§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [11th June], as amended, "That this House approves of the Instructions appended to the warrants appointing Commissioners to determine, for the purposes of the Repre- 1462 sentation of the People Bill, the number of: members to be assigned to the several counties and boroughs in England and Wales and in Scotland, respectively, and the boundaries of such counties and boroughs and divisions thereof.
§ Provided that the Commissioners may depart from the strict application of these Instructions in any case where it would result in the formation of constituencies inconvenient in size or char- 1463 -acter, or where the narrowness of margin between the figure representing the estimated population of any area and the figure required for any of the purposes of these Instructions seem to them to justify such a departure.
§ Provided also that it be an Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners to have regard to electorate rather than population where it appears that the proportion of electorate to population is abnormal.
§ Provided also that, in carrying out these Instructions, the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that proportional representation is not adopted.
§ Provided also that the Commissioners shall have power when regrouping boroughs to extend such grouping to boroughs in contiguous counties."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I beg to move, at the end, to add the words, "Provided that in carrying out those Instructions the Commissioners should act on the assumption that the word 'borough' shall include divisions of existing boroughs."
I am extremely obliged for this opportunity of putting this question before the House, and I think I shall be able to state my case very briefly. I wish to draw attention to Instruction 2, which provides thatA county or borough (other than the City of London) with a population of Joss than 50,000 shall cease to have separate representation.'Then Instruction 3 provides thatA county or borough with a population of 50,000 and not less than 70,000 shall continue to have separate representationThe case I specially want to put, speaking as a London Member, is the case of the divisions of London boroughs. By Instruction 3 country boroughs which have a population between 50,000 and 70,000 will be left alone with their member as at present, while London boroughs, or even country boroughs which have divisions of boroughs and have a population between 50,000 and 70,000 will, under the Instructions given to the Boundary Commissioners, have their members taken away. The reason I have put down this Amendment is that I want the Boundary Commissioners to treat divisions of boroughs exactly on the same lines as a county or borough with a population of 50,000 but less than 70,000. I do not wish to quote any particular county borough, because I take it that might be offensive to the par- 1464 ticular member who represents that particular district, but there are county boroughs—I have taken out six, and there are several more—with a population of 57,000, 56,000, 51,000, 55,000 58,000 and 52,000, which under Instruction 3 will be left with their member as at present. When you come to deal with London boroughs which have two, three or four representatives, when it is a division of a borough which returns a member in exactly the same way as a county or borough does at present, that division will not be entitled to the same number as a county or borough under Instruction 3. It is because I think that is unfair, as far as London is concerned, that I am raising the question here to-day. I expect the answer will be very much the same as I was answered the other night when I moved my Amendment, and I shall probably be told that to do this would be opposite to the whole calculation of the Speaker's Conference resolutions. I can quite understand why, but the resolutions passed by the Speaker's Conference are not the law of the country yet, and I thought we were entitled to discuss them. When I supported this Bill upon its Second Reading, I then said, and other hon. Members said the same, that I hoped the Government would accept reasonable Amendment to the Speaker's Conference resolutions. I am putting it to the House that this is a reasonable Amendment, an Amendment that is asking that all places, whether they are divisions of boroughs, or whether they are called boroughs or counties, shall have the same treatment, and that country boroughs and counties should not be treated in a special way. You carried this Instruction that you would not increase the number of Members of the House, even on the Speaker's Conference Resolutions, by any-very great number. No 1 of the Speaker's Conference Resolutions is that "the number of Members of the House of Commons for Great Britain shall remain substantially as at present." I take it that that means that the Conference does not tie the Commissioners down to the very exact number of members who are returned at the present time. As one who has been in favour of redistribution since I. have been in politics, I would like to associate myself with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill) when he spoke last week. I for one have always understood that Ireland always had a plus of 1465 members, and that under any redistribution scheme that class of member which Ireland had under the population basis would be given to England, Scotland and Wales. It does seem to me that one of the difficulties that the Speaker's Conference Resolutions puts before the Commissioners is that they do not deal with this plus of members which Ireland has at the present time under any scheme of redistribution. Therefore I hope the House will not think that I am unfair in asking them to consider this question of the divisions, especially of London boroughs, under this scheme of redistribution. Any Member of the House who has studied redistribution would have said, at first sight, that under any scheme of redistribution the county of London would have got a considerable increase of members. If you take the Speaker's Conference Resolutions, and work out the figures with which that Conference dealt, you will find that instead of London getting any great plus of members, all it gets is a plus of three extra members under this scheme of redistribution, if it is worked out mathematically.
London at the present time has fifty-nine members, including two members for the City. Under this scheme we shall lose seven, and we get in their place ten new divisions. That means a net gain to the County of London of three seats. Anybody who has looked at this question of redistribution from the point of view of London will be surprised that under any scheme of redistribution London is only to receive three extra members. One very strong reason why I am raising this matter is that my local borough council are very keen on local members raising it here. I do not know that there is any other division which is in exactly the same position that we shall be in under this proposal. I very much dislike to bring local cases before the House, but our position is so acute that I hope the House will think I am justified in doing so on this occasion. The present borough of Southwark consists of the old borough of Southwark, and includes the divisions of West Southwark, Bermondsey, and Rotherhithe. Under the Speaker's Conference Resolution No. 7, the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies shall, as far as practicable, coincide with the boundaries of administrative areas of the division. The Metropolitan borough of Southwark is not the same as the old Parliamentary borough of Southwark. The 1466 result is the new borough of Southwark, if the thing is carried out according to the Speaker's Conference, will consist of West Southwark, West Newington and Walworth. If you take the Metropolitan borough of Southwark we are something like 1,600 short of obtaining the three members which we shall be entitled to under the figures given in the Speaker's Conference. The old borough of Southwark consists of West Southwark, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. If West Newington and Walworth be added, then we shall have sufficient population to give us five members for the whole of that area. I know this is one of the difficult points that the Commissioners will have to decide. It is because it is one of those difficult points, and because the people locally feel that it is an important point, that I raise it, and am very anxious to put our case before the House to-day. The City of London, which has a very small residential population, has been given two members, the same as now, and one of the reasons given for retaining two members for the City of London is that they have a very large day population which uses the City for business purposes. The same thing can apply not only to my division of Southwark, but to many other divisions in London. It is because we have thought that in this matter of representation you should try to be as fair as possible that we consider if you are going to give special treatment to one part of London you ought to give it to all parts of London, and that if you are going to give county boroughs which have less than 70,000 population a member, then you ought to give exactly the same treatment to divisions of boroughs when they have less than 70,000 population. I think I have made my point perfectly clear, and I therefore beg to move the Instruction in my name.
§ Mr. EDWARD STRAUSS
In seconding the Amendment of my hon. Friend, I cannot refrain from expressing my regret and my surprise that in the Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners there is no reference to divisions of existing boroughs. I take it, therefore, we must assume that the omission is unintentional—that we should distinguish between boroughs and divisions of boroughs. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, in the Instructions boroughs of 50,000 inhabitants will receive, separate representation. I cannot see on what grounds of justice and equity you can differentiate between 1467 a borough and a division of a borough, when the condition, as far as population and other characteristic features are concerned, are practically identical. Under this Bill London will be made one Parliamentary borough. This will enable many in London to exercise the franchise who have never had the opportunity of doing so before, and this applies particularly to the business population. I think it is only fair that this business population, which is a very important class of the communty, should be counted as residents, particularly for purposes of calculating population. These ratepayers who have hitherto never had a vote will, under this Bill, be able to exercise the Parliamentary franchise. There are thousands of people who live outside London and who come up to town in the morning, and spend the greater part of their lives in London attending to their businesses. In most cases they occupy most expensive premises, the principal premises in the locality, and are very heavily assessed and contribute very largely to local municipal expenditure. Therefore, I think it is only fair that the business population should be included in the population of a particular division for the purposes of representation.
I do not think we are asking very much, because I understand it has been held on previous occasions that a trespasser who surreptitiously entered premises and remained there during the qualifying period has been accepted as a resident. I understand that even a person in prison within seven miles from the borough is not disfranchised on the ground of non-residence. If the law has accepted such individuals as residents, I do not think we are asking too much when we ask that the business population of a locality should be included in the population for purposes of representation. There are certain divisions in London that have a very large day population. People come into the division in the morning, being employed there. No doubt these are considerations which weighed with the Speaker's Conference when they decided to retain the two members for the City of London. But we contend that the same considerations ought to weigh with the Government in respect to divisions which are fairly identical. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the borough which I represent has something like fifteen 1468 hundred short of the standard set up in the Instructions given to the Commissioners. I do think that when it is so near the mark that we ought to receive some consideration, and that before a member is taken away from a particular division it ought to be obligatory upon the Commissioners to hold a local inquiry and see what the local conditions are and whether the population has increased or decreased. Personally, I think the figures of the Registrar-General for 1914 are somewhat misleading as far as the borough of Southwark is concerned. I understand that in 1914 the empty property rate was as high as 5 peer cent., and that to-day it is only 3 per cent., showing there are fewer empty houses than in 1914. I hope these considerations which I have ventured to submit to the Government will be sympathetically considered, because I should be very sorry to feel that this Bill, which we all hope will be a satisfactory settlement of a great political controversy, should leave any rankling feeling. I can assure you that local opinion is very sensitive on such matters, and if the matter is not met in a sympathetic way there will be continual agitation for further revision over our electoral system. I therefore trust that these cases which are so near the border line will be favourably considered by the Government.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
As a, Member or Parliament for a Metropolitan constituency for something like twenty-seven years, I should be the last person to underrate the importance of London having adequate representation in the House of Commons and being able to express its full view in our Debates; but I must remind my hon. Friends, who I am very glad to know fire sturdy supporters of this Bill, that the principle of the scheme of redistribution which has been applied to counties as regards divisions must also be applied to boroughs. There is no desire on the part of the Government, or any member of it, for a great disenfranchising measure, and one cannot help being full of sympathy for the members who are going to be disturbed in their seats, while one almost shudders at the prospect of destroying many constituencies of very great historical interest All those, however, have to disappear in the general desire the House has, I think, to make some satis- 1469 factory unit both for the counties and for the boroughs, and to make that unit correspond with the increase in our population on which this new scheme of redistribution is based. Although I am very sympathetic with the boroughs in London who will lose a member, such us St. Pancras, which will probably have its representation reduced from four members to three, yet at the same time I do not think that they stand in the same degree of interest generally as those great historic boroughs. These divisions of boroughs have no history attached to them. They are very artificial indeed in their nature; they were only created by the Act of 1885, and we all know that the result of every redistribution measure, 1832, 1867, and 1885, has been that constituencies did disappear in order to allow larger constituencies with larger populations to obtain more members. I am sorry that certain numbers of members should go, but, after all, seats must go for the purpose. I think there are two arguments. There is the one argument for the preservation of the divisions of boroughs—that is to say, if a division of a borough has a population of 50,000 and has a sitting member, it should not be dispossessed of its sitting member.
The Government is asked to apply that to the divisions of the boroughs and counties, because one must stand with the other. What is the result if you do that? It would very considerably increase the sum total of your members. The hon. Member who introduced this Amendment said he did not think it would be a large increase, but I have gone into it, and if you apply the same thing to the counties as to the boroughs—and I do not see how you can avoid it—there will be a very large increase in the actual total number of- which this House now consists. Again, if you retain these added members for constituencies with 50,000 population, "what is the result from the point of view of the agricultural interest? It is only a day or two ago that I was listening to speech after speech of a most pathetic kind against the existing system of redistribution which would largely deprive the agricultural interest of their present representation, or at all events, would lead to their losing a large number of members to which they attach great importance. One could not help having a very great sympathy with that, but we cannot gratify all our sym- 1470 pathies, and I am going boldly to say that in London we do derive very great advantage!! from the fact that we live here, and are able to attend this House much more constantly than the members who come from outlying districts. Our constituents are better able to make themselves heard than the constituents in very remote counties. We must, in all fairness, bear that in mind, and I say that to London members. I hope that London will not lose any of its members in the total. I hope there may be a slight increase, but I am not sure of that. If we did, let the hon. Gentleman remember that, as I remember it, namely, that the great increase in this redistribution scheme will go to the dormitories of London, to Essex, Middlesex, and Surrey, which will receive an immense increase in the number of their members. These are men who have practically the same political, parliamentary, and civic interests as those of our own constituents. You may take it in the main that people who live within an area of ten or twelve miles of London, and go into London every day, share very much the same views, the same ideas, and the same sympathies, and that they have the same opinions as those represented by the, various borough constituencies. I say that we must adopt the same rule for the division of boroughs as for the division of counties, and although I have very much sympathy with the general argument, this is an Amendment we cannot accept.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the Amendment of the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) is covered by the Instruction.
§ Mr. FELL
May I say that, although it has been discussed from the rural point of view, I do not think it has been discussed from the point of view of the boroughs themselves. It was discussed on the rural question and on the agricultural question, and now I have put down this Amendment to raise a point which has been very strongly urged upon me by my Constituency, and I represent a good many towns. They understood originally that these Instructions definitely stated that the representation of these boroughs would not be effected. They acted on that principle, and said to themselves that they would have a very large increase of their electors, but that their boundaries would not be altered. A little while ago in the borough 1471 which I represent a proposal was received that 10,000 agricultural people should be added to the Parliamentary borough. A meeting was called, and it was said at once that this was not what had been understood to be the position that the Boundary Commissioners were to take up, namely, that their representation was not to be altered. If 10,000 pure and simple agricultural people are added to that borough the position of it will be very greatly altered indeed, and I think also that the position of the agricultural constituency adjoining will be materially affected, because that would lose 10,000 of its agricultural population, and 10,000 of those inhabitants would be added to what is a town population pure and simple.
From what I have heard of the proposal, these people would come from a thinly populated agricultural district entirely cut off and distinct from an old Parliamentary borough such as that of Great Yarmouth, and if it is the intention that it should be possible for the Boundary Commissioners to add a number of agricultural people of this kind to the Parliamentary borough, then the whole position will be immediately changed, the voters in it who used to decide as to how this borough wished to be represented will be to a large extent affected by agricultural men whoso interests are not the same as those of the people who reside in the borough. They are mainly fishing folk, persons connected with the fishing and import trade, with the amusements of a seaside resort, fish curers, and people of that sort. None of those have anything to do with an agricultural population, and they consider, as I have said, that if a large number of agriculturists are to be by any chance thrown into this borough they would not know how they stood, but would be very materially prejudiced by any such addition. I should be very glad to hear from the Home Secretary what is the position with regard to the boroughs. Very great interest is taken in the matter in that which I represent, and I believe in a great many of those other historical boroughs. They really think that some such words as these would put the matter entirely at rest, and would enable them to consider this Bill from a totally different point of view from that which they would adopt if such words were not included.
I beg to move, at the end, to add the words, "Provided that in carrying out 1472 these Instructions the Commissioners shall not alter the boundaries of Parliamentary boroughs between 50,000 and 70,000 population, by adding to them any districts contained in a rural argicultural population and so altering their character."
§ Amendment not seconded.
Mr. G. LLOYD
I beg to move, at the end, to add the words, "That it be an Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners not to deprive historic boroughs that have returned members to Parliament for 400 years or upwards of their representation if, by the addition of the areas of the rural districts adjoining, their population would total 50,000." Some of these boroughs have sent members to Parliament since 1282, and I think this, is a concession which might well be given to such boroughs. There may be some that have become very small and have entirely lost their importance, but the borough for which I speak, that of Shrewsbury, has continuously increased ever since 1282, when it had 4,000 population. It now numbers something like 30,000. It has sent to Parliament many distinguished men, amongst them Disraeli and Lord Clive. The hon. Member who the other day most unfairly called this borough a rotten borough quite forgot to say that he himself stayed in the neighbourhood—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member will remember that I particularly invited hon. Members not to deal with special cases. Those special cases will come up on the Schedule. If the hon. Member can group any number of cases, and say that they require general treatment, I think he is entitled to proceed, but if he is confining himself to a special case I think I must rule him out of order.
I do not put it as a special case, but that if a borough of this size and nature by being coupled with districts say for ten miles round, should reach a figure of 50,000, it should be an Instruction to the Commissioners that it should not be deprived of its representation in. the manner I have mentioned.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is already provided for in the Instructions. The name of the borough is to be retained for the county division where the numbers are adequate to bring it up to the proper figure.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
Should I be in order in asking that where boroughs are now represented by two members—not a particular borough, but all boroughs—it should be an Instruction to the Commissioners that they should not take away from those boroughs the representation by two members, but should adopt the suggestion made in this Instruction with regard to the addition of rural areas adjoining, so that the population might be brought up to the proper number which would give two members for that borough?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to suggest that an agricultural population should be included in the borough in order to maintain the right of a double representation of that borough?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Then that would be quite contrary to the Instruction. The Commissioners are instructed to segregate industrial and rural areas.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I submit that that would not be the case in boroughs that are now Parliamentary boroughs. These boroughs will surely be allowed to remain Parliamentary boroughs, even after these Instructions have been given to the Boundary Commissioners, and what I ask is that in that case Instructions should be given that the boroughs should have two members and not one.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
Yes, but the size would be made the proper size if you took from the surrounding districts—it would not merely be a rural district but would probably be a town population outside—that part of that outside population into the borough and so gave the borough the proper number of population it required to return two members.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
In other words, as I said, the rural population is to be taken into the borough and is then to form part of the borough population; the rural population is to be taken in and then called urban.
§ 5.0 P.M
§ Sir W. COLLINS
With regard to an Amendment I have on the Paper concerning the grouping of universities, I wish to ask, as the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners with regard to counties and boroughs, with which the House is now dealing, are silent with regard to universities, with whom it will rest to determine the representation under Clause 27, Sub-section (3); whether in the absence of any direction to the Boundary Commissioners the Schedule will be filled in in accordance with the Resolution 22 (b) of the Speaker's Conference, grouping the University of London with other universities or whether the decision arrived at by the House, after the Commissioners had had their Instructions, by which proportional representation was not adopted will necessitate some alternative filling in.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Boundary Commissioners are not prepared to deal with the university question at all. The universities have no boundaries; therefore, it will not be desirable that we should determine anything with regard to universities. That must be left to the Government in charge of the Bill.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Would that be in the case where the Commissioners are directed to continuing their work? Would it be a case that would apply, no proportional representation being applied to the universities?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No; that would have been a matter for the Government. Supposing the Commissioners had the duties included in the question, those Instructions to them would be paramount. But the Commission has no jurisdiction.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not within their province; they have nothing to do with it. The same applies to Ireland. We have nothing to do with Ireland.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, at the end, to add the words "Provided that nothing in the Instructions shall prevent 1475 the Commissioners giving special consideration to small counties and, if they cannot be conveniently grouped with similar counties, continuing their separate representation."
I believe there is one such county in England and one in Wales and several in Scotland, all of which come under the law in that respect. I wish to preface my remarks by saying that this proviso is not put forward because I wish to have a larger representation of the party with which I am connected. In this case, in its early age, the Government took a considered view about it, and the Secretary of the Local Government Board, speaking when the Government Whips were not put on the Division on proportional representation, emphasised this point very greatly, that if you divide and break up all the administrative areas in the scheme of Parliamentary representation it would be a great disaster, and in carrying that argument a little further the grouping in areas, in local government areas, for the purpose of Parliamentary representation would also be a very great administrative mistake. Some of these small counties are far below in numbers the population which applies generally in the Bill, and if you so rule that a special case should not be discussed, I will only mention two and will not enter into them. They are Rutland and Radnor. There are several counties in Scotland, I am informed, which hold strong views on this question of representation, and communications have been made by some of them, or are to be made, as to the exact application of the Bill in their particular cases. They ought to come under general power given to the Commissioners, who should be allowed to give effect to the representation and maintain the present representation of those four counties, some of which have great historic interests and others are administrative units with full local government powers. By this machinery all these counties should not be destroyed, but should continue to have Parliamentary representation as hitherto. I will not labour the argument, but it is very strongly felt by the areas themselves, and there will be great difficulty on the part of the Commissioners if some proviso is not put forward directed against it. Anyhow, a proviso to have the cases considered on their merits, and before a decision is given by the Commissioners, should be inserted.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
I am sorry I cannot accept the Amendment. If there is a division in England with a population very much under 50,000, or 20,000 or 21,000 in the case of Wales, I may say that they will be scheduled to other counties and dealt with as regards Parliamentary membership on their population. The boroughs have not asked for or claimed any such system. I do not see why the same measure should apply to these smaller counties. It seems to me the essential element of any scheme is based on population or numbers, and I do not think you can ask the House to make exceptions and ask that these small communities should be formed part of a wider constituency.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the form of words he will see that they do not instruct the Commissioners but they ask that special consideration shall be given to these two small counties. For a very long time they have been separate and well marked, and I should have thought for that reason alone the Commissioners might have had power to give a day or half a day to each to enable them to make representations to this House on the subject. A further question I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman applies to places in England which although they partake in name of an urban character have the name of county. Take for instance the county of Southampton. Does it rank as a county or what is known as a rual area, or is it merely an honorary title given to an urban area of great antiquity and always in the past treated with exception in local government arrangements? Is Southampton to take rank as one of the small counties not to receive recognition or merged in a general urban area? Perhaps my right hon. Friend will answer that very simple question as well as the question whether these two or three small constituencies might not be referred for consideration to the Commissioners.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The county of Southampton is not a small county but takes the name of Hampshire. It would not like to be called a small county by any means.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I beg to move, at the end, to add the words "Provided also 1477 that it be an Instruction to the Commissioners to hold further meetings and inquiries in respect of any counties or boroughs with which they have already been dealing."
The House will remember that we raised the point as to the question of the Instructions given to Boundary Commissioners. Since then the Instructions have been amended by this House. That is one reason, I submit, the Government should accept the Amendment. The second reason is that when these sittings were held a number of Members of the House did not quite realise what their duties and powers would be. The fact is many meetings were held just before matters were dealt with in this House, and the local people were not aware of the exact proposals. I submit it would be fair to determine that where the Commissioners have held inquiries on Instructions which have since been issued they should hold the inquiries again, so as to give an opportunity to any person locally interested to come forward. I did bring the matter before the Home Secretary on a previous occasion on the Adjournment of the House one night. On that occasion the Commissioners had given notice in the county of Southampton—which I am very pleased to find the Home Secretary knows—or in the county of Hampshire, that an inquiry would be held on the following Monday, which was the date fixed for the discussion of the Instructions in this House. Some of the members for the county were enabled to be present at the inquiry on the Monday, because they were engaged in this House on that day. The alterations in the Instructions have been made since then, and the inquiry was held after we had begun to discuss the matter here. I submit that in such a case as that a fresh inquiry should be held. I agree it is not a question of very great principle, but it would be obviously right to rehold the inquiries now that amended Instructions have been agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is no particular order. The order is that in which the hon. Member happens to catch my eye.
§ Sir G. CAVE
This is a matter which might well be left to the discretion of the Commissioners. No doubt, if it was felt 1478 right, they would hold a further inquiry in a place where they had already held one. It may be that in looking into the matter they will find that the questions at issue at a local inquiry have been in no way affected by the Amendments made in this House. In that case it would be rather absurd to say that they shall hold a public inquiry over again. I am quite sure they will do what is fair in the matter, and that, if they think it right, they will hold a further inquiry.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Before the House adopts the main proposal as amended, I desire in a very few words to state what I understand to be the effect of the main Amendment—namely, that dealing with proportional representation—because I think it important that there should not be any misunderstanding about it. If I state it wrongly, no doubt I shall be corrected. What is the position of proportional representation as one finds it in the structure of the Bill? It would, as the Bill was introduced, be a principle to be applied in four cases—it would be applied in the case of London, it would be applied in the cases of the larger provincial boroughs, it would be applied in the not very common case of contiguous urban districts of a large size, each of which would be treated as a Parliamentary borough, and which, therefore, might be combined in a single constituency, and it would be applied in the case of the universities. Taking the universities first, I do not understand that anything which the House has decided in the Debates on the previous days and to-day affects that application, because the Boundary Commissioners, if I follow rightly what you, Sir, ruled just now, are not concerned with marking out the boundaries of university constituencies, and, therefore, that is a matter which will be dealt with when we come to the Clause of the Bill. If you take the other cases, no doubt they are affected by the decision of the House; but, if I understand rightly, they are only affected to this degree, that the Commissioners in the meantime, instead of marking out in those areas which I have mentioned a limited number of large areas, will have to go over and divide them up into a larger number of single-member areas. There is one case in which that is going to have rather a curious conse- 1479 quence, unless I misundersand it. As the Bill is drawn the boroughs which now return two joint members, if they were, owing to the increase of population, entitled to a third member, would have voted for their three members in a single constituency—that is to say, the unity of the borough would not have been broken. One of the incidental consequences of the Amendment which has now been carried is that so far as the directions to the Commissioners go, a borough which has for a long time—a borough like Stockport, say, which returns two members jointly—
§ Sir J. SIMON
Well, a borough like Newcastle, which, as the Bill was drawn, would have returned more members and yet have remained a single constituency, will now be broken up into a series of separate constituencies. I mention that only to say that, as I understand it, nothing that we have decided in these Debates concludes the matter. The matter is one simply of directions to the Commissioners. It is a very useful direction, because, now that the Commissioners are instructed to break a county up into single member areas, we shall be able to work out of their labours—and we are all very grateful to them—whatever be the ultimate decision of the House. If the decision of the House on Clause 15 is to restore proportional representation, either for the areas for which it is contemplated or any part of them, it is possible to throw together the two or three units which would make up the larger constituency and apply proportional representation accordingly. If that is the case, I do not see why those who support proportional representation should consider that any harm has been done. On every ground it is desirable that we should bide our time until we come to Clause 15. After all, the Division was a very close one. It did not take place at a very fortunate hour to enable everyone to vote. As a matter of fact, the voting was in a comparatively small House.
I wish to say, quite frankly, that I regret the decision, and for two reasons. First of all, on a question of merits, which it would not now be in order to discuss, and we none of us want to revive the discussion. I content myself with a single sentence by saying I regret it very much from that point of view, because the next 1480 House of Commons will have to be a consultative body dealing with a series of novel problems and not a mere ratifying assembly which will be able to say "Aye" or "No" as the result of a prolonged campaign in the country on some much-debated single scheme. Apart from the question of merits, I regret it also because I fear it will be found, although quite unintentionally, that if this change were persisted in it will affect, rather more than has been at first sight apparent, some of the other provisions of the Bill. We have been accustomed to say that this Bill is a compromise and a balance. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) on occasion has pointed to that as its only outstanding merit, but he has not denied the fact. It will be found that there are other features of the Bill which, in greater or less degree, really depend upon preserving a good many of the elements not at first sight connected with those features. For example, there are certainly many of the more moderate supporters of the Bill who are reconciled to a considerable extension of the franchise because they think that proportional representation provides a useful check against certain extreme and violent action on the part of new voters. That is a consideration which those elements of the House of Commons who think themselves more progressive must remember. In some way, quite unintentionally, this change, if it is adopted, would possibly have a really serious effect on the degree to which plural voting would be affected under this scheme. If you have a certain number of large areas, then the man who resides in one corner of the area who has a place of business at the other end of the area will only vote once. If you break up that area into four or five separate constituencies, multiplying the boundaries, in many cases the man will now, as a result of that decision, vote twice.
I think I shall be confirmed by some of my hon. Friends in this House when I say that many of us were reconciled to the preservation of plural voting, so far as it is preserved in this Bill, because we felt there were considerations the other way and that working reasonably the extension was one which we ourselves would concede—and, indeed, help in carrying—in return for the things which the Bill does in other directions. It goes further than that. The House, I expect, remembers—certainly some Members do—that a city 1481 like Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, or Birmingham stands at the present time under a different rule from London—that is to say, you may have as many qualifications inside the city of Glasgow to vote as you like, but you can only vote once for one of the members for Glasgow. Even if you have a qualification in respect of occupation in one division and another qualification in respect of occupation or some other qualification in another division you have to choose That is not so in London, but it is so in the great provincial cities. As part and parcel of the arrangement that there were to be preserved certain large constituencies, those of us who have always been opposed to plural voting at the Conference conceded the bringing of these great provincial towns into the same line as London. Of course, if that alteration were preserved, with the result that a man who has two qualifications in Liverpool is going to have two votes, although he can only cast one vote now, the House will see that will be doing a very serious injustice to many who were prepared to concede that in the one direction in return for something they were getting in other directions. I know it may be said that this is like chaffering on a party bargain. It is not that at all. It is an attempt to weld together materials—good materials—of different qualities in order that we may have a foundation upon which we are to build. The House will see that it is a matter of great importance that we should put it on record, and remember that it is not until we come to the Committee stage of the Bill and the Clause dealing with proportional representation that we shall be able to see how far the alteration will call for some consequential or subsequent alteration in other parts of the Bill. The moral is that the less we alter the Bill the better, because experience has shown it does prevent elements—I will not say of universal but of very general consent—and more harm is done than many well-wishers of the Bill realise if you alter it in one direction without considering how the other parts of the Bill may be affected.
§ Mr. HARDY
I wish to ask two questions in reference to the meaning of some of the words in the regulations, because I notice that they are rather altered as we go down the page. I wish to know whether the word "borough" in the second and third regulations means a Parliamentary or a municipal borough. I have in mind the case of the Parliamentary borough of 1482 Hythe. It is not quite certain under these Instructions whether that borough, which now has a population above 50,000, will keep its representation, because the word "borough" is left undefined altogether. In Sub-section (9) the expression "Parliamentary borough" comes in, which rather seems to preclude the earlier word "borough" meaning a Parliamentary borough, and when you get on to 14 you have "ancient Parliamentary borough," and that seems to me a different borough from that in 13 which is not called an ancient Parliamentary borough. These all affect different constituencies, and they may possibly affect constituencies in Kent, and it is desirable to know whether the Government attaches any special meaning to "ancient Parliamentary borough" and whether, when it uses the word borough, it means Parliamentary borough or municipal borough.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
It is quite true that "Parliamentary borough" is used to Article 9 and municipal borough in Article 4, but Article 3 obviously must refer to Parliamentary borough. My right hon. friend may take it that when the word "borough" is used it means Parliamentary borough and that the Commissioners, following the general rules, will have regard only to one thing, that is to redistribution in regard to the boundaries of Parliamentary boroughs.
§ Mr. HARDY
First the county and then the borough is taken as an unit in Rules 2 and. 3. Unless some words are put in in order to make it quite clear, I think there is a possibility of confusion, and I should like my right hon. Friend to tell me why ancient Parliamentary borough suddenly comes in, and whether that means any particular style of constituency?
§ Sir G. CAVE
That rule only deals with the name. There is a special reason for observing the name where it is an ancient one. There is no doubt that Rules 2 and 3 can mean nothing but Parliamentary borough.
§ Mr. JARDINE
I apologise for intervening, but I had something like fifteen hours trying to get on on this Bill, and this is the first time I have had the fortune to catch the Speaker's eye. I protest most emphatically against the Instructions generally. I have in mind particularly that part which affects agriculture. I understand, from those who have made a study of this question, that at this 1483 time, when we are asking more from agriculture than we have ever asked before, when the country is realising how much it has missed through its consistent and continuous neglect of agriculture, it has to do with thirty-four fewer members than it had before. Farmers and agricultural labourers have done their duty perhaps a little better than any other section of the community, inasmuch as they are either producing what is absolutely necessary as food or they are fighting, and very few of them are sheltering in munition work and very few are conscientious objectors. At this time, when so much is desired of them, and when even urban districts will admit that they are doing their best, it hardly seems to be the time to take something away from them. It was clear to anyone who listened to the Debate that agriculture was not sufficiently represented in this House. Attack after attack was made upon agriculture, and a particularly bitter one by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Hemmerde).
§ Mr. DENMAN
On a point of Order. Are we now at liberty on this question to rediscuss all the matters which have been discussed one by one on particular provisos?
We are now on the Resolution as amended. So far as the hon. Member has gone, I cannot say he is out of order, because that is the question before the House. It is not very desirable to go over the ground again, but I think the hon. Member is entitled.
§ Mr. JARDINE
I do not wish to traverse the general attacks which were made upon the agricultural Members and which were really not replied to, but I appeal particularly to the town districts to oppose these Instructions on the ground that agriculture is not sufficiently represented, even at the present time, and because of the real necessity, if the country is to prosper, of agriculture getting much fairer treatment than it has had in the past. Take, for instance, the way it has been treated over the question of wool. The farmers' wool is taken away from him, and he is not paid for it till months afterwards. Whatever he is producing to-day—hay, straw, cheese—is all being taken away from him, and one hears practically no protest in this House. I do not say that the class of Member that agriculture sends is quite the right Member. For instance, I am a machine builder and not 1484 a farmer," and yet I represent an agricultural constituency. [An HON. MEMBER "Give it up!"] Agriculture is not at present sufficiently represented, and therefore I oppose these Instructions, because they are taking away something like thirty-four members.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I am very glad to think we are passing this Resolution, which will make the new Instructions much more elastic than the original Instructions. What concerns me rather is as to whether these Instructions by the House are to receive their full measure of consideration. I do not for a moment suggest that they will not receive their full measure of consideration from the Boundary Commissioners in connection with the inquiries which are to take place, but inquiries have already taken place in connection with schemes prepared under the old and more rigid system, and it appears to me to be a somewhat unfortunate thing that the Boundary Commissioners were so extremely quick in their operations, and have to some extent covered the ground on the old Instructions and not on the new. I think a warning ought to go out from the House now. These Instructions have been most deliberately given. They are intended to be observed, and if the Schedule does not say clearly that they have been given effect to there will be difficulties, which ought to be avoided.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I should like to ask whether that figure of thirty-four, which has been given once or twice, is anywhere near the mark? It is very difficult for anyone who is not entirely in touch with all the circumstances to ray whether it is or not, but I gathered the other day from the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr.' Leslie Scott) that iii reaching that figure of seats which will be given up it includes small boroughs in the midst of agricultural districts. It also seems to me that an Amendment—I think that of the hon. Member (Mr. J. Mason)—which was carried the other day will also have the effect of saving quite a number of these agricultural seats which otherwise would have gone. I ask this question because I had occasion last week-end to discuss this matter with the Chamber of Agriculture in Norfolk, and they were naturally very anxious to know whether these figures, which had been given haphazard, were in any degree correct. The hon. Member (Mr. Jardine) said something 1485 about an attack that I made on agriculture. I made no attack on agriculture at all. I said exactly what he has said. I said it was not a question of the number of agricultural members, but of their quality. Just as he said he was a machine maker, so I told my agricultural friends in Norfolk that perhaps it was not best to return lawyers. I said the other day—and I believe it to be perfectly true—that there has been no case during the last twenty-five years at least where all the agricultural members of all shades of politics have ever combined upon any question. Therefore it is not a question of adding or taking away two or three members. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us whether he can check that figure of thirty-four, it will be a very important thing in view of what was said by the hon. Member (Mr. Jardine) that we may have trouble a little later if they are disappointed.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I wish to make a few observations as to the number of agricultural constituencies which are to be altered by the Bill. There will be a loss, and agriculture will lose representation. So far as I can learn, the lowest computation is twenty and the highest is thirty-eight to forty. It very greatly depends on the way in which the Commissioners do their work in allotting agricultural areas. There is no doubt that the proviso which has been added gives the Commissioners more scope than the original Instruction, and in that respect they are improved by the proviso, but I wish it had gone much further. It has been argued that the town representatives are much more alive in these days to the interests of agriculture, but that will not satisfy the people in agricultural districts. They have suffered from the views of those representing urban districts in this House for many years, and they will be afraid that when the exigencies of existing circumstances are less and the conditions altered and we lapse into the conditions of peace, the same conditions will apply again and agriculture will fail to get her adequate share of representation in Parliament, as she has done for generations past.
I want to make a general observation on the whole principle of redistribution as represented in the Instructions and the proviso. This vast increase of electorate, especially in the rural districts, is going to do a great deal towards destroying the 1486 personal co-operation between the representative in Parliament and the constituency he represents. It is physically impossible that any man can be a member of this House and know a very large number of his constituents. When the numbers approach 20,000, or exceed 20,000, it becomes impossible, except it may be in a closely crowded urban district that the member is able to keep in close personal touch with his constituents. That old association between a member and his constituents is of great value. Members come to this House in a dual capacity. They come to take counsel in the great affairs of the nation and they come also to represent the views and the needs and the necessities of their constituents. That a member should know his constituents and his constituency thoroughly is one of the most valuable traditions of this House, and this Bill is going very largely to cut down or destroy that, especially in the most sparsely populated districts where the area is enormous. There is one instance of a constituency which will be enlarged by this Bill, which already contains 100 parishes, and the number of meetings and visits necessary for a member to keep in touch with the constituency is very great. I think that is a thing to be lamented. The increase in numbers is going to be an evil upon the character of the representation in this House, in so far as the constituencies will have less representation in regard to the high affairs of the nation.
Great Britain will suffer in another way which has not yet been raised. The Instruction lays down that the representation in this House should be kept about the same, or at any rate that the number of Members should not be increased, or should be very slightly increased. This Bill does not deal with Ireland. Ireland is admittedly over-represented in this House. I am not going to argue the Irish case, which will be dealt with later on in the Bill, but I would point out that Ireland is either going to have Home Rule or she is not. If she has Home Rule her representation is going to be reduced, if she has not Home Rule she ought to be included in any scheme for redistribution of seats for the purpose of representing the people in this House of Commons. In either case it means a reduction of the Irish Members. It may mean a reduction of as many as forty, and the constituencies in England, Scotland, and Wales are being deprived of the number of 1487 members by which Ireland is over-represented. The size of constituencies in Great Britain are being increased, and communities are being cramped, and their representation taken away in some cases," because the number of members as distributed between England, Wales, and Scotland is being kept the same under this redistribution portion of the Bill, which is not applied to Ireland. I think it is very unfortunate that a Bill of this magnitude and scope should be passed through this House while the Irish Question is still unsolved and under Debate. At any rate, England, Scotland, and Wales should not suffer from that fact in their representation in this House. They ought to have added to the lumber of their representatives the number by which Ireland is over-represented. I understand that Scotland is not to lose any portion of her representation, although her numbers are diminishing. Wales also is not to lose any portion of her representation though her numbers are not increasing; but I am told that England, whose population has been increasing steadily, is to retain the same number of members. The result will be that if this scheme of redistribution goes through, the one part of the United Kingdom which will be under-represented will be England, and all the other parts of the United Kingdom will either be fairly represented or over-represented. These are large considerations which appear to have escaped attention. I hope the House will give them consideration at a later stage and see where it is going in these matters before it comes to a final decision.
§ Mr. FISHER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Gretton) argues that under a perfectly model scheme, we ought not to allow any constituency to be of such a size and character that the member is not able to keep in personal touch with his constituency. If we could have a perfectly model scheme that would be one of the sound canons which we should lay down as an Instruction. I would remind my hon. Friend that for some time past, when he says that 20,000 is the utmost number that a member can keep in touch with, and only then if they are closely segregated in an urban district, there are some rural constituencies now with 30,000 or 40,000 voters. If we were to pass this Bill enfranchising two or three millions more men and six millions of women, and we were not to have a redistribution 1488 scheme, it might be 60,000 or 70,000 electors with whom the hon. Member would have to keep in touch. In a large measure of enfranchisement adding so many millions to the electors, it is imperative that we should at the same time bring forward a redistribution scheme. I am not claiming for this scheme that it is a perfectly model scheme, but that it is in the main a scheme founded upon the deliberations of the Speaker's Conference, and a scheme which has been debated already in this House so far as the urban and agricultural communities are concerned. Nobody who listened to the earlier Debates on this subject could say that the views of agriculture have not been heard. Though I sit for an urban constituency I have expressed the most genuine sympathy with agriculture, because unless you have an entirely different unit for the urban districts than you have for the agricultural districts you cannot bring forward any redistribution Bill by which the agricultural representation in this House will not be diminished.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
There are two units in the Bill. There is no reason why you should not add to them.
§ Mr. FISHER
My hon. Friend says that there are two units in the Bill and asks why we cannot add two or three more. I think you are bound to take these units after the decision of the House. The House had an opportunity if it chose to adopt a different unit for the agricultural constituencies, from that adopted for the urban districts. Once you set to work to do that, you would find on going very deeply into the matter that it would be exceedingly difficult. If you have an Instruction or a Resolution by which a different unit could be applied to an agricultural constituency than that which was taken for an urban constituency, that would not be an end of the matter. I cannot help thinking that other difficulties would occur. I think the House showed a very great deal of sympathy with the agricultural representatives, and after listening to the whole of the Debates on this question. Gathering as best I can the opinions of the House, I should say that the House does desire that the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason), which is undoubtedly of great value to the agricultural districts, shall be fully acted upon by the Commissioners, and that full effect to that Instruction, which is intended to diminish 1489 the blow to agriculture, shall be carried out. The House will see the full effect of that Instruction when the Schedule of Constituencies comes up to the House for approval. This House will have an opportunity then of seeing whether or not there are still constituencies so inconvenient in character that they ought not to be left in the particular shape in which they are found. The House will then be able to form a final conclusion upon the question whether or not we have arrived at a fair measure of redistribution.
We have had more than one Debate on this question. One argument was used by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, who seems almost to have forsaken the law for agriculture, in which he most pitifully argued that agriculture would not only lose its members, but that those who were best able to represent agriculture because they knew most about it, would no longer be returned to this House. When we look at Parliamentary history and see the names of those who champion agriculture in this House, I think the hon. and learned Member will admit that it is not always the county constituency which has returned these agricultural representatives and the urban constituencies which have rejected them. One of the greatest authorities on agriculture is now President of the Board of Agriculture, and it seems likely that he will still be returned to this House as a representative of the University of Oxford. The Secretary of State for the Colonies is not identified with any constituency which grows a large amount of cereals, or even potatoes. The right hon. Gentleman who was famous as a former President of the Board of Agriculture, and who was a very familiar figure in this House before he left for another place (Lord Chaplin), did not sit for an agricultural constituency, but for the great constituency of Wimbledon, which I believe is now being used for a few potato patches or allotments. Again, the right hon. Gentleman who is identified with the early attempts that were made for alloting plots for agriculture and providing animals to feed upon them, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), found that he was able to get into this House to champion the cause of agriculture without being elected for an agricultural constituency. Other instances could be quoted, and I think the hon. and learned Member should not be so 1490 dismal in his views about the champions of agriculture merely because there may be twenty, or even thirty, less members for agricultural constituencies. The hon. and learned Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Hemmerde) asked me whether any calculation, based on any real facts or figures, showed that agriculture would lose something like thirty-four members. No such estimate has been formed. I do not believe it is possible to form any accurate estimate of what agriculture will get in the way of members. There will be a diminution, but whatever system of redistribution you go in for, unless you materially alter the unit, you must have some diminution in the number of members for agricultural constituencies. I hope, however, that the new Instruction that has been carried by the hon. Member for Windsor, and of which this House approves, may do something at all events to diminish the loss which agriculture will suffer. That is all I can say on behalf of the Government. The House will have; an opportunity on the Schedule to see whether or not this Instruction has been acted upon, and they will have a final opportunity of seeing whether or not the system of redistribution adopted is fair between urban and agricultural communities.
§ 6.0 P.M
§ Lord H. CECIL
I do not suppose there is likely to be a Division upon this Resolution, but I should be very sorry if on that ground it should be supposed that it was generally assented to. It appears to me that the course of events have shown that this procedure by Resolution in the way of giving instructions to the Boundary Commissioners, instead of proceeding in the proper Parliamentary manner, by putting the whole thing into the Bill, is inconvenient and ought not to be made a precedent in dealing with Bills generally. I hardly think the Government have succeeded in saving time by that course, and I am sure; they have not saved Parliamentary efficiency. We have had this Resolution debated two or three days, and we have come to some important decisions, one affecting agriculture and a very important one affecting proportional representation. But it is not quite clear even now what bearing these decisions will have upon the Bill. It is quite possible to raise these issues again by Amendment to the Bill. Some apprehension has been 1491 expressed that the Boundary Commissioners may not to the fullest extent carry out their Instructions. They are not bound to carry out their Instructions." They are appointed by the Crown, and they are not subject to anybody's directions except the directions of the Crown. They may perfectly well vary or disregard them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow shows in one respect how the question of proportional representation must be raised again. I do not know quite whether it will be, raised on university representation or not. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Boundary Commissioners do not affect university representation at all. Of course, the general trend of the decision of this House on proportional representation, might be held to affect universities as well as everybody else. The arguments that weigh with the House were very largely the arguments put forward by the Secretary to the Local Government Board, but all these considerations apply quite as much to the universities as anywhere else. It is quite clear from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow that Amendments arising out of the decision of this House on this Resolution must be moved in respect of the application to plural voting, and, of course, there is the main matter whether after all we shall carry it out in Clause 15 or reverse the decision which the House has come to.
All that comes from the clumsy way in which the Government proceeded. If they had put the Bill into the Committee stage pro forma and taken it in autumn when the Boundary Commissioners had completed their deliberation, we could have had the whole Bill in proper Parliamentary form before us, and all this would have been avoided. It is this desire to take short cuts, and I am afraid to prevent the House of Commons really debating and controlling the decision, which has put the Government and the House to the inconvenience to which we are now exposed It is clear what has happened. The Resolution has been a departure from the basis upon which the Bill is founded. It is not unfair to say that proportional representation is not an unimportant issue. It is a very important matter. The House has decided to modify the plan of the Bill as regards proportional representation, and 1492 in doing so is destroying the basis of the Bill. The Bill was based on an elaborate arrangement entered into by the Speaker's Conference. That Conference was called by the Attorney-General "that assembly of patient and sagacious men." I shall call it rather "that ominous consultation of doves and serpents," which produced the present Bill. My right hon. Friend was the dove who left the Ark and did not return. The Bill was based on it. That basis was destroyed. It is certain to have all sorts of other effects on it, which really should be a warning against this whole procedure of basing your acton on hole and corner conference, and then trying to get things squared up in a hurried Bill drafted in such a way as no Bill was ever drafted before, and presenting the Clauses with what may be called pemican drafting, which contain the maximum of substance and the minimum of space. I earnestly hope that we shall not be drawn into a continuance of all that procedure. We do not want to have another Bill, either born or nurtured, as this Bill has been born and nurtured. It is an abortion which I would gladly see die, but if it is to survive I hope that we shall have neither issue nor descendants.
§ Colonel YATE
I would like to support in every way what has been said by my hon. Friend. I congratulate the Secretary to the Local Government Board on the fluency of his speech in reply, but it seemed to me that his arguments against having separate units for agricultural constituencies and other units for boroughs were as unconvincing as any arguments could possibly be. In fact, they were no more convincing than the arguments that agriculture would suffer nothing by losing twenty or thirty seats. Agricultural interests are greatly concerned over the prospect of losing representation in this House. The great thing in agricultural seats is that the members should have knowledge of their constituents and be able to go over the constituency and make the acquaintance of the constituents. I think it most necessary that we should have separate units for agriculture. The size of agricultural constituencies should be limited to reasonable bounds, so that one member can get over the whole constituency. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board could only hope that something might be estab- 1493 lished in this direction. It is only a hope. We should have it in the Bill. We can only do our best to bring about this result.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I should like to say a word upon the result of the Amendments which, have taken place and those which have not taken place. By the Amendments adopted we have knocked out part of the original scheme, namely, proportional representation. My Noble Friend seemed to argue that it would be possible later on to discuss this matter again. I do not myself quite see how that is going to be done. The Instruction to the Commissioners is very clear. It is quite true that they are servants of the Grown who may disregard the Instructions which this House has given them, but if they respect the Instructions given by a majority of this House, though only a small majority—I myself was in the minority—with regard to proportional representation, what would be the result? It is quite true that when we get into Committee the Committee does not know what takes place in the House—that is a fiction of Parliamentary custom—and therefore it would be quite possible for the Committee to discuss proportional representation over again. That seems to me to be a sad waste of time which never appeals to me, because suppose the Committee discuss the matter and reverses the decision of this House, what will happen? I dare say that the Commissioners are already acting and by the time we have gone through the Committee stage the chances are that the Commissioners will probably have finished the greater part of their labours. Suppose they have not. How can this House set aside the decision which the House has already come to that the Boundary Commissioners in regrouping shall act as if proportional representation is not adopted? How can we alter that? I do not understand proportional representation. I never have understood it. I do not know whether hon. Members who do understand it could possibly arrange a way in which the different constituencies having been grouped as directed might still have it, but short of that, on which I do not express any opinion, I do not see how the House can reverse the decision already come to.
I would like to support the statement of the hon. Member for Rutland with regard to allowing Instructions for dealing" with Ireland. I had an Amendment down which was out of order, but I would point 1494 out that very great difficulty may arise owing to-the fact that the Commissioners have been instructed to arrange the number of Members of this House on the present basis. I tried to put in words which would deal with Ireland in order to avoid confusion later on. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that later on we have Home Rule. The Boundary Commissioners will have already decided that there will be certain constituencies in Great Britain with a certain number of members, but the operation of Home Rule in Ireland would leave the number of Members in Parliament forty short. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sixty short!"] I do not know the precise number, but we shall be short of members. We shall create these enormous constituencies because we do not want to increase the number of Members in this House, and if Ireland is to continue to have the same number as at present Great Britain cannot have any more, but if Ireland is dealt with Great Britain could have more, and in that way we could reduce the largest of these constituencies. That is why I desired to move that Amendment. It is a very great blot upon the matter that it is not settled in reference to Ireland. If you do not have Home Rule and Ireland returns 108 members, very small constituencies in Ireland will have as great power- as the enormous constituencies in Great Britain. That was one of the chief grievances amongst the Unionist party before the unfortunate Coalition took place. Since then apparently evil communications have corrupted good manners and old Conservative ideas seem to have merged into old Radical ideas. However that might be, I think it a great blot that Ireland is to continue to be over-represented while these great changes are taking place in England, Scotland, and Wales. Before I sit down I would like to ask if it is a fact that Scotland is not to have the number of her members diminished because there is nothing about it in the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners.
§ Mr. GERSHOM STEWART
A Sub-commissioner came down to Cheshire on Tuesday to hold his court, and according to the provision stated in his schedule, two agricultural constituencies were ruled out altogether. This produced a considerable amount of anxiety among the agricultural community, and the discussion was adjourned by the Sub-commissioner because, on the previous night, a Debate had taken place here as to what the powers 1495 of the Commissioners were to be. I should like to ask whether the new Instructions, as printed here, are likely to relieve the anxiety which certainly existed at that, the first court, held under this Bill. Cheshire is generally thought to be an agricultural county, but at the present time the borough divisions certainly predominate and control more of the electors than the agricultural constituencies. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to favourably consider, as far as he can, the maintenance of the agricultural divisions in Cheshire as they have been up to the present time.
That this House approves of the Instructions appended to the warrants appointing Commissioners to determine for the purposes of the Representation of the People Bill, the number of members to be assigned to the several counties and boroughs in England and Wales, and in Scotland respectively, and the boundaries of such counties and boroughs and divisions thereof.
Provided that the Commissioners may depart from the strict application of these Instructions in any case where it would result in the formation of constituencies inconvenient in size or character, or where the narrowness of margin between the figure representing the estimated population of any area and the figure required for any of the purposes of these Instructions seem to them to justify such a departure.
Provided also that it be an Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners to have regard to electorate rather than population where it appears that the proportion of electorate to population is abnormal.
Provided also that, in carrying out these Instructions, the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that proportional representation is not adopted.
Provided also that the Commissioners shall have power when regrouping boroughs to extend such grouping to boroughs in contiguous counties.
§ Bill considered in Committee.—[Progress 7th June.]
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]