HC Deb 12 October 1944 vol 403 cc2051-61

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Third Schedule to the Bill."

Mr. Woodburn

In the discussion today the Home Secretary made a speech in favour of tradition, and it was borne in on my mind that, on the Second Reading, both the Home Secretary and the Under Secretary, in winding up, in spite of my efforts to stress the traditions of Scotland, gave the impression to me and a great many others that the Home Office did not have any eyes for tradition in regard to Scottish representation, but felt very strong in regard to London traditions. I should like to stress again that the Scottish national tradition is no less intense than any London tradition, and I should like both those members of the Government to stress upon their offices, when looking at Parliamentary representation, that Scotland will not be content to be regarded from the standpoint of the mathematical formula which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary repeated in the final speech in that Debate. He then pictured Scotland as getting a more privileged position through four English Members being equal to five Scotsmen, or something of that kind, but omitted to realise that there are geographical difficulties in the North of Scotland which make any mathematical formula quite ridiculous. I have had to take part in by-elections in the North of Scotland, and, in calculating the time for travelling between one spot and another, one has to allow at least four times as long in any other part of the country. In one stretch of four miles one has to go over the highest road in Britain. I merely say, since tradition has been mentioned, that both tradition and geographical conditions affect the question, which should not be looked at from the point of view of this mathematical formula. I think I may say that Wales is affected by similar conditions.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

When the Home Secretary made his speech yesterday I was away on other business, but I was not aware that there was any question of the wisdom of the unanimous recommendations of the Speaker's Conference which were arrived at after very careful consideration. The Conference was unanimously of the view, on account of existing circumstances, and bearing in mind what has happened in the last 25 years, that the representation of Scotland and Wales should not be reduced. There were two reasons which induced them to come to that unanimous decision. The first was the point which has been mentioned, that of the national sentiment, and this is felt in Wales equally as in Scotland. If I was disposed to argue about it, I should say that the real test of the existence of national sentiment was whether the national language was retained. Scotland has forgotten hers, while Wales keeps its national language, and I think this national sentiment is stronger in Wales than in Scotland. I have only met one Scottish Member who speaks his native tongue, but there are a number of hon. Members who speak their native Welsh.

There is another important point in both Scotland and Wales: the population grew immensely in the 19th century largely upon the old basic industries. In the last 25 years both have suffered considerable reductions. Indeed, in Wales the net reduction by emigration has been 418,000. That was due to the depression that forced people to leave their homes and go in search of work. To take the existing population, which has been so considerably reduced by an economic blizzard, and say that that is the population to decide Parliamentary representation would indeed be very unfair. In parts of Scotland and Wales, and in some parts of England, it will be held that this reduction of population is due to the failure of Governments to do their job properly. Had there been a real policy for industry, we should not have suffered that loss. For all these reasons, there was a unanimous recommendation, and a cordial one, too, by the Speaker's Conference that in this redistribution there should be no reduction in the number of Members for Wales and Scotland. I hope the Home Secretary, who has always been fair to everybody and particularly fair to Wales and Scotland, and also the Under-Secretary, will realise that, if they depart from that recommendation, they will bring upon themselves the anger of Wales and Scotland, and no Englishmen could stand the combined strength of both.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I think I had better intervene now or there will be tears in my eyes and chokings in my voice. I think both my hon. Friends are manifesting signs of unhappiness and concern without due cause. What we understand about Scotland and Wales is that the Speaker's Conference had recommended three things: that the total representation for Great Britain, excluding the universities, should remain substantially where it is, except for the 25 new Members under the redistribution; that Scotland should not have the number of its Members reduced; and that there should be no reduction in the case of Wales. I said that, so far as this Bill was concerned, we accepted that recommendation of the Speaker's Conference, but I could not give any undertaking about what future Governments or Parliaments might do in further legislation. I do not know whether that is regarded as carrying out the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference or not; I rather gathered that it was; but I think it would be impossible for the Government to say that, irrespective of the future population, these numbers were guaranteed for all time.

Mr. Woodburn

Why mention it?

Mr. Morrison

I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. I think it should be on record, but the rights of hon. Members who argue the matter are not prejudiced, any more than the rights of anybody else to argue it are prejudiced. I quite agree that we must have a fair margin of toleration about the figures. I gave figures in my Second Reading speech and I said that I thought that differences, which are material in some constituencies, were still within the limits of reasonable toleration, and, therefore, we are not challenging the present position. I entirely agree that we have to take into account the sparsely populated areas and the question of difficulty of access, and I laid down the doctrine that we should not make this too mathematical and automatic. Therefore, I think Scotland and Wales have been well treated in the spirit of the Speaker's Conference recommendations. The only thing which I thought it right to tell the House was that future Parliaments and Governments must be free to consider this matter on its merits. There might be an extreme development—one never knows—and the English might turn and make trouble. Parliament could, of course, square the English by giving them additional representation as against the Scots and Welsh, but that is for the future to decide.

The hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Woodburn) referred to my speech about the City of London, in which I talked of traditions and history, and said he wants the right to talk about it for Scotland, and the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J Griffiths) said the same thing in respect of Wales. I will not deny anybody the right to talk about history and tradition. I have a very great respect for them, and they are very real things in our public life. I ask my hon. Friends not to press the point, although they are certainly entitled to argue about the traditions of Scotland and Wales, just as I was entitled to argue about the City of London, though, in my speech, I did not argue that the two Members for the City of London could never be reduced to one. My hon. Friends are converting tradition into arithmetic and that is going too far. The City of London has been subject to argument, and it would not be inconsistent if some one argued about the principles to be applied to Scotland and Wales. I can assure my hon. Friend that I have the deepest affection for all three countries, and, when the time comes, if it ever does came, to deal with the representation of England, Scotland and Wales, I will try to be as friendly as I can and to have an open mind and respect whatever argument may be adduced.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has the right to speak for England, for I do not know whether the name "Morrison" is really a very English Cockney name. I speak as an Englishman and a Conservative. [Interruption.] I assure hon. Members that Scottish Nicolsons have not an "H" to their name. I want to assure hon. Members who have spoken seriously that I believe they will find most Englishmen and Conservatives very sympathetic to their claims. We believe, above all, that democracy stands for the rights of minorities, and in any national and international settlement minorities have the right to extra weightage. It is important for Scottish tradition and Scottish contribution to the affairs of these islands that they should feel that they get not only a bare mathematical satisfaction of their claims, but good measure, pressed down and running over. I believe that was the whole spirit behind the original Act of Union, and although there was no Act of Union with regard to Wales, it is only fair to say that the same argument must apply to Wales.

I rise to assure hon. Members that in my opinion the Conservative Party are not unmindful of this, and that there can be no hostility towards Scotland. But I would say to the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) that he should not base his case merely on sparsely inhabited areas. Nor should he tacitly admit that Gaelic is the native language of all Scotland. I admit that Gaelic was the native language of parts of the Lowlands but that is not true of the Lowlands as a whole. English is the native tongue of most Scotsmen and all Englishmen, and even some Welshmen. I hope that representation will not be done purely on an arithmatical basis, and as a good Conservative I recognise the claims made on behalf of Scotland and Wales.

Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)

I hope that the Schedule will not be passed without some consideration of the consequences it seems to entail. I refer in particular to paragraph 5 (1a and b), which has rather a nebulous proviso at the head—"So far as practicable." I need only refer to the reason why I am speaking now, namely, that I had an Amendment on the Order Paper which, the Chair said, was out of Order, and which comes more properly under this Schedule. The point I am trying to make is one that is common to England, Scotland and Wales but it has particular reference to Wales and Scotland, and that is that every geographical county should have its own Member, and should be represented in Parliament by at least one Member. That does not mean that under a scheme of redistribution you cannot take a whole county and add to it a small part of another county, but it does mean that no two whole counties can be lumped together and be represented by only one person. I will take two examples, one from Wales and one from England. The English example is Rutland. Rutland, although it has a small part of Lincolnshire added to it, has its own Member and Lincolnshire has two Members in addition. The Welsh case, that of Brecon and Radnor, is different. These two Welsh counties are as different as any two Welsh counties can possibly be both in their history and social life. They have been lumped together and send only one Member of Parliament. I suggest that you should give Breconshire itself a Member and Radnor a Member irrespective of the number of constituents in the county.

It must be evident to everybody who has studied the political and social history of Britain during the last too years or so that Parliament has been concerning itself more and more with the urban and industrial areas of the country and less and less with the rural areas. The countryside has in the past been shamefully neglected with consequences which are familiar to us—the decline of agriculture, the extinction of a large number of rural industries, the migration of the youth of the country into the towns and the impoverishment and flagging of all endeavour in the rural communities. And yet the countryside not only in Wales and Scotland, but in England, is the very backbone of the life of the nation and it is the inspiration from which the arts and other activities spring, but it has been declining at an alarming rate and it continues to do so with every electoral reform. I maintain that population is not the only factor that should be of account in the fixing of Parliamentary representation. The enormous diversity of facts that together determine the entity of a county in England, Wales or Scotland is in itself a sufficient reason for granting it a minimum of one representative in Parliament to do justice to that diversity. A county like Radnor which has no Member of its awn yet has its county council, its own education authority and all the activities that are appropriate to its position as a county and it has very much its own tradition; it is different and distinct from that of Breconshire.

I think the Committee will understand what I am trying to get at but I would like to answer one possible criticism. It may be said that my suggestion will make no difference whatever in the present representation except a matter of two divisions in Great Britain. I have not been able to find that with the exception of the division of Ross and Cromarty and the division of Kinross and Clackmannan in Scotland and Brecon and Radnor in Wales there are any others which have to be considered and therefore it may be said with such little change it is hardly worth while providing for it in the Bill. It may be that it is a very little matter at the present time but the countryside of Britain has been progressively depopulated and unless we stop it now and put some sort of check on this rake's progress, the redistribution bills of the future will make worse and worse havoc of the countryside. I think that this is the time to establish the principle that the rural life of the country should have representation in this House. I ask the Committee—who have had more experience of these things on account of the nature of their constituencies—if any single Member can assert that it is humanly possible for any Parliamentary candidate to work the necessary machinery of an election in two counties simultaneously, or, if elected, could give such a constituency the attention which is necessary if he is to retain his seat with security and dignity.

5.30 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd.) I do not think he quite saw the logic of his speech because, I believe, on Tuesday he voted in favour of Proportional Representation, which means that each vote should have the same value. He is now urging the exact opposite.

Professor Gruffydd


Mr. Deputy Chairman

No, we will not have anything to do with that now.

Sir H. Williams

I was just drawing the hon. Member's attention to the logical consequence of his own remarks, but I will not pursue that, as you have quite rightly ruled me out of Order, Mr. Williams. In the Speaker's Conference I was the first person to urge that it would be a great mistake to cut down the representation of Scotland, because you would merely let loose a wild nationalist agitation and cause much trouble. I do not mind in the least, sitting as I do for an English constituency, that Scotland and Wales have in one sense rather more than their fair share. The reason for that will be found in the reference to consideration being given to large geographical areas. On the other hand, to propose that every county should have its own Member, would, I think, really be going back. In Scotland I think there are six or seven joint counties, Moray and Nairn, Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Clackmannan and Stirling, and so on. Really, to ask that those very small populations should have full representation is, I think, going too far. I understand my hon. Friend's interest—he is worried about certain parts of Central Wales; he is worried about Montgomery and Merioneth. However that problem is solving itself, because I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Sir H. Jones) is giving up, so there will be no claimant. So he need not worry unduly unless he desires to transfer himself from his triple—

Professor Gruffydd


Sir H. Williams

—constituency to Harlech Castle. If that really is his ambition, then we can understand his anxiety to-day.

Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)

May I intervene for a moment, as one of the representatives of Scotland, to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) for the assurance that the Conservative Party in England will see that in future' our representation shall not be cut down in Scotland below the figure of 71. I would also like to refer for a moment to the point made by the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) about each county having its own representative. Whilst, theoretically, it might be desirable, it would be practically impossible, so far as Scotland is concerned, for many of these counties like Moray, Clackmannan and Kinross, are very small and if each of them had to have their own Members the number left for the large burghs and industrial counties, like Lanark, would be very much cut down and I think the agricultural interests, important though they be, would be overweighted in the Scottish representation. For that reason I feel that though admittedly it has its inconveniences, we will have to be satisfied with a certain amount of union between the smaller counties or the tacking on of such smaller counties to the larger ones.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

In spite of the remarks made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) I would still like to endorse the argument put before the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd). We know that there are already quite a number of double-county constituencies but under this Bill there is a great danger that there may be a wholesale slaughter of whole counties, and the fact that there are some double-county constituencies at the moment is no argument, in my judgment, that there should be an additional number of them, because, on every ground of tradition in our history, it is most important that we should obtain one Member for every county.

I do not know that Wales is peculiar in this respect—I am quite sure that it is not; it is the same in England. We know the rivalry there is between village and village and town and town. We know, if we go to one village to speak and omit the next village, the rivalry is so great that we have to go also to the particular village we have omitted. If you compare that particular sentiment with the sentiment attached to a county, it is far better from every point of view—on the question of the social system, the educational system, and so forth. I think it will be a great calamity if, under this Bill—which I quite appreciate is meant to obtain the representation of some 50,000 electors per Member—it means a wholesale slaughter of a number of individual counties in England, Scotland and Wales to amalgamate them with another county or make a double-county constituency. After all, we are not here to count heads. We have had that argument in Debates over and over again. If we counted heads, why do we have the university Members here? They represent culture; counties represent tradition, and I hope both my right hon. Friends will be able to see their way, within the ambit of this Bill and without doing away with the main purpose of the Bill, to see that in some way, and as far as possible, individual counties shall be represented by one individual Member at least.

Mr. Peake

I think the Committee has very much enjoyed the spectacle of a representative of Wales, having secured in the Schedule a minimum of 35 Parliamentary representatives for Wales, offering six new additional Members to Scotland, which would be the effect of the hon. Gentleman's proposal. Many of those new constituencies would be far smaller than anything that exists at the present time. Take Caithness and Sutherland, for example, where there are approximately 28,000 to-day. Whoever could justify dividing the seat and making two new seats with some 14,000 electors? I am afraid this is where England must protest and advise the Committee to reject the Amendment. Paragraph 5 of the Schedule goes as far, I think, as is reason- able, in saying that the boundary commissioners shall, so far as is practicable, take account of local boundaries and divisions.

Question, "That this be the Third Schedule to the Bill," put, and agreed to.


Mr. Keeling

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Title, after "constituencies," insert: together in certain cases with the adjoining constituencies. This is consequential on an Amendment made to Clause 2 earlier.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments (Title amended); as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Mr. Woodburn

I asked the Home Secretary, earlier, questions about the other recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. This Bill is a first instalment, and I am sure the House would like to know if there was some hope of bringing forward at an early date proposals necessary to provide legislation for carrying into effect the other recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, especially those in regard to corrupt practices and things of that kind.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Those are matters outside this Bill, and it is not possible to discuss them now.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.