HC Deb 07 April 1948 vol 449 cc162-4
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

During the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill on 24th March, in connection with the proposed addition of 17 borough constituencies in England, I undertook to ask the Boundary Commissioners if they would receive and consider representations with regard to the proposed manner of dividing the 17 boroughs concerned from the local authorities, political parties and other persons interested, who would have had the right to make such representations to the Commission under the procedure laid down by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1944. I therefore wrote to you, Sir, on 25th March. I would like to inform the House that you have now been good enough to forward to me a letter addressed to you by the Deputy-Chairman of the Commission expressing the willingness of the Commissioners to consider such representations, and indicating the manner in which the representations should be made and the procedure which the Commissioners propose to adopt.

The Deputy-Chairman writes as follows: I have now had an opportunity of consulting my colleagues regarding the Home Secretary's request that we should consider representations relating to the proposals, details of which are set out in the White Paper published on 19th March for the division of the 17 boroughs selected for additional representation. We are prepared to undertake this additional task, but it is clear that in the circumstances the procedure set out in paragraphs 3 and 4 of Part III of the First Schedule to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act is not applicable. Moreover, considerations of time would appear to render it impracticable to employ the normal machinery of local advertisement or the holding of local inquiries if such were considered desirable. Perhaps the simplest course would be for an announcement to be made in the House to the effect that we are prepared to consider any representations relating to the 17 boroughs submitted to us within a specified period. The exact time to be allowed for this purpose will presumably have to be kept as short as possible in order to avoid unnecessary delay in the progress of the Bill. In our view a period of 14 days should be sufficient to enable all those interested to prepare and submit representations. The representations should, of course, be in writing and addressed to the Secretary, Boundary Commission for England, North Wing, Somerset House, London, W.C.2. When we have considered the representations, we will submit a report to the Home Secretary indicating what amendments if any, should in our view, be made to the published proposals in the light of the representations submitted. In accordance with the suggestion made in the letter representations should reach the Secretary of the Commission not later than 24th April.

Mr. Osbert Peake

In view of the fact that the whole of these proceedings are unofficial, and without any statutory basis, will the right hon. Gentleman answer me these two questions? First, will he undertake to publish any reports made by the Commissioners under this procedure as soon as they are received, and in good time for the House to consider them before we reach the Schedules to the Bill? Second, will he tell me from what date the 14 days, which the Commissioners propose should be the time for laying objections, will run?

Mr. Ede

I will undertake that as soon as I receive a report it shall be published to the House as a White Paper, in the same way as the Commissioners' original proposals were presented. I will undertake that it shall be in sufficient time for consideration at any rate before the Report stage of the Bill. It may not be possible to have it available before the Committee stage, but on the assumption that the Committee stage is being taken first, and that it is available before the Report stage, I propose myself to put down Amendments to embody any suggestions made by the Commissioners when we reach the Report stage. I have suggested that the last day should be 24th April; as this is 7th April that is virtually giving 17 days' notice.

Mr. Keeling

Is the Minister aware that there are many areas outside these towns which have good reason to think that, owing to the increased representation now to be given to these towns, they should have the right to make representations? Has the Home Secretary considered further the suggestion I made to that effect during the previous Debate?

Mr. Ede

I have no doubt that the representatives of such areas will make their voices heard when we come to the First Schedule.

Mr. Maclay

Will the Home Secretary say whether he is really satisfied that 17 days is sufficient time for making repre-sentations? Having had experience of this in the earlier stages of the Bill, I suggest that 17 days is a very short time indeed for local authorities and others to go into the problem and get out the reports necessary.

Mr. Ede

The suggestion of the Commissioners was 14 days. By making the announcement today I have added three to that, and I think that in view of the very limited scope of these particular recommendations the time is sufficient.