HC Deb 17 January 1945 vol 407 cc254-7
Mr. H. Lawson

I beg to move, in page 19, to leave out lines 39 and 40, and insert "five."

As the Clause stands, the Boundary Commissions which will review all boundaries will come into operation on 15th October, 1946, unless the Secretary of State decides to bring the date forward a year or put it back a year. The object of my Amendment is to lay it down that the Boundary Commissions are to come into operation in October, 1945. I think that there is sufficient time to get the thing going by then, and I am rather afraid that, if the Bill is left as it is and if the Commissions are not set up until 1947, any redistribution that they may recommend will not have actually been carried out before the General Election after the coming one. I suggest that we ought to bring the date forward and I have therefore put this Amendment down.

The Lord Advocate

I think I am right in saying that, under the Bill as it stands, the Boundary Commissions are to start in 1946 on their ordinary work, unless Parliament either ante-dates or post-dates it in the light of the circumstances at the time. The hon. Member desires that they should start in 1945, whether the circumstances are right or not. The reason why we do not think that is a good thing is that we think that the population will not have settled down by this autumn, and that it would really be wasted labour for the Boundary Commissions to start drawing boundaries on this year's annual register, because the probability is that the shifts of population in many areas would be such that they would have to do it all over again next year. Therefore, it would probably be desirable to wait another year, but, if things settle down quicker than we anticipate, we keep power to ante-date it to 1945, which is the year which the hon. Member desires. With that explanation, I hope he will agree that we have been wise in keeping this flexibility.

Mr. Lawson

In view of that explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. H. Lawson

I beg to move, in page 20, line 16, at end, add: (4) The boundary commissions shall also review as soon as may be the boundaries of wards used in local government elections. It seems to me that there is just as big a case for a permanent Commission to review ward boundaries in local government constituencies as there is in Parliamentary constituencies. At the beginning of this war, there were very great anomalies. Some councillors represented a few constituents and some a great number, and war conditions have, I believe, made that very much worse—for instance, where bomb damage has taken place in the middle of a large city. Some wards have scarcely any local government electors at all, and there may be modern "rotten boroughs" with two or three local government electors only. What I am suggesting is that, as soon as it is reasonable and practicable, these Boundary Commissions—or I do not mind if other Boundary Commissions are set up—should go into the whole business of the constant review of ward boundaries, so that it is not left to the initiative of the local authority, as, I believe, is the position to-day.

Mr. H. Morrison

I am afraid my hon. Friend is becoming an over-centraliser and tending to bureaucracy in these matters. I do not think that, in the case of the wards within a municipal area, it is desirable to bring in the heavy-handed machinery of the Boundary Commissions, nationally established. Under the law as it stands, the official initiative in changing boundaries comes from the local authority itself. I think that is right. So far as the people are concerned, the electors or the political parties, if they want their boundaries changed, can agitate and put pressure on the local authority, or they can complain to the appropriate Minister, who may raise it with the local authority. They have got means of pressure which they can use. On the whole, it is best to leave the initiative to the local authority, and not bring some vast Boundary Commission of the State down to some urban district or non-county borough and say, "Well, gentlemen, what about these wards of yours? We are going to have a look at them."

3.30 p.m.

Let us preserve the health and initiative of British local government and not have this national centralisation overdone, with goodness knows what results. I am surprised at my hon. Friend, who I thought was on the healthy left of democracy, now putting himself on the right of a regimented democracy, which, frankly, offends my Socialist soul. I therefore hope he will withdraw the Amendment and say that he is sorry he thought of it.

Mr. H. Lawson

Surely the Home Secretary would agree that there is more than a normal problem in this matter, with the war conditions, and the disturbance which has taken place. The Government should give some lead to local authorities in this matter. I agree with him that, if all local authorities were really doing their job, the Government would be flooded with applications for revision, and I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment and to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. But the only way in which I could raise the matter on the Floor of this Chamber was by putting down an Amendment. If the Government will promise to give some lead to local authori- ties in this matter, I will ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.