Advantages and Disadvantages of Functional System of Representation

It is a misrepresentative system rather than representative as a representative elected on the territorial basis cannot represent the varied and diverse interests living in a constituency. He can represent only his own interests which he has in common with others.

People pursuing the same kind of work or functions have more things or ideas in common than people living in the same locality. It is, therefore, proposed to replace the traditional territorial system of representation by occupational representation in which various industrial or other occupational groups should be reflected.

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In the beginning the demand for reform in the electoral system of territorial representation took the form of a demand for proportional representation. But it was soon realised that the system of proportional representation ensured representation only to minorities which were recognised as political parties.

It gave no representation to other large and important groups, economic, social professional, and others which had special interests peculiar to each.

All such interests, it was urged, required special representa­tion in the legislature. Only a cobbler should represent cobblers and the really repre­sentative bodies are these which are related to the various functions which individuals performed.

Advocates of the Representation of Interests:

The system of representation based upon classes, professions, occupations, or other groupings of society is not of recent origin. Mirabeau, at the time of the French Revolution, declared that a Legislative Assembly ought to be a mirror of all the interests of society.

Sieyes, too, emphasized the need for special representation in the legislature of the great industries of society. In more recent times, however, the system of functional representation found an increasing number of advocates.

Duguit maintains, “All the great forces of the national life ought to be represented industry, property, commerce, manufacturing professions, and even science and religion.”

But the theory of functional representation is primarily associated with the name of G.D.H. Cole. Cole says that in place of an omni-competent representative body there should be in society as many separately elected groups of representatives as there are distinct groups of functions to be performed.

There are two divergent groups who advocate occupational representation from different motives. The Communists support it, because it centres the voter’s attention upon his work relationships and forces him to think in proletarian terms.

The non- Communists, on the other hand, advocate it because of their disgust with the present system of electing legislators from single-member constituencies.

Graham Wallas is of the opinion that while the lower chamber may be elected on the territorial basis, it is necessary that the second chamber be representative of various interests and functional groups. Sidney and Beatrice Webb advocated in 1920 a system in which there should be a “Political Chamber” and an “industrial Second Chamber.”

In 1947, Christopher Hoiis, M.P. In his book, Can Parliament Survive” put forward proposals for a kind of Functional Third Chamber.

Both these groups, however, believe that men are “much more intelligent and trustworthy, judges of the real qualities of those who work in the same industry than of those who live in the geographical district, while many also believe that the chief political issues are necessarily industrial issues which need to be decided by the representatives of the industries involved.”

The system of functional representation is commonly known as the Soviet system. The geographical or territorial system of representation was replaced in Soviet Russia by a system based on the vocational principle, i.e., workers, farmers, professional men and other classes choose their own representatives without regard to territorial areas.

A representative in the Soviet Union did not represent the district from which he happened to elected. He represented a particular interest. Mussolini introduced the system of occupational representation in Italy and the Senate was, accordingly, reorganised.

It consisted of various trades and professions, employees and trade unions recognised by the Fascist Government. The Weimar Constitution of Germany (1919) introduced an innovation by creating a National Economic Council representing the interests of labour, capital, and consumers.

The National Economic Council contained the elements of a third legislative chamber. The Council did not possess the power of legislation, but the Constitution provided that all drafts of important laws relating to social and economic matters should, before introduction in parliament, be submitted to the Council for its opinion.

It could, also, through its own members initiate bills directly in parliament. In Great Britain the universities had till recently special representation in the legislature. Representation of interests prevails in India, both in the Central and State legislatures where seats have been reserved for several interests.

Criticism of Functional Representation:

The principle of functional representation “has such serious weaknesses as to make it little, if any, better than territorial representation.” The late Professor Esmien stigmatised it as “an illusion and a false principle which would lead to struggle, confusion, and even anarchy.”

Herman Finer says that the principle of functional representation “does not proceed from the integration of the community, and then temper this with the representation of differences, but it proceeds at once from the postulate of disintegration into a large number of separate communities whose ultimate integration is thenceforward to be fabricated.”

Human affairs cannot be divided into watertight compartments, and it is disastrous when lines of division, which are in no sense marked, between one economic interest and another, are accentuated.

Even Professor Laski is opposed to the system of functional representation. He says, “The territorial assembly built upon universal suffrage seems, therefore, the best method of making final decisions in the conflict of wills within the community.”

The legislature elected on territorial basis cannot act in an irresponsible fashion. It is the creature of electoral will. Laski maintains that various interests within the States will receive adequate representation, if the legislature is made “to consult the organised wills of the community before it acted upon them.”

Functional representation, it is further maintained, is inconsistent with the principle of national sovereignty. The legislative assemblies are chosen to represent the interests of the nation as a whole, and not the special interests of particular occupations or classes.

The principle of vocational representation would force citizens to consider first of all their particular interests and ignore the national interests.

It would promote a struggle between different interests and forces, accentuate the feeling of antagonism between them, and undermine the sound doctrine that a man’s interest in the welfare of the group, class or profession to which he belongs, should be secondary to the interest in the welfare of the whole society. It is suicidal to encourage class-consciousness, as it undermines the very basis of political organisation.

A man is a citizen first, worker or peasant afterwards. Moreover, an expert who is himself likely to be personally or professionally affected by contemplated legislation constitutes a vested interest.

There is a danger that he will be an advocate rather than a trustee in the national interest, which is what a legislator is expected to be in democracy. Laski even questions the very basis of vocational representation. “Why,” he writes, “a function, like that of medicine, for instance, is properly relevant to the purpose of a legislative assembly?

There is not a medical view of foreign policy, of the nationalisation of mines, or of free trade.” It is, again, incorrect to emphasize that the industrial interest is dominant with many. Perhaps, a majority of electors would desire to be represented in some other capacity than that of merely being workers in a given occupation.

Vocational representation, it is further argued, does not solve the problem of minority representation. Nor does it offer any protection to an independent voter who may not like to vote for a candidate put up by his profession or trade. Then, there is the practical difficulty involved in classifying a huge population on a vocational basis suitable for electoral purposes.

There are sure to be enormous difficulties in determining to which group an individual may belong. It is not easy to arrive at any satisfactory system of classifying either industries or occupations. Finally, the system of vocational representation does not make an adequate provision for those who move from industry to industry.

The accepted opinion of the majority of political thinkers and statesmen is in favour of continuing with the system of territorial representation and political responsibility ought to remain where it is now; with the democratically elected representatives. “Weaver, miner, baker, teacher, each has his part to play in the commonwealth.

But it would seem on the whole advisable that all these economic interests should combine to send to the Imperial Parliament a representative of the locality to which in common they belong, rather than by vocational representation to emphasize their class interests and exaggerate their economic antagonisms.”

Some political thinkers suggest that the system of proportional representation in the form of single transferable vote serves the purpose of vocational representation in essence.

The merit of this system is that it permits men to be represented according to their occupational interests, if these interests are considered dominant over other interests. But it does not force the voters to be so represented if other interests are deemed paramount.


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