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Electoral Reform

Volume 897: debated on Saturday 16 August 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the Government's intentions as regards electoral reform.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement of Government policy on electoral reform.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will shortly consult the leaders of the parties about reconvening the Speaker's Conference. This consultation will provide an opportunity for the approach to this subject to be discussed.

Is it the Government's view that the Speaker's Conference should include among its work the discussion of this matter?

The Government's view is that this is a matter to be discussed between the parties, of which the Government are, of course, one. Although I should not expect those who were not entirely convinced by the speech of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) to be completely satisfied by a reference to the Speaker's Conference, and although they will no doubt wish to pursue and discuss this matter in other fora, I hope they will also be willing to discuss it in any arena that seems suitable. The Speaker's Conference is one such arena.

I turn to another aspect of electoral reform. Connected with this are the lessons to be drawn from the recently-published accounts of the two sides in the referendum campaign. Does my right hon. Friend agree that another urgent matter to be considered by any Speaker's Conference should be the proper rules and regulations to control campaign expenditure by both political parties and support fringe organisations at any future General Election? Does he further agree that unless there is proper control over the amount spent by either side it will be extremely difficult to achieve a just electoral system?

One of the matters which the last Speaker's Conference was unable to consider, because it was interrupted by the General Election of 1974—it has not been reconvened since—was that of election expenditure generally. Therefore, this would be an appropriate matter for a reconvened Speaker's Conference to consider.

Is not one of the arguments against the introduction of proportional representation that it would be particularly unkind to the Liberal Party, because as that party appears to stand for nothing else it would have nothing left to campaign for?

As both the Government and the main Opposition party—which I think make two of the parties to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—have declared themselves to be against any change in the electoral system and then in the next breath have gone on to offer the setting up of a Speaker's Conference, is this not somewhat hypocritical? Would it not be better to save the time of the Speaker's Conference and await the result of the inquiry of the Hansard Society, which is already at work on this subject?

If the hon. Gentleman does not wish the matter to be considered by the Speaker's Conference he can say so through his right hon. Friend when the consultations take place. As I said in answer to the supplementary question from the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), I did not expect those who were in favour of some form of electoral reform to regard this as a totally satisfactory solution to the problem, and I have no doubt that the campaign and the discussions will continue. However, I think it would be a little odd if, as is suggested—and as I believe to be the case—there is more interest in electoral reform now than at any time in the past, that a Speaker's Conference should not consider the matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a unique feature of parliamentary democracy in Great Britain is the single-Member constituency and that any change which destroyed the uniqueness of the relationship between a constituent and his or her Member of Parliament would be detrimental to effective representation?

I think that it is a most important feature of British electoral arrangements, but I do not think that it is entirely unique to British democracy. It exists in the congressional system in America, and it has existed much of the time in France. It is certainly a factor to be borne in mind. Undoubtedly, any system which split the relationship between a Member and his constituency would be a substantially different system from the present one.

Further to the answer that the Home Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), is it not a fact that the Prime Minister, in approaching the leaders of the other parties to set up a Speaker's Conference, normally suggests the draft agenda for that conference? Is it the Government's intention to put this matter on the draft agenda?

I have already indicated that I think that, in the consultations, the Prime Minister would suggest that this matter should be on the agenda. Whether or not the Speaker's Conference is regarded as a completely satisfactory forum in which to discuss the matter, I regard it as very surprising that anybody should wish to exclude the subject from the agenda of the conference, because I should have thought that those who are in favour of electoral reform would want the matter to be discussed as widely and in as many different places as possible.