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Electoral Reform

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1954

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asked the Prime Minister whether, since he informed a Liberal Party deputation on 3rd February, 1953, that a factual inquiry into the subject of electoral reform was not excluded, he will advise Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into systems of election, with terms of reference similar to those of the commission which reported in 1910.

Having regard to the great dissatisfaction which has been voiced somewhat volubly in a distant quarter in the party opposite with regard to the Boundary Commission and its redistribution Report, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that this is a suitable moment at which to have this and kindred electoral matters discussed, and would it not be best for him to meet his enemies in the gates before they have a chance of worsting him again?

I do not think I need the aid of a Royal Commission for the discussions to which the hon. and learned Member draws my attention.

Putting aside all party considerations in this matter, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that under the existing system a majority of Members of this House may be elected by a minority of votes in the country, in view of the fact that a small transfer of votes may so affect the constitution of the House that it may alter the whole course of events for a period of five years, and also in view of the anomalies and injustices to which the right hon. Gentleman himself referred on 7th March, 1950, whether he will now consider setting up an impartial inquiry into the electoral system?

The question of proportional representation is not a novel one at all. It has been repeatedly inquired into and considered from this point and from that, both on a party and a non-party basis. I think the general opinion is that logically there is a lot to be said for it but, in fact and in practice, it has brought to a standstill and to futility almost every Parliament in which it has ever been tried.

Whilst not disagreeing with the Prime Minister on the merits of the case, which we are not discussing, may I draw attention to the fact that this is a Question asking for an inquiry? It is not a Question on the merits of the matter. Does the Prime Minister not remember that when he was Leader of the Opposition he asked the Labour Government to institute an inquiry, and that when I declined he attacked me with great vigour. Is he not therefore guilty of misleading and deceiving this poor Liberal Party then, and ever since? Why does he not be straight for once and say "Yes" or "No," instead of deceiving and misleading them?

I certainly say, in these electoral matters, that I have never held an absolutely immovable attitude with regard to the accidental play of particular circumstances and conditions.

Does the Prime Minister expect anybody to understand that answer? Is it his hope that nobody will understand it? Is it not the case that when he was in opposition he demanded this very inquiry and denounced us for refusing it, and now, with all the—I had better not say what I think—confidence in the world he gets up and refuses us the very thing which he demanded in opposition and promised to the Liberal Party?

As a matter of fact, the outcome of four years thoroughly justifies reconsideration of the matter by any responsible Minister.