§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to move, in page 4, line 4, to leave out "613,"and to insert, "618."
This Amendment although very important is, in a sense, consequential. It is consequential upon the Government Amendment, at the same place in the Bill, which we discussed in Committee. That increased the figure in the Bill as orginally drafted from 591 to 613. My Amendment is necessitated in order to remove some of the most glaring anomalies resulting from the Government's action in adding 17 seats to the English representation. The Final Report of the Boundary Commission embodying their proposals was published on 24th October, and their proposals were included in full in the Bill when it was printed just before Christmas. The Boundary Commissioners recommended for England 489 seats, instead of the 485 or thereabouts laid down in the Act of 1944.
It was not until 19th March, two days after we had concluded the Committee discussions on the universities and the City of London, that the Government announced that they proposed to add 17 additional seats to the English representation. That announcement was made ex parte, without any previous consultation with the Opposition, and it was made entirely upon the responsibility of the Government. We still do not know and 274 have never been told at what date the Government referred to the Boundary Commisioners, acting in an unofficial capacity, their suggestion that one seat should be added to each of the nine large cities. These were the Government's proposals to add 17 seats to the English representation. They told us that they had consulted the Commission upon them, and they published a White Paper embodying the Commission's recommendations as to how these extra 17 seats, which the Government had decided should be granted, should be demarcated in detail.
The Government's action, admittedly, was dictated by pressure put upon them by their own supporters behind them, because nobody on this side of the House at any time asked for additional representation, and it cannot be too often emphasised that we on this side have at all times been ready to accept in full the verdict of the impartial body established by Parliament to complete this scheme of redistribution. The decision of the Government, of course, invalidated the whole of the Commissioner's proposals, because who can doubt that the Commissioners would have produced a totally different scheme if their terms of reference had been to redistribute the English constituencies upon the footing that there were going to be not 489 seats for England, but the larger figure of 506? From this decision to augment the English representation by 17 seats has flowed naturally a whole crop of anomalies.
275 The first anomaly is that, by dividing the eight large boroughs, we have 16 borough constituencies which rank among the smallest in the country, and, of course, the whole scheme of the Act of 1944 was that the constituencies with the smallest numbers of electors should be the wide and sparsely populated country areas and not the densely populated municipalities. In the second place, by adding nine seats to each of the big cities, the average representation of these cities is being reduced below the average quota. The right hon. Gentleman has adopted the principle which he set out, I think, on 24th April in this House—that he was going to add a seat to each of these cities so long as, by doing so, he did not bring the average representation of the city down below 50,000.
In the third place, the addition of 17 new seats lowered the average electoral quota, which had stood at 58,700 to 56,700. The centre of gravity of the redistribution scheme has moved in a downward direction, with the effect, of course, that constituencies which are still to contain 78,000 or 79,000 electors are more out of gear with the new quota than constituencies of over 80,000 were with the quota as it originally stood.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Manchester, Hulme)
Is the right hon. Gentleman really telling the House, on this question of the large cities, that the Conservative associations in those cities had not asked for more representation? Is he aware that, in Manchester, there was complete agreement between the Conservatives and the Socialists, and that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Withington (Squadron Leader Fleming) put his name to an agreement made between the parties?
§ Mr. Peake
I really was not dealing with that sort of point. The question whether there was some local demand by the parties in the constituencies for an extra seat really has very little to do with the argument which I am now putting forward. I am pointing out that, if we have 17 extra seats, we must lower the quota, and, if we lower the quota, we immediately invalidate the whole of the scheme of redistribution produced by the 276 Commission on the basis that the number of seats would be fixed at a certain figure.
We were faced with a difficulty when we knew that the Government proposed 17 additional seats. Obviously, at that stage, with 506 seats to be allocated to England, in place of 489, the whole matter ought to have gone back to the Boundary Commission for the preparation of a new scheme on the new basis of a new number of seats, but, of course, it was equally impossible for that to be done at that stage. It would have involved probably another year's delay in the scheme of redistribution. Nor was it possible for the official Opposition, with their limited resources of time and manpower, to produce a complete scheme of redistribution for the whole of England upon the basis of 506 seats.
We were, therefore, left with the only alternative that, if we were to do anything to remedy some of the anomalies resulting from the Government's action, we must look for those areas which would become under-represented if the Government's proposals were adopted, and try to secure some extra representation in parts of the country which obviously would deserve it in the light of the Government's decision and the lowering of the quota. We put forward certain proposals which were sent to Mr. Speaker by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) on 9th April. On the same day, or a day later, a copy was sent to the Home Secretary, as we wanted him to be fully aware from the outset what our proposals were. We did not wish that there should be any suggestion that we were acting in a hole-and-corner manner.
In selecting as we did eight areas where we thought an additional nine Members ought to be provided, we were governed by one consideration only, and that was the question of the figures. We did not select those areas because we thought they might turn out to provide extra seats for Conservative candidates. Actually, I am informed, in the constituencies affected by our proposals, there are 16 Labour seats involved and something like 11 Conservative. It cannot be said, therefore, that we have put forward our proposals with any view to party advantage.
277 I want to deal, if I may, quite briefly, with each of the areas which we suggest should have additional representation. They are as follows, and it will be noted that the Amendment I am moving provides for only five additional seats and that is for the reason that our proposals, so far as they concern South-East Essex and the Twickenham-Staines area of Middlesex, have been considerably criticised by the Boundary Commission because in those areas the local government boundaries would suffer considerable interference. The case on numerical grounds in those areas was exceptionally strong. In South-East Essex there were five seats averaging no fewer than 69,500 electors, and on numerical grounds alone the case for an extra seat was unanswerable. An extra seat would have reduced the average representation there to 58,000—still in excess of the electoral quota—but we have to pay regard to considerations of local patriotism and local government convenience, and for that reason we do not intend to proceed with our proposal regarding South-East Essex.
When we come to the scheme in Middlesex, which embodied the Twickenham-Spelthorne-Staines area, there we find that there were three seats averaging no fewer than 75,600, and an additional seat there would have given an average figure still in excess of the quota. In this area, again, there are, in the view of the Commission and their report, insuperable difficulties arising from local government boundary considerations and, therefore, again, in that area we shall not press our original proposal for an additional seat.
That leaves only five areas in which an additional seat is being proposed. The first is in Cheshire, in the area Birkenhead-Wallasey-Bebington-Wirral. This area has had four seats allowed to it with an average of over 66,000—that is 10,000 in excess of the electoral quota—and we have suggested that for this area one additional seat should be granted, reducing the average size of these constituencies to 53,100, which is a higher figure, of course, than the representation which the Home Secretary now proposes for the great cities of Bristol, Leicester, Nottingham, Bradford and Leeds, where the average constituencies will be something less than 53,000.
278 4.45 p.m.
So far as Kent is concerned, we have suggested one extra seat in the Crayford and Erith areas. In that case there were four seats averaging 67,200, and an extra seat there would give five seats averaging just under 54,000, very nearly the new electoral quota. Moreover, the scheme we have proposed has an advantage over the original scheme proposed by the Commission themselves in that it keeps intact the rural district of Dartford which, in the original scheme, would have been split. In the Middlesex area, we have Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green areas, the claims of which were advanced from the benches opposite during the Committee stage of the Bill. These boroughs have three Members and they average 69,500. An extra seat there would give four constituencies averaging 52,174, which will be a higher number of electors per constituency than there will be in the great cities of Nottingham and Leeds, as proposed by the Home Secretary.
In the Kingston-upon-Thames area of Surrey, we pointed out to the Commission that there were eight seats with a high average of 67,000 electors. One additional seat there, which is all we now suggest—we originally put forward on a numerical basis a claim for two seats, but we are now asking for only one on account of difficulties which the Commission have encountered in drawing up a scheme for 10 seats instead of eight—one extra seat will leave the Surrey constituencies with an average electorate of between 59,000 and 60,000, that is to say 3,000 to 4,000 in excess of the average electoral quota. Further, our scheme is supported by the Commission, who say that on the numbers Surrey is entitled to an additional seat.
The only other area with which we are concerned is East Sussex. Here, we have a county area with four seats averaging 65,800 and that, of course, is about 9,000 in excess of the electoral quota. An additional seat in East Sussex would reduce the average size of those constituencies to 52,000, a figure for a county area—and a county area which is fairly widespread—of more electors per constituency than there will be in the future in the great cities of Leeds, Nottingham and, I think, also Bristol.
Considered from a statistical or numerical aspect, we think our claims in all these 279 five areas are unanswerable and, moreover, exception cannot be taken to them on geographical grounds. They all fall within the conditions which the Home Secretary has himself adopted for the addition of seats in other parts of the country. I am only sorry that we cannot, without breaking across the right hon. Gentleman's own principle, support the claim of the hon. Member for one of the Plymouth Divisions for an extra seat in Plymouth. The right hon. Gentleman has constantly refused this demand upon the ground that if he added an extra seat to Plymouth the average size of the constituencies there would fall below 50,000.
None of the proposals which we put forward comes anything like as low as 50,000 electors per constituency. I would give this argument to the hon. Members for Plymouth, which I do not think they have thought of previously, and that is that the Commission regarded as a normal size for a constituency in their Report anything between 70,000, on the high side, and 50,000, on the low side. That was when the quota stood at 58,700. Now that the Government proposals have reduced the average size of the quota to something just over 56,000, it would surely be reasonable to regard as normal for a constituency some figure lower than the 50,000 which the Commissioners adopted for the purpose of their first report. I do not think it is possible for the case we have put forward to be rejected upon any other grounds than those of prejudice against any suggestion made from this side of the House, or a purely partisan suspicion, which is quite unfounded, that these proposals are intended to and might result in the election of one or two Conservatives to the House.
§ Mr. Ede
I did not rise at once because I was expecting that some other Member would speak before it was thought necessary for me to reply. Of course, there is the difficulty on Report stage that did not hamper us on the Committee stage that, having once spoken, it is not possible for a Minister or anyone else to speak again, without the leave of the House. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to what happened in the House on 26th April. That was when the right hon. Gentleman himself spoke on this matter. I am quite willing to listen to the case that can be put forward for those constituencies, but 280 I am bound to point out that we were endeavouring to achieve in our proposals something nearer the one vote one value principle than was given by the Boundary Commissioners' original Report. We held that the disparity between borough and county constituencies was too wide to be justified. It was a point that had been raised by the Opposition themselves during the Second Reading of the Bill, and it was a matter which we felt called for some ratification. Therefore, we proposed that the eight large boroughs should be divided on the ground that they represented too large a constituency for a single Member to look after. I think I am correct in saying that that is a view which is very generally shared—that 80,000 is too large a number for any single Member to look after.
When we received the Report from the Boundary Commissioners it seemed that they themselves had obviously felt some misgiving on that score, for, quite unsolicited by us, they sent with their Report a statement showing the way in which those eight large boroughs could be divided if the Government thought that 80,000 was, in fact, too large a constituency for a single Member to represent. The Amendments we proposed there were, in consequence, those which had been in the mind of the Boundary Commissioners before the matter had been raised in the House at all. The Government, on their consideration of the matter, thought that it was appropriate that that division should take place. We were then faced with the fact that the difference between the average of a county and a borough division was still too wide, and we took steps to see in what way, without conflicting with any of the rules that had been laid down for the division of constituencies, something could be done to rectify that matter.
We thought that the best way to deal with it was to take the case of the nine large seats where the giving of an additional seat would still leave them within the limits of tolerance that the Boundary Commissioners had set for themselves of 50,000 as a minimum and 70,000 as a maximum. In none of these cases did we conflict with any of the Rules that were laid down by the House for the guidance of the Boundary Commissioners. The House accepted those Amendments, 281 but the localities had not had an opportunity of expressing their views with regard to the exact boundaries between constituencies, and so arrangements were made whereby representations could be made to the Boundary Commissioners by persons interested in each of the areas concerned. As a result certain altered suggestions were made by the Boundary Commissioners, which are embodied in Amendments now down to the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said, wrote to Mr. Speaker suggesting that in certain other areas an examination should take place. Except in the case of East Sussex those are not related to the whole of a county or a city. They have regard to the corners of counties. It has been pointed out by the Boundary Commissioners that the effect in some of these cases of selecting the former, having regard to the county as a whole, involved special representation of the areas concerned. In a letter of 22nd April they say:We feel bound to point out, however, that in certain of the areas proposed for increased representation, notably in Essex and Middlesex, the formation of additional constituencies is only possible by cutting local government boundaries, and that in two instances, namely, in Surrey and Middlesex, the allocation of two additional seats would result in those counties as a whole being over-represented.
§ Mr. Ede
I was coming to that point. I thought it was as well to deal with this thing methodically. I understand—and the right hon. Gentleman has said so—that that is the reason why in those two counties they have reduced their demand from two to one. Let me take the county of Surrey first. As a result of this change they propose to give Wimbledon and Surbiton quite separate representation in the House, with an electorate of 43,812 in the case of Wimbledon and 43,245 in the case of Surbiton, but Epsom with an electorate, larger than either of them, of 45,776, will remain a part of a larger constituency including the urban district of Leatherhead, which gives it a total 282 number of electors of 64,819. Therefore, the borough which has the largest electorate of the three is not dealt with, while the other two are dealt with.
With regard to Middlesex county, the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward still involve the division of local government areas. The new constituency of Harringay consists of parts of Tottenham and parts of Hornsey. Again, in Kent, one corner of the county is tackled. The county stretches for many miles, yet apart from that one corner it is not tackled by the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. In East Sussex, each of the proposed new seats involves a considerable splitting of local government boundaries. Each of them involves the division of rural district council areas. In fact, the provisions here involve very considerable division of local government units. In Cheshire, one corner of the county, namely, the Wirral Peninsula, is the only part which is tackled in the proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman.
I am not giving a final answer on this matter at the moment. I am willing to listen to anything that may be said by any hon. Member with regard to these Amendments, but I am not inclined to accept them.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? We have before us proposals for the extension of a number of constituencies. They will come up again later for discussion in connection with the First Schedule. I take it that if the Amendment is accepted by the House we shall not be confined in our discussion of the Amendments to the First Schedule, which have been mentioned by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). May we take it that all Amendments which seek to bring into existence, or to prevent from going out of existence, any constituency will have equal consideration by the House when the discussion reaches the First Schedule?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
If the hon. Member desires to speak, and catches the eye of the Chair, she can then discuss those matters.
§ Mr. Parker (Dagenham)
The Opposition have been very wise in dropping the proposal with regard to Essex, because it cuts completely across local government boundaries in the area. The proposal has aroused the opposition of all the important political parties and all local authorities in the district. I am surprised at the Opposition, for when the proposal for redistribution came forward last year, they took a very strong line that we should not cut across local government boundaries but should create natural units of representation as far as possible. Yet now they have just put forward Amendments which cut across local government boundaries in almost every case, and create artificial units of representation.
I take the view, which I think most hon. Members on this side of the House would support, that it is desirable that representation in this House should correspond as far as possible with local government units and not with artificially created units. It is true that my constituency would have been given two Members and we in Dagenham should no doubt have been very gratified to get them; but in fact the proposal looked very much like a piece of political log-rolling. Everybody in Essex took it for that. The proposals would have meant the transference of the strongest Labour wards from Horn-church and Ilford into Dagenham, with the likely result of creating two strong Labour seats in the area and three strong Conservative seats. At the moment the whole area has four Labour representatives. Therefore the proposals did appear to be a very obvious piece of logrolling.
I am pleased that the Opposition have been wise enough to drop the proposal which certainly would have made the name of the Conservative Party stink very much in the area. From the point of view of the decencies of political life it is desirable that such proposals should not be brought forward when they attempt to pull local government boundaries about with the object of creating particular seats to return candidates to this House of particular political views.
I do not know what the result of all these proposals will be in detail, but it is highly undesirable to bring forward suggestions deliberately designed to cut across local government boundaries in the way that was suggested in this proposal. I 284 hope that when the proposals are considered in detail we shall resist those which cut across local government boundaries, even if they do not do so in so unpleasant a way as in the Essex proposal.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
The Home Secretary has said, quite properly, that he will consider individual Amendments when they are discussed. Therefore, in regard to the Amendment which affects my own constituency—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is precisely the difficulty in which not only the right hon. Gentleman but the whole House is placed. It would therefore be appropriate for you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I suggest, to give some guidance to us whether it would be in Order for us to advance the full arguments upon the Amendment which is now before the House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The general discussion can take place now. Hon. Members should advance general arguments at this stage but not go into minute details.
§ Mr. Peake
Do I understand from what has fallen from the Home Secretary that if the Amendment is not carried and if the figure remains at 613, it would not be your intention to call any of the Amendments, from whichever side of the House they may come, proposing additional representatives for any part of the country?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the Amendment is not carried; the new constituencies proposed in it may not be discussed subsequently.
§ Mr. Peake
Simply because this Amendment, which does not relate specifically to any Amendment to the First Schedule, is defeated, it would seem very strange that Amendments standing in the name of myself and my hon. Friends should later not be selected, 285 while Amendments standing in the names of other hon. Members are, for some reason or other, to be selected.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It might be of interest to the House to know that none of those Amendments is likely to be called.
§ Mrs. Middleton
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Did I understand you to say that no Amendments will be called on the First Schedule if this Amendment is defeated?
§ Mr. Pritt
Since there are definite matters to be considered and discussed, and the Home Secretary has said that he is willing to discuss them, cannot we have some more definite way of discussing them? For example, would it not be possible to reject this Amendment on the understanding that other specific matters should subsequently be discussed, and if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it right to invite his supporters to give way on any other particular constituency the matter could be put right in another place? I do not want any particular party to have any particular seat, but I would like a fair discussion.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I apprehend from that Ruling that it would be in Order on this Amendment to deploy at moderate length, arguments which would otherwise be deployed in favour of one particular Amendment.
The Home Secretary referred to a part of the country with which I am concerned, and perhaps, therefore, I might direct certain arguments to him on this subject. I start with the advantage that I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a deeper personal knowledge of this part of the country than probably other parts of the country with which we are immediately concerned, and it was for that reason, no doubt, that in the course of his speech he made what, on the face of it, seems to be the perfectly fair argument that the Opposition proposals, while seeking to confer separate representation on the borough of Surbiton, do not make a similar proposal in the case of the borough 286 of Epsom. The right hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the area, no doubt, caused him to make that remark. Therefore, perhaps I may explain why that has been done. The difficulty with which we are faced and with which the Boundary Commission were equally faced is to get relatively fair mathematical representation without going across local Government boundaries, and I can reassure the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) that so far as the Surrey proposals are concerned, no local government boundaries are crossed.
The reason why we have elected to put forward a proposal for separate representation for Surbiton and not for Epsom is this: Epsom when combined with the urban district of Leatherhead involves a constituency of some 64,000, which is a constituency of reasonable size. When Surbiton is combined, as the Boundary Commission proposed originally to combine it, with the borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, that will result in a constituency of 74,000 electors. Not only will it do that; it will produce a constituency of 74,000 electors immediately adjoined by other disproportionately large constituencies which immediately adjoin the proposed Wimbledon constituency of 75,933, Richmond with 63,205, the Esher Division of Surrey with 62,956, and, separated only by the River Thames, the constituencies of Twickenham and Spelthorne, with 79,000 and 69,000 electors, respectively.
The reason why we have put forward these proposals is that the immediate area appears to be under-represented, and that the only method of curing that without violating the rule as to local government boundaries is the proposal which the Boundary Commission, in response to our representations, put forward as being the best method of solving this difficulty, namely to confer separate representation on the boroughs of Surbiton and Wimbledon. It seems that what the Boundary Commission recommended as the best method—it was, of course, our proposal as to the numbers—is, in fact, the best method, and that is the reason for the apparent disparity of treatment between Surbiton and Epsom.
The case is first put forward on the mathematical basis that by reason of the 287 figures which I have already quoted to the House, as the proposals in the Bill stand, the area of North-eastern Surrey concerned is very much under-represented with a number of large constituencies immediately adjoining each other. We submit this proposal to the House as a means of curing that state of affairs. It is perfectly true that if our proposal is accepted the borough of Surbiton will be left with an electorate of 43,245, and that electorate will actually be larger than those of 11 of the constituencies created as a result of the Government's own proposals. I have a list of those constituencies here, but I do not propose to trouble the House with them unless the Home Secretary so desires. A glance at the figures shows that the Surbiton electorate will be larger than no fewer than 11 of the new constituencies to which I have just referred, and will be close to three more. Even in the case of Surbiton alone—the Wimbledon figure is slightly larger—that would seem to be a reasonable case on numbers.
Further, there is the fact which has to be taken into account that the borough of Surbiton contains an area in which development is taking place and will take place. It is, in point of fact, an expanding area. Therefore, if a figure on the low side has to be taken, it can perhaps be appropriately taken in such an area rather than in an area where further expansion and development is not possible. There is the fact—and it is one of some importance—that local opinion has very strongly expressed itself on this matter. A most remarkable town's meeting was held in the borough of Surbiton recently, on which occasion—and it is the only occasion within my recollection—the local Conservative, Communist, Labour and Liberal Parties not only were present, but agreed. This remarkable unanimity of political opinion was supported by no fewer than some 30 outside organisations, including all the churches, various professional and industrial bodies, and bodies, many of which I must confess would seem to have remarkably little connection with the question of Parliamentary representation, but including such responsible national bodies as the National Union of Teachers.
That town's meeting put forward a resolution which went to the Boundary 288 Commission, and I believe it has also been sent to the Home Secretary. They put forward the merits of the proposals as well as the unanimity of opinion so effectively that I do not think that I need trouble the House with the resolution, since I know the Home Secretary has had it furnished to him. It makes the point that not only is this an expanding area but that it is an area of substantial geographical extent—some 4,709 acres. It has definite geographical markings and limitations, and would appear to be not unreasonably qualified for separate Parliamentary representation. I know the Home Secretary well enough to know that he has studied that resolution conscientiously.
That is the case so far as the Surrey proposals are concerned. We submit that as the Bill stands, a considerable mass of population in North-eastern Surrey is enormously under-represented, that these large constituencies adjoining each other involve the value of the vote in that part of the country being appreciably less than the value of the vote in other parts of the country. That disparity has been increased by the lower average which has resulted from the Government's own proposals on the Committee stage. We submit that our proposal would do something to rectify that position, and that it would still leave North-eastern Surrey under-represented from a mathematical point of view, but we feel that that is an inevitable evil if we are not to ignore the very important consideration to which the hon. Member for Dagenham referred of not crossing local government boundaries.
The proposal, as has been pointed out, so far as method is concerned has the approval of the Boundary Commission. So far as merit is concerned, it has overwhelming mathematical evidence in support of it. So far as local opinion is concerned, it has also very considerable local support. I may perhaps remind the House of one other factor, and that is that the Royal and ancient borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, although they regard our proposal as a great deal better than that of the Royal Commission, have taken the view that it does not go far enough, and that there is a case for even greater representation. All these factors seem to make it quite clear that if this question of Parliamentary representation is to be considered on its merits, dispassionately 289 and without prejudice, an overwhelming case has been made out for adding one seat to the county of Surrey, along the lines recommended by the Boundary Commission.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
Since you have given your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I have looked at the Act which this part of the Bill seeks to amend, and I would like to make a submission. We are considering an Amendment to substitute for 613 the figure 618. The proposal of 613 is itself a proposal to make a substitution in the Third Schedule of 7 & 8 Geo. 6. c. 41. The words there are:RULES FOR THE DISTRIBUTION OF SEATS.The number of constituencies in the several parts of the United Kingdom set out in the first column of the following table shall be as stated respectively in the second column of that table"—the table as to Great BritainNot substantially greater or less than 591.As the Bill stands unamended, this rule in the previous Act will then read:Not substantially greater or less than 613.The Amendment which we are discussing would alter that to read:Not substantially greater or less than 618.It seems to me that it is a little hard, when we have the words, "Not substantially greater or less," to rule that there is such merit in 613 or 618 that we are now deciding in this Amendment all the cases brought up in the whole series of Amendments proposed at a later stage. It may be that the discussions of the House could be eased if the Home Secretary would indicate that he can accept 618, and if, at the end, we only increase it by two to make it 615, it would not be all that wrong. I am speaking against my own interests, because I do not want any increase, but for the convenience of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is a little hard to have such a technical point brought up without notice. At the moment I find it impossible to give a Ruling on it, but I will consider it, and the Debate had better proceed.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
Is it not the case that if the Government were to accept the Amendment, we should be able to discuss and debate 290 each particular proposal in full detail, whereas on your Ruling, Mr. Beaumont, we are debarred from going into detail on each of these proposals; and might it not be a convenient course if this Amendment were accepted on the understanding that we should then be able to discuss each case later on?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that that would affect it. The Ruling simply means that so far as there is any amendment for alteration of boundaries which differs from what the Boundary Commission have set out, and the Government have accepted, it will not be called. Any proposal for alteration of boundaries that differs from what the Boundary Commission have set up and from what the Government have accepted, will not be up for further consideration.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)
Does that mean, Mr. Beaumont, that if this Amendment were carried, none of the consequential Amendments on the Schedule would be called?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Only those Amendments which have relationship to the five new constituencies which have been proposed.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)
I gathered from your previous Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, which followed the statement made by the Home Secretary, that you would permit arguments to be adduced either for or against the subsequent Amendments which are appearing on the Order Paper irrespective of the effect upon them of the passing or rejection of this Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that this is becoming a somewhat hypothetical discussion. We are having an extremely wide debate on this subject, and, so far, no one has been called to Order.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
The point which I wish to raise is in support of that made by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland). I think you will find, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that when there have been previous discussions on re-distribution, the occupants of both the higher and lower Chair have been extremely lenient in interpreting the rules from the point of view that individual cases should be considered. I ask you to take that into consideration when you give your further considered Ruling.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I thought that I had intimated to the House that there would be allowed a very wide and extended debate on this Amendment.
§ Mrs. Middleton
I gathered from what you have said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that even if this Amendment were carried only the five Amendments on the Schedule that have been put down by the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be called when the Schedule is discussed. That would put other hon. Members, including my hon. Friends and myself, who also have down an Amendment which seeks to add one constituency, in a very invidious position. I suggest that if this Amendment is carried, then all the proposals on the Amendment paper for increasing the number of constituencies ought to be considered on their merits.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am asked to give a Ruling on a hypothetical matter. If this Amendment is carried then a further Ruling can be given.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
It seems to me that on this Amendment there are two questions of principle being considered. So far, my hon. Friends have been dealing with one, and I wish to deal with the other. We are considering an Amendment whereby the figures in the Schedule should be altered from 613 to 618. In order to arrive at a conclusion on that proposal, it is, I think necessary to consider the matter from two aspects. The first is the general aspect as to the kind of numbers which we ought to consider desirable for this House, without any reference to any particular proposed scheme. The second involves the detailed consideration of the scheme put forward by my hon. Friends. I wish to say a word about the general question of our numbers, irrespective of the particular scheme which my hon. Friends have put forward.
The history of this matter, in my recollection, was as follows: When the discussions were going on in the last Parliament which ultimately led to the Speaker's Conference, members on both sides were concerned lest the interim proposals which we generally recognised to be necessary, and which led in the present Parliament to the increase of our numbers 292 from 615 to 640, should prove a permanent addition to our ranks. The idea, therefore, was that we should go back to our former number, in substance, as soon as the present Parliament was over, in order that an attempt to increase the total number of Members of this House should not be made. It was thought, so far as I remember, that any attempt permanently to raise our numbers might lead to a dangerous process whereby at each redistribution the numbers of this House would be allowed to creep up and creep up, as the line of least resistance, and so gradually to arrive at a number which would prove unwieldy an undesirable. That, so far as I remember it, was the understanding which subsisted between all parties until the Committee stage of this Bill.
When the Committee stage of this Bill was reached, the Government, in response to pressure, succeeded in carrying proposals which substantially increased the total numbers in this House. I myself, and certain of my hon. Friends, resisted those proposals at the time they were made, precisely on the ground that they gave an opportunity to do the very thing which it had been generally understood, at the time of the discussions which led to the Speaker's Conference, was not to be done. But, despite our opposition, those proposals have been carried. The point I wish to put to the Home Secretary arises out of the situation which was created by the carrying of those proposals, and is this. Now that he has, by his own proposals, once again thrown into the arena of discussion the desirable total of membership for this House of Commons, let him now examine the question afresh.
I should agree with any argument which was put forward suggesting that it was undesirable to increase the membership of this House from time to time by small degrees; but by a like token I think that, now it has been decided to increase it this time, we ought to consider the matter de novo and not simply deal with the question piecemeal, because only in that way can we arrive, at any stage, at some kind of finality. The view which I put forward to the Home Secretary for consideration is that the figure of 613 is, in fact, too small, not only by reference to the particular proposals of my hon. and right hon. Friends, but because on any view the membership of this House ought 293 to be, at any rate to some extent, larger than 613.
That a House of Commons with a membership figure larger than 613 is not unmanageable can, I think be shown by reference to history. At any rate, from the time of the Irish Union until the Irish Treaty the membership of this House was substantially greater than it is now. I think I am right in saying that the membership now is 640, and the membership then was 658. If I gave those figures I should not be substantially in error.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that exact figure, which entirely bears out the general point I was making, that in its classical days the House of Commons was substantially larger than it is at present. Therefore, we can, I think, afford to be a little more generous with numbers than we have been hitherto from the time when the discussions leading to the Speaker's Conference were first begun; and now that the matter is again in the melting pot, those of us who hold that opinion—which, I may say, I have always held—must regard themselves as free to ask the Home Secretary to consider it.
What are the arguments in favour of a slightly larger representation in this House? In the first place, we have to face the fact that the duties of a Member of Parliament have become increasingly onerous as time has gone on, particularly from the point of view of constituency business. In the old days, constituents were fewer in number, and worried their Members mainly with arguments on questions of principle, as to the attitude Members should take upon the major questions of the day. I think I shall be speaking with general agreement when I say that much of the routine relationship between the Member and his constituents nowadays consists in a detailed examination of the way in which the operation of the administrative machine impinges upon the life of the individual, so that there is a direct relationship between the number of constituents in a constituency and the amount of work which the Member has to do.
294 Indeed, there is a relationship between the number of constituents in a constituency and the degree of efficiency which a Member can show in the discharge of his duties. That, I think, has been generally recognised. Therefore, my first point in favour of slightly increased numbers for the House of Commons lies in the fact that an increase in numbers is necessary from the point of view of the due discharge of our duties, having regard to the increased quantity of individual cases in constituency business. I might also add that the population has materially increased in the period under review.
My second argument is this. There are a number of constituencies all over the country—my own, I think, is one, but there must be many others—where it is extremely difficult to give adequate Parliamentary representation to local communities—an admittedly desirable object—without creating one or more constituencies which are rather smaller than the present quota lays down as the minimum. So much has that been recognised to be the case that in the Government's recent proposals cities like Norwich are given two constituencies very much under the accepted norm—somewhere, I think, about 40,000 constituents each. There are many other constituencies of round about that figure, in favour of the increased representation of which on a purely numerical basis it would be very difficult to establish a case, but in favour of the increased representation of which on the basis of local community there is a substantial case to be made. The only reason why that case has not been made so far, and has not been able to be argued, either before the Boundary Commission or before this House, has been the overall limitation of numbers which the understanding imposed whereby we accepted this self-denying ordinance in the discussions leading up to the Speaker's Conference.
Perhaps I may give a short illustration from the position in my own constituency, which, although it is in many ways an individual case, will, I think, find a parallel in other parts of the country. My own constituency is in essence a very ancient city with a long tradition and with a university at its centre, which now no longer is to have separate representation. Side by side with that ancient city, the local communications centre, the 295 shopping centre for the county, the railway centre and the centre for agricultural marketing, a modern industrial town has grown up on the eastern outskirts with interests which diverge both from the old town and from the university, which in many ways are difficult to harmonise both in local government and from the point of view of one who seeks to be their Parliamentary representative.
There is, as a matter of fact, a fairly substantial natural boundary dividing the old from the new. The River Cherwell makes that division fairly accurately, with necessary allowance for people who live over the boundary on one side or the other. Apart from the overall limitations of the number of seats in the House of Commons, it would be possible to press the point of view, which I think I am right in saying has been accepted by the local government authority—namely, that there should be two constituencies of East and West Oxford. That would slightly reduce my present constituency of 48,000, but it would be very much less inconvenient than the proposed new constituency, which on any showing will be something like 74,000 or 75,000 and will include the whole of both communities, and which, with the increase in population of which there may be some danger, may be even greater still.
It is only an example, and I give it only as an example, of the general principle, which is this. We have heard a great deal in these Debates of the principle of one vote one value, a phrase which was first used in this connection by the Leader of the Opposition, which has since been accepted by the Government Front Bench. My view has always been that that is not the only principle upon which Parliamentary representation should be based. I have always urged both from the point of view of the geographical constituency and from other points of view as well, that the representation of subordinate communities in an adequate fashion is also a desirable object.
The point I am putting before the Home Secretary, when he considers the merits of this Amendment and before he definitely makes up his mind, is, now that we are free by reason of his own proposals to consider the overall limitations on our numbers afresh, would it 296 not be wise to take the matter and consider it generally, and try to establish what size the House of Commons ought to be for the next period of time from the point of view of principle? I have an uneasy feeling that at the present time the number that has been fixed is the result of piece-meal alterations; first of all the arbitrary figure of 615 which resulted from the deduction of the Irish Members at the time of the Irish Treaty, then the self-denying ordinance in 1934 whereby, faced with the necessity to increase our numbers temporarily, we were anxious not to give way to logrolling Amendments which would greatly increase the size, and finally the pragmatic sanction of the right hon. Gentleman's own proposals, introduced after the Second Reading, based on the demand of individual constituencies, which add up to no overall figure based on any principle whatever. I submit that a case has been made out for the right hon. Gentleman to justify anew the overall figure he proposes, and I ask him to state, before the Debate on this Amendment comes to a conclusion, the view of the Government on that matter.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has raised the very difficult matter of the ideal size of the House of Commons. It can be a very awkward problem to try to discover what should be the size of the House of Commons without relation to the number of constituencies we want added, which is the only way to find out the figure we require. It is quite wrong for the hon. Member to say that the figure has been arrived at haphazardly, because the figure arrived at was precisely for the purpose of dealing with the most glaring anomalies. Many of us feel that we are in considerable difficulty in discussing this proposal, because we should prefer, particularly the representatives of Plymouth, to discuss our Amendments separately. We should prefer to discuss our matter separately because we think we have a stronger case than that presented by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), and because, if the Home Secretary were to accept what has been proposed, it would enormously strengthen the argument which we wish to present. Therefore, it would have been much fairer and better if we could have discussed this proposal separately. It was 297 ruled earlier that it would be right for us to discuss now the case we wished to present on the Schedule, and that if we did not discuss it now we should probably not have the possibility of doing so later. I hope, therefore, it is in Order to discuss our case on this Amendment.
We are grateful to the right hon. Member for North Leeds for the argument he presented, which strengthens the argument for having three constituencies in Plymouth rather than two. We wish that instead of breaking his heart over our trials he had come into the Division Lobby with us a few days ago when he could have put his feelings into practice. We are glad that he has seen the error of his ways, and we hope that the Home Secretary will also see the error of his ways. If the Home Secretary does accept this Amendment, and even if he does not, I hope he will consider the case of Plymouth as being at least on all fours with any other case he may accept.
The right hon. Member for North Leeds drew attention to the fact that the introduction of the 17 constituencies alters the case of every constituency in the country, and in the case of Plymouth it means that under the proposed redistribution scheme we shall have two constituencies with 17,000 or 18,000 votes above the quota, whereas if we had three constituencies, as we previously had and for which we are now asking, we should be only 7,000 under quota. That seems to me to strengthen the case we have put on a previous occasion. Moreover, in the case of the constituencies to which the right hon. Gentleman and others have drawn attention, I think that the highest figure represents an electorate of 69,000.
§ Mr. Foot
I think the right hon. Gentleman's figure was 69,000. We in Plymouth are above that figure. If any of these Amendments were accepted it would enormously strengthen our argument. If we were to have three constituencies in Plymouth no such difficulty as the Home Secretary suggested, of interfering with local government boundaries, would arise. It would make the situation very much easier from the point of view of local boundaries if we had three constituencies instead of two. That is emphasised by the fact that it is certain that although 298 under the Government's proposals if they go through, Plymouth will have two constituencies for the next election, it will have three for the subsequent election. Therefore, we should have great difficulty with our local government boundaries if we have to make this double change. On the ground of local boundaries we have a stronger case than that which has been presented by Members opposite.
On the Committee stage we presented a series of arguments in favour of three constituencies for Plymouth, and I will not repeat them now. Some of those arguments were rejected by the Home Secretary on the ground that he could not depart from the datum line of 1946. Some of the arguments we presented were based on the fact that the population in Plymouth was increasing, and that the city was as heavily blitzed as any other area in the country. Even if we disregard all those arguments about the datum line, which apply with more severity to Plymouth than anywhere else, because our population decreased so quickly and is now increasing so quickly, we are still left with the argument that if Plymouth retains three constituencies we shall have three constituencies of 47,000 each. We shall stay in the category which still applies to about 18 per cent. of all the constituencies in the country, whereas what the Government are proposing to do is to take Plymouth out of that category and put us in the over 70,000 category. That seems to me to add further argument to what was said on the Committee stage, and we believe that if the Government are to make any further concessions or new arrangements following discussion of this Amendment, it would be desirable that the whole case which has been put forward on behalf of Plymouth, not only today but previously, should be reviewed.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend if he can answer a question which he did not answer in Committee. Can he tell us of any other city which has such a unique combination of factors all working together in support of a case for retaining three constituencies instead of two? I hope he will try to answer that now he has had full time to reconsider the whole matter, and will recognise that the case which has been supported from all sides of the House will not involve him in any further difficulties.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
I am of the opinion that there is no general principle involved in this matter, and that it is very difficult to have a general discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) endeavoured to make the discussion more general, but in view of the Government's own Amendments, which deal with particular cases, it is difficult to see how any general principle is involved. In accordance with the Ruling of the Chair we now have to put in detail the argument for each change that is suggested. I follow the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) in putting the case of a particular area—the Wirral Peninsula of Cheshire. Last time I discussed this matter the Home Secretary was extremely reasonable, and I hope that this time, too, he will accede to my arguments.
The Peninsula is fairly self-contained. It contains two county boroughs, one municipal borough and four urban districts—the county boroughs of Wallasey and Birkenhead, the municipal borough of Bebington, and the four urban districts of Ellesmere Port, Heswell, Wirral and Hoylake. There is in the Peninsula a considerable variety of industries, for instance, Cammell Lairds, Lever Brothers, and the great new developments at Ellesmere Port in connection with oil refining. In addition, very many business people from Liverpool live there, and Wallasey and Hoylake are substantial holiday resorts. So we have a wide diversity of interests and industry to be represented.
The number of voters in the Peninsula is 265,000. At the moment, I have the privilege of trying to represent 116,000, so I shall be grateful to some extent for whatever redistribution takes place. Under the Government's proposals there are to be four Members. We want five Members. This would mean constituencies with an average electorate of 53,000. The reasons which can be adduced in favour of the change are, I think, practical. I have mentioned the diversity of interests and industry; there is also the question of local government boundaries. Under the Government's proposals the present division of the county borough of Wallasey will cease. It will became one constituency, with an electorate of just over 70,000. But the county borough of Birkenhead will be split. There will be 300 one Birkenhead Division, and the rest of Birkenhead will go into the new Bebington Division, which will contain some wards of Birkenhead and the whole of the municipal borough of Bebington. The four urban districts will remain in the fourth constituency.
Our Amendment is to leave the borough of Wallasey very nearly as it is at present, to leave the county borough of Birkenhead with two seats, to put the municipal borough of Bebington with the urban district of Ellesmere Port, and leave the other three urban districts together. Anyone who has any knowledge of the neighbourhood would, I am sure, admit that that is a much tidier arrangement from the local government point of view. In Birkenhead, there are 98,500 electors. At the last election they returned two Socialist Members to Parliament, both of whom promptly received office—the Solicitor-General and the hon. Member for West Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), who became Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. What has Birkenhead done to be treated so ill at the hands of the Government?
Let us look at other county boroughs which are to be dealt with by the Government. The county borough of Reading, with 84,000 electors, is to have two Members. Why should not Birkenhead, with its 98,000 electors, have two Members instead of only one and one-third, which is the present proposal? At Gateshead there are to be 41,000 electors per constituency; East Ham, with 86,000 voters, is to have two constituencies averaging 43,000 each; Blackburn, with 84,000 voters, is to have two Members with seats averaging 42,000 electors. Battersea, Hammersmith, Paddington, Norwich—all these small county boroughs in the 80,000 region are to have two Members.
Why is Birkenhead not to have two Members? What has it done to disentitle itself to come into this category? It has certainly suffered very severe damage during the war and it did a great deal of good service to the country. There are substantial housing schemes there and it is a place where the population will increase again in the very near future. It is an insult to the people of Birkenhead that they should not be put in this category. I am not expressing any opinion as to whether it is right or wrong that 301 Reading, Gateshead, East Ham and other places with 80,000 electors or more should have two Members each, but if they are to have two Members why should Birkenhead not have two Members?
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the matter again and to consider whether we have not made out a good case. No doubt he knows, as he will have familiarised himself with the Boundary Commission Report, that no representations have been made against our proposed change and that the great bulk of people in all parties in the district are strongly of opinion that they are justly entitled with 265,000 electors to five Members of Parliament, and that in particular Birkenhead should have two Members.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I should have preferred to make a submission on a specific Amendment, the Amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), to the First Schedule, page 101, line 9, column 2, to leave out "Borough of Heston and Isleworth" and to insert:following wards of the Borough of Heston and Isleworth, namely Heston, Hounslow Central, Hounslow South, Hounslow West, Isleworth North and Spring Grove.I would rather have spoken on that Amendment than on the general principle contained in the present Amendment, but I must take this opportunity of expressing the very strong views held by the borough council of Heston and Isleworth, by the divisional Labour Party of that borough, and a number of residents in the borough who have asked me to speak strongly against the Amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. That Amendment appears to me and to those who have been in communication with me to have been put forward without any reference whatever to any responsible body of opinion in Heston and Isleworth.
§ Mr. Peake
I do not think the hon. Member could have been in the House at the time, but at an earlier stage I made it perfectly clear that, in view of the observations of the Boundary Commission on these proposals relating to the area of Middlesex, I did not propose to move that Amendment, even if it had been selected by the Chair.
§ Mr. Williams
I was in the House at the time, but there seemed to be a good deal of confusion and no one seemed to be quite sure of what anyone else said. I wanted to be quite sure of what I was going to say and do on behalf of Heston and Isleworth. If the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) is not going to press that Amendment, and if the Home Secretary will say that it is not his intention to act upon it, irrespective of the view of the official Opposition, I shall be happy to save the time of the House. If I get an assurance that nothing on the lines of that Amendment is to happen, I will save the time of the House.
§ Mr. Peake
I have made it perfectly clear more than once that I had no intention of moving the Amendment, even if it were selected, and in those circumstances it is clear that the Home Secretary would have no chance of accepting it. Therefore, I do not think the hon. Member need worry himself further.
§ Mr. Williams
I am very glad to get such a specific assurance. I hope that next time the Opposition put a serious Amendment on the Order Paper, they will get an expression of local opinion in support of such an Amendment.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I represent one of the constituencies which would be affected by this Amendment, and it is therefore proper that I should accept the invitation of the Home Secretary to say something about it. I am in a somewhat difficult situation because, if the Amendment is accepted, it means that I lose some of my constituents. No Member of any party likes to face the loss of constituents with whom he has worked for many years. From a purely personal point of view, I should be glad if the Home Secretary did not accept the Amendment at all, because it would mean losing people whom I have known for many years.
However, I do not think that the issue is only a matter of personal feelings. The issue is that I represent some 75,800 constituents, a number which, incidentally, I 303 am told is growing. Is it right that a constituency should be made so large when the average is something like 20,000 less, and when we have constituencies with only just over 40,000 voters? If we are adopting the maximum of one vote, one value, it is obvious that if an hon. Member tries to represent nearly twice as many people as another hon. Member he cannot be giving them the same service. That is the issue on which this should be decided.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman denies that Middlesex is entitled to one other seat. The objection he raises is, I think, valid is one sense. He does not deny that this constituency is much larger than the average, or that Middlesex should have another seat, but that if another seat is given it means cutting across existing local authority boundaries. That is true, but I wonder how many constituencies in the country cut across one, two, and in some cases three, local authority boundaries. The difficulty which faces us in this part of Middlesex is that whatever one does one must always cut across existing local authority boundaries. We cannot hope to give greater representation unless that is done. Are we to accept the admittedly unsatisfactory factor of under-representation, or are we to give greater representation at the cost of cutting across local authority boundaries? That is the dilemma that confronts the House.
On purely personal grounds I do not want to lose any constituents, but if it is decided that there must be a splitting of the constituency, I know that the Boundary Commission have considered the matter very carefully and the recommendations they make in their latest draft represent the least possible disturbance of what I would call existing civic entities. The House itself must decide whether or not those recommendations will give greater representation, or whether they will cut across existing civic boundaries.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
I intervene for a very little time to raise one point which follows somewhat on what the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said. The Home Secretary was good enough at the beginning of the Debate to say that he had in a sense an open mind and would not make up his mind until he had heard the different cases put forward. The hon. Member for 304 Oxford raised the whole matter in a rather open way. After all, it is common ground—it was common ground on Second Reading and during the Committee stage, and, quite clearly, all the way through—that there is no special number of Members of the House of Commons as such and that the numbers have to be determined by the conditions; that there is nothing magical about 613, 618 or 614 or even a greater number, 650 If that is so, the position is completely free so far as numbers are concerned. There is no reason why the Home Secretary should not accept the Amendment on that ground. No one can suggest that there is a particular number which the House should have except in relation to population and in relation to the quota for individual constituencies.
Two of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference—far be it from me to say that I am bound in any way by anything the Speaker's Conference did; I was not in the House at the time, and I wrote against it and said that many of the recommendations were very bad—dealt with the redistribution of the seats in Scotland and Wales. They suggested that in redistributing the seats in Scotland and Wales they should not lose any seats even though the population was smaller, and they should therefore get the same number of seats as before, although the population might be less. I am not arguing the rights and wrongs of that—I do not think that has been argued during the passage of the Bill—but it means that the quota for the seats of the English constituencies is greater in all cases than that for Scotland and Wales. On a previous occasion the Home Secretary was good enough to say that that argument was one of the reasons he was willing to consider an additional 17 seats. The fact remains that even with the 17 additional seats, the English constituencies are in a less favourable situation than Scotland or Wales in their representation in this House. I urge on the Home Secretary that that is still a reason why he should give the five seats asked for, or even six seats. It was a reason when he gave us the additional 17.
What is the problem? We are trying to get as fair a representation as we can. The representation for the English constituencies so far, must inevitably be less than that for the people north of the 305 Border and in the west. Looking at some of the constituencies which are the subject of Amendments, we must realise that there is a very good reason for giving consideration to the redistribution now suggested. I have listened to the whole of the Debate, and I was impressed by the arguments of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) I found it exceedingly difficult to see why the Amendment to which he referred should not be accepted. It would not interfere with local government boundaries if the additional seat were granted. Plymouth will be some 17,000 or 18,000 above the quota left as it is but if divided, the constituencies will be 7,000 below it. Every seat in Scotland is below that figure, and probably every seat in Wales. I have not worked out the figures since the additional 17 seats were granted but hon. Members will agree that that is probably right.
Why should we argue this problem? The number of Members of the House of Commons is not sacrosanct. It is a question of adjusting the number to the conditions of the population. We have already increased the number to a certain extent because the constituencies in England are in a less favourable position than those in other parts of the country. Looking at the individual cases put in the Debate, if the Home Secretary grants the additional seat requested in each case, he is not giving the electors in the English constituencies more than has already been granted to the people in Scotland and Wales. If there were some reason why the number should be limited to 615, the whole of my argument would go by the board, but there is no reason at all. We know that in many cases the quota has been exceeded. We know that in many cases there are seats where we could get much better representation by adding a few more constituencies to this House. I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider this. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) would withdraw his Amendment so that the individual cases could be further considered and the Home Secretary could say that he will grant three, five or seven seats. He has suggested that he will consider these cases on their merits. I am afraid, from the way the Debate is going that it will be either one or the other—either five or nothing—whereas it is quite 306 obvious from the evidence we have heard, that in two or three cases there is every reason why these additional seats should be granted.
I ask the Home Secretary to consider the points put by the hon. Member for Oxford, to realise that the thing is in the melting pot, to realise that there is nothing sacrosanct about the number of Members of the House. By granting the additional seats requested, he would be righting what is already a very grave wrong and not righting it to the fullest extent because the representation of England in this House would still be less than that of Scotland and Wales. For those reasons, quite apart from the specific reasons urged in respect of individual constituencies—especially Plymouth, where we have the special circumstances that a seat is being lost and the remaining constituencies are far over the quota, whereas if the seat were not lost they would be above the quota but still not as small as Scottish constituencies—I ask the Home Secretary to act as he said he would act, and to ensure that it will not be a question of turning down or accepting the whole five but of dealing with them on their merits, realising that there is a reason for increasing the number of representatives from those constituencies.
§ Mr. Cuthbert (Rye)
I rise to put forward an individual case from East Sussex which is dealt with in the Amendment to the First Schedule, in page 110, line 39, at the end, to insert:1. Bexhill:I understand that this is the only opportunity I may have of putting it forward. Various Members have put forward the cases of their own constituencies and I feel that we have a case here in relation to the borough of Bexhill. There is an alteration to the East Sussex county constituencies and under the Bill the Rye Division, which I represent, is disappearing. I am one of the displaced persons. 307 It is to be put under Eastbourne. I rise to say that this is not right and that the Amendment shows the course which should be adopted.
- (i) The borough of Bexhill;
- (ii) The following parishes in the rural district of Hailsham, namely, Chiddingly, East Hoathley, Heath-field, Hellingly, Herstmonceux, Hooe, Laughton, Ninfield, Waldron, Warble-ton and Wartling, and the rural district of Battle except those parishes included in the Hastings constituency."
My reasons for saying this are that the figures show quite clearly that the Bexhill and Rye areas would be very much less represented under the new Eastbourne Division than if the Amendment were accepted, and that Bexhill, Battle and the other boroughs of the Rye Division are against being joined up with any larger town to the right or left of them as it cuts across a very important point of local government. The Amendment to which I have referred would make a very much tidier job, and would conform to the figures required by the Home Secretary. I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the Amendment for the reasons that the proposal would not cut across any local government areas, it is backed up by all the local government authorities of the district, and the figures fall in with what he wants.
§ Mrs. Middleton
I do not want to repeat at this stage either the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) or the arguments I put when our Amendment was moved in the Committee stage of this Bill, but there are one or two points I should like the House to take note of in considering the matter which is before us in relation to the City of Plymouth. I want in the first place to say that the proposal contained in our Amendment to Schedule I is not a proposal which has been authorised by the Boundary Commissioners. After the Debate on the Committee stage on 26th April, when the Home Secretary told my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) that, as far as he knew,Any person is entitled to consult the Boundary Commissioners. They are not a Government Department, they are an independent body which was set up by Parliament to advise Parliament on the way in which the constituencies should be arranged and rearranged from time to time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1948, Vol. 450, c. 48.]My hon. Friends and I wrote to Mr. Speaker asking him if the Commission would take into consideration the situation in Plymouth and advise us as to whether the division which was suggested in our 308 Amendment was the wisest division of the City. Unfortunately, though Mr. Speaker put our case to the Boundary Commissioners, they were not able to help us in the way they have been able to help the Government and the official Opposition. I would say, however, that despite this fact, the proposals contained in our Amendment are not some that have been devised by my hon. Friends and myself. They have been suggested to us by local government officials working on the spot, who know the City and the difficulties contained therein probably as well as if not better than the Boundary Commissioners. So that in that sense it is a non-party proposal, which we are submitting to the House.
My second point is that there is no political difference whatever in the City of Plymouth with regard either to the retention of the Drake Division in general, or to the particular proposal which is before the House in our Amendment. Indeed, only last weekend the chairman of the Conservative Party in my own constituency was attacking the Government for having deprived Plymouth of the Drake Division—a quite unfair charge for him to make of course since the proposal to deprive Plymouth of the Drake Division was not the Government's proposal; it was the Boundary Commission's. Nevertheless, it is an indication to the House of the strength of feeling that there is on this matter, not only among those people whose views are the same as my own as a member of the Labour Party, but also among those who take the point of view politically of hon. Members opposite.
Thirdly, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact, which was emphasised by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that what really matters today in representation is the number of electors whom a Member of Parliament has to serve. If that is the criterion which should be taken, the hon. Members for Plymouth in the two new constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission would have to serve a larger number of electors than any of the Members in the majority of those constituencies which the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) would like to have considered here today.
I was interested in what the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn 309 Lloyd) said about the situation in Cheshire. He quoted the fact that there are 265,000 electors approximately in four constituencies, giving an average of 66,392 to each of those constituencies under the proposals of the Boundary Commission. Yet under their proposals for Plymouth, the Devonport Division would consist of 72,115 electors and the Sutton Division of 70,348 electors. If we take the whole of the five areas which are under discussion as a result of the Amendments tabled by the Opposition, we shall find the same to be the case, that the number of electors served in almost the whole, if not the whole of those constituencies is a lesser number than the number which will have to be served in the two Divisions recommended for the City of Plymouth. So on that criterion, namely the number of electors to be served by a Member of Parliament, I submit to the House that the City of Plymouth has a strong claim for reconsideration in regard to the retention of the Drake Division.
My last point refers to the datum line. I have no doubt that it was a reasonable datum line from the point of view of the generality of constituencies, but from the point of view of constituencies like the Plymouth constituencies, it was a datum line that operated most unfairly. Indeed, by the time the General Election comes, the figures for the electorates of the two constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission in regard to Plymouth will, if the increase of population continues at the present rate, be well over the 80,000 which the Home Secretary himself has taken as being too large for any single constituency. That, of course, is because of the fact that owing to the ravages of war, our population was scattered throughout the surrounding districts. The people who are coming back to Plymouth now and increasing our electorates are not newcomers to the City; they are people who belong to the City, who have felt all along that they belonged to it, who regard Plymouth as their home, and who are only too anxious to get back as soon as they can in order to take part in the life of the city once again.
For those reasons I ask the Home Secretary to give this matter consideration once more, and to see whether there is not, even yet, some way by which he can restore to the City of Plymouth the constituency that it would never have lost 310 had it not been for the ravages wrought upon the city during the war.
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
I rise, not for the purpose of winding up the discussion for the Opposition—that will be done by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)—but to put a specific case to the Home Secretary relating to the Amendment we have down in respect of the county of Kent. As the Schedule now stands, there are four seats in Kent—Chislehurst, Dartford, Bexley, Gravesend—which have an average quota of over 67,000, which is more than 10,000 above the new electoral quota after the 17 seats have been added. We propose, to rectify this situation, a new seat in this area to be called Erith and Crayford. There would then be five seats instead of four, and that would reduce the electoral quota to 53,800-odd, which is practically the same as the electoral quota over the whole country.
The Boundary Commission have reported that these proposals were received favourably in the area. There was only one small adjustment proposed, in respect of which they considered a local inquiry to be necessary but for which there was no time, and therefore they have accepted, so to speak, our proposals in the White Paper. The result of that is that the quota relation is good; it is almost exactly what the quota will be. There are no local objections but, what is the strongest point of all, under our proposals the local government boundaries are preserved, whereas under the proposal for four seats in the Schedule the rural district of Dartford is split. I think the Home Secretary will agree that under all these headings—the quota relation, the absence of local objection, and the fact that we preserve the local government boundaries—there is a particularly strong case for the acceptance of the Amendment in regard to Kent.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Irving (Tottenham, North)
I hope that the Amendment will be either withdrawn or accepted because, obviously, some of the very desirable Amendments proposed to the Schedule cannot be agreed upon if this Amendment is rejected. I have in mind especially the case of Tottenham. That case was so strongly put during the Committee stage that the Home Secretary 311 made no attempt to answer it, except to ask the various speakers how they would treat in a Parliamentary sense the borough of Wood Green. Tottenham has an electorate of 94,500. In London and Greater London there is a number of constituencies with considerably less than 90,000 electors which retain two Members. Under the proposals half of Tottenham is merged into. Wood Green and Tottenham becomes a one-Member borough. I do not want to argue again the case which I put during the Committee stage, but I emphasise that the Home Secretary did ask for proposals for Wood Green. I think this Amendment contains the complete answer and I hope that it will be accepted later when we discuss the Schedule.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I hope the Home Secretary will be impressed by the wide feeling on all sides of the House that there is a case for an increase in the number of Members. Speaking as one who is in no way affected by this particular proposal, I would remind the House that the original disagreement between the Opposition and the Government over the 17 seats was not on the basis that we on this side thought there should be no alterations, but because we took very strong exception to the methods adopted by the Government in making them.
Earlier in our discussions, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) referred to log-rolling on the part of the Opposition, regarding Amendments which the Opposition, in point of fact, are not moving. The hon. Member could usefully have devoted a little more time to reading the Order Paper more closely.
There are two points I wish to make. In referring to the seats which we are bringing forward at a later stage on the Schedule, the Home Secretary said we had taken what might be called only a corner interest in counties instead of treating them on the wider basis, and that in some way we were treating them unfairly. The Home Secretary knows as well as I do, that if we could have provided a much larger number of cases we would do so. We are not anxious at this stage of the redistribution to create more constituencies; we have endeavoured to pinpoint 312 those which we regard as being the worst cases.
I must add an observation regarding the Wirral seats in Cheshire, the case for which has been made quite clearly by the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). I should like to call the attention of the Home Secretary to what I think is an important matter for the Wirral peninsula. As has been said, the average number of electors for the existing Wirral seats is 66,000. The Wirral, although a piece of Cheshire by itself, is closely connected with the great city of Liverpool. The interests of the two places are quite clear. I do not think Liverpool has been unreasonably treated but, whilst the average in the Wirral is 66,000 electors per seat, the great city of Liverpool, next door, has approximately only 63,000 under the redistribution for its larger seats; for the whole of Liverpool the average is very much less. The fact that the average numbers per seat in the Wirral should be higher than those of any single seat in the city of Liverpool, and far above the average for Liverpool as a whole, presents a strong case for reconsideration.
I would like also to make a passing reference to East Sussex, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Cuthbert). I think the average electorate for the four county seats is just under 66,000. It will be agreed that county seats are much more of a headache than borough seats. There are the difficulties of travelling from one place to another and of having small communities in many separated villages. For that reason county seats have always been allowed a certain amount of latitude. In East Sussex, however, the reverse applies, with an average electorate of nearly 66,000 per seat. In London, for example, we find that Paddington has been cut into two divisions of just over 40,000 electors each. I am not complaining, but I do say that county seats with an average of over 60,000—or even of 50,000 to 55,000—are very hard cases. This is a case, if ever there was one, which could be met without difficulty by the Government. The solution would be to give that one extra seat which would bring down the average from 65,800 to between 52,000 and 53,000. This is not only a reasonable but an obvious case which should be met.
313 If the Home Secretary were to say—as perhaps he will—that the case we have put up may cut across certain local boundaries, I do not think that would raise any great difficulties with us. In certain cases the cutting across of local boundaries cannot be avoided. The Commission themselves have been unable to avoid doing so. Where there is a drastic case of a seat or a series of seats bearing too heavy an electorate in proportion to the rest, a very strong case for adjustment exists, even if extra difficulties are entailed in ironing out local problems in the interests of the plan as a whole.
The general feeling in the House, as was said earlier by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), is that there is nothing sacrosanct about the actual numbers of, say, 614 or 615. If we are to do a good job, let us iron out as many of the remaining anomalies as we can. I wish that we could have rather more elasticity than a mere four or five seats. I should like to see about a dozen, which would enable us to meet most of the awkward cases which affect both sides of the House. I hope the Government will not harden their hearts against the Amendment which, at any rate, moves in the right direction for the interests of the country as a whole.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
It was agreed on all sides of the House at one time that it was proper to remit a problem of redistribution to the Boundary Commission. Even when that was done we never got a solution which satisfied everybody. Though the solution to be got in that way did not satisfy everybody there were only two proper things to do. The first was to take the rough with the smooth and accept the Boundary Commission's proposals although we did not like them. That was what we were prepared to do after the last Boundary Commission's Report. The other was to make a remit to the Boundary Commission, the remit being, of course, of a width sufficient to deal with the objection.
What happened in this case? There was a first examination by the Boundary Commission which was found to be unsatisfactory because it was thought that the rules were too tight. The rules were relaxed, and obviously when rules are relaxed there is a great likelihood that the result will be to give more representation 314 to the scattered county areas and rather less to the borough areas. That was implicit in the change of instructions which we made at the instance of the Government nearly two years ago. Last October the Boundary Commission produced their report. That report did not please us, but apparently it pleased the Government, or at any rate sufficiently so for them to state that they were willing to take the rough with the smooth from their point of view, just as we were willing to take the rough with the smooth from our point of view. That attitude persisted through the time of the drafting of the Bill and the Second Reading, and it was only on 19th March that we were made aware that the Government had discovered an objection. It is true that they had apparently discovered it in private a little earlier and had taken steps accordingly, but there is a long time from October to March.
What was the precise objection which the Government discovered? If it was a general objection that the Boundary Commission Report was wrong because the average county quota was too far below the average borough quota, then the proper course was to make a remit appropriate to that objection. That meant a very extensive if not complete re-examination of the whole position. That was not what the right hon. Gentleman did. He picked out 17 particular instances. The only reason for picking out 17 particular instances is because there is some more limited principle which affects that 17. We were a little sceptical, but we thought that if this were really genuine, though the Government had taken rather a long time to discover the so-called new principle, we would accept it. However, the objection was not a general one obviously at that stage. Their objection appeared to be a particular one, and we were very loath to come to the conclusion that the real reason that induced the Government to act was not one of principle at all but one of party advantage.
Therefore, we took the Government at their word and we said, "Very well, if you have chosen these 17 constituencies because there is a principle of limited application which you want to introduce, that principle, if it is a principle at all, cannot be limited in its application to 17 constituencies." We said, for reasons which my right hon. Friend the Member 315 for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has already given, which others have expanded and which I will not repeat, "Let us take the Government at their word. Let us assume this is a principle discovered at a late stage, and that it is intended to apply the principle fairly now that it is apparently Government policy." On those grounds we added by way of argument, "We have not too much time—had we had longer time we should have discovered more—but we have discovered seven instances which apparently are covered by this new principle and we put them forward with this new proposal in view."
We went to the Boundary Commission and the Commission were not enthusiastic with regard to two of them. We said then, "Very well, we are practical people, practical considerations must prevail over theoretical ideas. We will drop these two." In regard to the other five, however, the Boundary Commission were entirely on our side. If the details, which have been put to this House during the last hour or two, are looked at, it will be found that there is no more splitting of local government areas or no more geographical difficulties than there are in the 100 other constituencies which the Boundary Commission have passed. The Boundary Commission applied their ordinary criteria to these seven cases and five passed while two did not. It is no good the Home Secretary saying that there are certain practical objections to these five constituencies. These objections did not prevail with the Boundary Commission and if, indeed, objections of a like character were taken they would upset zoo of the new constituencies. Therefore, I am entitled to say that if the right hon. Gentleman's principle justifies nine new seats in the cities it justifies even more the five cases which we are now discussing, that is, of course, if it is a principle at all.
I go even further. If we look at the figures—I will not weary the House with them—in the nine cities, there are averages of 52,000 and 53,000; in these five constituencies the average is the same. It is true that in one or two of the cities, the average is higher, but there are a number of the cities where the average is almost identical with the average of the five 316 constituencies which have passed the Boundary Commission.
That having been demonstrated, the right hon. Gentleman has not, apart from these detailed objections of which the Boundary Commission have already disposed, met the case. I am not sure what he meant to tell us a little time ago, but I understood that he did tell us that the so-called principle which he enunciated when he was justifying the nine new city constituencies was not the teal point at all. The point was quite a different one. The point was, "I am determined to get more representation for the boroughs and I do not care how I do it." I have said that the right hon. Gentleman did not care how he did it, because if he did care he would have had a general remit to the Boundary Commission after consultation with this., House, away back last November to deal with this new point of principle. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is constantly shifting his ground.
First of all, in October he agreed to take the rough with the smooth. We were at one with him then. He then came forward in March and April with proposals based upon the new principle. In effect, what the right hon. Gentleman said was that where there were large adjacent constituencies which could be divided into one more to get the average of something over 50,000, and where that could be done with the practical compliance of geographical and local government considerations, then it should be done. That is what we were told a couple of months ago. We took him at his word and he shifts his ground again. Now he comes to the decision that we must have greater equality between the borough and the county quotas. Is that an afterthought or is it his real ground of principle? Has he had two afterthoughts? Did that principle of bringing the quotas nearer together occur to him before these Amendments were on the paper? If it is a genuine point it was equally as obvious last November as it is today and there were ways then of dealing with it in a proper way.
I am bound to say that I have the greatest difficulty, little as I like the alternative, in reconciling my mind to the view that there is any principle whatever behind the right hon. Gentleman's action. What has happened is perfectly plain, and 317 it is as well that it should be made plain to the country. The right hon. Gentleman quite properly took the view, "I will take the rough with the smooth." He was overruled by his back benchers. Against his better judgment he agreed to bring in these additional seats. It must be against his better judgment because he is an expert in these matters, and if he had intended to do it he would have done it in the original Bill, or he would have sent the matter back to the Boundary Commissioners at a much earlier stage. Against his better judgment he surrenders to his back benchers. I have less hesitation in saying that as it is not the first time he has had to do that.
§ Mr. Reid
I am not dealing with what is the proper course for the right hon. Gentleman to follow. What I am doing at the moment is to expose what is really behind the right hon. Gentleman's attitude today. Against his better judgment he was compelled to give a number of extra seats to his back benchers. I suppose that they thought that there was a party advantage in it; otherwise it is difficult to see why they did it. At least that is how it happened.
Having been compelled, against his better judgment, it is not surprising that the right hon. Gentleman has found considerable difficulty in finding a plausible reason for the change, and having found one reason, and that reason being applied by our Amendment, he then has to turn to another one. If that were the true reason he would have had to act quite differently throughout last autumn and winter from the way he has done. Every one of these five cases has been justified on its merits, because, after all, the Boundary Commission are the people who decide these matters, and these five cases comply with the two essentials of the right hon. Gentleman's principle, if it was a principle, which he stated in the spring of this year. They comply with the requirements 318 that the Boundary Commissioners shall accept the proposal as practicable and they comply with exactly the same requirements with which the right hon. Gentleman has complied in the case of his 17 new constituencies. There is no difference between them.
I do not think it is open to the right hon. Gentleman now to say, "I do not like the details of these new constituencies." That, I think, has been decided for him by the Boundary Commission. Whether it has or not, he has really not put forward any substantial objection. The only objections which he has put forward are objections which, as I say, would have been equally applicable to a great many other of the Boundary Commission's representations. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is faced with this choice: either he has to accept the principle which he himself formulated in connection with the nine city seats and accept these Amendments, or he has to say what is really the reason. I agree that the eight divisions of boroughs are in a slightly different position, and I do not think they are so relevant in the present connection. If the right hon. Gentleman says that the reason was the general reason that it is desired to bring the quotas nearer together he is usurping the functions of the Boundary Commission because it was their job to carry out that instruction, if that was a genuine instruction.
What has really happened is that these principles are invented to justify the surrender to a political move by the right hon. Gentleman's supporters behind him. I do not think that it makes it any better for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "Of course, this is not the sort of thing I would have done if I had been left to my own devices, but I had to do it, and please do not be too hard on me," because that is the only defence if he does not accept these Amendments. Therefore, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that at least one of the principles which he has put forward in the course of these Debates is to be regarded as a real principle.
§ Mr. Ede
I can speak again only by leave of the House because I spoke immediately after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), although I should have preferred, 319 as I said at the time, to reserve my remarks for the present stage of the Debate when I had heard the whole discussion justifying the five constituencies which the right hon. Member for North Leeds now asks the House to place upon the statute book. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) suggested that what I said this afternoon about bringing about a lesser disparity between the borough and county constituencies was something I had not previously mentioned. I am very loath to quote my own speeches. They are dreary enough to utter, and I have never yet had the pluck to read them through consecutively, but on 24th March, 1948, that was exactly the point I placed before the House when I justified the creation of 17 new borough constituencies.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
Had not the right hon. Gentleman thought of that before the Bill was introduced?
§ Mr. Ede
I am bound to say that from the first, when I looked at the figures in regard to this Measure, I came to the conclusion that the disparity between the the boroughs and the counties needed a great deal of explanation. I came to the conclusion, after full consideration, before the Committee stage of the Bill, that it was desirable to take steps to reduce the disparity between boroughs and counties, and I so stated on 24th March. Therefore, there is nothing new in that contention today.
I share to some extent the views of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that part of the difficulty which confronted the Boundary Commissioners and which has since confronted everybody has been the fact that there are too few Members allowed to England and Wales in this Bill. I have no doubt that in some future re-distribution something will have to be done to bring about a lessening of the disproportionate representation of the three parts of Great Britain in this House. I am quite certain of that. That, however, is not a matter which can be dealt with at the present time in the Bill, but for what it is worth I place it on record.
In my earlier speech I had to deal with the five counties in connection with which action was proposed by the right hon. 320 Member for North Leeds. I should have preferred to wait until I heard the cases, such as they could be, developed in support of each of them. I have now had the advantage of having listened to them, and I am bound to say that nothing I have heard alters in my mind the view I took of them when I spoke earlier. I therefore cannot commend this Amendment to the House. I think that, merely by taking corners of counties to deal with, the Opposition have not, in fact, followed the same procedure as did the Government, where we took the whole of large units. For this reason, in addition to those which I gave in detail when I spoke previously, I am not prepared to accept the Amendment.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint)
I think that my hon. Friends, though disappointed by the answer of the Home Secretary, will not be very much surprised by it, because what we have known throughout about this proposal was that it was a racket, in order to get 17 extra seats for the Government. It had no other reason of any sort whatever behind it. The right hon. Gentleman said just now, in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) that he stated his views on 24th March. But, of course, that was after he had been forced to take that position by his own back benchers. There is no great merit in confessing his failure to preserve his honour by saying that he only did it when he had capitulated.
There is a very clear principle involved in all this, which is that the boundaries of constituencies should be laid down by an impartial Boundary Commission, acting in accordance with legislation, if possible agreed by this House, but in any case acting impartially according to Acts passed by this House. That is what has always happened hitherto. What happened in this case was, as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said, simply a piece of log rolling. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), saw a chance of getting the rabble together. He got them together, and the right hon. Gentleman was forced to do something which he knows is wholly dishonourable.
We had an interesting instance last night of how hon. Members opposite look upon these matters. When the hon. Member 321 for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) was speaking on the subject of university representation he said that the honour of Ministers is a side issue. That is how he thinks of them. Surely, the simple answer to these things is that if Ministers are pledged to do things, and if they think it is dishonourable to break those pledges, they should resign. What the right hon. Gentleman has said was, "They have voted me down." Many Ministers have been voted down in the past on a question
§ of principle, but those who have some regard to what is right, and to their own honour, have said, "If I am voted down I will go." The lesson here is that no Socialist Minister ever resigns unless he is thrown out of the window, however much dirt he has to swallow.
§ Question put "That '613' stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 278; Noes, 127.323
|Division No. 226.]||AYES.||[7.5 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Durbin, E. F. M.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Dye, S.||Leslie, J. R.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lever, N. H.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Levy, B. W.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Lipson, D. L.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Logan, D. G.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Longden, F.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Ewart, R.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Fairhurst, F.||McAdam, W.|
|Balfour, A.||Fernyhough, E.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Follick, M.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Barton, C.||Forman, J. C.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Battley, J. R.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McKinlay, A. S.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Benson, G.||Gallacher, W.||McLeavy, F.|
|Beswick, F.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale)||Gilzean, A.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Binns, J.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Grey, C. F.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Marquand, H. A.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Marshall, F. (Brightside)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George|
|Bramall, E. A.||Gunter, R. J.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Guy, W. H.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Hardy, E. A.||Monslow, W.|
|Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Moody, A. S.|
|Burden, T. W.||Haworth, J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Burke, W. A.||Herbison, Miss M.||Morley, R.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hicks, G.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Callaghan, James||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Horabin, T. L.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)|
|Champion, A. J.||House, G.||Mort, D. L.|
|Chater, D.||Hoy, J.||Moyle, A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Mulvey, A.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Murray, J. D.|
|Coldrick, W.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Nally, W.|
|Collindridge, F.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Cove, W. G.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool, Edge Hill)||Noel-Buxton, Lady|
|Crawley, A.||Janner, B.||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Daggar, G.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Daines, P.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Orbach, M.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Keenan, W.||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Kenyon, C.||Pearson, A.|
|Delargy, H. J.||King, E. M.||Peart, T. F.|
|Diamond, J.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Perrins, W.|
|Dobbie, W.||Kinley, J.||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Kirby, B. V.||Popplewell, E.|
|Donovan, T.||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Lang, G.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Price, M. Philips|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Pryde, D. J.||Snow, J. W.||Watson, W. M.|
|Pursey, Cmdr, H.||Solley, L. J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Randall, H. E.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Ranger, J.||Soskice, Sir Frank||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Rankin, J.||Steele, T.||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Reeves, J.||Stross, Dr. B.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Stubbs, A. E.||White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Rhodes, H.||Sylvester, G. O.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Richards, R.||Symonds, A. L.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wigg, George|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Rogers, G. H. R.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Royle, C.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Sargood, R.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Scollan, T.||Thurtle, Ernest||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Tiffany, S.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Sharp, Granville||Timmons, J.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Titterington, M. F.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Tolley, L.||Woods, G. S.|
|Shurmer, P.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Wyatt, W.|
|Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Turner-Samuels, M.||Yates, V. F.|
|Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Vernon, Maj. W. F.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Simmons, C. J.||Viant, S. P.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Walker, G. H.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Warbey, W. N.||Mr. Joseph Henderson and|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Watkins, T. E.||Mr. Hannon.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Osborne, C.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Hollis, M. C.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Howard, Hon. A.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.|
|Bowen, R.||Hurd, A.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Bower, N.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Renton, D.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Keeling, E. H.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Robinson, Roland|
|Byers, Frank||Lambert, Hon. G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Carson, E.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Challen, C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Linstead, H. N.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Low, A. R. W.||Snadden, W. M.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||McCallum, Maj. D.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I of Wight)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Drewe, C.||McFarlane, C. S.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Mackeson, Brig, H. R.||Teeling, William|
|Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Touche, G. C.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. W.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Wadsworth, G.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Harpies, A. E.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Mellor, Sir J.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Gammons, L. D.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||York, C.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nicholson, G.|
|Gruffydd, Prof. W. J.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Odey, G. W.||Commander Agnew and|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to move, in page 4, line 30, to leave out "include the words," and to insert "refer to the."
324 This is the first of the Amendments on the Paper which deal with the proposed new arrangements for the City of London 325 and adjoining constituencies. The House will know that in the Bill as it stands there is a constituency called the City of London which includes, in addition to the City, the Metropolitan Boroughs of Finsbury and Shoreditch. The arrangement by which the City, Finsbury and Shoreditch were joined in one constituency apparently found favour with none of the three participants in the partnership. Conversations have taken place, as I expressed a hope that they would, between the representatives of the City of London and certain adjoining Metropolitan Boroughs with a view to finding a solution more acceptable to all concerned.
I had the privilege of meeting the representatives of the boroughs concerned and I want to pay a tribute to the way in which, when they were faced with the practical issue of what was to be done, they gave their minds to the various propositions with an absence of rancour and an effort to be constructive which was most helpful. I do not want it to be thought that they gladly accepted the arrangement which was finally adopted. In fact, I undertook to say to the House that they regarded it as the least objectionable of all the schemes placed in front of them. As I undertook to put it in that way, perhaps it will be understood that my tribute to the way in which they faced the issue is quite sincere.
The proposals, which will flow steadily through the Bill from this Amendment in a series of consequential Amendments, will result in the following final arrangement if all the Amendments are adopted. There will be a constituency to be known as the Cities of London and Westminster which will comprise the City of London and, the whole of the City of Westminster. It will have a total residential electorate, on the 1946 figures, of 78,516. There will be another constituency, Shoreditch and Finsbury, comprising those two Metropolitan Boroughs with an electorate of 56,764. In addition, there was the problem of what was to be done with Chelsea after the arrangement now in the Bill whereby Chelsea and Westminster were to be united and then divided into two, one constituency consisting of a part of the City of Westminster and the other consisting of the Borough of Chelsea and the remainder of the City of Westminster.
326 The whole of the City of Westminster now being with London, we should have been left with Chelsea with rather fewer than 40,000 electors. The representatives of the Royal Borough of Kensington took part in the discussions. They agreed that from the South Division of the Royal Borough of Kensington there should be taken the Brompton ward which should be added to Chelsea. The new Chelsea constituency, which will consist of the Borough of Chelsea and the Brompton ward of the Royal Borough of Kensington, will have a total electorate of 48,576. The deduction of the Brompton ward from South Kensington will leave that constituency with 58,618 electors. The Parliamentary constituency of North Kensington, with an electorate of 51,547, will remain unchanged.
This arrangement was reached at a conference in which the Members of Parliament concerned and the representatives of the City and the various Metropolitan boroughs were also present. The decision to accept this arrangement on the basis that I have stated as being the least objectionable of all the proposals that have been considered, was adopted at that conference without a dissentient. I commend this arrangement to the House and, once again, I thank those who participated in the discussions for the good temper which prevailed throughout.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be a geographical nexus between the City of London and the City of Westminster?
§ Mr. Assheton (City of London)
I should like to say, on behalf of the senior Member for the City of London and myself, that we are grateful to the Home Secretary for having stated so clearly and precisely the arrangements which have now been made. I wish to make it clear once again, as my right hon. Friend has already made it clear, that the City of London still maintains the point of view that it should have separate representation in this House, and looks forward to the day when that separate representation will be restored to it. As it has been made quite clear that this Government do not intend to do that, we acquiesce in the 327 suggestion now put forward by the Home Secretary that the Cities of London and Westminster should be united to form one constituency and that the City of London and the City of Westminster should both be completely within that constituency. It is quite clear to everyone that this arrangement is not agreeable either to London or to Westminster except as a pis aller, and it is as a pis aller that we accept it, looking forward to the day when what we think is an injustice will be redressed.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
I rise to ask the Home Secretary to reconsider for a moment the position of Chelsea, in particular with regard to the two Amendments concerning Chelsea which appear on the Order Paper. In the Bill, it was proposed to add three wards of St. George's, Westminster, to Chelsea, but, as a result of this Amendment, that proposal has gone by the board. It is now proposed to add one ward to Chelsea from the Royal Borough of Kensington.
In Committee, when we were debating an Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), the Home Secretary said that he could not contemplate—that was the word he used—a borough constituency of 39,000, but what has happened since then? He has not only contemplated a borough constituency of 40,000—that is North Battersea, a very near neighbour of Chelsea—but has also contemplated 15 others between 40,000 and 44,000, seven of which, in addition to North Battersea, are in London. I ask the Home Secretary if he will recall for a moment what the Boundary Commission said about these new boroughs, notably Battersea, Hammersmith and Paddington. I quote what they said in Paragraph 19 of their report:In our view, however, the position of these boroughs does not justify special treatment which we felt unable to accord to the others.A few lines above that, they referred to Chelsea and Westminster, and they said:We felt unable, however, consistently with the course we had adopted elsewhere, to recommend the retention of either borough as a separate Parliamentary borough.I am not quite sure whether the metaphor "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" is perhaps the right one 328 to use here, but I do ask, in that connection, whether the Home Secretary will not give the position of Chelsea another thought. I feel that further evidence is given in Appendix A to the Boundary Commission's Report, in paragraph 5 of which it is stated:(1) So far as is practicable having regard to the foregoing rules:—(iii) no Metropolitan borough or any part thereof shall be included in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other Metropolitan borough.That is exactly what is going to happen here. A small part of South Kensington is to be added to the borough of Chelsea. I ask the Home Secretary whether it is really worth while taking away about 10,000 voters from South Kensington to give to Chelsea the necessary few hundreds to bring it to the total of North Battersea, and, perhaps, into the realm of "contemplation," especially when, in fact, those few hundreds under the 1947 register actually now exist?
The right hon. Gentleman should not think for one moment that I am objecting to this proposal. Chelsea did not object in any way to the original proposals in the Bill when it was proposed to add some of the St. George's division, nor does it object to this addition of part of South Kensington. I do, however, ask the Home Secretary to reconsider this matter, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law) will agree with what I have said.
§ Mr. Richard Law (South Kensington)
I should like to reinforce the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) that the Home Secretary should reconsider that part of the Amendment which deals with the respective electorates of South Kensington and Chelsea. I accept, of course, what the Home Secretary said about the agreement which we came to at that meeting at the Home Office. He is quite right in saying that neither I, as the Member for South Kensington, nor any of the municipal representatives there with me, dissented from the proposal that is now put forward, but the right hon. Gentleman did say just now that we all agreed to that proposal as being the least objectionable of any alternative put before us. It was certainly on that basis that we agreed to it, but it seems to me 329 on reflection that there is another alternative which was less objectionable and which was not, in fact, open to discussion at that meeting, but which it is now within the power of the Home Secretary to put forward of his own volition, if he should think it wise to do so.
That alternative is that the borough of Chelsea should remain as a municipal and Parliamentary borough with its boundaries co-terminous, and that the Royal Borough of Kensington should also remain as a municipal and Parliamentary borough also with its boundaries coterminous. I ask the Home Secretary to reflect on what this proposal means for 10,000 voters in the Brompton Ward of South Kensington. Naturally, local feeling and local patriotism is involved, and, having had an association with the royal borough all their lives, my constituents in the Brompton Ward are not anxious to be transferred to the borough of Chelsea for Parliamentary and London County Council purposes. Quite apart from any feelings they may have, they are, in fact, going to be put to a great deal of inconvenience, and there is going to be a very great deal of confusion. The obvious difficulty, as I am sure the Home Secretary appreciates, is that while for Parliamentary elections and London County Council elections they will be part of Chelsea, for municipal elections they will remain part of the Royal Borough of Kensington, and that will put them in a situation which, I am sure, will prove to be extremely confusing for them.
I hope the Home Secretary will consider this point again, if he possibly can, because there is no question, of course, of any party advantage, one side or the other, arising from it. It is true that the 10,000 voters of my constituency in the Brompton Ward have voted Conservative in the past, but if the Home Secretary wants to punish them for that he will not do it by this method, because they will continue to vote Conservative in the future under the new arrangements. Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea, I have been rather baffled by the phrase which the Home Secretary used when we debated this general issue on a previous occasion. He said he could not contemplate an electorate of 39,000. He did not explain to the House—or to the Committee, as it then was—why he could 330 not contemplate it, and I think he should now give the House the reasons which put this proposal altogether outside the bounds of contemplation.
It is extremely difficult to see why he cannot contemplate an electorate of 39,000 when he not only contemplated, but created an electorate of 40,000. I should have thought it would have been possible for him to stretch the odd few hundreds to meet a situation of this kind inside the metropolitan area of London. I suppose the Home Secretary bases his action upon the report of the Boundary Commission. It is perfectly true that the Boundary Commission considered the question of giving Chelsea separate representation and then turned it down, but in the same paragraph as that in which they turned down the question of separate representation for Chelsea, they also turned down the proposal that these seven or eight other boroughs should have their Parliamentary representation doubled. I suggest that it is unreasonable for the Home Secretary to take his stand on one part of the paragraph when he is flouting the recommendations of the Boundary Commission in the other part of the paragraph, and that seems to me to be a reason why he might reasonably consider the proposal which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea has put to him.
I want to add this further point: when the Boundary Commission had its new terms of reference, when the Act of 1944 was superseded by the Act of 1947, I think the main difference was that under the new Act and their new terms of reference they were very specifically instructed to consider municipal local boundaries and they were given a freedom to do so which they did not have in their original terms of reference. I think the Home Secretary will agree that that was the main difference between the two terms of reference. That being so, surely a very strong case indeed is created when we have two historically important boroughs like the Royal Borough of Kensington and the borough of Chelsea, observing as far as possibly can be observed, the main recommendation not of the Boundary Commission, but of Parliament to the Boundary Commission, that these local boundaries should be observed. It seems to me extremely rigid on the part of the 331 Home Secretary if he really says that, because of a matter of only a few hundred votes on a register which is out of date, he has to take this action in these two boroughs.
I quite see that if there were a very considerable number of votes involved it would be impossible and impracticable for the Home Secretary to go back on the attitude he has taken up, but if he compares the position of Chelsea with the position of the other five London boroughs which are dealt with in the report of the Boundary Commission he will see that, in fact, the position of Chelsea is entirely different. Chelsea had an electorate of 39,177 when the rough working quota of the Boundary Commission was 40,000—only a few hundreds out. Holborn has 19,000, Shoreditch 31,000, Stoke Newington 32,000, and Finsbury 25,000. In cases of that kind, where the gap is a very wide one, I can see the Home Secretary's point, but in the case of Chelsea, where the gap is only a very narrow one indeed, amounting to a few hundreds, I suggest to him that he might reconsider this matter and see whether he could not, in fact, allow it to continue with its Parliamentary boundaries unaltered.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Although the last Amendment, rejected just now, for increasing the total number of Members by five had nothing whatever to do with London, I understand you have decided, Sir, not to call any further Amendments which would increase the number of Members. Of course I am bound by that Ruling but I must say I regret it very much because it had been the intention of the Members for the City of London and the City of Westminster and myself to move an Amendment to give two Members to the Cities of London and Westminster instead of one.
The announcement which the Home Secretary has just made reduces the representation of the new constituency, the combined Cities of London and Westminster, from four, as it is at the present moment, to one. The total number of electors on the 1946 Register—excluding, of course, the business vote—was 78,516, which means that the new constituency will be one of the largest in the country. In view of the immense importance of the two Cities it seems utterly wrong that their representation should be based 332 purely on a numerical basis. The City of London, the commercial and financial centre of this country, and the City of Westminster, the seat of Government of this country and of the Empire, deserve better treatment than to have only one Member between them. I deeply deplore the decision of the Government.
§ Mr. Howard (Westminster, St. George's)
May I support the plea which has been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law)? It seems to me that in this case all that is between the Home Secretary and complete agreement with the hon. Members for those two boroughs is a hypothetical 820 electors, in that today the present electorate, under the 1946 Register, is 820 below the Home Secretary's figure—and that is a hypothetical figure. Actually, the number of electors today is more than 2,000 over the 40,000 which the Home Secretary has in view.
I agree that he cannot work all of his constituencies on entirely different bases, but here is one case where there seems to be strong grounds for stretching a point in order to preserve the local authorities' boundaries and to preserve a very ancient and honourable metropolitan borough.
I want to say a word or two about the position as it affects my own city, the City of Westminster. I want to thank the Home Secretary for the way he has put to the House the decisions to which he has come following the conference, and for making it perfectly clear that those decisions were not suggested to him by representatives of the various boroughs and constituencies concerned, but were only rather grudgingly accepted after he had made it perfectly clear that, in his judgment, there was no hope of their getting what they considered a reasonable representation. In my judgment these suggestions of the Home Secretary do not give reasonable representation.
Here was a meeting of these four central municipalities, the Cities of London and Westminster, the Royal Borough of Kensington and of Chelsea. They came together to try to see if they could not get over this difficulty. They put certain proposals to the Home Secretary which would have meant having five constituencies with an average electorate of something over 47,000, excluding the business vote. If the 333 business vote had been included—and it was included in all the other cases—the average electorate would have been 49,000. Even excluding the business vote, the average electorate for the five constituencies, two in Kensington, one in Chelsea, and two in the Cities of London and Westminster—would have been over 47,000. What do we find are the figures in the immediately adjoining constituencies, Battersea, Hammersmith and Paddington, South, West and North of them? The highest electorate of any of the neighbouring ones is 43,700, and the average of the immediately adjoining constituencies, which the Home Secretary is recommending, is well under 43,00.
While he puts forward his recommendation, he is not prepared to recommend this House to agree to representation for these five central constituencies which would give them an average electorate of something over 47,000. It really is an astonishing decision, and while I am grateful to the Home Secretary for having put as fairly as he has the nature of the discussions which took place at the conference, I think that it is only fair to the House that they should know that there were proposals put before him which would have been infinitely more reasonable.
§ Mr. Ede
By the leave of the House, I would say that this conference was held a month ago. As far as I know, only one person present in the House now who was present at the conference has not spoken. I do not know whether I should have had a little support from him, if he had spoken, for the scheme I put in front of the House. However, we were faced with very great difficulties. I regret that the point made so emphatically by the right hon. Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law) was not put with anything like that force at the conference.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. and gallant Gentleman put the point with regard to Chelsea. I do not recollect that he said anything about South Kensington. The alternative to this is to go back to what is in the Bill. I understood that what was in the Bill was thoroughly objectionable to all concerned, and that they desired to get away from it. I said—and I reiterate the 334 statement—I could not contemplate a constituency in England with an electorate in 1946 of less than 40,000, because—and let us be certain of this—if one were to give way once on a point like that, there would surely be other places discovered which would come within the same rule. I should have thought that that would have been made clear by the discussions of the last three months.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
No, I do not know of them; but I am quite certain, from the facts that have been brought to my notice with regard to every alteration that has been made in the Bill, that if this alteration were made, by the end of this week I should know of more than one case. The right hon. Gentleman made his point. I regret, as I did at the conference, that I cannot meet the various points put forward. I accepted the arrangement that was reached there. I do not think that anyone who was there can say that I have unfaithfully reported the spirit that prevailed. I am bound to say that, although I said that I could not prevent hon. Gentlemen from raising the matter in the House, if I had thought that every one of them was going to raise it, I am very doubtful whether I should have thought it worth while to come away from the meeting feeling I ought to put the arrangement in front of the House. I want to thank them and their municipalities for the way they met me, and I very much regret I cannot meet the point that has been made with regard to the future of the borough of Chelsea.
§ Amendment agreed to.