§ The Chairman
I understand that it would be for the general convenience of the Committee if the first Amendment, in page 1, line 11, in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and other Members dealing with the City of London, and the later Amendment in page 1, line 15, also in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford—to leave out "resident there," and to insert:with either a residential or business premises qualification"—were discussed together. If the Committee agree, we will deal with the matter on those lines.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, after "constituencies," to insert "and the City of London."
Yesterday we were discussing the representation of the universities. I understand that representatives of the universities first appeared in this House in 1603. Today we turn to an even older representation than that. I understand that it is certainly established that by 1284 the City of London was sending six representatives to this honourable House. Indeed, even less than 100 years ago they were still sending four Members, and during the last 60 years or more they have been sending two. Today, the Government invite us to abolish them altogether. It is a very serious day in our Parliamentary history. Let no one be deluded by the device which the Government offer us of adding an entirely different electorate, Finsbury and Shoreditch, and then calling it the City of London. That is certainly a complete change and, without being disrespectful to the two boroughs, I call it an insult to an ancient tradition. Indeed, the nearest analogy of which I can think for such behaviour of adding people who in the past have had nothing to do in this 2106 kind of sense with the City of London, is the well known device by which the Communist Party claims to be democratic. It just filches another name, a popular name, and pretends that it is the same thing. That does not deceive the ignorant in this country, and I do not think that this device of calling Finsbury and Shoreditch the City of London, would deceive anybody else either.
The idea of abolishing this tradition of over 600 years is a very strange one, coming as it does from the Government Benches. It appears to be based upon some sort of egalitarian idea with regard to the value of the vote; but that is not the principle which is enshrined in the Bill. After all, it would he perfectly possible—absolutely fatuous, but perfectly possible—to divide the electors by the number of proposed constituencies and to say that every constituency should have exactly the same number of voters. Of course, no one would suggest such a nonsensical procedure and, in fact, the Government have gone very much the other way. Not only have they given to the Boundary Commissioners considerable tolerance one side or the other of the quota, but in the latest edition of the Commissioners' Report they have gone out of their way, in many cases, to stick to existing boundaries, names and identities.
But not so for the City of London. The extraordinary part about all this is the attitude of the Lord President of the Council. The last time this subject was debated in this House was when it came up in the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill in 1944. The right hon. Gentleman then said:It is felt that to merge the City—and I think I shall carry the I louse generally with me—or any part of the City with adjoining constituencies, is not a proposal likely to receive wide support."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1944; Vol. 403, C. 1619.]That is what he said. The right hon. Gentleman was not then speaking as a Minister. [Interruption.] No, he was not the voice of his master either. I am glad to realise that he recognises that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is his master and that he was very pleased to serve under him as a master in those days.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I am sorry. Sometimes the microphones are inconvenient. 2107 What I said was that I was then addressing my master, namely, the House of Commons, which is always supreme in these matters.
§ Captain Crookshank
I presume that the right hon. Gentleman has exactly the same feelings about this House of Commons from that point of view; but he was not speaking in this servant-master capacity at all. He was speaking as a Londoner. He made that point very decidedly in his speech. He said:I as a good Londoner and a student of the City's history—centuries ago, the City of London played a great part in the establishment of British constitutional usage—would be sorry to see the separate Parliamentary representation of the City abolished even though the figures make a strong case for consideration the other way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1944; Vol. 403, C. 1618.]That is what the right hon. Gentleman said. He also said that he would be very sorry, and that it would not be likely to receive widespread support. He spoke as a Londoner. Is he no longer a Londoner since he went to Lewisham? I should have thought that he would be shocked, less than four years after this stalwart declaration, to come forward as one of the fathers of this base proposal.
Of course, the issue is mixed up with the business premises vote, and you, Major Milner, have rightly invited us to discuss these matters together. I know that, as far as the City of London is concerned, that is one of the points at issue. I am told that something like 500,000 people go in and out of the City in the course of a day. I cannot check the figure, but that is the common figure given. Of all the people who work there, only some 4,500 are resident and sleep there. Taking the general run of constituencies all over the country, most people sleep and work in the same constituency. I think that is true of a very large majority of people, but not of the people of the City of London. Worthy as these 4,500 people are—and I have nothing to say on that subject—I am quite certain that they themselves, in honesty, would be the first to recognise that they are not aptly described, in any Parliamentary sense, as the City of London. They happen to live there, but when we are talking about the City, and when the world talks about the City of London, it does not really refer to the 2108 4,500 denizens who sleep there, but to the commercial, financial and banking centre of the Empire, and, indeed, of the whole world in some fields.
It is for that reason, then, that we wish to keep this ancient tradition of special representation by one or two hon. Members, as the House will, because of the prestige, among other things, that it adds to the City of London itself, not to mention the distinction which that representation gives to us. We are, indeed, today needing all the prestige that we can get for ourselves. We lack a good deal in many ways, but the prestige of the City of London still remains very high. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to discover what has made this country great, he might ponder upon whether it is not the combination of the skill and craft of the workers of the country, efficient management of the industries in this country and the paramount services that we can render in banking, insurance and high finance.
It is the latter aspect of our national success which has been opened up by the City, and, therefore, as a consequence, is reflected in the representation of the City here. Those hon. Members, in the past, have been here to advise and guide us. The right hon. Gentleman, who said he knows the City as a Londoner—before he went over to Lewisham—will remember that, in times past, the hon. Members for the City were in fact the bulwarks against tyranny—the tyranny of the barons and the Crown. These are not today's tyrannies, which are much more likely to be found in the narrow-minded and ignorant bureaucracy poking its fingers into matters about which it knows little, and it is just in countering this sort of tactics that the representation of the City would be of value.
It is quite true that, at the moment, the electorate of the City of London is small. I have not got the figures here, but, before the war, it was something like 40,000 on the then basis, but even that basis is going to produce a smaller electorate now, because of the proposed abolition of the spouse's vote. There is only to be one vote in future, and not two. Even now, it is something like 12,000 to 13,000. It is not the fault of the City that some 168 acres of the "square mile" do not exist any more, except as open spaces and masses of rubble, but the time will come, presumably, when it will be rebuilt, and when, once again, businesses 2109 which have been conducted there in the past will be fully staffed. I think a very powerful case will be developed by my hon. Friends upon that assumption, and upon the value and importance to us of the Membership for the City in this House, but that is not the only case I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
I want to come back again—though hon. Members opposite may not like it—to this question of where they stand, what is their attitude and why and how can they explain the breach of faith which we discussed yesterday on the question of the Speaker's Conference. The right hon. Gentleman, when he was discussing this matter in 1944, discussed it not from the point of view of the City not having a Member at all, but from the point of view whether there might be two Members or only one. The Report of the Speaker's Conference decided, after a very close Division, to recommend that the City of London should continue, as it did then, to return two hon. Members. All through the Debate then, and ever since until now, the question at issue has been whether there should be two Members or one—not a question of one or nought. The idea of nought is something new as a result of this Bill.
Even worse is the question of the abolition of the business vote. Here again, if hon. Members will look back at the Report of the Speaker's Conference, they will find a recommendation made from that Conference that the business premises qualification should be retained, provided—if I might telescope some words—that the spouse's vote disappeared. That was agreed, but it was agreed that the business premises qualification should be retained. It was agreed by vote of some, if not all, of the Labour Members on that Conference. Actually, a Division was taken—the Report does not give the names—on the proposal that no person at any time should vote more than once, which was raising the issue of the business and university votes. The voting was: Ayes, 6; Noes, 25. That is a total of 31 members of the Conference who were taking part in the Division. The Conference consisted of 32 Members, of whom 11 were Labour; somebody was away, and we will suppose that he was a Labour Member. Therefore, 10 voted in this Division, so there must have been at least four Labour Members supporting the retention of the business 2110 premises vote. For all I know, there may have been II votes to retain plural voting, which involved the university and the business premises vote.
Therefore, it is quite clear that, when the matter was discussed in the Speaker's Conference, there was a considerable—if not unanimous, and for all I know it may have been unanimous—vote by the Labour Party for the retention of that franchise. Having done that, it seems to me very definitely a breach of faith that the Government should not implement the decisions of the Conference. The Bill then under discussion in 1944 was, of course, a preliminary Bill, and the present Secretary of State for Scotland said as much in column 1623 of HANSARD of 10th October:This Bill is the first fruits of the Speaker's Conference, and, of course, we expect that the Home Secretary will be producing, in the near future, other Bills to carry out the other recommendations of the Conference.He went on to say:We hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will be able to give us some assurance that these Bills are on the way.4.0 p.m.
That, surely, demonstrates that at that time, just as now, it was expected that the Report of the Conference would be implemented, because, all along, there has been no kind of doubt in anybody's mind that the result of that Conference was a series of compromises. It was bound to be so. That was the object of the Conference, and it was not put better by anyone than by the present Secretary of State for Scotland when, on 10th October, 1944, he said:When people talk about compromise in a sneering voice they are talking about a system which is the method by which this country has progressed for many years to its present high standard of civilisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1623–4.]Of course it was. When 32 members get together, even tinder so distinguished a chairmanship as that of Mr. Speaker, they are obviously not going to get all they want, but they come out of the Conference, as these hon. Members did, having reached a general compromise over the field at issue. Having done that, it seems to me that it was incumbent, and is incumbent, upon the Government to carry out the decisions and recommendations of that Conference. Not to do so is certainly not only to be accused, but to be condemned, of a breach of faith.
2111 Of course, what the Lord President tried to ride out on yesterday was that he said he was prepared to take the matter before an impartial tribunal to see whether, in fact, there had been any breach of faith. That there were no undertakings and no commitments was the general gist of several columns of his speech yesterday evening. Of course, there is nothing in writing in a matter of this kind. When the Conference took place, and when we were all colleagues together in the Government, communicacations did not pass between the Prime Minister and the Deputy-Prime Minister saying, "We, Clement Attlee, Herbert Morrison, and So-and-So, on the one hand, and we, Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, on the other hand, agree this, that and the rest of it." That is not the way these things are carried out. When the right hon. Gentleman says that he would like to put it to an impartial tribunal, he knows perfectly well that he is talking nonsense.
After all, it is an inherent and precedent condition to a Conference of this kind that people are attending it with a view to trying to find a general measure of agreement in order to carry out that agreement afterwards, as, otherwise, there would be no point in having the Conference at all. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman himself said so. On 17th January, 1945, he said, speaking of the Conference:It was under the Speaker because he was impartial, and it represented all parties for the very purpose of seeing whether accommodation could he reached on a number of other matters which would otherwise be controversial. But for that purpose, we would not have had the Speaker's Conference; the Government would have made up their own mind, and brought forward their own proposals.Surely, that implies the contrary case, that, if there is a Conference, its recommendations are carried out. I think the right hon. Gentleman was basing himself on a very false point in his argument yesterday, because, on 17th January, 1945, he went on to say:If, when the compromise is made, everybody is going to act as if there had been no Conference, it seems to me that the utility of the Speaker's Conference will not be so great."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1945: Vol. 407, c. 310.]Of course that is so. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it 2112 was an honourable agreement, and that it was implicit in the situation that the recommendations would be put before Parliament. That is not being done by himself and his right hon. Friends. It is their honour which is at stake, not that of the Labour Party at all. The Labour Party was not concerned in the same sort of way as these leaders and members of the party at that Conference, and who were, thereby, personal parties to the compromise. That is the point I would like the right hon. Gentleman to think about.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
This is becoming a matter of repetition and monotony. [An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Gentleman is out of Order."] Cannot I say it is monotonous without being accused of being out of Order? It is monotonous. I have said before, and I say it again, that all those words were directed to a situation that existed in the last Parliament. I am still waiting for the Front Bench opposite to produce evidence of anything I said to indicate that what I and my right hon. Friends agreed to in that Parliament was binding on a totally new Parliament and a new majority.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman thinks this is monotonous and repetitive, but Major Milner has not yet called me to Order, and I shall await his decision before I accept that accusation.
When the right hon. Gentleman says that there is no evidence that what he said in 1944–45, when the recommendations were made public, bound him for this Parliament, I say it is implicit in the fact, and that it is implicit until one has discharged one's obligations. When one enters into a conference, the compromises are made, and one's obligation is to carry them out so far as one is personally concerned. When, in a transaction of any kind to which a person is a party, and that person has accepted the point of view and says that something ought to be done, he can but carry out his own part of its performance. If others do not support him, that is their look out.
Right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite are the leaders, are they not? Is not the proposition that leaders of parties can, broadly, accept on behalf of their party certain things, as, other- 2113 wise, it is no good going into such a conference at all? The right hon. Gentleman must have known perfectly well—people are apt to forget the timing of all this; this was going on during the serious course of the war, and there was no question of introducing long electoral reform Measures then—and everybody else knew it too, that what was being done was an endeavour to get agreement, and to clear the ground for what could be put into effect as soon as that could conveniently be done. This was the same as all the other work which went on under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), and that of others dealing with postwar social services and education during the war. It has fallen to the lot of this Government to introduce the actual legislation, though that legislation was sketched out and broadly agreed by the Coalition Government. Exactly the same applies to the result of the Speaker's Conference. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to take that as a special case, and to say that the present Government are not bound to carry out the recommendations.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman, when he asks us whether we are going to produce evidence, that we shall not produce signed, sealed evidence on the subject. It does not exist, and never would exist, because that is not the way the thing works. Again, take the analogy known to us of "the usual channels" through which our affairs are arranged, and from which he, as Leader of the House benefits the same as anyone else. The Chief Patronage Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip or his Deputy are in constant communication and arrange when the business will be taken, and even arrange when there will be an important Division. It is not done in writing; there is not a constant stream of correspondence to and from the Patronage Secretary. If that were so, he would have to have half a dozen stenographers for the purpose. We on this side and hon. Members opposite act on their guidance and advice, just as much as if it were all signed and sealed, because that is the way honourable men carry out honourable obligations.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
My right hon. Friend was then Home Secretary. He introduced the 1944 Representation of the 2114 People Bill and piloted it through the House. Did not he in the Bill, just as in the Act, carry out the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, in so far as the City of London was concerned?
§ Captain Crookshank
Some of the recommendations. We are now taking the rest of them. The recommendation that was made, as I have already referred to the House, on page five of the Report of the Conference, was "That they shall continue as at present to return two Members."
§ Captain Crookshank
That does not settle the matter; it was all part of the same scheme of carrying out all the recommendations, just as we are discussing the parallel case of the business premises vote.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that, of course, there was nothing in writing—there was nothing explicit in writing, no sealed agreement. Thereby, he is really alleging that I and my right hon. Friends were party to a verbal understanding behind the scenes that the Speaker's Conference recommendations would be binding on a new Parliament. I deny that, and in view of that implicit or expressed allegation I ask the right hon. Gentleman for his evidence of what verbal agreement there was that this would be binding on a new Parliament and a new Government.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am sorry if I have not made clear the case which I was trying to put to the House. It is this: First of all, that when there is a Speaker's Conference of this kind, it is implicit, before we go into the Conference, that if recommendations are made, and particularly unanimous recommendations, they will be carried into effect over a period—not reversed in two or three years' time; and that these obligations are the personal, direct responsibility of the people who entered into them—nothing to do with a new Parliament. The people whom I am indicting are the Lord President, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary, and the others of them, for their share. They accepted this. It is no good saying they put it on the statute book for the time being in the first Bill that came along. It is a specific part of a general settlement, as everybody knows.
2115 That is the technique of the Speaker's Conference, which has grown up; this was not the first. The idea is—I do not suppose it will happen again after this—that it was thought to be a good plan, when there was a general need for redistribution or changes in electoral arrangements, to start the matter in that way; a Speaker's Conference was the initial move and it was implicit, and it is implicit today, that if we have one, its recommendations shall be carried out. All these recommendations could not be carried out in that Parliament. As I was saying, we were at the height of the war. It was not a peace-time Parliament, but the agreements certainly were an obligation upon those concerned with it. I admit there is nothing in writing—I do not suppose there ever would be in a case like this, because it is regarded as a business arrangement, as honourable undertakings.
I say it is a breach of faith on the part of the leaders of the Labour Party that they are taking this extraordinary line today. The Lord President of the Council said in his speech yesterday that, of course, if he had gone to his party and said that was what he was going to do:It means that the party leaders on this side have got to dictate to the newly-elected Members of the House of Commons as to how they shall conduct their business, irrespective of their wishes. … I could tell hon. Members on the other side what my hon. Friends would have said to us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 1929.]That does not absolve the right hon. Gentleman in the slightest. We have long said that there is precious little leadership in this country and there appears to be none at all within the party councils. Surely if the right hon. Gentlemen felt any sense of obligation to carry out the duty to which they had been thus committed, they would go to their own party and say, "This is what we recommend and in fact this is what we are under an obligation to carry out. We invite you to follow us in this matter. If you do not, we are not going to break our word. You can get someone else who will do your work for you." That is the kind of way in which they should have dealt with this problem. I say it is shocking commentary on the mentality of the leaders opposite that they put up this sort of 2116 defence and discard all their personal obligations. I remember the quotation:Honour rooted in dishonour stood.These are the last words I want to say upon that subject. They have failed in their duty—that is what they have done—and in failing in their duty, they are trying through this Bill—and no doubt, with their great majority they will succeed—to abolish the representation of the City.
I close my remarks on this Amendment with these words:There is a constitutional and historical connection between the City and this House. There is in this House the picture of five Members who escaped to the City from the wrath of the monarch. It is also the case that the City of London has been a champion of Parliamentary institutions and I do not think it is out of place, in considering the question of one Member of Parliament or two, that we should, with regard to this unique square mile, take into account these historical and, if you will, sentimental considerations, and say that it is such a special place that, if we can possibly help it, we will not destroy its Parliamentary identity"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1994.]These are not my words. They are those of the Lord President of the Council.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
I only want to spend one moment on this matter. There is imposed a high duty on Parliament to seek that form of representation which best represents the country, and it is our part of that duty not to implement any bargain between parties, whether or not it is made, but to address ourselves to the merits of the case. I suggest it is for the reason that he felt it would be undesirable to address himself to the merits that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was silent on that point. Let me, for a moment, address myself to these arguments, which he has gone over time and time again. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says there was some bargain made. Will he tell us—I will give way to him—how long that bargain would last—for this Parliament, the next Parliament, or the Parliament after? Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us?
§ Mr. Bing
That is exactly the answer I thought the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would give, and I ask him why he did not look up his authority; did he not remember what Mr. Baldwin said in 1928? Mr. Baldwin declined to have a Speaker's Conference in 1928 and Mr. Speaker ruled—and the right hon. and gallant Member should surely know that—that it was quite improper to hold a Speaker's Conference when party warfare had been re-established. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman shakes his head. Let me recall the exact position. It has been quoted once. Speaking of the Speaker, he said:I have his permission to say that he decided—and I have no quarrel with his decision—that as party controversy had been renewed since 1918 he felt that in order to preserve the impartial position of the Chair he would prefer not to preside over such a conference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1928; Vol. 215, C. 1471.]We are, therefore, placed by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in a position where Mr. Speaker will not preside and, therefore, no conference can be held, and so does he say that the alleged bargain ought to continue till we have another war?
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
On this occasion Mr. Speaker has not even been invited to preside.
§ Mr. Bing
It is not for me to argue questions about the Chair, but I should have thought once one Speaker had given a decision on the point, it would not be proper to invite Mr. Speaker to do something which another Speaker had indicated he would not do.
Let me for a moment address myself to the merits of the case, a matter which we have not yet considered. What about the business vote? Of course, the party opposite are greatly in favour of it. If one looks over to the other side of the North Channel where people of their party are in power, one finds that a firm has not one business vote but six. Of course, they would like not only one business vote but more than one business vote. What is the argument in favour of having only one business vote? If a man has one business vote, why should he not have more? Why stop at one? Let us have the thing really argued out.
It is said for the City of London that it has a great democratic past. Of course, 2118 it has a great democratic past. Incidentally, it is closely association with Shore-ditch and Finsbury. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not propose at a later stage that they should be united to the City of Westminster. Westminster is entirely different in tradition. London had a very great democratic tradition, because it had a large number of resident electors. I do not know if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has ever looked up the poll figures before 1832. If anyone did so, he would find that in the last election to the unreformed Parliament, nearly 12,000 people actually voted in the City. The junior Burgess for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), I think, had a great grandfather who sat for Clitheroe. The figures there show that as late as 1865 the total number on the register was only in the neighbourhood of 1,700. Of course, in those days the City, compared with that constituency represented by the right hon. Gentleman's great grandfather, was very democratic. But the position is now reversed.
I am very sorry the senior Burgess for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) is not here. I understand that he is ill. I am very sorry that he should be, and I am sure we all wish him a speedy return to health. It would be interesting to have his views, because it seems to me that he bases his attendance on a theory of absenteeism, which, however, proper in another place, and however correct an expression of political views elsewhere, is not really pertinent here. I want to put this question which, as the senior Burgess for the City is not here, perhaps the junior Burgess will answer. Will he give an undertaking on behalf of the City that if this franchise, by any chance, be maintained, the Members or Member for the City will give full attendance? Are we to maintain a Member on the ground that he does not come here? That does not seem to me to be a very sound basis for advancing the theory of representation.
I agree very much with what the Lord President said, that we should, if possible, maintain this historic connection. It is for that reason that this constituency is being reformed in order that it may embrace those very areas in which the City electors lived in the ancient days; because it was from Shoreditch and from Finsbury that the electors came. One has only to read "The Ride of John Gilpin" to 2119 see that there lived all the electors who came to vote in the City in those times. Let us restore the ancient position. Let us see that these people again can return City Members of a type who will once more take that foremost part in the fight for liberty which City Members previously took.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) made some inquiry as to how long a bargain should be maintained. For my part, I feel inclined to say to him that, so far as he personally is concerned, as one who was not in the former House of Commons, he is in no way bound by an agreement that may have been come to at the Speaker's Conference in the last Parliament. Those of us, however, who were in the last Parliament are bound in some degree, because we had representatives inside the Speaker's Conference; and, broadly, we gave approval through our representatives inside that Conference. Those who actually took part in the Conference are personally bound to accept and implement the whole of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. The question is how long is the bargain to last. I would answer the hon. Member by saying that we are bound to that extent, and certain of those who took part in the Conference are bound absolutely on their personal honour; and that bargain should last until the distribution of population throughout the country has obviously got out of balance again. There are, even now, new towns growing up; alternatively, old towns will lose a large number of people from their electoral rolls.
It is a very great mistake that we should be abolishing the representation of the ancient City at the present time. Curiously enough, on the one hand the Government are contemplating the removal of public servants in Departments of State, and, on the other hand, they are extinguishing the ancient links the House of Commons has with the City of London. It is a course which is not likely to commend itself in many parts of the world. The position of the City of London is so unique that it is worth considering for a moment how much we have benefited and equally how much the City of London has benefited by the interplay between the House of Commons and the City of London.
2120 When the King goes to the City, he is stopped at Temple Bar, but when Mr. Speaker desires to proceed in that direction, the road is open and free to him. Such is the confidence the ancient City reposes in the honourable House of Commons. The link is not only sentimental and traditional. There is a real and, positive link working even at this moment between the Government of the day and the City of London. It was only last year, when a large part of the country was in the grip of floods, that it was to the first citizen of the City of London that the Government turned to mobilise, not on behalf of a small body of 4,500 residents inside the City, but on behalf of millions of inhabitants of this country, relief for those who were suffering distress by flooding. Automatically we turned to the Lord Mayor of London to organise a relief fund. Even during recent months the Lord Mayor has launched a fund for the international relief of European children. I cannot think that that was done without some communications through the "usual channels" that exist between the Government and the Mansion House. The Lord Mayor, the Court of Common Council, and the City Livery Companies are always eager to aid the Government in the discharge of missions of mercy and, indeed, of hospitality. Therefore, in practice this link does exist now, as it has done for many hundreds of years. To break it would be a tragedy.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch said that the electors of the City came from Finsbury and Shoreditch. The Lord President pointed out that the City merchants had moved out. They did not move out because they no longer wished to live in the City. They moved out because the buildings in those days did not enable them to provide their wives and their children with the amenities they desired. Since that time things have happened We now have the idea of building flats and apartment houses, and there is a plan for the rebuilding of the City. Who is to say that in 10, 15 or 20 years' time more people will not be living in the City, that the magnificent transport services provided now by day will not be provided in the evenings, too, so that living conditions will once again attract more to live within the ancient "square mile."
2121 Why could we not wait? Why must we be in such a hurry to destroy this link which has lasted for some 700 or 800 years? Could we not wait for another 25 to 30 years to see what shape the City finally takes when it is rebuilt? It is a sad commentary to think that the City, which suffered under the first fire blitz on London, to whose succour the present Lord President of the Council then came in his capacity as Minister of Home Security, should now be destroyed in part of its life. It is not its physical possessions that the Lord President is now destroying, for when they were in peril the right hon. Gentleman came to their succour. Now, when the City's traditions are in peril, his is the hand that guides the assassin's knife. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but when any self-respecting citizen is done to death for no sin of his own, the words I have just used are not inappropriate.
There is, of course, a case to be made from the Government benches which was indicated by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). If absolute mathematical parity is wanted, at this precise moment the constituencies could be so arranged that an hon. Member elected to this honourable House represented as many constituents as, and no more than, any other hon. Member, But that would not last for long, because people would die, and others would come of age and would be put on the electoral roll. In this Bill we have already recognised some disparity, for Scotland and Wales are advantaged in comparison with England. I, as an English Member, do not think there is particular harm in the heart of England and the Empire having this perhaps odd representation, which in logic it is difficult to justify. There is, however, a tradition about this country which does not look too kindly on Governments who guide everything by some form of pedestrian logic. In the past, Governments were wiser; when an office or a post had outlived its usefulness, the genius of earlier Governments and of the people of this country would transfer it to some other use, which is why in the Government of today we find the peculiar offices of Paymaster-General and Lord Privy Seal. The Paymaster-General has 2122 no particular functions to discharge at the moment; nor, so far as I know, does the Lord Privy Seal have any connection with his earlier duties. Indeed, we could carry that argument a little further by saying that the Lord President of the Council does not discharge the duties formerly associated with that office.
How do we relate this to the retention of the seat of the City of London? That seat might well be used in some special sense. Were it a question of preserving that scat, I am sure that either of the right hon. Gentlemen who represent the City of London now, most worthily, would be willing to make a vacancy. The City might be associated in a very particular and peculiar way with this House. Recently, in the "Daily Telegraph," there has appeared correspondence suggesting that the City might be a suitable constituency for the hon. Member called to the high office of Mr. Speaker to represent. Alternatively, the City would be well advantaged if there were to grow up a new tradition in place of the old, that the representative for the City of London should, be someone who had held the high office of Prime Minister. I believe that in the case of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) such a suggestion would be welcomed by the City; and I believe that the kind hearts of the City would be equally happy to have the present Prime Minister. The City is associated with charity and beneficence, and anybody who has served this country in maintaining that delicate equipoise between warring elements in the Cabinet is entitled to be relieved of the difficulties attached to looking after some territorial constituency in the future.
There is no need entirely to abolish this constituency, or to cut this ancient link with this House; I believe it could be retained. It may need adaptation, but that is a matter for hon. Members far more senior than myself—those who have served as Members of the Government, as well as those who have served in Cabinet office. If this link with the ancient city is destroyed we may have achieved something in terms of logic, but every girl typist and every office boy who catches the overcrowded train to the City will feel that something fine has gone. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite do not understand the feelings of the working class of this country. Many of those of 2123 whom I am speaking come from suburban areas. I prefer to mention only Purley, where I live, rather than East Croydon, through which I pass, because I believe that East Croydon will not be popular with hon. Members opposite at the moment. There is that feeling behind the ordinary people of this country. The British are not a logical people; the British believe that tradition is something fine, honourable, and worth preserving; and young workers from all sections of the community, from all the great districts surrounding London, will feel that something fine has gone out of public life if this ancient link is destroyed.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
In dealing with the representation of the City and with plural voting, I shall adopt a different point of view from that of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher), so perhaps he will forgive me if I do not follow his speech in any detail, save to say that I think his description of the City of London and what it stood for was fine. I rank it with another speech which helped to bring home to me the value of the City of London to the Londoner, namely, one which I heard the Lord Lord President make in this House
For two and a half years of the last Parliament I had the very difficult duty of endeavouring to render myself nonpolitical. I found it much more difficult to be non-political than I did to return to political controversy. I am sure hon. Members opposite will understand that. During that time I beheld a great many compromises, and I saw how they worked out. One of the compromises affected plural voting, and I have refreshed my memory of that time by referring to the Debates. It never dawned on me then that what we were doing in that Parliament, could necesarily bind the next Parliament.
When the Leader of the House or the Home Secretary says that one Parliament cannot bind another, nearly everyone would agree. But when there is a compromise, as in this case and when it is openly said in the House—as it was said again and again on this question—that the whole of the compromise could not be carried through in that Parliament and when it is assumed—as it was in this case—that there was an agreement to carry through definite reforms, then 2124 undoubtedly it must be assumed that there was an obligation on the next Parliament. I will give the Committee two simple illustrations of how obligations are accepted by different Governments. The two main parties agreed during the war on a definite system of demobilisation. That did not necessarily mean that this Parliament was bound to carry out that system, but it was a system which all understood and agreed was likely to be a satisfactory scheme.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
Surely the hon. Member remembers that one of the first things the Leader of the Opposition did when he came back to this House was to urge the scrapping of that scheme?
§ Mr. Williams
I realise that there were people who urged hastening on with that scheme rather than scrapping it. On the whole, both parties have tried to carry out that scheme. My second illustration concerns war loans. The new Parliament could have rejected the obligations undertaken by the previous Parliament, but it was laid down that the obligations should be carried on by whichever Government was in power. These two illustrations have some bearing on the question with which we are now dealing. Unless we can come to an understanding between the main parties, with the realisation that the agreement will be carried out by whichever party comes into power, we are liable to make it extremely difficult to come to any future understandings. I urge the Leader of the House and the Home Secretary to look at this from a much wider point of view, and not merely from the point of view of the constituencies involved.
The Home Secretary certainly considers himself under an obligation to deal with another side of redistribution, namely, the small boroughs. What was done by the Conservative majority in the last Parliament was certainly considered to be an advantage to the other side; if I had been free, I should have been only too glad to see a very much wider distribution of votes as far as the local authorities are concerned. However, we did that in the last Parliament with the feeling that we were carrying out our side of the bargain in good faith, trusting the other side to carry out their part of the bargain.
What would the Leader of the House have said if the Conservatives had 2125 refused to accept the bargain on plural voting, because they did not trust the Home Secretary to carry out his part of the bargain when his party came into power? That could have been said, but the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were trusted at that time to do their part. They cannot ride that off now. The essence of the agreement was that all the provisions could not be implemented at once, but that the balance had to be put into effect in the new Parliament.
This Government, with its great and overwhelming majority, which boasts of its love of democracy, is destroying one of the greatest world emblems of democracy by refusing representation to the City of London in the greatest institution in the world, the British House of Commons. One or two of the meaner spirits on the other side are leering at the idea that the City of London is a great institution, but the City of London will live longer than hon. Members opposite. I hope that in due time a greater and nobler conception of the City of London will obtain. The City of London representatives in the House of Commons have played a fine part in our work for freedom. They have been men with great knowledge of that centre of affairs, which has given British trade and commerce the highest standards in the world. I regret that the Government should use their great powers in this way. I regret that the Home Secretary, whom I have always admired in the past, should so demean himself as to take part in this contemptible action of the Government.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
I would not have intervened in this Debate except for the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). I do not propose to go into the question of the alleged bargain, or into the question of how long a bargain should endure. I do not accept the views put forward by Members opposite. Nor do I want it to be thought that I do not uphold to some extent—perhaps as warmly as Members opposite—some of the great traditions of the City of London. But when the hon. Member for Torquay says that the City of London stands as an emblem of our democracy, I part company with him. My understanding of democracy must be something very different from his, because I could never justify 1,500 people return- 2126 ing two Members to this House while it took 112,000 people to find a seat for me here. I do not know of any democratic methods by which to measure that standard. It is fantastic that the City of London should persist in returning two Members to this House.
The City, as a constituency, is not being destroyed by the Bill. There will still be a City of London constituency. All that is being done is to make it more respectable than it is now, and give it a number of electors who will be enabled to return a democratically elected Member, instead of the City being, as it is now, a little pocket borough which returns two people against all the rules of the game. There is nothing in the Government's proposal to which anyone could take exception. The hon. Member for Torquay waxed very furious about the terrific majority of this Government being used unjustly to smash down everything which was decent, and to force everything through the House. I remember sitting on the opposite side of the House when the Conservative Party, with almost as big a majority, smashed down many things which we deemed more important than the City of London. They smashed down unemployed men and women——
§ Mr. Butcher
Would the hon. Member indicate the number of unemployed there would now be in this country if it were not for Marshall aid?
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
The Debate on this subject must be inseparably connected with the Debate on the university seats which was concluded yesterday. I think it is fair to say that Government speakers, particularly from the Front Bench, treat this matter as if Members on this side were defending anomalies, as if it were the Euclidian proposition that there must always be "one man, one vote," that there must always be "one vote, one value," as near as can be, that any attempt at special representation should be abandoned, that constitutional changes might be brought in without a mandate, and 2127 that it was untrue to say that a constitutional change such as this required a preliminary conference.
I will try to examine a few of these propositions, and I will take them in the reverse order. We had the advantage yesterday of two constitutional propositions being dealt with by the Leader of the House and the Home Secretary. The Leader of the House reminded us, as he said, that there was no mandate for the Representation of the People Act in 1928. He said:The Conservative Party did not have it in their election manifesto in 1924. Probably the diehards in the party machine were too powerful for them to put it in; they were the trouble when it was put through Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1948; Vol. 448, C. 1936.]That was a very characteristic sneer, spoiled only by the fact that it bore no relation to the facts. We had later an interesting analysis of the conference idea from the Home Secretary, in which he said that since the Reform Act, 1932, only one conference had taken place. I think it may be as well as say, not being a great historical student, that I have been driven to make a little research into the facts since last night, and that I desire to test the accuracy of this statement to see where it leads us.
First, there appears to be common ground that the Franchise Act, 1832, was not an agreed or conference settlement. It was imposed by the triumphant Whigs and Radicals on the defeated Tories, but it was imposed on them after a hotly-contested election on that very issue, and in pursuance of an overwhelming mandate. We next come to the Act of 1867, about which the Home Secretary appeared to be so confused. What happened was this: the Tory leader of the House, Mr. Disraeli, shortly afterwards Prime Minister, introduced a Bill which was thought to be trivial and paltry. He accepted Amendment after Amendment from the Liberal benches, and the Bill was passed. It was passed, be it noted, as an agreed Measure——
§ The Chairman
I am not at all clear as to the relevance of these historical reminiscences to the Amendment before the committee.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
On a point of Order. May I respectfully 2128 remind you, Major Milner, that all these instances were adduced from the Treasury Bench yesterday, that they were not, in the belief of many of us on this side, correctly adduced, and that, therefore, it must be in Order for those who think their history is more accurate also to use these illustrations?
§ The Chairman
I cannot agree that it is competent for hon. Members to answer, in this Debate, matters which were raised in yesterday's Debate on an entirely different subject although, it may be, associated in some degree.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Further to that point of Order. These matters are just as much associated with this Amendment as they were with the Amendments yesterday. If they were allowed to be in Order yesterday by whoever was in the Chair at that time, surely they should also be in Order today.
§ The Chairman
As I have said, I am not clear about the relevance of the remarks of the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) to this Amendment, but if they are directed to the various charges which were made yesterday, I must remind the Committee that there is such a thing as tedious repetition. The Chair has been allowing great latitude in that matter, and ought not to allow it to continue at undue length.
§ Mr. Roberts
May I respectfully be allowed to make my own point of Order? In the Debate yesterday, the Treasury Bench endeavoured to answer allegations, made from this side, that grave constitutional changes should receive either a direct mandate or should be the subject of a conference. I apprehend that if I were to complain that this great change, involving the abolition of the City of London representation, has not been the subject either of a mandate or of a conference, the relics of the lecture which we received last night would remain in the minds of Members. I submit that I am entitled to dispel any idea that representations by myself on that point would be out of Order. I do not wish to indulge in tedious repetition, and I will endeavour to refrain from verbiage.
That great constitutional change of 1867 was carried through by agreement. In 2129 the Government of 1884–85, a Franchise Bill was held up by another place. There was a series of conferences and a Redistribution Bill was brought in. Grave constitutional changes were made by the well-known Act of 1918. We still proceed, and I find that the enlargement of the franchise in 1924 was not governed by any mandate, but was an agreed Measure. It was carried by the enormous majority of, I think, 330 to 10. It was introduced by Mr. Joynson-Hicks and voted for by Mr. Snowden, Miss Bond-field and other respected members of the Labour Party.
I am entitled to deduce from this the following statement: that a grave constitutional change, according to our practice of a century, must either have a mandate or be the subject of agreement. It must be one or the other. I deduce that from the examples given yesterday by the Home Secretary both ways. In the present case, nothing of the kind has been sought or attempted. One would have thought that there would have been some such attempt if one took at their face value the spiritual struggles which the Lord President said he had undergone when seeking some rational justification for separate representation of the City and that he could find none.
The ultimate principle is, I think, this: that this House should, so far as human capacity makes it possible, be the mirror of the country. A century ago it was representative of interests. We have gone further and further in making it representative of individuals. Whenever that principle conflicts with the main one and leaves the country not correctly mirrored, we must decline to be bound by it. Let it be borne in mind that the principle of one man, one vote, is not universally held or adhered to. There are at least two Members on the Government side of the House who do not agree with it. So I ask, does the City of London mean anything? Has that entity a meaning? It is a large conglomeration of buildings and, alas, of many waste spaces, and I suppose that half a million people go there for their daily work. There was some merriment on the Government benches when reference was made to humble people claiming to be a part of this vast organisation. My own experience was just that. When I was a young man working in the City, I felt myself to be 2130 a member of that vast hive. Many years have pasesd, but I still respect the City. I respect its energy, its finance and the way in which it carries on the business of the whole world. It is an element in our national life which should be represented.
I am told that we cannot do that unless we retain the business vote. Here I declare an interest, and I admit that if the business vote is abolished, assuming that all the business voters vote for me in my Division, I shall lose no fewer than 39 votes. That may not mean much in the country, but in the City it means more. It means that if the City is to be represented at all in the absence of the business vote, it will be by a collection of caretakers. Caretakers are excellent people, but one cannot say that they truly represent the inhabitants of the offices they maintain or clean out. I say definitely that the City of London should be maintained, and, if necessary, maintained by a business vote there. If the City man cannot have two votes, let him forfeit his residential vote. That is a perfectly practical way of doing it, if it is desired to do it.
I come to these questions: I think it right to do it, but is it desired? The history of this matter is painfully significant. The case was put, first of all, that there was no bargain in the last Parliament, and, secondly, that if there was it is not binding. There is no need to go over all that ground again. If there was no bargain, why the uneasiness on the part of various Members to prove that it is not binding now? For example, the statement of the Leader of the House with regard to the City several years ago was most positive. He has explained since how he has sought arguments to retain it and has found none. I look with some scepticism on his spiritual struggles. I am bound to survey the history of this Bill as a whole and to see how far it agrees with his profession. The original project was as outlined at the Speaker's Conference, and speakers yesterday related the shocks which they felt when they found that the Bill was widely departing from those recommendations.
When the Boundary Commission began to survey the scene, it early became apparent that the Socialist Party must suffer heavy losses in London for their 2131 activities. It is noteworthy that a Member on the Government benches yesterday said that if the particular Amendment dealing with the franchise votes, and I think also this one, had not been dealt with by the Treasury Bench, back-benchers would have put down Amendments. Naturally, pressure began to be put on the Government, and halfway through the Boundary Commission's Report their terms of reference were altered, and they had to start again. The result, when it came, was still pretty bad for the Government benches. Hints had to be given that the university vote must be attacked and also the City of London.
With regard to the City of London, I must comment on the delightfully naive remark made by an hon. Gentleman a moment or two ago that it was going to be preserved by adding a bit to it. I was reminded of a story, probably an old one, that Abraham Lincoln once asked his Cabinet, "How many legs would a sheep have if the tail was called a leg?" The reply was, "Five." He said, "No, four. Calling a tail a leg would not make it one." Calling Shoreditch the City of London will not make it the City of London. I have no objection to Shoreditch, but I have an objection to childish make-believe.
The real reason is not to be found in this remarkable desire for symmetry. It is to be found in the very simple fact that the Government supporters were going to lose too many votes. Therefore, it has been found convenient to forget the arrangement made, or explain that it does not apply. We have the assurance of the Leader of the House that this process in regard to the City of London is extremely unpleasant for him. I feel confident that he will survive it in the interest of his party, and will be content to have his feelings wounded. Although I suppose I ought to be pressing Ministers and pleading for mercy that the ancient City of London might be spared, I do not intend to do so, for I do not feel inclined to make any pleas of that kind. I merely say they are doing the sort of thing I expected they would do. It does not surprise me. I doubt very much if it surprises the public who think for themselves.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
The hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) said that the Government are 2132 doing the sort of thing he expected them to do, and that is how the people of this country regard this Measure. It is the sort of thing the people expect of the Government, namely, to do justice to the people in their franchise. I have an interest in this matter since if the business vote were to continue unrestricted I would have six or seven votes, including one in Shoreditch and one in the City of London. Any kind of system that allows that sort of thing to continue is utterly and completely unfair.
This Debate appears to me extremely unreal, and those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the other side of the Committee who have taken part in it do not appear to have the least feeling or understanding of the City of London, and exactly what it means. Almost all they have said has been concerned with some alleged bargain in 1945, a bargain which has been completely denied and their contentions completely disproved. I do not propose to pursue that matter any further.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has often proudly proclaimed that he is a Londoner. In many respects I do not regard him as one. I was born on the City boundary, and my family were born and lived and worked there for nearly three centuries. One of my forebears was mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his Diary, and he described him as a reasonable, decent sort of fellow. I hope that I shall tackle this problem in reasonable decent spirit. I am a freeman and liveryman of the City of London and have been for 17 years, and I yield to no one in my admiration of all that the City stands for and in the real regard which I have for its history and tradition and for its magnificent record as the only unconquered capital city in the world.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) has disclosed the fact that he is a freeman and liveryman of the City of London. Is he not, therefore, pledged to maintain the Parliamentary representation of the City of London?
§ Mr. Collins
Not at all. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) is in error. There is nothing in the freedom oath which I took which makes any reference to Parliamentary representation.
§ Mr. Assheton
Does not the hon. Member think that the oath to maintain the franchise of the City of London is appropriate to this?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins
The franchise will continue and it will be exercised by all inhabitants of the City, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman the junior Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), in a better manner than it has been in the past, and indeed the City will be more actively represented. The right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) is, in fact, my Member for Parliament, but I see him so infrequently in the House that I cannot clearly recollect what he looks like.
§ Mr. Collins
The junior Member for the City of London is very assiduous in his attendance and he is always to the fore in making representations on behalf of the City. There is no point at all in the question which was just raised, because the franchise will still be there.
I must disclose another interest. I have offices in the City and I pay a very considerable rent to the City Corporation, so that in all these matters, by birth, tradition, business interests and social and charitable interests, I have close links with the City, probably as close as any Member in this House. What I have to say in this matter arises out of my deep regard for the City. The Members who sit for the City of London are not what I regard as the authentic voice of the City. One part of the authentic voice is the Mayor and Corporation who are themselves not in the main indigenous to the City. We all know how the Common Councils from the City are elected and where they come from. They are largely accountants and professional men who live many miles out of the City. Gradually they have to go through the routine and eventually become members of the Corporation. We know, too, that almost at all times they and the members of the liveries and city guilds have no direct contact or connection, or indeed vital City interest in, Parliamentary affairs or in politics as we know them.
2134 They would jealously resent any kind of interference by this House or its Members with their ancient traditions and practices. That part of the City and its traditions and rights are very safe in their keeping. They are never likely to be assailed in any important sense by this House. The Mayor and the Corporation are really the City, and not the financiers. The other and by far the greater part of the real life and heart of the City are the half million people who go there every day and get their living there. It is only those half million people who go there who give life to what would otherwise be a dead place. Anybody who does not believe that should go to the City at night, as I have many times, or at weekends, and see where the real life has gone.
Those half million people, except for a small number of those who qualify for the business vote, have no real voice or part in electing Members for the "square mile." The City typist who eats her lunch below my office window or amid the ruins of St. Swithin's Church, or the City clerk who sits on the parapet of the Thames and surveys the bombed ruins all around him, have no part in those elections, but they are the City. What have the present Members for the City of London done for them? I am sadly disappointed in my Members of Parliament, fortunate as I am in having two. It is extraordinary that the senior Member, although he is a Scot, should not have been able to put forward their point of view.
§ Mr. Collins
I am sorry, I was not aware of that. There are many other things in the City that should have been attended to, and will be attended to when it becomes again part of what I regard as an ordinary constituency. Many things might have been different if my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) had been Member for the City of London. These half a million go there every day. What has been done for them in the provision of sufficient civic restaurants? What is done for the people who go to the City in utilising these great bomb-damaged places, where the willowherb grows, for the parking of cars?
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Do not civic restaurants come 2135 within the functions of local authorities and not within the functions of Members of Parliament?
§ Mr. Collins
I am suggesting that in an ordinary constituency, where there is a live electorate and live representation, such things are more likely to be attended to. In a tremendous number of things of that kind much would have been done, in the ordinary way, in the City of London, if it were attached to one of those other places. Although we value the traditions of the City, there is often far too much tradition and far too little action.
Now I will deal with the really practical aspects of the matter, which rest on the business vote. To apply the principle "one man, one vote," which is dear, I think, to the heart of most people, means that the whole case for separate representation for the City falls to the ground. Reference has been made to the fact that the people who live there are largely caretakers and other people who are looking after City buildings. To my certain knowledge a very large proportion, by far the larger proportion, of them are supporters of the present Government. It shows the strict impartiality of the present Government that they are not accepting the Amendment which would merely mean having another representative on these benches, and not one upon the benches opposite. It cannot be successfully contended that there should be a separate constituency for that tiny electorate.
The whole case put from the other side of the Committee rests almost entirely upon tradition; no real case has been put forward. There is magic in the name "The City of London." That magic rests upon realities. Nothing that this House can do will remove those realities. The tradition and the history of the City of London have been built up by the people who live there and who go there to work. The name will still be there and the spirit will still be there, the heart of the British people. Things of a somewhat slighting nature have been said about what will happen if the City should be added to Shoreditch, Finsbury, or some other constituency.
I have said that I have a business vote in Shoreditch. I have a business vote in the City of London. On the last Sunday of 1940, 2136 I was in Shoreditch. My factory is there and I, with a hundred workers, was living there during the blitz for the purpose of seeing that the place was not destroyed. That night the second Great Fire of London took place, possibly a night of damage greater than that of the first Great Fire of London. After we had attended to our own bit of trouble I went to see what was happening in the City of London. I then realised that when the people had gone away from the City, the heart was taken out of it. I saw the Guildhall burn. Very few people were there—very few of the electors who had a business vote. The people who were there were from Shoreditch and Finsbury. They had gone to see what they could do on that dreadful night.
The preparations for dealing with emergencies of that kind at that time were nothing like as good or complete as they were in Shoreditch and in other London boroughs. I saw the blast wall which was in front of the Guildhall and the desperate attempts of the firemen to push it down to get in with their fire escapes. I saw the locked gates of the church of St. Lawrence Jewry. It absentee caretaker and absentee vicar were not there to unlock those gates. If they had been, the Guildhall might possibly have been saved. After the damage was done, the fire watchers service was built up to proper proportions but on that important night the heart of the City was not there to protect it. The heart of the City is in the people who live and work there and have a real interest in it. That heart will still be preserved if and when the "square mile" with its electors is added to an adjacent area—Shoreditch, Finsbury, or any other which this House might regard as more suitable.
The Amendment should be rejected. By this 1%leasure, the Government are sweeping away the cobwebs which have been accumulating in the City of London. We need a great deal less in the City of patting each other on the back aid saying that we are such very good people, and a great deal more considering how we can really get down to democratic, Parliamentary principles. I hope that the Government will emphatically reject the Amendment.
§ The CHAIRMAN left the Chair.2137
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]