§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. HUBERT BEAUMONT in the Chair]
Amendment proposed: In page 4, line 1, at end, insert:
(a) in rule I, in the table showing the number of constituencies, for the words "591," there shall be substituted the words "613.
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Perhaps I might be allowed to go back to the position of the eight boroughs which have been divided into two, before I conclude the observations which I was making before the House went to another place. Hon. Members who have a copy of the Report of the Boundary Commission will know that it was signed on 24th October, 1947. On 9th October, 15 days before the Report was signed, I received a letter from Sir Roland Burrows, the Deputy Chairman of the Commission, in these terms:As you will see from the Report of the Boundary Commission for England, it was decided, for the reasons set out in it, that the eight boroughs with electorates between 80,000 and 88,000 should not be divided. The Report is not yet signed, and it may be a few days before it is ready to send, although it is complete. It was thought, however, that it might be as well if we did prepare a scheme for division so that if, in any event, Parliament were to decide on revision, matters would not be delayed.This scheme is not recommended by us and is, therefore, not made a part of the Schedule. I have been authorised to send it unofficially to you for the above reason. It is what we should have put in the Schedule had we decided to divide these constituencies.There can be no question as to the position of the Commissioners at that time. They were not functus officio at that date, because they did not sign their Report until 15 days after the letter was written to me. The letter shows that they had some misgivings as to whether it was right to include constituencies of such a size in their Report. They were, of course, hampered by the fact that they had this upper limit of 591 constituencies for Great Britain imposed upon them and their freedom of movement within the figure is limited by the minimum numbers assigned to Scotland and Wales; rob out of the 591 had to be given to Scotland 3034 and Wales for certain. That left the Boundary Commission for England with only 485 seats at their disposal, if they stuck to the figure of 591. I hope that what I have said disposes of any suggestion with regard to the eight big boroughs.
§ Mr. Ede
All I can say is that it is an indication that the Boundary Commission themselves had doubts as to whether it was appropriate to include eight constituencies of this size inside the Report. With regard to the nine others, we asked the Boundary Commissioners, as the people who were most likely to be able to give us a reasonable and impartial division of these cities, to suggest lines of division to us——
§ Mr. Churchill
I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. Did the right hon. Gentleman ask them as the Boundary Commission presenting its Report under Statute of Parliament or as individuals who had formerly been members of that body?
§ Mr. Ede
I did not attempt to define at the time whether they were acting in their statutory capacity or not. I presented the problem to them that the Government desired to have these nine cities divided in such a way as to give each of them an additional Member, and they submitted suggestions to me which were embodied in the White Paper. I am not concerned whether they were acting in their statutory capacity or not——
§ Mr. Ede
I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) will concede this to me. It would be perfectly competent to me or to any other hon. Member of the House to submit our own Amendments to the Schedule. Some hon. Gentlemen have done so. They have suggested that certain boroughs and cities shall be divided in certain ways. It seemed to me that the fairest thing to do for all concerned was, once the Government had reached the decision that they would recommend the House to create 3035 these additional nine seats, to go to the people who had been responsible for the original division. I do not believe that their actions or opinions vary when they are acting in a statutory capacity or when they are acting as advisers to the Government outside their statutory capacity, and it did not occur to me—I say it quite frankly—to make any differentiation in the approach I made.
The effect of the Amendments the Government propose is that to some extent they redress the under-representation of England as compared with Scotland and Wales. They bring nearer the average size of a constituency, whether it be a borough or a county, and at the same time we believe that by giving a distinction of 2,473 votes between the average size of a county and a borough division in England we give adequate recognition to the additional difficulties that are created in scattered rural constituencies. The Government recommend this Amendment to the Committee for the reasons that I have given, and the necessary Amendments to give effect to it have been placed by the Government on the Order Paper to the First Schedule of the Bill.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
I have long had respect for the right hon. Gentleman, and I must frankly and sincerely say that it was with sorrow and surprise that I witnessed him perform this disreputable job this afternoon. I will examine it in detail and in its proper place in this story. The Speaker's Conference recommended in Resolutions 6 and 7 that there should be, as the right hon. Gentleman said:… not substantially more or less than 591 Members of the House of Commons for Great Britain.This with the addition of the 12 university and 12 Ulster seats, would have made up the 615. The Home Secretary now proposes to alter the total figure of 591 into 613, an increase of 22 seats. This is a complete departure from the recommend dations of the Speaker's Conference. It goes far beyond any variation which might be covered by the words:… not substantially more or less than 591.For an increase of this magnitude in the total representation of Great Britain, while Scotland and Wales remain unaltered, statutory authority should have been 3036 sought, and an all-party agreement should have been secured for such a large departure from the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference.
We have already set on record our opinion that the departures from the Speaker's Conference agreement, involving as they did the abolition of university representation and the representation of the City of London, constitute breaches of faith and agreement between the two major parties in the State, and also that they involve a breach of faith between the leading Socialist Ministers—none more than the Lord President himself—who were in the National Coalition Government and their Conservative colleagues of that time, and a breach of faith, as I assert, between the Prime Minister of today and myself as head of that Government in the former Parliament.
The agreement of 1944 must obviously stand as a whole. The great concessions which we made while possessing a large majority in the House of Commons, in the matter of the municipal franchise, were accepted, and other parts of the agreed policy were departed from because they did not suit Socialist Party interests. This wrong deed was done for party political motives of a character alike petty and base. It has probably destroyed the validity and usefulness of all Speakers' Conferences on these matters for the future, and by so doing it has altered, if not shattered, that decent, healthy basis about electoral reform which has grown up in the last 50 years or more and has formed the foundation of our modern House of Commons system.
The Government have replied to the effect that one Parliament cannot bind another; that once they had gained a majority at the election of 1945, they were perfectly free to take all the advantages of the agreement and leave out any parts that were not suitable to their Party interests. If the Conservatives chose to make concessions for the sake of national agreement in 1944, when they had a majority of 150 over all parties, there is no reason why the Socialist Party should be so foolish as to keep the agreement when they, in their turn, have for the time being a large, or even larger, majority. The party opposite, the party which make such great claims to the guidance of the future of the world, have laid down the principle that all agreements they may make and use are sub- 3037 ject to the principle that they can take what they think is good for them and leave out any parts which they think are to their detriment, although the whole transaction was obviously integral in its character. I am sure that this outlook and the conduct of this Bill has definitely lowered the whole standard of our political life; it has certainly greatly affected in these matters the relations between the two parties.
Discussions are proceeding now for the reform of the Second Chamber, but we cannot any longer feel assurance that, even if agreement were reached, the Government would keep the agreement. We cannot feel sure that they would not use any admissions or concessions which their opponents had made as a jumping off point for further argument, without on their part fulfilling honourably the counter-concessions which were part of a general settlement. I deeply regret that the Prime Minister, the Lord President, and other important Ministers opposite should have stooped so low at a time when it seems especially important that the reputation of a British Government in these matters should stand high in the world.
This new proposal of the Home Secretary not only flouts and destroys the agreement of the Speaker's Conference in the last Parliament; it is a flagrant breach of the usage which the Government have established in this Parliament after they became possessed of their great majority. It is an argument which is superimposed on all the complaints we made about the departure from the Speaker's Conference. The excuse that one Parliament cannot bind another, and the promulgation in electoral matters of the principle of "catch as catch can" as between one House of Commons and another, does not cover in any way the usage which His Majesty's Government have themselves practised and enjoined in this present Parliament.
As a result of the Speaker's Conference and other statutory Measures passed by the late Parliament, the Boundary Commission was set up to make a fresh and fair redistribution of seats with the object of approaching, subject to the many inherent difficulties of the subject, nearer to an equal representation of the people to one vote, one value, and to redressing 3038 the grave inequalities which grow up from time to time in consequence of the movement of the population, especially during great wars. This Boundary Commission was set up under the National Coalition, and it was confirmed in its work by the present Government. After it had laboured for several months, the Commission published its proposals in, perhaps it may be said, a tentative or preliminary form, and then engaged upon many local hearings and inquiries, where the evidence of all parties could be taken. At this stage the Commission represented to the Government that the rules under which they were working were unduly rigid, and asked whether some further latitude might not be given.
The Government did not, I think, much like these proposals when they saw them, and thought they might be perhaps somewhat unfavourable to them. I myself viewed with great suspicion their wish to alter the rules on which the Boundary Commission were to work. However, on examination this suspicion was removed. It cannot be denied that some of the limits imposed upon the Commission led to inconvenience and hardship when it came to applying them to the varied conditions of particular constituencies.
Therefore, in December, 1946, the Home Secretary came to the House and presented us with proposals to alter the rules for redistribution and to allow wider limits of toleration. The right hon. Gentleman resented any suggestion that gerrymandering in any form was intended; all was to be fair and impartial, and the Boundary Commission were to be given more latitude in discharging their task. Discussions were then entered into between the two parties, through what are called "the usual channels." In this case it was much more than discussion between Whips, for my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) met the Home Secretary, with whom he was well acquainted, in long discussions of an amicable character. The whole field was surveyed, and we agreed to the new proposals of the Government, and allowed them to pass through unopposed.
Thus the principle was maintained and reaffirmed in the new Parliament of joint agreement on these matters. It is not a question of the old Parliament but of this Parliament, and it is the direct and immediate responsibility of hon. Members 3039 opposite. Let me put the following question to the Home Secretary or to the Lord President: if it was right and proper to come to us in December, 1946, and obtain our agreement to altering the rules for the Boundary Commission, why was it not right in this same Parliament to come to us on this occasion when a far more serious departure is intended? On what grounds of principle is there differentiation between what was decent conduct in December, 1946, and what the Government have tried to pass off as decent conduct in March, 1948? I hope that question will be answered. Why did the Government come to us then, and why have they slipped this through now without any attempt to carry on with joint discussions which, even in this Parliament, they have considered it appropriate to maintain? I am afraid the explanation is pitifully simple, hut I will come to that later.
In these discussions of 1946 no suggestion was made that it was necessary to increase the figure of 591. It was understood clearly, however, between the parties—and there was an understanding between the parties, then—that no complaint would be made if the Commissioners interpreted the words of the 1944 Act in such a way as to increase the number of seats for England by five or six. The Boundary Commission in fact made use of the discretion given to them. That was the way they interpreted the phrase about "substantially around this figure" and made it 489 for England, as against 484 in their original proposals.
We claim first that the Speaker's Conference agreements have been broken; secondly, we say that the argument about a new Parliament has no validity in respect of the transactions about the Boundary Commission, for those transactions were renewed by the present Government, and this understanding was carried on by the present Government with all the great majority they have at their disposal.
In due course the Boundary Commission made their Report. This is the Report which the Statute upon which they were acting says it was their duty to lay before Parliament. It says that itshall be laid by the Secretary of State before Parliament as soon as may be after its submission to him.3040 It was the duty of the Boundary Commissioners to lay their Report before Parliament through the Secretary of State. We hear a lot now about private reports and private negotiations, first with the Boundary Commission as a whole, and, after they had ceased to function in this matter, with individual members. But here was a statutory obligation that the Report of the Boundary Commissioners should be laid in its integrity, and as a whole before Parliament by the Secretary of State. We are not told anything about all kinds of reservations, private negotiations, and hypothetical schemes. They were not mentioned at the time. More especially should they have been mentioned in a matter where we were by way of proceeding by agreement.
When this Bill was introduced a month ago, the new proposals of the Boundary Commissioners were recommended to us by the Home Secretary. He proposed those new proposals as set forth by the Boundary Commission in their Report of 27th October. These were the proposals the Government introduced to the House. We were confronted with the abolition of the university representation and the abolition of the City of London representation, with the object of excluding from the future House of Commons a number of independent or opposition Members—with that object and effect if it were to continue after a General Election. But no mention or even whisper was heard of any proposal to violate the Report of the Boundary Commission. All this is an afterthought, all this fine story about the hypothetical secret reports, about "how you would do it if you had to"—all that has been produced today. I am not saying it is not true, but it is irrelevant to the matters which have been brought before Parliament, and has nothing to do with the matter, that the Government go behind the scenes and have private negotiations with those discharging an official duty.
We have had laid before us a Report, and on that Report we are entitled to base ourselves. Far from suggesting that the Report of the Boundary Commissioners was not correct, or a good foundation for the Bill, the attitude of Ministers—particularly of the Home Secretary—was such as to convey the impression that they were much opposed to any alterations, and that they would resist the natural pressure of individual Members 3041 in all parts of the House who were unfavourably affected by the inevitable workings of any redistribution scheme.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough) rose——
§ Mr. Churchill
No, I cannot give way. As the Debates proceeded, the Government came to the conclusion that the new Report of the Boundary Commission, which was drawn up in accordance with recognised principles, and in accordance with the new rules which the Government had proposed, and we had accepted, was even less favourable to them than the original Report. That they kept in the background. All they told us was that this was the right scheme and this is what they proposed to Parliament. The Home Secretary even paraded the fact that this Report was less favourable to Socialist Party's interests than the previous one. He even paraded it to the House as proof of the high and detached spirit in which the Government were conducting the Redistribution Bill. If the House will very kindly and graciously allow me, I will read what he said on 16th February:I had no doubt, as I said at the time, that any revision of the figures of the constituencies on the lines desired by the House would not be beneficial to the party on this side of the House; in fact, this party would stand to gain by the exact mathematical division that was provided by the first Report."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 841.]That is what he said. Such virtue is greatly to be admired in a man who says, "Never mind, I will do my duty and act fairly, even in my own despite." It is greatly to be admired, if it stands on anything but falsehood and humbug.
§ Mr. Churchill
I have no doubt it was the sincere wish of the Home Secretary to carry the Measure as he presented it to the House, but the party pressure proved too strong. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer raised it in a rasping manner and it was considered that a change must be made. The sops which had been thrown to party feeling in destroying university representation, and City of London representation were not sufficient. It was a case of "our fellows wanted more," and more they had to have. There is the explanation of all these Amendments and Schedules, and the talk 3042 and explanations which are given—"our fellows wanted more."
So we come to this Amendment, which proposes to add another 17 seats to the representation of England which, added to the five the Commissioners in their exercise of their latitude had added, makes 22 in all, The Boundary Commission had done their work. When they presented this Report they had done the work prescribed for them by Statute. They had finished as a Boundary Commission. There may be minor activities afterwards which were assigned to them, but it was by the Act of 1944 their duty to present their Report. After it was over —I am perfectly certain I am correct on this matter—after it had been presented, the Commission were functus officio.
§ Mr. Churchill
The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head—he would shake his head at almost anything. He has now started shaking his head at Bolshevism, of which he was such an admirer only two years ago. The Commission had done their work. They had given their verdict fairly and impartially upon the basis prescribed by the Government, and in accordance with the agreement between the parties at the Speaker's Conference.
Now that the Commission has discharged its primary task and placed its conclusions before us, and the Government proceed to make further changes in the Measure which they themselves take the responsibility for bringing before the House in accordance with the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, the last pretence of impartiality and fair dealing between parties is swept away. We are to have a Redistribution Bill—and I am glad that my words will go out, as they will do, far and wide throughout this country—which is deliberately based on no principle except that of party advantage, and which has no sanction behind it except the party majority, obtained on false pretences and with an electorate utterly disproportionate to the results produced in the House of Commons.
I come to these proposals, which are in two parts, both of which have been carefully devised to favour the Government 3043 party, whose majority, as I have said already, goes far beyond what the voting strength exhibited, even under the artificial conditions which the General Election produced. Sixteen new seats are to be created by the division of the eight big boroughs. I am dealing first with the eight big boroughs. It is no mere coincidence that these eight big boroughs are, with one exception, now held by the Socialists. Consequently they are doubling the representation of these constituencies in which they themselves have almost a monopoly. We have heard the Boundary Commission on this matter, and the Home Secretary this afternoon said a little disingenuously —he had to extend it in more detail afterwards—that the Boundary Commission had drawn attention to the case of these big boroughs. Why did the Commission do so? [An HON. MEMBER: "They were too big."] On the contrary. The hon. Member cannot have read the Report. It was in order to express their reasoned opinion—this Commission that hon. Members applaud—why no change in them should take place. I will read paragraph 15 of this Report:Of the 44 constituencies with electorates of over 70,000, eight have electorates exceeding 80,000. These are the Parliamentary Boroughs of Battersea, Blackburn, East Ham, Gateshead, Hammersmith, Norwich, Paddington and Reading. We have considered very carefully whether we should increase the allocation of seats to each of these boroughs to two, thus increasing the total allocation of seats by eight. We are not unmindful of the disadvantages of such large electorates to the Members called upon to represent them in Parliament, and we are aware that the communities contained in such electorates may claim to be underrepresented. We are, however, of opinion that the creation of eight additional seats in these cases would do little to solve the general problem of equal representation, since it would merely serve to reduce slightly the gap between the lowest and highest electorates, while it might well give rise to claims for similar treatment from boroughs with electorates slightly below 80,000. Moreover if those boroughs were divided the resulting electorates would compare favourably with the majority of the rural constituencies having electorates of under 50,000 including those created in virtue of their sparse population and difficulty of accessIt is this last reason which is the most important; the main reason is the last, so that what is nakedly proposed, I beg the Committee to note, by the Home Secretary in his Amendment, contrary to the advice of the Boundary Commission, is to double the representation of these 3044 big boroughs, all of which but one is held by Socialists, and to create 16 urban seats which will be among the smallest in the whole country. For party advantage, and for party advantage alone, they are to make seats which will be in the neighbourhood of 40,000, smaller than in many cases is thought right in regard to sparsely populated agricultural and mountainous areas.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich) rose——
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
On a point of Order, I think it is proper to ask a question in view of the——
If the hon. Member will come straight to his point of Order, I will deal with it, but he was commencing a speech and not submitting a point of Order.
§ Mr. Churchill
A particular Parliamentary device which I have often seen used, but to which I have rarely myself resorted, is to rise on a point of Order and to use that opportunity as an excuse for intervening in the Debate. I say that what we have before us is a proposal to manufacture a certain number of the smallest class of constituencies with the fewest numbers of electors which it is believed, or at least hoped, that the Socialist Party will be able to hold at the next election.
The second new proposal is to add a seat to each of the nine big cities. These two proposals together involve tampering with the boundaries of 65 constitu- 3045 encies. How is this process to be carried out? I am at a loss to know. We know that the Boundary Commission had ceased to function in these matters after 27th October. We know, by the revelations made today, that a private or secret request was made to them to deal with a hypothetical case, and that they gave advice on that. Now we know that when they had ceased to function, the Home Secretary nevertheless went to individual members of the Commission, through the chairman, but when they were no longer acting within their statutory duties, and asked them to say so and so. He told us how they think the constituencies should be divided.
I cannot think that the process by which these constituencies have been divided can claim any impartial or disinterested authority. The Home Secretary has just told us that Parliament can do what it likes in these matters. He has just put forward that claim, that Parliament is supreme and can make what arangements it chooses. I have no doubt that he can draw these constituencies with his finger—these 65 that have to be altered to give the Government these 17 more seats. He can draw them and shape them as he chooses, after taking whatever advice he likes, whether from members of the Boundary Commission or any other well-informed quarter on these subjects.
I say that what we are confronted with is that this partisan Minister is to decide with his finger what the boundaries of these 65 constituencies are to be. And though he may choose to utilise the services of people who were members of the Boundary Commission, and any other advantage he may get from his party organisation, he remains directly responsible for the shaping of these 65 constituencies. Anyone can see from what has already happened the spirit in which this process will be conducted and the object at which it aims. It is one which we are familiar with on the Continent of Europe, in countries where the Communists have established their totalitarian rule, where the Minister of the Interior shapes the constituencies in accordance with his own party interests, after taking such advice as he thinks fit.
If ever there was a time to avoid the adoption of such continental methods over here, it is surely now, when the 3046 arbitrary regulation of voting and the shaping of constituencies, in order to secure the permanent domination of the party in power, is one of the principal objections we are raising to the totalitarian system in all its forms. It is lamentable indeed that our "Minister of the Interior," as his behaviour entitles him to be called, should put himself in such a position and strike such an attitude before the country and the world.
No one has exposed, in more scathing terms the procedure which the Government now adopt to delimit constituencies and to deal with the whole question of Parliamentary representation on the arbitrary authority of the Executive, or of a particular Minister of the day, more effectively than the Lord President of the Council himself. This is what he said on 1st February, 1944, on the Motion to set up the Speaker's Conference—nineteen hundred and forty-four; better days for him—better days for us.I am sure it would be the wish of all the parties in the House that when redistribution takes place it should be made fairly and equitably. As Home Secretary it is…my duty to be fair and impartial about the matter, but it is a tricky business. You can make a decision, or give directions that may involve serious political repercussions which, maybe, you have not thought of, or on the other hand, they may involve such repercussions politically on one political party or another that the Home Secretary may be suspected. In any case, he is bound to be in an unhappy position,"—prophetic terms—and if it can be avoided I do not think it is desirable that the principles of redistribution should be settled either directly by the Government or individually by any Minister of the Crown. Therefore, while I am not sure that it will come off, I hope myself that the Speaker's Conference… will itself agree on the principles of redistribution, and the directions to the Boundary Commissioners, and if they do I shall be very grateful. It will save me a nasty job, an invidious job, and I think it is the way it should be done."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February. 1944; Vol. 396, C. 1160.]The nasty job, the invidious job, has just been moved two feet along on the Government Front Bench. There is the true description—in the words of the right hon. Gentleman who leads the House, in his better moments—there is the true description of the unfortunate Home Secretary, whose virtues have been paraded before us as a kind of camouflage for one of the shabbiest political manœuvres which we have on record.
3047 I said a few moments ago that the explanation of this Amendment was pitifully simple. The Government and its leading Ministers wanted to do what was right and fair, and in accordance with their previous pledges and repeated declarations. They wished sincerely to behave in an honourable and straightforward manner before the country, but they could not bear to lose any electoral advantage—even a comparatively small one—through the application of a fair and impartial system for the representation of the people. They saw the light. They avowed their duty. But the temptation of party advantage was too strong for Socialist nature and honour. They have embarked upon a transaction which, I am sure, every honest and decent man opposite will view with regret, and about which they should all feel lasting shame.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I think it is desirable that I should at once reply to the wild and extravagant speech, which, in characteristic vein, has just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). He has charged my right hon. Friend with all sorts of moral offences——
§ Mr. Morrison
—and me. Which of us he enjoys bringing charges against the most, I am not sure, but he has been fairly impartial between the two of us. He is accusing us of a trick, a shady, electoral, Parliamentary trick, for the partisan advantage of the hon. Members sitting on this side of the House. What he has not done is to devote any material part of his argument to the merits of the case which is before the House.
I am bound to say, in view of the frequency with which we on this side of the House give way when the right hon. Gentleman wishes to interrupt—and he very frequently does—I should have thought that when my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) who represents one of the 8o,000 type of constituencies got up, the right hon. Gentleman might have let him get a word in. The right hon. Gentleman has not argued against the merits of the proposal of my right hon. Friend in any way. He has 3048 merely hurled abuse at the Government, and accused us of having the most sordid and abominable of motives—just because he wanted half an hour out; just because he wanted a fling, which his supporters have of course enjoyed; and, to tell the truth, we have enjoyed it ourselves. Merely because he wanted a fling, he has scattered all these wild and extreme and irresponsible accusations about, and hardly for one moment has he dealt with the proposals now before the Committee.
Of course, a long part of his speech was devoted once more to the Speaker's Conference and to the attempt to assume—not to argue—that the decisions or recommendations of the Speaker's Conference of the last Parliament were binding upon this Parliament. I have answered that argument, and abolished it so often, that it would be a waste of time to proceed to do so again, and I do not propose to do so.
It is perfectly clear that the right hon. Gentleman totally misunderstood the whole purpose and the basis of the Boundary Commission. He argued in his speech that they came into existence to conduct this redistribution, and that, when they had presented their main Report, their job was finished. That was the basis upon which he started, until my right hon. Friend put him right. The very first words in Section 1 of the Act of 1944 —an Act which I had the honour of bringing in on behalf of the Government over which the right hon. Gentleman presided—state:For the purpose of the continuous review of the distribution of seatsThis indeed was the great change that was made by the Act of 1944—not that there was one single ad hoc redistribution—and the Commission then went out of existence and the thing was forgotten until some Government or another had time to bring in another Bill, but that there should be a permanent Boundary Commission which could keep the matter, in a ministerial phrase, "constantly under review."
§ Mr. Morrison
I will come to that in a moment. I agree that it cannot be claimed either by my right hon. Friend or myself that the reference of these particular constituencies for the advice of the Boundary Commission was wholly and 3049 officially under the procedure prescribed by the Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It was not. My right hon. Friend has not claimed that it was. I will give reasons why it was done in a moment. But section 4 (3) of the Act contemplates this:Any Boundary Commission may also from time to time submit to the Secretary of State reports with respect to the area comprised in any particular constituency or constituencies in the part of the United Kingdom with which they are concerned, showing the constituencies into which they recommend that that area should be divided, and the number of Members which they recommend should be returned by each of them, in order to give effect to the rules set out in the said Third Schedule.
§ Mr. Peake
I really must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has very courteously given way. I only wanted to draw his attention to the fact that he was quoting from a subsection which deals not with the initial Report of the Commissioners, but with subsequent Reports which may be made at a period three years after the initial Report has been issued.
§ Mr. Morrison
I said at the beginning that I was not claiming that my right hon. Friend had resorted to this method of dealing with the matter entirely in accordance with the terms of the Act. When I said that, there were ironical cheers from hon. Members opposite. I said it deliberately, and I mean it. I am sure that my right hon. Friend fully agrees. I suggest that it is clearly envisaged in that Subsection that, apart from the general redistribution which must take place periodically, the Commission can from time to time, either on its own initiative—or I suppose the Secretary of State could suggest they should do so—or on anybody else's initiative, examine particular problems thrown up in connection with particular constituencies.
Therefore, we get to the point that my right hon. Friend, having decided, with the authority of the Government, that certain Amendments should be put forward to the Bill, had then to consider what was the best way to settle the boundaries of the proposed constituencies. Of course, he could have settled the boundaries himself of his own volition with Departmental advice, or any other advice; but I do not know that that would 3050 have improved the situation. I am perfectly sure that if my right hon. Friend had done it on his own, the right hon. Member for Woodford would have charged him with gerrymandering and would have asked, "Why did he not use the Boundary Commission?"—or would the right hon. Gentleman have liked him to go to political headquarters to let them settle it? I think that would have been very wrong. My right hon. Friend took the best and most impartial course open to him and said, "I will not make these actual divisions of the constituencies myself. I will ask the Boundary Commission's advice about it."
§ Mr. Churchill
The Boundary Commission did not give advice on this occasion in their collective and statutory capacity. They gave it as individual members after an attempt had been made, after inquiries had been made, to find out whether they could give advice in their collective capacity.
§ Mr. Morrison
First of all, the Boundary Commission exists. It is not dead, it goes on; it is continuous; it is in being. Second, it gave collective advice. The chairman and the Commission were approached, and the Commission gave advice to my right hon. Friend. As I have said to the Committee, quite frankly, I do not claim that the whole of it was pukka procedure in accordance with every word of the Act. That is perfectly clear and admitted, but I say that, my right hon. Friend having made up his mind that there were to be additional constituencies, he had to chose—which it was quite competent for him to do, and I will come to that later—whether he should make the divisions of the boundaries of the new constituencies himself, or whether he should enlist the aid of this impartial body, the Boundary Commissioners. I am sure that the Committee as a whole, and indeed the right hon. Member for Woodford on reflection, will see that obviously the best thing for him to do was to go to this experienced body of impartial persons and ask them to draw the boundaries. Indeed, I think that he would have been open to criticism if he had not done that.
It is urged that in any case he has no right to depart from the Report of the Boundary Commission. The right hon. Gentleman said these constituencies with 80,000-odd electors would, by being 3051 divided, have just over 40,000 electors, and that was so small. It is true that their electorate would be over 40,000, probably under 45,000, and certainly under 50,000; but there are other constituencies which, on the principle of maintaining municipal identity of a local government area have also survived under the Report of the Boundary Commission although they were small constituencies. Some of them are actually smaller constituencies than will be found, in some cases, in a division of the constituencies with over 80,000 electors. It is curious that the right hon. Gentleman should be so worried about the 40,000 in these cases, and at the same time should have been fighting for university representation where the electorate is infinitely smaller and where only about half of them voted on the last occasion. It is still more extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should work himself up into a state because of these 40,000 people, and at the same time denounce us for terminating the City of London where only 4,600 electors will survive.
Who is the partisan? Where sits the partisan on the Bench opposite or on this Bench? The truth is that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was spoiled throughout by the most terrible partisan observations in which he was concerned not with what was right, but merely with what he suspected might conceivably be a party disadvantage to him.
§ Mr. Morrison
I utterly deny that the right hon. Gentleman has any right whatever to stand on the Speaker's Conference, but we have settled that; anyway, we have had the argument. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should never be sure about things being a party advantage or not? You never can tell. Let the right hon. Gentleman reflect on the way in which, with great confidence and in a great hurry, he precipitated the last General Election in the belief that he would win, and he did not. Let him reflect upon this, too.
§ Mr. Churchill
The right hon. Gentleman h4s no right to say that I precipitated the last General Election. While the 3052 war with Japan was still going on, he and his colleagues insisted on leaving the Government. It is quite true that they offered to stay on for three months, in order to bring off that coup at the municipal elections as a prelude to the General Election.
§ Mr. Morrison
Such a thought never crossed our minds. We had a view about it, and, ultimately, we were—near enough—ejected by the right hon. Gentleman from that Government, and he precipitated trouble at that point. It is assumed that all the things in the Speaker's Conference — all the things that happened in it—were to the advantage of the Labour Party. Under that Bill—this same Act of 1944I provided in a Schedule for 25 new constituencies in Greater London, the Home Counties and elsewhere, and, on the whole, looking at them, they had every appearance of being very useful concessions to the political prospects of the Conservative Party. Indeed, I thought at the time that it might be so but I also thought that we should make the best of it, and we did. There was the Moseley Division of Birmingham, where additional representation was secured, and there were Blackpool, Ilford, Wycombe, Altrincham, Epping, Romford, South-East Essex, St. Albans, Chislehurst, Dartford, Harrow, Hendon, Twickenham, Uxbridge, Epsom, Mitcham, Horsham and Worthing, Nuneaton and Tamworth.
Taking them in the main, everybody on both sides at that time assumed that I was a bit of a simpleton to agree to that. However, we chanced it, we thought it right, and people on both sides thought that the result would probably be a substantial gain to the Conservative Party. But we did it, and, as it turned out, we had been too modest and we won many of these constituencies and did very well out of it. It need not be assumed in connection with the settlement of the 1944 period that all the "gives" were on the one side and all the "takes" on the other. That was not so.
With further regard to this procedure in which my right hon. Friend is now engaging, the right hon. Gentleman assumes that the Report of the Boundary Commission is sacred and ought not to be interfered with, and he suggests that if we depart from it, we are engaging in gerrymandering. He has said a lot about 3053 the change in the rules which my right hon. Friend brought in. There were changes, and changes which were desirable—fundamental changes in the rules. The Opposition did not oppose my right hon. Friend's Bill at that time. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was agreed to and accepted by the Opposition, but I have a clear memory, when the announcement was made that the Bill would be introduced, that he described the Home Secretary as engaging in gerrymandering, for which the right hon. Gentleman had no more evidence then than he has today. Today, he says that they accepted and supported the Bill, but it was only after he got this abuse off his chest at my right hon. Friend that he followed with his acquiescence.
I think there is a lot to be said for the right hon. Gentleman having a good go, because he feels better after it, and, sometimes, the next day, he is almost beneficent. But it is not the case that the Government was ever bound by the Boundary Commission. I think it is quite likely that my right hon. Friend said to himself that he would wish to agree with the Commission, and that he did not wish, if he could help it, to depart from the Boundary Commission; it is only because of what he believed to be the merits of the case in this instance that he proposed to make a departure from the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. There is nothing wicked about making such a departure, so long as it is fairly done. This is what the Opposition are denying.
The whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman rested upon the alleged fact that, because my right hon. Friend is departing from the Boundary Commission, he must be engaging in political trickery, gerrymandering and whatnot. But what did I say to the House of Commons when I was a Minister in the right hon. Gentleman's Government and when I spoke with all the authority of the right hon. Gentleman's Government? This extract which I shall now read alone completely demolishes the right hon. Gentleman's argument that my right hon. Friend has no right to modify the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. On 10th October, 1944, I was dealing with the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill, which is now the Act of 1944. At that time, I had to meet possible 3054 criticisms in the House, to the effect that the Government were handing over die whole business to the Boundary Commission, without leaving Parliament any rights at all in the matter. Therefore, in order to assure the House that Parliament retained all its rights, which I welcomed as a good democrat, I said this to the House, on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman's Government:Therefore, Parliament will settle the principle, Parliament will deal with the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners as modified or not and submitted by the Government of the day, and at no stage will there be any situation which is not entirely under Parliamentary control. I am sure the House will attach importance to that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c 1614.]First of all, I asserted the right of the Government of the day to ask Parliament to modify the proposal of the Boundary Commission, and, of course, I asserted the right of hon. Members of this House to propose Amendments to the Bill implementing the Commissioners' Report. Indeed, it would be monstrous if hon. Members had not got that right to put forward such Amendments as they might think fit.
That, I think, really disposes of the case, and I think it will be seen that the right hon. Gentleman has not got any case, and that all these accusations are utterly unfounded. The real case for the Amendment, in principle, is this. These 80,000 boroughs are exceptionally difficult to handle. I have myself, at the moment, a constituency, which I am very proud to represent, of nearly 100,000, and it really does take time to keep a reasonable personal contact with so many constituents. It is necessary to draw the arbitrary line, anyway, and, if we take a city like Norwich, with 80,000 electors and a much bigger population, it is exceedingly difficult for my hon. Friend to represent that division and cover the whole ground and get that contact with his constituents that he ought to have. Take the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor). Under the Bill, the hon. and gallant Gentleman, or somebody else, was going to represent 80,000 electors for the whole Borough of Paddington, and I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not like the prospect, and I am sure that he welcomes the proposed division of Paddington, which, I think is only fair and reasonable.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but may I ask him this question? Is it not the case that, in every one of these cities affected by the proposed changes, all parties in the constituencies were united in demanding the restoration of additional representation?
§ Mr. Morrison
—and I understood, generally speaking—I do not put it any higher than that—that my right hon. Friend received representations from many political quarters and from the local authorities concerned.
§ Vice - Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned Paddington, and South Paddington in particular, I would like to say that, in view of the immense number of voters which would be involved if North and South were combined, I was opposed at the very outset to that amalgamation, and sent in a protest about it, as did also the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field) and my association. As a matter of fact, the numbers are now over 93,500, and by the time the election comes along they will, possibly, be nearer 100,000. Because of that I was opposed to the amalgamation.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has very frankly and very convincingly [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—he is quite in earnest about it—stated the case in respect of the Borough of Paddington. As a matter of fact, there was a conference with the local authorities representing what we may call these "800,000 boroughs" at Paddington, and the town clerk communicated with me officially on behalf of the lot of them, asking that the division should be made. Therefore, I do not conceive it as a party question. With regard to the other constituencies, I gather from the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) that he would wish Leeds not to have this additional Member.
§ Mr. Morrison
Am I to take it that the right hon. Gentleman thinks Leeds ought not to have an additional Member?
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman is getting shocked about party politics. Wonders never cease. We thought that, in the case of these other boroughs, the recommendation was, perhaps, a little bit harsh. My right hon. Friend conducted a survey, and came to the conclusion that he could take this series of boroughs and treat them in this way, fairly and on a reasonable basis of equity. That is what he has done, and, in the same way, he got the advice of the Boundary Commission as to the best way to do it. That is all there is to it.
What the Committee has to do is to decide whether these proposals are fair and equitable, all things considered. We think they are, and we recommend them to the Committee. As far as we are concerned, my right hon. Friend submits the proposals to the House on their merits. It is for the Committee to decide. As to the wild, partisan, unfair and irresponsible charges of the right hon. Gentleman, we return them to him, we throw them back at him, and we say that they, ix themselves, reveal the naughty things going on in his own mind.
§ 5.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council took the unusual course of making a second Front Bench speech in support of his Amendment before he had called upon the body of his supporters to assist him. I can quite understand why he should have done that. He was manifestly dissatisfied with the performance of his right hon. Friend, and obviously considered that none of the hon. Gentlemen behind him was competent to deal with the somewhat unplausible case. I agree with him in both those matters. The only point at which I should diverge from him is that I do not consider that, by his own performance, he has added much to the case for the Amendment.
His principal complaint was that my right hon. Friend had declined to deal at 3057 any length with the merits of the case. What a peculiar criticism, coming from the right hon. Gentleman. I suppose this flood of vulgar buffoonery to which this House has time and time again been compelled to listen, this dreary drizzle of personalities of which he is such a master, these personal references to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench—all this was a studious attention to the merits of the case. If there be a master of irrelevance and buffoonery in this House, it is the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] When I view hon. Gentlemen opposite and hear the animal noises which they make, I am reminded of a story by Rudyard Kipling in which he describes a rather unpleasant tribe of monkeys, the Bandalogs, who, it will be remembered, sat upon seats on which nobler creatures than they had once sat, and dwelt in the palaces formerly occupied by men who were worthy to represent their people, and who sang a song which, Mr. Butcher, you will recollect went as follows—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sing it."]Here we sit in a branchy row,Thinking of beautiful things we know,Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do,All complete in a minute or two.Something noble and grand and good,Won by merely wishing we could.Those monkeys came to a bad end, and were displaced by people who knew their own minds more clearly, and did not make so much noise about their deliberations.
I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his irrelevance. I ask the Committee to return strictly to the merits of the case. What are the merits? They are that the delineation of constituencies in this country, or in any Parliamentary democracy, is far too much a matter which can be made the subject of gerrymandering and log-rolling, to be left to any single majority party in this House of Commons, of whichever party that' majority is composed. The peculiar nature of these merits is that the proposition which I have just enunciated is not—or was not until this week—a matter of party controversy at all.
It was a principle which was admitted and generally accepted by every single responsible body of opinion in this country. It was recognised at the time of the Speaker's Conference; recognised after the General Election when the proposal was first put forward by His 3058 Majesty's Government that the work of the Boundary Commission should be continued; recognised when this Bill was printed, and recognised on the Second Reading of the Bill when the Home Secretary announced his proposals. The principle which I have just enunciated, and which has been frankly and admittedly violated by the Amendment which is now put forward, was not for a moment held in question until party pressure was brought to bear from a single political quarter in order that an Amendment might be made with the undoubted effect of benefiting a particular political party.
The merits of the case to which the right hon. Gentleman paid such attention are simply these: the principle that the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies in a democracy can be delineated at the whim of a party majority is utterly vicious and ought not to be tolerated for a moment. On the contrary, the matter ought to be referred to an impartial body—call it a Boundary Commission, or what you will—in order that the whole question may not simply be viewed impartially, may not simply be decided rightly, but may be seen by the whole world to be viewed impartially and decided rightly. It is that principle which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to violate by his present Amendment.
The kind of shoddy excuse which is now put forward, to the effect that by some secret protocol the Boundary Commission has, in fact, been consulted does not bear the smallest scrutiny whatever. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has already pointed out that the Lord President was wholly disingenuous when he referred to the functions of the Boundary Commission as continous. The functions of the Boundary Commission were complete for the moment upon the issue of their Report, and they do not revive until a moment not less than three, and not more than seven years from the time at which their Report is first enacted. How it can be honestly said or suggested—and I submit that it was not said honestly—that the functions of a body which are only revived after a period of three years and not less, can be described as continuous, passes my understanding.
The matter, however, does not rest there, because the right hon. Gentleman 3059 has not in any sense referred this matter to the Boundary Commission. On his own showing, the right hon. Gentleman has said in substance to the Boundary Commission, or to its individual members—because that is a more accurate description—"We, the Government, have decided to give the Labour Party another 12 seats. Tell us how we can best divide up certain constituencies so as to achieve that result." They have deliberately departed from the findings of the Boundary Commission on this very subject, after it had been made apparent that the Boundary Commission had considered the very arguments which were put forward in the Second Reading Debate. They have ordered the Boundary Commission to reverse their findings as a matter of Cabinet decision, and the only question which they left to the Boundary Commission was as to which particular red lines should be drawn down which particular streets. To pretend that that is consultation with an impartial body, that that is doing something that is fair or above board, or leaving things to an impartial authority, is hypocrisy and Phariseeism, and nothing else.
The Government have come to their decision by pressure from their own party. They have told the Boundary Commission that they want another 12 seats, and now they have asked the Boundary Commission to tell them exactly how those seats shall be delineated.
§ Mr. Ede
Let us get the mathematics right. The Boundary Commission themselves sent the first eight seats to us before they sent the Report with an indication as to what we should do if we thought that the eight boroughs should be divided. They clearly did not regard themselves as having the last word on the subject. The other number is not 12, but nine.
§ Mr. Hogg
I really am not concerned with whether the right hon. Gentleman told the Boundary Commission that the Government wanted nine Labour seats or 12. What I am concerned with is the whole principle by which they ask the Boundary Commission's advice on exactly where the division or boundary is drawn, and not on the principle whether any new seat shall be created at all. It is a mere pretence, a mere piece of stupid hypocrisy, a specious and 3060 idiotic excuse by which no one is really deceived, to pretend that this business of going to the Boundary Commission gives the Boundary Commission any right or choice as to whether certain new Labour seats should be created. That is the merit of the case. That is the transaction which is objected to as being dishonest, and not one word of the pantomime to which the Lord President treated us was directed to that point at all.
When we look at the kind of thing which is now proposed, we see the gerrymandering nature of this Amendment in all its nakedness. What is proposed is this. It is not to effect the general reorganisation of the Boundary Commissioner's Report for the purpose of giving a closer approximation to the principle of one vote, one value. It is an arbitrary selection by the Government, under pressure from their back benches, of a particular list of constituencies, and of ordering the Boundary Commission to find extra room on the benches opposite for new Members for those constituencies. It is nothing to the Government that they thereby create constituencies among the smallest in the country. It is nothing to the Government that some of the counties have grievances every bit as acute as any which those particular boroughs could possibly bring forward. It is nothing to the Government that other boroughs might put forward cases as specious. Nor is it an excuse to say that the boroughs which have been selected for preferential treatment themselves desire preferential treatment, whatever their political alignment. All boroughs desire and demand preferential treatment.
A much stronger case could be made for the City of Oxford than could be made for half these new constituencies. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."] I propose to prove it. It has long been the view of the local authority in that constituency, and of members of all political parties, that the city has grown to a stage when it requires two Members, divided more or less as between east and west. Its population has risen to a stage at which the new constituency which I am to be given under the existing proposal amounts to something like 80,000—I think 78,000 is the exact figure—and I am advised that before there is any likely prospect of a General Election, according to the Government, that figure will rise to over 80,000.
3061 6.0 p.m.
Now, Sir, what case can be made for Norwich which cannot equally be made for Oxford, except that Norwich has a Labour Member who can get behind the Government? What case can be made for any of these constituencies which have Labour Members which cannot be made equally for a number of other constituencies? The whole thing is a piece of cynical gerrymandering, not professed to be based on any principle except the principle of the advantage of the Labour Party, and arrived at only after an obvious threat of revolt had been levelled at the Government from its own back benchers.
The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, coming, as I thought ineffectually, to the aid of his right hon. Friend, asked us to believe in his right hon. Friend's sincerity and honourable intention. I cannot accept that assurance for this reason: we are asked to believe that the right hon. Gentleman has judged this case upon its merits, but when did those merits first become apparent to the right hon. Gentleman? Was it when he was concerned in the deliberations of the Speaker's Conference? Was it when he continued the functions of the Boundary Commission after he took his present Office? Was it when he had the Bill published? Was it when he defended the Government's proposals on the Second Reading? No—the merits which we are asked to believe in first came to the right hon. Gentleman's attention when he was threatened with a revolt from his own back benchers. We have the pitiful spectacle of two right hon. Gentlemen lamely getting up, one after the other, and putting forward a poor camouflage, a piece of humbug, in order to conceal what is a deliberate piece of straight, political gerrymandering.
§ Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
Frankly, I do not think I have ever listened to more political bunkum than I have heard from the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and also from the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I want to bring the Committee, if I can, down to the merits of the case. One would imagine that we on this side of the Committee had no right whatever to bring any criticism when any matter was before the House of Commons. Surely, on the Second Reading Debate we were entitled to point out what we 3062 believed were anomalies? Not one Member on the other side of the Committee was able to counteract at all the arguments which we then put forward. The hon. Member for Oxford spoke just now in a way which was more than pantomime—it was more like qualifying for the Zoo. He brought forward the case of Oxford, but in Oxford the number of electors is 74,000.
§ Mr. Yates
I am not going to argue the point as to what the figures are now, but I can tell the Committee frankly that as far as the City of Birmingham is concerned it now becomes the second city to London and, therefore, in comparison with Glasgow, it ought really to have three more seats—not one. If, indeed, we were to take the figure of 74,316 for Oxford, in this Report, it would mean that the divided constituency would fall below 40,000 and, therefore, the hon. Member for Oxford has no right at all to suggest that there is party advantage in this particular issue. I want to ask the Committee whether hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite believe it is reasonable to have constituencies of 80,000 to 87,000. As one who has tried to represent a constituency to the best of my ability, I say it is absolutely impossible adequately to represent a constituency with many more than 50,000 and, therefore, I do not think any charge whatsoever of gerrymandering can be made with any substantial accuracy.
§ Mr. Yates
I have no doubt in my mind that any scheme of redistribution is bound to present anomalies, but one has to consider whether the alterations made produce the results which some of the hon. and right hon. Members opposite suggest. In regard to the 63 seats which are affected in the divided boroughs, where there is nearly three and a half million votes, I want to say that the average constituency is over 55,000 and I think, therefore, it is reasonable that these changes should be made.
3063 Dealing with the City of Birmingham, 70,000 were brought into the city in the original scheme and two seats were taken away, and the corporation stated a case —I think a reasonable case. It meant that even after the additional seat, which has been conceded by these proposals, the average in the City of Birmingham—with that additional seat—will be 58,437. The average is even higher in Liverpool. In all the circumstances, therefore, I think the Government have done the right thing. I commend them for the action which they have taken. Perhaps this is not the place to talk about details, but we can argue about details as to whether or not the changes operate for or against party advantage.
I and my hon. Friends in the City of Birmingham would naturally have liked a scheme which fits in better with our point of view, but that is not the scheme which is in these proposals. Nevertheless, some anomalies were created. It simply means that in a city like Birmingham, if we are to redistribute further, we have to consider the central areas which are overcrowded and, as redevelopment of the city takes place and electors are transferred to the outer ring, we can move only in certain ways.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
For the sake of accuracy, may I ask is it not a fact that the anomalies, now being apparently dealt with in the Amendment by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, were not discovered until long after the publication of the Bill?
§ Mr. Yates
I do not think so. I think the hon. Gentleman will remember that on the Second Reading I called attention to a resolution and a letter which had been sent to the Boundary Commission by the Town Clerk of Birmingham in which the position was pointed out. The case which we made was that, although objections had been raised officially on behalf of the city, and, following the unanimous decision of the General Purposes Committee of the Birmingham Corporation, a letter had been submitted to the Boundary Commission, their objections were never considered and, I put it to this Committee, not only were they not considered, but no reply was received to that communication. I submit to the hon. Member for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Sir P. 3064 Hannon) that the City of Birmingham, which he has had the honour to represent in this House of Commons for so many years, has never before been treated in that manner.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the Boundary Commission did not consider the objections properly submitted to them under the Act? That is a most serious suggestion if there be any truth in it. No doubt the Home Secretary will confirm or deny it, because he will know what happened.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Member said that it was not considered by the Commission. If he did not mean that, perhaps he would withdraw it.
§ Mr. Yates
I do not know what on earth they did. The point is that the letter went forward from the city giving their objections, and the point I made during Second Reading was that the city had not been consulted. I still say that no consultation with the city took place, and it was not a fair proposition to take away a seat from the City of Birmingham without having fully consulted the city. Therefore, I think that the City of Birmingham will applaud my right hon. Friend and the Government for having restored what is their legitimate claim to 13 seats.
§ Sir P. Hannon
The City of Birmingham is proud to have 13 seats. What we are complaining about is that the Amendment in the name of the Home Secretary rearranges the wards in Birmingham to the advantage of the Socialist Party.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
No, that is not true. We can tell the hon. Member all about it.
§ Mr. Yates
Furthermore, under this scheme there is a gain so far as the Conservatives are concerned. That, if course, is a matter of opinion. As far as I can see, the Government have met the obvious Conservative objections to a scheme which was published in the Birmingham Press as the scheme put forward by the Labour Party, so I do not accept the view that——
§ Sir P. Hannon
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I must point out that both parties in Birmingham originally agreed to 12 seats; then we gradually agreed to 13 seats. What we disagree with is the re-arrangement of certain wards to the advantage of the Labour Party now.
§ Mr. Yates
I was not aware that there was any agreement in Birmingham with regard to 12 seats. So far as the city was concerned, we objected to the loss of certain seats. We maintain that the proposal to re-divide the city is the proposal of the Boundary Commission, and I entirely deny that there is any special party advantage so far as I have been able to analyse the figures. According to the Birmingham statistics, Birmingham had 10 Labour Members and three Conservative Members, and if the hon. Member examines it carefully he will find that probably there is a little, more advantage to the Conservatives.
The constituencies to be altered are constituencies at present represented by Labour Members. It is a matter of regret to see the passing of old divisions such as Deritend, West Birmingham and Duddeston, which for many years have had historical associations with the City of Birmingham. But it is inevitable, in view of the fact that those divisions have the smallest electorates. In Duddeston there is an electorate of only 27,000, and in Deritend of only 25,000. Even though those divisions are at present represented by Labour Members, we could not reasonably object to a re-arrangement which involves their amalgamation. Therefore, 3066 I entirely deny—and it is irresponsible so to suggest—that this is done for the purpose of gaining party advantage.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wadsworth (Buckrose)
We must have a complete understanding of what the hon. Member has said. I gather that the City of Birmingham protested to the Boundary Commission about the rearrangement of the seats.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
To carry it further, the hon. Member is saying that the City of Birmingham was not allowed a public inquiry.
§ Mr. Yates
The hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth) is quite correct: we had no public inquiry. During Second Reading—it appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT—I read out a letter from the town clerk who said that, based on the population, Birmingham was entitled to 13 seats, because the average for Great Britain was just over 57,000, and 13 seats would give Birmingham an average electorate of 58,000.
§ Mr. Yates
The town clerk sent his letter, which was acknowledged. The regional council of the Labour Party also raised objections, and not only sent a letter calling attention to the fact that they believed we were entitled to a bigger representation; but protested in favour of 13 Parliamentary divisions, but there was no reply. A case was made out for consideration on behalf of the City of Birmingham, and on behalf of other cities who had not been consulted. The Scottish Boundary Commissioners proceeded in a different way. They not only acknowledged protests but sent replies to everybody who had——
§ Mr. Yates
Then I can only assume that they did not proceed according to the principles they themselves laid down. I was basing my remarks on the Scottish Boundary Commission's Report, in which it was stated that they were proceeding on that principle. Apparently they did not proceed according to their own rules, which makes it worse.
§ Mr. N. Maclean
They absolutely refused to hear me when I wanted to go before them, and it was only after the intervention of Mr. Speaker that they wrote and asked me to go to see them.
§ Mr. Yates
That may be the case. I am putting forward the view that a city with a population of over a million is entitled to be consulted, and there ought to have been a public inquiry. Nevertheless, there was not, so we put forward our case, which I think is the same as that of other cities. In conclusion, I submit that, if Birmingham is to have constituencies with an average electorate of 58,000 no hon. or right hon. Member opposite can claim that the average is too 3068 low. We are entitled to our proper representation, and I personally welcome the action of the Government on behalf of the City of Birmingham. My right hon. Friend will be respected by all parties in the City of Birmingham for the fact that Birmingham's proper representation has been restored. Therefore, I shall give full support to the Government in the action which they have taken and which, in my opinion, transcends party considerations.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I want very briefly to deal with the story of this case as it has seemed to me since I came back from America after the original Debate had taken place. I will not take up very much of the time of the Committee, but I would be grateful to have the Lord President's attention; it is largely of him that I have to speak. This is how I understand this case, and I am sure the Lord President will be good enough to correct me if I am wrong. A Speaker's Conference was called; it was an all-party conference. The case is made by the Lord President that the agreements entered into between the parties cannot be binding upon an ensuing Parliament. What he really says in effect—I challenge him to deny it—is that a party which is in a minority bargains to the best of its ability in an all-party conference, such as the Speaker's Conference, intending to go back on its words if by chance it is returned at the next Election. That is the case, if I read the Lord President's lines aright.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
As the hon. Gentleman has challenged me to deny it, I had better, for the purposes of the record, say that I do deny it.
§ Mr. Baxter
I am very much obliged to the Lord President of the Council. He is always courteous on these occasions.—[An HON. MEMBER: "On all occasions."] —Well, he is with me at any rate. If he denies that he had that in mind at all, what he then says, in effect, is that it is the right of a party entering into an all-party conference, if the party is in a minority, to act differently when it achieves a majority. I think I am expressing the Lord President's mind accurately. If so, may I say that I think it is a contemptible doctrine? I do not know how, in business or in normal life, agreements between gentlemen would possibly last in these circumstances. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are discussing 3069 politicians."] Well, I still think that politicians must be considered as gentlemen. The word "honourable" is not merely a polite figure of speech in the House of Commons; "honourable Member" means an honourable Member.
For the Socialist Party to have it in its mind to go back on an all-party conference if it achieved power is one of the most serious arraignments of the Socialist Party that I have ever heard. I put this point again. Suppose at the end of the Speaker's Conference, the Lord President, or one of his delegates, or chief "stooges," or the Home Secretary, had stood up and said to the Speaker and to the Conference: "Make no mistake about it, the agreements entered into and reached today will not be binding upon us if we win the next Election."
§ Mr. Baxter
I said that if the right hon. Gentleman had been a member. There were representatives of the Socialist Party speaking with the authority of the Socialist Party. It does not matter whether it was any particular Minister. Whoever it was, they would not have dared to say at the end of the Speaker's Conference, "We do not intend to abide by these agreements."
§ Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)
I would like to ask a question whilst the hon. Gentleman is dealing with the Speaker's Conference. Is it not a fact that any recommendations of that Conference would be agreed recommendations, and that the only things binding would be those recommendations which were supported by the House?
§ Mr. Baxter
That question is clearly outside the point. It was an all-party conference, composed of all parties in the House. The Election takes place, however, and Socialists find themselves in a great majority. They then put the Boundary Commission into effect and come back to the House suggesting the redistribution of seats. What is the attitude of the Government once that happens? They look at the Report, and they see that the Socialists may lose many seats by it. The situation alarms them, 3070 I think with some effect, because at the next Election a matter of 10 or 20 seats may be vital, unless the public comes to its senses and sweeps the party out completely by a huge majority.
Reverting to the actions which the Government have taken since the Report was issued, they do away, first, with the two City seats. They take away from London the representation it has had in the City of London for 600 years. They put their vandal hands upon the great tradition, and by pettifogging and wretched arguments sweep away one of the great traditions of this country, but they reduce the anti-Socialist vote by two. What does tradition matter if the Socialist Party benefit by two votes? They then turn upon the universities, not one representative of which supports the Government— not one. Is it not an odd coincidence that, in their passion for democracy, with their creeping common sense of two and two must make four, that they should put their hands upon these seats, none of which supported them? It is a very odd coincidence that their passion for democracy should take this form.
What do they do next? They decide that the recommendations of the Commission must be rewritten. Again, they find a way of creating eight new seats, where it looks fairly certain that they would be Socialist seats. The only course which would have been honourable and respectful to this House would have been to say, "We must have an all-party discussion on these alterations once the Commission has reported. We must do nothing which will alter the voting in favour of one party" To use the term "Parliamentary control" when the Government can use their majority is to use words that have no meaning. It is Government control and not Parliamentary control; the Government can carry through anything. Having gone through the set-up of the Speaker's Conference and the Report having been issued, the Government had no right to make any alterations which would result in their voting favour without consulting the other parties. It was for Parliament and not the Government, to decide, but for the Government, as the instrument of Transport House, deliberately creating rotten boroughs—[An HON. MEMBER: "Abolishing rotten boroughs."]—Rotten boroughs, that is what these new seats should be called.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer
How, then, does the hon. Member reconcile the abolition of the City of London representation, with an electorate of 4,000, and the abolition of university representation, with an electorate of about 10,000, with the position of Birmingham, where there are 20,000 to 22,000——
I am afraid that I cannot allow the hon. Member to put forward that line of argument, because I cannot allow the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) to answer it. We are dealing with increasing and not decreasing the number.
§ Mr. Baxter
You will be the first to know, Mr. Beaumont, that we are not discussing the merits or otherwise of university representation.
§ Mr. Baxter
I was merely calling attention to the fact that it is an odd coincidence that not one university member supports the Government. I say that they have been put in the tumbril for that reason. I would ask your permission, Mr. Beaumont, to say just one more thing, even if it may be out of Order.
If the hon. Member thinks that it is out of Order, it will save me the trouble of pulling him up if he does not refer to it.
§ Mr. Baxter
I was uncertain about it, and I thought that you would call me to Order if necessary. As one who has been born in the Empire and has been away from this country, I say that it is a great grief to find these splendid things disappearing. If we consider the sequence of events since the Speaker's Conference, with the twisting and turning of the Reports sent in by the Commission, and the Government deliberately taking actions conducive to Party advantage, I say that the Government and the Socialist Party have earned the contempt of all.
§ Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) have given us their usual caustic oratorical fireworks, but I thought that on this occasion the fireworks were rather damp. We have heard these same speeches so often during the passage of this Bill that they are becoming monotonous, and I even detected some boredom on the faces of Members opposite. I am very sorry that Members opposite are attributing a party political motive to an attempt to redress the grievances of our large cities. I agree entirely with this Amendment. I thought that the Home Secretary put up a very good case for giving extra seats to those cities which were under-represented. If we accept the principle of "one man, one vote," we must also accept the principle that one man's vote ought not to be only half as effective as another man's vote. We are attempting to put this right. It has been said on several occasions today that we are doubling the representation of the eight cities, but that is not so. At the present time, several of these eight constituencies, such as Blackburn and Norwich, are represented by two Labour Members, and therefore I do not see how we can possibly be increasing the Labour representation.
Mr. McKïe (Galloway)
§ Miss Bacon
If they already have two Labour Members and there are still only two seats, how can we be increasing the number? It is ridiculous to say that we are doing that. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who is my next-door neighbour in that city, say that Leeds ought to be represented by six Members and not seven. I am sure that the citizens of Leeds will be interested to hear his opinion on that. I agree with him that no political party and no organisation in Leeds asked for an extra seat. Surely the reason for that was that when the Boundary Commission's proposals came out, we could see that other cities around Leeds, such as Bradford and Sheffield, were losing some of their Parliamentary representatives. At that time, I thought, on the figures, that Leeds should possibly have an extra seat, because as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, through redistribution we are adding to the Leeds electorate by bringing in thousands of voters from the county constituencies. We 3073 did not ask for an extra seat, because we could see that some of the cities outside were being deprived of their representatives.
I want to put one specific point to the Home Secretary, and to receive from him a certain assurance. When the Boundary Commission issued their two reports, a certain time was set aside for organisations to make representations to the Commission, where we thought that mistakes had been made. We did make such representations, and we were evidently more fortunate than Birmingham in this respect, because the Boundary Commission considered our objections and granted what we asked. But, we were confronted on Thursday with the Amendment on the Order Paper, which means that we have not the time to ask the Boundary Commission to make any alterations we think ought to be made. At first sight, the constituencies in Leeds seem to be geographically untidy. I think that the set-up interferes more than is necessary with the existing boundaries.
We, in Leeds, have not put down an Amendment for two reasons. First of all, we have not had time since Thursday to consider the Commission's proposals in detail. In the second place, I think it is very unsatisfactory to debate individual constituencies on the Floor of the House. I am not competent to judge the various Amendments which have been put down by Members in this respect, and I am sure that other hon. Members would not be competent to judge what should happen in the case of Leeds if we put down an Amendment. I do not think it is right that the House should decide exact boundaries. They must be considered by the Boundary Commission in an impartial way. It would be much more satisfactory if we could have a specific assurance from the Home Secretary that there will be an opportunity between now and the Report stage for local organisations to make representations and put alternative schemes before the Boundary Commission. If that could be done, I am sure that it would go a long way towards meeting some of the objections of our people.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
I have listened with great attention, and without making any interruption whatever, to the speeches of the Home Secretary and the Lord President of the 3074 Council, and I must say that I cannot help expressing my surprise that neither of those spokesmen of the Government, nor anyone else, so far as I heard, referred to the position of Northern Ireland, and the way in which Northern Ireland is placed at a still further disadvantage by the proposals put forward in this Amendment. I would remind the Committee that between 1918 and 1922 the present six counties of Northern Ireland were represented by 30 Members in this House. By the Act of 1920 an immense reduction was made whereby the 30 were reduced to 13, including the representative of the university. At the General Election of 1922, and ever since, Northern Ireland has been represented by only 13 Members.
We, too, like England, Scotland and Wales have had our Boundary Commission, and that Commission have pointed out that in Northern Ireland the average electorate is not less than 71,457. When I made a calculation on the original allocation of seats to England, Scotland and Wales, I found that Northern Ireland would be entitled, if she were a part of Great Britain, to an extra three seats. If, on the other hand, Northern Ireland were part of Scotland she would be entitled to five extra seats. The addition of all those 17 extra seats to England enormously increases the discrepancy. The Boundary Commission have said themselves that the quota of Northern Ireland is 124 per cent. of that of Great Britain. We have heard today about the City of Norwich; we have heard about various other boroughs. I would like to quote from the Report of the Boundary Commission—I shall give only a few examples, as I do not wish to take up too much time of the Committee. I shall give the figures for the County Borough of Belfast. The East Division, as proposed by the Commission, will have 62,707 electors; the North Division 76,504 electors; the South Division 72,106 electors; and the West Division 81,892. I would like the Committee to compare those figures with those for the City of Norwich, about which we have heard so much today.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
On a point of Order. The hon. Member has apparently forgotten that Northern Ireland has its own Parliament.
§ Professor Savory
I was just coming to that point; I knew that that argument 3075 would be put forward. It is true that Northern Ireland has its own Parliament, and that was undoubtedly the reason why, in 1920, the representation was reduced. Hon. Members will not forget that under the Act of Union, Ireland was to have no fewer than 100 Members. Right down to 1922 she had 103, including the three representatives of the universities— Trinity College, Dublin, had two. When the Act of Union was repealed, in 1920, that reduction was necessary and reasonable, although I think it went rather far. The point made by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) was not really a point of Order, but an argument. My reply is that all the Customs and Excise duties, all the Income Tax, including Surtax and taxes on profits— and I see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the Front Bench, who, I know, will support me—are reserved——
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I cannot see the relevance of what the hon. Member is now saying to this Amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Professor Savory
I merely wished to reply to the hon. Gentleman's interruption, and to point out that the whole of our taxation in Northern Ireland is collected by the Imperial Parliament and paid into the Imperial Exchequer. Therefore, if "taxation without representation is tyranny" we are entitled to a representation proportionate to that of England, Scotland and Wales. I sympathise with the large cities, but I think the Home Secretary and the Lord President might have referred to the way in which this Amendment will increase enormously the disproportion of representation from which Northern Ireland at present suffers, as the Boundary Commission have clearly laid down. As I am the honorary secretary of the Ulster Unionist Party at Westminster, I felt it was my duty to put forward the case of Northern Ireland. As this Bill will deprive me of my seat, and as perhaps this may be almost the last time that I shall have the honour and pleasure of addressing the Committee, I beg the Government to give some weight to the arguments which I have put forward.
§ Mrs. Castle (Blackburn)
There have been so many deliberate distortions in 3076 this Debate of the facts of the situation we are now discussing that I think it is important that those who are affected by the changes which the Government propose by this Amendment should try to put the facts before the Committee and the country in the interests not only of Members on this side but of all those people, in the constituencies which we represent, who have fought and struggled to achieve the very change which the Government are now suggesting should be made. We have had, from the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) remarkable attempts, consciously, and, in my view, deliberately, to invert the known facts on the lines that if enough mud is thrown some of it will stick.
This Bill is an outstanding example of political disinterestedness. Some of us on this side go so far as to say that it approaches political suicide for our party. The Government have given up a political advantage in order to achieve a more even distribution of seats. The small increase granted by this Amendment does nothing to correct the turn of the balance of advantage away from the Labour Party. Hon. Members opposite know in their hearts that there has been a gift in many directions to their point of view. Certainly this small increase would be inadequate to redress the change in balance which this Bill achieves.
I was sorry to hear the wild remarks of the hon. Member for Oxford. I tried to make an accurate note of them. He said that these changes and this Amendment were due to party pressure brought to bear by a single political party for the advantage of a single political party. I know that the hon. Gentleman is rather impulsive, but I think that he ought to apprise himself of the situation before he gets up in this Committee and makes remarks like that, if he expects to be treated as a serious Member of the House. It is inaccurate to say that, so far as the eight over-large constituencies are concerned, the change which is being made to retain the two Members which they already possess has been achieved as a result of party pressure brought to bear by a single political party. That is not the case in my constituency, and had the hon. Gentleman consulted the local Conservative association in Blackburn before he made that statement——
§ Mr. Hogg
I was aware of that, and I said that each borough that wanted preferential treatment wanted it as a whole. I was saying that the change in the Government's attitude after the printing of the Bill was directly due to party pressure, influenced by party motives, and redounded to the advantage of one party—and I repeat that.
§ Mrs. Castle
I think that when the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find that he said that pressure was brought to bear by a single political party, and I maintain that is grossly inaccurate so far as Blackburn is concerned, where all-party decisions were made and all-party conferences were held and all-party pressure was brought to bear on the Home Secretary to readjust this very grave slight on an industrial town of growing importance in our national economy. At a time when we are saying how important is the cotton industry in Lancashire, to demote one of the largest cotton towns to single-Member status seemed to every citizen in Blackburn unjustified. It was not only the organised political parties, but the cotton manufacturers and industrialists and all types of organisation who joined in this protest and brought the utmost pressure to bear. I have copies of letters of protest which were sent to the Home Secretary by the Young Women's Christian Association. Perhaps that organisation is now on the suspect list of the hon. Gentleman.
These organisations brought the utmost democratic pressure to bear on the Home Secretary for it is in the interests of better democratic representation in Britain that important industrial centres like Blackburn, of such a large size should be allowed to retain the two Members which they have had since the Reform Bill of 1832. The people of Blackburn are as justly proud of their traditions as anyone in the City of London is proud of the traditions of the City of London. Nor was this all-party pressure limited to Blackburn. Actually, all the eight constituencies with over 80,000 electors met as a whole: not only their Members of Parliament but their local authorities, supported by parties of all complexions in those constituencies; and passed a unanimous resolution laying down the view that it was totally impossible for one Member of Parliament adequately and efficiently to represent boroughs of 3078 this size. The decision was taken on a matter of principle and was not concerned with party advantage. There was not a single dissident party voice against the decision.
Then the hon. Member for Oxford went on to say that this Amendment is to the advantage of a single political party. I knew he was defeatist about the prospects of the Conservative Party, but I did not know that he was quite so defeatist as all that. There is nothing in this situation to prevent his political party recapturing, if it can, the representation of Blackburn. Let them come and try. It is totally inaccurate to say that this is an advantage which must necessarily and permanently and irredeemably redound to the advantage of a single political party. I am honoured by the hon. Gentleman's assumption that I am so strongly entrenched, and I assure him that I intend to retain my seat for Blackburn, but I did not expect such testimony and support from his side of the House. I think that it is imperative that we should not get in this Committee a repetition of the wild and irresponsible statements which we are becoming accustomed to hear from the hon. Member for Oxford and which show a total lack of appreciation of the importance of maintaining democratic principles in this country, which this Bill goes a step towards maintaining.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
I want to make my position clear with regard to the eight constituencies with over 80,000 constituents, which is a matter quite apart, in my opinion, from the other constituencies dealt with in the Amendment put forward by the Home Secretary. When the Report of the Boundary Commission was published, the borough council, the Conservative association, I myself and the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field) all sent in protests with regard to the amalgamation of North and South Paddington. Every one affected by the proposals of the Boundary Commission was asked to send in a protest by a certain time if they wished to do so.
There is nothing extraordinary about protests being sent in on that account. We entered protests solely on the ground that it would be quite impossible for any one Member efficiently and adequately to represent Paddington as one constituency. At the time the Boundary Commission 3079 were considering the matter, the number of voters was 87,000. In one year the number increased by 6,500 to 93,500. As time passes and the population of Paddington is steadily increasing, it is quite likely that when a General Election comes Paddington as one constituency would have nearer 100,000 voters than 90,000. In common sense, I say that it is quite impossible for that constituency to be adequately and efficiently represented by one Member in the House of Commons. It was for that reason that I protested, and everyone else concerned protested. It was a unanimous protest from Paddington on that matter.
I still hold to my opinion, and I am glad that this Amendment has been moved by the Home Secretary, that in the case of these eight constituencies with an enormous number of voters they shall have, as they have today, two Members of Parliament. I intended to put down an Amendment myself on the Committee Stage had one not been put down by the Home Secretary. Nothing would induce me to go back on that, but quite a different matter in my opinion is the question of the alteration which the Home Secretary has embodied in the Amendment, not only affecting the eight constituencies, but quite an appreciable additional number. There should be some high datum line and low datum line for the numbers in any constituency to be represented by one Member, and it was considered that the high datum line should be 80,000 and that any constituency below that should not have two Members. But that is not what the Government are doing. They are going far below that 80,000, and there is no datum line so far as they are concerned. The number is one that just suits their convenience.
It will be remembered that in the first Report of the Boundary Commission there was to be 25 per cent. one way or the other above or below the datum line, but in this Amendment there is nothing at all laid down as a high limit. That is a great mistake, and I suggest to the Home Secretary that something should be done in the matter in order that there should be a high limit. There would be anomalies in constituencies if a high limit of 80,000 was adopted but I suggest that a high limit of twice the low limit 3080 should be considered That is not what the Government have done. I quite agree with the general complaint and attack which has been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends with regard to this Bill, namely, that the Government have not fulfilled the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, but have gone back on them. When the whole country realises what the Government have done, the Government will be discredited, and they cannot complain when attacks are made on them by my right hon. and hon. Friends, because they deserve it. They have only themselves to blame.
I will not vote for this large increase in constituencies from 596 to 613, but I will vote for the eight constituencies to retain their two Members. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Boundary Commission particularly mentioned these eight constituencies with over 80,000 electors. They recognised the disadvantage of having that very large number of voters, and they also recognised that if any alteration were made, it might lead to other constituencies with a lower number taking objection and saying that they also ought to have a larger number of Members. The Government are doing, by this Amendment, exactly what the Boundary Commission thought might happen, for they have gone far below the 80,000. In doing so they have acted very wrongfully and unwisely. I am extremely glad about the number of Members for the eight constituencies, and so far as that part of the Amendment is concerned, I will vote for it.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I want to support as strongly as I can the Amendment which is before the Committee. I do so because I am conscious of the fact that this is a fair attempt to meet a problem with which I suggest even a Conservative Government would feel impelled to deal in similar circumstances. I very much regret that suggestions have been made by the Leader of the Opposition and Members on the opposite benches which implied that the Amendment is not actuated by a desire to serve the best interests of the country. The Report of the Boundary Commission aroused such a volume of unrest and criticism, as a result of the unfortunate position of some of the main industrial cities and towns of this country, that whatever Government was in power 3081 would have had to give serious reconsideration to the proposals that were made. After all, the industrial life and prosperity of the nation depend upon the activities of our large cities and towns.
I want to convey to the Home Secretary the appreciation of the City of Bradford for the very fair treatment which this Amendment gives. In the original scheme, the Boundary Commission proposed that Bradford should be removed from the normal system of representation to the abnormal; in other words, we were to lose one of our four seats; and I express the view of all parties in that city when I say that if the figures had been worked out correctly, we should have had no possible complaint against the original Report of the Boundary Commission. Our strong point in Bradford is that the Boundary Commission themselves departed from the formula laid down, and denied Bradford the retention of their four seats.
Suggestions have been made that the Amendment is just a bit of political manoeuvre. I can assure hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that in the City of Bradford that view is not accepted, either by Conservative, Liberal or Labour people. All political parties in Bradford were unanimous in making representations to the Home Secretary, and through the Home Secretary to the Commission, that Bradford should retain its four Parliamentary seats, and such a unanimous and enthusiastic decision by all parties in the city was supported very energetically by our popular local Press, "The Telegraph and Argus." There was strong resentment in Bradford, not on political grounds, but on grounds of equity and fairness, that Bradford should be denied adequate representation.
I want to quote to the Committee from Monday's "Telegraph and Argus" the views that have been expressed by no other person than the chief Tory agent in the city in order to refute the suggestions or implications made by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) that this proposal by the Home Secretary is a political manoeuvre. Speaking in connection with the Amendment which has been tabled and which we are discussing at the moment, the Conservative chief agent in Bradford gave an interview and this is what appeared in the "Telegraph and Argus": 3082'We think that it is a very reasonable composition of the territory, from an organisation point of view and in every other way.' This was the opinion expressed by Mr. Herbert Lee, chief Conservative agent, commenting on the Government Amendment today.It goes on to credit Mr. Lee with having said:'We have no complaints whatever. We feel that the Boundary Commission have clone a good job, but it is a pity that in their original proposals they did not take the action now contemplated by the Government'.There is the chief Conservative agent for Bradford saying, in other words, that his Conservative organisation welcomed the fact that the Home Secretary, in his wisdom, had decided to rectify an obvious error by the Boundary Commission in respect of Bradford. I go further. Even the Liberal Party are very optimistic about the change in the boundaries of the City of Bradford. Mr. Short, speaking for the Liberals, said:The Liberal Party has benefited a great deal by the rearrangement specified by the Government Amendment.Far from this being gerrymandering by the Labour Party, it is agreed on all sides in Bradford that the Amendment put down by my right hon. Friend is detrimental, if anything, to our maintaining four Bradford representatives in this House. That is the general opinion of Conservatives and Liberals, and I should say, very largely of the Labour Party.
Speaking for myself and for my three Bradford colleagues, I say that we are less concerned about whether our seats are retained by this adjustment than we are that the City of Bradford shall have fair and equitable representation, in order that our great industrial activities may find true expression in the House. I have no apology to make. From the political point of view, we in Bradford accept the proposals, which are not as favourable as the proposals which we put on the Order Paper, as representing the views of all political parties in the city. We withdrew our Amendment from the Paper, not because we believe that the proposals of the Home Secretary are better, but because we believe that they will commend themselves more to the House of Commons as representing the impartial view of the Boundary Commission.
I sincerely regret the attempt that has been made to suggest that the Home Secretary and his colleagues are actuated by a desire to influence the Bill from a 3083 Labour point of view. Most extraordinary suggestions have been made by the Leader of the Opposition, but the country will not accept this matter in the light that he expects. The country will accept the viewpoint of the local people, and of the agents in various parts of the country who have been sufficiently frank to say: "We have received a fair deal from the Commission." They will not be concerned about the pettifogging political bias of the Leader of the Opposition or about his attempt to represent to this country and to countries throughout the world that the Labour Government are concerned only about trying to gerrymander the Representation of the People Bill.
We have had a shocking exhibition of Parliamentary leadership from the Leader of the Opposition, a man who has given great service to this country and whose reputation throughout the world has always stood high. It is a terrible thing for him to try, particularly in connection with this Bill, grossly to misrepresent the policy of the Government——
§ Mr. McLeavy
—and to present the picture to the world that the Labour Government are less honest, less efficient and less fair than previous Administrations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear." I say that the right hon. Gentleman today has performed a very great disservice to the principles of democracy. Democracy, if it is to survive at all, can do so only upon honesty and integrity in criticism as well as in policy. The whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman deliberately tried to misrepresent the policy of the Government, which I believe will be accepted by the mass of the people of this country.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I hope that the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy) will forgive me if I do not follow all his arguments. It is interesting to notice how each hon. Member naturally takes the narrow point of view of his own town or country. The hon. Member said that Bradford would do much better in industrial production if it had four Members rather than three. It is on that 3084 point that I would like to make one or two observations.
I have been saddened as I listened to the Debate to think how we are wasting our time discussing whether there should be another 15 or 16 Members when the nation is faced with the possibility of war and the certainty of starvation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] The Chairman will keep me in Order, thank you. The point I wish to put to the Committee is that I shall vote against the Amendment because I believe that the Government are wasting the time of the Committee and turning the attention of the country to things that are not even of secondary importance. We are faced with problems to which we ought to be giving our time now. There was a good deal of sound and fury earlier between hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Birmingham—great heat, great noise, and much commotion. Whether Birmingham has an extra Member or not will not help to feed the people of Birmingham or help them with their other problems. I accuse the Government of not using Parliamentary time to the best advantage.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I was hoping that the hon. Member would soon come to the discussion of the Amendment. He has not done so as yet.
§ Mr. Osborne
The Amendment, as I understand it, is whether a certain number of new seats should be created.
§ Mr. Osborne
The point I am trying to make is that whether or not there are these extra seats will not make any difference to the real problems with which we are faced and which this Committee should be facing now.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We are not discussing those problems this afternoon. We are discussing an increase in the number of representatives.
§ Mr. Osborne
I must bow to your Ruling, Mr. Beaumont, but I should like to say, as a protest, before I sit down, that I will vote against this Amendment because I believe that the Government are failing to face the real problems and are wasting the time of the House and the country on things of only secondary importance.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
I will be very brief. I do not propose to deal with any particular constituency because I have hardly any claim to do so other than the fact that I have 110,000 constituents at present and therefore welcome this Bill because it will relieve me of some of that burden. I will say no more than that about my own constituency.
When Parliamentary institutions throughout the world are in a very parlous state and when Parliamentary institutions are being destroyed and political parties are becoming submerged, it is of paramount importance that in this Parliament we should set an example to the whole world. I believe that fundamentally, and therefore I very much regret the tone of the Debate this afternoon. We are asked by the Opposition to believe that here is some great constitutional issue which is being gerrymandered by the Government. The Opposition feel that so deeply and feel so profoundly that the Government are guilty of this that at the present time I can count 10 of them on the Opposition side of the Committee, so great is the constitutional crisis which is being gerrymandered by the Government. Let us have that on record so that we may know how much there is behind the filibustering of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg).
§ Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
On a point of Order, Mr. Beaumont, a statement was made that only 10 Members of the Opposition were in the Committee. There are II.
§ Mr. Poole
There were 10½ actually because one was in transit while I was speaking. I greatly regretted the Opposition's approach to this question this afternoon. The hon. Member for Oxford, in that nice, polite, gentle way of his which we all so much appreciate—I admit that we all hear him in very great fear and trembling, wondering when he is going to throw a fit—has in this Debate, which is so pregnant, accused the Government of hyprocrisy, humbug—and the Home Secretary of dishonesty—gerrymandering and a multitude of other things, which charges are apparently endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench. He accused the 3086 Government of these things knowing that they are untrue. Why? Because the just demands of the industrial areas of this country are being met. Hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite ought to be the last people to accuse anybody of gerrymandering. They have gerrymandered the electorate of this country as long as they have been a political party, and they sought to do it even on this Bill a few days ago when they tried to preserve the right of 4,500 people in the City of London to return two Members to this House. Then they have the audacity to accuse this side of the House of gerrymandering. It is a reflection of the foulness of their own minds. It is an indication of the depths to which they themselves would stoop if they ever had the opportunity.
I wonder why the Tory Party think that they alone are virtuous. Some of us consider that they have been singularly lacking in virtue not only during this Parliament, but while they were in power. What we have seen today is an index of the measure of the optimism they feel about the next General Election. It is an index of the faith they have in the programme of their "Industrial Charter" and all the other nonsense with which they hope to win the people. They are so full of hope that they recognise that they have not a chance of winning any of the new seats which are being created——
§ Mr. Poole
I hope the hon. Gentleman can get consolation out of North Croydon because he has been waiting an awfully long time for it. What we have seen today is an indication of the value which the Tory Party attach to their hopes and prospects in this country.
I promised to be brief.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I do not often inflict myself on this House and when I do I am usually brief. I finish on the note on which I began. I think it is extremely unfortunate that in this Debate when we might have sent out to the countries in Europe where Parliamentary institutions are falling, some indication that in this Parliament we could do things properly, there should be an attempt to besmear what the Government are rightly doing, by cheap innuendoes purely for party political ends.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
The Opposition are justified in being a little surprised at the attitude adopted by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole). Judging by the words he used, I wonder if he is quite a fair judge of what is and what is not a fair argument. I do not think he could have listened to the arguments used by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition or my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) or anybody else from this side of the Committee.
This Debate has done His Majesty's Government a great deal of harm. The arguments suggested—I will not say "used"—by the Lord President were so completely fallacious and misleading and cardboard that they did not need even a breath of opposition to blow them to pieces. How is it that without notice being given, so to speak, the Government could approach the Boundary Commission, whether individually, severally, jointly or in any other way, without informing anybody in His Majesty's Opposition or any other Party? The right hon. Gentleman said, "We are responsible as the Government." That may be so. Lots of us have to carry responsibility in the ultimate event, but most of us have the decency to consult others who will be affected by our ultimate actions. That is exactly the point, and that is exactly where the arguments used by Government Front Bench speakers have done the Government themselves such an immense amount of harm. They are running true to form. The slogan of the Socialist Party now is, "We do not believe in consultation, whether it be with the T.U.C., the employers, other parties" and so on, whether in connection with the fair representation of the people or anything else. That is a contradiction of everything the Opposition believe, and that is why we object to the action of His Majesty's Government. Our policy is built up on consultation with the men in the jobs——
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Hon. Members opposite who laugh at that remark do not remember the part which the Conservative Party have played in building up and in helping Coalition Governments in this country and in leaving those Coalitions clean in 3088 every case—not as some other parties have done.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Let me follow up that line of objection because I want to make some inquiries from His Majesty's Government. In the first place, if they felt that additional seats had to be found, if they felt there was some unfairness in the rate of distribution of votes, why, first of all, did they not make any attempt to consult with anyone else in the matter? Secondly, why is it that we have had before us as a Committee, or as Members of the different political parties, no record, no story, no answer from the Boundary Commission, either jointly or severally, as to the questions put to them by His Majesty's Government?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
If that is all that His Majesty's Government were working on, I am sorry for them. I should have thought that a great deal more information might well have been asked for and might well have been given. I do not think there is anything like enough information. I want to put one or two specific cases. The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) said an hon. Member could not possibly represent a constituency if there were more than 50,000 electors. I have been representing one for the last 14 years and it now has some 87,000 electors.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I have had to represent a constituency of 87,000 electors and, though possibly my majority is not quite so large as it was at the beginning, it has remained substantial, and that possibly is some proof that it can be done. However, if we take the figure of 50,000, did the Government approach the Boundary Commission on that basis? Is that the figure they chose as being a fair measure of efficiency in constituency organisation and fair representation? I wonder if there was any question posed to the Boundary Commission on that issue pure and simple 3089 when it came to what the Government apparently considered borderline cases but which the Boundary Commission did not consider borderline cases?
§ Mr. Ede
No, let me make it quite plain, there was no influence brought to bear by the Government on the Boundary Commission with regard to that matter. The Boundary Commission presented their first report, which this House did not like. The Boundary Commission was asked to think again on the new rules. From that day until the time when I received the letter which was read out to the Committee this afternoon, I had no communication with the Boundary Commission. The only other communication I made to them was when the Government decided that one extra seat was to be given to each of the nine cities, and we asked them to divide the cities into the number of constituencies we had selected.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making that part of the story clear, but may I say that that part of the story was already clear to me? I hope I was not misleading him by what I said. The point is, where did Bristol come into the picture, and why?
§ Mr. Ede
I explained that to the Committee earlier.—[An HON. MEMBER: "He was not here."] Bristol came into the picture because, when we divided the electorate of Bristol by the quota, we found that if they were given one extra seat they would still be within the limits of what the Boundary Commission themselves called a normal constituency.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
My answer to that is that if they had not been given one extra seat, they would still have been within the limits of the Boundary Commission. The right hon. Gentleman has given the case away completely. They were looking for a case. Why? Let me inform the Committee what are the figures for Bristol. There are five seats at the moment, before this Amendment is accepted, Central, East, North, South and West. The number of electors in those divisions are roughly 64,700, 67,000, 63,400, 62,600, 59,200. I do not think anybody would say that those figures are abnormally high in a comparatively densely populated city where no great area has to be covered, but if the right hon. Gentleman says those figures are too high and that they are 3090 beyond the possibility of fair representation in this House, I hope he will tell us so now. Does he really think that constituencies which vary between 59,000 and 67,000 in a city are too big to be fairly represented?
§ Mr. Alpass rose——
§ Mr. Alpass
May I ask a question? The hon. Member, if I may say so without offence, does not represent Bristol; like myself he represents a county constituency outside it. Does he not agree that the grant of an extra seat to Bristol will give general satisfaction to all parties in the City of Bristol? And is it not rather presumptuous that he should interfere with the wishes of that city?
§ Mr. Alpass rose——
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Really, Mr. Beaumont, I must be able to get on with my speech. I am not questioning whether the political parties wanted this, that or anything else, or whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied. Of course people are never satisfied until they have got as much as possible. What I am concerned with is the principle on which His Majesty's Government worked in approaching this problem. That is the case I am putting up, not the local case or the case of political parties. I have given the Committee the figures for the constituencies as they stand at the moment in Bristol, and I claim that those figures do not show an excessive number in any single one of those constituencies. Now let me give the figures for the surrounding county divisions. My own Division will be 58,900, West Bristol is 59,200, the new Division of North Somer- 3091 set under the Boundary Commission's recommendations will be 59,300, South Bristol is 62,600, and the neighbouring Division in Gloucestershire of Stroud and Thornbury will be 69,300, which is bigger than the largest constituency in Bristol at the present time. On what line of reasoning did his Majesty's Government suddenly discover that constituencies in Bristol of 64,000, 67,000, 63,000, 62,000 and 59,000, were too big, but accepted the recommendation of the Boundary Commission that the neighbouring county division of Thornbury and Stroud covering a big area was not too big at 69,300?
§ Mr. Alpass rose——
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
The hon. Member has not. I am not concerned, and I say it again to the hon. Member for Thornbury as it is, and as it will not be ever again——
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am not concerned with political feelings or the feelings of the people of Bristol on this matter. All I am concerned with is to ask the Home Secretary on what principle did they ask the Boundary Commission to suggest another seat for Bristol? Perhaps I put it wrongly. On what principle did the Home Secretary go to the Boundary Commission and say, "What about this Bristol seat? How is it to be done?" His argument is completely inexplicable. I hope, if there is any sincerity, and the Government can possibly prove their sincerity in this matter, that, for the sake of Parliament, they will do so before the end of this Debate.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
I endeavoured to raise a point this afternoon when the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), was on his feet but, unfortunately, he did not give way, although it was noticeable that while my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was making his statement the Leader of the Opposition insisted upon interrupting repeatedly, and my right hon. Friend repeatedly gave way. The point I wished 3092 to raise, arising out of the statement which was made by the Leader of the Opposition, related to the proper representation of a number of boroughs, certain of them in the County of London area, which previously had two Members and still have two Members, but which, under the earlier recommendations of the Boundary Commission, would have their representation reduced from two to one, leaving one Member to represent a total electorate of well over 80,000 electors. In some cases the total electorate in such boroughs will reach nearly 90,000. An electorate of 90,000, I presume, represents, on the average, a total population of something like 200,000, or probably even 250,000—a quarter of a million people. Although it is usual to relate the representation of a Member in regard to his constituency to the total number of electors in the constituency, we should not lose sight of the fact that he represents not only actual electors, but the interests of all the inhabitants of this constituency.
The Leader of the Opposition said that my right hon. Friend's case was pitifully simple. I think the general impression was gained—and I believe I am speaking at least for hon. Members on this side of the Committee—that the statement of the Leader of the Opposition was not only pitifully simple, but simply pitiful. The purpose of a Bill of this kind is to secure appropriate representation of the people of this country in this Chamber. Has it ever been argued that there is something wholly sacrosanct in some particular number of Members of Parliament? Is it claimed that 591 Members, the figure it is now sought to amend to 613 Members, is absolutely ideal for the perfect and complete representation of the electors in the House of Commons? Even the memories of hon. Members on the Opposition benches will enable them to realise that the total number of Members sitting in this Chamber has varied from time to time within quite recent years, and indeed, under successive Tory Governments. It will probably be found that the total number of Members has varied when circumstances have given rise to reconsideration of the representation of the people.
We claim, and I think rightly, that to argue that there is something final in a 3093 particular number of Members is simply ridiculous. There is nothing final in the figure of 613. Our experience during recent years has clearly indicated that there is a change in the spread of population in different parts of the country which is going on continuously. If it is right that some hon. Members on the other side of the Committee, as well as some on this side, should represent constituencies which have little more than 40,000 electors, has not a borough like Battersea, with a total electorate of more than 82,000, the right to claim that they should have more than one Member, in order to have proper and effective representation? There is nothing final in the total number of Members to be elected to this House. What must be sought for is not some ideal, unalterable number, but effective, appropriate representation. His Majesty's Government are doing the right thing in altering the number previously fixed at 591 to 613 to enable proper representation of the constituencies which are set out in the White Paper.
There is another point which springs to the mind of hon. Members listening to a Debate of this kind, and especially to the type of contribution which we have heard from the Opposition benches today. I refer to their repeated reference to the Boundary Commission as if that Commission must have the last word about any recommendations and the putting into effect of those recommendations. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear] One hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," but there have been previous Commissions in the history of this country, the findings of which were not attended to by Tory Governments in the years between the two wars with such interest as apparently they wish to attach to the findings of the Boundary Commission on this occasion. I remember, for example, Commissions which were called the Samuel Commission and the Sankey Commission which made reports on the coal industry, but hon. Members who then formed part of Tory Governments in the years between the wars——
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Bowles)
Having regard to the width of the Debate already, all that has been said must be regarded as relevant.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am making a comparison which is relevant. The difficulty of hon. Members lies in the fact that it is painful to them to have to listen to such comparisons because they know that they have been guilty of ignoring findings relating to fundamental interests and industries of this country which have been reached by commissions set up by themselves. It is not correct that the findings of any Commission must inevitably be accepted by any Government, even if that Government set up the Commission. A Commission is set up not to lay down hard-and-fast lines of legislation, but to make recommendations to the body which is responsible for legislation, namely, the House of Commons and the Government. Therefore, it can rightly be claimed that His Majesty's Government have taken the right line in dealing with the Boundary Commission's Report in the way proposed in the Representation of the People Bill. The electors of this country are entitled to be properly represented in this House. Some attempt must be made to equalise the representation in relation to the total number of the electorate and the total number of Members. In such a system of area representation it is impossible to have exact equality of representation, but the Government are doing the right thing in seeking to give, as far as possible, effective representation for the whole area of the country.
In any case, I am satisfied that these proposals for increased representation for areas which are populated to the extent of either 80,000 or 90,000 electors, and where originally it was suggested the representation should be merely by one Member, and which are now to be represented by two Members, will give general satisfaction to the inhabitants of those areas. The Government are doing the right thing towards securing the more equal representation of the people by putting forward these Amendments. Opposition Members are really afraid that this wider representation of the people will be to their political detriment. I consider that to be the only feeling which has actuated them in bringing forward their opposition to this proposal by the Government. I am convinced that the electors throughout the country, and especially the electors in the constituencies affected will welcome this measure of equity and will thank the Government for doing the right thing by them.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas) has failed to appreciate the real point which we on this side of the Committee are making. We are not at the moment primarily discussing the advantages to the constituents of the various constituencies which are affected, although I shall come to that. Nor are we talking about a sacrosanct number of Members in this House. The main objection that we put forward is to the method which the Home Secretary has adopted, the method of starting with one Boundary Commission, and, if that is unacceptable, having another and, if that is unacceptable, bringing forward Amendments at the last moment.
I represent a constituency in Sheffield which is affected. At the present time Sheffield has seven seats, and most people in Sheffield were disappointed when they found that under the terms of the Boundary Commission's recommendations they were to have only six seats. If, by a proper method, it could have been brought about, I am certain that everyone would have been glad and proud to have the seven seats back. From the point of view of the hon. Member for the Park Division (Mr. Burden), who would have lost his seat, I am glad that he will now, under the proposed redistribution, come back again. I am not sure that after the great services he has rendered over a number of years he might not have been found a seat in another place.
§ Mr. Roberts
I have to disclose an interest in regard to my particular division because under the present Amendment my division is wiped out, and the name of Ecclesall disappears. We have had a previous reference to Birmingham to the effect that where Conservative or other seats have been wiped out, it is because of the smallness of the area or the number of constituents. This cannot be said in this instance, and I suggest that there is an onus upon the Government to show that there is not a political implication.
I wish to address to the Home Secretary an argument upon this point which was made by the hon. Lady the Member for North-East Leeds (Miss Bacon). I want to support what she said in that respect. She said that as far as people in Leeds 3096 were concerned, they did not object to the reduction of seats when they saw what was happening in other cities round about. That might fairly be said from the point of view of Sheffield. I want to put to the Home Secretary the appeal which the hon. Lady made. Neither in the speech of the Home Secretary nor in that of the Leader of the House has any mention been made, assuming that this principle is carried in the Committee tonight, of how there can be any revision of small differences which may arise between one boundary area and another. Under the Boundary Commission's arrangement, that was possible. There has been some dispute about Birmingham. It was possible to make application to the Boundary Commission. Here the Government say "You must take this or leave it." There is no question of discussing any small amendment even though everyone in the city may be agreed, unless we do it in this Committee. This Committee is not a place in which to try to thresh out minor details. I believe the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech that he was not prepared to deal with minor differences himself.
I support the argument employed by the hon. Member for North-East Leeds that where a constituency organisation is affected, such as mine, and where the three-way pull appears, and it can be shown that there are geographical difficulties which could easily be overcome, representations to that effect, if the Home Secretary allows them, should be made to the Boundary Commission. But no suggestion of that sort has been made at all. I put to the Home Secretary the case of my constituency of Ecclesall. The Home Secretary agrees that there is no political motive behind this case. Ecclesall has been represented in this House by my grandfather, my father, and now, however inadequately, by myself—three generations representing one constituency with one name.
§ Mr. Roberts
The hon. Member may think so; perhaps there are even some people in Sheffield who also think that way, but is it political or is it not? If it is not, and if it can be shown that a constituency of that kind has built up a certain mutual respect and trust, of which I personally, am very proud, and if there 3097 is no reason for the name to be taken away, then it seems to me most extraordinary that the Home Secretary should not allow such an amendment to be made.
I cannot go into details here—it would not be proper to do so—but there is a small alteration which might well be made and which might well be agreed by everybody. If that is so, is there no method by which the Home Secretary can do it except by coming to this Committee and producing maps showing how one part is cut off from another, and how upset are the geographical conditions? I hope that whoever is going to reply will say that, once the principle has been accepted, some machinery will be set up whereby individual constituencies, or the proper organisations in individual constituencies, can approach the Boundary Commission which has drawn up these lines behind the scenes. If that is not so, and if it is possible, as in my case, for a constituency to be torn apart, to be pulled three ways and for the name and the traditions behind it to disappear, it must surely suggest to the people of Sheffield that there is some political motive behind it.
The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) said just now that it is about time a tradition of that kind was broken. Is that the political implication behind it, or is it not? If it is, I am convinced that down the years the resentment felt by politically-minded people in Sheffield will be kept alive. It seems to me that this is the wrong way to deal with the two-party system. Are we really going to come down to bickering of this kind, are hon. Members opposite to tear apart the great stronghold of Conservatism in Sheffield, and is no account to be taken of the resentment and rankling that will be caused? It seems to be debasing the whole tradition of our two-party system.
I want the Home Secretary to consider, once the principle has been agreed by this Committee, whether it is not possible for this dictatorial boundary drawing to be subject to some form of reasonable arbitration when it can be shown that advantages lie that way. I hope that the Government will bear this in mind. We object to the method in which this has been done. I believe that, generally speaking, the people of Sheffield would prefer to have seven seats, because they realise the dignity of it, but let it be done in a proper constitutional manner. If it is not, then I can assure the right hon. 3098 Gentleman that the political resentment he will raise will not be something which he can easily knock down.
§ Mr. W. D. Griffiths (Manchester, Moss Side)
Having listened to most of the speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, I gather that, in general, they are opposed to this Amendment, an objection which, if sustained by the Committee, would deny to nine of the greatest cities in the country their unanimous desire to have another seat. I hope that this attitude of the Conservative Party will be widely noted by all sections of the communities in those nine cities. They will undoubtedly regard this as being an unwarranted blow to their civic pride. The attitude of the Opposition will, I am sure, seem particularly strange to the Manchester Conservative and Unionist Association because we who are Members of the Labour Party in the City of Manchester consulted with members of the Conservative Party in that City and they were all agreed that the city's needs could only be met by the Government granting it an extra seat. Indeed, the hon. and gallant Member for Withington (Squadron-Leader Fleming) himself supported an Amendment in the House approving the principle which the Home Secretary has conceded, although it is perfectly true that, at a later stage, the name of the hon. and gallant Gentleman disappeared from the Order Paper.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming (Manchester, Withington)
I think the hon. Member will agree that the Home Secretary's Amendment is slightly different from the one placed on the Order Paper by the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft). I agreed to the nine seats, but not to the demarcation.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman still shows such a desire to try to carry out the wishes of what one might call a sort of local conception of democracy, and has not been carried away by the rhetoric of the Leader of the Opposition today, who, apparently, does not regard the City of Manchester with such high esteem as does the hon. and gallant Gentleman. However, the position has now changed, so that I and my Labour colleagues in the city thought that, on this occasion, we might put in a word in support of the Home Secretary's Amendment, and, indeed, be "cryptos" —as we are sometimes accused of being— 3099 of a different variety and not only sustain the wishes of the Labour Party, but also support the Unionist Association on this occasion. Therefore, on behalf of all parties, we say that we have great pleasure in supporting this Amendment because we think it meets the need of one of the outstanding cities of the North of England.
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Rutland and Stamford)
I feel strongly about this Amendment. We have heard various hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy), basing their reasons for supporting this Amendment upon the particular view of their own constituency. It is possibly not without some significance, although it was not mentioned by the hon. Member for East Bradford, that another Bradford Member is also chairman of the Parliamentary Socialist Party and has every opportunity of letting the Government know his views on the subject. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) pointed out, that opportunity has been denied to other hon. Members, who may feel aggrieved because they have not proper representation.
I feel that, in moving this Amendment after the Second Reading Debate, in which no mention was made that such a major change was going to take place, the Government are really ill advised. In fact, I would call it an extremely shabby and questionable performance. So far as I have understood it, it has long been the accepted practice of all parties in this Committee that electoral reform, as indeed any constitutional reform, goes forward as far as possible by consultation and agreement between all the major parties. As we all know, the method which is usually adopted is either that of an all-party conference under Mr. Speaker or some impartial chairman, or else the setting up of an impartial commission whose recommendations as a whole are generally accepted when they are brought forward, and if they are to be departed from, they are not departed from except by consultation or agreement between the political parties.
I do not think anyone on this side of the Committee pretends for one moment that the recommendations of the Boundary Commission are in any way sacrosanct or that alterations cannot be made by Parliament. What we do sug- 3100 gest is that if major alterations are to be made by Parliament, we should try as far as possible to carry them out by consultation and, if possible, by agreement between the two parties before they are forced through Parliament by means of a Parliamentary majority. I say in all seriousness to the hon. Member for Moss Side (Mr. W. D. Griffiths) and to other hon. Members that they should consider what will ultimately be the consequences of this growing practice of trying to change the constitution or the electoral constituencies in this country in this way by unilateral action—by one party.
§ Mr. W. D. Griffiths
Surely, the hon. Gentleman does not claim that it is unilateral action or action by one party when representations from all parties are made from all these great cities to the Home Secretary?
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby
I can only say that it is the first I have ever heard about consultations having taken place between the Home Secretary and this side of the Committee about these alterations which are to be made—and very big alterations they are. To most of my hon. Friends it came as a surprise when the first thing we saw about these alterations was in the Sunday newspapers not so very long ago. It is quite true the party opposite may have a large majority today and, may be the Attorney-General said, "the masters now," but I ask them to consider that this may not always be the case. Today, now that they have to keep power with a large majority, they are what might be called a middle party, in much the same position as the Liberal Party after their great victory in 1906. All political history goes to show that the middle party with two flanks open, ultimately becomes extinguished. It may be a slow and lingering death, but any military tactician knows that it is not possible to go on fighting indefinitely with one's flanks exposed.
I believe that the majority of the hon. Members opposite are good democrats at heart, but I ask them seriously to consider what may be the danger of making constitutional changes or changes in the representation in Parliament by unilateral action, without consultation and, if possible, agreement with the other parties. I believe that this Amendment should be rejected. It should be rejected, first of all —and this argument should appeal to 3101 hon. Members opposite—because it denies the principle that electoral change should, in the first place, be brought about after consultation and, if possible, agreement with other parties, including minority parties, in the State. I cannot help feeling that this proposal has been brought forward by the Government deliberately with a view to enhancing their own political position in the country.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Marshall (Sheffield, Brightside)
I would not have intervened except for the speech of the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts). I listened to parts of his speech in rather a critical mood, but there was one part with which I agree. He said first that he did not agree with the measures that had been adopted to bring about this redistribution. Personally, I think the Boundary Commission have done a very fine job of work. If one takes the case of a great city like Sheffield, and considers the complexity of its municipal wards, one must agree that the Boundary Commission have done a very fine job of work in grouping those wards into various divisions. In that process, of course, some wards would inevitably be allocated to one division and some to another.
The hon. Member for Ecclesall protested that the Boundary Commission have torn up—those were his words—a great Tory stronghold in the City of Sheffield. I deny that. I say that the Boundary Commission, in their allocation of the Sheffield seats, although they have made one or two mistakes, have not torn up a great Tory stronghold. They have certainly taken the name of Ecclesall from the hon. Member, and propose to give him another very good ward. As a matter of fact, he will be given a cast-iron Tory seat. He will certainly come up against some poor neighbours, and possibly he does not like that, but, on the whole, I think the hon. Member will be returned again to Parliament with a similar majority to that which he had at the last Election. Therefore, I do not understand his grievance. It seems to me that his grievance, if he has any, is that it is proposed to change the name from the "Ecclesall" Division of Sheffield to the "Heeley" Division of Sheffield. Apparently he does not like that, because there are family traditions embedded in the constituency. His grandfather and 3102 his distinguished father represented it, and now he represents it. All I would say on that point is that continual representation does not confer upon anybody a right of ownership in these matters.
It may do the hon. Member good to come up against some of the more proletarian districts in the city, and I think it will improve his mind. The hon. Member not only wants a cast-iron Conservative seat; he wants it decorated with a very special name. I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me that a city like Sheffield, with its dignity and importance, and in view of the tremendous service which it is recognised it has given to this country, is entitled to seven seats. It has had seven seats for a long time. I confess that I was very perturbed when the first Boundary Commission Report proposed to reduce the seats to six. If that scheme had been put into operation there would have been two or three Labour seats torn to pieces.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
The hon. Gentleman seems to be trailing his coat somewhat. Is it the Labour Party's idea that if there are differences which can be smoothed out, they should not be smoothed out and that there should be an absolute dictatorial line drawn, with no argument whatsoever? We must be quite clear about this.
§ Mr. Marshall
I was coming to that. I do not think the hon. Gentleman was present when I commenced my speech. I had already said that on that point I agree with him, but I certainly could not agree with the general tone of his speech. He knows as well as I do that to try to divide a city like Sheffield into seven divisions and to keep the municipal wards intact is a very difficult job. I have had a go at it and I defy the hon. Member to sit down and successfully form these municipal wards into seven divisions of equal strength and equal voting power and keep the same wards as are at present in existence allocated to their respective Parliamentary divisions.
§ Mr. Roberts
When the hon. Gentleman says "equal strength," does he mean all kept within a thousand, because if so it is impossible? A scheme can quite easily be made, however. Take Birmingham as an example. In Birmingham under the present suggestion there is to be one seat of 47,000 and another of 68,000. It is perfectly simple to get something within that orbit.
§ Mr. Marshall
I have tried to keep the wards contiguous and my colleagues have tried, experimentally, of course, and we have found that certain divisions in Sheffield went down almost as low as 40,000 by trying to keep the municipal wards contiguous in the Parliamentary divisions. I think the Boundary Commission had a very complicated task to undertake and that they have done it pretty well.
I want to come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ecclesall. In my own constituency, Brightside, they have taken a ward pretty well in the centre of my division away from me and given me another at the North End of the City. In short, I have to jump over Attercliffe to get to this particular ward. If I were to exchange that ward with Attercliffe, I should not disturb the political balance and the voting strength would be about the same. It is on these matters that we should be able to appeal to the Boundary Commission, and I propose to do so at a later date.
§ Mr. Marshall
I would not upset the whole show now. I think that from the organisational point of view, however, some improvement can be made. I am not speaking for the hon. Member's division, Ecclesall; I am speaking only for my own. On the whole, I think the Government have done a very fine piece of work in recognising these great county boroughs, these boroughs which have given such splendid service to this country during two wars; some of them have been the centre of great munitions industries and they have sent men to the House of Commons and into local government who have done very great service. I think they are entitled to the extra seats given to them by this proposal and I thoroughly support the Government.
§ Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)
I have listened to this Debate, and I want to declare quite frankly that, on the merits of the case, I am in favour of the increase in the number of constituencies and the reduction in the number of electors. I think the Home Secretary will bear me out that as long ago as 1946 I said that it might be necessary to have up to 20 seats more than was at first suggested by the Boundary Commission in order to get something like parity within the scheme. I believe 3104 that on the merits there is an extraordinary good case to be made for reducing these large constituencies, and it is on the merits that I propose to cast my vote tonight.
I would, however, like to make an appeal to the Home Secretary to this effect: I feel that throughout the discussions on the Bill an atmosphere has been created whereby we are going to lose that traditional idea that these matters should be done by agreement wherever possible, and I feel that that is an important point of principle which should be established, if we can possibly establish it. I, therefore, suggest to the Home Secretary that it would have been much better if, before he had taken consultation with the Boundary Commission, he had consulted through the usual channels as he did in December, 1946. I do not hold that against him, but if he could say a few words on that point—that it is his intention and the intention of the Government to seek to obtain agreeement wherever possible—I feel that the atmosphere of this Debate in future weeks may be a lot better. For one thing, I do not wish to see a suggestion that the party in power is using its position for party advantage, because it is damaging that that suggestion should be made.
I have had suggestions made to me from Manchester to the effect that the scheme put forward by the Home Secretary is purely a Labour Party scheme which is only to the advantage of the Labour Party. I do not comment on that, but I say that it is damaging in the country if that sort of thing is said. No doubt the Home Secretary feels that he has adequately answered that case, but I would like to see him a little more forthcoming and to establish the principle that, wherever possible, we shall seek to obtain agreement before we change what might be termed the rules of party politics.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming (Manchester, Withington)
I rise merely to deal with a matter concerning Manchester which has been raised in the Committee. It has been pointed out that, so far as the Manchester divisions are concerned, there was a certain amount of discussion between the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party—I believe—and the Labour Party. I am not quite sure about the Liberal Party.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming
There were two points for discussion—the increase of one in the number of seats and the method of breaking up the existing seats into those nine. That was done within the ambit of the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission and, as has been pointed out, it was agreed between the parties in Manchester that there should be nine seats and that my division, for example, should be broken up, not into three as now, but into two parts. That is a very big difference.
I think I should explain to the Committee that there are three well-marked wards in my division. Two of them were to be left—proposals coming from Manchester a few weeks ago—in the new Withington division—two well-defined wards—and the other was going into a new division entirely, another division in Cheshire. To my mind, that was a very shrewd demarcation for the new division and the old division. It served very well the political make-up of Manchester. This new proposal is quite different. Again, take my division, and the reason I take my own case is not because it is my division, but it is the biggest in Manchester and the most liable to be broken up. The idea now is to take those three wards apart entirely. I do not object to that on any ground whatever. My Labour colleagues tell me all the three new divisions will be Tory strongholds, but they forget that my division never was a Tory stronghold; my predecessor, 16 years ago, was a Liberal, so I pay no attention to that.
If we are going to make a division of a city like Manchester, however, I agree that the first thing is that the matter should be discussed between the parties concerned. That was done. It should be put to the headquarters of those parties and that, I am now told, was not done by my own party and that will explain why I took the line I did take. I believe that where we have leaders in a party they should lead, and I took the advice of my leader, and that is why I took my name from the Amendment put down by the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft). There is nothing wrong in that, I am sure.
Coming back to this new arrangement, so far as I know, there never was any discussion between the leaders of the party on this new arrangement, so far as Manchester is concerned. It came to me in Manchester last week-end as a bombshell; 3106 I never heard of it from my own party or from any of my Labour colleagues in Manchester, with whom I am quite friendly. So far as I can understand, there has been no agreement with regard to this new conception of the Manchester representation in the House of Commons. On that point alone, I object to what is being done, and I shall take the opportunity of voting against the Amendment, although I want nine divisions, because I want the job to be done properly.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I intervene for but a few minutes to refer to the situation created in Birmingham. I am glad to see the hon. Member for the Sparkbrook division (Mr. Shurmer) present, because he is the embodiment of the genius of the Labour Party in Birmingham, and I am particularly anxious to say something to console him for his past misdirected life.
On the whole, I think that there is not much to complain about with regard to the Birmingham divisions, but I do wish to ask the Home Secretary whether the new proposals in the Amendments to the Schedule represent the decisions or recommendations of the Boundary Commission.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, because certainly that eases my mind a good deal. I was under the impression, perhaps quite wrongly, that the decision of the Home Secretary, in putting down the Amendments in the context in which they appeared on the Order Paper, was due to the influence exercised by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his colleagues in making approaches to the Home Secretary that modifications of the kind suggested would have a beneficent effect upon the fortunes of the Socialist Party in Birmingham.
§ Sir P. Hannon
As a matter of fact, we are the friendliest community under the sun, and I think the hon. Member will agree that when we first had the Report of the Boundary Commission there was not very much difference of opinion amongst us, except that it was suggested that there was room for an additional seat in an area which is a rapidly growing part of our great city, and where we are 3107 anxious for adequate representation. I make that concession.
In interrupting the hon. Member for the Ladywood division (Mr. Yates) earlier, if I said anything to indicate that we were unsettled about the rearrangement of the wards, it was perhaps rather like Mark Twain's obituary notice—slightly exaggerated. The only fault we in Birmingham find in the rearrangement of the wards is that certain wards—for example, some of the Deritend and Duddeston wards—are being placed in other divisions. In Birmingham, we had an arrangement of wards which fitted precisely, and almost mathematically, into our Parliamentary constituencies. These are now being disturbed, and I have no doubt that the disturbance to which the Home Secretary desires to give effect may have some advantage, at all events for the Labour Party. But I do not complain on that score, although I think that in Birmingham it will introduce certain inconveniences, and will create difficulties in the arrangement of wards within constituencies. I sympathise with the hon. Member for the Deritend division (Mr. Longden), because the ancient name of Deritend is being wiped off the map. I make no complaint of the name Moseley division being wiped off the map, because the destinies of Moseley and myself are just about tied together.
§ Sir P. Hannon
There is only one Moseley that I know which is at all worthy of consideration. I believe there is a Moseley in a remote corner of Manchester, which is sometimes heard of in the Committee. I am bound to say that, on the whole, the Home Secretary has done a first-class piece of work in the presentation of the Schedule. I should be the last person in the world to criticise the actions of the Home Secretary. I have known him a great many years, and, although we have not agreed very much on matters of public policy and political outlook, I have always regarded him as a perfectly fair and just exponent of the rights and privileges of Members in the House of Commons. Therefore, while I am prepared to criticise, and perhaps to put down an Amendment to his Amendment with regard to the new boundaries 3108 of these constituencies, and the inclusion of certain wards which I think will make a substantial change in the political structure of Birmingham, I acknowledge the admirable work he has done. I am quite certain that he has done his best to see that there is justice and fair play to all those interested and concerned.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I am bound to say that. After all, even though I sit on this side of the Committee, and even though I have been described as an old hardened Tory, I can see some virtues, even in the worst Socialists on the other side—without including the Home Secretary in that category, because he is on a much higher level, and I should wish to say the kindest things possible about him.
This is a big departure. If we proceed at the present rate of progress we shall be through this Bill by the month of June or so. I am sure the desire of everybody is that representation should be fair and equal in this House of Commons, and the whole world outside will see that, although we are discussing these matters in the midst of the most difficult situation in which the world has been placed, we are doing it honestly and fairly, with full regard for the justice of the situation.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
The Committee will have gathered from that last speech that Birmingham, at any rate, is well pleased at securing one more Member than was the intention of the Boundary Commission.
§ Mr. Peake
I will accept the hon. Member's word for it. That, of course, accounts all the more for the pleasure of my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon).
I desire to return from local considerations to the main principle involved in this Amendment. It has been said, time and again—I think some hon. Members opposite may be getting a little tired of hearing it—that this proposal to add 22 to the number of seats laid down in the Schedule to the 1944 Act constitutes a breach of the agreement reached in the Speaker's Conference of 1944. If hon. Members look at the sixth resolution of the Report of the Speaker's Conference of 22nd May, 1944, they will see there set out that it was unanimously agreed 3109 that the number of Members for Great Britain should be not substantially more or less than 591, and that out of that number at least 35 should be given to Wales and 71 to Scotland; that is to say, those who sat on the Speaker's Conference—including the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has just left the Chamber, although I see we have the Minister of National Insurance still with us, who at that time agreed, quite naturally, that Wales should be over-represented——
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
§ Mr. Peake
—over-represented, on the basis of electorate and of population. Today, the Home Secretary made some play with the fact that England was underrepresented on the basis laid down and agreed to in the Speaker's Conference. The Lord President told us today that on many occasions he had disposed completely of this argument that there had been a breach of faith of the agreement reached in the Speaker's Conference. He seemed to be quite satisfied upon that point, But neither he nor the Home Secretary has ever given any adequate explanation of the speech made by the Home Secretary on 21st November, 1945, during the Second Reading of the Elections and jurors Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then stated, regarding an Amendment complaining that the Speaker's Conference recommendations were not being carried out, that:We regard ourselves as bound during the lifetime of the present Parliament to submit to the House the necessary legislation to give effect to these recommendations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1945; Vol. 416, c. 453.]That was said in the present Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, in winding up the Debate a week ago, and attempting to explain how he came to use those words, said:My own view is that that phrase referred to the recommendations of the three bodies with which I should have to deal. They were the Speaker's Conference, the Carr Committee and the Committee which I was appointing about that time which was presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver)."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1948; Vol. 448, C. 2011–12.]It is rather hard for me to believe that the right hon. Gentleman, in saying that the Government regard themselvesas bound during the lifetime of the present Parliament to submit to the House the neces- 3110 sary legislation to give effect to these recommendations,was referring compendiously to three things: first, the Report of a Speaker's Conference which had been published two years before and the recommendations of which were well known; secondly, and at the same time, the Report of the Carr Committee, which was at that time about half way through its labours and whose recommendations the right hon. Gentleman had never seen; and thirdly—included in this omnibus phrase apparently—the Report of the Committee which he was setting up on that very day—21st November, 1945—to be presided over by the hon. Gentleman who was at that time Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, but who has since been the victim of one of the many purges of junior Ministers.
How can one really believe that the right hon. Gentleman meant that the Government regarded themselves as bound to carry out a Committee's recomendations, which they had not seen, and, in another case, of a Committee which had not at that time begun to sit? Is it not perfectly clear that the only thing the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind at that time were the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference which had been published two years before?—important matters which were well known to all hon. Members. I hope that either the Lord President or the Home Secretary will apply himself seriously to this statement which the right hon. Gentleman made four months after he became Home Secretary in the present Government, that the Government felt themselvesbound … to submit the necessary legislation to give effect to these recommendations,that is to say, the recommendations of this Speaker's Conference. Secondly, neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Lord President has ever addressed himself to that most damaging admission of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland during the Second Reading Debate—the frightful admission of the right hon. Gentleman that the agreement reached in the Speaker's Conference was broken by the Conservatives in November, 1946, when a Conservative Member was returned for the Scottish Universities. That admission has never since been mentioned from the Front Bench.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Bowles)
I know that the Debate has been very wide, but this issue has been discussed over and over again. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to leave local matters and come to the national aspect of the matter. Hon. Members will agree that we have had this Debate over and over again on the question of alleged breach of faith. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would confine his remarks to the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Peake
I had, in fact, just come to the conclusion of my argument on that part of the case. I was going on to say that, quite apart from its being a breach of the agreement reached in the Speaker's Conference, it was a breach of a new agreement reached in the present Parliament. In November, 1946, the right hon. Gentleman came to the House with proposals to alter the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission. The idea was that the original terms of reference were too narrow, that the 25 per cent. limit on either side of the quota compelled the Commission to cut across local government boundaries, that the Commission were unable to make constituencies as large as they would wish, and that the 25 per cent. above the quota compelled the Commission to keep all the constituencies below a figure of about 74,000 electors.
There was an all-party discussion, in which I participated, and it was agreed that this 25 per cent. limit should be swept away, which would enable the Boundary Commissioners to propose constituencies larger than 74,000, and enable them to prepare what would be in all respects a more satisfactory scheme of redistribution. At the conference which took place at that time, this question of the number of Members was fully discussed. The question was taken up as to whether it would not be easier for the Commissioners to make a satisfactory scheme if they were permitted to go beyond the figure of 591. No suggestion came from the Home Secretary at that time, in any of the proposals he put forward to the House in his Bill, that it was necessary to increase that number, for the simple reason that we all thought that some reasonable, small increase in the number could be made without contra- 3112 vening the sense and spirit of the words "not substantially more than 591."
The question I want someone to answer is the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). If it was thought necessary and wise to consult all parties in 1946 about amendment of the terms of reference of the Commission, why was it not thought necessary on this occasion to have consultation regarding the proposal to create 17 new constituencies, which is a departure from the recommendations of the Commission to a substantial and major degree? I really do not know what is the answer to that question. It seems to us that this whole business has been carried out in a hole-and-corner manner.
Let us look at the dates concerned in this matter. The Commission reported, in the case of England, on 24th October—the Reports for other parts of the Kingdom came out earlier. The Bill was not printed until 29th January—that is three months later. The right hon. Gentleman had three months in which to consider whether he should embody the proposals of the Commission in the Schedule to the Bill. Apparently three months' thought and reflection convinced him that the Report of the Boundary Commission was a good one, and that it was right and proper to put it in the Schedule to the Bill.
We then had the Second Reading of the Bill on 17th February—more than a month ago. It was not until 19th March, after we had disposed of the Amendments relating to the universities and to the City of London, that this new outrage appeared on the Order Paper. It took the right hon. Gentleman three months to decide to adopt the Report of the Boundary Commission and put it into the Bill, but it seems to have taken only one month since the Second Reading of the Bill to decide to tear up the Report and to throw it over. We are told, in regard to the eight big boroughs, that the plan for their subdivision was embodied in a letter sent by the Commission to the right hon. Gentleman on 9th October, 1947. The right hon. Gentleman, when I challenged him this afternoon, did not seem to know the date of the letter. He did not know whether it was before or after the Commission had made their final Report, but he did become aware, during the proceedings, that this letter was apparently dated 3113 a fortnight before the Report of the Commission.
§ Mr. Peake
I am not challenging the veracity of the right hon. Gentleman. Those Members who were here earlier heard me ask the right hon. Gentleman when this letter was sent, and the only answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave me then was that it was sent three or four months ago. The right hon. Gentleman did not know, or apparently know, or remember, what was the date of the letter. I thought he said 11th October, but he now says that it was 9th October. All I am suggesting is that the House and the Committee might have been allowed to see this letter because apparently a fortnight before the final Report of the Commissioners, the proposal had been discussed—on whose initiative we do not know—for a sub-division of these eight big boroughs.
§ Mr. Peake
I should have thought that this letter might very well have been embodied in some way as an annexe to the Report of the Commissioners, because the Commissioners' Report, paragraph 15, discusses at length this proposal to split the eight big boroughs and, in the end, quite emphatically rejects it. It seems curious that the Commissioners, on 24th October, emphatically rejected the proposal to split the eight big boroughs when it appears that a fortnight earlier they sent a letter to the Home Secretary saying what they would have done with the boroughs if they had decided to do something quite opposite to the terms of their final Report.
§ Mr. Ede
That Report of the Boundary Commissioners is a Report without a word or syllable being added as a result of any exchange between me and them as to its contents. If they had wanted to insert the letter as an annexe it was their duty, not mine. What would have been said 3114 if I had taken the Commissioner's Report, and added an annexe of my own which they did not put down?
§ "9th October, 1947,
§ 1, Brick Court,
§ London, E C.4.
§ Dear Home Secretary,
§ As you will see from the Report of the Boundary Commission for England it was decided for the reasons set out in it that eight boroughs with electorates of between 80,000 and 88,000 should not be divided. The Report is not yet signed, and it may be a few days before it is ready to send, although it is complete. It was thought, however, that it might be as well if we did prepare a scheme for division so that if, in any event, Parliament were to decide on revision, matters would not be delayed.
§ This scheme is not recommended by us and is, therefore, not made part of the Schedule, but I have been authorised to send it unofficially to you for the above reason. It is what we should have put into the Schedule had we decided to divide these constituencies.
§ Yours faithfully,
§ Roland Burrows."
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
On a point of Order. The letter which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has just read is a State paper, and that being so, ought it not to have been laid on the Table of the House?
§ The Temporary Chairman
If a Minister quotes from a paper, or a State paper, in the House, that paper should be laid on the Table, but we are not in the House now; we are in Committee.
§ Mr. Ede
I have not tried to conceal this letter at all. This matter was raised earlier this afternoon, and I am quite sure that no hon. Gentleman would like to lay his hand on his heart and say the exact date on which he received some letter. I took advantage of a slight interruption in the proceedings to have the letter fetched, and as soon as the Committee resumed, I read it to the House. I am not attempting to conceal it in any way.
§ Mr. Peake
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the matter of the eight big boroughs, I think that the position is now perfectly clear. My only regret is that when this Amendment appeared on the Order Paper last week, accompanied by a White Paper, at that time this letter was not published in order to indicate to us that the Commission, functioning as a Commission, although I think in their letter they said that they were writing unofficially, had approved this method of dividing these eight big boroughs. [Interruption.] I am not saying that they were recommending it. I said that if subsequently it should be decided to vary the recommendations, this was the precise method chosen for dividing the eight big boroughs. I think that it was a pity that when the Government published the White Paper they did not append to it the statement that this was the, means suggested by the Commission for dividing these eight boroughs.
I want to pass now to the question of the nine cities. In regard to the addition of a seat to each of the nine cities, we appear to be confronted with a different situation. The Commission had, on 24th October, completed the statutory task laid upon it by the Act of 1944, and it was not empowered, after it had discharged its task under Section 3 of the Act in regard to the initial Report, to take any further action in the matter of redistribution for a period of three years at the least or seven years at the most. It was, therefore, incapable of acting as a Commission at the time that this proposal to add a seat to each of the nine cities was laid before it. No one in this Committee knows, except the Home Secretary and his colleagues on the Front Bench opposite, at what date it was decided to add a seat to each of these nine cities, and at what date that proposal was passed unofficially to the members of the Boundary Commission. One thing is clear, and that is that the Commission, as a Commission, were incapable of acting in this matter at any date after 24th October last. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman can give the Committee an indication of the date when it was decided to add a seat to each of these nine cities and on what date that matter was referred unofficially, as I understand it has been, to individual members of the Boundary Commission.
3116 The right hon. Gentleman must himself take full personal responsibility for the boundaries of the 56 separate constituencies which are affected in these nine great cities by the proposals to redistribute the seats within those cities. I say that it is an intolerable thing, and I am confirmed in this by nearly all the speeches to which I have listened from the benches opposite today, including that of my territorial neighbour the hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Miss Bacon), that the boundaries of 56 constituencies should be altered and settled permanently and finally by Ministers—by the Home Secretary in particular—without any possibility of any objection being raised by any body or any local inquiry being held under any circumstances.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Miss Bacon
I tried to make it clear that I understood perfectly that these constituencies had been drawn up by the Boundary Commission. The point I wished to make was that I thought we should be given an opportunity of putting any alternatives to the proposals of the Boundary Commission, not of the Government.
§ Mr. Peake
What the hon. Lady said confirms my view, that there should have been opportunities for objections to the boundaries of these constituencies and, if necessary, for local inquiries to have been held. It is really intolerable that a right hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench should carve out a constituency for myself, or for other hon. Members—[Interruption.] It is perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman has presented me, personally, with the safest Conservative seat in the North of England, but I say it is a disgraceful thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is a piece of attempted corruption, of which the right hon. Gentleman ought to be thoroughly ashamed. It is perfectly intolerable that not only the boundaries, but the names of constituencies should be fixed by the right hon. Gentleman. As far as Leeds is concerned, I am appalled at the names he has chosen. Could anything be more appalling than to be called the hon. Member for North Central, or South Central, Leeds? It sounds exactly like a railway company.
I should like to know at what date the right hon. Gentleman came to the conclusion, as he told us in his speech this 3117 afternoon, that 17 extra seats were desirable. I should like to know when a communication to this effect in regard to the nine big cities was made to the members of the Boundary Commission. I should like to know why the Opposition, and hon. Members of the Liberal Party, were not informed of this decision, and why they were not consulted. I should like to know what were the secret terms of reference given to these members of the Commission, acting unofficially, and I should like to know where is and what is in their secret report. I should like to know who signed it. Were all the members of the English Commission in this? Did Mr. Speaker have any part or lot in this matter? I hope we shall be told a little more about these secret proceedings.
The Home Secretary does not yet seem to realise whether the Commission were acting in their official capacity, or in an unofficial capacity in this matter. He said in his speech today that it did not occur to him to draw any distinction as to the capacity in which these gentlemen acted. But, of course, it makes all the difference in the world to the House of Commons whether they are receiving the official report of a Commission, established by Act of Parliament, or whether they are merely receiving the advice of three or four gentlemen, acting in an individual capacity, because of their special knowledge of this particular problem. The statutory machinery has been completely evaded by the steps which the Government have taken. There is on the Order Paper an Amendment standing in the names of many hon. Members opposite, to make it obligatory for a public inquiry to be held in the future in any case where any objections are raised—in page 4, line 27, at the end, to add:(c) Rule 5A shall be amended by inserting at the end of paragraph (1) the words 'In any subsequent review of a Parliamentary Constituency the Boundary Commission shall hold a local public inquiry, if requested to do so by resolution of the local government authority for the area affected.'In this case there is not only no possibility of making objections, but there is no shadow of a possibility of a local inquiry being held.
What is the real case against the Government? It is not that some of these cases are not arguable upon their merits—of course, it is possible to argue on figures that, let us say, Manchester, or Birming- 3118 ham, is entitled to an extra Member. I may say, in passing, that no party of any kind in Leeds, or Bristol, has ever asked for an additional Member to be granted for those two cities. The case against the Government is that the Government have given way to pressure, and yielded to the temptation of electoral advantage. Back bench Members were, of course, entitled to put down and to argue Amendments to the Schedule. The last people in the House to suggest Amendments to the Schedule are His Majesty's Government themselves, because by so doing they deprive themselves of every moral argument against any amendment, from whatever quarter to the Schedule. It is no longer possible for the right hon. Gentleman to make a case upon the Report of the independent Boundary Commission. Every Member is now entitled to argue upon the merits of his own or of any other constituency.
The Amendment is, to my mind, clear evidence that the Labour Party have not much hope of winning the next General Election upon a fair and equitable distribution, as proposed by the Boundary Commission. No words of mine can really describe the conduct of Ministers in this matter. It would be an understatement to describe these proposals as a gross and shameless act of political jobbery. Let hon. Members be driven once more into the Lobby in support of a breach of an honourable agreement and understanding.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
Earlier this afternoon we had a fine display of political invective from the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and from the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). Since then, the Debate has been conducted in language more adequate to the situation with which we are actually dealing. The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has endeavoured to raise the temperature again to the heights sought by his colleagues earlier this afternoon. I am not going to follow that line at all.
This afternoon I made a plain statement to the Committee about the effects of the Amendment and the reasons which actuated the Government in putting it down. I want to deny at once that there is something superior about a few right hon. and hon. Gentlemen meeting in a Committee Room upstairs to talk this thing over rather than putting Amend- 3119 ments on the Paper so that they can be discussed by any hon. Member who cares to take part in the Debate. We are told that the Government should not give way to pressure—of course, if it comes from this side of the Committee. If it comes from the other side of the Committee I suppose giving way is a concession to reason and to argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Precisely. Members of the Government are to listen only to what the Opposition say and are to do only what the Opposition want. That is not my doctrine of Parliamentary Government.
I very much doubt whether this Amendment need have been put down at all because I am not sure that 22 is a substantial addition to 591 or that 613 is a substantially higher number than 591, but I thought that it was better that the House should have the opportunity of discussing this scheme as a whole. I think the figure of 613 is not an unreasonable number to have as Members for Great Britain, on the lines of the argument I developed earlier this afternoon. An increase of five seats, which was included in the Commission's Report, was not substantially greater. Nobody objects to that. At which point do hon. Gentlemen say that we have moved so far away from 591 that we have got so big a figure as to constitute a breach of any agreement which may have been reached at the Speaker's Conference?
I do not think there is any need for me to deal any more with the relations between the Boundary Commission and myself with regard to the eight big seats. I understand that the second reading of the letter which I read to the Committee has disposed of any suggestion that that was something which was sought by the Government or given to us as a result of any negotiations. I repeat that that letter came to me as a complete novelty. I had no reason to expect that it was coming, and I would not have thought it right to print it as an annex to a Report when I had in fact received it 15 days before the Report was published.
With regard to the other nine seats in the nine cities, the Boundary Commission were requested on 9th March to divide those nine cities into constituencies, giving each city one more. That was as a result of the Debate which took place on Second 3120 Reading. The Government are entitled to listen to arguments addressed to them from any part of the House on the Second Reading of a Bill of this nature. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) has admitted that he was in favour of dividing up the eight big seats. He might have been landed with one of them, and he came to see me with his colleague, the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field). I am quite sure the Committee will not need me to tell them which of the two was the more vociferous in the course of the interview, I hope I treated the hon. and gallant Gentleman courteously. I indicated to him that I would bear in mind the arguments which he and his colleague had addressed to me and that I would report what they had said to my colleagues in the Government. I received indications from other hon. Members on the other side of the Committee that they thought it desirable that an additional Member should be given to some of the nine big cities. I reported all these things to the Cabinet, and the decision was taken on the lines that I indicated in the speech I made earlier this afternoon.
I do not regard this figure as being any breach of an arrangement made at the Speaker's Conference. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted the conference we had upstairs between parties. We did not on that occasion think that it was fair to expect the Boundary Commission to produce the exact number of 591. I recollect, that even on that afternoon we discussed what figure should be regarded as "substantially greater" and, perhaps with great wisdom, we all gave it up without even trying to assess what might be the nearest figure.
I want now to refer to what I regard as the most objectionable part of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman. He suggested that the Boundary Commission are not now operating, but I would draw his attention to Section 4 (3) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1944:Any Boundary Commission may also from time to time—This is not limited in any way—submit to the Secretary of State reports with respect to the area comprised in any particular constituency or constituencies in the part of the United Kingdom with which they 3121 are concerned, showing the constituencies into which they recommend that the area should be divided, and the number of members which they recommend should be returned by each of them, in order to give effect to the rules set out in the said Third Schedule.That is a continuing obligation on the Boundary Commissioners. It is true—and I give the right hon. Gentleman this point—that it presupposes in the Subsection that the initiative will be taken by the Boundary Commissioners. They will be looking round at the country and saying, "Here is a group of constituencies requiring some adjustment, so that reasonably appropriate representation can be given to them." What was the harm, when the Government had taken the decision—which they had a perfect right to take, having listened to the arguments in the House—to increase the representation of these nine cities, going to these gentlemen officially, through their Chairman, and asking them to divide these nine cities into the number of constituencies that the Government had decided they would recommend to the House? I should have thought there could be no better body to go to, and when I said this afternoon that I was not concerned with whether they were acting officially or unofficially, what I meant was this: here we have four or five gentlemen who have given a great deal of time to this matter during the past two years, who were available for the job, who were willing to undertake it and who, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Government, were the persons best capable of doing the job that we wanted done.
I should have regarded it as a considerable slight on them if I had gone from them to somebody else to carry out this task. I really cannot understand what all the fuss is about because these were the gentlemen to whom we went. It was said by the hon. Member for Oxford earlier this afternoon that we went to them and said, "We want 12 more Labour seats," I gather there is some dispute as to whether, if that was our aim, we have hit the target. However, I can assure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that no such request was made to them; they were told, "Here are nine cities to each of which we desire to add one constituency"——
§ Mr. Ede
I have received from the Boundary Commission, on the first occasion, unsolicited, and on the second occasion, as a result of a request by me, schemes for dividing, first, the eight big boroughs, and, secondly, the nine cities. Whether those are reports or not I leave Members of the Committee to decide.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman clear up one point? The Section of the 1944 Act to which he is referring envisages the position of the Boundary Commission simultaneously giving and submitting new schemes to the right hon. Gentleman as an addendum to their last Report. What the right hon. Gentleman has done is the very reverse of that, requesting them to submit something to him which the Act does not obviously cover.
§ Mr. Ede
But the fact is that that duty was placed on them and keeps them in being. Here is a tribunal well fitted to deal with the issues with which the Government are concerned. It is actually in being and we can go to them with a request to divide these nine cities into fresh groupings of constituencies. I cannot see what is wrong with that. Do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite mean to insinuate that these gentlemen of very high repute have given a less satisfactory report and less attention to the matter on this occasion than they did on the occasion of their first and second Reports?
§ Mr. Peake
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a question and I rise to intervene. Our case is that if these were reports which these gentlemen made to the right hon. Gentleman, under the Section, which says that they have a right to make reports at any time, those reports should have been laid before Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Ede
As I told the right hon. Gentleman opposite earlier this afternoon, the reports are embodied in the White Paper that was issued last Friday and in the Amendments we have put down to the Bill. Nothing else has passed between us and the Boundary Commissioners, and I still do not understand why it is regarded as inappropriate that these are the people who should have been consulted.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with this point? When the Boundary Commissioners presented their original Report, they had, in fact, been required to consider, and had considered, objections to their proposal, and were empowered to hold local inquiries. In this case was there any opportunity given for objections to their proposals to be heard?
§ Mr. Ede
No, there was not. Requests have been made to me this afternoon as to what is the position in regard to that. I will ask the Boundary Commissioners to receive and consider any representations that any hon. or right hon. Gentlemen or the political parties or the local authorities may desire to address to them with regard to the way in which these constituencies have been divided.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said already so far as Manchester is concerned, but would he go so far as to hold a public inquiry as to the demarcation of the nine divisions in Manchester?
§ Mr. Ede
There has never been any compulsion on the Boundary Commissioners to hold a local inquiry. In fact, some time was spent this afternoon between hon. Members representing different constituencies in Birmingham about a case where I understand a local inquiry was desired but was not, in fact, held by the Boundary Commissioners. I think there may be difficulty with regard to the question of time between now and the Report stage if local inquiries have to be held. I believe that if hon. Members, political parties, local authorities and others interested, who may desire to make representations to the Boundary Commissions, get the right to lay before them their views with regard to the appropriate division of the constituencies in, first of all, the eight big boroughs—because they are in exactly the same position as the nine cities—or, in the case of the nine cities themselves, all the reasonable requirements of the case will be met.
§ Sir P. Hannon
In the case of Birmingham, the complaint was submitted that the City Council made unsuccessful representations to the Boundary Commission to examine certain proposals which they wished to submit regarding the boundary 3124 of the constituency. In view of the fact that no response was given to the appeal, would the Home Secretary consider sending a recommendation to the Boundary Commission to hear the Birmingham case?
§ Mr. Keeling
The question I wish to ask is whether the right to raise objections will extend to other constituencies which, in consequence of these proposals, may now very well think that they themselves, in comparison, are unrepresented?
§ Mr. Ede
No, Sir. We are submitting these proposals to the Committee. If the Committee accept the view that 80,000 electors on the 1946 Register are too many for a Member to represent in Parliament, I do not think that those people who are just below the line have the right to come along and say that they do not think these 80,000 electors ought to be split. We had the amazing case this evening of the noble Lord the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Lord Willoughby de Eresby), whose constituency under the Boundary Commissioner's Report will have 41,629 electors, objecting to constituencies with 88,000 electors being split in two.
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby
As the right hon. Gentleman quoted me, I would point out that I did not raise that objection at all. The whole of my speech was aimed at the way this was being done, and the fact that no consultations were held, and possible agreement reached, with other parties concerned.
§ Mr. Ede
Very few of the right hon. and hon. Members who cheered just then were in the Chamber when the speech was made. I hope that the noble Lord and 3125 they will read the speech in HANSARD tomorrow, and will then decide whether what I have said is a fair comment upon it or not.
The effect of these proposals is slightly to reduce the under-representation of England. It is also intended to reduce the present big gap between county and borough constituencies in England from something like 6,000, which is the present disparity, to 2,400, which will be the disparity if these Amendments are carried. We believe that these are desirable and necessary Amendments. I do not apologise for having listened to representations that were made to me in the House and for having endeavoured to put into the Bill what appeared to me to be the wishes of the House as expressed in the Debate on the Second Reading.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
On a point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. A moment ago I raised with the Temporary Chairman the question whether papers read by a Minister in Debate should be laid. I do not rise at the moment to ask you to give a Ruling on the matter, but there is a custom that unless matters of this kind are raised immediately, the Member loses his opportunity. I, therefore, beg to seek your guidance as to how I might keep open this question on an interesting matter of procedure while you have an opportunity of examining and considering the authorities. Further, Mr. Beaumont, I would ask whether, if this matter were raised
§ on the next Sittting when this Bill is brought before us, it would then be convenient for you to give a considered Ruling on the point which I raised with the Temporary Chairman.
§ Mr. Ede
Further to that point of Order. The letter has been twice read to the Committee. It will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, probably twice. If it is desired that it should also be published as a White Paper for the information of Members I shall certainly have no objection to laying it on the Table.
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
I do not think that that was the hon. Member's point. It is not so much a question of this letter, but the Temporary Chairman gave a ruling applicable to any similar instance which might occur in a Committee of this House, and that is what we wanted to get clear.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I was not in the Chamber at the time, and I am not conversant with the facts, but I can assure the Committee that the whole of the relevant facts will be considered and precedents examined, and at an early stage in the proceedings of this Bill a statement will be made either by myself or the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 294; Noes, 125.3129
|Division No. 108.||AYES.||[9.33 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Boardman, H.||Colman, Miss G. M.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Bottomley, A. G.||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Corlett, Dr. J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V||Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Crawley, A.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Crossman, R. H. S|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Cunningham, P.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Bramall, E. A.||Daggar, G.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Daines, P.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Brown, George (Belper)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Davies, R. J (Westhoughton)|
|Baird, J.||Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Baifour, A.||Burden, T. W.||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Delargy, H. J.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Byers, Frank||Diamond, J.|
|Barton, C.||Callaghan, James||Dobbie, W.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Carmichael, James||Dodds, N. N.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Donovan, T.|
|Benson, G.||Champion, A. J.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Berry, H.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Cluse, W. S.||Dumpleton, C. W.|
|Binns, J.||Cobb, F. A.||Durbin, E. F. M.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Collick, P.||Dye, S.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Collindridge, F.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Collins, V. J.||Edelman, M.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Scollan, T|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Leslie, J. R.||Segal, Dr. S|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Levy, B. W.||Shackleton, E. A. A|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sharp, Granville|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H (St. Helens)|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Longden, F.||Shurmer, P|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lyne, A. W.||Silkin, Rt. Hon. L|
|Fairhurst, F.||McAdam, W.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Farthing, W. J||McEntee, V. La T||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Fernyhough, E.||McGhee, H. G.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Field, Capt. W. J.||McGovern, J.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Mack, J. D.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Follich, M.||MoKay, J. (Wallsend)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Foot, M. M.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Forman, J. C.||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McLeavy, F.||Solley, L. J|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gallacher, W.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Soskice, Sir Frank|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Marquand, H. A.||Sparks, J. A.|
|George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Stamford, W|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Steele, T.|
|Gilzean, A.||Mayhew, C P||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mellish, R. J.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Geoch, E. G.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Mitchison, G. R||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Monslow, W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Grey, C. F.||Moody, A. S.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Morley, R.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Gunter, R. J.||Moyle, A.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Guy, W. H.||Mulvey, A.||Tiffany, S|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Murray, J. D||Titterington, M. F|
|Hale, Leslie||Naylor, T. E.||Tolley, L.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Hardman, D. R||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Usborne, Henry|
|Hardy, E. A.||Oldfield, W. H.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Oliver, G. H||Viant, S. P|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)||Orbach, M.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Paget, R. T.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Herbison, Miss M||Pargiter, G. A||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Hobson, C. R.||Parker, J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Hoy, J.||Parkin, B. T.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Paton, J. (Norwich)||West, D. G.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pearson, A.||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W)||Peart, T. F.||Wheatley, John (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Perrins, W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Hutchinson, H. L (Rusholme)||Platts-Mills, J F. F||Wigg, George|
|Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Wilkes, L.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Price, M. Philips||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A||Pritt, D N.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Janner, B.||Proctor, W. T.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Pryde, D. J.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingreve)|
|Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Johnston, D. H||Randall, H. E.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Ranger, J||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Rankin, J.||Willis, E.|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Rees-Williams, D. R||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Reeves, J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Keenan, W.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Kendall, W. D||Rhodes, H.||Yates, V. F|
|Kenyon, C.||Richards, R.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Key, C. W.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Zilliacus, K|
|Kinley, J.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lang, G.||Rogers, G. H. R.||Mr. Snow and|
|Lawson, Rt. Hon J. J.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Mr. George Wallace.|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Royle, C.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Bower, N.||Channon, H.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot Univ.)||Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Clarke, Col. R. S.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Clifton-Browne, Lt.-Col. G|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Bullock, Capt. M.||Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Butcher, H. W.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Cuthbert, W. N.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Challen, C.||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Prescott, Stanley|
|Donner, P. W.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A R[...]||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Drayson, G. B||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Renton, D.|
|Drewe, C.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Low, A. R. W.||Robinson, Roland|
|Duthie, W. S.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col., Rt. Hon. W||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A|
|Erroll, F. J.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Spence, H. R.|
|Fox, Sir G.||Maclean, F. H. R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||MacLeod, J.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Taylor, Vice-Adm, E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Maude, J. C.||Teeling, William|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Mellor, Sir J.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Thorp, Brigadier, R. A. F|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Touche, G. C.|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mullan, Lt. C. H.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Hope, Lord J.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Howard, Hon. A.||Odey, G. W.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||York, C.|
|Hurd, A.||Osborne, C.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Peto, Brig. C. H. M||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Keeling, E. H.||Pickthorn, K.||Commander Agnew and|
|Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E||Mr. Studholme.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ The Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 3, after "rule 2" to insert "paragraph (2) of rule 5A."
The purpose of this Amendment is to remove from the redistribution rules a reference to two-Member constituencies, since under the provisions of this Bill such constituencies will no longer exist.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 9.45 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 27, at the end, to add:(c) Rule 5A shall be amended by inserting at the end of paragraph (1) the words 'In any subsequent review of a Parliamentary Constituency the Boundary Commission shall hold a local public inquiry, if requested to do so by resolution of the local government authority for the area affected'.This Amendment is designed to ensure that in any future review of Parliamentary constituencies the Boundary Commission shall be requested by the local authority concerned to hold a public inquiry. I think it would be generally agreed that a local public inquiry is desirable, if there is sufficient time for such an inquiry to be held.
Under any subsequent review of Parliamentary constituencies there would be ample time for the Boundary Commission to hold local inquiries. The local 3130 authority, who represent the views of the community in the area concerned, may feel that the recommendations of the Boundary Commission are not in keeping with the justifiable claims of the city or town. In such an event they are entitled to expect that Parliament will give them the right, by resolution of the council, to have a public inquiry into the point of difference between them and the Boundary Commission. The Committee will agree that the importance of civic pride in the cities and towns throughout the country justifies this acknowledgment that local authorities represent the general opinion of the community. They are entitled, therefore, to make such representations on these matters as they feel will safeguard the interests of the community.
The very considerable civic pride in the large cities and towns, and also in some of the smaller ones has been the foundation of some of the more progressive work in the various cities and towns. Neither we, as a Committee, nor Parliament should do anything which would in any way damp down that spirit of civic pride, which, after all, has been the foundation of the whole of our local Government administration. This Amendment will ensure for the local authority, or for any political party or anybody else in the area, that measure of representation after local 3131 inquiry which the Home Secretary conceded in his concluding speech on the last Clause. Therefore, I ask the Home Secretary on behalf of the Government to accept this reasonable Amendment which, I am sure, will be supported from all sides of the Committee.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I hope that my Friend the Home Secretary will listen sympathetically to the views expressed by the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy), and also to what some of his very generous supporters have said. The Committee are under a debt of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for putting down this Amendment. It is the kind of Amendment for which we on this side have been pressing while so much nationalising legislation has been pushed through at such a rapid rate by the present Government. Up to the present we have not been successful in incorporating any Amendment which would achieve the kind of result which the hon. Member for East Bradford hás in view. That is probably because we have been on the Opposition side. Now, at long last, the consciences of hon. and right hon. Members on the Government side have been awakened to the necessity for this kind of thing.
Let me assure the Home Secretary that it is just as necessary for county local authorities to have a local inquiry to consider questions such as these, as it is for the great urban districts. The hon. Member for East Bradford, judging by his name, is probably a Yorkshireman by adoption, but he will realise how very strongly feeling runs in the county boroughs in regard to possible changes, and that this feeling is probably greater than in the case of the boroughs, because there is a far more intimate connection between the county representatives and their constituents. If the Government are not prepared to give sympathetic consideration to this Amendment, I hope that the hon. Member will take the appropriate action and have the courage to divide the Committee.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The Boundary Commission was subjected to a certain amount of criticism at an earlier stage. An hon. Member suggested that the Commission had not considered objections and views put before them, and that criticism of members of the Commission, who are not here to defend themselves, has not 3132 yet been repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman. It is material, in considering the merits of this Amendment, to ask whether there is any foundation for a suggestion of that sort. I should be extremely surprised if there were the slightest substance in this criticism. I should also like to know whether there has been a case meriting a local inquiry where the Boundary Commission have refused or neglected to hold one.
§ Mr. McLeavy
In the case of Bradford, the recommendations of the Commission were to take away one of our four seats. The feelings about these recommendations were very strong among all political parties in the city. The city council made application to the Boundary Commission to hold a public inquiry, in view of the discontent which was felt throughout the city. That request was turned down, and the purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that the Boundary Commission shall not, in future, be allowed to turn down a request made on behalf of the community by resolution of the council.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
May I also say that the same thing happened in the case of Plymouth?
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I appreciate the feelings of the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy). I was quite clear on the argument he put forward in support of the Amendment. I think there is some confusion of thought here. Surely, we cannot assume that every time there is an objection to a proposal there should be a right to hold a local inquiry? The question I was putting to the right hon. Gentleman, which I hope he will answer, was rather on a wider field. It may well be that in a number of cases the arguments for and against can be put on paper. I would like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's views on the question of whether, when there is public feeling, perhaps about the name of the constituency, there should be an automatic right of the local authority to demand, as of right, a local inquiry.
§ Mr. McLeavy rose——
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Member will no doubt have an opportunity of making further comments later. I was addressing my remarks to the Home Secretary. In my constituency representations were made by one of many local authorities about the proposed 3133 name of the constituency. I, for my part, would never suggest that if the wishes of the local authority on a matter of that sort were not met by the Boundary Commission, there should be an automatic right to have a local inquiry into the matter. I am not at all clear how this provision will operate if it is included in the Bill in the case of a county division, in which a considerable number of local authorities are concerned. It may well be that the consequence of operating this would be that a whole series of local inquiries might be demanded, one after the other, by the local authorities, with the result that the Boundary Commission would not be assisted, but would be delayed, in the execution of their work.
Personally, I have great confidence in the independence and fairness of the Boundary Commission in their endeavour to do their work properly, when they are acting in their official capacity. I should be surprised to hear that local inquiries have been refused by the Commission where they should have been granted. In the case of applying for extra seats, surely it is possible to put the arguments adequately on paper. I do not believe that it necessarily follows that because of the feeling of a certain section of the public a local inquiry would serve a very useful purpose. Under the New Towns Act there has been some criticism that the inquiries held by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have not served any useful purpose. Indeed, I believe the suggestion was made by the Minister, who is not here, that these inquiries were valuable only because they enabled people to blow off steam—I think that was the expression which the right hon. Gentleman used.
Before making up our minds as to whether this Amendment should go into the Bill, we ought to know from the right hon. Gentleman the number of times an inquiry has been asked for and refused, and the nature of the case where there has been a refusal. I feel confident that without any provision of this sort the Boundary Commission would hold a local inquiry where it would assist them in the fulfilment of their duties, and in that belief I cannot advise my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side to support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I believe there is some justification for seek- 3134 ing other means of ventilating grievances. Representation by Members to the Home Secretary has been possible, and I believe that the suggestion in the Amendment is sound. However, I can see that some objection might be taken to it by the Home Secretary in so far as the local authority does not provide an opportunity for many authorities that might be concerned with Parliamentary representation to make their views known. There will be difficulty in the case of county constituencies which contain half a dozen local authorities. The opportunity to ventilate grievances should be granted. Some people in Liverpool have been rather alarmed about it. The local authority, if they had had an opportunity of stating their case to the Commission, would have been able, I think, to prove that they were entitled to two instead of one. Liverpool, which would have lost three out of 11 seats, actually loses two now. We feel that we have had more taken away from our representation than we ought to have had. I ask the Home Secretary, even if he cannot accept this particular Amendment, to consider inserting an Amendment of this kind which will give the localities concerned the opportunity of stating what they want.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I intervene only because of the complaint from the Birmingham district during the course of our Debate this afternoon. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) about having full confidence in the Boundary Commission. I do not know what happened in the case of the complaint that came from Birmingham, but I appeal to the Boundary Commission to give them an opportunity of stating their case for an additional Member. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Daventry that an Amendment of this kind must safeguard the future position of local authorities, but I think that there is some substance in the proposal made by the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. McLeavy) that there should be a right of appeal, within given limits, to the Boundary Commission where any disagreement arises.
§ Mr. Ede
Let me make it quite clear that in the first place I have no responsibility for the Boundary Commissioners. I can make requests to them. I receive their reports, but I cannot direct them, and I 3135 am not in any way responsible for the way in which they conduct their business. I would point out, as mentioned by two hon. Members at least who have taken part in the Debate, that this Amendment, while it might be applied to great cities or even to boroughs which have a single Member of Parliament representing a single borough, cannot be applied to county divisions, because this would give the right to a parish meeting to demand an inquiry into some proceedings of the Boundary Commissioners.
What I understand happened was this: where the Boundary Commission thought that there were some particular local considerations that needed investigation on the spot, they held a local inquiry, but where the question was merely what number of Members should be allotted to a particular county or borough, they thought that written evidence would meet all that was required. They were bound to have regard to the electorate on certain registers, the particulars of which had been supplied to them by the appropriate registration officer. Where it was merely a question of whether that number of electors entitled a constituency to x members, or x plus one, or x minus one, it was felt that that situation could be dealt with quite apart from holding a local inquiry, but where there were local considerations involved, such as means of access from one part of the constituency to another, they thought it desirable to get the kind of local colour which was necessary if those statistics were to be made really living at all.
I have no doubt that the Boundary Commissioners will read what has been said in the course of this Debate. I believe they honestly endeavoured, within the short space of time that was allowed them in presenting their first and second Reports, to produce the best possible job; but, I do not think we could place a Boundary Commission under the definite obligation to hold an inquiry merely because it was demanded by a local authority, if they thought no good purpose would be served by the inquiry. On the other hand, I think most hon. Members would agree, and I think the Boundary Commissioners would agree, that if they had a doubt in their minds whether an inquiry should be held or not, probably the best thing to do would be to give the locality the benefit of the doubt, and hold the inquiry.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. I want it to be understood that I make no charge of any sort against the Boundary Commission. What I say in the case of Birmingham and the proposal made to the Boundary Commission to hold a local inquiry, is that a misunderstanding must have arisen. I am sure the Home Secretary will at once realise that a great local authority like Birmingham, instead of getting mere acknowledgment, should at least have the courtesy of a full reply, stating why a local inquiry should not take place.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not quite sure that I can go as far as that, because very often one is let in for trouble the minute one begins to give reasons for doing what is a perfectly proper thing. I agree that the local authority are entitled to receive, and I have no doubt do receive every courtesy in this matter from the Boundary Commission, but I cannot advise the Committee to insert this Amendment in the Bill, because it would give in some county constituencies with probably 100 parish councils and parish meetings a right for each one to demand a public local inquiry. The City of Birmingham might be at one extreme, and these other authorities are at the other extreme, and in the wording of this Amendment each would be entitled to make the same demands on the Boundary Commission. I have no doubt that the speeches made on this matter during the course of this Debate will be read by the Boundary Commission. It must not be taken that I am suggesting that they have acted improperly. I have no doubt they will read these speeches, and it will be some guidance to them as to what might be the proper course on some future occasions.
§ Mr. McLeavy
Will my right hon. Friend consider, between now and the Report stage, introducing something into the Bill which will meet the main argument of this Amendment? The Home Secretary has said that he cannot give instructions to the Boundary Commission, and the Committee appreciate that, but I think we are entitled to say that the House are entitled to give instructions to the Boundary Commission, or to anyone else acting for us, which will ensure the right of the public to adequate protection against errors—and everyone is capable of making errors.
§ Mr. Ede
I could not undertake to put into the Bill an Amendment imposing on the Boundary Commissioners the obligation to hold an inquiry because it was demanded by a local authority, or anyone else. My hon. Friend's point will have been well met by the ventilation this subject has received, and I ask him to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)
I ask the Home Secretary to press this matter, probably not by way of legislation but by recommendation to the Boundary Commissions in the various parts of the country. I had the very curious experience of putting forward a request to appear before the Boundary Commission for Scotland, with the object of setting out certain particulars in which I considered they were going wrong in dividing up the constituency which I represent and the adjoining constituencies. They refused to permit me to come before them. I sent three letters and on each occasion I was refused. Finally, I sent a letter to Mr. Speaker. He was the titular chairman of the Boundary Commissions. He wrote to the Boundary Commission for Scotland and told them that they must receive me, and I was received. If that can be done in my case, it can be done in the case of a local authority. I have represented my constituency for 30 years in this House. I ran about it as a boy. I know its conditions and its whole history. I know its history, not merely the history of present day shipbuilding, but the history that goes back to before the year 400 when its patron saint was murdered and buried in that constituency.
When I appeared before the Commissioners and put the whole case before them, with its history, they paid me a fairly high compliment, although they struck the cup of water, or whatever it might have been, from my lips by refusing to go over the assessment of the boundaries again. They have asked me if I will give them the benefit of my knowledge of the whole history of this constituency, when they are preparing the new statistical record for it. I still hold that the parts that have been taken away from the constituency should be brought back, and I have put down an Amendment to that end. I am confident that had those Commissioners spent even half an hour in the constituency of Govan they would not have drawn up the 3138 boundaries as they appear at the present time in the report to the Home Office.
§ Mr. Ede
I should have thought that the earlier Debate we had today would have indicated the unwisdom of the Home Secretary in England and Wales or the Secretary of State for Scotland making any recommendation to a Boundary Commission. A Boundary Commission is an independent body which cannot be influenced by a Government Department but they can be asked, as I did——
§ Mr. Maclean
Are there any rules laid down for the guidance of the Commission in considering the boundaries of the constituencies?
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Oh, yes. In fact we are discussing the rules at the present time, and this is a proposed new rule which is now before the Committee. They are bound to observe those rules. My hon. Friend who wanted to go in front of the Commission did the right thing. He wrote to the Chairman of the Commission and asked if he could be heard by the Commission, and the Chairman directed the Commissioners to receive and listen to his argument. That is a perfectly fair thing. Presumably the Chairman is in a position to make recommendations to his fellow Commissioners who act under him. That appears to me to be a perfectly legitimate line to adopt. I am quite certain that no Minister of State ought to be in a position where he makes recommendations to or frames rules for the Boundary Commission other than those that are framed by the House and inserted in this Bill amending the previous measure which established the Boundary Commissioners.
I am bound to say that I think that when we ask distinguished people of the kind who act as Boundary Commissioners to serve, we must trust them to act reasonably. We must give them the opportunity of conducting their own business in their own way within the rules that we frame for them, and I do not think it would be a fair rule to place on them the obligation to hold an inquiry merely because a city council or any other local authority asked for it. I have no doubt that if they think the interests of the area and their own interests will be served, they will hold an inquiry.
§ Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox (Henley)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he has broken those rules?
§ Mrs. Middleton
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend what redress an authority has in this matter. Contrary to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), the City of Plymouth asked for a local inquiry. That request was backed by the three hon. Members for the city and it also had the unanimous support of all the parties in the city—apparently the only issue upon which there is unanimous support in the city——
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I did not suggest that an inquiry had not been asked for. I asked the right hon. Gentleman if he could indicate whether, in his opinion, a request for an inquiry had ever been refused when there were proper circumstances to warrant it being granted, a quite different question.
§ Mrs. Middleton
I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon, but I do not think that his explanation invalidates my argument, although I am sorry if I misrepresented him. What redress has a locality in this matter? There has been complete unanimity on this in Plymouth. No voice has been raised in Plymouth all through these discussions contrary to the view that the Drake Division should be retained. Representations were made to the Boundary Commission and we asked for a local inquiry. That request was-not granted. We urge that there are grave local circumstances which entitle us to special recognition in this matter, and we have had no chance of putting that view to the Boundary Commission. I would like my right hon. Friend to tell us what redress we have in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Ede
I cannot think that the City Council of Plymouth, the hon. Members for Plymouth and other persons in the area have been prevented from communicating with the Boundary Commissioners. The case of Plymouth is that, with approximately 140,000 electors on the 1946 register, they ought to have three seats. That is a matter which, after all is of mathematical determination. The Boundary Commissioners, having received the views of the various parties concerned, 3140 came to a certain conclusion which they have embodied in their report, and I cannot think that anything would have been gained in that case had there been a local inquiry. It would not have added a single person to the electoral roll, and it would not have altered the rules which had been embodied previously in legislation. I should imagine that if the matter had to be raised, the only way in which it could be raised would be to ask that the expenses of the Boundary Commissioners should be put down for discussion in the House. They would then be in this unfortunate position, that there is nobody here responsible for them, and I am not quite sure how their case could be presented to the House.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I want the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the matter to which he referred earlier, the independence of the Commission. The right hon. Gentleman said, and I agree with the view, that this is an entirely independent body which should not be influenced by any outside representations, but that is completely contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier when he had to admit that, having received the report of the Boundary Commission, he sent it back with something in the nature of a request that they should make recommendations for nine more Members in the city divisions. That is the effect, although the right hon. Gentleman has not told us exactly what was the communication that the Boundary Commissioners had—he has been very careful to keep that secret. There can be no doubt of this, that the Boundary Commissioners made their report, and that report did not contain a recommendation for those nine Members. In due course something was said to the Boundary Commissioners and they came back with exactly what the right hon. Gentleman wanted, which was nine extra Members in those nine seats. How does that tally with the right hon. Gentleman's proposition a moment ago that there should be no interference with these Commissioners, and that they should be left entirely independent to act spontaneously of their own volition? What is quite clear in the case with which we were dealing earlier is that they did not agree, and the right hon. Gentleman brought some kind of influence to bear upon them——
§ Mr. Ede
Really, the hon. and learned Gentleman has not been in all day and 3141 is now willing to confirm any statement made recklessly by any other hon. Member in the Chamber. I made a request, which was neither a direction nor an order. I am not entitled to direct the hon. and learned Member, but there are many requests that from time to time I might want to make to him. I am quite sure that he has sufficient skill to realise the difference between the two positions.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 27, at the end, to add:(c) at the end of Rule 6, the following words shall be inserted 'but there shall be no departure from the last two foregoing Rules if a constituency would then be formed by joining a county or part of a county and a county borough which are not contiguous.'The only constituency in England affected by this Amendment is my own, and I have put down the Amendment in response to requests from the local authority, the County Borough of Dudley, who unanimously reject the proposition that the borough should be linked to the municipal borough of Stourbridge, as there is no community of interest and there is a corridor in between. It is true that the borough of Dudley stands in a special position inasmuch as it is a piece of Worcestershire, surrounded by Staffordshire. The proposal created a great deal of consternation, not only in Dudley but also in Stourbridge, and in addition, the Worcestershire County Council also object to the proposal. It is quite clear that the Home Secretary himself does not really believe in a suggestion of this kind, because in his reply to the Debate on the City of London proposals, one finds that more than once he expressed the hope that efforts would be made to link the City with an adjoining area.
Whilst I do not ask for much sympathy for the special case for which I am speaking, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that what has happened to the county borough which I have the honour to represent would happen to any other constituency if a small piece of the puzzle caused by a general redistribution happened to be left over and was found difficult to fit in. I am quite sure the Home Secretary would be willing alternatively to consider pro- 3142 posals if I were in a position to make them but I do not feel it is my job to speak for the County of Worcestershire. That is one of my difficulties. If I had the right to speak for that county, I should have put down an Amendment to the Schedule. As I can speak only for Dudley, that is not the way to approach the problem. It should, therefore, be laid down as a matter of principle that no county borough should be attached to an area which is not contiguous to it.
I thank the Committee for having borne as patiently as they have with me. I have tried to be as brief as I can, and I hope the Home Secretary will sympathetically consider the point of view that I have put forward, and that he will accept the view that this untidy arrangement should not be persisted in. I hope, therefore, that he will agree between now and the Report stage to re-examine the position and see whether something can be done to tidy up the position.
§ Mr. Ede
This is a single case, which I believe has no companion in any part of the country. The County Borough of Dudley geographically is an island in the administrative county of Staffordshire. The Boundary Commission proceeded to deal with the allocation of seats in England on the basis of counties. They have, therefore, preserved the historical connection between Dudley and the County of Worcester. Quite frankly, I do not see what else they could have done, and as this is a unique case I do not think it ought to be dealt with by a general rule if there is any objection to the allocation that has been made of partners for Dudley in a Parliamentary constituency. That is a matter which should be dealt with at a later stage of the Bill. To add this general rule, which probably would have the effect of making Dudley by itself a single-Member constituency, is not something that ought to be done in the general rules dealing with redistribution.
§ Mr. Wigg
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, I must take exception to the statement he has made that it is perfectly normal procedure, because in the first Report the Commission linked Dudley with the adjoining area of Sedgley, and it was only on the second Report 3143 that they attached it to an area the nearest point in which is several miles away. I cannot accept the view put forward by the right hon. Gentleman that because it happens to be Dudley on this occasion, there is no reason for amending the rule. Surely that is the essential point. It happens to be Dudley now, but it may well be another place in the future.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman has recently explained the relationship of the Home Secretary to the Boundary Commission and he has made it quite clear it would be wrong—indeed, he has no legal authority—to give the Boundary Commission any direction of any kind whatsoever, either to provide more seats at the request of his supporters or any other matter. He has explained what, in his view, is the difference between a request coming from the Home Secretary and direction. The difference may sometimes not be very great, as, for instance, when there is a request from the Ministry of Labour, with the threat of direction if a person does not comply with the request. I would not press my comment on that, but bearing in mind the right hon. Gentleman's lack of power and lack of right to give any directions to the Boundary Commission, I am desirous of asking him certain questions about how representations with regard to new constituencies are to be implemented.
The Boundary Commission is, as he has pointed out, a statutory body with statutory powers. Its procedure is set out in the Part III of the First Schedule of the 1944 Act, and I think I am right in saying that that part has not been materially altered by the subsequent statutes. I say that from memory, as I have not had time to look at it. Under the 1944 Act, where the Boundary Commission made proposals, these had to be published and the persons affected had 3144 one month in which to make representations. It was only after those representations were made that the Boundary Commission would hold a local inquiry. I think that is the situation. What I am wondering about is this: How the right hon. Gentleman's pledge about the possibility of holding inquiries with regard to the new constituencies is to be implemented, bearing in mind that he has no power of giving directions? Under Subsection (3) of the 1944 Act, while it is true that the Boundary Commission may, from time to time, submit reports to the Secretary of State in connection with particular constituencies, by Subsection (4) it is provided that where they intend to consider making a report they have to inform the Secretary of State and it has to be published. Only after that has happened does the period of one month run.
There has been no report laid before this House recommending these new constituencies. There has been no action by the Boundary Commission under their powers, which this House has given them under Subsection (4) of the 1944 Act. The initiative has come from the right hon. Gentleman—he has admitted it with regard to the nine cities—and, therefore, I am wondering how the machinery contained in the 1944 Act can properly be made use of to implement the right hon. Gentleman's pledge, which he so recently made. It appears to me that if any effect is to be given to that pledge it will necessitate some further legislation because the Boundary Commission, with their statutory powers so closely defined, cannot, having made no report, recommend these extra constituencies in these nine large cities. They cannot then comply with either Subsection (3) or with Subsection (4) so this period for making representations to them provided by the Act of Parliament under Part III of the First Schedule does not apply either.
Before we pass from this Clause, having regard to all that has happened since this Bill was first contemplated, we ought to get a very clear statement from the right hon. Gentleman as to the precise rights of the people who will be affected by the alterations which have been made since this Bill had its Second Reading, and the alterations which will be made. As I see it the Boundary Commission cannot possibly act in accordance with the 1944 Act in relation to those nine cities; for their 3145 power of publishing proposals must depend upon their first publishing or submitting a report to the right hon. Gentleman. There has been a demand from behind the right hon. Gentleman for inquiries which, in cases up to now, the Boundary Commission has refused. The right hon. Gentleman rather indicated, while emphasising that he cannot give directions, the likelihood that in view of criticisms the Boundary Commission will, in future, grant inquiries more readily.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I said "indicated." I thought from what the right hon. Gentleman said that that was the inference to be drawn from his statement. If I have misrepresented him, I hope he will make clear what he meant by saying that the Boundary Commission will have due regard to these complaints about not holding inquiries. The fact remains that machinery does exist for providing these inquiries and the right to make representations, which the right hon. Gentleman said would exist with regard to these nine large cities.
The machinery with regard to these nine large cities is to be brought into conformity with the machinery—and I think that will require legislation—of the 1944 Act. What about the time factor? Are the Boundary Commission likely to be able to hold the local inquiries and to make their final reports in sufficient time for these changes to be considered—if they propose any changes—and for their recommendations to be given effect to under this Measure? The right hon. Gentleman departed from the course he indicated at the beginning of this Parliament in regard to consultation on matters of this sort. Now I think the time has come to satisfy this Committee that the assurances he gave can legally be given effect to under existing legislation, and, if not under existing legislation, to give assurances that legislation will be introduced forthwith to make his promise possible on fulfilment.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at line 8 on page 4, he will find a word used in relation to Scotland which has no validity in Scotland at all. Although this may be intended to be a quotation—it would appear to be a quotation from the way in which the Subsection of the Clause is 3146 printed—I do not think there is any reason why we should slavishly adhere to an error when we are dealing with a piece of legislation. I refer to the spelling of the word "boroughs," which is spelt in the English way. That form has no validity in Scotland. It may be technically correct to have it there, but I do not think there is any reason for slavishly adhering to an error when it could be corrected.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
The Committee having passed the earlier Amendment, and so accepted the principle, it seems to me that the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Miss Bacon), is one which I can support. It is difficult to argue Amendments in a Committee of this kind. The Home Secretary said that the reasons for this Amendment were because of what he heard on the Second Reading. What I want to put to the, right hon. Gentleman is that the rights of Members of Parliament would be exercised normally in debating an Amendment.
It seems to me that the suggestion is that Members of Parliament should be able to approach the Boundary Commission—I do not think that would be illegal —to put up points which they would otherwise have put to the Committee, and that a recommendation should then be made by the Commission to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary could implement the recommendation or not, as he thought fit. That does not seem to me to need legislation. It is merely a means of putting the rights of Members of Parliament definitely before the Home Secretary. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider it. I do not think that a suggestion for bringing more or less agreed Amendments before the Home Secretary does need legislation.
The Home Secretary referred to the Boundary Commission's, Report, and the rules thereof, where a definition of an electoral quota is given. In his speech on the previous Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman said that the average electoral quota for the whole of England, under the new scheme, would be 56,00o. I think that was the figure which he gave. When the Boundary Commission is considering the electoral quota, and it sees in the new White Paper the statement that certain boroughs are as low as 40,000 or 3147 41,000, others being as high as 70,00o, am I right in thinking that it would be within the electoral quota, having regard to these rules, to have constituencies of 40,000 or 41,00o and others of 65,00o or 70,000? That would not mean a special departure from these rules? I do not know whether I have made my point clear, but we have in this White Paper a large number of constituencies of 40,000 or 41,00o. Have the Boundary Commission considered that that is the average of the electoral quota?
§ Mr. Ede
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), the spelling of the expression "Parliamentary Boroughs" derives from the 1918 Act, and that in this Act we have merely been following the precedent then established. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will consider whether it is necessary to amend the word and put it into the Scottish form of spelling before we get to the Report stage.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not a question of whether the Lord Advocate will consider whether that is necessary. Such an Amendment is necessary, because the present spelling is quite incorrect. I am quite sure that he will not wish to continue something which was wrong in 1918, but should not be wrong in 1948.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not desire me to express a positive opinion on so purely a Scottish point. With regard to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), I undertook that I would ask the Boundary Commissioners if they would consider the representations that might be made as a result of the proposed Amendments. I shall implement that promise. If it requires anything more than is in the Bill, I will undertake to see that what is required is inserted. I do not think it will be necessary for this very limited range of constituencies to go through all the motions that are rightly required when a question of general redistribution is being considered. If it will assist hon. Members, I will undertake to consult with the hon. and learned Gentleman and with 3148 anyone else associated with him, as well as with hon. Members representing these constituencies, when I get an answer from the Boundary Commissioners to my request. If they are unwilling to undertake the task, it may then be necessary to establish some machinery which can be used to ensure that local views and objections on these matters can be adequately voiced and considered. I give the undertaking that that shall be done.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman has gone a little way, but I am not sure that he has gone far enough. He has given an undertaking that he will approach the Boundary Commission. If the Boundary Commission say, as they may well say, that they really have no power under existing statutes to do what the right hon. Gentleman asks them to do, then I infer from what he has said that he will see that power is given to them, if he can get the Measure through this House, to consider representations made in relation to these nine cities. Further, we want to be clear that he will seek to ensure, one way or another, that the Boundary Commission will give similar rights to parties affected, to make representations and to apply for a local inquiry, as now exist in the case of any representation made by the Boundary Commission under the 1944 Act. I think that that was in the right hon. Gentleman's mind, but I do not think that. he went so far as to express it, if it was. If I have correctly interpreted what he had in mind, that would go a long way towards making his pledge a reality.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not know whether the Boundary Commission will accede to the request which I propose to make to them. If they do not, clearly it will be necessary for some other machinery to be established which will enable representations to be made, from which recommendations can be forwarded to me by whoever conducts the inquiry. I should have thought that it did not require statutory power for a local inquiry to be held when the objections, suggestions or proposals had been received. There is no statute to prevent a local inquiry being held in such circumstances, and I have promised the hon. and learned Gentleman that when I know exactly what the attitude of the Boundary Commission is to this request, I will have such consultations as are necessary to make certain that full and 3149 adequate opportunity is afforded to people to make representations, to have them considered, and, if recommendations be made, published.
§ Mr. Peake
I think the Committee is in danger of getting into inextricable confusion on this matter. It is quite clear that, having made their official report, the Boundary Commission have completed their task and discharged the functions laid upon them by Parliament by Section 3 of the 1944 Act. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to invite the Commission to consider certain proposals which are to be found in Amendments to the Schedule to this Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has tabled. The only statutory power which the right hon. Gentleman can invoke to enable the Commission to consider these matters at all is to found in Subsection (3) of Section 4 of the 1944 Act. That Subsection reads:Any Boundary Commission may also from time to time submit to the Secretary of State reports with respect to the area comprised in any particular constituency or constituencies in the part of the United Kingdom with which they are concerned.Under Section 4 of the 1944 Act, before they can make any such report as I have described under Subsection (3), the Commission have first, under Subsection (4), to give notice in writing to the Secretary of State and a copy of the notice has to be published. Of course, the Commission, if they are willing to comply with his request, can easily enough come within the conditions laid down in Subsection (4). They can give notice in writing to the right hon. Gentleman that they intend to consider making a report under this Section. But if the right hon. Gentleman goes further and reads Subsection (5) of Section 4 of the 1944 Act he will see these words:As soon as may be after the Boundary Commission have submitted a report to the Secretary of State under this Section——and it is projected that they shall make a report under Section 4,the Home Secretary shall lay the report before Parliament together with the draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report.At that stage, when the right hon. Gentleman gets what in fact will be the report from the Boundary Commission under Subsection (3) of Section 4 of the 1944 Act, the only thing he can do with that 3150 report is to lay it before Parliament, together with a draft Order in Council.
That is not at all what he intends to do. When he gets this report, as I understand it, he does not intend to accompany it with a draft Order in Council. What he proposes to do is to go ahead with his amendment to the Schedule. It seems to me that he will be asking the Commission to undertake a task for which they have no statutory authority, and if they do undertake it, they will land him in the difficulty that he is compelled by statute to proceed thereafter by Order in Council and not by amendment to the Schedule of the Bill.
Therefore, I think that we are in danger of getting into great confusion on this matter, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will have to give much more thought to this subject than he has done hitherto if he is going to get the Commission to act, not within the scope of some statutory ruling, but in an unofficial way, to undertake the examination of the Amendments he has proposed to the Schedules, and to consider objections brought forward by parties concerned in the constituencies affected by his proposals.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I would like to reinforce the argument which has just been put by my right hon. Friend, and to draw attention to what has happened in this particular case. The right hon. Gentleman is in the difficulty in which he at present finds himself solely because he has not had proper regard to the rights created in the 1944 Act. The Lord President of the Council told us, in effect, that we have not brought ourselves within the statute, but we have done something like it. The Government have done that before by not having a full appreciation of the rule of law; so often we have heard the Government say, "Well, leave it to us; we will operate it all right without having it included in the Bill in a well-defined manner."
The Lord President of the Council has agreed that the proper procedure has not been followed, and that is the reason the Home Secretary find himself in the position in which he is. He can only do what he is going to do by ignoring the 1944 Act; he cannot do what he is proposing and, at the same time, have proper regard to his statutory powers under the Act. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman must have regard to 3151 those statutory powers, and before we leave this Clause, I must reiterate what has been said about the sense of shame which right hon. and hon. Members opposite should feel at the manner in which they have dealt with their obligations. If this Clause is passed, it will be a monument of infamy to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a shameful thing that, for a political advantage, in this Clause he should have sacrificed his reputation for fair dealing.
§ Mr. Ede
Denunciation from some people is the best compliment one can receive and if I may say so, I therefore welcome the denunciation which I have just received from the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe). If I may refer for a moment to the remark made a few minutes ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), that we are in danger of getting into great confusion on this matter on this side of the Committee, I would remind him that it is perfectly competent for me, within my general powers, to have inquiries held into any representations made to me with regard to this matter. I would prefer, and I imagine that all hon. Members would prefer, that these inquiries should be held by people who, over a period of time, have gained the accumulated experience of the Boundary Commissioners. I am advised that there is no difficulty in this matter. I have promised that I will consult with the right hon. Gentleman, and such of his colleagues as may be associated with him on this issue, as to the way this can be carried out, and there is no doubt that, in time for the making of any Amendments necessary in later stages of the Bill, we shall be able to get the benefit of the advice, if needed, of the Commissioners, and some other person, or persons, competent to deal with these matters.
§ 11.0 p.m.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should suggest that there is any confusion on this side of the Committee as to the state of the law.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be getting more and 3152 more polite. There was some confusion, and as we were discussing a question largely of law, I thought that he meant that, but apparently it was something else; and again he failed to make himself clear. He did say that he would invite the Boundary Commission to consider this. I would like him to deal with this point, because if there was any confusion on his side, it was because of lack of clarity in his remarks. He said there would have to be some other machinery. If the Boundary Commission say that they cannot, under their present statutory powers, do what he wants them to do, he would then create some ad hoc machinery. If that is what is in his mind, it means that there is a real possibility that there will be an inquiry, or representations made to people set up by Parliament and having jurisdiction in this matter, and that representations will be made to some other people chosen by him and coming direct to him. That is quite a different thing from saying that the Boundary Commission will have jurisdiction in respect of these nine cities.
What I would like to ask of the Home Secretary, with the greatest civility and, I hope, clarity, is an assurance that, if the Boundary Commission say that under the existing statutes they have not got the power to do what he wants them to do, he will take immediate steps to see that they are given the necessary powers, because I do not think that, after all that has happened, it will be regarded as satisfactory in all quarters if it is known that the representations are not to be considered by an impartial statutory body, such as the Boundary Commissioners, but by a body appointed by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Ede
We can see now where we are getting to. The hon. and learned Gentleman spent a great deal of time trying to prove that the Boundary Commissioners could not do this. I am not going to ask them to do this in their statutory capacity. I am going to ask them whether they will be willing to undertake the task that we desire to be performed of hearing such representations as may be made. I believe that these gentlemen act just as efficiently whether they act in their statutory capacity or in their non-statutory capacity, and I am not going to be drawn into the kind of sophistication into which 3153 the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to lure me.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Will the Home Secretary answer my point whether constituencies of 40,000 would be within the electoral quota under the provision?
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
The right hon. Gentleman said in his last sentence of his last speech but one that he was going to ask these gentlemen to act in their non-statutory capacity. I had not been aware that they had a non-statutory capacity. Waiving the form of words, may I put this question to him? It clearly is not fair to ask them, if he means to ask them as mere individuals, to do something in such a way that it is impossible to refuse, because that is not asking people to do something, but directing them in matters in which there are no statutory duties. I want to ask him what will he tell them if upon his asking them to act in their non-statutory capacity they indicate unwillingness? What happens then?
§ Mr. Ede
I do not believe in crossing bridges until I come to them; nor do I believe in swimming rivers until I get to them. I shall make this request to the Boundary Commissioners and I do not think that tonight I am obliged to assume that they will refuse. The request will not be in any way a concealed order. I want to make that quite clear. It will be a request and nothing more.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Peake
We are coming to a series of Clauses of immense constitutional importance dealing with the registration of Parliamentary electors, the right of the Service voter to vote, and the place and 3154 manner of voting at Parliamentary elections; and I really think it is hardly decent that we should conduct the Debate on these important constitutional matters throughout the night. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make some statement as to how far he intends to go and at what hour he intends we should stop discussing this Bill.
§ Mr. Ede
The Government hope to get quite a way through the Bill during the course of this Sitting. It is, I think, a bit early to say exactly how far we hope to go, how far we expect to get through the Bill, and how long we intend to sit. I think these things will depend upon such developments as may take place during the discussions on the next few Amendments. I hope that the Committee feel that we can safely give a very considerable amount of attention yet to the Bill during this Sitting. I hope we shall be able to make very considerable progress during the Sitting.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the evening papers it is suggested that a plan has been made by the Government Whips to sit until 6 o'clock in the morning, and that on the radio, which I happened to hear at 9 o'clock, it was stated that the Lobby Correspondent understood that the Government expected to get all the stages of this Bill and, therefore, that the Sitting would be late—probably all night? Is there any authority for these statements?
§ Sir I. Fraser
My question was not whether the right hon. Gentleman had seen the papers, but whether there was any authority for these statements.
§ Mr. Ede
No, not as far as I know. I have consulted the Patronage Secretary, who assures me that there is no authority for any such statements. We suggest that the Committee should continue the discussion of the Bill and see how far we can get. It may depend upon the progress we are able to make what hour we shall be able to rise.
§ Mr. Peake
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to try to be a little more definite upon this matter. The Com- 3155 mittee are entitled to a fairly clear statement of the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, and I think it is positively indecent that on a constitutional Measure of this importance the progress of the Bill should develop into a test of endurance. If only the right hon. Gentleman would say plainly that he wants to get to the end of a certain Clause by a certain time tonight we might do something to facilitate the progress of the Bill, but if he leaves the matter completely at large then we are bound to press him hard upon every Clause and upon every Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede
I would suggest that what I have said is a perfectly reasonable attitude to adopt. It seems that I am now stirring the Opposition junior Whips almost into eloquence. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that we should see what progress we can make, and then it will be possible a little later to discuss the exact length of time which it may he necessary to sit and the number of Clauses that we might expect to be able to get during the Sitting.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
I would like to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. Many of us spent a great deal of last night and the early part of this morning sitting here to finish the Palestine Bill in all its stages at one Sitting which we thought was far too prolonged and which went on until 3 o'clock this morning. We think it is unreasonable for the Government Business to be run in this manner. There ought to have been more time given to the Palestine Bill so that we could have discussed the Third Reading today. Instead of that, we were asked to finish the whole of the Palestine Bill, and to sit until 3 o'clock this morning. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is not only we who suffer from this extraordinary method of conducting Government Busi- 3156 ness, but also the staff and the officials of the House who have to stay here until a late hour and very often find it difficult to get home. I honestly do not think the dignity of Parliament is improved if we have to do business at this late hour. I think the right hon. Gentleman would be wise to indicate the Clause or part of the Bill That he would like to reach tonight, because it would be much easier to do the business conscientiously than turn it into a feat of endurance, as my right hon. Friend has suggested.
§ Mr. Ede
I thought I had made quite a reasonable suggestion. I was here throughout the Sitting yesterday, and I stayed almost until the end. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there was a very considerable discussion during yesterday, which was carried on very largely by a small minority in the House. I am not attempting to excuse what happened yesterday, but I am suggesting that we should sit for a little longer and see how far we can get. I am quite willing during that time to have a discussion with the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), to see if we can agree on the part of the Bill that we should try to reach by a certain time. If we could reach agreement on that point, I should hope that we should be able to make some considerable progress with the Bill during the present Sitting.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
The right hon. Gentleman said he had consulted the Patronage Secretary, but I wonder if he also consulted the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). When the question, "How long are we going to sit?" was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland shouted, "Until 6 o'clock." On this Bill his prophecies have been so frequently correct that the Committee is very much interested as to whether, on this question, the Home Secretary has received his instructions from him or if he is giving information to the right hon. Gentleman. Could the Home Secretary give us any enlightenment on that?
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
I looked in tonight expecting to find that substantial progress had been made with the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalton
I was astonished to learn that Clause 3 has not yet been passed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes it has."]. That was the position when I came into the Chamber. I can only conclude that the Debate on Clause 3 has been greatly prolonged by speeches from the Opposition side of the Committee. I am sure that I shall not be alone in assuring my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of the willingness of Members on the Government side of the Committee to sit, if need be, until 6 o'clock—the time I mentioned —in order to make reasonable progress with this Bill. I am quite willing on this, as on other occasions, to follow the lead of my right hon. Friend. He has been extremely reasonable in his handling of the Bill, and he has listened to suggestions from all parts of the Committee. I can assure him of the consistent support which he will receive from a substantial majority of this Committee however long he may decide to continue.
§ Mr. Peake
In view of the assurance of the Home Secretary that the Committee will not sit more than a little longer, and that during the remainder of the time the right hon. Gentleman would meet me behind Mr. Speaker's Chair for an informal discussion, I am prepared to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. Butler
When I intervened I put some serious considerations before the Committee, and in reponse to my representations the right hon. Gentleman definitely used the expression that we should sit a little longer. He also, said, after that remark, that he would discuss the situation with my right hon. Friend. That was a reasonable approach, and my right hon. Friend was quite right to take it up; and ask the right hon. Gentleman to adhere to his statement.
§ Mr. Ede
If I used the phrase "a little longer" it was with the idea that we should see during that period what progress we were making and that, during that period, I should have a conversation with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) to see if we could devise some limit both to the 3158 number of Clauses we might be expected to get and the sitting time it would take to get them.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
Before this Motion is withdrawn, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) whether. he has again treated us to one of his now famous indiscretions. He said that Clause 3 had been passed, and it had not—[HON. MEMBERS: "The other way round."]—In the case of an insignificant back bencher an indiscretion such as I have just made is of no account, but when made by a distinguished gentleman like the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) it is of some account. I would just like to ask if the Committee can be informed if, with this indiscretion, the right hon. Gentleman has committed the further indiscretion of giving information to the Press? Obviously, they got it from somewhere, and it seems that the most likely source of that information was the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.