§ Order for second Reading read.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill makes certain amendments to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1949, which is a consolidating Measure. It incorporates the provisions of the original Redistribution Act of 1944, as amended by a later Act of 1947, and takes account of the changes made by the Representation of the People Act, 1948, in the number of constituencies.
As hon. Members know, the essential feature of the present law is that the review of Parliamentary constituencies is entrusted to four independent Boundary Commissions, one for each part of the United Kingdom, under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker. The Commissions are required to make periodical reports containing their recommendations for redistribution of seats in the part of the country with which they deal in accordance with the redistribution rules laid down in the Act. These recommendations, if approved by affirmative Resolution of both Houses, come into effect for the next following General Election.
There is probably general agreement on these basic principles and this Bill does not affect them, so it is limited in scope. But, as was indicated in the debates on the last general review of constituencies in December, 1954, and January, 1955, experience of the working of the present law has shown that some changes are needed. It is with these changes that the Bill is concerned. The Government, naturally, thought it right in a matter of this constitutional importance to discuss the proposals we had in mind with the leaders of the other parties. I think I may safely say that the discussions were friendly and helpful and that substantial agreement was reached on the proposals now contained in the Bill.
The main proposals are: first, to make certain changes in the constitution of the Boundary Commissions; secondly, to 227 lengthen the interval between general reviews of constituencies; thirdly, to introduce more flexibility into the redistribution rules; and, lastly, to make some further provision about the publishing of notices and the holding of local inquiries. I wish to say a few words about each of these points in turn.
Clause 1 of the Bill makes two changes in the constitution of the Commissions. Their present constitution is set out in Part I of the First Schedule to the 1949 Act. Mr. Speaker, you are chairman of each of the Commissions and the other members are the Registrar-General for the country concerned, the Director-General of Ordnance Survey—in Northern Ireland that would be the Commissioner of Valuation—who are members ex officio and two members appointed by the appropriate Ministers. One of the members of each Commission is nominated by you, Mr. Speaker, to be deputy-chairman.
The two changes made by Clause 1 are: first, the deputy-chairman of each Commission will, in future, be a judge. This follows the present practice in Scotland. In the case of the Commission for England and Wales the appointments will be made by the Lord Chancellor; in the case of the Commission for Scotland by the Lord President of the Court of Session, and in the case of Northern Ireland by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
The second change is that the Registrars-General, the Director of Ordnance Survey and the Commissioner of Valuation for Northern Ireland will become assessors and will cease to be members of the respective Commissions. These officials are at present members of the Commissions because of their expert knowledge. There was some feeling in the House on the occasion of the last general review—a feeling which also found expression in our discussions with the Opposition—that, while the Commissions should continue to have the benefit of the expert knowledge of these officials, it would be better if the latter had no responsibility for the framing of the Commissions' recommendations. The proposal in the Bill meets this point.
The result is that each Commission will consist of Mr. Speaker as chairman, a High Court judge as deputy-chairman and two 228 members appointed by the appropriate Ministers. In the case of the Commissions for England and Wales that will be one member appointed by the Home Secretary and one member appointed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government; in the case of Scotland, two members appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland; and in the case of Northern Ireland, two members appointed by the Home Secretary.
The Government intend—and this is important—that the Ministerial appointments shall in each case be made in agreement with the other political parties, subject to the proviso that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will continue to appoint persons with a knowledge of local government. I am sure that this reservation will give rise to no difficulty.
So much for Clause 1. I come now to Clause 2, which extends the intervals between general reviews of constituencies. The present intervals are three years minimum and seven years maximum. In the debates on the last general review, to which I have already referred, there appeared to be general agreement in all parts of the House that these intervals were too short, having regard to the upsets which redistribution is bound to cause in many cases, and that, as suggested by the Boundary Commission for England in paragraph 19 of its First Periodical Report, the interval between general reviews should be lengthened. While we may hear some argument in the course of the discussion today, there is no doubt that there is a considerable body of evidence, both in the House and in the Report of the Boundary Commission, in paragraph 19, that the interval between these general reviews should be lengthened.
The intervals proposed are ten years minimum and fifteen years maximum. Initially, these intervals will run from the date of the last reports of the Commissions. These were presented in November, 1954 and the effect of the Bill is as follows: the next reports cannot be presented before November, 1964 and need not be presented before November, 1969. The Commissions need at least a year, more likely eighteen months, for the general review leading up to a report, so that the next general review would probably start not earlier than some time in 1963 and 229 not later than some time in 1968. I am making this statement so that hon. Members may see the effect of the Bill.
We think that ten years is a suitable minimum interval. It should be long enough to ensure a reasonable period of stability and it will mean that at least one more General Election will take place before the next general review. On the other hand, it should be short enough to ensure that gross differences or discrepancies betwen electorates of different constituencies are not allowed to continue uncorrected for too long.
We considered whether the lengthening of intervals between general reviews made it necessary for some special provision to deal with constituencies where, between the general reviews, the electorate became wholly disproportionate and out of step compared with the general average, but, on examination, we do not think that any such provision is needed. The Commissions already have power, under Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act, to make recommendations affecting individual constituencies between general reviews.
This is, in fact, a general power—I have checked on that point—but it is one, I remind the House, which hitherto has been used only to adjust constituency boundaries to local government boundaries, and we think rightly so. A major alteration can hardly be made to one constituency in isolation. It is almost bound to affect adjoining constituencies over a gradually widening radius, according to the ripples which are created, and there would be a real risk of a series of alterations which might go far to stultify the whole purpose of extending the intervals between general reviews.
As I mentioned earlier, the minimum interval of ten years should be short enough to prevent major discrepancies from remaining too long uncorrected. The fact remains, however, that it is open to a Commission, if it should think fit, to recommend major alterations of individual constituencies between general reviews.
So much for the second main proposal. The third main proposal of the Bill—more flexibility in the application of the redistribution rules—is contained in Clause 2 (2). Section 2 (1) of the 1949 Act has the effect of requiring 230 Commissions to aim at giving full effect to the redistribution rules in the Second Schedule to the Act on the occasion of each general review. This means, among other things, that they are obliged, in many cases, to recommend changes which would produce greater mathematical equality between constituencies even though the electorates of the existing constituencies concerned are not abnormal.
This gave rise, not unnaturally, to a good deal of upset and resentment in a number of constituencies on the occasion of the last review, and the Boundary Commission for England reported that some relaxation of the rules might well be considered. The Bill accordingly relieves the Commissions of the obligation to give full effect in all instances of the redistribution rules. It requires them to take account of the inconvenience and breaking of local ties which follow upon constituency changes. To sum it up, the effect of the Bill is to bring in a presumption against making changes unless there is a very strong case for them.
The Commissioners, however, will still be required to comply with Rule 4 of the redistribution rules. Perhaps hon. Members will recall that this provides that as far as practicable constituency boundaries should be kept in line with local government boundaries. I think the House will agree that it is right that, in general, this rule should continue to be complied with—that is, Rule 4. There is certain latitude about other rules, but there must be compliance with Rule 4.
Before leaving the redistribution rules, perhaps I should refer to a matter which received a good deal of attention in the debates on the last general review, namely, the question of the relative electorates of county and borough constituencies. It was at that time a matter of some controversy, but I trust that we shall have none this afternoon. I do not wish to say anything which might revive this controversy, but I do not want to give the impression, by passing the point over and saying nothing about it, that the Government did not address their mind to it in connection with the present proposals.
On the occasion of the last review, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), whom I see sitting not in his usual place but in another place in the 231 Chamber, pointed out that he had contested both rural and urban constituencies and knew the extra strain placed on a candidate in a county division. I am very grateful to him, because I have always represented a county division. He said:I do not think there is any very serious difference of opinion as to the fact that there should be some weighting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 2189.]The Government share the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. He also said that the amount of that weighting was a matter for legitimate controversy, and he used these words:It may well be a good thing, before any alteration is made in the law, to give consideration to the point as to what is an appropriate differentiation between rural and urban seats to see if we can arrive at some generally agreed proportion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1955; Vol. 536. c. 356.]The Government have considered this matter, and we should like to listen to anything said on it in the course of our discussion this afternoon or during the passage of the Bill. Our present conclusion is that it is not the sort of matter that we can easily write into the redistribution rules. We feel that we must leave this to the good sense of the Boundary Commissions.
I think that I have explained some of the major changes, the attitude to the rules—the question to which I have just referred—and the compliance with Rule 4. I now come to Clause 3, which provides for a separate electoral quota for each part of the United Kingdom.
The electoral quota means, at present, the average electorate of all constituencies in Great Britain, but the Great Britain average is not appropriate to the differing circumstances of England, Scotland and Wales, nor is it consistent with the fixed allocation of seats to Scotland and Wales—and consequently of that to England—contained in Rule 1 of the redistribution rules in the Second Schedule to the Act of 1949.
Clause 4 of the Bill refers to the publication of notices and the holding of local inquiries. Subsection (1) provides that where a Commission revises a proposed recommendation after publishing its notice of it, it must publish a notice of the revised recommendation. I think that that would be accepted by most hon. Members. The Clause also obliges a 232 Commission to hold a local inquiry if, on notice of a recommendation being published, any objection to that recommendation is made by a local authority, or at least 100 electors in the constituency affected. This applies both to an original recommendation and, in general, to a revised recommendation.
The proviso to Clause 4 (2) has the effect, however, that where a Commission has already held an inquiry into its original recommendation it need not hold a further inquiry into a revised recommendation if, after considering all the circumstances, it is of the opinion that a further local inquiry would not be justified. These provisions in page 3 of the Bill relate to local hearings in the constituencies affected.
We have also considered, in our discussions with the leaders of the other parties, a suggestion made by the 1942 Committee on Electoral Machinery, whose recommendations paved the way for much of the present redistribution law. This suggestion was that, in addition to the local hearings, each Commission should sit, under its deputy-chairman,to hear any representations from the chief or national officers of the principal party organisations with respect to the provisional proposals.I have written to Mr. Speaker, as chairman of the Commissions, expressing, on behalf of the Conservative Party, the hope that the Commissions will be prepared to implement this suggestion. I understand from Mr. Speaker, though it should be confirmed by the leaders of the other two parties or their representatives, that the other two parties sitting here have also already written to Mr. Speaker in the same sense. I am glad about that, because we shall all be favourable to that practice being put into effect.
I come to Clause 5. Lest any hon. Member from either England or Wales should think that there is anything sinister about the Clause, I should explain that it is quite harmless. It merely removes an ambiguity in the present Act by making it clear that the County Borough of Newport is to be treated as it has been in practice, as part of Wales for the purposes of this Act.
§ Mr. Butler
Those are the contents of the Bill of which I move the Second Reading in a speech which, I hope, has not lasted more than ten minutes, thus adhering to the Ten Minutes' Rule. The Bill represents a very carefully considered attempt to improve the present redistribution law in the light of experience of its working. I hope that it can be regarded as a largely agreed Measure and I accordingly commend it to the House.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
As the Lord Privy Seal knows, I took no part in the discussions to which he has referred, but I have informed myself about their purport. The suggestions I am going to make, amounting hardly to criticisms at this stage, do not cut across any agreement reached between the parties.
I can start by welcoming the extension of the interval from ten to fifteen years. Bearing in mind the rest of the Bill, we must all see that we are legislating for a review some way ahead after a longer interval than that to which we have hitherto been accustomed. Subject to that comment, this is a very welcome change, as I think the debates last time showed. Again, I welcome the proposal that a judge of the High Court should be the deputy-chairman and that the officials who were acting as members of a Commission last time should next time act as assessors.
I must make one observation in relation to the chairman of the Commissions, who will remain Mr. Speaker. I could not do better than to quote a few words from the debate on the last occasion in a speech by Mr. Assheton, as he then was, a distinguished and respected member of the Conservative Party. He said:I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that Mr. Speaker is the nominal chairman of this Commission. I find that a rather embarrassing thing. If, in future, legislation is introduced to deal with this problem of the work of the Boundary Commission, I suggest for consideration that it might be less awkward if the nominal chairman is someone other than Mr. Speaker, because we all know that his heavy duties make it impossible for him to give 234 detailed consideration to these questions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 2119.]Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I say no more than that I agree with those observations.
I turn now to one other matter which I can welcome, the arrangement about local inquiries, contained in Clause 4. Hon. Members will remember that the procedure of the Commissions of the last occasion led to a great many complaints, whether well- or ill-founded, and it is desirable that there should be some change in the direction indicated. The establishment for England of an English quota in place of the attempts to fit—if I may so call it—a Great Britain quota on to England I can welcome, but only on terms. It involves some other matters. I must go back to what happened in 1953. The Great Britain quota on that occasion, the electoral quota, was 55,670, having regard, in its application to England, to what had been done with Scotland and Wales.
That quota, if applied, would have meant 626 seats in the House, and 519 of them would have gone to England. The Commissioners took the view that an addition of 13 to the existing number of seats—506—was substantially more than the then figure. It was for that reason. as I understand the Report, that they proceeded on something rather different. They took the actual English average electorate, which was 57,122. As they interpreted and applied the rules at the time they did what, in terms, is proposed by this Bill, for I think they took an English quota and added, not 13, but five seats to the 506. The English electoral quota on that basis at that time would have been 56,564.
I take that figure and compare it with the Scots and the Welsh corresponding figures. The corresponding Scots figure is 48,011 and the corresponding Welsh figure is 50,363. The discrepancy is, obviously, very large.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
The hon. and learned Member will take into account the very difficult geographical conditions, particularly in the north of Scotland and parts of North Wales?
§ Mr. Mitchison
Most certainly. I had that well in mind and was coming to it, but I want the House to appreciate that the Commission, in 1953, was asked to 235 do a really impossible task if it was to apply all these rules. In fact, by the terms of the rules it is given a very wide discretion as to how it applies them—not, I think, quite as wide as has sometimes been suggested, but, still, very wide.
One of these rules, which the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has in mind, comes last in importance and has only limited application. It says:A Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of…certain preceding rules—if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable.I agree with the hon. Member that that rule, coming as the last and as an exceptional rule, was intended to apply to such areas as the crofting counties in Scotland and corresponding parts of Wales. Its application, if any, to England is very limited. It certainly does not mean that because Scotland contains certain areas with "special geographical considerations" voters in the industrial belt of Scotland should thereby have any preference.
Nor does it mean, as I understand it, that there is any enabling or enjoining of the Boundary Commissioners to give a general preference to the country as against the town. It is not a special geographical consideration that between the towns there should be some country; it is a much more limited matter. Therefore, I say that the discrepancy between Scotland and Wales, on the one hand, and England, on the other, is too large.
That was the consideration which put the Boundary Commissioners in difficulty in 1953, and led to a great deal of argument. I am not for a moment suggesting that there should be fewer Scots Members or fewer Welsh Members. I suggest that England is under-represented. I have said already that we are legislating for a period considerably ahead. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the first start, even at the earliest date, is likely to be 1963, and it may be as late as 1968. Since the enumeration date of the last Boundary Commission not only has there been the discrepancy which existed then, but it has continued to increase.
If hon. Members look at the population— not the electorate—figures, they 236 will find that between 1953 and 1956 the population of England, excluding Wales, increased more than twice as fast as the population of Scotland. I am, of course, not referring to the absolute increase, but to the increase in proportion to the respective populations.
One must recognise that there is no particular reason why that tendency should cease to operate. Therefore, I suggest that the existing discrepancy, which is likely to be increased, ought to be met by additional seats for England, subject, of course, to the point made about "special geographical considerations"; it cannot be an exact proportion for that reason.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Do not the same discrepancies exist within England as between rural and urban areas, and not merely as between England and Scotland and England and Wales?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I have already said that I think "special geographical considerations" may possibly have a very limited application in England, but I do not think that the phrase is intended to refer to the general distinction between town and country. I find it rather hard to be specific about it, but I am quite certain that the main objective of the rule, and the main effect of the rule, is, and ought to be, in relation to the remoter areas rather than to anything we have in England. I have particularly in mind the Scottish crofting counties.
§ Mr. Mitchison
We all agree that this is a matter of special geographical distinctions and I do not propose to take up time arguing where the limits are.
I have already pointed out that the Commissioners were unable to make a large alteration and that no logical application of the Great Britain quota could be made. There is a case for a larger allowance of Parliamentary seats to England. My conclusion is that if we are to accept—as, I think, we should—the English quota, it ought to be accompanied by an increase in the number of English seats. Without committing ourselves in any way—this is a matter which might be gone into in Committee—it seems to me that about 15 or 20 extra seats is indicated for England. If hon.
237 Members have anxieties about the size and accommodation of the House, I would remind them that from 1801 to 1918—more than a century—there were between 33 and 45 more Members in the House than there are now. We are a smaller Parliament.
The next question—if I. can carry the House, now or later, on that point—is: where are we to aim to put these additional English Members? Here we come to the town and country difference. It was a difference of exactly this nature that led to the House adding 17 additional seats for the boroughs in 1948. The difference is still there. Indeed, the effect of the Boundary Commission, in 1954, was to increase it, and the present figure, as near as makes no matter, is an average difference of 4.000.
When one looks at the Boundary Commissioner's Report, we find, after noticing that there is nothing in the rules that refers to this matter at all, a rather peculiar passage in paragraph 14 of the recommendations. 'The Commissioners refer to the addition of 17 members that I have just mentioned, and they then, as I see it, come to this conclusion:Some of our recommendations for these areas"—that is, the additional ones—are, however, designed to create a better balance between the electorates of borough and county constituencies than now exists…and they leave it at that, after repeating the view that, in general, urban constituencies could more conveniently support large electorates than could rural ones. To a limited extent, there is a little in that, but I suggest that, nowadays, there is very little indeed in it in practice.
Present-day communications are very different from what they were a long time ago. I sit for a county constituency and, although it does involve a little more difficulty in getting about, there really is not very much in it. I suggest that what we are now considering is not so much the difference between the convenience of Members or anything like that, but the right that ought to exist, in the first instance, for a vote in any part of the country to have, as nearly as possible, the same effect. That is the fundamental claim upon which we are entitled to say 238 that an average discrepancy of 4,000 ought to be avoided, if possible.
The Boundary Commissioners' reasons for this are not at all clear. Moreover, if they wanted to make a difference of this sort, how did they arrive at any particular quantitative assesment of it? As we have seen, they did increase it, but, if it concerned matters of convenience, why did they not take into consideration some sort of evidence about it? As I see it, it was a complete hit-or-miss conclusion, drawn from their own views, without reference to the rules, which really referred to something quite different—to special geographical considerations—and without any reference as to what, if there was to be such a difference, that difference ought to amount to. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that any attempt to give one vote the same value everywhere, with the additional seats that I have sought to claim for England, ought to go, in the main, to the boroughs and urban populations. I find it very difficult to see any logical objection to that.
I turn now to the rules, and I shall deal with them quite shortly. Of the first three, one is about a single Member; another about the City of London; and the third is about the number of constituencies, where, as hon. Members are well aware, Scotland and Wales get a minimum, and Great Britain getsNot substantially greater or less than 613"—which, in effect, under the rules as they now are, applies to England.
As I see it, those three rules at present have a rather over-riding effect. As Lord Evershed said, when considering this matter in the Court of Appeal:Some primacy is obviously given to the first three rules.Next comes Rule 4, which deals with respect for local government boundaries. If one looks at the way these rules are worded, it seems to me that the overriding rules come first, and then there are discretionary qualifications; that they follow in the order of the importance intended to be attached to them. After local government boundaries, comes the electoral quota, and next, and last, the special geographical considerations.
I want to say a word or two about the local government boundaries. We welcome the introduction of the factors mentioned in Clause 2 (2). We recognise, too, 239 that in saying that it shall not be the duty of the Boundary Commission to aim at giving full effect, in all circumstances, to the rules, the new Bill is really recognising a difficulty that existed previously. But we see no particular reason why Rule 4 should have this preference. Indeed, we see reasons against it.
What happened was that though the rules treat county and county borough boundaries in exactly the same way, the Boundary Commissioners did not hesitate, where circumstances required it, to cut across county boundaries. For instance, they added an adjoining rural area to a borough in quite a number of cases, and they left the addition standing in some others, and though, no doubt, they had regard to the existence of the borough, they certainly did not regard it as more than one of the factors to be taken into account.
The Commissioners' attitude to county boundaries was quite different. When they began to consider the matter, their first provisional allocation was on the basis of counties, and when they finally came to their conclusions they never broached, or, as it were, crossed a county boundary, though, in one or two cues, they left existing constituencies of that kind in operation. For instance, the Rutland and Stamford constituency includes the whole county and something else. They left it at that. In fact, so long as Rutland remains one cannot do much else.
But, for the purpose of any changes they proposed, they did regard county boundaries as a very sacred cow indeed; but not so county borough boundaries. I suggest that that should not be so, I suggest, also, that, nowadays, at any rate, local government boundaries ought not to be given this precedence over other factors, and particularly over the need for a reasonable equality between adjoining constituencies, and also the general convenience and sentiment of local people which do not always tally with local government boundaries.
That is particularly so in two cases. New towns are coming into being in this country. I hope that there will be more of them. They are involving very large changes of population, taking place rather rapidly, but their existence is not yet fully reflected in local government boundaries.
240 There is an even more striking case. The Local Government Bill is at present on its way through the House. That Bill enables sweeping changes to be made in county, as well as in county borough, boundaries. Indeed, in all local government boundaries, and particularly in what are usually called the conurbations, the Bill contemplates some strange new things. It contemplates collections of county boroughs, where there was none before, and quite a remarkable animal, hitherto unknown to the Statute Book, called the continuous county.
If these curious morphological phenomena are to be treated with the respect that perhaps old traditions gave to older boundaries, we shall get into a hopeless tangle, and I think that nowadays local government boundaries, in general, ought not to be given any special preference as a factor. They are one of the things to be taken into account, but no more.
I now turn to two other points. One is the question of interim reviews under Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act. The difficulty here is that we are to have the Boundary Commission, with a High Court judge as the deputy-chairman, with Mr. Speaker as what Mr. Assheton called the nominal chairman—and Mr. Speaker, in the course of the last debate, expressed his reluctance to interfere in individual cases of boundary adjustments—and two persons appointed by the Ministers concerned.
Who is to keep the matters under review, and who is to take the initiative in all this? Can the High Court judge be asked to do it, and on what principle is he to do it? I suggest that we must look again to the possibilities of not obliging the Commission to make these interim reviews, but of calling its attention to cases which it should consider with a view to making an interim review in circumstances such as these.
I entirely appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said, that what looks like a small change, or a small pebble thrown into the pond, may have far-reaching ripples, but that is no reason, in a country where there are already considerable movements of population going on at a speed unknown in the past, just to leave things as they are for a period of ten to fifteen years because it is nobody's job to call attention to major discrepancies.
241 Lastly, time. One of the troubles about the Boundary Commission's Report last time was that it came out at a very short interval before the 1955 General Election. There should be a provision, and, I suggest, a very simple one, for providing a reasonable interval for readjustment after proposals of this sort have been given effect to before an Election. All that is needed is that when the proposal would otherwise come into effect at once, there shall be a six months' delay for the purpose.
I want to say one other thing. We are conferring on a Commission, which consists of people of a judicial or official character, a remarkable discretion as to the rearrangement of Parliament. The rules at present are obscure and confused, and that matter ought to be cleared up on the lines that I have indicated. One would welcome any further possibility of making them clearer, and that is particularly the case when one remembers not only the character of the Commission itself, but what emerged from the debates last time—the lack of effective Ministerial or Parliamentary control once the Report of the Boundary Commissioners has been made.
We had the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman putting before us the various Orders suggested by the Boundary Commission without any modification of any sort, and saying, in effect, and quite clearly, "It is no part of my duty or of my responsibilities to do anything but put these reports forward." I see a very real objection to any Home Secretary taking too much responsibility in these matters, for the Boundary Commission is impartial and he inevitably lays himself open to a charge of partiality. I think that the conclusion is not to try to make him do it when we think he ought not to, but to see that the rules themselves give a clearer and sounder guidance for this judicial and official committee than these rules, as they now stand, can possibly give.
If we are to handle this matter, we want to get it right now, looking ahead, as best we can, for a considerable period of years, but we must not leave it until the time comes when the Boundary Commissioners make their report, and we all get up here and protest as a result of the protests which have been made in the 242 country among the electors themselves. That ought not to happen. I believe that it happened last time, not from any partiality by the Boundary Commissioners, but from the sheer confusion that arose out of these rules.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I wish to give this Bill my warmest support. It was my duty, as Under-Secretary at the Home Office, to defend a good many of the orders which were proposed by the Commission in 1954 under the existing law.
I can remember very well, as most hon. Members here will, the three days of extremely acrimonious debate which took place, and I think that those debates were quite unprofitable. No change was made in any of the orders, and it was not even those debates that led to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary bringing forward this Bill. The proposals in this Bill were mostly made in the Reports of the Commission, and it did not require those debates to make the House see that they were right.
But the debates were worse than a mere waste of Parliamentary time. Allegations of political bias were made quite commonly, and such allegations can only invite outside this House a certain cynicism and certain suggestions about how these things had been done, which is derogatory to our democratic institutions. If public opinion were ever subverted to the view that the party in power, whichever it may be, was tampering with our political machinery, it would be the beginning of the end of democratic freedom here. It is not only important that our political machinery itself should be fair, but it is even more important that it should be seen and be thought to be working fairly. There is nothing in this Bill, I am sure, which is inherently unfair, and I do not think that any hon. Member in the course of this debate will suggest that any of the proposals are, in that sense, bad.
The question we ought to consider on Second Reading is whether, when the machinery of this Bill is working, it will appear to be fair to people outside in the country. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to Clause 3, which embodies a principle which was strongly objected to as a 243 principle by the Opposition in 1954, and, particularly, by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who had some pretty hard words to say about it. Of course, as the hon. and learned Member pointed out, the principal Act, as now framed, contains conflicting instructions on this matter.
The result of fixing a minimum number of Members for Scotland and Wales, respectively, meant that Scottish and Welsh constituencies would generally contain fewer voters than English constituencies.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I do not think that it was an objection of principle. The objection was to the way in which the Boundary Commissioners had met the difficulty before them. They had met it in the sense of not making as many seats as my hon. Friends thought they ought to have made. They could have met it the other way.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I appreciate what the hon. and learned Gentleman says; I do not think there is any real difference between us. Objection was taken to the way in which the Commission interpreted the instructions—whether rightly or wrongly is irrelevant for present purposes. In effect, the result of the Act as a whole was undoubtedly to give Scotland and Wales a certain preference, shall we say, in regard to their number of Members of Parliament. The hon. and learned Gentleman, I think, suggested that that was done solely on geographical considerations. My own impression has always been that other considerations applied. I have always believed that there was a feeling that these were, so to speak, minorities within the country and that they should get some sort of preference on that account. I do not know whether that was, in fact, so.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
Can the hon. Gentleman point to any place in the Report at all which suggests that that element was taken into consideration? I certainly have no recollection of it at the moment.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If I may say so, it would not be a matter for the Commission in its Report; that was a matter for Parliament at the time of the passing of the Act. What I am saying is that in giving a minimum number of seats to 244 those countries Parliament put them in a preferential position. I believe that there were reasons other than geographical for giving them that minimum. However, I am but speculating, and I do not think that anyone in the House can do otherwise.
At all events, it is quite certain that it was the intention of Parliament, expressed in the Act, to give Scotland and Wales a preference over England. Of course, this put the English Commissioners in a quandary. In any proposals for redistribution, if Rule 5 of the Second Schedule were to be strictly observed, the result would be that a regular addition of a dozen or more English Members would have to be made at every redistribution until the total number of English constituencies was such that the number of voters, on an average, in each constituency was similar to that in Scotland and Wales.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Allowing for geographical considerations. I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and, of course, it is stated in the Commission's Report that that number in 1954 would have been, I think, 13; but it does not matter precisely. If the principle were accepted, we should have a further addition next time and a further addition the next time after that. In other words, as the years go by, this preference given to the—shall I say—nonSassenach nations would be gradually whittled away and the total number of Members in the House would receive an increase, on the assumption that the present population remains more or less as it is, of about 70 members. That is something different from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested.
In my view the Commission decided rightly in favour of observing the rule that the total number of Members in the House be limited to approximately the number laid down, that is to say, 625 Members. At all events that was the rule it chose.
Any particular recommendation which is made by the Commission, whatever it may be, is almost certain to favour one side of the House rather than the other. It almost always means transferring a community, perhaps a small community, 245 from one constituency to another. Communities are very seldom impartial. The peculiar feature of this country, generally speaking, is that most constituencies have a decided leaning one way or another, and any change is almost certain to have some political effect and, therefore, to arouse controversy.
The point goes farther than that because, when there is a general redistribution, that redistribution will be governed by the population movements which have taken place in the few preceding years. Those movements are almost certain to be due, to a considerable extent at any rate, to economic changes which take place, economic changes almost always being the principal subject of political controversy in the House. In other words, in any particular general redistribution, the changes which are recommended are likely, on the whole, to affect one party adversely and the other somewhat favourably.
The orders to implement any proposals of that kind will, of course, themselves be likely to attract controversy and be the subject of something of a row in the House. That, in itself, does not matter —I can say that now as I no longer sit on that Bench—but it matters outside, because that kind of row gives precisely the wrong impression to the country and is likely to damage our political machine.
Any Government in the future will be obliged, I think, to accept the recommendations of the Commission in toto. I do not believe that they will be able to pick and choose. If a Government gave way to an amendment in one instance, they would be opening the flood gates to changes in all directions. So long as a Government stand firm on the recommendations of an impartial body, that Government are safe; but if they once start making alterations, it will be impossible for them to resist charges of partiality. The result, of course, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering fairly pointed out, is that the burden of establishing the fairness of any proposed change will be thrown completely upon the Boundary Commissioners. That is why it is immensely important that the Commission must not only be fair but be thought to have acted fairly throughout its deliberations. For that reason, I welcome the provisions of Clause 4 of the Bill with regard to the holding of inquiries.
246 I am quite certain that the holding of inquiries will do nothing but good, even if they are not, perhaps, really necessary to enable the Commission to make up its mind. I go even further. In the Reports which were laid before the House in 1954, the Scottish Commission gave the reasons for the changes which it made in each case. Unfortunately the English Commission did not do so; in some cases it did, but in the majority of cases not. Publicity is of the greatest importance in this connection. It is most desirable that, when proposals for a change are made, the basis for the change should be stated in every single case.
The Commission ought to set out quite clearly what considerations it has borne in mind and how it has come to its conclusions. I do not think that it is possible to provide for this in the Bill itself. To try to lay it down in the Act, I think, would only mean that the Commission would have to set out certain considerations which might leave the matter at large. I hope that something can be done to make certain that the importance of this question is brought to the minds of the Commission and that they should make an attempt to deal with this matter.
Lastly, the Act is silent about the form of the orders which are to be made following the proposals of the Commissioners. On the last occasion each county was taken one by one. A very large number of orders had to be debated. In fact, in every case where there was a major change that change was attacked. I do not blame hon. Members on either side, though I caught the brunt of that attack on a number of occasions.
The same would happen even if this Act were law. For the reason that I have given, changes always upset vested interests and are found to be attacked locally. The Government were in a peculiarly difficult position. They had to defend each change and to give reasons for it. As was stated from the Front Bench at the time, it was obvious that the reasons for the change were those which had affected the minds of the Commission that had recommended the change. If that is the position, either the Government have to hide behind the recommendations of the Commission or have to pretend to a reasoning which 247 everyone knows is not its own. Either way, the position is unsatisfactory.
I suggest that when the Government, after considering the proposals made by the Commission, agrees with those proposals they should put the whole of the proposals for each country before the House in a single resolution. The scheme of redistribution is invariably a scheme for the country as a whole. Much of the criticism made before was that too much consideration was given to individual counties and not sufficient to the larger aspects. I believe that the debate would be better—it would in no way cramp the ability of hon. Members for particular constituencies to put their cases—and it would certainly save a certain amount of Parliamentary time, if each county discussed the whole of its proposals together, provided that those proposals were following the recommendations of the Commission.
No one knows, assuming this Bill becomes law, what Government will be in power when the time comes to lay fresh orders under the Act. Therefore, if all parties can give an undertaking that that would be their attitude, it would prevent the criticism which otherwise would be made by any Government which did this on their own account, and at the same time lead to a better consideration of the proposals.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I would like to make one or two comments on the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). I may have misunderstood what he said, but it is a bold thing to say that the three days' debate that we had in December, 1954, and in the early part of 1955 did nothing to influence this amending Bill. I do not believe that was the view of observers outside the House who followed the debates, nor, indeed do I believe that the Government have ignored many of the points made then, particularly about the period in between reviews. The Boundary Commission's Reports exposed weaknesses in the Act and also gave rise to the view that incorrect interpretations of the Act had been made by the Boundary Commissioners themselves.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I did not mean to suggest that the debate was of no use at all. There was a general debate before 248 the individual Motions were discussed. That general debate was, of course, useful. It was the long debate, right through two nights I think, on the particular Motions that was of little use.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman's explanation has cleared that up.
Regarding his second point, I think that the subsequent debates—which were not very fruitful as far as those who were trying to get a change were concerned—would have been better debates if the Government had been more forthcoming. It is an astonishing fact that the Commission, which had originally recommended 252 changes, although it abandoned some of those before they were incorporated in orders, finally recommended 181 or 182 changes. Not in one case did the then Home Secretary or his Under-Secretary the hon. Gentleman for Hendon, South feel that they could make any concession to the House. I cannot believe that even the best Commission in the world could have considered every local factor and brought forward in the case of every constituency the most perfect new boundary. I would have thought that the duty of the Government, even at that late stage, was to take into account very carefully all that was said, and, where it felt that the case was made out, to make adjustments. Certainly Governments have done that in the past.
If I followed what the hon. Member for Hendon, South recommended about future orders not being separately debated, we should reach the position where the House of Commons had become no more than a rubber stamp of authority upon decisions already taken by an outside body. Some discretion must remain with the Government, otherwise there is no point in bringing these proposed new orders for revised constituencies before the House at all. I hope that that view will not be accepted by the Government from whichever side of the House it is formed.
I welcome the Bill because I think it gives greater guidance to the Boundary Commissions than did the old Act. It will remove some of the causes for anxiety and, perhaps, ill-feeling which occurred on the occasion of the last review. I want to make it clear that I do not think the 1949 Act was a bad Act. 249 Undoubtedly, the period in between reviews was too short. What went wrong last time was the way in which the Boundary Commission interpreted some of its directions. It was too rigid and did certain things which I think were wrong in law. In particular, the use by the Boundary Commission for England of an English quota, which is now to be authorised but which was not then authorised, was wholly wrong. Rule 7 in the Second Schedule of the 1949 Act reads:the expression electoral quota' means— (i) in the application of these rules to a constituency in Great Britain, a number obtained by dividing the electorate for Great Britain by the number of constituencies in Great Britain existing on the enumeration date.Clearly, that basis was not used by the English Boundary Commission. One has only to see the number of seats that they recommended for each of the counties to realise that they were not using the British electoral quota specified by the Act. This was a figure of 55,670 electors. The English Commission used a higher quota of 56,564. I have never been able to understand how the Commission got away with it and why the Government let it do so. It was using a figure that was not authorised, and, in so doing, created difficulties and anomalies which were responsible for a good deal of the ill-feeling which expressed itself in the House.
One has to recall only two instances. London, under the previous review, lost 19 seats. I am not saying that some reduction was not necessary. It was inevitable because of the decline in electors. But London fought an election in 1950 in which there were 19 fewer constituencies, but by the application of an English quota, not authorised in the Act, divided into a county not also authorised, a situation was produced whereby the Commission said that London was to have a further reduction of one constituency, and in order to get that four Metropolitan boundaries and eight Parliamentary constituencies had to be unnecessarily altered. This kind of alteration of boundaries and moving electors cannot be justified by any consideration either in terms of Parliamentary democracy or of the provisions of the Act.
A similar instance occurred in the West Riding, where by adopting the artificial figure of an unauthorised English 250 quota and dividing it into the local government area of the West Riding the Commission came to the view that 44 seats should be reduced to 42, with the result that the boundaries of no fewer that 20 Parliamentary constituencies had to be altered. This seems to me to be alteration for the sake of alteration and quite unjustified on the merits of the case.
It might not have mattered so much if in general the results of the last review had been to create constituencies more or less equal and to remove many of the anomalies. Some anomalies were removed, but on the whole the situation was that at the end of all those 182 changes, following on the 540 changes only a few years earlier, we were still left in England after the 1953 review with 65 constituencies of more than 65,000 electors, of which 27 had more than 70,000 electors.
At the other end of the scale, there were in England no less than 106 constituencies with only 50,000 electors and 36 of which had fewer than 45,000 electors. So that after all the alterations, with electors being pushed around and the breaking of associations, which very often had little time to fructify because of the previous redistribution, there was still a very large number of large constituencies and an even larger number of smaller constituencies.
Even the new constituencies that the Commission recommended varied in size enormously. Thus as against the three Hull constituencies with more than 67,000 electors each, there were the new, small constituencies of Wimbledon, Spelthorne and Feltham, Wimbledon and Spelthorne each with 44,000 and Feltham with 50,000 electors. One cannot help wondering what object all this was supposed to meet and whether the disturbance was worthwhile.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Concerning the larger constituencies with more than 70,000 electors and some of the smaller constituencies with fewer than 50,000 electors, to which the hon. Member has referred, does he not recall that the Commission was to some extent anticipating what it considered would be the likely trends in the next couple of years? The Feltham constituency is a good example. The population there, I 251 understand, is increasing greatly and is already well above 50,000. A similar position applied to the adjoining constituency of Spelthorne, which is represented by one of my hon. Friends. The Commission anticipated some of the developments of the next few years.
§ Mr. Skeffington
The Commission may have attempted to do this, and I have heard that argument before, but it is a rather dangerous doctrine, and it is certainly not one of the rules that this House said that the Commission should observe.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
If the Commission anticipated those trends in the constituencies mentioned, it ignored them in dozens of other constituencies.
§ Mr. Skeffington
Exactly. In the very case of Feltham, quoted by the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower)—I am, of course, glad to have my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) in the House—there was a much better way of organising the Middlesex constituencies so that we would not have been left with three large constituencies with over 70,000 electors each in Middlesex. Although we should not have had the constituency as my hon. Friend now represents at Feltham, there would at least have been more equal divisions in Middlesex than those resulting from the artificial use of the quota by the Commission, and no doubt the hon. Member for Feltham would have been here representing one of these better devised constituencies.
The remarkable thing was that although 180 alterations finally were incorporated in Orders and brought before the House, yet in not one of them did the Home Secretary of the day or his Under-Secretary make any alteration whatever in the Orders as they went through. Many of us then felt—and a good deal of public opinion outside the House of Commons felt—that the Government either had completely ignored the views that had been put forward, or were completely indifferent to or contemptuous of the views which had been expressed here. I still consider it deplorable and lamentable that the Government did not make amendments in some of the more obvious 252 instances of injustice. I hope that the House will certainly not follow the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hendon, South concerning taking the new orders all together without debate.
Clause 3 authorises an English quota and, in fact, legalises what the English Commission did at the time of the last Review. Whatever else may be said in favour of that course, it seems to me that it will increase the inequalities between Members and their electors in England as compared with Wales and Scotland. I have no quarrel whatever with Welsh and Scottish representation in the numbers of electors they represent, but I find it difficult to acquiese in the prospect that the difference now of nearly 8,000 electors between the average Scottish constituency and the average English constituency being even increased by that use of an English quota.
It cannot be in general interest of the House of Commons that English Members of Parliament should have to represent so many more electors than do their colleagues in Scotland and Wales. If we are to regularise an English quota which is obtained by dividing the number of constituencies into the number of English electors, in fairness and to prevent the inequalities becoming worse we must be reconciled to a greater number of English Members in the House of Commons. I accept the proposals of Clause 3 only if we are able to depart from the number of constituencies in the original Act. Unless we are prepared to accept an additional number of Members, the differences of, in one case, 8,000 and, in another case, 6,000 for Wales will grow. That would not be to the interest of the House of Commons. I do not see why English Members of Parliament should be more harder worked than their more fortunate counterparts from Scotland and Wales.
In Clause 2, I welcome the much greater flexibility concerning local government boundaries, communities and associations. What happened in the two previous reviews was that in a number of parts of the country, electors were moved into three or four constituencies within a very few years. In one case, the electors in a small village in Kent were in no fewer than four different constituencies between 1945 and 1953. That is 253 quite absurd, and I very much hope that we shall not have to face that sort of thing in future.
I hope that the Boundary Commission and the House of Commons will take as their principle for the creation of Parliamentary constituencies the maxim of Professor Mackenzie, of Manchester, in a letter to The Times of 18th May, 1953, in which he was criticising the provisional reports of the Boundary Commissioners. He said:Academic students of the constitution had assumed, perhaps too quickly …that our present system of constituencies is based on a compromise between the theory of equal electoral districts and the tradition that M.P.s represent local communities and local continuity as well as individual voters.That is the principle that we have tried to enshrine in the past but from which we departed seriously in the last review. I believe that the greater flexibility of the rules will help us to reach the ideal I have just mentioned.
I wish to say one final word about the composition of the Commissions. It is quite right that the experts should be present as assessors and should not take part in policy decisions. Whether we like it or not, these are political matters and they are probably better settled by political people than by others; I think the issues can generally be settled by agreement on both sides if there is adequate consultation at an early stage.
I am very much in favour of what we learned from the Home Secretary's speech today—that the two members to be appointed by the Home Office and the Minister of Housing and Local Government would be people generally carrying the good wishes and approbation of all parties in the House.
My last observation is this. I wonder whether it is necessary to have a permanent Boundary Commission. As long as we have it, there will always be a tendency to interfere in Parliamentary constituencies, if only to justify the existence of those who form the Commission. I should have thought it still worth while considering, some time in the future, whether or not we should call the Commission together only when there are a number of cases to be dealt with, probably at intervals of ten years.
Provided we have, as Professor Mackenzie indicated, some rough 254 approximation in the size of the various constituencies, it does not really matter very much if some constituencies are somewhat larger than others, any more than it matters if some men are smaller than others. What we have to avoid is the creation of giants and pygmies. If constituencies fall below 40,000 or grow beyond 70,000 electors they may be too small or too large. It may be that in the conception of the personal relations between a Member and his electors there is a case for not having the luxury of a permanent Commission at all. However, if we must have a Commission all the time I believe that the alterations which are suggested in the Bill will make it a better Commission than it has been in the past.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I am inclined to disagree with the last sentences spoken by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). I do not feel that one can be sure about this, but I am inclined to disagree with his view that the existence of machinery for making changes is in this matter likely to cause changes to be more frequently made. It may work the other way—that because the machinery is known to be there, therefore the less often are initiatives taken to do what the machinery is there to do. Therefore, I would rather tend to agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) who led from the Opposition benches, and who was particularly anxious to know what is to be done to make sure that the thing is kept under review, and what is to be done to make sure that initiatives of consideration are taken often enough. I think that I quote the hon. and learned Member correctly or, at any rate, fairly. I am inclined to think on the whole that on this matter he is the more right of the two.
I shall be parochial, though I think that something, I will not say interesting, but eventually concerning all Members grows out of the neighbourhood of the parish pump to which I wish to refer. I do not want now to expound the case of Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City, for various reasons. I have done it at great length more than once and I think that I have been understood, and no doubt the House would be bored if I did it again on this occasion. But there 255 are one or two things of which I can fairly remind people.
It was said by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and by almost every other speaker in the debate that these things are bound to be matter of party controversy. I remind the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) has said that these things were spoken of in that way. When that Order was discussed, the parties were unanimous, and the local authorities. And I am very glad to have here the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) who kindly spoke in support of me on that occasion; and I am sure that if I go too far in assuming unanimity or continuity now, he will be able to get permission from his superiors, if such there could be to correct me.
The local authorities were unanimous. The strongest motive was, as I take it is one of the motives of the Bill, in favour of what may be called the organic as against the arithmocratic element in redistribution. I may also say that I was rather in the position of the Greek admiral, I think at Salamis, when each captain voted that he himself had been the bravest in the battle and voted in agreement that one particular one had been the second. Similarly, I think that even the keenest constituency politician at the end of that debate would have agreed that the Nottinghamshire case was at least as strong as any other, or at any rate came immediately next in strength to his own.
I agree with the Bill, I am not opposing it; I agree that it is a good thing that the periods for this purpose should be longer; but if we are to have longer periods, it is surely incumbent upon us to make sure that we start, if not from a universally agreed good point, then at least from a point that is agreed to be not a bad point. One always runs the risk of saying something absurd when one assumes that a statement has only to be made plainly to be convincing, but I think that comes as near to that as most statements. In lengthening the period it is most necessary to start from an arrangement which is generally felt to be tolerable. In this case, affecting ten constituencies, it was generally felt by both parties and all the local authorities and every organ of opinion that I could consult, and I have had no evidence that 256 they have changed since, that this was a bad arrangement.
I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect how many times we have legislated on this subject in the last half-generation. Since 1944, though perhaps I have it wrong, we have had at least five legislative occasions of a more or less first-rate character. There were long debates on Statutory Instruments, and although they were not direct and primary legislation I think that we can call them legislation of an important character. Therefore, including that occasion, it is five since 1944.
And if I am right about Nottinghamshire, there are very great anomalies. There may be other cases but I think that is the extreme case. If there are anomalies too many or too gross or too long—of course if there is one little anomaly for eighteen months nobody much minds—or any combination of these, what will happen? My right hon. Friend today, so far from having got this out of the legislative field, will have so arranged that there will be again legislation, because on that hypothesis there would grow up a demand for legislation: and in the worst circumstances, because we have almost all said today, and I agree wholly with those who have said, that it is important to get this matter above the party mellay. But if it is necessary to arrange for more legislation to remove anomalies, partisan feeling is the feeling that we are almost bound to use for that purpose. Anyone who tried to get that rocket into the stratosphere with any other fuel would have an extremely difficult task. So we may, by trying to get this above the mellay and away from legislation—so that we do not have to go on legislating every twelve or eighteen months—do the wrong thing unless we are extremely careful.
As I understood my right hon. Friend, first the Bill seeks to protract the period, and the second main motive is to give more effect to what I have called the organic factor as against the arithmocratic factor. If that is the purpose intended, where the result is at present being frustrated—by, for example, insufficient attention to local community—then by lengthening the period we may achieve the opposite result to that aimed at, and make it the more likely that there will arise a demand for more legislation.
257 Should we not be entitled to expect that a partial corrective will, in such circumstances, be applied with the minimum delay under Section 2 (3)? This is not really a Committee point but a Second Reading one. I quite understand the delicacy of feeling of my right hon. Friend and of his assistants and advisers, and that he would not wish to be held to be directing or indoctrinating the Boundary Commission. If, however, he will read carefully his speech, as he pronounced it today, my right hon. Friend will see that he said things which tended to limit the likelihood of the Commission acting under Section 2 (3).
I beg my right hon. Friend to reflect upon that, and to consider whether more ought not to be said and done to make it likely that there will be partially corrective initiative taken and that we shall not where anomalies subsist get the maximum interval between general adjustments.
If the House will bear with me for two more minutes, I will give additional reasons why I think I was entitled to have those hopes, and still am entitled to hope that the Home Secretary will do his best in this matter. On 3rd May, 1956, I wrote to the County Council of Nottinghamshire a letter which I sent through the Home Secretary so that it was seen in his Department. In this letter, I said:I saw the Home Secretary the other day and I think he quite understands our view that if anything were to be done tending to lengthen specifically or by altering the conditions, the period between redistributions, then it would be necessary to consider the hard case of Nottinghamshire before it were extended by such lengthening of the period.Upon the basis of that letter I think I should have been entitled to expect that there might have been some consultation in these matters, not only along party lines, as we have read in the newspapers and have been told today that parties have been consulted, the usual channels, and so on. I was entitled to expect that there would be consideration in time, and of such a nature that private Members might conceivably affect the ultimate result.
A week later on 10th May I said in a Question:…Nottinghamshire may be entitled to hope for consideration of the submission that anything tending to lengthen the interval 258 between adjustments will be preceded by removal of what was, and is, generally thought objectionable in the 1955 redistribution.The answer of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department was:I am aware of my hon. Friend's desire that in any wider review in the future the point that he has made tonight should not be overlooked, and I think he has received a reasonable assurance that it will not be overlooked when the time comes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1545 and 1546.]This, in some sense, is a small matter. I know we are all rather tired of it. I am quite excited about Hucknall and West Bridgford, but there are other chaps who are not. We want to get rid of discussion and forget it for fifteen years because it has gone on a long time; but it is necessary to remember that we are in a sense doing the deepest thing we ever have to do, that is to say, making the rules which direct and control the character of ourselves, if we live long enough, and of our successors.
I hope I have made it plain that it seems to me that, though the Bill may be, and in my judgment on the whole is, right, to have proceeded to this Measure without any preliminary attempt to correct what seemed to be wrong from our debates three or four years ago really is taking it the wrong way round; and I think it may easily end in defeating the object, namely, to avoid the necessity for more legislation.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I hope the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) will not feel affronted if I offer him my sympathy and support on the point he raised last, because to my mind what happened in Nottinghamshire in its relationship with the City on the last review was about the worst example of the way in which the fundamental rules appear to have been ignored. I will not go beyond that but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, at the time I felt strongly on the matter. Whilst my indignation was probably somewhat discounted by the fact that I had so many Orders over which to express my indignation, I certainly regarded Nottingham and Nottinghamshire as being the best examples of the way this ought not to be done.
This is really a very modern difficulty with which we are dealing. It was only 259 from the Speaker's Conference held during the Second World War that the idea of a permanent Boundary Commission emerged. Prior to that, from 1885 to 1918, there was no review and there had been no review between 1867 and 1885. All three of those dates coincide with substantial alterations in the suffrage itself.
I am not convinced that the experiment has worked well. The difficulty of framing the rules so that they mean the same thing to the House as they do to the Boundary Commissions has been a perpetual trial. I had to make two or three efforts to get this going for the first review after the Second World War, and the difficulties that have been created make me wonder very much whether it is worth while trying to have a permanent Boundary Commission. So to that extent I share the doubts that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington).
I announce with reluctance that I do not share the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) about the unimportance of local government boundaries. It is a great difficulty for the ordinary elector if, for one set of elections, he is with one group of people and, for another set of elections, he is with a quite different group of people. It is highly desirable that the communities created for various Government purposes in this country should as far as possible be able to express themselves as units on all the occasions when a community view is sought.
I have an amazing example of that in my own constituency. I represent nearly 75,000 electors, and the Boundary Commission proposed to lop four wards from my county borough and annexe them to Jarrow. To my surprise, all the political feeling in the borough was against that alteration. People said, "We are a community and we wish to speak as a community." While the Conservatives would probably have gained a seat out of the rearrangement of southern Tyneside, they were as vehement in their opposition to the change as were my supporters. They said, "We do not want to have a Member and a bit, with the bit possibly cancelling out what the rest of us want to do." That is a very sound position.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
The right hon. Gentleman has described exactly the present situation in Blackburn. I am the "bit" in that case and I cancel out the hon. Lady who represents Blackburn.
§ Mr. Ede
The same sort of thing happened in the borough in which I reside, Epsom and Ewell, which was to lose a couple of wards to Surbiton. Anyone who can imagine anything more annoying to a person living in Epsom and Ewell than being brigaded with Surbiton has a more vivid imagination than I have. I am glad to say that in that case also the second thoughts of the Boundary Commission were not to divide along local government lines.
I admit that it may be possible in some extreme cases to do some things one does not like, but I believe that we serve better here when we speak as Members for a community which has a sense of its individual existence than when we merely represent an average number of electors who have been chopped about without any regard to their other civic associations which must to some extent colour their views of national and international issues.
I welcome the arrangement which was inaugurated by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1949, by which, when internal arrangements occur in a divided borough with more than one Member, the parliamentary seats are rearranged so that they represent a number of wards and not three wards and a bit of a ward. That has been the main feature of the interim Orders which have been made. When a county borough has been extended to include a few acres from the adjoining county—in these latter days not generally having very many electors, but having ground for a new housing estate within the county borough boundaries—it has been a good thing that the parliamentary seat should be re-arranged to cover the area of the enlarged county borough. I hope that nothing will interfere with that internal re-arrangement which enables local and national boundaries to be the same as far as possible.
I also agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said about taking large areas as units for consideration. To take areas like the County of London, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and Lancashire, to include all the county boroughs in the latter two 261 and say that they are entitled to one more or one less, and then, to make the new jigsaw puzzle intelligible, having to alter all the county is not the correct approach. Areas like the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire are geographical rather than administrative counties.
If the hon. Member for Carlton does not object to my alluding to his position again, I recall that in order to make some quite small adjustment in the boundaries and numbers in the City of Nottingham, every seat in the City of Nottingham and in the county had to be altered, except that of the hon. Member. One reason why he was able to speak with some authority was that it was clear that he was not objecting to anything which had happened to him. That, in order to make some small correction, so many people should be put to the inconvenience of a change of constituency boundaries is indefensible, and I hope that a smaller area can be chosen. After all, it is not the fault of the rules. This is something which the Boundary Commissioners invented for themselves. They were not compelled to take a whole county, or a great mass of population like those to which I have referred.
I want to refer to what was said about the difference between an urban and a rural area, between county and borough in England. I stand by everything I said which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary quoted. There is ground for some slight weighting where there is what might be called a genuine county constituency. Some county constituencies are really a group of fairly big towns with all the characteristics of a borough. On the last occasion, the one thing which really happened on Tyneside was that Jarrow was turned from a county constituency into a borough constituency with virtually the same population. In the home counties and elsewhere what are nominally county constituencies should be borough constituencies, particularly urban districts such as Merton and Morden where one urban district has become a borough constituency which not so long ago was part of a county constituency.
I share the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering about the under-representation of England in the House. The number of Members for Scotland depends on the Treaty of Union and the Act of Union 262 and I do not want to go back on that, unlike the Tories who made the Act of Union with Ireland and gave her 100 Members and then, some fifty years ago, spent much time trying to get rid of them by a mere Act of Parliament, after having signed a Treaty. I would not abrogate the Treaty with Scotland, but I understand that it is not regarded with much favour by most Scotsmen, who think that the methods by which is was obtained were not exactly those that we should regard as suitable for such negotiations in these days.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, whose English courtesy is ready to come to the aid of an oppressed minority north of the Border. It is a fact that some of us have had cause to raise our eyebrows when we have learned of the strange procedural manœuvres that were gone through in the Scottish Parliament by the Liberals—the Whigs of those days—at the expense of the Jacobites and Tories, to arrange the choice of Commissioners to negotiate the Treaty of Union so that it would favour Whig principles.
Having said that, however, I must point out that, as a nation, the people of Scotland are content to allow that particular sleeping dog to lie. They want the Union to continue.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not quite sure whether I am interrupting the hon. Member or whether he is interrupting me—but I will let that pass. I cannot think that in these days it is right that England should be under-represented in the House to the extent that she is.
If we took the same quota for England as exists at the moment for Scotland we should redress the balance and be able to feel that we were still preserving the Act of Union, which, after all, took place at a time when electoral quotas, and a relationship between the electorate and the constituency, had no real meaning, and when Old Sarum, Bletchingley, Haslemere and the rest were returning two Members of Parliament while quite large places of modern origin returned no one. I imagine that at that time it was felt that as there were only 72 Scotsmen they could be looked after. In these days, however, when some regard is had to equality of representation over a fairly wide area, the under-representation of England calls for remedy.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
This is the fourth time that this complaint has been made about the under-representation of England. All my Scottish colleagues probably fully appreciate the dilemma which exists, but there is another side to the picture. It is not merely a question of the Act of Union; two other considerations must be borne in mind. First, there is the geographical impossibility of representing a constituency containing within it places as far apart as London and York, as is the position in some Scottish constituencies, and, secondly, there is the fact that there are 511 English Members who vote upon Scottish matters and only 71 Scottish and 36 Welsh Members. National rights should be given some consideration.
§ Mr. Ede
My effort to advance this argument non-controversially has aroused two persons to rush upon me with their claymores.
I also stand by what my hon. and learned Friend said in regard to areas where great geographical difficulties are experienced. I share his view about places such as Orkney and Shetland, and the crofting counties. We cannot expect any person to undertake the representation of such areas upon any basis depending solely upon population and taking no account of the great distances to be travelled and the problem of keeping in touch with so diverse an area.
In the case of the lowland stretch of Scotland, with its great industrial belt, however, there can be no suggestion that it should expect to receive a representation beyond that which is enjoyed by industrial areas in England.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The point that my right hon. Friend is making as between Scotland and England is equally valid as between the Lowlands of Scotland and the crofting counties.
§ Mr. Ede
I thought that I had dealt with that point already. I will not go over it again.
Trying to put the thoughts of the House into an Act of Parliament is a very difficult and intricate process. I speak as one who has had to try to do it. The fact that we now have this Bill in front of us is some indication of the lack of success that followed my effort. I am certain that the views advanced by my hon. and learned Friend—except in the matter of 264 local government boundarie—represent the most just way of dealing with the present situation. I sincerely hope that, with some Amendments, which pay attention to the views expressed this afternoon, the Bill will remove some of the anxieties that the present law causes not merely to Members of Parliament but to the communities that they represent.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)
The Bill will be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House so far as it increases the period between the redistribution of seats to a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifteen years. It will be generally accepted that in the matter of the distribution of seats the less interference we have, at short intervals, the better it will be.
It will also be agreed that most Members would dislike losing parts of the populations which they represent, whether such parts agree with their political thoughts or not. Most Members have an affection for the people in their constituencies, and would desire to continue to represent them all. There conies a time, however, when a Member must consider whether he is able to represent his constituents adequately, and I suggest that that time is reached when the population in a constituency grows to about 60,000.
We have heard much this afternoon of small constituencies with populations of 40,000 and fewer and large ones of 60,000 or 65,000—and we have had reference to an exceptionally large one of 75,000. I would point out that the constituency which I represent—Hornchurch, in Essex—contains, at the moment, 88,000 people. I believe that it is the largest in the country. The official figures, based on the building which is going on, suggest that at the end of 1959 the figure will exceed 90,000. I am sure that most Members would place first in their thoughts the service which they can give to the individuals who send them to Parliament and have a right to look upon them as the watchdogs of their interests. A Member cannot do that adequately when he is representing 88,000 people.
We have heard that the Bill will in no way affect Section 2 (3) of the old Act, and its general powers. I suggest we might consider the general powers and whether they were invoked at any time.
265 They were invoked to make minor alterations but upon a suggestion that a reasonably large alteration should be made, it was always said that Section 2 (3) was not meant for the purpose. Today my right hon. Friend appeared to suggest that Section 2 (3) could be used for this purpose. I wonder whether that is correct or whether the Boundary Commission has interpreted it in that way.
Last January my local urban district council—it may seem strange to hon. Members that the district is still an urban district, although it is not through any fault of the local council, for it has applied for borough status often enough —advised that the electorate had gone past 86,500. In August the Boundary Commission was asked that a report be submitted to the Secretary of State requesting the creation of a further seat. I have no way of knowing, nor has the district council, whether that was done, or what has happened to that request, or what is likely to happen in the future.
I suggest that unless we are careful we shall find that today we have reached a position where, when such an application is made in the future, the reply will be, "We have no power to do as you ask, and you must wait another ten or fifteen years." If an area such as mine, comprising 88,000 electors, is expected to wait at least another five years, possibly ten, before anything can be clone, that will cause injustice, and I ask that the matter be considered.
Some remarkable figures are contained in the Boundary Commission Report of November, 1954. For each of 136 of the English seats there are between 55,000 and 60,000 electors. A total of 111 seats each have an electorate of between 50,000 and 55,000 electors, but only eight seats have the very high figures of between 75,000 and 80,000 electors. I wish to remind the House that the figure of 88,000 in my constituency is 8,000 above that figure and that today, when we have been talking about an average of 4,000 between seats we have been referring to electorates of about 50,000 electors.
I wish to know whether Section 2 (3) will be applicable in such cases as are represented by my constituency. I should like my right hon. Friend to make clear that an urban district which is adjacent to another area may be moved from its 266 present constituency, provided that it is moved in its entirety. If a whole urban district is moved from one constituency, it is different from when a borough is cut into and two or three wards are taken away. I apologise for making constituency points, but the 88,000 people in Hornchurch consider that they had a raw deal at the last redistribution, and they wish me to plead for a fair deal for them today.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I support the plea for further representation for England compared with Scotland and Wales. The reason this matter has arisen is, I think, because of the conclusions reached at the Speaker's Conference in 1944 of which I was a member. There we tried to do two things which have not worked out in practice. We accepted the fact that Scotland and Wales should have a larger representation than their population entitles them to. That was due partly to the position following the Act of Union and partly because we considered that the two smaller nations should have a larger representation because they were smaller.
When we considered how this was to be done the point arose that there were many large areas with small populations and they should have a big representation because of the difficulty of representing them in this House. Therefore, we fixed minimum figures for Scotland and Wales below which their representation should not fall. We went on to fix a quota for the whole of the United Kingdom while ensuring that the figures for Scotland and Wales never fell below the minimum. It was assumed that, roughly speaking, a constituency in Glasgow would have an electorate of about the same size as a constituency in Newcastle, Birmingham, or London. I cannot see why there should be a much larger representation given to Glasgow in comparison with other big industrial centres. It was the intention of the Speaker's Conference to see that justice was done in this matter.
Another fear which governed our discussions then was that in the 1920's and 1930's there had been a drop in the population of Scotland and Wales and Members were frightened that a general redistribution might lead to a reduction in the number of their seats. This proposal was intended to guarantee against 267 such a reduction. There has not been a drop in the population in Scotland and Wales but there has been a big relative increase in the English population which has been going on continuously since then and looks as though it will continue.
Already we have this deficiency of an 8,000 average between English constituencies compared with Welsh and Scottish constituencies, and that will increase. I consider it is unfair, and English people are beginning to protest. I suggest we should reach some figure of what the difference should be between the average Scottish and Welsh and the English constituencies, and stick to that. Let us say, for example, 5,000. If the relative increase in the English population continues, the English membership should rise. We could allow the representation to go quite a long way before we reach the figures which existed before the Irish Republic became a separate country. If eventually we find that the numbers are getting too large we might look at the Scottish and Welsh representation again and their number of seats. That, however, is unlikely to arise. I suggest that we give Scotland and Wales an agreed extra quota compared with England and then allow the English representation to increase so that we do not have an increasing English deficiency.
I wish to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden). I represented the old constituency of Romford for ten years and in 1945 its electorate was 207,000. When I first represented it the figure was 169,000 which was only seventeen years after the general redistribution in 1918. That represents an abnormal growth in a district; as has already been mentioned there is a likelihood of quite a number of areas growing very rapidly when compared with the country as a whole.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hornchurch that there is great danger in a Bill of this kind that in trying to avoid existing difficulties we may create new difficulties which will prevent justice from being done to areas of rapidly growing population. We must consider how we can reconcile these difficulties. I agree very strongly with the case which has been made that as far as possible constituencies should represent local government units and constituency 268 boundaries should coincide with local government boundaries. Secondly, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) that we do not want to upset these boundaries more often than we can help.
It is desirable that a constituency should be a continuing unit as far as possible and for as long as possible. In the county areas and over a large part of the country, where the population does not change very rapidly, surely that can be achieved and we can have such continuity. On the other hand, we have to reconcile this desirability of continuity and of having local government units represented in the House with the opportunity to make new arrangements to deal with an abnormal growth of population in particular instances. I do not think it is impossible to reconcile those two.
The Boundary Commissioners should have quite clearly laid down the duty to consider a particular town or a particular area and to give it an extra Member if it is thought to be justified by an increase in population in that area. This should be done as a particular step at a particular moment and I do not think it need involve an overall redistribution either throughout the country or throughout the county concerned. We need this right to give additional Members where there has been a sudden, large increase in population. The case of Hornchurch has been mentioned. Hornchurch is growing rapidly and it has rightly been said that it would be very unfair if the area were not given extra representation for a very long time ahead.
We must also consider the new towns, and in this respect I want to ask the Home Secretary one or two questions. As I understand the position, where local government boundary changes have taken place under existing rules and regulations, and where areas have been brought into new constituencies in this way, these new boundaries will operate at the next election. Will that be so, for example, in the case of Crawley? The town of Crawley was originally in three different county council areas and five different local authority areas. It now forms an urban district and I believe that all of it has been placed inside West Sussex. I therefore imagine that all of it will come within one constituency; Horsham is, I. 269 believe, the one concerned. Will that be the case for the next election or not? It is a major change. The new urban district was set up in 1956 and I believe that under the present law the situation which I have just outlined will apply. Will that be set aside by the new Bill?
All of the new town of Harlow is inside the Epping constituency, which is already a very large constituency. The Woodford constituency, which was separated from it, is much smaller. There is a case for making Harlow a separate constituency and handing Epping back to Woodford to make the numbers more nearly equal, thus ensuring that Harlow as a new community is represented in the House.
Basildon at present is partly in the constituency of Thurrock and partly in Billericay. The whole of the new town has now been brought inside the Billericay urban district. Will it be inside that constituency when the next election is held? Will all the local government boundary changes which have been made in recent years, or which may be made between now and the date of the next election, operate at the next election if this Bill is passed?
I do not think any of us would suggest that any general revision of local government boundaries which takes place when the Local Government Bill has been passed should be taken into account at the next election: that must wait until a new general redistribution takes place throughout the country. I am concerned about the changes which will take place before the next election or which have taken place recently. We have a right to be given an answer about that.
All round Greater London large increases in population are taking place. This reinforces the point which I made about new towns. Apart altogether from the creation of new towns, there are other rapidly growing townships in the Greater London area. No doubt this is also true of some other industrial parts of the country where new industries are growing up. In such cases we see extreme differences in the size of electorates. For example, there are quite small electorates in the two East Ham seats, Woodford and the two Walthamstow seats, whereas there are big electorates nearby, such as the 75,000 in my constituency, the large 270 electorate in Hornchurch and other large ones in Epping, Billericay and Thurrock.
I agree that there is not a case for the redistribution of individual constituencies until they reach a certain size, but we want to know the position not only in the new towns but also in areas such as Hornchurch which have rapidly growing populations. Will they be given justice under the Bill? We hope that on the first big revision the needs of the Home Counties and of the constituencies forming a ring round London will be recognised and that redistribution will take place throughout this area. I should like the point to be borne in mind. The ten-year minimum for a general review is the longest minimum to which we can agree; and, whilst agreeing to it, I should like to urge the need to write into the Bill special provisions dealing with areas growing at an abnormal rate. It will be unfair if we do not do so.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
I shall be very brief because we all seem to be in agreement. I wish to emphasise the point made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about the importance of permitting the rules to give greater priority to the inconvenience of breaking local ties and, particularly, of splitting county boroughs. As I said in an intervention, unfortunately or perhaps fortunately I have the experience of representing three wards of a county borough, a non-county borough, an urban district council and a rural district council, and I therefore have a complete spectrum of different kinds of local authority in my constituency. It is almost impossible for me to take any view of any matter of local government reform without offending at least one of them.
Most hon. Members will remember the occasion when Mr. Assheton, as he then was, divided the House and when the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) told against the proposal. I remember the excitement of that occasion. It seemed once again that anything I said then was certain to annoy someone. It would have seemed rather inhospitable to grumble at the arrangements, particularly as we were assured from the Government benches that these things would shake down and that, over the years, the constituents who 271 were transferred from those three wards of the proud and great County Borough of Blackburn would gradually find their loyalties would shift into their new constituency.
I am obliged to tell the House that that optimistic forecast was not fulfilled. The reason is that in those three wards the people are accustomed to organising themselves to conduct their local elections. They still vote in local elections in that county borough. The parties are organised as a whole. Both parties found it extremely difficult to break that loyalty to the county borough organisation and felt themselves interlopers in the county even after four years, and vice versa.
I am saying these few words only because I should like to think that no other borough will endure this painful, if not humiliating, experience that Blackburn has had to suffer. If Blackburn has had to suffer so that other places will not suffer, that is something of a consolation, but not much.
I still do not understand the working of Clause 2 (2). Exactly what primacy is to be given to this new recognition that local government boundaries, and particularly county borough boundaries, are of importance? What gives trouble is that we are not courageous enough to say which rule shall prevail. We say that attention shall be given to this, that and the other, but we never quite have the courage to say what, in a case of conflict, shall prevail. Until we do that it can only be a vague suggestion in the Bill that regard should be increasingly had to one rule over another. I still fear, upon my reading of the subsection, that we have not yet sufficiently clear instructions that local government boundaries are to be regarded as more important than the altar of arithmetic upon which the County Borough of Blackburn was, on the last occasion, sacrificed.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and the County Borough of Blackburn who have together suffered such difficulties. The hon. Member for Darwen has drawn attention to a very real difficulty to which I do not think there is a complete answer. We have heard about con- 272 stituencies of 88,000 people. I represent a constituency of exactly the opposite sort. Patriotic as I am, I cannot suggest that every Shetlander or Orcadian is worth two and a half Londoners in an election.
There are all sorts of difficulties all over the country. There is only one real, practical solution. It is that that was put forward earlier in the debate, and that is to be fairly lavish in increasing the number of Members of this House. I am not afraid of the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) that this would mean such an enormous increase that it would become absurd.
§ Mr. Grimond
Surely it would not be seventy if we merely brought some relief to the very large constituencies. It would only be seventy if there were complete mathematical equality. We need not do that. I do not see how we can give priority among the various criteria enjoined on the Commission. But I would join other hon. Members in saying that we should not chop about constituencies too much and should have regard to local government areas.
I want to say a word for the very large and under-populated areas. I was afraid when the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) began that he was going to allow his loyalty for Kettering to smother his partiality for Argyll. No doubt, however, if he were in danger of that his wife would correct him.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I kept well in mind the special geographical considerations of the crofting counties.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. There are indeed very special geographical considerations. For example, I have to travel some 200 miles, some of them very rough indeed. It is not only a question of what I have to travel; if a constituent wants to see his Member it is impossible if we cut down the use of cars, especially in the North of Scotland and in rural Wales.
There is a certain amount of justice in the demand for extra Members for England. We have had a lecture on the 273 Act of Union and some advice on intrigue from the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) whose ancestors intrigued hourly in the somewhat tangled history of Scotland. My recollection is that they changed so quickly from one side to the other that it would have been impossible to pin them down as Whigs or Tories. I do not believe that the Act of Union intended to do more than lay down a minimum number of constituencies in Scotland. It was never intended to result in such unjustly large English constituencies. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to reallocate a great number of constituencies in Scotland, or probably in England, because Once we start the process and begin moving boundaries we are led on and on until we reach the point of total redistribution.
In considering the size of constituencies, we must remember not only the Member's difficulties but the constituent's. He wants to see his Member occasionally. And we might, incidentally, make it easier for him to vote. The distances in my constituency make limitation on cars perfectly absurd.
I very much urge the Government to give consideration, before we pass the Bill, to the questions that have been raised about Section 2 (3) and to the possibility of giving a fairer deal to areas which were unfairly treated. There are certain areas which believe they have been badly treated, and the Bill will be much better received in the country if something is done to put that matter right before it is passed into law.
Finally, I would add that the Home Secretary asked whether other parties have concurred in writing a letter to you, Mr. Speaker, on the subject of representation in the Boundary Commissions. We have done that, and we agree with the proposal put forward about representations to the Boundary Commissions.
I should like to mention one further small point and say how much I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, South about Clause 4 and the desirability that reasons should be given if changes are made. If no explanation is offered to the public, people are apt to be suspicious. A further suggestion of his about how we should handle orders under the Bill needs some further consideration. As long as it is clear that it will not limit debate there is everything to be said for it. But many other hon. Members want 274 to put forward their points of view on such orders. If the orders are taken together, we must ensure that the rights of hon. Members are preserved.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
I hope the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will not think that because I agree with him on certain points this is some dark Lauderdale intrigue. So far two broad considerations have come before the House. One is what I might call the "English-Scottish point". The other is the case of overspill in new town areas and the inactivity of the Boundary Commission hitherto under Clause 2 (3) of the 1949 Act. This latter issue mainly concerns me because I have a new town in mind at this time.
I was much struck by the story of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) with his 88,000 constituents -something that seems an enormity in the days of the Welfare State and increasing demands on a Member for what one might call welfare service of one kind or another. I most urgently wish to reinforce his plea, and that of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and others, all of whom asked for some assurance from the Government spokesman who is to reply as to the intention to make proper use of Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act, so that we do get interim reviews from time to time where they are needed.
It was rather disturbing to have it suggested by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the real purpose of that subsection is to enable, here and there, the appropriate measures to be taken at Parliamentary level to accord with local government changes. It rather suggested, and I should like to have that suggestion corrected, that the first initiative for an interim review has to be some local government boundary change. Then what happens when, for some reason or other, an anomaly is growing up and a local government boundary change does not take place, though it may well be overdue?
On the broad English-Scottish point, I must say that I feel rather as does the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, that we, in Scotland, could probably take on another ten, twenty, thirty, forty or fifty English Members without noticing 275 very much difference. I think that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will probably agree that we could take on quite a lot of English Members without much real loss to Scotland. There was, however, an important principle enshrined in the Act of Union and carried on in the 1949 Act. It was described by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick-thorn) as the organic rather than the arithmocratic principle.
I take it that he meant that there are in the United Kingdom, areas that have to be regarded as organic entities in themselves. England is undoubtedly one, and there must be due regard to a particular Scottish, a particular Welsh or a particular Ulster interest in the composition of a Parliament which is not an English Parliament but a Parliament of Great Britain. Perhaps I may remind the House of what is often forgotten—Great Britain became Great Britain when England joined Scotland. One thing in this House that irritates me more than another is to hear people talk about an Anglo-American or an Anglo-Egyptian —or whatever it may be—alliance. It is British.
I had intended primarily to address myself to the point that is introduced in the Bill about a distinct electoral quota for Scotland. It is not generally recognised, even in Scotland, that the Scottish electorate is shrinking. In 1955 it numbered 3,387,909. In 1954, the Scottish Boundary Commission ga a figure, when it listed the average of electors from the time that it started work, of 3,408,781. In the 1951 General Election the electorate numbered 3,421,433. In other words, between the two Elections there had been a shrinkage in the Scottish electorate amounting to the equivalent of about half of one average Scottish constituency.
By getting our own quota, we get a more reasonable norm by which the standard of constituency size can be judged and regulated in Scotland, so enabling the Boundary Commission to have proper regard to a point that has been casually overlooked by some of our English doubters; for one of the principles to which the Boundary Commission should pay regard is that of accessibility. In Scotland it will now be possible to revise the electoral quotas downwards, which is 276 of the very much greater dispersal of population. That will also make it possible to take into account an even more striking factor—the relative movement within that population.
The last review having been in 1954, there could, under the 1949 Act, have been another this year. As it is, there will not be any periodical review until 1963 or 1964, which means possibly after two Elections, and certainly after one. I know that this Bill represents the broad agreement between the two parties, and I imagine that it will be carried tonight—and, on the whole, in Committee—provided that we have the assurance that some of us have been asking for—that Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act is really to be operated.
The Scottish Boundary Commission Report gave certain figures about what are proper and what are improper sizes for constituencies. The Report issued in 1954 gave the average electorate in Scotland as 48,011, which it described, correctly, of course, as being considerably below the average electorate for the whole of Great Britain. It then said that,…an electorate of the order of 68,000 or more is much too large for a Scottish county constituency.In England it would not necessarily be held that 68,000 was much too large but, at any rate, that was the Commission's view in relation to Scotland. The Report went on to say that an electorate of 61,297 was…on the high side for a Scottish county constituency.Now that Scotland is to have her own electoral quota, it will, of course, be legitimate for the Boundary Commission to regard some figure lower than those already quoted as being, in the one case much too large and, in the other, on the high side.
I now come to a Lanarkshire point, which is not a party point. In this respect Lanarkshire has quite a long history, and hon. Members opposite will be reassured to know that the point I am about to make was first made by their party, and is alluded to in the Boundary Commission's Report as having come from the Lanark Labour Party. Broadly, what I am worried about is the position of the rapidly-growing new town of East Kilbride.
277 Under the 1949 Act one could have expected a periodical review between 1957 and 1964. We now know that there cannot be such a review until after 1964—between 1964 and 1969. That is a very long time for people in East Kilbride to wait, when they are not even getting the local government boundary changes for which they are clamouring, and which are widely thought to be overdue.
Population is rapidly moving into the place, and 700 houses are going up every year, which gives an average increase in the electorate of about 1,750. The scheduled programme is something like 1,000 houses a year, which means an extra 2,500 new electors every year. As far as we can judge, the electorate of that constituency has risen from about 51,000 at the last General Election to 56,000 now, and it will come well within sight of what the last Boundary Commission called "something on the large side". Under the new principle by which we are to have our own electoral norm, it will certainly be within sight quite soon of being "on the large side."
If we could feel happy that these interim local reviews were to take place, many of our anxieties about the Bill would fade away, but we gathered from the words used by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act is intended to refer to changes in local government boundaries, and the context of his reference suggested that they are to be stirred up and initiated only by such changes. At East Kilbride these changes have not taken place as they should. We have very great concern—at any rate, I have—for the simple democratic point that a block of people are relatively unrepresented.
It is normal in the County of Lanark for a county council constituency to number not more than 5,000, or perhaps 6,000, electors, but there are now 20,000 people living in East Kilbride. We have managed to get two county council seats, instead of one; but the present popular clamour is for four, and that has been refused by the county council, and refused, moreover, when this particular area contributes as much in rates as any other part of the county.
Then, there is the principle of accessibility, which, I suggest, applies not only 278 to geographical distances, but to what I might call psychological distances. Anyone who has to represent a county area, where things are done at a certain tempo and where the outlook is very much the same—and I say that whether thinking of miners or farmers, if they live in the country, because it has very much the same meaning—finds that he must also plunge himself into the affairs of a growing new town, with thousands of people coming in every year from other strange parts, from Glasgow or places down south. One finds a totally different atmosphere and mentality on top of the whole range of new problems peculiar to that area.
In the new town of East Kilbride one has all the problems and adjustments of the incomers, their furnishing problems, new rent problems, the problems of hospitals and health, and that of the relationship with a Development Corporation which is itself unrepresentative because appointed and not elected. There are the problems of the clamour for burgh status, and who will not agree that the Member of Parliament for the area should at least be able to be on hand, to give some time, thought, counsel and help to those clamouring for this quite natural and proper development in their local government institutions? How that can be done by a Member who must also represent 90 villages and must travel considerable distances, trudging about in the snow like Dr. Fuchs at the South Pole—these things are exceedingly difficult, and the principle of accessibility should be interpreted not only in geographical terms, but also in terms of psychology.
In my case, I am compelled to pay regard to what I might call decaying communities in some parts of the constituency. I myself have been to isolated villages like Leadhills, where one is sometimes held up by the snow, Crawford, Crawfordjohn, Forth, Law, and Carluke—several of them remote places and even quite small—which have just as much claim on their Member of Parliament and on his attention, even though they are small, as the great burgeoning new town of 20,000 people. It is the gruelling lot of the Member of Parliament who represents this extraordinary combination of places; but that is the problem that will concern anybody who is called upon to represent Lanark, as it certainly concerns me.
279 I come back to the critical point. We want an assurance tonight from the Government Front Bench that Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act will mean that there are to be interim reviews, that they will happen, broadly, when they are needed, and that the Government will not shove the problem off on the ground that a periodical review can look after it when the time comes. The last Boundary Commission Report for Scotland declared in paragraph 7:We appreciate that the boundaries of Lanark constituency may have to be revised on the occasion of a subsequent periodical review, by which time East Kilbride new town may have developed considerably.It has already developed considerably, and the periodic review under this Bill is put off for a number of years, and, thereby, a whole range of people are, in fact, disenfranchised.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I do not know how people in Lanarkshire will react to having their living conditions compared with those of Dr. Fuchs at the South Pole.
§ Mr. Ross
Last week-end? I do not know whether we were having typical weather in Great Britain or anywhere else last week, but this business of the personal problems of Members of Parliament touches us all, and if and when any change is made in Lanarkshire exactly the same problem will arise elsewhere. Indeed, the problem of the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) is as nothing compared to those of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) and, indeed, of hon. Members representing some of the other counties of Scotland.
We all naturally welcome at first sight the idea of greater stability in the constituencies, and the idea that the period of three to seven years on the general review is rather short. I certainly feel it is an advantage to have ten to fifteen years as a maximum, but that can only be acceptable provided the periodic and interim reviews are indeed guaranteed.
280 It is not purely a question of the new towns. The people who are going into these new towns come from other towns, and we have the problem, for instance, of overspill and the changes in Glasgow, which contains about a quarter of the population of the whole of Scotland. At the moment, Glasgow has about fifteen Members, but Glasgow is going to overspill 300,000 people. Then, surely, it will only be right that there should be a periodic review in areas like these to ensure that justice and fairness as between one part of the city and another and between one part of the country and another is done. For instance, we are to have a by-election in Kelvingrove, and some people, looking at the majority there, might say, with a majority of only 2,800, what they can or cannot do.
I wonder whether people realise just how many electors there are in Kelvin-grove. This is not some widely scattered constituency but a constituency within the city. I understand that the electorate there, in the City of Glasgow, numbers between 30,000 and 55,000. Indeed, since the Bill was drafted a considerable number of people have already moved out. So there we have in a city what is probably one of the smallest constituencies in the whole of Scotland. Obviously, if that situation is to continue for another ten to fifteen years matters will become quite ludicrous in that constituency. I join with the hon. Member for Lanark in hoping that we shall have some assurance about interim reviews.
I can well understand the feelings of hon. Members representing English constituencies when they look at the average number of voters in Scottish constituencies; they feel that England is pretty ill done by. I entirely agree, but I do not think that the solution lies in reducing the number of seats in Scotland or in lamenting the fact that Scotland is guaranteed a certain number of seats. I do not think that the history I have been hearing about the Act of Union and so on is all that good.
The Act of Union never guaranteed the people of Scotland the number of seats they have at the present time, or anything like it. As far as I can recollect, the effect of the Act of Union was to rob us of a reasonably democratic Parliament and give us access to one which was far from democratic. The only extension of 281 democracy which came from the Act of Union was among the peers of Scotland, in allowing them to elect, as they still do, representatives to the House of Lords. The actual number at present guaranteed was fixed at a very much more recent date, and it was, of course, related not so much to any mathematical formula but to the actual geographic facts of the situation.
Someone spoke about cars at elections. A Member for the Western Isles does not worry about cars at election time; he worries about boats. The hon. Gentleman is worried about accessibility in Lanarkshire. My goodness!—if he just considers for a moment what some of his colleagues have to contend with in contacting their constituents in the Western isles and other crofter counties, he will have a better idea of what some of the problems are. Even on the borders, we have a Member representing not one county but three. That is w here the mathematical formula completely breaks down.
While we in Scotland probably have the same sort of complaints that there are some very large constituencies unbalanced in comparison with the electorate of some of the widely scattered ones, we must accept that situation and, at the same time, see that it does not produce injustice against the industrial population. I am sure the situation in Scotland is very much the same as in England. I should imagine that it takes fewer people to return a Member of Parliament if they live in a county as compared with a city. This is one fundamental grievance which has always persisted. I do not think we have solved it yet; the balance is still not right.
One of the reasons for stability in membership of the House from Scotland —there has been comparatively little change in the balance of parties since 1924—has been this balance between county and industrial population. Relatively speaking, the widely scattered areas with the smaller electorates, because of their geographic nature which cannot be altered, retain their Parliamentary electoral entity. This works to the disadvantage of the industrial areas because we are there tied to the number.
The solution is not to cast envious eyes at Scotland. If hon. Members feel 282 envious of Scotland, the obvious conclusion to draw is that they should have a fixed number and should redistribute, within themselves, that fixed number. Better than that, they should look at the obvious anomaly which arises when, for instance, a Member represents—as happens in Hornchurch—over 80,000 people. It is quite fantastic, particularly so when one compares that sort of size with the size of some constituencies in England. What is required, I feel, is a sorting out of the anomalies and a realisation that the present number in respect of England is not sacred but can be increased.
Let us look at the question of balance as between county and industrial town. There may be disadvantages from the point of view of the actual person who represents a constituency, in his ability properly or adequately to do his job because of the size of the place, and there may be a disadvantage and an unfairness to the people he represents inasmuch as they are under-represented in the House. I accept the underlying principles of the Bill and the extension from three to seven years to ten to fifteen years, but these other problems can be sorted out only if we have an assurance that there will be interim and periodic reviews so that we shall not have this continuing, aggravating situation of injustice and unfairness as between one Member of Parliament and another and between one constituency and another.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow him round Scotland; I propose to talk about parts farther south.
The 1949 redistribution found Portsmouth a very bombed city, and the redistribution was a major one which took the political boundaries of Portsmouth miles outside the Portsmouth former area, to include places like Langstone, Hayling Island and Emsworth. There were previously, however, three seats more or less on the island of Portsmouth, including just a small portion outside. The bombing of Portsmouth made it necessary to extend the boundaries in order to continue the three seats.
Portsmouth had provided itself with a large amount of land outside the city 283 boundaries, and the rebuilding of Portsmouth started only after the 1949 redistribution. In fact, there had hardly been any rebuilding or redistribution of population, other than as a result of the bombing, until 1951. Since then, there has been an enormous redistribution, and my constituency is rapidly disappearing outside the boundaries of Portsmouth proper. Whereas Portsmouth, South and my constituency, Portsmouth, West, become smaller and smaller every year, Portsmouth, Langstone, which has only one tiny ward on the island of Portsmouth, is rapidly becoming bigger and bigger. Whereas Portsmouth, South and Portsmouth, West stand on the island and one has to cross a bridge to get there, Portsmouth. Langstone occupies but one ward in Portsmouth itself.
This is an extremely untidy arrangement. The majority of the workers work in my constituency in the dockyard and other smaller factories, and they all go to the dormitories of Langstone and elsewhere when they finish their work. It is the easiest thing in the world for them to hop off at my office on their way wherever they are going, and they all seem to expect me to look after their welfare and personal affairs. I am only too happy to do so, but I am afraid of getting myself in trouble with my two next-door neighbours in their dealings with their constituents.
When the trouble was at its height, Portsmouth, Langstone wrote to the Boundary Commission suggesting that Langstone was becoming too big and that Portsmouth, West was becoming too small. Nothing happened. The Times showed Portsmouth, West as having had a small boundary revision prior to the 1955 General Election. In point of fact, there was no revision whatsoever, although two wards were cut out of Portsmouth, West and joined up to other wards within West Portsmouth. The reason for cutting out these two wards was that wards were becoming so small that boundaries had to be amalgamated to give the wards some people to vote. We have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) complaining about his constituency becoming bigger and bigger. I am complaining that mine is becoming smaller and smaller.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) said that he 284 hoped that before having the new rule of not having any revision for a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifteen years we would put our house in order. Before we commit ourselves to abandoning the existing scheme for altering constituencies we should ensure that everything is in apple pie order and then make sure that we want to do nothing more for ten or fifteen years. It was represented four or five years ago that a change should be made in Portsmouth. If it is to be put off for another ten years, I shall have about four boys and a dog to look after, whereas Portsmouth, Langstone will have an army corps.
Will the Minister look into the anomalies that exist in places like Hornchurch and Portsmouth? There is no political problem. The constituencies around Portsmouth are all Conservative, and it is merely a question of distributing the work more evenly. I hope that, if he cannot do that, my right hon. Friend will see that Section 2 (3) is applied as and when these constituencies become as small as mine is now becoming.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
After our experience in the last debates on this subject, this is a very welcome change. I find myself in complete agreement for the second time with the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn).
I should first like to say a word about the composition of the Commission before coming to the amendments to the Act on questions of substance which have been so largely canvassed in the debate. The first point is a point which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) with regard to the position of the Chairman of the Commission. The Speaker signs the Report of the Commission. He takes an extremely small part in its work and, in fact, is put in a position, as far as I can gather, of having nominal responsibility without really effective power. Under the new provisions, the Speaker does not even appoint a deputy chairman. The deputy chairman is a High Court judge and is, quite rightly, appointed by the Lord Chancellor. That has led to the sort of feeling which was commented on by Mr. Ralph Assheton, the then hon. Member 285 for Blackburn, West, which my hon. Friend quoted. You, Sir, in the course of the debate, thought it would be advisable to remind the House of the rule in debate as affecting yourself. You said on 15th December, 1954:So far as my own part in the Commission is concerned, I must remind the House of the ancient and salutary rule, that any criticism, express or implied, of the Chair should be put down in the form of a Motion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1916.]All this emphasises the embarrassment in which everybody is involved, both, I venture to think, yourself and, certainly, hon. Members, by this arrangement by which the Speaker is the chairman of the Commission. I do not appreciate the reason why the Speaker should be the chairman of the Commission, although there must be a strong reason for it when the Speaker is retained as chairman despite the observations which were made during the course of the debate in 1954.
I suggest that, particularly when it is laid down that there is to be a High Court judge as a deputy chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor, that the occasion has now come to reconsider the Speaker's position.
The Home Secretary asked whether a letter had been sent by the Leader of the Opposition or on his behalf to the Speaker in the same sense as he had sent a letter. That has been done.
The first point of substance in these Amendments is the review period. As has been indicated, we are in favour of increasing the space between the reviews by substituting ten to fifteen years in place of the present rule of three to seven years. This brings me to what was the theme of almost every speech made in the debate, and that is the position under Section 2 (3) of the Act and the provision for interim reviews. Clearly, if the length between the regular reviews is to be increased, then the need for interim reviews is correspondingly increased. Only in individual exceptional cases is a review required.
I was perturbed by the Home Secretarys' reference to the operation of Section 2 (3). I agree with him that, as it stands, although it might be more clearly worded, under Section 2 (3) there is scope for reviews other than reviews 286 due to local government boundary operations. Therefore, the power is in Section 2 (3). The difficulty does not arise so much on the power as the way in which the power is applied. This power has never been applied in the past except for local government boundary alterations. What we are all concerned about is that they should be applied not only where local government boundary operations make it advisable, but when it is the reasonable thing to do in other cases as well.
The Home Secretary said that it had only been used for local government alterations, and he added the words "and rightly so". Is that meant to be a kind of policy directive to the Commission? There is no power in the Home Secretary to give a policy directive to the Commission. Why does he express that view? He said that it can be left to the Commission to operate the Section. But it is undesirable to leave it to the Commission to decide in what circumstances it will operate the Section. If the Commission does in future what it has done in the past, it will not apply the Section at all except in local government cases. One of our difficulties in dealing with the Commission and its history under the Act is that although the Act lays down certain rules quite clearly, the Commission has not acted in accordance with them. It has departed from them and made rules of its own, with the result that we do not know where we stand in applying the Act.
In Section 2 (3), for example, which is now under consideration, what are we to take as being in practice the operative consideration? As it stands, Section 2 (3) allows reviews for purposes other than, or as well as, local government boundary alterations. Is that the operative consideration, or are we to take as the operative consideration the fact that the Commission has in the past interpreted that Section in such a way as to mean that it is applied only in local government boundary alteration cases and none other?
What is important when we deal in Committee with Section 2 (3) is to make it clear beyond doubt, not that the Commission may, if it so feels inclined, apply that Section in local government boundary cases and in other cases, but that it shall do so and that it is not limited.
287 as in practice it has been in the past, to local government boundary alterations.
That is a policy decision for Parliament. It is not a matter that ought to be left to the discretion of the Commission. The Commission is merely an administrative machinery body exercising its discretion only within the ambit of policy decisions laid down by Parliament. This is a policy decision. It affects the whole policy upon which the electorates are based and operates. That is not a matter to be left to a tribunal of three men, however distinguished they may be. It is a policy decision which ought to be taken here in Parliament, and I hope that in the course of the Committee stage we shall make the policy operation of Section 2 (3) perfectly clear.
Surely, when there are cases like Horn-church and the new towns there should be an increase in representation. Horn-church is growing rapidly. We were told by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) that Hornchurch will soon have an electorate of 90,000 and it will be represented by one Member. The position is fantastic. Why is it contemplated at all that that position is tolerable?
I think I know the reason. It is that the last Commission, in the course of applying its interpretation of the rules under the Act, applied to London a certain number of Members and said that there could be no more than a certain number. If that extraordinary interpretation is to prevail, it means that if Hornchurch gets an additional Member, a Member must be lost elsewhere. In that event, the result is that there is no end to the readjustment that might take place in London. What should happen in such a case is that Hornchurch should simply be given an additional Member for the interim, London should get an additional Member in the House of Commons and the number of Members in the House should be increased by one. I hope that this will be made perfectly clear, not merely by speeches from the Government benches during this debate, but by actual Amendments to Section 2 (3) which lay down the policy.
The demand for the extension of the period between reviews is the result of the very natural reaction against the convulsion caused by the last Commission's 288 Report. Many of us pointed out at the time that the convulsion caused by the last Commission's Report was due largely to disregarding the provisions of the Act itself. There were three main factors. First, the Commission used an English instead of a Great Britain quota. Secondly, there was the Commission's policy of weighting in favour of county areas. Thirdly, the Commission regarded the county as the unit of distribution and treated the county boundaries as sacrosanct whilst not treating any other local government boundaries as sacrosanct. The lesson which emerges from the history of the last Commission and the revulsion against the eruption which has occurred is that the rules must be made absolutely clear. I agree strongly with the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) in his comments about the rules. I hope that during the passage of the Bill we shall take the opportunity of making the rules clear and workable.
My next point concerns the view of the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), in particular, about the result of the last Commission's Report being the basis of the new dispensation. That was a redistribution which led to strong opposition, of a non-party nature, in all parts of the House. As the hon. Member for Carlton said, when dealing with a new dispensation of this kind, with a longer period between reviews, it is the more necessary, to use the hon. Member's words, "to start from arrangements which are generally felt to be tolerable". I could not agree more with the hon. Member.
The two conclusions which arise from the feeling about starting from the last Commission's Report as the basis of the new dispensation are, first, that it very much strengthens the case for the interim review, and secondly, that it emphasises very strongly the need for clear and workable rules.
I come now to the rules themselves. The first provision on which I should like to comment is the amendment which is included in Clause 2 (2) of the Bill, which gives to the Commission a wide overall discretion. Again, I agree with the observations of the hon. Member for Darwen. I am not clear as to the precise effect of the Clause, but it seems that although it gives a wide overall discretion it possibly makes that discretion subject to one thing, 289 and one thing only: that is, Rule 4, which provides for local government boundaries; and for the first time local government boundaries are given an overriding priority over everything else. I do not know whether that is the intention. It may not be the correct interpretation. Certainly, there is ambiguity about it and it should be clarified. We would like to know exactly what is the Government's intention. When we know what it is, and when the House or the Committee decides what is its intention, we hope to see it embodied unmistakably clearly in a Clause in the Bill. That certainly has not been achieved as yet.
The question whether the Commission should be given this wide overall discretion depends upon what discretion is given and how—this is particularly important in view of our experience with the Commission—it is interpreted and applied. A discretion of this kind is a good thing if it is applied in the sort of case which I believe the Home Secretary indicated in his speech that he had in mind, for instance, in the case of a place like Southampton. In Southampton, the Commission moved 17,000 electors to reduce the difference between two borough divisions of Southampton by as little as 1,603. It did that to make that difference between two divisions of over 65,000 and in so doing over-ran the clearly recognised habitual division of Southampton to one side or another of an avenue which runs right through the town. A similar thing happened in Plymouth.
If the purpose of this discretion is to avoid rather ridiculous arrangements of that kind, I am sure that everybody would be in favour of it, but the danger of the discretion as it now stands is that it would go very much further than that. It would go to the extent of sanctioning and justifying heavy weighting in favour of country areas against town areas. Let us consider how the Commission itself operated the powers it already had. First, of all, as is quite clear from its Report, it favoured weighting in favour of country areas, although there is no justification for that inside the rules themselves. Secondly, it stretched Rule 6, that is the one dealing with special areas, to the limit. Thirdly, it treated Rule 4, dealing with local government boundaries, as sacrosanct in the case of counties, but not in the case 290 of county boroughs or any other local government areas. The result is that we have a substantial weighting in favour of county areas following on the Commission's last Report.
Before the Report was published, the disparity between the average county and the average borough was 1,793. The Report increased that disparity by 2,184, making the disparity between the average county and the average borough division now 3,977.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
It is fair to remember that, before, there were cases where large boroughs had smaller average constituencies than surrounding communities. Therefore, it was bound to shift the thing the other way.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I am dealing with the overall position. There are exceptions. The case of Kelvingrove has been given as an instance of the exceptions, but this is the overall position and that disparity has been increased.
The answer to all this is that the discretion to be given to the Commission to achieve the kind of local adjustment which is obviously sensible in the instances which I have given of Southampton and Plymouth should be a discretion which is marginal, operating in individual cases for local adjustments. But it should not be a discretion which would over-ride the whole operation of the rules and provide a disparity between county areas as a whole and town areas as a whole which is really quite intolerable. In other words, the policy decision should cover the whole picture and should be laid down by Parliament, and the discretion of the Commission should operate in such a way in local cases as not to alter or distort that overall picture.
It is all the more necessary that the policy decisions should be taken by Parliament because there is no effective appeal against the Commission's decisions. There is no effective appeal to the courts and, as has been shown on the last occasion, there is no effective appeal to Parliament. It is vital, therefore, that these rules should embody Parliament's decisions on the kind of electoral 291 arrangements which Parliament wants, and there should be discretion to operate only within these policy arrangements.
I come lastly to the electoral quota, which of course is bound up completely with the number of seats. It may be desirable to have an English electoral quota instead of a Great Britain electoral quota. There is no objection to having provision for that in the rules, but the true significance of whether we have an English quota or a Great Britain quota is the difference in the number of seats that are provided by these quotas.
We accept an English electoral quota, but the important thing is the number of seats. The number of seats for Wales and for Scotland is virtually fixed. Therefore, the variable factor is England; and it is England that is affected by the change from a Great Britain electoral quota to the English electoral quota. Because the Great Britain quota is lower than the English quota, the result of the change would be to sanction, in accordance with the rules, fewer seats for England than would be obtained if the Great Britain quota were operated. On the last occasion, the Commission, contrary to the rules, operated the English quota, and what we are now contemplating doing through this amending legislation is to adopt that in the rules.
If the Great Britain quota had been operated, as contemplated by Parliament, England would have had as its norm on the last occasion of redistribution 519 seats instead of the norm being 506 seats, later increased by the Commission to 511. If 519 seats had been given to England instead of 511, that itself would have solved quite a number of the Commission's difficulties. And if 519 seats had been given to England, the result would have been that we should have had 626 Members of Parliament instead of 618. It has been said in the debate that there is nothing sacrosanct about the figure 618, and it has been mentioned that between 1801 and 1918 there were 33 to 35 more members of Parliament than there are now.
What should be our approach to the problem of the number of Members to sit in the House of Commons? Surely we agree in principle, whatever the difficulties of application 292 may be, that overall we should have one vote, one value. That is the ideal which we should make a serious effort to approach. If now we regarded the average English county seat and decide what workable numbers of electors that seat would provide, the ideal would be to make that the norm for all electorates in the country.
We have some indication about what the norm should be in the case of Scotland. Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) to the reference in the Scottish Report to the electorate of 61,000 odd being on the high side for a Scottish county constituency. Of course, 61,000 odd is above the English electoral quota, so there should be nothing excessive in producing a number which would enable ordinary English county seats to be fully and adequately represented, to produce workable areas for Members of Parliament and, at the same time, not to produce an average discrepancy of nearly 4,000 between county seats and town seats. I hope, therefore, that when we reach the Committee stage we will consider increasing the rather arbitrary number of seats now laid down in the rules.
This would also have the effect desired on both sides of the House of having what are called organic constituencies or continuity, historical associations, and so on. All that could be far more easily accommodated, as the Leader of the Liberal Party indicated, if we increased the number of seats instead of keeping to the figure of 613, which vitiates so much the proper democratic representation of the country.
I summarise the position in the rules in this way. First, the rules should be clarified to make policy decisions by Parliament absolutely clear. Secondly, there should be provision within the rules against weighting in favour of the county areas as a whole against town areas as a whole. It need not be done in that express form, but this effect could be produced. Thirdly, there should be an increase in the number of seats in England, so that whilst the county seats are not too large, there should be reasonable equality of representation and of electorate as between counties and borough. Fourthly, the discretion of the Commission should be merely marginal in individual cases and there should not 293 be overriding rules which would distort the balance contemplated by Parliament itself.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) in his observation that it is most important for all that is done in the Act, under the Act and by Amendment of the Act to be not only fair but to be thought to have been done fairly. I hope that when we consider this Bill in Committee, the objective approach which has been so clear throughout this debate will continue, and that we shall have an agreed, and I hope improved, Bill as a result of our work.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
I can say with some assurance that the House has given a general welcome to the Bill. I am sure that the Boundary Commissions will pay careful attention to everything that has been said in the debate, and that they will not be slow to notice that it is not felt that everything in the garden is lovely but that there are some things which might well be put right. There has been some talk about where the initiative lies in putting things right. The mere fact that we have had this debate in the House, that these matters are raised, and that the Boundary Commissions are bound to study what is said here, means that to some extent there is an initiative here. That is one answer, though not by any means the entire answer, which I hope to develop during the rest of my speech.
I will now deal with a point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas). He laid great stress on the need for clarification of the rules. We all agree with him that this is desirable and that they should be as clear as possible. In studying the rules, I cannot fail to observe that, whilst it is possible to make them clearer, it does not seem to be possible to draft them in such a way that they may not contradict each other in certain cases. Therefore, a discretion must be left to the Boundary Commissions to deal with specific cases, as I think the hon. and learned Gentleman himself recognised.
The House has agreed that changes were being made too frequently, and that was the genesis of this Bill, which stems 294 from the 1954 debate. Indeed, that was one of the main criticisms made throughout that debate. The Bill proposes to alter Section 2(2) of the 1949 Act so as to lengthen the period within which each Commission must submit a new report, at present not less than three years and not more than seven years, to a minimum of ten years and a maximum of fifteen years.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) that I would have thought this in itself would tend to make legislation less frequent. He asked how many times legislation had been made in the last few years. Indeed, it is true that there have been four Acts of Parliament, including one which was a consolidation Act. One could also reckon, perhaps, the debate on the Reports, followed by the debate on the Statutory Instruments in 1954, as an additional occasion. I should have thought, however, that lengthening the period would have tended to mean that legislation in the future would be less frequent. Indeed, just as one of the objectives is to secure more continuity within the constituencies, so it is the purpose of the Bill to secure more continuity in legislation.
Another major criticism made of the 1949 Act was that the Commission was obliged to give too much weight to mathematical equality. Rule 5 is specific on this:The electorate of any constituency shall be as near the electoral quota as is practicable having regard to the foregoing rules…It goes on, as the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East pointed out, to exempt the Commission from the strict application of Rule 4 which, as the House knows, enjoins the Commissioners as far as possible not to cut across boundaries in order to secure greater mathematical equality between an electorate on the one hand and its neighbouring electorates on the other, where differences are substantial.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) thought that local authority boundaries should not be given preference over other factors, but it seems to me from the balance of the debate today that this is not the general feeling of the House. Whilst it may be that the hon. and learned Gentleman is right in thinking that it might be possible to import more clarity 295 into this provision, the House generally seems to feel that Rule 4 should be given this rather special treatment.
Anyhow, the Bill seeks to correct the rather rigid provisions by allowing the Commissioners more discretion and by obliging them to take account of local ties and of the inconveniences attendant on alterations to constituencies. It excludes consideration of such inconveniences if the alterations arise from the application of Rule 4, so that the English and Welsh Commissions will still have to have regard, so far as practicable, to changes of boundaries of counties and county districts and county and metropolitan boroughs in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I agree that that is what the Rule said. However, the Boundary Commissions paid a religious regard to county boundaries, but did not pay such regard to any other local government boundaries.
§ Mr. Macpherson
That stems to some extent from the way in which the English Commission operated in apportioning, or breaking down, its quota. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Commissioners paid a religious regard to county boundaries. In fact, as he himself said, they combined certain counties, or rather continued to combine them, as is specified in paragraph 15 of the Report. In any case the general effect of the Clause is to give more attention to what my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton aptly described as local organic units.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East referred to the discretion which the Commissions should be given, and he dealt in particular with the relationship between borough and county. I am bound to remind him of what his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said on a previous occasion when speaking for the Government of the day. He said:…the Government accept the view that there is a reason for giving a county division some advantage in numbers.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 24th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 3025.]He later said that it was a question of degree.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
The hon. Member will remember that in the course of the 1954 debates my right hon. Friend spoke very strongly against the big discrepancy between county seats and town seats.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Yes. I said that it was a question of degree, as to whether it should have been nearly 2,000 as it was at that time, or 6,000 as it might have become, or 4,000 as it did in fact become.
Much attention has been paid to the question of interim adjustments. I want to make it quite clear that the Bill does not alter the power of the Boundary Commissions under Section 2 (3) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1949, to recommend adjustments of the boundaries of individual constituencies in order to conform with changes in local government boundaries. Many alterations in local government boundaries will be of a comparatively minor character, and any subsequent revision of constituency boundaries of that sort would hardly be drastic.
As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, this is a general power, and my right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that nothing he said detracts from or adds to that power, or makes it more or less likely that the Commission will recommend a change in any particular constituency. I hope that that will be satisfactory to the House. In those circumstances, I suggest that the provision in the 1949 Act will be adequate to deal with the situation until the next general review of constituency boundaries.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, how does the Commission decide to function under Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act? Who moves it?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I was coming to that. I was about to say that it is a matter for the Commissioners themselves to decide whether in their view particular changes in circumstances, including population, warrant recommendations for an alteration in constituency boundaries. As my right hon. Friend has said, the Commissioners have the power to make recommendations if they think fit, and the words of Section 2 (3) of the Act are:…in order to give effect to the rules set out in the said Second Schedule
§ Mr. Parker
Does that mean that an extra Member may be given without taking away from any other area? That is the important point.
§ Mr. Macpherson
It must be clear to the House, and I think that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East himself appreciated, that it is impossible for anybody at this Box to give an authoritative interpretation of an Act and to say exactly what can be done and what cannot be done. This is a matter for the Boundary Commissions themselves to interpret.
Between 1949 and 1953 there were no fewer than 27 Statutory Instruments for England to give effect to recommendations of the Boundary Commission under this subsection and there was one for Wales which covered five constituencies. That in essence is the answer to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). The point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Lagden) was how the Commissions could take cognisance of any changes.
The House will be aware that each Commission has the Director-General of Ordnance Survey and the Registrar-General for the appropriate part of the country serving on it as assessors. The fact that they are assessors enables them to bring to the attention of the Commission changes occurring in population or boundaries, or whatever it might be, in different parts of the country, while not actually taking part in the decisions which may be made.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
My hon. Friend will admit that they are what might almost be called arithmocrats. They are people necessarily thinking in terms of the number of people and of the number of acres.
§ Mr. Macpherson
That is precisely why we are making them assessors instead of members of the Commissions.
§ Mr. Lagden
Can we take it that the remarks of my right hon. Friend to the effect that the debate would go before the Boundary Commissioners means that the debate will also be read by the assessors, so that the assessors will know what the feeling of the House was and 298 will be more readily able to advise the Boundary Commissions?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am certain that the assessors will feel it part of their task to read the report of the debate.
§ Mr. Ede
I understand that the constituency of Hornchurch consists of the Hornchurch urban district and no other area. It now has an electorate of 88,000, a figure which is growing with considerable rapidity. At the last review, the two rules which the Commissioners adamantly observed—rules which they themselves made—were that no constituency in England was to be more than 80,000 and none was to be less than 40,000.
It would be quite within the powers to recommend an alteration which divided the Hornchurch urban district into two, and it ought to be possible to arrange that neither fell below 40,000 population. If the Commissioners made such a recommendation, would the Government regard that as going beyond their powers in Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act?
My second question is rather more difficult. Let us assume that the Commissioners did not meet and that this anomaly grew. Would it be regarded by the Government as beyond their competence, possibly after making recommendations and taking soundings from other political parties so that there would be no suggestion of any party manœuvre, to draw the attention of the Commissioners to the fact that the anomaly existed?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I do not think that I can answer these hypothetical questions. The right hon. Gentleman first asked whether the Government would take certain action if the Commission made a certain recommendation.
§ Mr. Ederose—
§ Mr. Macpherson
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. He has made the points that he wishes to make very clearly. I have already said that it is not for somebody standing at this Box to suggest how the Commissions should interpret their duties. That is for the Commissions to do, and they have to make their recommendations to the respective Secretaries of State. I hope that the right hon.
299 Gentleman will allow me to continue with my speech.
In passing, I would inform the hon. Member for Dagenham that the Bill makes no difference to the power of the Boundary Commissioners to alter constituencies so as to conform with local government boundaries, and no doubt the new Boundary Commission will look at all the cases to which he has referred.
I want now to turn to the question of inquiries. It was definitely felt that not enough inquiries were instituted by the English Commissioners. I fully agree with everything that has been said as to the desirability of more inquiries. The Bill provides that inquiries must be held in the circumstances laid down. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) has urged very strongly that the English Commission should give its reasons for any decisions that it makes in the same way as the other Commissions have done, and I have no doubt that the English Commission will note what he has said.
I now come to the rather difficult question of the separate electoral quotas for the different countries. Given the requirement of Rule 1, that the Scottish and Welsh constituencies should not be less than a certain number, and the consequential fact that the averages for Scottish and Welsh constituencies are below the Great Britain average, it was difficult—I say no more—for the English Commission to do otherwise than start by allocating seats to each county on the basis of the average in English constituencies. The aim of the Commissions is to produce, as far as possible, the same number of constituencies as at the outset. Rule 1 lays down that the number of constituencies should not be substantially greater or less than 613. It is not a question whether a variation of thirteen constitutes a substantial variation from the total of 613 for Britain and a variation of five does not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South was quite right in his observations about the mathematics of this matter. Every time we reach a new average for England we automatically lower the combined average. so that in the end we shall always be moving towards complete equality as be- 300 tween constituencies throughout the country. Surely that is not what was intended.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made this point quite well; indeed, his constituency is one of the best examples. The four most northerly constituencies in the United Kingdom, taken together, have an average electorate of 26,273, and this average brings down the average for Great Britain as a whole. I would ask the House whether it is reasonable that simply because of the special circumstances applying to those and similar constituencies the average size of electorates in England should be lower. The House must recognise that if certain peripheral constituencies are to be treated as organic units, with separate problems, they must be treated differently from the rest of the constituencies in the Kingdom.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
At the Speaker's Conference which originally considered this matter it was felt that the huge areas in Northern Ireland and Scotland could not be treated as normal constituencies. It should be put on record that that is an exceptional circumstance, which the hon. Gentleman has said reduces the average.
§ Mr. Macpherson
That is so. The average number of electors in Northern Ireland constituencies is 72,832. That is not covered by Rule 1.
I now want to refer to one or two points which have been made about the composition of the Commissions. I emphatically agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and others have said about the importance of the Commissions being—and being known to be—not only impartial but also completely fair. The Scottish Commission won universal approval, including that of the right hon. Member for South Shields and its deputy chairman, nominated by Mr. Speaker, was a judge of the Court of Session. That is considered to be a useful pattern to follow.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East both felt that there was some doubt whether Mr. Speaker was the right choice as chairman. I noticed that throughout his 301 speech the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East was referring to "the Commission." But there are four Commissions. Mr. Speaker is the unifying influence between those four Commissions, because he is Chairman of them all. Curiously enough, the hon. and learned Gentleman went straight on to refer to letters written to Mr. Speaker about the Commissions seeing chief or national officers of parties. Surely it is much easier to communicate with one person—Mr. Speaker—in a matter of that kind. The fact that Mr. Speaker is chairman of all the Commissions, combined with the unique position which he enjoys in this House, has commended itself to the Government, and I feel certain that it would riot be the wish of the House that Mr. Speaker should be replaced as chairman of the Commissions. I do not think there has been any question about how the other Members should be appointed, and the House has accepted tacitly, if in no other way, the mode in which it is proposed to continue to appoint them.
These provisions are designed to ensure that the Commissions will not only be but will be seen to be, impartial; so that even though one party or another considers that the reports of the Commissions are not in its favour, it will recognise that they are inspired by the will to conform with the law and to be fair. In that way this small Measure will help to sustain confidence not only of our own people but of the civilised world in British democratic institutions.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Finlay.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.