HC Deb 26 July 1949 vol 467 cc2405-12

10.48 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

I beg to move, That the Draft House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved. In moving the first of the three Draft House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Orders, I should like to say a few words about the way in which I have brought them before the House. I received a report from the Boundary Commission with regard to three groups of constituencies. The three constituencies were dealt with in one report and, as far as the wording of the Act under which I bring the Orders to the House is concerned, it would have been possible to have made only one order covering the three groups of constituencies; but it seemed to me that that would present a difficulty to the House in its discussion of this matter.

It might very well be that two of the groups were non-controversial, but there might be issues arising with regard to the third. In order to deal with the matter, it would be necessary for the House to defeat the two which were non-controversial in order to deal with the one which was controversial, so I have made a separate order in respect of each group of constituencies. I think that is the fairest way of bringing a matter like this before the House. It is true that it may involve the Minister in more trouble in that he might have to take part in three prolonged discussions, but in a matter of this kind I do not think we should present to the House a conglomeration of proposals on the "take it or leave it" principle when a majority of the House might desire to leave one or two and be faced with the proposition that if they did so they would have to disagree with others with which they desired to agree. Should any other reports come from the Parliamentary Boundary Commissioners, I would propose to submit them in the same way so that a clear vote on each proposal can be recorded by the House if it so desires. I hope that the House will feel that what I have done is for its convenience.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

This is the first occasion on which orders of this character have been submitted to the House under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1944. I am assured there is no objection to any of these three orders by my hon. Friends, but, as this is the first occasion on which this procedure has been adopted, there are one or two points I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman.

Hitherto, any alteration of constituencies has always been embodied in a Schedule to a Bill and has therefore been capable of amendment by the House. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman is right when he gets a report from the Boundary Commission under Section 4 of the Act of 1944 to submit separate orders dealing with each constituency affected, but the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that not only under Section 4 may the Commission do what they have done in this case, which is to make recommendations in regard to three constituencies, but they have also the duty under Section 1 of the Act to make at intervals of not less than three and not more than seven years, reviews affecting the constituencies throughout the country as a whole. It may well be that when the general review of constituencies is undertaken by the Boundary Commission—or Commissions, because there are separate commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—the right hon. Gentleman or his successor, whoever he may be, may be faced with the necessity of submitting 640 separate orders to the House. I take it that what the right hon. Gentleman is doing sets a precedent for the action which will be taken when a general review of constituencies is undertaken throughout the United Kingdom. Each boundary alteration of each individual constituency is likely to become the subject of a separate order.

The next point is that there is provision in the Act of 1944 for a general review at periods which will average five years, but the subsection under which these orders are made states that any Boundary Commission may also, from time to time, submit reports to the Secretary of State with respect to the area comprised in any one particular constituency or constituencies, as they have done here for the Battersea constituencies today, and may make another report in a fortnight's time. That is possible under the Act.

I should like to know a little bit more. Where does the motive force come from? As far as I know, none of the Conservative organisations concerned has asked for these particular alterations. I am not aware that Transport House has suggested that these particular alterations should be made, and I inquire whether the Boundary Commission act on their own initiative or receive a suggestion from some quarter or another which permits them to take such action as they think fit?

It would be interesting to know that there would not be alterations proposed unless, say, the local authority, or the party organisations concerned, had agreed that alterations were necessary and desirable. This may be a case where the Boundary Commission are acting, as far as I know, on their own initiative, but it would be desirable, in submitting these orders to the House, if the Secretary of State would inform us whether they have been suggested by the local authorities or have been subject to discussion and agreement between the local representatives of the principal political parties.

To sum up my questions, I should like to know whether this creates a precedent which will affect the submission of individual orders when the general review takes place at intervals of approximately five years; whether individual orders will be submitted purely on the initiative of the Commission; or whether they will have been subject to prior discussion between the political parties; or possibly come from suggestions made by the local authorities concerned.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Ede

With regard to the first of the questions put to me, I would not like to give an answer until the contingency actually arises, because submitting three orders is one thing, but to contemplate submitting up to 640 orders, after we have had an all-night sitting, is not a very pleasurable prospect. I think one might have to consider the form which it would take.

As these individual orders come along, I shall submit them to the House, and I desire it to be understood that that would be a precedent, but I am not to be taken as binding myself or my successor as to what might have to take place if, in fact, we had a general review of them. No doubt it would not include an alteration to every one of the constituencies, but it might include a fairly large number, and give rise to some Parliamentary inconvenience. If and when that situation arises, we had better leave our successors to deal with it on the lines acceptable to them. I have said as evidence of good faith, as far as these individual orders are concerned, that they shall be submitted with the maximum convenience of discussion afforded to the House.

Secondly, these cases have arisen on the initiative of the Boundary Commission. They somehow or other discovered that difficulties arose. The first is a rather peculiar one, and corrects a misprint in the Representation of the People Act of last year. Apparently, in submitting their recommendations to the Home Secretary and getting them embodied in the Bill, it was overlooked that an isolated rural parish had been linked with a county borough to which it was not adjacent. The necessary correction is being made; had it been discovered during the passage of the Bill through the House, this would have been looked upon merely as a typist's or printer's error.

There has been a revision of the municipal wards in Battersea, and it was thought desirable that that should be embodied in the order. While the Representation of the People Act was going through the House, it was found that Hammersmith had a similar revision of ward boundaries, but the new names were put into the Act, because the Bill, as it then was, happened to be in a flexible state. That is what happened in Battersea.

Mr. Peake

If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, I would like to say that I am not sure, with regard to Battersea, whether the alteration involves any alteration of boundaries or merely the names of the wards.

Mr. Ede

In both Hammersmith and Battersea it involves areas as well as the names of wards. The new areas are not mere replicas of the old wards, and this is not merely a change of nomenclature. So far as Harrow is concerned, I understand that the population became a bit disproportionate, and this order gives to Harrow three constituencies nearly more equal to those in the Bill. All these alterations are suggested by the Boundary Commissioners on their own initiative.

Mrs. Middleton (Sutton, Plymouth)

I have been interested in this case of the revision of ward boundaries since the Representation of the People Act was passed, and I should like to say that these two are not the only ones where revision has taken place. Is this a precedent? Will all areas where ward boundaries have been altered be open to review?

Mr. Ede

They will certainly be open to review, but whether they will be reviewed depends on the Boundary Commissioners. If they are not reviewed, then the constituencies will be the areas covered by the old, and not the new, areas.

Resolved: That the Draft House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved.

11.4 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

I beg to move, That the Draft House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) (No. 2) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved. This is the order which refers to Battersea. I think my right hon. Friend has already explained what has given rise to this, namely, an alteration in the wards in this area. This was the subject of a local public inquiry, held on behalf of the Commissioners.

11.5 p.m.

Mrs. Ganley (Battersea, South)

I should like to say a word on this, and outline a very real difficulty which Battersea has had over a period of months. In the early days, when the first Boundary Commission reported, Battersea was then the Borough of Battersea. It was then turned into two quite different constituencies, one having two town halls in it, and the other none at all. Very strong exception was taken to that, and that arrangement did not continue. The next thing that happened was that the ward boundaries were altered, but, unfortunately, were not altered in time to be acceptable under the report of the Boundary Commission.

What happened then, however, was that the Boundary Commission report altered one ward from one constituency into the other constituency, and that was the recommendation that was then carried out under the Redistribution of Seats Act. The necessary alteration of wards as a whole had for a long time been wanting in Battersea because the ward boundaries were not the clearest and easiest. Therefore, the wards themselves were altered in the borough from nine to 16, and the Boundary Commission looked at the question again. What was found then was that the original numbers of electorate had been very much changed. Where, in the first place, one ward had had somewhere about 10,000 more electors than the other, the new arrangement changed that, so that instead of one constituency having a majority of electors, now the other one has. That being so, I think we can well understand—and I am sure my right hon. Friend will understand—that there is not very much satisfaction in the borough about the decision now being made.

I also want to draw attention to the fact that the constituency which has now the majority of electors is also the constituency which has had a very considerable amount of damage, and in which there will be a very much greater amount of building which will automatically bring new electors into that constituency. I understand that the Parliamentary Boundary Commission is continuous in a case of this kind. Although attention has been given to this borough on three different occasions, I think it will be seen that attention will have to be paid to it on another occasion also, because there will be greater disequilibrium in the number of electors as new buildings are erected.

I am not now asking that this should be altered, because I think the situation has been given so much attention that to ask that this should be taken back and reconsidered would, I fear, be met with a blank refusal. What I am asking is that attention should be given by the Boundary Commission to this borough and its constituencies because of the fact that the electorate will become very uneven, and because, if the notice is given, the orders can be made perfectly reasonably as this is being done, and restoration of the equilibrium of the electorate achieved.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Ede

Battersea has undoubtedly caused the Boundary Commissioners some concern. I think my hon. Friend has given a quite accurate account of the progress of the reviews that have taken place, except that she omitted to say, as is revealed by the report, that a public inquiry was held into the present scheme. An alternative scheme was prepared and submitted to the gentleman who conducted the inquiry. The Commissioners report that while the alternative scheme was not without merit they think their own scheme is better.

With regard to Harrow, they accepted the alternative scheme which was submitted to them, which shows, I think, that they have endeavoured to exercise some reasonable impartiality and discrimination. Of course, one cannot get constituencies exactly equal in size, and it is almost certain that in any borough which is divided into two constituencies one will be larger than the other. Sometimes it will be the north and sometimes the south which will be the larger. The Boundary Commissioners are not authorised to take into consideration prospective increases in the number of houses or in the number of electors; they can only deal with the accomplished fact when the electors appear on the register. If my hon. Friend's prophecy is correct, and the constituency which is now the larger is still further increased by the building of a substantial number of houses, that should hasten the time when the Boundary Commissioners will once again have to give their attention to the appropriate division of this borough into two constituencies. We shall have to wait until then before we get an opportunity of altering the arrangement now suggested.

Resolved: That the Draft House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) (No. 2) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved.

11.12 p.m.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, That the Draft House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) (No. 3) Order, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved. This relates to Harrow and, again, is necessary as a result of the alteration of local boundaries. It gives effect to the Boundary Commissioners' report without any alteration.