. The alternative vote would at least mean that the majority of people in any constituency would get a Member of Parliament acceptable to them. If it worked out in the way that the hon. Member suggests, with a disproportionate number of seats going to the SNP, that would be balanced out in the subsequent AMS seats.

My party is determined to stick to a policy of electoral reform as it has advocated for 50 years. We are determined that the Assembly in Scotland will get off to a fresh start. There is no point in a Scots Assembly being a pale carbon copy of this House. We in Edinburgh do not want the adversary, gladiatorial system of politics practised in this House for so long. What the people of Scotland vote for should be reflected in their Assembly.

This open commitment to electoral reform as adopted by the SNP tonight will do much to reassure many people who allege that the SNP will go into the Assembly to wreck it from the start. Our support for this measure tonight shows that we intend to work within the system and to build constructively upon it.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Member says that he does not want adversary politics. How will he reconcile people like myself and himself, between whom there is an enormous gulf on the major issue of whether there should be a separate State?

Mr. Reid

I do not think that the hon. Member will be there to have this issue forced upon him. As far as general consensus is concerned, I think that I could find much in common with the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian on the question of Scottish representation in the European Community, with the Liberal Party in terms of social reform, and so on. There is already cross party agreement on many issues among Scots Members—the beginnings of future Edinburgh consensus politics.

Several types of electoral reform have been trailed before the House. The principle is much more important than the detail, but it will not have escaped the notice of the Government Front Bench that the SNP has tabled its own amendments to this amendment. It is proper that the SNP should put the proposals on record now.

The first of our amendments would make the Scottish Assembly somewhat larger than the size proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian. If the hon. Member were quite open he would admit that if he were not frightened of possible criticism on grounds of cost, his proposals would be for an Assembly of 200 members rather than 100 members. I see that the hon. Gentleman nods his head.

With reference to the proposals for the first elections, we support the system outlined in the Bill which would give two members for most seats and three members for those seats where the size of the electorate exceeds the Scottish average by 125 per cent.

Such a system brings three distinct advantages to the Scottish situation. It would allow the people of Orkney and Shetland, two balanced communities of 18,000 people each, to have one Assemblyman each. It would permit the Assembly to man the highly developed committee system that most SNP members and the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian are anxious to establish. What we want are highly specialised standing departmental committees—as in Sweden—with much business removed initially from the floor of the Assembly to committee. More than 100 members will be needed if this is to be achieved.

There would be distinct disadvantages in having an Assembly of 70 or 100 members. Given a three-way party split, everybody in the Government party would be a Minister. In an Assembly of that size virtually every member of the Government party would have to take on Front Bench duties.

The SNP has always stood for the alternative vote, though earlier there was some confusion in the Committee about this. It is a system whereby one marks the polling paper one to four in order of preference for candidates. The preferences are added up until one candidate achieves 50 per cent. of the preference votes. That ensures that no constituency can be represented by a member to whom the majority of voters are resolutely opposed. We appreciate that such a system could not be introduced until the second Assembly election, since AV would not work well in multi-member seats.

I accept that criticism will be directed at me and and my party about costs. A 200-member Assembly will cost more, but my party has rather different ambitions for the Scottish Assembly than the hon. Member for Pentlands. There is certainly a consensus among Scottish Members now for scrapping most of the Scottish regions in local government and for removing 432 regional councillors. That is a good price to pay for an Assembly of 200 members in Edinburgh.

The hon. Member for Pentlands was highly selective in talking about other provincial legislatures and small independent parliaments in Europe. I would remind the hon. Gentleman about some countries that have more than a surface resemblance to Scotland. Norway has a population of 4 million people, 150 MPs and the population per MP is 27,000. Denmark has a population of 5 million people, 179 MPs and a population per MP of 28,000. Sweden has 8.2 million people, 349 MPs and a population per MP of 23,500. There are similar figures for Finland. Scotland has a population of 5.2 million and given 100 MPs it would have a population per MP of 52,000; with 150 MPs that figure would be 35,000; and with 200 MPs the population per MP would be 26,000.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that by using the parallel of Norway he is giving me my argument? He said that the Norwegian Parliament has 150 members, but has he overlooked that it is the Parliament of an independent country? If we were proposing a Parliament for an independent Scotland, 150 members might be reasonable, but we are talking of an Assembly with only a minute fraction of the powers of an independent Parliament.

Mr. Reid

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), our Chief Whip, says "Stick around." The SNP wishes to build on the Assembly. If we are to develop a specialised committee system, we shall need 150 to 200 members to work it. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian has conceded that a membership of 100 may be too low, but we are concerned with getting the principle right, since that is more important than the figures and the amendment rightly provides that the Assembly may review the suitability and fairness of the system of proportional voting in future.

Many people will see this as the thin end of the wedge; that was obvious from the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West. I say to him that what is good for the Scots goose is good for the English gander, and if electoral reform is established for the Assemblies, it might be equally good for this House of Commons.

The real opposition to the amendment has come from those who favour adversary polities; the ideologues who want to capture the party machines, to move in on the Labour Party NEC and use it to railroad policies through. They do not realise that there is broad agreement now between many Scots Members on a wide range of issues, including increased Scots representation in the European Communities, fiscal, social and industrial policies. I should like to see the Assembly get off to that sort of start so that we can work towards a free and independent Parliament in our own land.

Lord Crowther-Hunt, in his minority report in the Kilbrandon Commission, got it absolutely right when he said: In any democracy there is a crucial problem about the rights of minorities. … And the essence of the problem here is that if the vital interests of minorities are overridden or neglected by an insensitive majority the essential basis of consensus in society will be eroded … The SNP will vote for the amendment. If it fails and we win as Rene Leveque of the Parti Québecois recently won in Canada, so be it.

Dr. M. S. Miller

I listened to the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) with some sorrow. At one time, he had a little of the fire of Socialism in his belly. I remember being very appreciative of his assistance in an election campaign; he was a good member of the Labour Party then and he had some good Left-wing views. It was sad to hear him speak in a wishy-washy way about wanting a Scottish Assembly or even a Scottish Parliament to be without the adversary politics on which he was weaned.

Mr. Reid

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that my first overt political act was to stand on a platform in Glasgow, Woodside alongside Hugh Gaitskell and the Campaign for Democratic Socialism trying to stop the nasties getting on the platform?

Dr. Miller

That does not destroy my point. The hon. Gentleman has degenerated a long way when he sneeringly rejects a pale carbon copy of this Parliament as a model for the Scottish Assembly. What are his political views now?

I always listen to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) with interest. I have some sympathy with what he said about a smaller Assembly, but I shall not pursue that argument. He criticised the Government's death-bed flexibility and I unhesitatingly offer my professional assistance to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House if it is not already too late.

I intend to confine myself entirely to the issues of proportional representation. I have said before that I respect the traditions of this honourable House, but that does not mean to say that from time to time we should not consider the possibility of change. I understand and have a niggling regard for the desire for constant, steady improvement, but surely our object should be good, democratic government. It does not necessarily follow that because the first past the post system sometimes produces a minority Government, the electorate is not well represented. Every hon. Member accepts that he represents all of his constituents regardless of the party to which those constituents belong.

However, the fact that we are discussing proportional representation at all is probably evidence that we are less than satisfied with our present electoral system. By "we" I mean some hon. and right hon. Members of this House. As far as I can determine, the public in general has not been pushing for a change in the electoral system. My constituents have not put to me any great objections to the present system. They may object to the Government—they are entitled to do that—but I do not think that they specifically identify the electoral system with our difficulties.

To be concerned about the fairness of the British electoral system does not mean that we must of necessity demand another system. As has been pointed out, no electoral system is entirely fair. During the debate there has been much explanation of various electoral systems. The single transferable vote, the alternative vote, and the additional member system all have their advantages and have been well spoken to today. There is another system, the party slate or the party list. All these systems have advantages and disadvantages, and every hon. and right hon. Member owes it to the House to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of our present system compared with other systems, and to decide what he or she believes is best in the circumstances.

In addition to leading almost inevitably to coalition and weak government, some of these systems have the disadvantage of tending to produce results where, in multi-member constituencies, for example, there will be undignified and very unhealthy squabbling among the elected representatives of different parties. For example, the single transferable vote system was advocated by one Liberal Member who queried my contention that it would produce far too many members. It must produce at least three members per constituency, which would give more than 220 members of a Scottish Assembly, which is far too many.

If we examine proportional representation from the viewpoint of absolute fairness, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) pinpointed the system that is absolutely fair—the party slate or party list system, because it produces a result strictly in accordance with the proportion of votes cast for each party. But, as the Israelis know to their cost, it is a system which leads to nuisance splinter parties, it leads to the domination of candidates by the party caucus, and it is a system by which members are not identified with their constituencies. The Israelis themselves are not satisfied with that system and are doing their best to evolve another to replace it. It would not surprise me if they adopted a system similar to that which we have at the moment.

British political stability, which in my opinion is the most pronounced stability of any country in Europe, has as much to do with our electoral system as with the character of the British people. It could be a chicken and egg situation: we do not know which came first. Was it the character of the people which evolved the system, or has the system affected the character of the people?

Even from a psychological point of view, our present system has an advantage in that it allows the electorate the essential luxury of letting off steam by attacking the Government. Whom would the electorate attack if we had a Government elected on a proportional basis where everyone had equal responsibility for the difficulties which developed? The electorate would have no target at which to aim. In such a situation, Parliament itself would be the target, and a dangerous cynicism might develop if we permitted such a system to supersede that which we have at the moment.

In the Sub-Committee on Devolution, we have been looking at the amendments as they have come up from week to week, and we have considered carefully the advantages and disadvantages of the various systems. In this connection, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). It is not with any great degree of joy that we have come to the conclusion that the present system ought not to be superseded. We examined each of the possible systems on its merits, and we felt in each case that the disadvantages outweighed the advantages. Each system was put up against the present first past the post system, and we felt that, despite all the disadvantages of our existing arrangements—and they are not perfect—we should continue to support them until we can devise something substantially better.

Mr. Emery

It was not my original intention to say very much about proportional representation, but it is surprising that, after nearly six hours of debate, anyone sitting in the Gallery or reading Hansard on some future occasion might gain the impression that Conservative Members were massively in favour of PR. So far not one Conservative Member has spoken against it.

I am diametrically opposed to proportional representation. I always have been, and I think that it is about time that my view was made clear.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

That is one good reason for supporting it.

Mr. Emery

The situation is such that, if the votes of Conservative Members were taken—to say nothing of the votes of Conservatives throughout the country—the overwhelming view would be against proportional representation.

11.0 p.m.

If I may carry that a stage further, many of us are worried about this debate and the way in which the proportionaal representation argument has been put forward on this Bill. We see it as a foot in the door—and that has no relation to the Leader of the House. The view has been openly expressed by some hon. Members while advocating this policy for this Bill that they saw it is a first stage in bringing in the structure of proportional representation for the whole United Kingdom. The basis of my approach in opposing this amendment is that if we take it for Wales or Scotland, it would be the first move in the direction of increasing pressure to bring it in for the whole United Kingdom.

The second part of this is that the proposers of proportional representation have pointed out, quite fairly, that the present first past the post system has a number of inadequacies and in some ways may be judged unfair. I believe that to be true but I ask those who oppose the amendment what assurances I can have that what they wish to put in its place will not itself have inadequacies and be unfair. I know of no democratic system of election which has no inadequacies and which is not basically in some areas unfair.

The German illustration has been used many times in this debate, but nobody has yet pointed out that, irrespective of topping-up, the whole German system has no relationship of German MPs to constituencies, a relationship which is the whole basis of this House. If people want the German system and think it better than ours, they should go to look at what happens in Bonn and at some of the fights and party caucus troubles in the German experiments. It is better than Germany has ever had previously in any democratic Assembly but is a long way short of what we have been able to achieve in this House.

If one looks for other illustrations, people will point to the United States of America as the great demonstration of democracy working well, but the inadequacy of the American system is such that even when there was a 2 million votes lead in the popular vote, 55,000 votes the other way, spread between Ohio and Hawaii would have meant that Mr. Ford would be President today.

I know of no system in the world devoid of inadequacies and weaknesses. Until someone can show me that what he wants to put in the place of what we have been able to build up over many years must certainly be better than what we have, I am against the experiment.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) earlier in the debate what he had to say about the fact that if the amendment had been adopted throughout the United Kingdom, we should have had nothing but coalition Governments ever since the First World War. I do not believe that our British structure of democracy favours coalition in this House. Any system which works for a structure of coalition Government would be weakening the structure of government as I want to see it. I find the move towards proportional representation a great weakness because of that argument.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in a system of voting by proportional representation the options facing and the attitude of the public are different and that, therefore, it is not right to base that calculation on the results of elections in the first past the post system?

Mr. Emery

That is a reasonable argument, but I do not accept it.

That leads me to the last point that I want to make on proportional representation. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) put forward a very sound argument. Indeed, it has been echoed by others, but I thought that my right hon. Friend put it better, more substantially and more intellectually than anybody else.

My right hon. Friend wished to see proportional representation because he saw it as the defence of the Act of Union, keeping the United Kingdom together, and stopping the Scottish National Party from winning a majority in a Scottish Assembly and in that way, as it is dedicated to an independent Scotland, achieving the break up of the United Kingdom. I see the force of that argument, but I disagree with it because it is based on past examples.

I believe that there has been support for many Scottish National Party candidates because those voting for them knew that there was no possible chance of the break-up of the United Kingdom. I believe that in a first past the post election in Scotland—I will take a wager on this with anybody; the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is not present, but no doubt he would make the book—a whole host of people who previously supported the nationalists would certainly not support them if they held to their policy of the break-up of the United Kingdom. I believe that giving the nationalists a chance of slipping in with a system of proportional representation will achieve exactly what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington wants to avoid.

I should not want to carry that argument very far. Adopting a political system to stop or to encourage a party or faction is the worst possible argument for supporting any system. Therefore, I cannot accept the argument that proportional representation is the way to stop or to encourage any particular faction or party.

Mr. Dalyell

I will take the hon. Gentleman's wager. The next election will be unique, because at no previous General Election, by-election, regional election, or district election or opinion poll has there been the all too real possibility that, by putting their crosses against Scottish National Party candidates, the Scottish people could bring into being a Scottish Government. No one in Scotland will have any illusions next time about the real possibility of a separate Scottish State, and that alters the whole position as postulated by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Emery

I think that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) only reinforces what I was trying to put to the Committee.

I turn now to the second, fourth and sixth amendments standing in my name in this group. I made it absolutely clear in the debate on Clause 1 that I wanted the Act of Union to stay intact.

Once we initiate in Britain a national Assembly, a single national Parliament—that is what it will become—there is nothing that will stop its members in time from demanding more and more powers. They will immediately wish to have the right to raise taxes. They will then begin arguing that the Scottish Assembly should be represented outside Scotland. After all, in the United Nations 20 nations have smaller populations than that of Scotland, so why should not this Assembly be represented there? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We hear the "Hear, Hears" from SNP Members reinforcing what I am saying.

Similarly, why should not the Scottish Assembly be represented in the EEC? Denmark and Ireland are smaller than Scotland. Therefore, once we have a Scottish Assembly, we already have the kernel advocating that greater powers should be given in order that Scotland can be represented internationally, and when that happens we shall have the break-up of the United Kingdom.

I am in no way against devolving powers outside Whitehall and this Parliament. I am very much in favour of so doing. Therefore, my amendments set out to ensure, in a way that does not fall into the error into which the Government have fallen that the setting up of Assemblies in Wales and Scotland will not lead in time to their independence. If we had three Assemblies in Scotland, a Highland Assembly, a West of Scotland Assembly and an East of Scotland Assembly, that situation could never arise.

SNP Members may laugh about this matter, but a number of Members from the Highlands will say quite honestly that they do not much like being governed by Whitehall but they are damned if they want to be governed by Glasgow or Edinburgh. That is a very strong view.

Mr. Douglas Henderson, Aberdeenshire, East)

Why does the hon. Gentleman not ask an SNP Member who is sitting behind him?

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

As my hon. Friend was interrupted by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), perhaps I may tell him that the regional council for the area that the hon. Member represents is totally against a Scottish Assembly for precisely that reason. It wants nothing to do with an Assembly dominated by Glasgow.

Mr. Emery


Mr. Henderson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Emery

I shall not give way on this point.

Mr. Henderson

Because the hon. Member cannot take an answer.

Mr. Emery

I have given an answer, and that view is held. A host of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

My amendments are trying to ensure that for both Scotland and Wales the House of Commons can make it absolutely clear that it is willing to devolve powers and to see Assemblies in Wales and Assemblies in Scotland that can, within their own nationality, carry out the devolved functions that the Bill would give. However, I want to ensure that in no way shall we run the risk of their being only a national Assembly in both of those countries, which would in time, without hesitation, have to demand that they should have greater and greater powers given to them or fought for from the House of Commons until those Assemblies came to be independent. If we had three Assemblies in Scotland, as I have suggested, that situation could never arise.

I have a schedule that explains how the division should be made. I am entirely open to the view that there should be debate, alteration and amendment of the schedule, which is not before us tonight. I do not hold to the exact delineation that I have suggested. However, the suggestion that I am putting forward is more likely to meet the views of the Government and even the views of the Opposition Front Bench about wishing to devolve powers to Assemblies in these nations, and yet we would avoid absolutely the risk of ever having those Assemblies demanding independence from the Act of Union.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Haffer

This has been an extremely lengthy and good debate and I shall not keep the Committee very long. I shall make one or two comments arising from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh).

My hon. Friend said that some Labour Members below the Gangway are conservative in their approach. I assume that in that sense the opposite to conservative is radical. I have a feeling that some of my hon. Friends have reached a stage where they consider that any change of any kind must be necessary because that is radicalism. I do not believe that we should change for the sake of change. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] I expected to get that response from the Opposition Benches.

It seems that some of our people are becoming so battered and confused that instead of trying to seek political solutions to our problems they take the view that problems can be solved on a basis of mere constitutional change. In a sense that is the essence of the Liberal argument. Liberal Members are saying that the politics of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have not proved successful in dealing with our problems and that the answer is to have a constitutional change—namely, proportional representation. They say "A plague on both your houses and everything will be all right."

That is rubbish. Nothing has ever been solved in the world on the basis of mere constitutional change. The answers to our problems will be political in their nature. If we are not to have a Labour Government, I should prefer a Tory Government who know where they are going and what they are doing. At least we would know our position in opposition, which we would not know if we had some group in the middle in power who stood for nothing.

One of our difficulties over the years is that we have had too many people on both sides of the Chamber who have always looked for consensus politics. Far too many have believed in consensus politics. They are now being joined by the SNP. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) said that we needed consensus to get Scottish independence—no politics, just independence. Surely fighting for independence is politics.

If the SNP gets its independence, will the politics cease from that moment onwards? Will that all finish? Will there not be different attitudes towards private property, public ownership and a National Health Service in Scotland, for example? To suggest that that would be the case is rubbish. What happens to any State that gets its independence? What happened to the ex-colonial countries? Unfortunately, independence has usually led to one group becoming dominant and suppressing the others in violent ways. That is what has happened in ex-colonial countries. Unfortunately, politics have taken a different turn and not always in a democratic sense.

Mere constitutional change does not solve anything. That is my basic criticism of the Bill—that it does not solve anything. It will not solve our basic political, economic and social problems. They have to be solved by political decisions. In my case that means taking Socialist decisions.

Change for change's sake is not the answer in itself. I am afraid that many of my hon. Friends are seeking an answer in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) made a first-class and brilliant speech. We do not always see eye to eye on matters but on this issue we were 100 per cent. in agreement. My hon. Friend was right to draw our attention to the Continental countries. I do not know of the Continental countries but at one stage I certainly knew about the Italians.

Our party was described as being basically a coalition. Let us look at the position of the Labour Party under a system of PR. Whenever there was an argument, the Manifesto Group would go off and form its own party, the Tribune Group would form its own party and the centre would remain for a period and then split to form its own party. It would be chaos. That would not lead to stability.

There are two basic fundamental attitudes and both of them are coalition. If we are to have stable government, it means putting in one coalition at one time and another coalition at another time. Stability is basically what we are talking about. If we do not have that kind of stability we cannot deal with the fundamental problems facing this country.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. The basis of his argument is that the survival of the Labour Party as now depends upon not having a system of PR in the United Kingdom. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should be more concerned about stable government than about a Government who could undertake social change. Is there not an argument for having a Socialist Party elected by PR? Although it might only result in some 70 or 80 Members going into occasional coalition with a social democratic party it might result in that coalition sticking to its manifesto rather than seeing a deradicalisation, which always happens to a Labour Government.

Mr. Heffer

I do not want to be lectured about Socialism by the hon. Gentleman. If I am to get lectures about Socialism I shall get them from hon. Members on my own side of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman does not need to lecture me on this matter.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North made clear, bargaining takes place in countries where there is PR. Sometimes there is bargaining before the General Election to try and get some sort of united platform. It happens within our own party and it is the same with the Tories. Having got it we then have to fight to see that the manifesto commitments are carried out. Of course, they are not always carried out. That is why we have lots of arguments in the House of Commons and we shall continue to have them.

Another matter of great importance concerns the political list. We in this country pride ourselves that we represent constituencies and that our constituent bodies select us. I can just imagine that situation with political lists. I am talking about the system of PR which exists in many countries of Europe.

If we had a type of PR with lists and we had a Right-wing group dominating the selection of lists, that would mean having Right-wing people on the list or, if the reverse occurred, Left-wing people on it. That means that in certain circumstances my hon. Friends and I would never appear on those lists and never enter the House.

I do not want to see a foot in the door of election by lists. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) says that nobody is arguing that. That might be true of this amendment, but the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire was putting forward alternative methods of proportional representation. There are many methods of proportional representation other than the one suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian. One method makes use of lists. My hon. Friend does not suggest that method. He suggests one Member for each constituency and topping-up.

Mr. Mackintosh

The national vote is topped-up.

Mr. Heffer

Then 19 or 29—or what ever number is decided—are selected as additional members who will have no constituency responsibilities and who will float around topped-up. If they do not have many duties, they will probably be tanked-up. Once that happens, we are only one step away from the list system. It will not end there. We shall be on the slippery slope.

Certain powerful forces want proportional representation, starting with the Assemblies and eventually ending with Parliament, because they believe that it is a way of dishing those who stand for Left-wing politics. They believe it is the way to stop a Labour Government coming into power and carrying out a Left-wing, Right-wing, or centre manifesto. That is why powerful people are putting money into that campaign.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) not to be misled into thinking that there is no politics behind the campaign for proportional representation. It is political. It is designed to dish all sections of the Left.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I am against proportional representation in any Assembly in any part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a matter of principle. The dangers and disadvantages of most of the variants far outweigh the dubious potential advantages that are claimed by proponents of a different voting system. There is no possibility of any voting system abolishing so-called adversary politics. The most it can do is to drive the horse-trading that is now done in public into the back room.

Many of the arguments advanced in favour of the amendment sound very like arguments for achieving an Assembly that is all things to all men. That cannot work.

11.30 p.m.

If we have proportional representation in whatever form for the Assemblies, it is likely to spread to this United Kingdom Parliament, probably with the Scottish system. I do not see why we should allow Scotland to prejudge the issue. In an amendment in my name and those of many of my hon. Friends there is a suggested way out of this difficulty. It is for the first Assemblies to consist of the Members of Parliament elected at the next General Election. They could then decide for themselves, without so great a danger of prejudging the case for the United Kingdom, how they would continue to be elected.

However, I admit that that is a side issue, because the arguments in favour of proportional representation for a Scottish Assembly alone, to secure that it is not dominated by a narrow group, apply equally to every local authority that is dominated by one party. If we are to be consistent in saying that the political domination of minorities by majorities must be prevented at all costs, every town, city, county and district council should be elected on a system of proportional representation. But I must admit that most hon. Members find that complaints from their constituents about local government in no way reflect the political colour of the dominating party, but rather the effect of the administration on their lives. So it would not improve local government.

I am against proportional representation because it is an excuse for not facing the facts. It is a method of trying to pretend that Members of Parliament are not over-subservient to party machines. It is a method of trying to pretend that we are not over-dominated by a minority of activists in our constituencies. I am against proportional representation because of the erroneous belief that it will make Parliament more representative without Members having to have the courage to speak up and vote the way that they really believe to be in their constituents' interests rather than in the way they feel they must, either to please their party in the House of Commons or to prevent trouble with their constituency party caucus.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) attributed all the troubles of the past 16 years to the electoral system and the fact that we had had minority Governments. He ignored the reason for the automatic majority in the House which enables a minority Government to force its policies through regardless. That was given away by my right hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) when he welcomed the Conservative Party's free vote, deplored the fact that there was no free vote for Labour Members, and regretted that the Tory Front Bench was not giving a lead. All that was really to say that we need party machines on our side before we can truly represent our constituents.

That is where my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes went wrong. It is the fact that we cannot act without the party machines which has done the damage, not the method of electing Members. It is an illusion to believe that proportional representation will do any good. We have seen the degree to which independence of thought and vote has become obsolete in this Chamber.

I am not necessarily opposed to a consensus if it is genuine—nor indeed to coalitions or national Governments. They are sometimes necessary. But I am against PR because the important thing is the supremacy of Parliament, the fact that the Queen's Government must be carried on only by a Government who can command support for their measures in this House.

I wish that I believed that Parliament as it is now elected reflected not only the views of the people but the translation of those views into action according to the practicalities of the day. All too often people follow the manifesto with consistency rather than admit that circumstances have changed; they therefore use the party apparatus to support measures which no longer have any validity.

Mr. Russell Fairgrieve

Does my right hon. Friend feel that the supremacy of Parliament is less inhibited by the continual use of the referendum than by the introduction of PR?

Mr. Macmillan

I view both constitutional innovations with grave suspicion. Proportional representation is being put forward as a soft option. If hon. Members voted as they really believed, there are many things on which this House could reach agreement but on which we are divided into the Lobbies because, for various reasons, hon Members do not vote according to their real views or the real interests of their constituents. Militant minorities, wherever they come, must be resisted. We must try to move to a Parliament in which support is not bought by automatic assent to measures which would be rejected on a free vote. One can give many examples from the recent past.

Mr. Kershaw

My right hon. Friend continues to grumble at the behaviour of this Chamber under its present system. Why does he say that this is the fault of PR?

Mr. Macmillan

I am saying that the reasons which I have given for the Chamber behaving as it does cannot be altered by the method by which it is elected. It is the composition and organisation of the factions and parties which make it up which are the problem, not the system of election. It is an illusion to believe that moving away from the first past the post system will necessarily lead to stability and continuity, that it will tend to moderate Governments, coalitions, or national Governments. If I may reassure hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is an illusion to believe that proportional representation will go against extremism or a Marxist minority. It was the existence of PR before the war in Germany which enabled the Nazi Party to keep a toe-hold in the Reichstag for 12 years before that same system ensured that it got support from the German people by a geometric rather than an arithmetic progression, when its support did start to increase.

It is dangerous to compare the situation in this country too closely with that of other countries. For example, the Social Democratic Party in Germany is not reverting to becoming the political wing of the trade union movement. In Germany and in other countries the trade unions as such do not have votes at party conferences, nor is there a system whereby trades councils dominate Labour Party management committees.

We have one peculiarity in this country. Whether we like it or not there is a tendency of supporters of Labour to vote for the ticket, regardless of the views of the Member they are electing. On the other hand, the Conservative Party and others have to work for votes. In the United Kingdom, PR, no matter how it is organised, will fragment the centre and the Right, and bring about a kind of popular front Government, consistently veering towards the Left.

The argument is made that PR is fair. I think that is bogus. We are not here in this Parliament, and members would not be in the Scottish Assembly, just to reflect the views of the electorate at the time the General Election takes place. We are here, and they will be there, to reflect the continuing interests of the electors throughout the whole life of the Parliament. It is the will of the people that matters, and that will is not necessarily reflected accurately by a mathematical reflection of their views on election day.

Unless we keep the present system, or something like it, I do not see how hon. Members can continue to be representatives rather than delegates.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea East)

Like the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. MacMillan), I am very sceptical indeed of the case for PR—in part because of the mixed and varied motives of the proponents of that system. Any system of electoral arrangements must be, in some sense, proportional. The motives of the proponents range from being against party politics as such to a belief that there would be no great swings of policy if there was an amorphous mass in the middle that was always in power—the great, grand coalition. This, it is claimed, would ensure that there was no steel nationalisation under one Government, followed by de-nationalisation under the next. It would ensure that there was no nationalising and de-nationalising of shipbuilding, and so on. In fact, the real danger would be that of complete immobilisation of politics without any possibility of radical shifts.

Some people who consider themselves political are against the party system as such and against the possibility of any real change in politics, whether it be a change by a veering to the Left or to the Right. Also, some people support the system of PR as proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) for quite a different reason—that is, that it will in some way dish the chances of the Scottish National Party.

The argument that we have heard has been largely that there would be a danger with the first past the post system of the SNP having a plurality of votes and then being able to claim that it had a mandate for independence. This motive I also find very suspect and hardly a proper reason for a constitutional change of such a magnitude which could have such far-reaching implications not only for the Assembly elections and not only for Westminster elections. It will come, as surely as night follows day. If any form of PR is accepted for the elections for the Assemblies and is also accepted for the European Parliament—it is almost inconceivable that we should be out of step with all other Community members in not having some form of PR for European Parliament elections—it is inconceivable that, sandwiched between the two Assemblies and the European Parliament, the Parliament at Westminster would remain out of step.

11.45 p.m.

So it seems that this is very much the thin end of the wedge, the opening of the door to PR over the whole range of elections, even eventually for local government elections. That is why the Liberal Party has been so consistently in favour of PR. If PR, or any variant thereof, were adopted for Westminster elections, there would be only one certain result, and that would be that the Liberal Party would be permanently in Govern- ment. I personally do not think that that is a blessing.

It seems to follow that we should have very much the situation that obtains in West Germany where the essence of political activity among the two major parties is an attempt to woo the centre party—the Free Democrats. Here it would be the Liberal Party. It would have an influence over the composition of Cabinets and over the direction of Government policy far out of proportion to its level of representation in the country as a whole. That is hardly in keeping with the basic requirements of democracy.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

From his European experience will the hon. Member give an objective assessment of what is the most successful Government, the Social Democratic coalition in Germany or the Labour Government in Britain?

Mr. Anderson

If one was to look at the economic performance of post-war Germany and the economic performance of this country over the same period one would say that West Germany was a success story in the way that this country was not. I cannot see in which way that can be ascribed to the electoral systems used in those countries. One of the great Liberal fallacies is that by some form of constitutional tinkering one can affect the basic economic performance of a country.

I remember a remarkable speech by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) during the last Queen's Speech debate. He argued that this country was going through a very difficult economic situation with the IMF breathing down our necks and with the levels of M1 and M3 being discussed by learned economists. Various economic formulae were being bandied about. But, according to the hon. Member, the answer to all the economic problems which beset this country over the decades could be found in one quick solution: out of the hat came proportional representation. This, I remember, was the great final paragraph, the great climax of the hon. Member's speech—that if we had proportional representation our economic problems, that have beset us through decades and longer, would melt away.

Mr. Kinnock

Might it not be that, as a departure from custom and tradition, there was method in the madness of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) on that occasion? The speech was made at a time when the Liberal Party had spent several months, even under its previous leader, carpetbagging around big business, begging for funds on the undertaking that in the event of proportional representation the Liberal Party could provide security by giving assistance to whichever party occupied the position of major party at the Westminster Parliament.

Was it not the case, as faithfully reported in the Daily Telegraph, that Sir Kenneth Keith, Chairman of Rolls Royce uttered, in a deathless phrase to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), that either we had to have proportional representation in this country or we had to give more authority to the House of Lords because we could not let the pendulum swings go on for ever? Might it not be that the remarks of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North were rooted not so much in concern for popular democracy as concern for the dwindling coffers of the Liberal Party?

Mr. Anderson

As always my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has made an excellent speech by piggy-backing on my own short contribution. As always, he has put his finger on the key issue, that what is being sold to us by the Liberals as the great radical innovation of proportional representation is, in fact, the stalking horse of far more sinister influences whose sole aim is to prevent any radical innovation in this country.

If there are no clear-cut choices, there can only be some amorphous middle ground and no possibility of clear-cut decisions on the part of individual parties. One can see how the relationship between a Member and his electorate will be marred. No longer will a Member be able to go to his electorate with a manifesto commitment and say that he will do his best to ensure that certain policies will be put into effect if support is given to his party. He will know that the relationship he has with his electorate can easily be broken because his own party will be unlikely to have a majority. Indeed, with PR it is unlikely that any party will ever have an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons in future. It will mean, therefore, that that Member will have to go back to his electorate and say, "Yes, I did promise that, if elected, I and my party would carry out certain policies, but I regret to say that our coalition partners"—who will inevitably be Liberals—"would not have it, and though I am with you and should like to carry out my election commitments, this is not possible because of the wicked coalition partners with whom this system forced us into bed." At present, we do our best, according to prevailing circumstances, to carry out our election commitments.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

May I make what I hope will be a helpful intervention? The hon. Gentleman is projecting into the future the voting patterns which we have had under the first past the post system. If electors understand that they are voting under a system of proportional representation, are they not more likely to plump for the candidates and parties closest to their ideological or political position? Might that not result in a realignment which could be far more radical than the fudging and confusion that we have seen on both sides of this Chamber?

Mr. Anderson

I do not see that realignment coming. The hon. Member and I both call ourselves Socialists, but I do not share his isolationist and narrow view on Wales. There would always be such differences of principle and PR would lead only to a multiplicity of parties.

I base my view not on projections of voting patterns but on opinion polls, which show between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the electorate supporting the Liberal Party. That would be enough to ensure that neither of the major parties would achieve a clear majority under proportional representation. I do not believe that the system adumbrated by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) would make that 15 per cent., or 20 per cent. of the electorate suddenly ally themselves with the Conservative or Labour Parties.

One of the great features of our politics since 1970 has been the move towards a multi-party system. In the 1974 General Election the two major parties won only about 75 per cent. of votes cast. If that pattern continued under PR, neither party would ever have a majority of seats—with all the effects on policy formation and enactments which that entails.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Do I gather that the hon. Gentleman reckons that support for the Liberal Party would continue to fluctuate at around 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. and would therefore prevent the big parties securing total overall majority? Do I gather also that his answer is to deny that 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. both influence and representation according to their votes?

Mr. Anderson

It is a question of a balance of advantage. That 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. may be denied a part in government because their party is unlikely ever to be in a majority under the present system, but we have to consider the worse alternative: that under PR that group would have a say in government which was totally out of proportion to its numbers. The only certain effect of PR at Westminster is that that group will always be in government.

12 midnight

I shall use the analogy of the parties in the German system and the extent to which the CDU and the SPD have to tailor their policies to accord with the policies of the FDP at any time. That result is far less welcome than the result of our present system, which I accept does to some extent disfranchise that proportion of the electorate which identifies with the Liberal Party.

I am bound to conclude that the sponsors of this motion have perhaps not followed through the implications of this bright, shiny radical idea. It would affect policy formulation and would certainly mean that the radical policies of a Labour Government could never be followed through. That fact and its implications have certainly been taken on board by the influences which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty noted. Proportional representation and the reduction in the number of Members in the House of Commons from Wales and Scotland could combine together to ensure that there could never be a radical Labour Government in future. That is a situation that neither I nor my constituents would want.

I hope that the Government will continue their present opposition to a system of proportional representation, even during these long discussions at the midnight hour. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will stand firm, as he normally does on points of principle, and say "They shall not pass" to ensure that there is no proportional representation in our time.

Mr. Russell Fairgrieve

I am pleased to rise for a few minutes, even at this late hour, to support the amendment.

There has been a lot of talk about the great advantages of our political system when compared with those in Europe, but if results are the criteria, people should be more careful about making such claims. The system of election in seven out of the nine members of the European Community is by proportional representation, and they have not done too badly in the post-war period.

I can remember the time when we put the current system of government into Germany to keep Germany weak. It might have been better if we had done it the other way round and had put our own system of government into Germany and adopted the present German system in this country. Since that time our rôles have been reversed.

We should not criticise the way in which the majority of European nations govern themselves when we see the results they have achieved. I prefer to judge systems by the results which they have for the electorate rather than keeping any particular political system for the benefit of the rulers.

It has been brought out in this debate that the Scottish position is completely different from the position in the United Kingdom as a whole. In Scotland we have been stabilised for some years, with three political parties each taking more or less one-third of the vote, and every argument says that in any electoral system for the Scottish Assembly we should have some form of proportional representation. It is fair to say that the Kilbrandon Report—and the Commission was composed of men of some sense—unanimously recommended proportional representation for the Assembly.

I do not accept the idea that this would cause some sort of infection here at Westminster. I agree that as yet there is no case for proportional representation at Westminster, because we still operate under a two-party system. In the last century we had the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. In this century we have had the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. The transition from Liberal to Labour was pretty quick, rather unlike the position in Scotland today or the views of Scottish voters over the years.

I do not accept the argument about precedent. It was this two-party non-proportional representation system of government in Great Britain which decided that it was right to put proportional representation into Ulster. I do not accept the argument that it cannot be introduced in one part of the country without infecting other parts of it.

I agree that most of the numbers suggested are far too high. I believe that the correct number of members of the Assembly is about 100. Elections can be held immediately with an understandable method by which the people elect members to the 71 seats as they are constituted at present. Although hon. Members here do not seem to understand proportional representation, members in Ulster and members in Europe seem to understand it quickly enough, and anyone with the idea that the additional members involved in the topping-up from 71 to 100 would have nothing to do fails to understand the overload of business in the House of Commons. I suggest that it is laid down quite clearly that, after the initial election is over, the Assembly itself can settle down to look at its constituencies, at its members and at any changes thought to be necessary for the election, which will take place four years thereafter.

I conclude with a reference to the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman). He argued that it was ridiculous to set up these Assemblies and then make changes. But how can changes be made in an Assembly which has not been set up? It would be one of the worst things that could happen if we set up an Assembly for Scotland and rigorously stuck to the mistakes being made here. Here is a chance for a new start, looking at the problems and looking at the right systems for the Scottish situation. That is why I am glad to support the amendment.

Mr. Foot

I know that many hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate. However, it may be helpful if I make some remarks at this stage, especially on the proportional representation aspects of the argument. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will reply somewhat later—though I hope not too much later—on some of the other aspects that have been raised. I am not suggesting that hon. Members who are called after me may not wish to refer to the proportional representation arguments that we have had, but I hope that this will be a convenient way for us to proceed.

In replying to what my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said I hope that I am not basing the Government's case purely on insular and less still on chauvinistic arguments. I am not presenting my arguments on the basis that what we have in this country is so good that we should never contemplate any change in it. We should be prepared, of course, to listen to arguments for change on their merits and say what consideration we should give to what is proposed on that basis.

It is on that basis that we have approached the matter, even though it is a reasonable case for the Government to make as part of their arguments that, in introducing a system of devolution and elections for Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, unless there are overwhelming arguments for changing the electoral system that we have known in this country, there is probably a good case for standing by it. Therefore, I think, the onus of making the case for change must be with hon. Members who are proposing change in the electoral system and a change which is a considerable alteration in what we have had as an electoral system in this country before.

My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, if I understood him aright, in other aspects of the matter mentioned the suggestion of public opinion polls in Scotland about what might be the results there in certain circumstances, and he suggested—and others have suggested—that if an election had been held at some period over the last few years, the Labour Party would have had a majority and that in another few months it might have been the Scottish nationalists who would have had the first past the post majority. There was even the outlandish suggestion that at another period the Conservatives might have had an overwhelming majority on a first past the post basis. I understand that hon. Members are saying that it might occur now.

All these surmises are based on public opinion polls taken between election times, and of all the useless pieces of knowledge presented to the world, public opinion polls between elections are probably the most useless. If a question is to be put to people in Scotland and the man in the street is wasting his time answering futile questions, one certain thing is that the person who is asked the question does not stop to imagine what his views would be if a General Election were to be presented at that moment, even if he had the power to do that.

No piece of evidence presented to us is ever more futile and misleading than these public opinion polls. The only possible time when public opinion polls might be correct is just before a General Election itself. Then they are superfluous. We have found over recent years, in the instances of the 1970 election and the 1974 elections, that the guidance given to the public at large by public opinion polls up to a period very shortly before the election itself was grossly misleading and that wise people in both Governments have been misled by such polls. For us, or for anyone to cite public opinion polls in this debate is misleading. We should not base any argument on those grounds.

Mr. Thorpe

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I ask him to cut through this rubbish and not deal with what he calls hypothetical cases. Let us deal just with the last General Election, when it was possible for a party to have 39 per cent. of the vote and to have a majority. That has also happened in Quebec, where 41 per cent. of the vote got a party 63 per cent. of the seats. It is possible in Scotland. It is irrelevant to deal with public opinion polls. He should deal with what might happen.

Mr. Foot

That is a different argument.

Mr. Thorpe

A much better one.

Mr. Foot

I shall come to the other arguments in the course of my remarks, but this was one argument which was used, that one might have such bizarre and absurd results from a first past the post system and that we should try to change it on those grounds. I am entitled to reply to that as well as to other arguments.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Adley

I do not disagree that studying opinion polls between elections is a fairly meaningless operation. But does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is equally futile to try to assess what election results would have been if a different system of election had been in operation by assuming that what happened at the previous election would happen at the same time and in the same place under a different system?

Mr. Foot

I agree. That is another argument against part of the case which has been presented. Different electoral systems invite different kinds of answers. With proportional representation, the responsibility which rests upon each elector is diminished because, if he has paid attention to the advice given by the leaders of the Liberal Party, he will know that, whichever way he votes, he will not have contributed to a certain result in the election. If he takes the advice of the Liberals on the likely outcome of any election, he must know that his responsibility is diminished. But if he takes heed of the opinion that the first past the post system can in certain circumstances lead to a full majority for one party, he takes that into account as well.

This argument has entered into our previous discussions. I do not believe that the Scottish National Party will secure the majority which some people have prophesied for it. If those who are opposed to the policies of the SNP have properly and robustly put their case, the Labour Party has every chance of securing a full majority. I believe that the electoral system can assist in securing a clear result, whereas proportional representation tends to blur the issue. Some people want to blur the issue. Indeed, it is almost a profession of the modern Liberal Party to blur the issue, so it naturally favours proportional representation.

Another suggestion or recommendation has emerged during the past few hours in favour of accepting the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian. This argument was put forward particularly by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames, I think—

Sir Nigel Fisher


Mr. Foot

The Surbiton part of Kingston upon Thames. If I were the Member for Surbiton, I am sure that I should prefer it to be called Kingston upon Thames. At any rate, the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher), being a passionate advocate of proportional representation, said that one of his purposes was to ditch not merely the nationalists—that is one of his aims in life—but the Marxists. The hon. Gentleman thinks that proportional representation is a good electoral system for hitting those two nails on the head with the same electoral hammer.

I do not believe that is a good basis for devising a particular kind of electoral system. Many hon. Members have made this point in the debate. Indeed, on this aspect I agree with all those who said that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) made the most revealing speech of all during the debate. I think that the idea of adopting an electoral system to ditch a particular section of candidates is unwise. As it is unlikely or less likely to achieve the desired result, I suggest that is a good reason for not adopting it.

I think that it is even worse to propose that we should abandon an electoral system which has worked fairly well and served us for a number of years for the purpose of ditching a particular section of candidates. I think that the Committee and the country would be well advised to set aside all those arguments about adopting a proportional representation system in order to defeat a particular party or section of a party at an election.

I fully acknowledge that what my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian has sought to do in the amendment, by adopting the scheme for the additional member system of proportional representation, is to overcome many of the arguments that the Liberals have neglected in the past. I think that the Liberals are supporting the amendment, but my hon. Friend's proposition is one that is different from the older systems of PR that were favoured for many years by the Liberal Party.

The additional member proposition has the advantage, first, that it does not destroy the individual constituencies and the association between most of the Members of Parliament and their individual constituencies. I fully acknowledge that that is an advantage, because I have always believed that one of the most formidable arguments to be made against all other systems of PR—it applies in some degree to this system—is that PR breaks the link between the individual Member and his constituency.

That is one reason, above all, why we should oppose a PR system, but there are others. Some of those are met in some degree by my hon. Friend's proposition, but that still has many disadvantages. It has all the disadvantages of first-class and second-class Members of Parliament, or whatever one cares to call them, or the differentiation between the different calibres or forms of members—those who are elected on the first ballot, if one can call it that, and those who come in on the topping-up system. Any system that leads to different layers of Members of Parliament must be looked at very carefully before being adopted—to put it very mildly. My hon. Friend's system still suffers from that disadvantage. He is not able to overcome it, although his system is better than the normal system of PR.

However, my hon. Friend's proposal and, indeed, all other systems of PR do not meet the most serious objection. That is the point that has been underlined by my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North, Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), and by many Opposition Members—the fact that any system of PR almost inevitably—I do not say absolutely inevitably—leads to some form of coalition Administration.

From the Liberals' point of view—not necessarily from their party's point of view, but on the basis of their arguments—for them that is an advantage. For those who believe in consensus politics—I use the horrible word to describe the horrible thing—I fully understand that that is what they desire.

The right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) put the case very fairly. He said that he heard some putting an extreme case on one side about the electoral system, and some putting an extreme case on another side, and that, therefore, one might believe that wisdom lay in the middle. I have never believed that in all these matters, and I do not believe that our political system has held that wisdom lies in the middle in these matters. Playing on his fuddled fiddle Somewhere in the muddled middle. I am not sure where that comes from, but it is one of the occupations that has been revealed in our politics. It is not an example that we should follow.

Any form of PR, including my hon. Friend's proposal, leads almost inevitably to some form of arrangement after the election takes place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West says, and in my view, the great vice of that system is that it comes very near to invalidating the electoral process itself, because the very issues that are presented to the electorate one month are the issues that are to be denied the following month. Indeed the more the system tried to overcome that by explaining it beforehand, the more I believe that the electorate would be deprived of any clear choice whatsoever.

My objection—I believe that this is the objection of most of my hon. Friends who take this view—to proportional representation in almost any form is one of principle. I believe that if PR is applied over a wide area it will generally undermine the whole principle of our political system.

I do not believe that the Liberal Party has ever thought out the matter sufficiently carefully. In the great days of the Liberal Party there were few advovates of PR among Liberals. I know that there was one very great Liberal who advocated it—John Stuart Mill. He wrote a very fine book about it. However, many of the greatest Liberal leaders, such as Gladstone and others, had the opportunity of supporting PR. John Stuart Mill advocated it in the House and Liberal leaders could have heard him, the greatest spokesman for PR, putting the case. But they did not adopt it. Perhaps they did not do so because they were wiser in their generation than the present spokesmen for the Liberal Party are today.

Although the Liberal Party has a deep interest in this matter, an interest that it does not often declare, I ask it—

Mr. Pardoe

We want power.

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman seems to have turned sour on the electoral process altogether, and for very obvious reasons.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The right hon. Gentleman said a wee while ago before he went into that splendid patch of rhetoric that the PR system would—I quote him—"invalidate democracy". The logical follow-on is that in all the democratic countries of Europe, barring Britain and France, democracy is invalidated. Is that what the right hon. Gentleman is saying?

Mr. Foot

I said at the beginning that I was not seeking to be insular in these matters. I believe that we are perfectly capable—surely we have a perfect right to do so—of defending our institutions that have served us over many years. We should not have such an inferiority complex as to imagine that we should abandon our present political institutions to adopt PR. I believe that the system works differently in many of the countries of Europe, but in this country we have not had coalitions except in extreme circumstances of war. We certainly had one in 1931, but that was not an example to follow but an example to deter. It led to the conditions of 1940 and the most extreme dangers that have ever faced the country in the whole of its history.

If we consider the history of this country—even Liberals should be prepared to do so—the view cannot be contested that if we were to have the sort of system that is proposed our political institutions would suffer grave damage. After every election—this would apply in the Assemblies in Scotland and Wales as well as in England as a whole if we were to have PR—and after there had been the fight between the individual parties, two parties would meet to decide what programme they would have. That would deny the programmes on which they fought the election itself. I do not believe that we can introduce such a system without doing grave damage to our political institutions.

It is my view—I believe that this is the overwhelming view of the House of Commons—that when introducing a new system of devolution to the Assemblies in Scotland and Wales we should not introduce this dangerous new principle into our system. It would be foolish for us to do so. It would certainly be a denial of our history. I know that that grates in the ears of some, especially those in the Liberal Party.

I quoted Gladstone and some hon. Gentlemen have referred to Disraeli. Some hon. Members should remember why Disraeli said that England did not love coalition. It was because he believed in sustaining the demarcation lines between parties. One of the reasons he believed that was that he argued that if one destroyed the demarcation lines between parties one also destroyed the integrity of public men and the integrity of our politics as a whole. There was a great deal of truth in what he said.

12.30 a.m.

I therefore believe that we in the House of Commons should not be apologetic about our party system, particularly when what I and most of my hon. Friends are protesting about is that the one party State destroys democracy. But if we were to destroy the party system we could destroy democracy by that method also.

We should therefore be very careful about taking steps which I believe could undermine the kind of party system that we have had in this country. I believe that system has contributed greatly to our democracy. I believe that we should be a little bolder and not have an inferiority complex in defending it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

The right hon. Gentleman said that England was apparently not very keen on coalitions. Does he not appreciate that in the context of the Bill it is not England or the United Kingdom we are concerned about but Scotland and Wales? When the right hon. Gentleman talks of the existing party system having served this "country" well, does he not realise that in Scotland that party system has now been smashed?

Mr. Foot

I do not believe that the party system in Scotland has been smashed. I think the electoral system from which the hon. Gentleman profited is still a party system. Whatever else should be done. I am certainly opposed to destroying the party system in this country. If that were to be done, it would be the gravest possible injury that could be inflicted on the political system.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted past Conservatives but will he tell the Committee what happened in the 1920s which converted the Labour Party from a party that believed in PR to a party that was opposed to it?

Mr. Foot

I was quoting past Conservative leaders for the very good reason that it is difficult to discover what the present ones think. We are still waiting to see what that situation may be.

It may be that there have been members of the Labour Party in the past, as there are some now, who favour a PR system. But certainly it was not the official policy of this party. The official policy of this party is to sustain our present electoral system for the very good reasons that I have described.

Mr. Whitehead

We must nail the point about the Labour Party being converted away from PR. Will my right hon. Friend not agree that the 1931 Bill was about the alternative vote, which is not PR?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct and the interruption of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) was quite misleading.

Mr. Pym

It was clear before the debate began that the Committee wanted to hold a substantial debate on PR and on the main amendment and its implications. That is what has happened. The whole of the debate, apart from a few sentences in the speeches of my hon. Friends the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), has been entirely devoted to Amendment No. 50. Practically no speech so far has been addressed to the other 40 amendments linked to Amendment No. 50. I am sure that that is the arrangement the Committee wanted.

It has been an extremely interesting debate. The motion was moved with great distinction by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). Passions have been aroused on both sides of the Committee. The strongest case against the motion was made by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), and the most powerful case in favour of it by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), who expressed his deep anxiety about the divisions in our country and put forward his reasons for feeling that a move to proportional representation might make a significant contribution to preserving its unity.

What did not happen was what the Lord President sought to allege had happened. Those who argued in favour of the amendment did so not on the basis of trying to "ditch" one political party or another. I heard no speech in favour of the amendment that claimed in its favour that it would "ditch" anyone. That was an argument used by hon. Members who criticised the proponents of the amendment on the ground that that was what they intended. My right hon. and hon. Friends have approached the amendment on a free vote basis, which seems wholly appropriate.

The Lord President seemed to be scared of an amendment that he represented as being novel and potentially devastating. He should not be so scared because it is clear that there are divisions in the Labour Party as there are in the Conservative Party—rightly so. The only appropriate Whip would be a Whip on behalf of the Liberal Party—which I suspect has been applied.

All electoral systems have their weaknesses, including the first past the post system. It is natural for the House of Commons to favour the first past the post system because we have all been elected on that system and historically it has worked extremely well here. There is no stronger advocate of the two-party system than I, but it cannot be denied that the election figures in recent decades show a considerable change in the voting pattern of the electors who support the two main parties. There is no doubt either that the two-party system is increasingly being criticised and challenged. There are more calls today for constitutional reform and change than there have been for many years. Those calls do not arise without cause, and they re- quire our deep consideration and attention.

We live in an age when change is invariably thought to be beneficial, and no change is thought to be undesirable. I do not subscribe to that view. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) did not, and I agree with him that there is no point in change for the sake of change. The circumstances and conditions in our country and in life generally continually change, and that change has always been reflected in our changing methods of government. We have gradually and continuously adjusted them over the decades and centuries. Now that those circumstances and conditions are changing more rapidly, it is logical for government arrangements to change also, and that is what the whole argument around this Bill is about.

The Bill is an extremely good example of how not to bring about constitutional changes. That is not to say that everything should remain as it is. All parties accept the need to adjust the government of the United Kingdom as it affects Scotland and Wales. I regret the way in which the whole business has been approached. Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel that the method of approach is a real threat to the unity of the United Kingdom. Last week we spent a whole night debating the Bill and its effect on the unity of the United Kingdom, and that view was reflected most movingly again today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington.

At any rate, this amendment is not about Westminster, although much of the debate has been on that subject. It is about the proposed Assemblies and how they should be elected. That certainly affects the unity of the United Kingdom. All the circumstances surrounding the Assemblies and their election are entirely different from those surrounding the election of this House. There is little similarity.

I have no difficulty in contemplating elections to the proposed Assemblies on a different basis from that for Westminster. I should see some advantages in having a different system, advantages which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) pointed out. Why should the system be the same?

One of the strongest arguments in favour of the first-past-the-post system is that it produces a strong Executive, if not always, almost always. That is necessary in order to deal with the national problems of the economy, foreign affairs, defence and such matters, on which decisions are often needed quickly and upon which the Government of the day naturally require confidence that they will receive parliamentary support. That has worked very well. But the type of decisions envisaged in the Bill for the Scottish Executive do not include the type I have described. They are quite different, being confined to housing, education and environmental matters listed in Schedule 6. Therefore, why should the electoral system be the same?

Several Hon. Members


The Temporary Chairman

We must not have three hon. Members on their feet at the same time.

Mr. Anderson

Is the right hon. Gentleman in favour of the amendment?

Mr. Pym

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait. I am dealing with the amendment. I said at the beginning of my speech that we on the Conservative Benches approached the subject with a free vote, which we think is wholly appropriate in the circumstances. There is no need for the Government to put on a Whip—I understand that they have put on a strong one—to protect their position. Hon. Members like the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and some of his hon. Friends are finding it a very convenient way, though opposing the Bill, to be in support of the Government. However that may be, I see no reason why the electoral system should be the same.

There is another important difference between the Assemblies and Westminster, in that the situation in Scotland and Wales, but particularly in Scotland, cannot be described as two-party. All the evidence is that there are four parties, and five have been mentioned. The first past the post system is prone to exaggerate a relatively small advantage that one party may temporarily enjoy. For example, the Labour Party in Scotland has well over half the seats with only just over one-third of the votes. That has proved acceptable where strong Executives are required, but that is not the position of the proposed Executive in Scotland.

If our first past the post system is to be acceptable, all the parties in the proposed Assembly will have to accept the constitutional basis of the Bill, which one of them does not. One of the parties in Scotland has a different and separate objective. That must be taken into account in any thinking we give to how the Assembly is to be elected. [Interruption.] I do not think that the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) has been here very much during the course of the debate. If he is so impatient, there are plenty of other places he can go to.

The most powerful argument in favour of the amendment is that it makes it possible to ensure that no one party can obtain a majority of seats on a minority of votes. But the supporters of the amendment must not deny that it bristles with difficulties and complications, which must not be under-rated. We find that the difficulties start when we look into the detail and try to choose a system. There are snags in all of them. The amendment, upon which the hon. Members who drafted it should be congratulated, is probably the most workable system that anyone has yet come up with. It could be put into effect very quickly.

12.45 a.m.

The fact that this was not proposed by the Kilbrandon Commission must give one reason to pause. The Commission proposed the single transferable vote system. But that is proportional only if one links together five or six seats, which is a large and impersonal arrangement and would be done at considerable cost to general public support. The Commission did not propose what is now in the amendment. It also preferred the alternative vote system to the relative majority system but recognised its weaknesses in translating the voters' preferences into representation at the Assembly.

Sir Nigel Fisher

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish to be unfair about this. The Kilbrandon Commission reported before the additional member system had been worked out or published. It could not have considered it unless it had invented it itself.

Mr. Pym

That is a fair point, but other hon. Members have advocated STV. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) did, but he was criticised by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). However, what my hon. Friend says is perfectly true, that this method had not been invented when the Commission reported. At any rate, it seems desirable, if we are to have proportional representation, that the result should be as strictly proportional as possible.

Several hon. Members have criticised the additional member system. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) produced the criticisms which appeared in last week's Economist, which no one who has spoken to the amendment has yet sought to answer. Many hon. Members would like to know what the proposers think about those criticisms.

I should like to know what would happen in the case of a by-election in one—or two or three—directly elected seats. Will it be necessary to adjust the topped-up seats to take account of any changes in balance which may follow the by-elections, or will any change have to wait for the next General Election in three or four years?

Mr. Buchan

There is one other thing that we do not know—whether the right hon. Gentleman is supporting the amendment. Would he tell us?

Mr. Pym


Mr. Mackintosh

The right hon. Gentleman is being a little less than fair. The by-election system is set out in the amendment. We propose that if one of the directly elected seats becomes vacant, it will be filled by the normal system. If it is one of the topping-up seats, it will go to the next candidate on that party's list.

Mr. Pym

But suppose a number of by-elections alter the balance, is it to be adjusted immediately or not?

I do not agree with subsection (4) of the amendment which gives the Assembly power to adjust the system of holding these elections. It is true that under the new schedule in Amendment No. 275 Parliament retains the right to reject the proposals of the Assembly and retains control over it, but I do not think that the Assemblies should have the power to make any proposals in connection with fresh elections. The House of Commons should retain not only the final sanction but the power to initiate any legislation.

In the case of Wales, there would be objection to amending a Bill about elections by order, which is the only way that it could be proposed because that is the type of legislative Assembly proposed for Wales. This is not a minor drafting point but a criticism of substance.

This has been so far a major debate on a major issue and the Committee will want to vote on the principle rather than the detail. As I have said, we on these Benches are approaching the matter in the spirit—no, not in the spirit: in the actual fact—of a free vote—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh—I do not know why.

For the Lord President to get up and deliver a speech which was so fearful of PR, knowing, as he does, that a number of his hon. Friends support it passionately, does not seem a very good posture. This is a matter on which the House has to make up its mind. We shall have a free vote and I am not presuming to give guidance from the Dispatch Box. My hon. Friends know perfectly well that my personal view is sympathetic to the principle of PR. I do not mind telling the House my personal view, but I do not think that will have one iota of influence on the way anyone else votes.

This is the first time this major issue has been debated in the House of Commons for a very long time, and I do not think that a debate of seven or eight hours is long enough to enable us to go sufficiently deeply into the issues involved. The implications are far-reaching, and the possibilities that have been exposed in this debate are very wide.

There has been criticism of first and second-class members of the Assembly and the contrast between the directly-elected and topped-up members requires further consideration. The point was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire about the difference between the directly-elected Member with a constituency to look after, and the other Members with their freedom. The House is not fully satisfied about the difference between the two categories. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington that what we are trying to achieve is adequate, appropriate and proper representation in the two Assemblies, and I do not believe that the House can reach a satisfactory conclusion on that in one debate.

The vote later tonight is not the end of the matter. This is just the first round. It is the first bite at a very big issue. No matter what happens in the vote, I am sure that the debate will continue because the issues raised today are so large. Perhaps after we finish discussions on this part of the issue, we can continue the debate on the matter of the size of the Assemblies, which many of my hon. Friends want to discuss.

I doubt whether the House is satisfied yet with this PR proposal. Circumstances in this country have changed, and the House of Commons and the system of government will have to change to take account of that.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Hitchin)

I hope that even at this hour, and after the speeches from the two Front Benches, I do not need to apologise for returning to Amendment No. 50, of which I was one of the original sponsors. [Interruption.]

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I wish to listen to the hon. Gentleman. If other hon. Members wish to withdraw, they should do so quietly.

Mr. Stewart

I do not wish to recapitulate many of the arguments which have been put forward very thoroughly in the past seven or eight hours, but there are a number of important issues that have not been adequately put in this connection.

It is difficult to separate in our minds, and certainly in the speeches we have heard, the party political and constitutional attitudes of individual Members. I do not say that in a sense of criticism. When looking at this amendment, each one of us—either consciously or subconsciously—is bound to be influenced not only by the effect on ourselves, our personal representation, and the party we represent but by the effect on the fundamental balance of the make-up of Governments as a result of majorities or combinations of parties in the House of Commons.

Many contributions to the debate, quite reasonably, have been coloured by con- siderations of the way in which the House of Commons works. But we are not debating the electoral system upon which the House is based. It may be called in aid on certain points where comparison arises, but with all the amendments that have been tabled we are dealing with the electoral system that will operate for the devolved Assemblies. I apologise to the Committee for having to point that out at this stage, but sometimes our discussion has, not unreasonably, wandered a little far from this central point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) made an interesting point which proved the exact opposite of what he intended. He said that if we introduced a system of PR for Scotland and Wales or for the European Parliament, that would inevitably mean that the same system would be introduced at Westminster for elections to the United Kingdom Parliament. But in the same breath he said that this was a very bad system of which he wanted no part. If it is a bad system and if it was introduced for elections to the Assemblies it would be shown to be bad and would not be introduced for Westminster elections. My right hon. Friend's whole argument therefore falls.

Another point that he made by way of analogy was concerned with local government. This is a major consideration which has not yet received sufficient attention. We are not considering a system for the Assemblies comparable with the Westminster system. We are considering a system of election under which there will be more than one seat for each constituency. So we are not considering a first past the post system. We are considering a first and second past the post, or even, in certain cases, a first, second and third past the post system. That is much more analogous to our local authority system than it is to the system used in Westminster elections.

Council elections give us the nearest thing we have to the way in which elections for the devolved Assemblies might take place. I was the Conservative candidate in Hammersmith, North just before and just after 1970. When I arrived a Labour Government were in office and Labour heavily dominated the borough council in Hammersmith. Elections to the borough council were then held and, in common with many other councils, there was in Hammersmith an overwhelming Tory majority. Then came the 1970 General Election and the Tory Party was returned to power at Westminster. A year or so afterwards more local elections came along and there was a vast swing to the Labour Party. Tory representation on the Hammersmith Borough Council was reduced to two or three members.

The essential point about this is that the elections for the devolved Assemblies are due to be held at a fixed period of years, whereas the Westminster system operates on the basis of the power of a Prime Minister to call an election. Anybody who cares to look back at the record will find that Parliaments do not last five years, which is the maximum. They may have, say, an average life of three years, but that average embraces some Parliaments which lasted for almost five years and some which lasted for scarcely five months.

1.0 a.m.

What will be the consequence of this? It is bound to be the case that the elections for the devolved Assemblies will be out of phase with Westminster parliamentary elections. If there is to be any real power and influence accorded to the devolved Assemblies, they are likely for at least half the time to be represented in a way that will be politically diametrically opposed to the Government at Westminster.

In the past, in the case of local government, that perhaps did not matter so much because it has not, on the whole, had much power. But we have already seen in recent years—as central Governments have arrogated greater powers to themselves over larger areas of our lives and laid down in detail the functions of local government in respect of education, housing and so on—the seeds of real conflict sown between central Government and local authorities.

There was the case of the Clay Cross councillors who did not feel inclined to accept legislation passed by a Tory Government—I shall not put it any more strongly than that. Tory councillors at Tameside do not feel obliged, unless legally bound to do so, to go along with the education policy of the Labour Government.

Those are instances within local areas and they affect housing and education. For the life of me I cannot think of two more important areas of policy that will be the concern of the Scottish and Welsh devolved Assemblies than housing and education.

The Assemblies are likely, for almost half the time, not only to be diagramatically politically opposed to the Westminster Parliament but also be concentrating primarily on issues upon which they are most likely to be in conflict with the party policy of a Government of another colour. The consequences of having voting at four-yearly intervals for the Assemblies but having erratic dates for parliamentary elections is bound to lead to maximum instability. Nobody can doubt that there will be a real problem here because the institution in Scotland will not be the same politically as the Government of the United Kingdom as a whole.

A point that has been made by many hon. Members—and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) put it rather well—can be dramatically illustrated by the election result of October 1974 in Dunbartonshire, East. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) polled 15,551 votes, 31.2 per cent. of the votes cast, and she won the seat. She won it by a majority of 22 votes from the Conservative candidate who polled 15,529 votes and received 31.1 per cent. of the votes cast. The Socialist candidate was only 400 votes behind with 15,122 votes and that was over 30 per cent. of the votes cast. The three leading candidates polled within 1 per cent. of each other in the total vote. None of them polled more than 32 per cent. or less than 30 per cent. I would not believe that anybody would be willing to suggest that this does not demonstrate that there is now far greater division of political opinion and of the parties in Scotland.

It could be argued, with some wishful thinking, that these are temporary aberrations from the North, but they are aberrations of such colossal size that they begin to take on significance. We all believe in proportional representation—up to a point. It is a matter of degree. No one would say that we should tolerate a system which gave a majority in the House of Commons to a party that polled less than 10 per cent. of the votes. Our individual sticking points might be at 20 per cent., 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. It is a matter of degree.

In Scotland that degree has been passed. It is a matter of opinion whether it has been reached in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is important to emphasise that in present circumstances the proposals for Scotland are not directly relevant to what happens in Westminster now or in future.

I think that it is likely that there will be changes here. I am in favour of them, but they should not be introduced until sufficient hon. Members also realise the importance of these matters, public opinion feels strongly about them, and the case for change is much more clear cut. That is a relative position because this is not a black and white issue.

In the old days we considered that a combined Labour and Conservative share of 95 per cent. to 97 per cent. of the votes constituted a two-party system. When that share falls to 85 per cent., the system is in jeopardy; at 75 per cent., it is in serious risk; and at 60 per cent., the case for change is made. That is the point we have reached in Scotland.

The United Kingdom elections can wait upon events. I have no doubt that the passage of time and the way in which we get majority or minority Governments in future will settle the point. The situation in Wales is less clear cut, but the voting pattern in Scotland is different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Are the Scottish people to be given the chance to decide how they wish to the Assembly to operate and be elected? The amendment rightly gives the Assembly power to consider the operation of future elections. That is a constructive proposal.

Some people have suggested that our attitude to the desirability of Assemblies is coloured by our views on the methods of voting to elect them. I do not believe that there is a simple, uniform relationship between opinions in these matters. I am apprehensive about a Scottish Assembly in the form proposed in the Bill; I am concerned about the method of election which may be adopted to put it into practice.

Mr. Dalyell

Why is it thought that PR will make any difference to the sense of grievance and other problems which the hon. Gentleman has outlined? It will make no difference at all.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman has been an assiduous attender at our debates and he may have diffculty in following all the arguments. I apologise if he has had difficulty, following my speech. Public tolerance of any system of government depends on whether it is regarded as fair and meeting practical needs. I have been suggesting that there is a considerable division between electoral opinion in Scotland and that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Assembly is due to be elected on a different rhythm from the Westminster elections and this requires us to consider whether we should perpetuate a pendulum system in which the Westminster Government and the devolved Assemblies will be at the opposite ends of the pendulum's swing for a considerable time. If we adopted that system it would maximise the opportunities for political squabbles and constitutional clashes and conflicts of a very serious kind.

My reservations about an Assembly are largely on constitutional grounds, because I believe that the integrity of the United Kingdom could possibly be seriously threatened as a result. That threat would be infinitely greater if we deliberately chose a system of election to the Assembly which would cause maximum conflict with the Government at Westminster.

Mr. Adley

I have listened to most of the debate, and listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who is not in the Chamber now. There are not many other hon. Members by whom I could be more easily persuaded than the hon. Member, but so far he has not quite managed to persuade me to vote in favour of his amendment. The Member who came nearest to persuading me to do so was the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who was not even trying so to do.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart) that the questions of whether one favours the establishment of a Scottish Assembly or the principle of devolution are totally different from that of proportional representation. I find myself in the difficult position of not sharing the views on proportional representation held by many of my hon. Friends whose general views on devolution I tend to share.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin spoke about arithmetic, and the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian also talked about figures. Much of today's debate has been concerned with mathematics rather than principle. I want to consider the principle which has caused us to be discussing the issue of proportional representation at such a late hour in a Chamber which is surprisingly full in view of all the circumstances. I hope to be able to raise one or two points concerned with the present political situation in Britain which have not been raised during the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) referred to the breakup of the United Kingdom, a phrase which has been frequently used in the debate. I believe that I am right in saying that the Scottish National Party, even in its proposals for independence, does not propose any change in the position of the monarchy. Therefore the mere use of the phrase "United Kingdom", that most emotive phrase, tends to be a misrepresentation of the views on this issue of at least one party in the House.

I submit that the reasons why we are discussing proportional representation and why we are discussing the Scotland and Wales Bill at all have a great deal to do with the United Kingdom's political circumstances prior to the General Election result of February 1974. I am not at all sure, even now, that all the votes garnered by the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru were unrelated to the protests of people in Scotland and Wales about what they felt to be the inadequacy of the United Kingdom Government.

One of the reasons why we are spending so much time discussing proportional representation is that we have become concerned about extra-parliamentary forces obtaining enough power and influence to bring about changes in the policy of Governments, and even changes in Governments themselves. If I mention the names of Mr. Scargill and Mr. McGahey it is not to raise old and contentious arguments. But few people doubt that, before and during the February 1974 General Election those two gentlemen were instrumental in influencing the result of that election.

1.15 a.m.

What worries me about any discussion of proportional representations is that we are reacting to the fear of extra-parliamentary influence upon our affairs in the House of Commons by bringing ourselves to the belief that the solution to the problem lies in tinkering with our electoral system. I believe that this is yet another attempt by politicians and people in the country to try to find an easy answer to a very difficult question, namely, the loss of control by this House of Commons of the destiny of the nation's affairs.

If my supposition is correct, what the nation needs from Parliament is strong government rather than weak government, and I make no party point when I say that in all the arguments that I have heard today, I have heard no one put forward the suggestion that proportional representation is itself likely to lead to stronger and more clear-cut government if one is talking of clear-cut parliamentary decisions unaccompanied by the need to find a so-called consensus.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the Quebec situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) was one, and I intervened in his speech to point out that I had been in Quebec just before that election took place. It was a very interesting situation. There is in Canada very widespread disillusion with the Trudeau Government, and the Parti Québecois went into that provincial election on a platform which made it quite clear that, should it win, it would not seek to impose independence on Quebec unless and until there had been a referendum in Quebec some two years after the provincial election took place. It was able to say to the people of Quebec "Use your electoral system to express your total dissatisfaction with and rejection of the Liberal Federal Government of Canada without fear that the way you vote will affect the future constitution of Canada or that of Quebec, because you, the people of Quebec, will be given an opportunity to vote on this issue."

Mr. Thorpe

That is not now the view of many Ministers in that Government. I think that we shall see a change in the situation. They got in on one basis and they are now changing their tune. The hon. Gentleman has a little too much confidence in the Parti Québecois.

Mr. Adley

Perhaps this is not the time or place to go into this in too much detail. I believe that Mr. Levesque is speaking in New York tonight. I am fairly well in touch with Canadian affairs. I hope to be in Canada again on Monday. I hasten to add that I hope to be back in this Chamber by Tuesday. In any event, I am trying to show that the example of Quebec cannot be used in any way to advocate the case for proportional representation.

Another matter referred to by a number of hon. Members is this fear of what is called "the back stairs deal". It is inherently anti-democratic at an election for people to support a political party which subsequently finds itself holding the balance of power and, contrary to the assumed wishes of most of those who voted for it, it then goes into a coalition without reference back to those who voted for it. This cannot be the product of a democratic electoral system.

I was not happy with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian who, when he was asked what was the status of the 29 members not affiliated to constituencies, answered that they would be chosen from the losers. This was a proposition which did not encourage me to support his amendment.

It reminded me very much of a bookmakers' advertisement which used to be shown in London some years ago. I think they were called Margolis and Ridley. Their slogan was "You win when you lose with Margolis and Ridley." That was very much the proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian.

My final point is that we are discussing the Scotland and Wales Bill. I abstained on the Second Reading because I feared one thing—that the power of the SNP, it seemed to me, was likely to increase dramatically in one way and one way only—if the people of Scotland were led to believe that their future would be dictated by the votes and speeches of English Members of Parliament. That is a view which I still hold very strongly. I do not, therefore, believe that it is right that this United Kingdom Parliament should make a fundamental decision tionment to accept an amendment which would foist on the Scottish Assembly, if it is created, and on the Welsh Assembly, if created, a new electoral system.

The right place for the electoral system to be decided is in those Assemblies, if created, and by those elected to them. For that reason I an unable to support the amendment.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)

As hon. and right hon. Members know, we are considering 41 amendments and there are some aspects of those amendments which have not yet been discussed. The Committee is to be complimented on having divided this into two parts so that we are discussing, almost exclusively, proportional representation and the question of the size of the Assemblies has been referred to only fleetingly by one or two hon. Members. Therefore I cannot accept the closure at this stage.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)

On a point of order arising out of what you have just said, Sir Myer. May I ask you whether you will allow later a "clause stand part" debate? If I sense the mood of the House, the debate has been bearing entirely on proportional representation and it might be difficult to deflect it into the interesting question that you have canvassed. I am anxious to discover whether you will allow a debate on clause stand part so that any residual points not covered in this debate can be covered at that point.

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he is reiterating what I have just said. We have had a debate on one aspect. What happens in the "clause stand part" debate cannot be anticipated at this stage.

Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)

It is as well now to remind the Committee that there are 32 amendments grouped together and that so far only one speech has been about an amendment other than Amendment No. 50. I hope that the Chair will bear in mind that a great many hon. Members have come specifically to speak on other amendments, as I have.

I intend to speak to the Amendment standing in my name and the names of other right hon. and hon. Members, No. 74. Its content is similar to that of No. 526, put down by the official Opposition. I hope that I have not anticipated matters when I express the hope that they will be speaking on that amendment.

My amendment seeks to have one initial member for each of these areas". The object must be fairly clear. First, no boundary changes would be necessary. Therefore, the existing boundaries would constitute the boundaries of any Assembly constituency.

It is right to remind the Committee that most people in Scotland do not want another layer of government, and certainly no one wants to pay for it. Therefore, the amendment seeks to make any Assembly less burdensome.

There are proposals in the Bill which will undoubtedly lead to confusion. There can be little doubt that subdivision of constituencies, in whatever form, would mean considerable confusion for constituents seeking redress of grievances. They would be confused between going to a Westminster Member or to an Assembly member. Therefore, the purpose of Amendment No. 74 is simply that the constituency boundaries remain as they are and that one Assembly member should sit for the same constituency as a Westminster Member.

I think that it would be wise to contemplate the confusion tht is likely to arise. It would be wrong not to refer to confusion in the affairs which will be delegated but for which some overriding responsibility will remain at Westminster. In no area is this more appropriate than housing and education. I mention these two subjects particularly, because together they constitute the subjects upon which most constituents seek help at either local or national level. It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that these will remain the predominant subjects to be brought to the notice of all Assemblymen.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Lady raises the question of the overriding responsibility of Westminster and connects it to either housing or education. Is it not important, as some of us asked at 4.5 p.m. yesterday, that the Lord Advocate or other Law Officer should come to the Committee and spell out, for the benefit of a number of non-lawyer hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the precise legal interpretation of these overriding responsibilities, because they are extremely vague? Surely we should hear about them at this stage, not in three months.

Miss Harvie Anderson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. These matters affect the whole question of how many members are appropriate for any Assembly.

Mr. Dalyell


Miss Harvie Anderson

It is unreasonable to expect hon. Members to judge this matter until they know the detail mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

There is a sufficient area of conflict in the Bill as a whole without engaging in the further conflict which these matters will bring. At least the two amendments would bring about some reduction in the inevitable conflict as well as in the confusion because there will be personality as well as other forms of conflict.

I submit that it is unreasonable to suppose that we can remove from hon. Members the work that they have been accustomed to do and expect them to approve that same work in the hands of others. This is not a matter of personality alone, but more of human nature. That little regard has been paid to that aspect would become only too clear shortly after any Assembly was set up.

No one has said that there are too few Members from Scotland at Westminster, but many people have said that there are too many. There seems to be a logical view that if 71 Members of Parliament can conduct the affairs of Scotland here, as they have done for many years, it is odd that twice that number should be required to conduct half the business when it is transferred to Edinburgh.

That seems to be an almost unanswerable argument, and certainly we have not heard any supporting argument from the Government Front Bench. The Minister may say that he has not had the chance. I hope that he will not think me over-offensive when I say that when his chance comes shortly I hope that his arguments in support will be rather more convincing than his last endeavour to convince the Committee. This is a very serious point, because we got very little satisfaction last week, and on this point we require a great deal of information and reassurance.

1.30 a.m.

Concerning the size of the Assembly, I was rather diverted by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). It depends entirely on the structure, and until we know more about how the conduct of the Assembly is to go ahead, with the division of responsibility, it is extremely difficult to judge the structure. I shall not return to that matter because I do not want to make a long speech, especially as I expect my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) to be talking on the same topic from the Opposition Front Bench.

However, we have said repeatedly that the weight and costs of these proposals are excessive, and at no time have I or my right hon. and hon. Friends given any support to the idea that there should be a full Executive. It may be that we shall hear an argument in favour of that Executive. Again, that is something that we have not yet heard.

The point that I wish to make is the same point that I made at the beginning of my speech. It is that the weight of the bureaucracy which this proposal will impose is something that the people of Scotland do not want. What these amendments seek to do is to reduce that weight and greatly to reduce the cost.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Stephen McAdden)

It would assist the Committee if the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) would be kind enough to move formally Amendment (a).

Amendment (a) proposed to the proposed amendment:

In line 6, leave out '14' and insert '24'.—[Mr. Gwynfor Evans.]

Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

At this somewhat late stage of the debate I confine myself to one aspect of the Bill for which the electoral system has very significant implications. I confess that I did not concern myself at a very early stage with the question of devolution. I was therefore delighted to find within the Bill the firm provisions of Clause 29 that the Scottish Assembly should have a system of subject committees to monitor and advise on what the Executive does, including any proposed new legislation.

I should like to quote subsections (5) and (6) of Clause 29 which spell out precisely what the rôle of these subject committees shall be. Subsection (5) says A committee shall examine the exercise by members of the Scottish Executive of powers with respect to matters to which the functions of the committee extend and advise and assist in the formulation of policy with respect to such matters; and members of the Scottish Executive shall, so far as practicable, consult the committee on that policy. Subsection (6) says The standing orders of the Assembly shall include provision for securing that no Bill is introduced in the Assembly —subject to certain urgent exceptions— except after consultation with the committee exercising functions with respect to the matters dealt with in the Bill. We in the House of Commons have become increasingly concerned in recent years with how Back Benchers can exercise more control over the Executive and how Back Benchers can examine and probe more effectively on a continuing basis the success of policies that have been followed by the Executive and the chances of success of policies and legislation that the Executive are proposing to pursue. Although I cannot speak for my colleagues, I know that there are many among them with considerable experience in this place who feel with me that we should move some way at least towards the American committee system, which would provide a restoration of the historic rôle of Back Benchers in the exercise of control over the Executive.

If we are to see this welcome innovation succeed in the Assembly, I do not believe that it can be set against the background of volatility of membership of the sort described so clearly a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart). If a subject committee is to have a chance of calling a Minister to examination, effectively probing policies and influencing the preparation of legislation, it must contain members with some length of experience.

I support PR for the Assembly—I speak not with the knowledge of some of my colleagues from north of the border but from what I can learn of the political situation in Scotland—because I believe that it is likely that we shall see a repetition of what happens in local authorities when elections are not simultaneous with Westminster elections, there being the especially significant feature in Scotland that one of the three parties does not have a history of government from Westminster. I am not one who advocates PR so as to ditch the SNP. However, it is a fact that that party will enjoy an inbuilt advantage at least for some time because it will not carry round its neck the stigma of having carried out unpopular policies at Westminster in the run up to an Assembly election.

If the subject committees are to have a chance of success, I believe that the Lord President must accept PR or examine closey—I realise that this is not within order but I shall confine my remarks to one sentence—the fixed four-year term and decide whether the disadvantages to the Assembly of having to hold its election at irregular intervals are not outweighed by the general efficiency of operation of the Assembly. Not only will supervision of the Executive by the back bench members of the Assembly be made difficult if there is the volatility of membership to which I have referred, but I can see the Executive changing with such rapidity that, far from being a democratic control of Scottish affairs, there is a conceivable risk that true power will pass to the administrators, the bureaucrats and civil servants. They may do the job very well but that is not what we have given up a whole Session of Parliament to create.

I hope that the Lord President will consider the practical points that I have raised. The subjects that fall within the province of the Assembly are not conflicting subjects and I believe that the Assembly will want to pursue solution politics, not antagonistic politics. However, it will not be possible for it to develop the full use of the Assembly for the Scottish people if because of the electoral system and the lack of simultaneous elections there is a volatility of membership that provides constant changes and a lack of experienced Assembly members.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I am something of a rogue elephant in this debate on PR. I want to deal with one of the amendments in this group that has nothing to do with that. That is Amendment No. 55 which has the effect of removing Clause 2 and substituting another procedure for the election of members to the Assemblies.

Amendment No. 55 would present a simple formula for membership of the Scottish Assembly. Clause 2 as it stands provides for the worst of both worlds. It provides for a period for multi-member constituencies and then switches after four years to a single-member constituency system. It provides that those initial members of the Assemblies shall represent the existing parliamentary constituencies but in a very make-shift way.

There are to be three members in some constituencies and two in others. I can appreciate that this is all done as a matter of expediency. Whether it shall be three members or two members depends upon the size of the electorate in a constituency as compared with something called "the electoral quota", which we find in Schedule 1. There will be an electoral quota for each constituency. It is all very make-shift and is all a matter of expediency.

But the Bill recognises that after four years new constituencies will be formed on the recommendations of the Boundary Commission and that there shall be one member per constituency. The new Assembly constituencies will come into being under the procedure set out in Schedule 1, which is already familiar to us under the present law relating to this Parliament. Again, for convenience, it is materially truncated in the Bill. I do not think that the procedure to form the new constituencies need take four years. Under an amended procedure in the Bill it could take a much shorter time.

In Amendment No. 55 I am proposing to do away with the two-tier creation of the Assembly constituencies. At the moment the Bill says that we shall take the existing constituencies and we shall put three Members in that one, two Members in this and so on. We shall spend four years trying to find the right set-up and the right new constituencies.

I am suggesting in Amendment No. 55 that we go straight to that. I suggest it, first, because the Bill itself recognises that it is right to have one-member constituencies. I personally do not disagree with that, but I consider that it would be wrong to get there by two stages. It would be confusing to the electorate to start off with multi-member constituencies only to be told at the next election that they are turning into one-member constituencies for different areas. That would cause confusion and would start the Assemblies off on the wrong foot.

There is no need for us to rush the start of it in that way. The first Assembly could wait until the new constituencies are formed under the shortened procedure under the Boundary Commission's recommendations and the order of the Secretary of State. Perhaps it is cynical to say that there will be plenty of time to do this while we debate the Bill, but heaven knows how long we shall be debating the Bill.

We should try to get the composition of the Assembly right, from the beginning. Amendment No. 55 seeks to go straight to an Assembly of members elected in and representing the new constituencies. The Assembly constituencies will be discovered by the system of recommendation by the Boundary Commission and by order of the Secretary of State.

1.45 a.m.

To proceed by way of two stages will cause an immense amount of extra trouble, expense, confusion and difficulty. Because I feel so strongly about this, I hope, Sir Stephen, that you will allow a Division on Amendment No. 55,

unless the Minister gives an assurance that it will receive deep consideration and that a properly drafted amendment will be tabled later. The amendment is separate from the argument about proportional representation, and it is important and material.

Amendments Nos. 268 and 271 remove certain parts of Schedule 1 and are consequential upon the acceptance of Amendment No. 55.

Amendment No. 265 is a purely drafting Amendment. Perhaps, for the first time in the debates on the Bill the Minister will accept the amendment. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 provides that: The electorate of any Assembly constituency shall be as near the electorate of any other Assembly constituency comprised in the same parliamentary constituency as is practicable". Does that mean as near geographically, in relationship, in space, or what? The drafting is clumsy. I understand the intention is that the constituency shall be as near as practicable in numbers. Why not say so? That is what Amendment No. 265 does.

To come back to the more serious Amendment No. 55, the Bill would be improved by the abolition of the initial procedure of the multi-member constituency.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Beith.]

The Committee divided: Ayes 79, Noes 240.

Division No. 45.] AYES [1.50 a.m.
Adley, Robert Gilmour, Sir John (East File) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Glyn, Dr Alan Mayhew, Patrick
Baker, Kenneth Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Banks, Robert Grimond, Rt Hon J. Monro, Hector
Benyon, W. Grist, Ian Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Bottomley, Peter Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mudd, David
Brittan, Leon Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Newton, Tony
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Hayhoe, Barney Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Brotherton, Michael Hooson, Emlyn Pardoe, John
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Howell, David (Guildford) Penhaligon, David
Budgen, Nick Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Cope, John Hunt, David (Wirral) Rathbone, Tim
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hurd, Douglas Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James James, David Rees Davies, W. R.
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Kershaw, Anthony Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Emery, Peter Kirk, Sir Peter Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fairbairn, Nicholas Knox, David Rifkind, Malcolm
Fairgrieve, Russell Latham, Michael (Melton) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Fell, Anthony Lawson, Nigel Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Le Marchant, Spencer Sinclair, Sir George
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. MacGregor, John Sproat, Iain
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Stanbrook, Ivor Wainwright, Richard (Colne V) Younger, Hon George
Steel, Rt Hon David Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Winterton, Nicholas TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Stradling Thomas, J. Wood, Rt Hon Richard Mr. A. J. Beith and
Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton) Mr. Russell Johnston.
Allaun, Frank Fry, Peter Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Anderson, Donald Garrett, John (Norwich S) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Archer, Peter George, Bruce Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Armstrong, Ernest Gilbert, Dr John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Ashton, Joe Ginsburg, David Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Golding, John Moyle, Roland
Atkinson, Norman Gould, Bryan Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Gourlay, Harry Newens, Stanley
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Graham, Ted Noble, Mike
Bates, Alf Grant, George (Morpeth) Oakes, Gordon
Bean, R. E. Grant, John (Islington C) Ogden, Eric
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Grocott, Bruce O'Halloran, Michael
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Bishop, E. S. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Ovenden, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hart, Rt Hon Judith Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Boardman, H. Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Padley, Walter
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hayman, Mrs Helene Palmer, Arthur
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Healey, Rt Hon Denis Park, George
Bradley, Tom Henderson, Douglas Parry, Robert
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hooley, Frank Pavitt, Laurie
Buchanan, Richard Horam, John Pendry, Tom
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Prescott, John
Campbell, Ian Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Canavan, Dennis Huckfield, Les Price, William (Rugby)
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Radice, Giles
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Reid, George
Cartwright, John Hughes, Roy (Newport) Richardson, Miss Jo
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Hunter, Adam Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Clemitson, Ivor Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cohen, Stanley Janner, Greville Roderick, Caerwyn
Coleman, Donald Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Conlan, Bernard John, Brynmor Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Johnson, James (Hull West) Rooker, J. W.
Corbett, Robin Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cowans, Harry Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ryman, John
Crawford, Douglas Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sandelson, Neville
Cronin, John Judd, Frank Sedgemore, Brian
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Kaufman, Gerald Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Kelley, Richard Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Cryer, Bob Kerr, Russell Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiten) Lambie, David Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dalyell, Tam Lamborn, Harry Sillars, James
Davidson, Arthur Lamond, James Silverman, Julius
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Leadbitter, Ted Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stallard, A. W.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Deakins, Eric Litterick, Tom Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Loyden, Eddie Stoddart, David
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Luard, Evan Stott, Roger
Dempsey, James Lyon, Alexander (York) Strang, Gavin
Doig, Peter Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Dormand, J. D. Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Swain, Thomas
Duffy, A. E. P. McCartney, Hugh Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Dunnett, Jack MacCormick, Iain Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McDonald, Dr Oonagh Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Eadie, Alex McElhone, Frank Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Edge, Geoff MacFarquhar, Roderick Thompson, George
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scu[...]) MacKenzie, Gregor Tierney, Sydney
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Mackintosh, John P. Tinn, James
English, Michael Maciennan, Robert Tomlinson, John
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Tuck, Raphael
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Madden, Max Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mahon, Simon Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marks, Kenneth Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Flannery, Martin Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Ward, Michael
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maynard, Miss Joan Watt, Hamish
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Meacher, Michaet Weetch, Ken
Forrester, John Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Welsh, Andrew
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Mikardo, Ian White, Frank R. (Bury)
Freeson, Reginald Millan, Rt Hon Bruce White, James (Pollok)
Wigley, Dafydd Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton) Young, David (Bolton E)
Willey, Rt Hon Frederick Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Wise, Mrs Audrey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford) Woodall, Alec Mr. Peter Snape and
Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton) Woof, Robert Mr. Joseph Harper.
Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E) Wrigglesworth, Ian

Question accordingly negatived.

Question again proposed, That the amendment to the proposed Amendment be made.

2.0 a.m.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

I want to speak briefly on the size of the Assembly. With great regularity, both Front Benches address the nation and tell people to improve their efficiency and bring themselves up-to-date. There are 71 hon. Members representing Scotland at present, and before we got ourselves involved in this Bill we should have given some thought to the size of the House of Commons.

My father was a Member of this House in 1910 when there were few, if any, telephones, no such things as dictaphones, no aeroplanes, and cars were in their infancy. The only things which went as fast as they do today were the railway trains. Despite the lack of facilities in 1910, the House of Commons had 707 Members. This number was reduced to 615 in 1922. I think it is asking a great deal of our constituents to expect them to accept that in a situation in which we have done nothing to modernise our own procedures we are now establishing an Assembly for some Scottish affairs—not all—which will require two people to do the work which one person does at present.

I understand that if we have PR it will be necessary to increase the number of Members. But there is no reason whatsoever initially to increase membership of the Assembly beyond 71. There are also difficulties in Schedule 1 in trying to get constituencies of the same size. [Interruption.]

The Temporary Chairman (Mrs. Joyce Butler)

Order. It would be a help if we could have some quiet. If hon. Members wish to talk, they should leave the Chamber.

Sir J. Gilmour

I do not think that there is any justification for the Government insisting on more than 71 Members. The only justification would be if they could say, in relation to the working of Clause 29, that it would be impossible to man sufficient committees with only 71 Members. We have a membership in this House of 635, but we can do a great deal of our work with 16 Members. We put through the reorganisation of Scottish local government with a Committee of 35 Members. I do not believe, therefore, that it would be impossible to work an Assembly with 71 Members.

If we started off with a large number of Members it would be impossible to reduce them. We should, therefore, begin with a smaller number, and if experience showed that the number was insufficient for the efficient working of the Assembly we could consider an increase. To tell everyone else to modernise and to bring themselves up to date but for us to retain 71 Scots Members in this House would be completely unsupportable.

Mr. Sproat

As this debate weaves its way through the Committee we shall no doubt witness some strange alliances. I found myself convinced by the Lord President's comments about PR.

It is worth drawing attention to the continuing opportunism of the SNP in looking upon PR as the chance to do away with adversary politics. We in this country have been fighting for hundreds of years for the right to criticise each other in Parliament. To pretend that somehow the Scottish Assembly under PR and under SNP guidance will eliminate adversary politics is to make a cheap appeal to the most ignorant critics of this House.

Let me turn to Amendment No. 61. If there is to be a directly-elected Assembly the least bad form it could take would he to have existing Scottish hon. Members sitting in Edinburgh on suitable occasions. I am a Unionist. I do not believe that any solution that I have so far heard would be any better than a reform of our existing institutions. This Bill is a disaster. Any form of separately-elected Scottish Assembly would be a disaster.

I support the amendment because it would be at least preferable to anything we have so far heard, and would have a number of advantages. One of the reasons why hon. Members are supporting the Bill is that they feel that the sense of Scottish and Welsh identity—very real, if intangible, commodities—is not being sufficiently recognised by the House. I do not accept that. But if Scottish Members sat on suitable occasions in Edinburgh that would do something to answer the hon. Members who hold that view.

Mr. Anderson

Would the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) consider an amendment to his suggestion, to rename the body and call to it the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Sproat

That is a pretty good point or, at least, 95 per cent. of a good point. The Scottish Grand Committee, as opposed to the body that I suggest, has hon. Member from England and sometimes from Ulster sitting on it. I propose that elected Members representing Scottish constituencies should come together in Edinburgh. That would be approximately the same body as the Scottish Grand Committee, and I dare say that the same principle would apply to the Welsh Grand Committee.

Such a body would give a physical identity in legislative form to the feeling of Scottish nationhood. To that extent, it would perhaps do some good. It would certainly emphasise what a few people in Scotland have begun to realise, and that is the amount of devolution that Scotland already has. What people do not realise is that any law that affects Scotland must go through the Scottish Standing Committee upon which none but Scottish Members sit. I cannot think of any occasion upon which something that has been through Scottish Standing Committee has been reversed by the House, whether sitting in Committee, on Report or on Third Reading. There may be examples, but I cannot think of them.

Scotland already has its own Secretary of State. It has its own Scottish civil servants in Edinburgh who have powers to implement decisions made by Scottish MPs and the Scottish Secretary of State on housing, education and so on. The House has already granted a considerable degree of devolution to Scotland. That degree is the maximum that we can, and ought to, have within the Union. What I suggest is a way in which we could perhaps give a more concrete physical expression to the devolution that we already have. It would enable the Scots to see that devolution physically.

Those are the positive advantages of such a scheme, but it also has great negative advantages. Such a solution would mean no more government. One of the prime objections in principle to the Bill is that it would mean that a country that is already over-governed would have yet another tier of government. This scheme would require no increase in the tiers of Government.

Another objection to the Bill is that it will create more bureaucracy. There was a very interesting report in the last edition of the Sunday Times that showed that the Government have seriously underestimated the amount of bureaucracy that it will create. I see that the Minister is shaking his head. Perhaps he can answer the point. Civil servants working for the British Aircraft Corporation have said that even if some of their authority was devolved to Scotland they would tolerate no cut in the number of civil servants working for BAC in England. That is one example of the way in which bureaucracy will be increased by the Bill. Under the scheme that I propose, with Scottish Members sitting in Edinburgh on suitable occasions, there would be no increase in government and bureaucracy. There would be only a marginal increase in costs resulting from the need to staff the place where the hon. Members would meet.

There would be no question of raising extra taxation—and that is a threat that is still hanging over our heads. The Government have, for the moment, removed the power of the Assembly to tell the regions to levy extra rates to pay for the Assembly. But the Government are looking for another way to do it. Under this scheme there would be no such threat because hon. Members sitting in Edinburgh would be totally integrated with the House and would have no power—just as the Scottish Standing and Grand Committees have no power—to raise taxation contrary to the wishes of the House.

Most important, such a scheme would cut out the element of divisiveness, conflict and bitterness between Scotland and England, and between England and Wales, that would inevitably and tragically follow the Bill if it were passed as at present drafted. Scottish Members sitting in Edinburgh would remain, as now, totally integrated with the House. There would be no question of conflict.

2.15 a.m.

Everything would be resolved in the same way as now, with Scottish Standing Committees reflecting the balance of the House of Commons. There would be no question of a Labour Assembly seeking to oppose a Conservative Government here or vice versa. It is this potential conflict which leads many of us to believe that, although it is not what they seek, the Government are encouraging the break up of the United Kingdom by this Bill.

The system which I have suggested, while creating no more government, bureaucracy, expenditure, threats of creating powers of taxation or divisiveness, would give physical expression in Edinburgh to the feelings of Scottish identity and, combined with a reform of the procedures of this House and the establishment of Select Committees or Congressional-style committees, would enable us to give closer scrutiny to the Government and the Civil Service. It would improve the quality of government without adding an expensive, vast, lumbering, devisive superstructure as the Bill seeks to do.

I shall not divide the House on the idea, but I commend it to hon. Members. It has none of the disadvantages of the Bill or the ludicrous separatism of the SNP, but it will show the people of Scotland how much power is already devolved to them and it will maintain all hon. Members here within the present system.

Mr. Budgen

I suspect that many hon. Members will have warmed to the conventional arguments of the Lord President with which he so convincingly demolished the case for proportional representation. However, some hon. Members will say that there are special circumstances in Scotland which will persuade them to vote in favour of PR there alone. They argue that the huge block vote of the Strathclyde Region will produce a narrow, selfish, SNP-dominated majority in the Assembly and argue that the way to avoid such a problem is to have PR for the elections.

We have twice experimented with PR in Ulster. Some hon. Members have claimed that the results show Ulster as the exception which proves the rule. I cannot draw that friendly conclusion; I contend that Ulster is the example which proves the rule.

Proportional representation was tried in Ulster between 1922 and 1929 precisely because it was feared that there would be a permanent majority of Unionists in the Province and that they would not always treat the minority fairly. By 1929 the system had been abandoned. Ulster was dominated by one party and continued to be so dominated for the next 50 years.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

Surely they abolished PR in 1929 in order to make sure that their domination continued?

Mr. Budgen

It may have been partly for that reason, but perhaps it was also because, having got their own Parliament, they were in such a strong position that they could demand changes in the electoral system. If the amendment were passed, much the same situation could occur in Scotland. A devolved Assembly could become strong enough to say that it had been given PR and that now it wanted a winner-take-all system. If any devolved Parliament had proportional representation or winner-take-all powers, it is difficult to see how we at Westminster could prevent it from. on occasions perpetrating injustices against minorities in its area or doing what some Members from the North-East of England fear, that is, using devolved power in Scotland, for instance—

Mr. Henderson

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Westminster never does unfair things to Scotland?

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

Just unfair things to England.

Mr. Budgen

I am suggesting that an hon. Member might be too close to a problem and might be prejudiced as a result of his own experience or the experience of his constituents. The hon. Member then has to bring the problem before Parliament at Westminster to be considered by hon. Members who can view it with greater objectivity.

So long as we retain the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, and so long as each Member sits as a representative and not as a delegate, when individual problems are brought before this House there is always the certainty that they will be considered by at least some hon. Members in an objective and disinterested way. To give a personal example, it may well be that when I am considering the issue whether fiancées should be allowed into this country from the Indian sub-continent I am too close to the problem to do justice to those wishing to come into this country. It may perhaps be that when the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) is considering the rights of landlords in London he is too close to the problem to do justice to the landlords of London. But when we bring these problems before the Westminster Parliament there are other Members farther away from the problem who can see it with a more objective eye. So it is that a problem can never be brought before a body which is too close to the problem or too bigoted.

So long as we adhere to the twin principles of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament and the importance of the role of the Member of Parliament as a representative and not as a delegate, there is every possibility that all parts of the United Kingdom can be ruled in such a way as to avoid the narrow, selfish, unpleasant and almost racialistic instincts of those who might dominate Assemblies in Scotland and Wales. The history of the Westminster Parliament is a history of Governments at least attempting to rule the United Kingdom in the interests of the whole Kingdom.

The more we consider proportional representation, particularly in relation to Scotland, the more we should remember that there can be no devolved government in any part of the United Kingdom without putting the unity of the United Kingdom at risk. That unity is essential to the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament, which is the principal bulwark against unfair or unjust treatment of any minority in the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Honourable Members may laugh, but surely the history of Ulster supports the proposition which I am putting forward. We must remember that Stormont was set up to appease the most strongly Unionist element in the United Kingdom.

The people of Ulster wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, above all else. So, paradoxically, we in the Westminster Parliament gave them the mechanism which was designed to help them to break up the United Kingdom, and it is a paradox, indeed, that after 50 years many of those most Unionist people had transferred their affections from the Westminster Parliament to Stormont. They, who most of all wanted to continue to send their Members to Westminster and to think about Westminster as the centre of their affections, began to think of Stormont as their natural centre of government and began to transfer their affections from Westminster to Stormont.

Perhaps the extent to which this new machinery has distorted their affections and their principles of government can be seen from the fact that, after this West-minister Parliament had dissolved Stormont, there were many within the Unionist ranks who, while asserting their traditional Unionism, none the less contended that they wished to be indedependent. What a paradox that the Unionists who wanted Union above all else nurtured within their ranks some at least who were prepared to contemplate independence from the remainder of the United Kingdom, and it was machinery which we had wished upon them which encouraged them to think of a solution to their problems which was diametrically opposed to their history and very beginnings at the time that we gave them Stormont.

There is no way in which we in Westminster can give Scotland a devolved Parliament which will avoid the risk of the break-up of the United Kingdom. Those who believe that by saying to this devolved Parliament in Scotland "We can avoid this problem by giving you proportional representation" are avoiding the central issue. Proportional representation will make no difference to the problems. It will make no difference to the risk of a narrow sectionalist majority in Scotland perpetrating injustices either upon England or upon minorities in Scotland.

These proposals for devolution are inconsistent with the unity of the United Kingdom. They are also inconsistent with any fair or just government for minorities in Scotland or those who live near Scotland in what is now England, a part of the United Kingdom. Justice and sense demand that we kick out all the Bill and do not fiddle with the details.

Mr. Stanbrook

In addition to the many excellent arguments which have been advanced against proportional representation by so many hon. Members, including those by the Lord President himself, I wish to advance another. It is based upon the fallacy, which seems to be im plicit in the thinking of those who support Amendment No. 50, that government is by political parties.

Democracy is, or should be, government of the people, for the people and by the people. But those who believe in proportional representation seem to think that it is government by political parties. That may be a quite easy and natural mistake to make in the circumstances and realities of today, but it is a fundamental error and one which could lead us into greater difficulty and greater constitutional trouble if we allowed it to continue any longer, because the whole argument about proportional representation and electoral reform generally is based on a concept of unfairness.

2.30 a.m.

But unfairness to whom? The stock answer is the Liberal Party, because it got so many votes. But we do not run our elections on the basis of which political party is the most popular. If we did and people really voted for political parties we might get some surprising results. Hon. Members may have read of a public opinion poll run in Italy recently. Of course, I exaggerated but I understand that 10 per cent. voted for the Christian Democrats, 10 per cent. said they supported the Socialists, 40 per cent. said that they did not know and 40 per cent. said that they did not care. That sort of reaction from the electorate is what one would expect, even in this country, if it were a question of the popularity of individual parties, because our system, thank goodness, is based on representative government, on voting for the individual and not necessarily for the party.

So, when many hon. Members, in support of the amendment, quoted Germany as an excellent example where their form of proportional representation has worked, I would point out that Britain is the oldest parliamentary democracy in the world.

Hon. Members

And the best.

Mr. Stanbrook

And the best.

Hon. Members


Mr. Stanbrook

Compared with us, the Germans are merely experimenting. They have a lot to learn about parliamentary democracy. They came into existence as a democracy, ready-made, as it were, and fully equipped. They went for a system which accepted a certain inherent virtue about political parties.

The way we have evolved our democracy has been long and often based on experience. It has been based upon the individual. As a result, we still believe in representative government based on individual Members in this House.

That points to the fundamental mistake being made by those who are in favour of proportional representation.

It is true that the existing system has its disadvantages. No one would pretend that there are not many disadvantages, especially in the present confused state of this country, with its lack of prosperity and lack of confidence. It so happens that almost any alternative system of voting has more disadvantages. One could almost say that the first-past-the-post system is the least bad system. I would not dispute that alternative suggestions put up, including the one in the amendment, show even greater disadvantages.

The additional Member system has the grave fundamental difficulty of establishing two classes of Member, first and second. There can be no doubt whatever about that. Members directly elected in their constituencies who have borne the heat and burden of the day, and the blood, toil, tears and sweat involved in being a constituency Member, holding surgeries, taking deputations to see Ministers and raising constituency matters in this House, are worth a lot more and deserve a lot more than those who, by some chance, having lost the election and because of their relative position in their party and their party's relative position, have got themselves propelled into an Assembly where they have no responsibility, but no doubt the same pay, entitlement and privileges and the ability to take a grand view of everything without the disadvantages and responsibilities of their companions.

That sort of system cannot last and will speedily engender so much hostility between the two classes of Member that it will not be found possible for it to survive.

The transferable vote system seems to have a fundamental defect. It is wrong that a decision by the second votes of the least popular candidate should be regarded as valid. After all, if we are to evolve a comprehensible and well understood system in which the voter knows what he is voting for or against, our system is just such a one. But a system under which, somehow by the back door, one of the candidates is suddenly promoted to the top by the votes of people who did not vote for him or the person who originally obtained the majority of votes, without taking into account the second preference of any others, must be wrong. That alone is a sufficient argument against the transferable vote system.

The basic defect in all proportional representation theories is that most electors do not see political parties in any order of preference. Most Conservative voters would vote for their Conservative candidate and would not, if given the choice, in any circumstances vote for any of the other candidates. It could be said and assumed that the next best thing to voting Conservative might be voting Liberal rather than Labour. That choice should not be forced on anyone. We must take account of the strength of feeling of people on polling day. On such an occasion they may be so strongly of opinion that one candidate stands for what he believes in and none of the others does that they wish to vote only for him. Under a proportional representation system they would be compelled to put the others in some order of preference when they have no desire to advance their claims and when any such order will bring some benefit to the others and may be decisive in the result.

The first past the post is a simple and traditional system. It is simple to operate and is easily understood. It will operate and serve this country well provided that Members of Parliament do their jobs properly, take less notice of the party machine and the party, realise that there is no inherent virtue in the party, and represent all their constituents.

It was noteworthy that the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), as it were, gave the game away when he revealed that Conservative voters in his constituency were not represented by him. If Members of Parliament take that kind of attitude, they deserve that others should take their places on the basis of some contrived system of injecting them into the Assembly.

If our system is to work, every Member of Parliament must represent all his constituents. It does not follow that he must represent their political opinions. Political opinions do not necessarily cover the whole spectrum of representation in a constituency. Many subjects are covered ably without political questions of a party nature coming into them.

I consider that I represent the 40 per cent. of voters in my constituency who voted Liberal. I dare say that many of them, if they got the chance today, would continue to vote Liberal. Meanwhile, I believe that their views are properly represented by me. However, as 47 per cent. of voters voted for me, I feel that their views deserve greater weight. Equally, the 13 per cent. who voted Labour deserve representation at all levels. I take their political opinions into account, too. Surely that must be the position of all Members of Parliament if our system is to remain healthy.

Mr. Ogden

The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a fascinating argument. Does it mean that, when he sees a Minister about any particular problem, he says "Of course, 47 per cent. of my constituents want you to do this, 40 per cent. want you to do that, and 13 per cent. want you to do something else"?

Mr. Stanbrook

That is just the point. One does not have to think in those terms at all if one is representing the whole constituency. If that is the way in which the hon. Gentleman approaches a Minister, I deplore it. But, of course, that is not the proper way of doing things. We can leave aside party-political issues most of the time if we are frank about matters. We bring party-political issues into the Chamber too much. Too few hon. Members are approachable by people outside their party organisations. We should stand for all our constituents. By doing so we could remedy many of the defects and disadvantages of our present system, which is better than any other. Therefore, our system deserves to be encouraged to cure its own defects by hon. Members doing their jobs properly.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

On a point of order, Mrs. Butler. Is it not now clear to the Committee that the pattern is all one way, and is it not equally obvious that we have been here for so many hours already and that later in the day we shall be faced with this situation once again? Surely the Committee would not agree that we are expected to listen, as we have been doing, to what is tedious repetition. I therefore appeal to you, Mrs. Butler, to allow the two winding-up speeches and then for heaven's sake let us all get home and get to bed.

The Temporary Chairman

That is not a point of order, and, of course, as long as hon. Members continue to try to catch my eye I shall have to note that, and I shall call them.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I intend to speak only briefly. With respect to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones), many of us feel very deeply about these issues. I have been in the Chamber, with the exception of a few interludes, since the debate started, and I think that I have the right to speak.

Mr. Dan Jones

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that by repeating the issues he is enhancing the argument?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If one simply repeated all the arguments that had gone before, perhaps that would be repetitious, but many of us have had the views of constituents, and they are entitled to have those views put forward by those who represent them in Parliament. There are new points and aspects of the different problems, and it is right that they should be properly and fully aired.

I agree with many of the arguments that have been advanced, and I intend to add my weight to them and to make one or two fresh points.

First, I strongly support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) about the numbers of the Scottish Assembly. I cannot see why we require, because we are to have a Scottish Assembly, three people in each constituency to do the work currently done by one person. It does not make sense to me, it will add to bureaucracy and to expense, and it ought to be resisted.

I appreciate that there is one argument from the Government Benches that if we have an Assembly of 71 Members it may be difficult to draw an Executive from one party. There may not be a sufficient number to support it. I ask the Government to look again at this matter. We are talking of something that is not comparable with the United Kingdom Parliament. There will not be the same number or range of Departments. We shall be administering a smaller country and fewer people. Clearly, they will not require the same number of Under-Secretaries and so on as we have in this Parliament. Therefore, it should be possible to devise an Executive that could still have the support of the Assembly. Even if the party forming the Executive in that Assembly gets only just over one-third of the votes, it still ought to be able to do so, given the responsibilities and the range of Departments.

I beg the Government to look again at this matter, because it is this kind of increased bureaucracy and expense that makes many people in Scotland who want more political control of Scottish affairs nervous about the consequences and results of having that. I hope that the Government will be forthcoming on that score.

2.45 a.m.

My second point concerns proportional representation. We are talking of new constitutional arrangements for the United Kingdom, and it is wrong for us blindly to adopt procedures that have applied to the United Kingdom Parliament and the elections to it. The debate has been valuable and useful in that we have discussed alternative methods. I always favoured the first-past-the-post system but I follow very much what was said by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). In recent years I have come to question the efficacy of that system in providing a fair and true form of election, especially as in Scotland we are facing a party system that is based on four parties and not two. I make that comment in respect of Scotland and I do not think it necessarily prejudices the position of the rest of the United Kingdom. The Bill deals with Scotland and we are trying to deal with the realities of the situation in Scotland. I ask my colleagues who have not yet made up their minds on the issue to consider the realities and to remember that in Scotland we have four parties. In that light we must ask whether the first-past-the-post system produces a result that is fair.

The test of fairness that I apply is fairness to the electorate. I am much persuaded by the argument of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian. He said that a system of PR would help put some restraint on extreme views. It is the multiplicity of parties that tends to push me away from the first-past-the-post system, but I am inclined to take that view because of the way we have gone in politics. The same is true in Scotland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It seems that political views between the major parties are becoming more extreme.

I believe that a system of PR puts a restraint on extreme views. That applies to Governments and Executives. It leads to moderate views, and in my experience in Scotland the majority of people want moderate views and policies, as do the people in the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, they are crying out for them.

I shall make some practical points in support of the method of PR that has been put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian. His system is right given the time scale and the need to base something on the existing system. There is a practical point in his favour that he merely touched on and I think that he has been quoted a little unfairly. He said that those who vote for the Conservative candidate in his constituency—that candidate comes a close second—have the feeling that they are not being represented. He did not mean that he does not represent them. In fact, he does represent them. But those who vote for the other candidate feel that they are not being properly represented.

That is a situation that arises in England in respect of Liberal voting and sometimes leads to tactical voting. In some instances electors feel that they are wasting their votes by voting Liberal, for example. They feel that there is no chance of their candidate being elected—this does not apply to the election in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—and they transfer their vote to the candidate of another party because they want to defeat the candidate whom they do not like. In that way we get voting patterns that do not truly represent either the policies or the type of candidate that the electors want.

Given a system of PR, the elector knows that his vote will have influence in respect of the added Members that go into the Assembly. He is more likely to cast his vote for the party, the policies or the type of candidate that he truly supports. In that practical sense there is an added advantage in the system that the hon. Gentleman advocated which, I believe, makes it right.

I accept the argument of those who believe in the first-past-the-post system that the onus falls on those who have put forward the amendment. I accept that they do not want change. In one sense I accept what they have said—there are imperfections in a PR system. There are imperfections in the particular system put forward in the amendment. But there are imperfections and unfairness in the existing system.

What we have to balance up is whether the imperfections of a PR system as proposed in the amendment are worse or better than what we have at the moment. My conclusion is that the imperfections of a PR system are fewer than we have at present and for that reason I support the amendment.

Mr. Younger

Perhaps I can intervene briefly at this stage to explain the thinking behind Opposition Amendments Nos. 523, 524, 526 and 527. Their purpose is to reduce the proposed size of the Scottish Assembly to 71 seats in all.

I hope the Minister will take this as an entirely serious suggestion. I hope he will consider carefully the arguments that have been put forward not only by myself but by a number of hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson).

Many commentators who have discussed the Government's Bill have made the point that there is a good argument for saying that the Government's judgment with regard to the size of the Assembly has not been right. We believe that they have pitched the size of the Assembly too high. I have not heard anyone argue, and I doubt whether I shall, that we need to have a larger number of Members for the Assembly because otherwise the constituencies would be too large for the Members to look after their constituents properly.

We now have 71 hon. and right hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies in this House. So far as I know, each one by and large handles them reasonably conveniently. I see no argument for having a larger number of Members in the Assembly purely in order to get a smaller number of electors.

To many people looking from the outside it appears that the Government's choice of numbers for the Assembly has been done in a very haphazard manner and with no very good reason why this particular formula was decided.

The Kilbrandon Commission clearly preferred the number of Members to be about 100. Yet the Government have chosen to double the present number of Parliamentary Members that we have in Scotland, add on a few to deal with some particularly large constituencies, and hope that this is about the right number.

I do not think they have addressed themselves to the real problems, which ought to be: how small can this Assembly be and yet be able to do its job effectively? The larger the Assembly the more it will cost. In many ways the effectiveness of the Assembly could be less than otherwise if it were large.

I strongly agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) said, there are good arguments for saying that we have too many Members in this House. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who feel this to be the case.

In our amendments we propose a Scottish Assembly of 71 seats with the same boundaries as we have at present for parliamentary elections. I am sure everyone would agree that this would be the simplest of all solutions. It would involve the least change and cut out any need for new boundary changes and new considerations of boundaries—which would have to be done under the Government scheme or any other scheme—until normal boundary changes took place under our present system.

The public is used to the 71 constituencies. People know what constituency they are in. They know their local Members. The simplest thing would be to have an Assembly Member covering exactly the same constituency.

It can hardly be denied that a reduction in the number from 148 to 71 would save some money. The Government may argue that the amount of money is relatively trivial in terms of government expenditure as a whole. It is estimated in the Bill that the cost of wages, salaries and related matters and Assembly Members, staff and the Executive is about £6 million. Many people think that that is probably an under-estimate, and it may turn out to be more than that. Halving the number of Members is likely to provide a significant saving.

There is a better reason than that for reducing the number. If the Government wish to get the Bill through, they will have to give something to the critics both outside and inside Parliament. The criticism we hear from all over the country is that the cost of the new Assembly and its Members will be very great. The Government can effectively meet that criticism by saying that the case has been well made that the number is too large and by agreeing to reduce it from 148 to 71. That would be a very important selling factor for the Government. They could sell the Assembly to a sceptical public if they could demonstrate that it would be smaller than at present planned.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) in speaking to Amendment No. 50 was careful not to recommend to hon. Members the way in which they should vote. The amendment to which the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) is speaking is incompatible with Amendment No. 50.

Mr. Younger

The amendments are framed on the assumption that the present method of election continues. We could have put down a separate amendment to cover each eventuality, but I am content to wait to see what the Committee decides on the method of election. That does not invalidate my feeling that the number should be less than 148. Amendment No. 50 involves a reduction in the number from 148.

Mr. Dalyell

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "selling factor"? To be charitable, it may be 3 a.m. fuzziness, but how can there be selling factors for the Bill?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is being more obtuse than usual. The Committee as a whole perfectly understands what I mean. I presume that the Government are trying to put the scheme across to the people of Scotland and to get as many as possible to support it. "Selling factor" is a fairly common colloquialism, which I am sure hon. Members understand.

For the Assembly to carry out its business effectively, will the number of hon. Members need to be 148, as proposed by the Government? As several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said, it can be argued that 71 Members would not provide a large enough Assembly to man the Committees and provide the Executive. That is a tenable argument, but I do not believe that it holds much water. No one can say that the functions the Government propose to give the Assembly are greater than those now tackled by the Scottish Members of Parliament. Not only do we cover all these matters already, as best we can, but we carry out our duty in connection with United Kingdom affairs, and some of us also go to the European Parliament. We are pretty hard-pressed at times, but I do not think that it can be argued that the new Assembly will need double the number of Members to do only a proportion of Parliament's work, a point well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East.

Let us look at other legislatures, taking first the Australian Federal Parliament, which has to run major affairs for the whole of Australia with a total of 125 Members in the main Chamber. It manages to provide a whole Government, with all the panoply of Governments throughout the world, and deal with matters adequately. Denmark, with a population of 5 million, similar to that of Scotland, has a Chamber of 179 for the purposes of running an entire Government, not just the functions that the Scottish Assembly will take. The Netherlands, with a population more than twice the size of Scotland's, at 13 million, manages with 150, about the same as the Government propose for the Scottish Assembly, which has fewer responsibilities. New Zealand, a Commonwealth country with a population of over 2½ million, manages with a main debating Chamber of only 87. It is admittedly a smaller country, but the spread of responsibilities is much greater. Norway, another country frequently quoted here, has a population of about 4 million and I think, 116 in the main Chamber, to deal with much wider responsibilities.

I hope that I have made these points well enough to show the Minister that I do not believe there is a tenable argument that the Scottish Assembly's responsibilities are so wide that it must have more Members than some of those Assemblies and nearly as many as most of them. The Assembly proposed by the Government is too large.

I take finally what are perhaps more nearly parallel cases, although even then I do not think that the parallel is very good. I refer to the States and Provinces in some Commonwealth countries. New South Wales, with a population of 4,600,000—rather less than that of Scotland, but not that much—has an Assembly of 96 to carry out responsibilities which are bigger than those proposed for the Scottish Assembly. I understand that all the States in Australia run a full Government, including a Cabinet and Prime Minister, which is a rather larger apparatus than is proposed for the Scottish Assembly. The State of Victoria, with a population of 3½ million, has 73 Members.

I now turn to Canada. Ontario, with a population of over 7½ million, has 117 in its Chamber, and the much-quoted Province of Quebec, with 6 million, has 108.

That is overwhelming evidence that the Scottish Assembly would be well out of line with similar Assemblies throughout the world if we agreed to its having 148 Members. I hope that the Government will take as a constructive suggestion something that is liable to make the Assembly more acceptable to the public and cheaper to the public purse, and make it in many ways able to conduct its business more effectively with a more reasonable, smaller number of Members.

The Minister will be well briefed with many arguments for sticking to the total that the Government have chosen, but I hope that he will not shut the door. I hope that he will listen not just to me but to the concerted argument that the one truthful criticism of the Assembly is that it will be too large. If the Government mean to be flexible, this is one thing on which they should think again. I hope that after listening to the debate they will do so.

Mr. Peter Rees

I rise with some diffidence and uncertainty at this late hour—

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)

I should think so.

Mr. Rees

The hon. Member, who makes all his speeches from a sitting position, could always seek to make his own speech, but whether he would make a notable contribution is open to question.

I am diffident because the theme of the debate is proportional representation, and I do not propose to address myself to that subject, which has already been well canvassed, notably by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). I am uncertain because it is difficult to know which of the four or five themes covered by the amendments to select. However, optimistic that we shall have a "clause stand part" debate, I shall deal with the two points of principle raised by Amendments Nos. 521 and 523.

Those amendments can be read geographically or functionally. As I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), neither Scotland nor Wales, contrary to the vociferous, persistent and almost boringly repetitive arguments of Plaid Cymru and SNP Members, is homogeneous, ethnically, spiritually, culturally or even historically. They are as diverse as hon. Members who seek to represent them exclusively. It would be interesting, if they ever assumed responsibility, to test the position of individual SNP Members on, for instance, the preservation of the independent schools versus the extension of the State system. At the moment they project themselves as latter-day members of the Congress Party, concerned only with independence. It would help to know where they stand on these great issues, especially those which will be devolved.

But there will be time enough for that. It is self-evident, even to a Welshman or Sassenach like myself, that Scotland is not homogeneous. The kingdom or counties of Orkney and Shetland have a different historical past. If the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) were to grace our debates—evidently more important business keeps him away—he would no doubt tell us that his constituency has a different historical and ethnic past from that of his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson).

Mr. Henderson

Does that not prove the point, since my right hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and I represent different parts of Scotland? Nevertheless, we are united in our desire to see Scotland independent as one nation.

Mr. Rees

It may be that the hon. Member and his right hon. Friend are united to a degree on one issue. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) are also united on a different approach to the Bill. Also, it may be that on other issues I can detect some cracks and fissures between the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East and his right hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles.

Mr. Henderson

That only happens in the Tory Party.

Mr. Rees

But hon. Members in the Scottish National Party never venture a point of view on the other great issues which agitate the House. They are singularly silent on questions such as education. We have heard the cry of "Scottish oil" from them, but nothing on other big issues. They should let the voters know where they stand.

My point is that Scotland is not a homogeneous entity. I hope that my Scottish friends will forgive me for saying that. This truth is even more apparent in Wales, which has never been one historic entity. I cannot call to mind that country ever having been ruled as one kingdom in historic times. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) will be happy to be ruled from Cardiff. Does he think that the views of his constituents will be treated as sympathetically by Cardiff as they are by Westminster?

Mr. D. E. Thomas

As far as my part of Wales is concerned, we shall be more than happy to be governed from Cardiff. We are already governed from Cardiff in a large area of devolved administration. What my constituents want is democratic control. They want decisions made in Cardiff by elected representatives.

Mr. Rees

I wonder whether the hon. Member has paused to consider whether Cardiff will react as sensitively to electors of Caernarvon and Merioneth as hon. Members of this House. There will be time enough to find the answer to that.

The nationalists have never looked beyond the moment when these two Assemblies are set up. What happens thereafter remains a mystery. It will be time enough then to explore their differing aspirations and points of view. It could be that General Cope had—

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

On a point of order, Mrs. Butler. I was not under the impression that we were searching the last two centuries of history. I thought that we were discussing the numbers of Assembly Members. Perhaps the hon. Member should be reminded of the amendment to which he is supposed to be speaking.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is not out of order so far.

Mr. Rees

Obviously, the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) has lost the thread of my discourse. Maybe it is that I have not explained myself very clearly. I think it is more likely that, not having been here to intervene in the debate so far, he is singularly unversed in the matters we are discussing. Perhaps as the weeks go by he will come a little closer to the real issues which should be agitating this Committee.

3.15 a.m.

Before that interruption I was seeking enlightenment about whether there were as many Scotsmen in the regiments commanded by General Cope as there were in those commanded by Bonnie Prince Charlie. That is an interesting historical byway that we might explore on some other occasion.

Considering the diversity of Scotland and Wales, is it right that they should be represented by one Assembly each? Should we be considering whether the various regions of those two countries should have separate representation? On an earlier occasion I remarked that the historic county, Monmouthshire, which was specifically incorporated into England by Henry VII—

Mr. Powell

Henry VIII.

Mr. Rees

I always hesitate to correct the right hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge of history is so much greater than mine, but I think that he will find that it was a statute of Henry VII that incorporated Monmouthshire into England. But whether it was Henry VII or Henry VIII, there is an unanswerable case for treating Monmouthshire quite separately.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that under the Welsh Language Act 1967 Monmouthshire was officially and finally incorporated back into Wales?

Mr. Rees

Finality is something we rarely achieve. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has reminded us that even the referendum on Britain's adherence to the Common Market cannot be regarded as final. Am I to accept that a mere Act in 1967 should be regarded as definitive and final in this matter?

Mr. Anderson

As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, I once had the honour to represent a large part of the greenery of that county, and I believe that he or his family could once be numbered among my constituents. Is he also aware of the argument that the line of demarcation should be along the Usk?

Mr. Rees

I certainly had the privilege of being the hon. Gentleman's constituent, but I am not certain that he could have claimed my vote. I would prefer to see that boundary drawn a little further west. Monmouthshire is recognised as a historical entity and should be treated as such. I hope we shall have the opportunity to debate the new clause—

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman not a little out of date? There is no such animal as Monmouthshire. The new county is called Gwent.

Mr. Rees

I have observed before that the name "Gwent" has about as much historical connection with Monmouthshire as the name "Ghana" has with the Gold Coast.

A new clause has been tabled in my name and that of one of my hon. Friends providing that there should be a separate referendum in which the electors of Monmouthshire should be entitled to express their views whether they should be regarded as part of England or part of Wales for the purposes of the Bill. The hon. Members who have interrupted me have shown by the very breadth of their views that Wales and Monmouthshire cannot be regarded, except in a sporting sense, as one homogeneous entity.

If we are to defer to the susceptibilities of the Scots and the Welsh, we should also defer to the susceptibilities of the various integral units inside Scotland and Wales. We should have not one Assembly for each country, but two or maybe even three. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton ascribed three Assemblies to Scotland, and there is an unanswerable case for the same number for Wales.

That is the geographical case supporting Amendments Nos. 521 and 523, but there is also a functional case. It is singularly appropriate that the Bill should have been presented by the Leader of the House because he battles arm-in-arm with the right hon. Member for Down, South in the fight to preserve a second Chamber for the United Kingdom Parliament. That fight will find an echo in our debates on the Bill. It would be interesting to know whether the Leader of the House now believes that we should no longer have a bicameral situation for the United Kingdom. Obviously, what is fitting for the United Kingdom must be fitting for Scotland and Wales.

The only precedent that we have had for devolution so far has been Ulster. The United Kingdom Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, endowed that historic Province with two Chambers. There were a Senate and a Lower House. Who are we to deny Scotland and Wales that which was conceded to Ulster? Although there has been a breath of criticism of Stormont from Labour Members, I have never heard any serious criticism levelled at the Ulster senate. If there was a case for a Senate in Ulster, and if there was a case for a second Chamber in the United Kingdom Parliament, there must be a case for second Chambers in Cardiff and Edinburgh. Indeed, the logic of the argument surely is that those who wish to see greater powers devolved to those Assemblies must concede that the Assemblies should have second revising Chambers.

If the Assemblies were to be only debating Chambers, I agree that it would perhaps be unnecessary and tedious to saddle the Scots and the Welsh with revising Chambers. But the more substance that is to be given to the Assemblies, the greater will be the need for them to have revising Chambers. It may well be that the Leader of the House may later try to catch the eye of the Chair in order to reaffirm that the Government believe in a bicameral system in the United Kingdom and that, therefore, the same should apply in Scotland and Wales. I hope that the Minister who will speak for the Government later in the debate will make the Government's position clear.

If we are to have devolution, let it be wholehearted and let there be a fully fledged bicameral system. Surely that which is good enough for the United Kingdom parliament must be good enough for Scotland and Wales. I therefore support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton.

Sir A. Meyer

I shall be brief since I am speaking so exceptionally late in the debate. I respectfully point out that if it was the practice of the Chair to call earlier in debate those hon. Members who had indicated that they would be brief, that that would be one way of abbreviating debates.

It is easy for me to be brief because my main point has already been fully made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart). I am fiercely opposed to devolution—at any rate for Wales—but if devolution is to come I would like to limit the damage as far as possible. I accept that, because of the differences in timing between the Assembly elections and general elections, there will inevitably be a different political position in the Assemblies from that in Parliament. One of the admitted features of our first-past-the-post system is that it exaggerates swings in public opinion in terms of parliamentary representation. It is, therefore, almost inevitable that the position in the Assemblies will be the opposite of that in the House of Commons. Conflict is built in.

I am happy to support Amendment No. 50. The additional Member system is the least unsatisfactory method of ensuring proportional representation. It is easy to introduce and it preserves the link between a Member and his constituency. It is also a method to reduce the unnecessarily large size of the proposed Assemblies.

Every system has drawbacks, and it does no service to the argument put so ably by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) to pretend that the AMS does not also have serious drawbacks—though they are not as serious as was suggested in an astonishingly jejune article in The Economist recently. One drawback is that in some constituencies one Member will have another breathing down his neck. But that is precisely what the Government propose for hon. Members; we shall have one or two Assemblymen breathing down our necks.

That is why I strongly support Amendment No. 537, which has not been referred to yet, but which I hope will be dealt with soon by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). In proposes that constituencies for the Assembly should not be parliamentary constituencies but local government districts. Fortunately, there are about the same number of such districts as constituencies in Wales.

Amendment No. 537 would produce a marked improvement, and I can see no reason why the Government should not accept it. It recognises that the Assem- bly's activities will be more closely related to what goes on in local government than to what goes on here, but it will avoid the invidious duplication of roles between hon. Members and Members of the Assembly.

I hope that after the no doubt devastating case which my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke will deploy in favour of Amendment No. 537 it will be accepted.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

As we have just had the first mention of Amendment No. 537, I hope that it will be thought appropriate if I intervene at this stage to refer to it.

The amendment would reduce the membership of the Welsh Assembly from 79 to about 50 and would change its basis to one which would be related to local government rather than to parliamentary boundaries. It seems a sound rule to say that if there is any doubt about the required size of a body, we should aim for the least rather than the most. Not only are we more likely to arrive at the right answer—as there is always a tendency to exaggerate requirements—but we should impose greater discipline and economy.

I sometimes wonder whether our failure to manage our affairs with any particular success is related to the fact that we have one of the largest legislatures, in relation to population, in the world. Certainly size is no measure of efficiency. If we are to have an Assembly, the public are entitled to know that it will be no larger than is absolutely necessary. Clearly, the cost of the whole operation will be closely related to the number of elected representatives. It is not just a question of office space, facilities, allowances, supporting staffs, electoral expenditure, and—perhaps not least—the tendency of elected representatives to create activity in order to justify their existence in one way or another.

3.30 a.m.

So strong are the arguments for economy, and so strong the pressures to enlarge and exaggerate, that when it comes to the question of size the onus of proof must lie with those who want a larger body than is necessary. No doubt it will be said that many county councils have more members than the proposed Welsh Assembly, but I think that this arises largely from the perfectly legitimate desire to get truly local representatives to deal with the local issues which concern such councils. The Assembly will be dealing with the broader strategy of Welsh government.

We are not suggesting larger electoral areas than the Government propose. The areas which we propose in the countryside are in many cases substantially smaller. On the basis of the functions to be given to the Assembly we would do better to look at the federal Governments that exist elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr Younger) gave some of the figures. Bearing in mind the huge discrepancy in geographical areas, I cannot see why we should need 79 elected Members when West Australia can manage with 51, South Australia with 47, and Tasmania with 35. Even Victoria, which is vastly larger in terms of both size and population than Scotland, and has legislative duties to perform, manages with only 73. In Canada there are similar precedents. Surely if the Government of British Columbia can be run with 55 Members we can run Welsh affairs with a body of comparable size.

We may be told that a committee structure cannot be made to work without at least 70 to 80 Members. I do not think there is anything sacred about the committee structures chosen by the Government, but we can discuss that later. The fact is that Powys runs a committee system with 53 members, and, although it is true that the other county councils are all larger than the proposed Assembly, a large number of district councils are smaller, yet they still seem to operate a committee structure without too much difficulty. The Local Government Act 1963 limited the size of the London boroughs to not more than 60 members, and all of them have succeeded in operating a committee structure, many with an even smaller membership.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) has argued the case for a larger Assembly in Scotland, mainly because he wanted to establish an Assembly that would one day become the Parliament of an independent Scotland. But the vast majority of Members intend that the Welsh Assembly should have a more limited role, and I can see no case for a larger Assembly in Wales.

I turn now to the nature of the electoral base and the kind of constituencies which the Assembly should have. There are real advantages in taking local authority boundaries as a base rather than parliamentary boundaries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) observed, in a modest way this will help to reduce one source of conflict and difficulty between Westminster and the new Assembly. I am sure that all Members will understand the real difficulties which could arise if representatives were elected to the Assembly from constituencies which exactly matched parliamentary constituencies. There would then be two individuals representing precisely the same area and with overlapping responsibilities for the same subjects, one with responsibility for dealing with the passing of legislation, and the other with responsibility for dealing with the secondary legislation and administration. They might be men and women of the same party or of different parties. In either case, they might hold very different views. As they each represent their own idea of their constituents' interests, there may be cause for irritation and disagreement. Each, as he acts, will have standing behind him a shadow of equal or comparable status, and it will be pretty uncomfortable for both of them. Discomfort on its own would not justify the adoption of a particular solution. But if we can avoid it when there are so many other potential causes of friction, so much the better.

We do not avoid the overlap entirely, and it would be misleading to suggest that we do. There will about 14 cases where the boundaries will be the same or very similar. But that means that at least in more than half the parliamentary constituencies in Wales this situation will not occur. In any event, it seems eminently sensible and desirable that, so far as we are able, we should strengthen the links with local government and the co-ordination between local authorities and the Assembly. We are more likely to do so in a system where the Assembly Member speaks for the same area as each district authority. It is likely to lead to an identification of interests. It will enable the views of the districts to be heard in the Assembly. Apparently that is the view held by the Association of District Councils, which broadly supports the idea of Assembly constituencies with a district base.

Both the Assembly, if it comes into being, and the local authorities will be concerned directly in the administration of government, and there must be a strong argument for basing the electoral structure of both administrative bodies on the same electoral base and for identifying in the public mind the links and interests which exist. At Westminster there is a distinction between the executive and the Legislature which sustains it. But both in the Assembly, with its proposed committee structure, and in the local authorities this distinction will be much less evident. Because both bodies will be concerned directly with the administration of government and with the day-to-day decisions which affect people, the relationship will differ from the present relationship of local government and local government members with Members of Parliament who sit in this place.

If the Welsh Asembly comes to allocate the priorities in Wales, real difficulties may arise between districts, and it will be easier for one Assemblyman to represent the interests of a single district area. I take my own constituency as an example. The interests of Prescelly and those of South Pembrokeshire do not always coincide. An Assemblyman carrying out the task of translating legislation into effect might find himself in a more difficult position if he had to speak simultaneously, in the kind of situation that we shall have in the Welsh Assembly, for both areas. Similar considerations apply, for example, in Caernarvonshire and in Carmarthen.

Our solution also enables us to overcome a difficulty which the Welsh counties regard as important and have raised with the Government. They point to the fact that the population and area of the Brecon constituency are a good deal larger than those of Powys and that the Assembly Member representing Powys may come from a part of the constituency in the area of the Welsh valleys. I am not sure that it matters enormously where the Member lives, but, clearly, there are considerable differences of interest between the industrial area in the south of the present parliamentary constituency and the vastly larger rural section of that constituency.

There are other advantages in what I propose. The ratio between the largest and the smallest constituencies is reduced to less than two and a half to one. In this proposal the largest seat would be just under 49,000 voters and the smallest about 21,000, with less extreme differences than in the Government's scheme.

I accept that multi-member representation of some cities, particularly Cardiff, might be objected to because a minor swing would take a whole block of seats one way or another in electoral terms, but there would be little difficulty in dividing Cardiff into wards. In any case, the Government have put forward a number of multi-member constituencies with as many as three Members.

One advantage of our proposals is that Members in the rural areas will be responsible in many cases for much smaller constituencies. That is true in Caernarvon, Clwyd and the old counties of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen. In none of the rural areas do we get a larger constituency by this method.

In trying to deal with the problem of what the White Paper called the "far-flung rural constituencies", the Government have finished up giving the far-flung rural constituencies of Abertillery, Ebbw Vale and Merthyr Tydfil additional Members, giving additional Members to Merioneth and Montgomeryshire. I am not sure that there is much logic in that solution. Certainly there is more logic in a solution which divides Caernarvon, Pembrokeshire and Denbigh without adding to a single industrial seat.

It seems to me that the Government's proposals are based on a careful analysis of what is needed to achieve a purely arbitrary doubling of the parliamentary representation with an adjustment to deal with two gross discrepancies of size which occur. The case for a local government base is powerful, irrespective of the size of the Assembly.

As to size, I press those who argue for more members to establish their case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) suggested, in a speech in Wales last week, that this would cause serious suspicion that the argument for size was an argument for jobs for the boys. Whatever the views on devolution, he said, the Welsh people did not want that.

As an opponent of the Assembly, perhaps I should not press this point, but I am sure that the Welsh people will be more generous in their attitude to the Assembly if it is compact and economic. Certainly, if we are to have an Assembly that is what this Committee should insist it should be.

Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I shall be extremely brief, but I make no apology for returning to the central issue started so long ago by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), proportional representation.

I have to say that I do not think it is a burning issue in Pudsey. I am happy to say that, after considerable challenge by the Liberal Party over the years, the problem of proportional representation has receded as a local issue. Long may it recede.

In this debate it has been rightly and fully aired. We are no doubt coming now to the closure of these proceedings. The standard of the debate this afternoon and night has been high. The issue has been well and constructively discussed.

I wanted to make two brief points. There is considerable confusion running through the whole devolution Bill around the argument that more government somehow means better government. I suspect that when it comes to arguing about electoral systems, the argument is that change is change for the better.

Those who express anxiety about proportional representation starting in Scotland and creeping into the Westminster system should take note that that would be the case only if the proportional representation system were shown to be working better there. If it were shown not to work effectively in Scotland, it could not be argued that it should be applied to the Westminster model.

3.45 a.m.

Therefore, the anxieties which many hon. Members have expressed about this being an experiment to be feared are over-played. I suspect that there could be a strong argument for saying that proportional representation, and possibly its burial, as an alternative system to the first-past-the-post system in the United Kingdom would be better achieved if it were adopted for the Scottish Assembly, as is proposed in the amendments, and properly tested within the United Kingdom, observed and discarded, than by merely rejecting the proposal.

We are discussing an entirely new system of government, albeit with many demerits or disadvantages within it. Therefore, it seems proper that a new system of election should be considered for that new system of government. I do not believe that the anxieties about it spreading are sensible. If it is proven to be better, the Westminster system should clearly adopt it. If it fails in Scotland, it fails for all time. That in itself could almost commend the amendment to the Committee.

I declare myself to be in favour of the amendment. However, I suspect that the total proposition of the Bill will rightly go down as a major morass.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I intervene briefly to rebut some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) in speaking to Amendment No. 537. I do not want to impute any motives to the hon. Gentleman at this early hour of the morning, but initially he wanted to kill the Bill, then he wanted to take Wales out of it, and now he is seeking to emasculate the Assembly, if it is established, by reducing its membership to 50. Plaid Cymru will resist that proposal.

We believe that it will not be possible to run an effective tier of democracy in Wales on the basis of having only 50 Members of the Assembly. After all, the Assembly will be responsible for devising policies for Wales and allocating resources over many areas: health, personal social services, education with the exception of universities, planning, water, local government—particularly housing—tourism, roads and transport, the countryside, national parks, and so on. These major functions cannot be handled effectively by an Assembly whittled down to 50 Members.

That does not take account of my hope that the Assembly will use the provisions of Clause 86 to take over the role of nominated bodies, thus preventing many people who belong to the Conservative Party and are now members of nominated bodies being so placed in future by successive Conservative Governments at Westminster. No doubt the hon. Member for Pembroke anticipates that by having a smaller Assembly of 50 Members there will still be jobs for the non-representative Conservative boys on nominated bodies in Wales.

The hon. Member for Pembroke pretended to be in favour of more effective representation and talked about basing the Assembly on the district electorate. Indeed, he referred to the importance of representation for rural areas. I am gratified that he should be concerned about that matter. But how does it improve representation in the Assembly to whittle the membership down to 50? That very act would lessen the effectiveness and sensitivity of the Assembly.

The hon. Gentleman has been going round North, North-West and North-East Wales making speeches in which he suggested that those who live in those areas will be dominated for the rest of their days by those who live in South and South-East Wales. Some of us have greater confidence in our comrades in the valleys. We are sure that we shall be sensitively treated by people in South and South-East Wales. An Assembly with a substantial membership representative of all areas in Wales will ensure that it can effectively devise policies for the whole of Wales.

Mr. Peter Rees

The hon. Gentleman has levelled imputations at Conservative Administrations. I am aware of only one in the past 10 years. Will he list the bodies which he suggests have been the subject of lavish Conservative patronage?

Mr. Thomas

I shall not be drawn on that matter, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman is present when we debate Clause 86 at a later stage, I shall name the names.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The hon. Gentleman has dismissed the argument about the local government base entirely on the ground of size. It is fair enough to do that, in that the two things are in the same amendment, but will he at least advance his case for rejecting the local government base in more general terms, because it could be applied irrespective of the size of the Assembly?

Mr. Thomas

I was about to come to the district base and the question of functions. If the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the constituencies ought to be devised in order to obtain a parallel area of functions, the logic of his argument would be to use the counties as the base, because most of the functions in the Assembly are parallel functions with those of the county councils rather than those of the district councils. Housing is the major function which is in parallel with the district councils.

The hon. Gentleman also seemed to argue that there would be a conflict breaking out between the Westminster Member and the Assembly Member because they were representing coterminous constituencies. That seemed to me, again, to be rather illogical. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there will he less conflict in relation to an Assembly Member because he happens to represent and is coterminous with the district council?

I suspect that the main motive for using the district as a base and talking so much about the need for parallelism with local government is again to lower the rôle and status of the Assembly, and for the link in the public mind to be with local government and not with Westminster—which in the hon. Gentleman's view would increase the status of the Assembly, and the Assembly would be seen more clearly by the Welsh electorate as vying for power and challenging Westminster in some way. However, it seems to me that the intention of the amendment is to lower the status of the Assembly and to emasculate its effectiveness. On that basis, we shall resist the amendment.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

This is the first and, perhaps, the last time that I shall try to take part in the debates on the Bill. I do so because I feel that from the Opposition Benches there has not been sufficient representation of the very strong opposition to the idea of proportional representation. Many of the speeches from these Benches have been in support of the amendment. I believe that the majority of English Conservative Members are strongly opposed to the amendment. I say that because many people in England are opposed to the whole Bill, and they are deeply suspicious of the proposals outlined in the amendment.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) had to say when he suggested that the new Assemblies were likely to be elected in some kind of conflict with Parliament at Westminster. I should have thought that any Assembly elections that preceded elections to the House of Commons would be more in accord with the changes that would take place in a subsequent Westminster election, because the swings against the party in Government are likely to be felt in a more violent way before a General Election than they are afterwards. Therefore, my hon. Friend's argument is not really tenable.

The question of Northern Ireland has been raised several times in the debate. I cannot see that the idea of bringing in PR in Ulster helps the cause of those who have put forward the amendment. Those who argue that it had very little effect upon the actual proportion of seats that transpired almost admit that there was very little point in bringing forward PR in the first place.

Furthermore, to try to transpose that argument into bringing this form of election into Scotland and Wales, let alone into the elections for the European Parliament, denies the argument often put forward that this would have no effect upon elections to the House of Commons. It would be very difficult indeed to resist a complete change in the election of Members of the House of Commons if we had elections to any kind of Northern Ireland Assembly, to Assemblies in Scotland and Wales and to the European Parliament on a PR basis. That is why I strongly oppose the amendment.

Many of those who have supported Amendment No. 50 want exactly the change that is proposed for election to the House of Commons. They are using the debate about Scotland and Wales to fly a kite for PR in England. There are strong forces at work. It cannot be doubted that a tremendous amount of money is now being devoted to electoral reform inside the country. Money is being supplied by British business because it believes that this is the way to secure a certain sort of result at future General Elections. I happen to believe that the right way to approach politics is to pre- sent the British people with a clear choice. The great danger of trying to muddy the issue and proposing electoral reform is to deprive the people of that fundamental choice.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I have been accused of being wet and now I appear to be muddy as well. Surely the hon. Gentleman will concede that it is possible in politics to have more than two views. Surely that is demonstrable not only in Scotland but throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. There are more than two views, and people wish to express them in votes and to see their votes translated into representatives.

Mr. Fry

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are more than two views. There may well be three, four, five, six or even seven views. I answer the hon. Gentleman by quoting the West German system, which has been held up as a wonderful example of the way in which we can change the system. By most of the rules the Christian Democrats clearly won the General Election in Western Germany last year. But because of the system of PR the Free Democratic Government remained in power although it was unable to win one seat on the first vote. Every seat allocated to the Free Democratic Party came from the so-called list system. In direct confrontation with either of the other two major parties it failed to obtain one seat. At least the Liberal Party has been able to achieve more than that in this country. However, the Free Democratic Party was enabled, in effect, to prevent a change of government, a change that was quite clearly the will of a great many people in Western Germany. Far from proving the case for PR, the West German election of 1976 should be the clearest warning to the British political parties.

This is a fundamental issue. Many people have told me that they are totally against this change in our constitution. It would be a great mistake for the records of this debate to be construed as indicating that there was a majority of Conservative Members of Parliament in favour of the amendment. It may well be that many of my colleagues will not go into either Lobby tonight, but I and one or two colleagues have determinedly stayed on because we shall vote with the Government on this issue and against the amendment. We do so not because we are supporters of a Labour Government but because we believe that one of the essentials of democracy is to give the clear choice that is presented by our present electoral system. There is absolutely no mandate for any kind of major change in the electoral system. To accept this amendment tonight would be to open the gate to a series of consequences which could well lead to the dissolution of parliamentary democracy as we know it and to the kind of deals behind closed doors which too often result from a system of PR. I shall be very pleased to oppose this amendment.

4.0 a.m.

Mr. John Smith

I hope the House will forgive me if I do not traverse the ground of PR, which has been fully covered in the many hours of debate. I have obligations to reply to some of the points raised about the many other amendments in this grouping.

The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) immediately catches my eye. The hon. Gentleman tabled a most unusual amendment, which reflected his well-known ingenuity. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that it does not find favour with the Government since he proposed three Assemblies for Scotland and two for Wales. That would take us towards a readjustment of regional local government rather than devolution, as we understand it. The hon. Gentleman will understand that we want to see the existing administration for Scotland and Wales democratised to some extent.

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) talked about two other amendments. One was Amendment No. 55, in which the right hon. Gentleman suggested that instead of having the two Member and three Member system based on existing parliamentary constituencies we should move straight away to defining the new Assembly constituencies.

I follow that argument entirely, but the Government wish to see the Assembly in action as soon as possible. It is physically not possible to go through the propositions of the Boundary Commisssion without delaying the implementation of the Bill by up to a year.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there must be detailed examination and time for appeals as well as time for orders under the partliamentary procedure. I follow the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but there is no time for us to have a reconstruction of the constituencies, nor could we form constituencies within the time scale that the Government believe to be desirable.

I have considered the right hon. Gentleman's drafting Amendment No. 265 carefully, and have taken specific advice on it. The right hon. Gentleman may accept that he may not have given sufficient attention to the definition of the word "electorate". The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt table many more drafting amendments, and we shall look at them carefully, but I do not think that this is one of his best ones.

One of the main points in the debate concerned the size of the Assemblies. I want to come directly to that, because it is the matter of most interest to the Committee. There is a slightly different argument with regard to Wales. I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have had to say. There are fundamental differences of view.

The Government do not believe that it would be wise to base this on local government districts. One of the main reasons is that the Assemblies' new functions are being derived from central and not local government. We ought to keep that firmly in mind when we are considering this matter.

One of the weaknesses is that it is a multi-member constituency scheme. In the case of Cardiff, for instance, five Members are likely to be involved. The Committee should bear in mind what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said about the difficulties of multimember constituencies in the context of the PR debate. I agree entirely with that in the context of the single transferable vote.

We would prefer to base the scheme for both countries on the parliamentary constituencies. I notice that in the Conservative amendments Scotland would vote according to parliamentary constituencies, although for some reason a different system is proposed for Wales.

I listened with care to the hon. Members for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) and Ayr (Mr. Younger), who all spoke about the size of the Scottish Assembly. Slightly different motives are at work here. The right hon. Lady is slightly less enthusiastic about the prospect of devolution than are the two hon. Gentlemen. I take seriously the question of the size of the Assembly, and it is something that the Committee has to discuss.

I shall briefly outline the Government's attitude on the proposed size. There is a case for giving the electorate greater representation than it has at Westminster. We also have an important obligation to create Assemblies of a reasonable size to carry out the responsibilities devolved to them. As the hon. Member for Ayr said, it is a matter of judgment. It is hard to be dogmatic about the right size for the Assembly. The answer varies throughout the world. I do not know how far international comparisons help, because they have to be examined carefully in their own domestic and political setting.

The Scottish Assembly must have sufficient Members to be able to select an Executive of competence and talent to carry out the important functions entrusted to the Assembly. The hon. Member for Pentlands postulated a 71-seat Assembly, in which there might be 18 Members of the Executive and a party with 36 Members in power. One in two of all Members elected would have to be members of the Executive. Several Members of the Assembly, for personal or professional reasons, might not wish to serve on the Executive, and that would cut down even further the number of Members available. It is principally for that reason that we feel that 71 is too few. It does not follow that double that number—142—is right. There is the practical problem, if we wish to hold an early election, of finding any other basis for the number than the existing parliamentary constituencies.

Mr. Mackintosh

It could be done by accepting my amendment.

Mr. Smith

That amendment involves a different principle. I must not anticipate the decision that the Committee will take on my hon. Friend's amendment, but that would be a different proposition. There is a practical difficulty in devising another method. No doubt that is why 71 is suggested rather than, say, 100.

If hon. Members can think of any practical method whereby we can create an Assembly sufficiently large to carry out its responsibilities but perhaps smaller—I am not saying by how much—we shall carefully examine it. On Report we shall review some decisions taken earlier in the light of subsequent decisions about the functions of the Assembly. We shall consider carefully any amendment put down on Report.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Minister accept that, whether or not any proposal can be brought forward to fit in with the time scale for which the Government hope, the mere fact that the Government wish to hold elections in 1978 rather than in 1979 is not in itself a good enough reason for the Assembly to be far larger than even the Government now appear to think desirable?

Mr. Smith

I am being careful in what I say. The hon. Gentleman must not interpret what I say more widely than I mean it to be interpreted. I am not saying that that is the sole reason. It is one of the practical reasons that has to be taken into account. What I said was by way of illustration. There is difficulty in finding a happy medium between 71 and 142. I have been quite frank. If the hon. Members apply their minds to this question and come up with a proposition we shall consider it carefully.

Mr. Dalyell

Am I right or wrong to infer that the Government think that a minimum of 100 Members is necessary for the Assembly?

Mr. Smith

It would be difficult to have fewer, but 71 is too few to carry out the responsibilities. It is not proper to be dogmatic. We have seen many examples of various systems, and I was asked not to shut the door. I hope that that does not finally shut the door, though I know that it does not keep it wide open. We shall certainly explore any suggestions. I hope that it will be felt that I am being as constructive as I can be in the circumstances.

That was the main point raised in the debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) will not think that I am disregarding his arguments if I do not go into them in detail, but I am under some pressure of time.

I hope that the Committee will reject Amendment No. 50 and the Opposition amendments.

Question put, That Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 25. Noes. 221.

Division No. 46. AYES 4.11a.m.
Crawford, Douglas Penhaligon, David Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Rees-Davies, W. R. Watt, Hamish
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Reid, George Welsh, Andrew
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wigley, Dafydd
Henderson, Douglas Sillars, James Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Hooson, Emlyn Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Steel, Rt Hon David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald Mr. A. J. Beith and
MacCormick, Iain Thompson, George Mr. D. E. Thomas
Pardoe, John Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Allaun, Frank Dunnett, Jack Kinnock, Neil
Anderson, Donald Eadie, Alex Lambie, David
Archer, Peter Edge, Geoff Lamborn, Harry
Armstrong, Ernest Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Lamond, James
Ashton, Joe Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) English, Michael Leadbitter, Ted
Atkinson, Norman Ennals, David Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Evans, loan (Aberdare) Litterick, Tom
Bates, Alf Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Loyden, Eddie
Bean, R. E. Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Luard, Evan
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Flannery, Martin Lyon, Alexander (York)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Bishop, E. S. Foot, Rt Hon Michael McCartney, Hugh
Blenkinsop, Arthur Forrester, John McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Boardman, H. Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) McElhone, Frank
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Freeson, Reginald MacFarquhar, Roderick
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Garrett, John (Norwich S) McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Bradley, Tom George, Bruce MacKenzie, Gregor
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gilbert, Dr John Maclennan, Robert
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Ginsburg, David McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Buchanan, Richard Golding, John Madden, Max
Budgen, Nick Gould, Bryan Mahon, Simon
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Gourlay, Harry Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Campbell, Ian Graham, Ted Marks, Kenneth
Canavan, Dennis Grant, George (Morpeth) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cant, R. B. Grant, John (Islington C) Maynard, Miss Joan
Carmichael, Neil Grocott, Bruce Meacher, Michael
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Cartwright, John Harper, Joseph Mikardo, Ian
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Clemitson, Ivor Hart, Rt Hon Judith Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Cohen, Stanley Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)
Coleman, Donald Heffer, Eric S. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Conlan, Bernard Hooley, Frank Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Horam, John Moyle, Roland
Corbett, Robin Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Cowans, Harry Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Newens, Stanley
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Huckfield, Les Noble, Mike
Cronin, John Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Ogden, Eric
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Hughes, Mark (Durham) O'Halloran, Michael
Crowther, Stan (Rotherharm) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Roy (Newport) Ovenden, John
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Hunter, Adam Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Dalyell, Tam Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Padley, Walter
Davidson, Arthur Janner, Greville Palmer, Arthur
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Park, George
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) John, Brynmor Parry, Robert
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Johnson, James (Hull West) Pavitt, Laurie
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Pendry, Tom
Deakins, Eric Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Prescott, John
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Jones, Dan (Burnley) Price, William (Rugby)
Dempsey, James Judd, Frank Radice, Giles
Doig, Peter Kaufman, Gerald Richardson, Miss Jo
Dormand, J. D. Kelley, Richard Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Duffy, A. E. P. Kerr, Russell Roberta, Gwilyrn (Cannock)
Robinson, Geoffrey Spearing, Nigel Ward, Michael
Roderick, Caerwyn Spriggs, Leslie Weetch, Ken
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Stallard, A. W. White, James (Pollok)
Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Rooker, J. W. Stoddart, David Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Stott, Roger Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Rowlands, Ted Strang, Gavin Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Sandelson, Neville Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Sedgemore, Brian Swain, Thomas Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Woodall, Alec
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Woof, Robert
Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Tierney, Sydney Wrigglesworth, Ian
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Tomlinson, John Young, David (Bolton E)
Silverman, Julius Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Skinner, Dennis Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Mr. James Tinn and
Snape, Peter Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Mr. Frank R. White.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 62, Noes 244.

Division No. 47.] AYES [4.23 a.m.
Baker, Kenneth James, David Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Beith, A. J. Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Sillars, James
Benyon, W. Kirk, Sir Peter Sinclair, Sir George
Bottomley, Peter Knox, David Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Latham, Michael (Melton) Steel, Rt Hon David
Buchanan-Smith, Alick MacCormick, Iain Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Crawford, Douglas Mayhew, Patrick Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Monro, Hector Thompson, George
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Mudd, David Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Fairgrieve, Russell Newton, Tony Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Pardoe, John Watt, Hamish
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Penhaligon, David Welsh, Andrew
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Rathbone, Tim Wigley, Dafydd
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Rees-Davies, W. R. Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Hayhoe, Barney Reid, George Younger, Hon George
Henderson, Douglas Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Hooson, Emlyn Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Rifkind, Malcolm Mr. John P. Mackintosh and
Hurd, Douglas Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Anthony Kershaw.
Allaun, Frank Clemitson, Ivor Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Anderson, Donald Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Archer, Peter Cohen, Stanley Emery, Peter
Armstrong, Ernest Coleman, Donald English, Michael
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Conlan, Bernard Ennals, David
Atkinson, Norman Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Banks, Robert Corbett, Robin Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cowans, Harry Fell, Anthony
Bates, Alt Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Bean, R. E. Cronin, John Flannery, Martin
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bishop, E. S. Cryer, Bob Forrester, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Boardman, H. Dalyell, Tam Freeson, Reginald
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Davidson, Arthur Fry, Peter
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Bradford, Rev Robert Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bradley, Tom Davies, Ifor (Gower) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Brotherton, Michael Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) George, Bruce
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Deakins, Eric Gilbert, Dr John
Buchanan, Richard Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Budgen, Nick Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Ginsburg, David
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Dempsey, James Glyn, Dr Alan
Campbell, Ian Dolg, Peter Golding, John
Canavan, Dennis Dormand, J. D. Gould, Bryan
Cant, R. B. Duffy, A. E. P. Gourlay, Harry
Carmichael, Neil Dunlop, John Graham, Ted
Carson, John Dunnett, Jack Grant, George (Morpeth)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Grant, John (Islington C)
Cartwright, John Eadie, Alex Grist, Ian
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Edge, Geoff Grocott, Bruce
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mahon, Simon Sedgemore, Brian
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Marks, Kenneth Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Maynard, Miss Joan Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Heffer, Eric S. Meacher, Michael Silverman, Julius
Horam, John Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Skinner, Dennis
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Mikardo, Ian Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Snape, Peter
Huckfield, Les Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Spriggs, Leslie
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Sproat, Iain
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Molyneaux, James Stallard, A. W.
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Stanbrook, Ivor
Hunter, Adam Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Moyle, Roland Stoddart, David
Janner, Greville Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Stott, Roger
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Newens, Stanley Strang, Gavin
John, Brynmor Noble, Mike Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Johnson, James (Hull West) Oakes, Gordon Swain, Thomas
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Ogden, Eric Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) O'Halloran, Michael Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Ovenden, John Tierney, Sydney
Judd, Frank Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Tinn, James
Kaufman, Gerald Padley, Walter Tomlinson, John
Kelley, Richard Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Kerr, Russell Paisley, Rev Ian Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Kinnock, Neil Palmer, Arthur Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lambie, David Park, George Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Lamborn, Harry Parry, Robert Ward, Michael
Lamond, James Pavitt, Laurie Weetch, Ken
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Pendry, Tom White, Frank R. (Bury)
Leadbitter, Tad Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch White, James (Pollok)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Prescott, John Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Litterick, Tom Price, C. (Lewisham W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Loyden, Eddie Price, William (Rugby) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Luard, Evan Radice, Giles Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lyon, Alexander (York) Richardson, Miss Jo Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
McCartney, Hugh Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wise, Mrs Audrey
McCusker, H. Robinson, Geoffrey Woodall, Alec
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Roderick, Caerwyn Woof, Robert
McElhone, Frank Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wrigglesworth, Ian
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Young, David (Bolton E)
MacKenzie, Gregor Rooker, J. W.
Maclennan, Robert Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Ross, William (Londonderry) Mr. Joseph Harper and
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Rowlands, Ted Mr. Joseph Ashton.
Madden, Max Sandelson, Neville

Amendment accordingly negatived.

The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)

Following the earlier announcement by the Chairman of Ways and Means, I would inform the Committee that separate Divisions may be called on Amendments Nos. 521, 55, 525 and 526 when they are reached in the clause, if the hon. Members concerned so wish.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Bates.]

Mr. Pym

The House would consider this an appropriate moment to report Progress and ask leave to sit again. We have had a major debate on substantial matters. It was nobody's fault that, unfortunately, during our proceedings amendments have had to be grouped together. That damaged the debate in some respects. But we have had a major discussion on PR and reached a conclusion at 4.30 a.m. The Government's decision to report Progress indicates that they feel that disposing of this large group of amendments in one sitting has been a reasonable day's work. We had thought that the Government might want to make further progress, but they obviously feel that so much has been adequate for one day. Naturally, I do not intend to oppose the motion. There seems to be some mirth on the Labour Benches, but I think that the House will support the motion.

Mr. Foot

If there is disappointment at what we have proposed, we can have a vote and continue the debate. In the future organisation of debates we shall take note of what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has said, but I think that it is for the general convenience of the House if we report Progress now.

We shall proceed to get the Bill through, and I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's recognition of that fact.

Mr. David Steel

We note that the Government are keen to call it a day and are satisfied with the progress that we have made. They should note that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are ready to carry on, but we are always willing to be flexible in these matters and if the Government wish to call it a day, so be it. We shall not seek to oppose them.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.