HC Deb 27 March 1958 vol 585 cc599-652

3.44 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I beg to move, in line 25, to leave out "not".

The Chairman

The first Amendment on the Notice Paper, in page 2, line 25, to leave out subsection (2), is not selected. The next two, in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), that which he has moved and the next Amendment, in page 2, line 26, to leave out from "two" to the end of the subsection and to insert: and in giving effect to the rules set out in the Second Schedule to the principal Act to take account, so far as they reasonably can, of the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies and of any local ties which would be broken by such alterations; and rule 5 of those rules shall be amended accordingly", may be taken together. We could also include the one following it, in page 2, line 30, to leave out from "constituencies" to "and" in line 31, and the last Amendment but one to the Schedule, in page 5, line 20, at the end to insert: 2. Rule 5 in the second Schedule to the principal Act shall be amended by the addition at the end of the rule of the following words "or to avoid inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies, including any local ties which would be broken by such alterations".

Mr. Mitchison

The subsection which we propose to amend would introduce a new factor for the consideration of the Boundary Commission, that is, the inconveniences that are attendant upon alteration of constituencies and the breaking of local ties as the result of such alteration. As we said on the Second Reading, we welcome the recognition of that factor in the rules. Its introduction is one of the things that the Boundary Commission must take into account.

The form in which it is introduced in the subsection seems somewhat unfortunate. It was described by the Leader of the House as a presumption against making changes unless there is a very strong case for them. I doubt whether it goes quite as far as that. What is proposed is that the Boundary Commission is not to be bound to give full effect in all circumstances to the rules that are already in the Second Schedule, but is to take account so far as it can of the new factor, except as regards alterations made to boundaries. These are the alterations which occur in the rule four mentioned in the subsection. That is extremely difficult to follow, and I must for a moment trouble the Committee with a reference to the rules.

They begin with three unqualified rules. One is about the number of constituencies; another is about single-Member constituencies, and the third is a peculiar rule about the City of London. It is very hard to see what effect this new factor will have on the strict carrying out of those rules.

We then come to Rule 4, the one to which the new factor is not to have the same application. It begins by saying: So far as practicable, having regard to the first three rules", and it goes on to deal with the question of boundaries. In Rule 5, we get to the question of the electoral quota. Here again the Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of the last foregoing rule in certain circumstances.

If, on top of this "so far as practicable" and "departure from the strict application" and all the rest of it, we add a further exception in the form in which it appears in subsection (2), we have left the matters that the Boundary Commission has to take into consideration exceedingly confused. We have alighted on the one rule to which it ought to have some particular application, that is, the boundary rule, as the one to which it is not to have any particular application.

What is left? What are the rules to which it has to have application? Three rules, to which I should have thought it could hardly apply at all. The one rule to which it really ought to apply is the one about the size, not of the electoral quota, since this rule seems clear enough already. We might try to think out what we are doing in relation to it, and not seek to apply this sort of thing to the question of single-Member constituencies, and so on, to which it has no application at all, but to apply it in relation to the electoral quota.

The proposal in the Amendment is to change the application of the rule and to make the subsection run like this, taking the two Amendments together: It shall be the duty of a Boundary Commission, in discharging their functions under the said Section two"— that is, the general Section— and in giving effect to the rules set out in the Second Schedule to the principal Act, to take account, so far as they reasonably can"— of the new factor— and Rule 5 of those rules shall be amended accordingly. That seems to me to put this new factor in its proper place, and not to introduce the quite unnecessary confusion that appears to arise from the present form of words in the subsection.

What I have said relates to the first two Amendments. The third Amendment is, broadly speaking, aimed towards the same sort of point, but does not go quite so far. Assuming that, for some reason or another—I hope, a good one—the general wording of the subsection is preferred to my suggestion; that the Government prefer, at any rate, as I see it, to increase the obscurity of the rules by adding this new factor in this curious way, I still see no reason for the exception made in relation to the fourth rule, which is the boundary rule.

If this factor is to be taken into account and allowed to weigh against the strict application of the rules, why should the rule about boundaries be specifically excepted? I quite fail to see any reason for that, and I could not collect one from the Second Reading debate. I suggest, therefore, that if we cannot have the wording that I prefer, we might, at least, leave out the words in line 30 … other than alterations made for the purposes of rule 4 of those rules … Perhaps I may conclude by making two observations. The first is to repeat, lest there be any uncertainty about it, that we, on this side, welcome the introduction of this new factor. We think that it is quite right that it should form part of the rules. All we are anxious about is that its effect should be clearly stated. We believe that it is stated more clearly by putting it into Rule 5, where it belongs, and by not making this exception in favour of Rule 4. We think that that will give it not only a fuller, but a clearer effect.

If I have to repeat my second observation in the course of our debates today, I shall do so only because I think that we have to keep it constantly before us. It is that Clause 1 does have the effect of making an alteration in the position of the Boundary Commission. We are now dealing with rules that are the guide—and, as I see it, the only guide—for a Commission with a judicial head and two other official members. It is, therefore, extraordinarily necessary that the rules we have to consider should be recognised as what they are—the guide for that Commission—and should be as clear as we can make them.

I have referred to what I consider to be the lack of clarity in the form proposed in the Bill. That need for clarity is the more apparent when we reflect on what, at any rate, has been previous experience—and I would not differ too much from it. On the last occasion, we found that the Home Secretary had not thought it proper to interfere at all with the reports made by the Commission. I fully appreciate the difficulty of any Home Secretary in seeking to interfere with those reports, or to make recommendations to vary them in some way or other; that, although he has a power to do so under the Act, he runs into the difficulty, the inevitable difficulty, of some confusion between his political and party position and his duty to see that the rules are carried out effectively. For that last reason, again, I say that it is most important that we should get these rules clearer.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to reply to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) straight away, particularly as he has said that he is in agreement with the main purpose of Clause 2 (2), and that his difficulty arises from its drafting and not from any difference of view, in substance, as to what degree of flexibility the subsection is proposed to achieve.

I would agree with him, too, that it is very desirable that these rules should be as clear as possible. I must confess that from the very beginning, when they were first formulated, the rules were not of obvious clarity on a first perusal. I have had, perhaps, more occasions to consider them than has the hon. and learned Gentleman, and though I do not think that they in any sense lack clarity as they stand now, I must admit that they may not be too easy, as I have said, to comprehend on a first reading.

Clause 2 (2), as it stands, quite clearly admits of the departure to a greater degree from the strictness of the rules as they now stand, and the hon. and learned Gentleman is obviously correct in saying that its impact does not really arise in relation to the first three rules, but primarily in relation to Rule 4. By this Clause, it will be possible to avoid the kind of thing to which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) drew attention, namely, the transfer of about 17,000 electors from one part of Southampton to another to secure an adjustment of about 1,000 in the electorate of each constituency within Southampton. I am sure we would all think that that kind of change was really not very desirable.

The matter raised by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering really relates to the reference in line 30 to Rule 4: … other than alterations made for the purposes of rule 4 of those rules … The reason for the use of those words is this. We may get the case in which borough boundaries are extended, or boundaries are altered, with the result that the boundaries of the parliamentary constituency do not coincide with those of the local government area. It is, in our view, desirable that where that sort of change occurs, effect should be given to Rule 4 by extending the parliamentary boundary. The obvious case is the extension of a borough boundary. The part to which the extension applies then falls within the borough for all local government purposes.

4.0 p.m.

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed a somewhat different view, but we believe that there is great value in trying to preserve the same boundaries for local government areas and parliamentary constituencies. That is why, in line 30, we have deliberately excepted from Clause 2 (2), and from the power of the Boundary Commission to take account of inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies, alterations made for the purpose of Rule 4 of the rules, that is to say, alterations made for the purposes of securing coincidence between local authority boundaries and Parliamentary constituency boundaries. We feel that that is something which should, if possible, be achieved.

Of course, there will remain under the rule as it stands, when the subsection is passed and becomes part of the Statute Law, a certain measure of flexibility, because Rule 4 is governed by the words "so far as is practicable". But, in relation to that particular aspect, we are not enlarging the degree of flexibility by Clause 2 (2). I hope that I have made that clear to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I know his view on local authority boundaries. I myself feel that the Committee could probably discuss that more usefully when we come to some of the later Amendments. I hope that the Committee will agree not to embark on a discussion of that aspect, which is an important one, at the present time.

I hope that I have made clear to the hon. and learned Gentleman the reason for the reference to Rule 4 in the subsection and the reason, in our view, that it should remain.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

We are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General for what he has said. May we take it that the kind of alterations which took place in London on the last occasion will not recur? At that time, there were, I think, alterations to 16 constituencies in order to create one new one, and, in the end, Hammersmith Town Hall was placed in the Fulham Parliamentary constituency. May we take it that, as a result of the Clause we are discussing, plus the retention of Rule 4, that kind of thing will be almost impossible? An assurance from the Attorney-General would be of help.

The Attorney-General

I do not think that I could say it would be impossible, because one cannot say what the results of a consideration of particular facts in particular localities may be. But I can say that it is our intention—I think the Clause adequately provides for it—to give the Boundary Commission power to depart from strict conformity with the rules so as to avoid the inconveniences which arise from the rupture of local ties or associations which may have considerable importance.

Mr. Mitchison

I must say that I cannot find that answer satisfactory. The subsection says that the Boundary Commission is not bound to give full effect to the rules. It refers to the application of what I continue to call the new factor to all cases except Rule 4 cases.

The Attorney-General indicated dissent.

Mr. Mitchison

If I am wrong, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will make clear what he means. Let me restate it and see whether it appeals to him more in this form. It then applies the new factor as something reasonably to be taken into account in all cases. When one looks at the new factor, it is certain things attendant on alterations of constituencies. The only alterations of constituencies which are not to be considered for those purposes are alterations made by reason of Rule 4.

The Attorney-General indicated dissent.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. and learned Gentleman still shakes his head. I shall give way in a moment. I hope he will realise that I am not, if I may say so, completely half-witted. If I find this difficulty in what he meant just now, and in what is meant by what is on the Notice Paper, it is possible that others may find a similar difficulty.

The Attorney-General will agree that Rule 4 is treated in an exceptional way. He will agree, because he said so, that this has no real application to the first three rules. There remain Rules 5 and 6. He objects to it being put into Rule 5, and nobody has suggested that it has much to do with Rule 6. What is the point of putting in a particular matter which is intended to refer to Rule 5, which treats Rule 4 as exceptional, and which does not apply to the other rules anywhere than in the place to which it does apply?

The Attorney-General

I realise quite well that these rules are difficult to comprehend, on first consideration, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not think that I am seeking to be discourteous when I say that the short answer to his question is that he is, I think, paraphrasing incorrectly—unintentionally, I know—what is in the subsection. He says again and again that this gives a degree of flexibility in relation to all rules other than Rule 4. That is not what the Clause provides. It provides for flexibility in relation to Rule 4 and in relation to the very cases about which I was asked just now. The words are: they shall take account, so far as they reasonably can, of the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies"— that gives a slight presumption against alterations— other than alterations made for the purposes of rule 4 of those rules that is to say, if I may paraphrase, correctly, I think, other than alterations made to existing boundaries of parliamentary constituencies to secure conformity with Rule 4, that is, to secure, where borough boundaries have been altered, that the Parliamentary boundaries are extended to coincide with those.

With great respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, the difficulty which he has seen arises, I think, from his taking the view that this Clause contains an exclusive reference to Rule 4, when it does not. It refers to all rules including Rule 4, except in this very limited instance where we want to preserve the power to extend a parliamentary constituency boundary to coincide with an extended borough boundary. I cannot go further than that in trying to make it clear.

Mr. Mitchison

I now understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, but I still find it exceedingly obscure and I cannot welcome a subsection which applies a new factor to rules generally when, so far as I can see, it can apply only to a very limited class of case. But this is, after all, a point of intention, and I doubt whether there is sufficient difference between the intention of the Attorney-General and the Government and our intention to justify pressing the point too far.

There is, I think, another slight difference. We would have preferred a more nearly equal place to be given to the new factor than is given in the wording of the subsection, but, in view of what has been said and the explanation given as to the limited character of the reference to Rule 4, we need not press it.

The Attorney-General

I will, of course, consider all that the hon. and learned Gentleman has said about it. There is really no difference apparent in the Committee as to the intent. It is merely a matter of language. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the desirability of making the language as clear and precise as possible. I rose again to say that I shall give further consideration to it and see whether we can secure greater clarity and precision in order to achieve the common objective. But it is not easy, and we may not be able to do it.

Mr. Mitchison

I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He used the phrase just now, "a slight presumption". That is the way I would read the subsection, and I hope that I may be allowed, without disrespect, to say that the phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, on Second Reading, seemed to me to go a little too far. He said that there is a presumption against making changes unless there is a very strong case for them. Those were a few words spoken in the course of a long, eloquent and useful speech.

I hope that nothing will be done to enlarge the effect which the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicated today. We welcome this new factor. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, at the end to add: (3) For the avoidance of doubt and notwithstanding any previous practice, it is hereby declared that nothing in the said rules enjoins or justifies any difference between the application of sub-paragraph (a) (i) of paragraph (1) of rule 4 of those rules to the inclusion of a county or any part thereof in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other county and the application of that sub-paragraph to the inclusion of a county or any part thereof in a constituency which includes the whole or part of a county borough or metropolitan borough. This is one of four Amendments on the Notice Paper intended to call attention to the fact that certain practices which have been followed by the Boundary Commissions in the past are not justified by any of the rules. I repeat what I said just now—that if a judicial and official Commission is sitting with, in practice, something very like the last word in these matters, and if it is governed by a set of statutory rules, it is highly undesirable that matters not in those rules should be introduced, because that means, in effect, handing over to the Commission a discretion which the Act does not justify and which, if it were to be handed over to the Commission, ought to be fully debated and considered in the House. I therefore see no reason why the Commission should ever depart from the rules.

I recognise, of course, as anyone must recognise in dealing with these rules, that the subject matter with which the Commission has to deal is of such a character that there are bound to be conflicts between the rules and bound to be cases where one rule must be given more weight than another. It is on that account that the rules were put in a certain order. A preference was given to the first three, as I see it the second place was given to the fourth, the third place to the fifth and the fourth place to the sixth. The order in which the rules occur is of significance when we look at the character of the calculations involved.

One part of Rule 1 deals with the question of the respect to be paid to the boundaries of counties and county boroughs. All that the Amendment seeks to do is not that this importance or some other importance should be given to county boundaries or county borough boundaries, but simply, as is the case with the rules, to make no distinction between county boundaries and county borough boundaries.

Lest I should be accused of summarising incorrectly, let me read Rule 4 (1, a, i): no county or any part thereof shall be included in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other county or the whole or part of a county borough or metropolitan borough; 4.15 p.m.

If it were absolute, this would prohibit the Commission from ever crossing any county or county borough boundaries, but it is not absolute; it is absolute only as far as is practicable, having regard to the preceding rules. The practical difficulty is that in its last Report the Commission paid a religious regard to county boundaries and crossed them only in cases such as Rutland, where the county area is too small to make a complete constituency—it had to cross a neighbouring county for that purpose—or in cases where there was a constituency and, if I may say so, obviously had to be a constituency which involved the crossing of a county boundary.

This was not the case with county borough boundaries. The Commission, instead of making five or six constituencies from a city, did not hesitate to make five-and-a-half, adding half a constituency from the county outside. The result was to bring in housing estates which lay outside the county borough boundary altogether and to tack them on to a county borough.

I am not for the moment on the question of how far we ought to do that. All I am saying is that if the Commission does it in the case of county boroughs, and if it sticks to the rules, there is no reason why it should not do exactly the same with counties. If it finds that in a part of a county there is a market town which serves an area largely in a neighbouring county, or something like that, it should hesitate no more and no less to cross a county boundary than it should hesitate when it is dealing with a borough boundary.

I do not suppose that it will be disputed for a minute that this has been the practice of the Boundary Commission. I do not want to go into a long discourse to prove it. The cases are mentioned at the beginning of paragraph 15 of the Report: We have recommended a continuance, for parliamentary purposes, of the union of the Administrative Counties of Rutland and the Parts of Kesteven; the Administrative Counties of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough and the Administrative Counties of East and West Suffolk. Coming to the borough constituencies, we read: we have recommended the intersection of the boundaries of 28 boroughs and I urban district: The urban district does not matter for this purpose. Not all of these boroughs will necessarily be county boroughs but most of them will. If we go through the constituencies in detail there is not the least doubt about it.

It may be said that there is this difference: outside a county borough there are areas which in due course will be absorbed into the county borough. If that is a matter which ought to be taken into account it must be stated in the rules. We are now to have a judicial chairman, and I hope and believe that he will pay attention to the rules and nothing but the rules and will not rely on Parliament making the changes, which, in fact, Parliament refused to make on the last occasion, in the recommendations of the Commission.

We must remember that a widespread review of local boundaries, including county and county borough boundaries, will proceed in the next few years under the Local Government Act, assuming that right hon. Gentlemen opposite remain in office long enough to get the Local Government Bill on to the Statute Book.

There is no one who does not accept the fact that a review of that sort is required, a review which, in all parts of the country, will enable the Local Government Commission to look at both county and county borough boundaries, and in all parts of the country which contain a very large part of the total population will not only enable the Commission to do that but will enable new forms of local government to be started.

The continuous county contemplated by the Local Government Bill is a new and strange object. It may have its uses, but I do not want the boundaries of that legislative experiment to be treated any differently from, or with any less or more respect than the other boundaries referred to in this rule.

The Amendment is purely declaratory but it is declaratory of something which undoubtedly is in the rules and equally without doubt has not been followed by the Boundary Commission in the past.

The Attorney-General

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) began by making some references to the statutory provisions of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1949. I should like to follow his example. I do not think that I part company with him in any real degree in what he said, though I differ with him in one respect. When one considers the provisions of paragraph 4 of the Schedule, there is nothing as a matter of construction of the Statute to lead to the view that paragraph 4 (1, a, i) is to take preference over paragraph 4 (1, a, ii) or paragraph 4 (1, a, iii) or paragraph 4 (1, a, iv) as a matter of legal construction, but, of course, as a matter of practical importance I am sure that the hon. and learned Member would agree that it would be less objectionable to depart from a county district boundary than it would be to depart from or alter or go across a county boundary or a county borough boundary.

I can agree with the hon. and learned Member that there is no distinction drawn in paragraph 4 (1, a) between a county being included in the whole or part of any other county and a county being included in the whole or part of a county borough or a metropolitan borough. They are dealt with in the same subsection of the same paragraph. No distinction is drawn there, but, as the hon. and learned Member said, those provisions are subject to the stipulation that they ought to be adhered to so far as is practicable. That is in the 1949 Act, and if the Bill reaches the Statute Book that must be read in the light of Clause 2 (2).

Where I must part company with the hon. and learned Member is on the facts. It is not right to say that the Boundary Commissions can be assumed to have read this statutory provision wrongly, having regard to the discretion given to them. They are to have regard to these rules so far as practicable, and I want to deal with that point. The hon. and learned Member concluded by saying that this rule had not been followed by the Commissions. I do not think that there are grounds for saying that and, to go back to the subject matter of the Amendment, I do not think that there is any room for doubt about the meaning of the provision. In my view, therefore, the Amendment is quite unnecessary for the removal of doubt. One does not want to include in a statute provision for the removal of doubt when there is no doubt.

The hon. and learned Member's argument is based on the submission that the Boundary Commission for England has departed from that rule in more cases in relation to county boroughs than it has in relation to counties. I agree that it has, and I submit that it was right to do so having regard to the circumstances which it had to consider. One starts with the desire to preserve all local government boundaries and to avoid having Parliamentary constituencies cutting across those boundaries, but it is not the case, as the hon. and learned Member conceded, that the Boundary Commission has regarded county boundaries as entirely sacrosanct.

There is the case of the Sudbury and Woodbridge Division, which takes in part of East and West Suffolk. There is the administrative county of Rutland, which takes in part of Kesteven, and there is, perhaps, the borderline case of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough. I say that that is a borderline case because it is not beyond dispute that the Soke of Peterborough does not form part of the county of Northampton.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

It is a separate administrative county.

The Attorney-General

Certainly, for many purposes, but, I think, not for all. I am sure that I can have the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman that it is a constituency which is very well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, whether it is part of the Soke of Peterborough or part of the County of Northampton that he represents.

Mr. Mitchison

Those are the three examples which I quoted. The point is that they exist already and the Boundary Commission did not interfere with them, but it created no new examples, though it made many in connection with county boroughs.

The Attorney-General

I was coming to deal with that. I apprehend that the reason why the Commission created no new examples was that there was no occasion to do so. The objective must be to preserve these boundaries and make them coincide with Parliamentary boundaries, but when one comes to the boroughs there is a very real difficulty and a position quite distinct from that of counties as a whole.

The real problem arises when there are boroughs which have electors in excess of the electoral quota. There are three possible methods of treating these boroughs. The first is to give them more seats. That would result in a large number of cases in which the seat in such a borough would represent considerably less than the electoral quota. That would be bound to mean that there would be fewer seats available for the county areas, and, consequently, county constituencies would be more oversized.

That is one way in which the matter could be dealt with, but I have not heard it suggested by anyone that county constituencies which have long travelling distances should be treated unfavourably compared with boroughs. That would be the result if a borough were divided into two seats with the electorate for each being far below the electoral quota. That is a method which I am sure the Committee would think would be wrong for the Boundary Commission to adopt.

The second method would be to let those borough constituencies remain with their electorates higher, and maybe considerably higher, than the electoral quota. The Boundary Commission's Report for 1947 took that course and Parliament, at the behest of a Socialist Government, then over-rode the Commission's recommendation and provided for 17 more constituencies. Therefore, that recommendation on the part of the Commission did not take effect. But that was a course of treatment of this problem which arises not in relation to counties, but in relation to boroughs. 4.30 p.m.

The third possible way of dealing with it is to reduce the electorate of a borough by including some of its electorate in a neighbouring county seat or to take from a county constituency and include in a borough seat, where we are dividing the borough into, say, two seats, a sufficient proportion of the county electorate to raise the electorate within one of those borough seats to a figure near the electoral quota. That was the method broadly adopted by the Boundary Commission in its last Report and which has been the subject of considerable criticism and led to the introduction of Clause 2 (2), which has been welcomed on both sides of the Committee.

It is not the case that there is any ground, as far as I can see, for saying that the Boundary Commission gave an interpretation different from that which the hon. and learned Gentleman has given and with which I agree, but in the exercise of the discretion that it is given under these rules it thought it right, having regard to the problem which arises in relation to boroughs, to depart from that part of Rule 4 (1, a).

It is significant that every time this House has drafted rules we have had a conflict between local associations and the desire for securing a higher degree of mathematical accuracy. The 1944 Act, which was passed after the Speaker's Conference, got into difficulties, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will remember, because of the rule that constituencies should conform to the electoral quota, with a margin of 25 per cent. up and 25 per cent. down.

That provision led to such extraordinary results that the right hon. Gentleman rightly introduced a Bill in 1946 to give the Boundary Commission a greater degree of flexibility. The right hon. Gentleman said: The Third Schedule had been enacted … too closely to a merely mathematical formula. Now representation in this House is something more than a matter of mere mathematics. This House, except for the University Members, is based on a territorial organisation and many of us are very proud to represent communities that are integral, human entities which have both a history and a very lively sense of corporate feeling. This purely mathematical formula, so harsh and unyielding in its effect, meant that in certain cases wards were lopped off a borough and put with an adjoining county division. I have been astonished, as I moved about the country during the last two or three months, at the number of places which will be under-represented if they get only one Member which have said that they prefer to be slightly under-represented, and to have one Member, and remain a unity, rather than have a few of their wards lopped off and put in with some other groups of people with whom they have no very great community of interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c. 1559.] If I may respectfully say so to the right hon. Gentleman, I think that what he said was absolutely accurate and is as well founded today as it was then.

Mr. Ede

There is no need to say "respectfully".

The Attorney-General

There may be no need to say it, but I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would like it.

Mr. Ede


The Attorney-General

I shall not withdraw the word "respectfully", but leave it where it stands.

Throughout the country there exists a view that communities should be preserved. The provisions in Clause 2 (2) of the Bill will enable more effect to be given to that view. That means, to my mind, that the likelihood of having a repetition of those discrepancies as a result of a future review will be diminished.

I hope I have not taken too long in dealing with the Amendment. In conclusion, I come back to this point. One cannot argue, judging from the Commission's treatment of the problem relating to boroughs with an electorate in excess of the quota, that the Commission has misinterpreted the very clear and precise provisions of Rule 4 (1, a.) I do not think that there is any ground for saying that or that there is any doubt about the meaning of that provision. This is one of the occasions on which I have been able to entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's view of the law.

In those circumstances, I must advise the Committee that, instead of removing doubt, the inclusion of this provision might conceivably add to doubt about the meaning of the original provision.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

We on this side agree with what the Attorney-General has said. There is something to be said for maintaining the entity of boroughs, for the reasons that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given. But this does not get over one of the great problems, namely, the under-representation of England. This is a point which must be looked at.

The Attorney-General

We shall certainly have to debate that point on a later Amendment. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here, but I said that I would not deal with that matter in detail, because it does arise later. It would be more convenient to discuss it then.

Mr. Hobson indicated assent.

Mr. Mitchison

This is a narrow but, I think, important point.

Both the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I have no doubt that this rule treats borough boundaries and county boundaries in the same way. In both cases it is not an absolute treatment, but is subject to qualifications. I agree that the qualifications may apply more in one case than in another. But no change whatever was made to cross a county boundary. The only cases in which it was crossed or in which more than one county was included in a given area were where that was the position before the Commission reported. The Commission merely continued what existed already. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the opinion that it gave a different treatment to county borough boundaries and to county boundaries was widespread.

The complaints of people who found that part of an adjacent housing estate in the county had been added to their nice county borough constituency were numerous. They took the view—and, in spite of what the Attorney-General said, I share it—that they regarded these two types of boundary differently. I agree that it is to some extent a matter of doubt whether the different treatment that the Commission gave arose from a different view of the law affecting the matter or from a differing effect in the qualifying circumstances. The latter is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion. But, on his own showing, the only difference between us is that he says there is no doubt, and I feel that there is doubt. I do not put it merely on my own feeling. I am sure that there has been a great deal of doubt as to whether the boundaries have been treated in the same way.

Let us have no misunderstanding about it. I am not saying anything whatever about the proper treatment or the effect of these qualifications. All I am saying is that there is no distinction to be drawn between the one type of boundary and the other. It may well be that the qualifications will apply differently. That is a matter to be decided in each case, and there will be differences between one county borough and another county borough, and between one county and another county. I am certain that there has been doubt about the treatment of these two types of boundary.

The Amendment could do no conceivable harm and is simply to avoid doubt. It should be included for that purpose, and for that reason I hope that the Committee will accept it.

Mr. Ede

I must apologise to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for not being present when he moved the Amendment.

I stand by every word which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General quoted. The first problem is that no scheme can be devised by which the Boundary Commissioners will please everybody. Let us make a start by making that open confession. As one who had three shots at trying to do it, I am willing to admit that for a start. At the time I made the speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted, I did not know that when the first review took place my seat would be one which would be involved in just that controversy.

The trouble is that the Boundary Commissioners do not give reasons for their decisions. If they did, it might be possible to understand their decisions. There was undoubtedly a feeling, after the review which took place when Lord Tenby was Home Secretary, that in too many cases what my hon. and learned Friend described took place.

What happened in my constituency is a good example. Four wards were lopped off the Borough of South Shields for Parliamentary representation and put in with the Borough of Jarrow. That had an astounding effect in the County Borough of South Shields. All political parties and all social organisations in the borough said, "We want to remain a borough and to have one Member of Parliament and not one and a bit and then find, on issue in which we are in conflict as a borough with our neighbours on something which comes before Parliament, that we shall possibly not count in the House of Commons because our two Members cancel out one another."

That feeling is understandable and the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say anything to vitiate its validity. That view was so strongly held that when the inquiry was conducted a recommendation was made and this proposed alteration was wiped out and the Parliamentary borough and the administrative county borough of South Shields are co-terminus with one another. 4.45 p.m.

There is the difficulty that there may sometimes be strong feelings in the non- county boroughs, parishes, urban districts, or county districts which are added to a bit of a county, borough that what happens in Parliamentary representation may very well guide those who have to decide on extensions of county boroughs. It has been denied, and quite rightly, that the two things have anything to do with one another, but one occasionally finds, when a case for an extension of county borough is being made, that there is an indication that administratively they are regarded as a unit and a community—in one particular only—and that that is prayed in aid of the extension of the county borough.

Not knowing the reasons—and even when I was Home Secretary I did not know the reasons which actuated the Boundary Commissioners—adds to the difficulties. As far as I know, the Home Secretary has no right to say to the Boundary Commissioners, "This appears to be a curious constituency which you have arranged. As I have to defend your recommendation in the House of Commons, I should like to know why you have reached this conclusion." Viscount Tenby stood at the Box defending the recommendations, but never said why the Boundary Commissioners had made them, not even in the case of Hackney and Bethnal Green, which was an astounding division.

When discretion is exercised, everyone is entitled to his opinion about whether it has been exercised wisely. However, I am not sure that the Home Secretary is not put in a difficult position, because he has to tell the House, "These people have decided this. I have listened to the arguments, but they have settled it and we might as well go into the Division Lobbies." I do not think that that is the right way to deal with this matter.

On examination of what has happened, I feel that in all too many cases the discretion was used in favour of bringing what one might call at the highest the suburbs of a county borough into a county borough for Parliamentary purposes. The doctrine of community of interests could not have been given very much weight when that was done. I had hoped that the Amendment would be carried, because county borough boundaries, as much as county boundaries, are the boundaries of an area administered by a county council. Even if the Amendment is not accepted, I hope that that idea will appeal rather more to the Boundary Commissioners in future than it appears to have done in the past.

I am not very much wedded to the belief that we will ever get anything for pure administration which can be justified on merely arithmetical lines. It would be very much more convenient if one could take the figure of 57,000 and always be able to get a ring fence of the dots on the map around units of 57,000 without going over any boundary. However, after that, it is largely a matter of discretion when we are trying to make up the numbers who are to sit in the House of Commons.

It will always be left to somebody's discretion and reasons for the way the discretion has been used would be a help. It is no use saying that the House of Commons retains control of this matter after what we saw happen with the review when Lord Tenby was Home Secretary. I do not blame him for what occurred. He had the reports and, clearly, if the Home Office said, "They have not made much of a job of it, so we will try to do better", we would be involved in all kinds of considerations and suggestions as to why one bit of the map has been redrawn. However, I hope sincerely that in future county boundaries and county borough boundaries will be regarded as equally important in this consideration.

We are a long way from what happened before the Representation of the People Act of 1918. In those days a borough constituency was included in the county, even where the borough was a county borough, for the purposes of giving ownership votes in the county to people whose property was within the borough. Until 1948 the county constituency of Wimbledon included all the ownership votes, which have now disappeared, in that part of the County of London which, prior to the 1888 Act, was in the ancient County of Surrey.

There may be still the feeling that a county borough is a part of the county. The county borough itself would not admit it in these days, and I have known cases where there is such a state of armed neutrality, at the best, between the county and the county borough as to make it doubtful whether the county would recognise it either.

This is important. I think that the doubt exists. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not accept the Amendment, I hope that one effect of today's discussion may be that, when the next review is made, a county borough will be regarded as having as important a boundary as a county.

Mr. Skeffington

I want to reinforce the pleas made by both my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). First, there is the over-riding consideration that there are likely to be some changes in boundaries both as a result of the Local Government Bill now being discussed upstairs and possibly as a result of the findings of the Royal Commission for the Greater London area. Therefore, I think that this is a subject where perhaps even more care than usual is required because of the many interests involved and the uncertainty of the future of local government boundaries.

The Attorney-General said that as a matter of legal interpretation there was no difference between the categories of boundaries specified in Rule 4. Respectfully, I am sure that that is correct, but our doubt and the reasons for this Amendment arise largely from our experience of what happened on the last occasion. As my right hon. Friend said, a large number of the changes were not explicable on any basis of reason or, indeed in many cases, of mathematical equality. One could not discover the reasons, and it is much to be regretted that none were given by the English Commission, unlike the Scottish Commission, which gave its reasons and so made its decisions somewhat more acceptable than otherwise they might have been.

Whether or not the status of the different boundaries is legally the same, it is clear that the English Commission, on the last occasion, proceeded to redistribution county by county. It was not a decision of the Act, it was a decision of the Commission, and it caused a good deal of offence to many interests and a great deal of unnecessary interference. The Commission also adopted for England an English electoral quota which was also not specified in the Act.

The result of these two decisions, which were decisions of the English Commission and not of the House of Commons or of the Act, resulted in the infringement of a large number of all the other local government boundaries except the boundaries of counties. One thing we want to assure ourselves about on this side of the Committee is that this will not again be the position when this Bill becomes law.

There were 540 changes as a result of the proposals in the 1948 and 1949 Acts and then 252 further changes which were recommended in the last review. The latter figure was slightly reduced by the time the orders came to the House, as there were only 181 of them, but that was enough. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted what my right hon. Friend has said about mathematical equality and the results of the 1948 review, but what happened in the latter review was far worse from the point of view of disturbance. There was far more disturbance last time than previously, in the sense of small alterations of boundaries which could not be justified either on the grounds of logic or on any principles of Parliamentary representation.

In London, the Boundary Commission, using this unauthorised English quota, divided that into the electors, at that time 2,300,000. As a result of that sum there were to be 42 seats for London instead of 43, with the result that the boundaries of four Metropolitan boroughs had to be merged and eight constituencies altered, in addition, to get rid of one constituency. Really, no one could have said that the principles of Parliamentary government would be seriously harmed if there were 43 Members for London instead of 42. And they did this not only in relation to London. They did it also in the case of the West Riding, where the sum reached by their artificial formula again produced a reduction of seats from 42 to 40.

Mr. Hobson

All in working-class areas, too.

Mr. Skeffington

Sometimes these things seem to ocur in areas in which we have stronger interests, at any rate, when we are sitting on this side of the House. To reduce the 42 seats to 40 again 20 constituency boundaries were interfered with, and eight local authority areas.

That is the recent experience we have suffered. We want to be certain—and we should be failing in our duty if we agreed to this Clause going into the Bill unless we were certain—that this unnecessary interference with local government boundaries will not take place on a future occasion. With respect, although I am sure the Attorney-General believes that this will not happen, we want greater safeguards, which ought to be incorporated in the Bill. I hope, therefore, that he will see fit to add the words proposed, or similar words, which all make certain that this can be secured.

The Attorney-General

The greater safeguard which the hon. Gentleman wants is the safeguard given by Clause 2 (2). In my view, this Amendment does not provide any safeguard. I appreciate from what has been said that the doubts felt arise from what the Commission did, and particularly from the fact that it did so without giving any reasons therefor. I endorse what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said about the difficulties that arise from the absence of reasons. 5.0 p.m.

This House has power to over-ride the decisions of the Boundary Commission, but the position of the Home Secretary of the day must be extremely difficult in deciding whether to recommend to this House an alteration in the recommendations of the Commission when he does not know, and is not told, the reasons for which the Commission acted. I have well in mind the difficulties that arose when Lord Tenby was Home Secretary and I remember taking part in those debates, when the position was one of acute difficulty.

It is not for me to say, and the Act does not provide for it, but if I may express a personal view I feel that it would sometimes help if an indication of the reasons could be given. One can only speculate, but we can, I think, speculate here on fairly valid grounds why, in the cases to which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) referred, departures were made from county borough boundaries. They were made, I think, to secure greater equality of electorates in the various constituencies.

The hon. Member has attacked the application by the last Commission of what he called the English electoral quota. In fact, that has been used each time by the Boundary Commission, the reason being that having regard to the fixed number of seats for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the population in those areas, the electoral quota for the whole of the United Kingdom provides an entirely inadequate and wrong yardstick for the determination of the correct size of the English constituency. That being so—and that is one of the matters dealt with by Clause 3, upon which I do not want to anticipate discussion—and it also being obviously desirable that as nearly as possible English constituencies should have the same electorates, the Commission, I think rightly, applied what the hon. Member called the English electoral quota.

It was not that, however, which led to the disturbances to which the hon. Member drew attention, in the sense of small alterations of boundary. Nor do I think that it was any doubt as to the meaning of Rule 4 (1, a, i) that led to the situation to which the right hon. Member for South Shields drew attention. What led to it was, I believe, the fact that the Commission felt that under the rules as they then were, it did not have sufficient

liberty to depart from the objectives, clearly revealed by the rules, of securing as near as possible a degree of mathematical equality in rural areas. That, I believe, was the real reason.

I agree very much with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the sense of unity and the feeling of a community that it should not be separated, whether inside or outside a county borough. I disagree with him in one respect, in that I hops that the cases where there is strong feeling between a county borough and the rest of the county are not very numerous. Certainly, in my part of the country there is the closest possible association.

The course followed by the Commission last time does not, in my view, show that there is any reason to suppose that there is the slightest doubt as to the interpretation to be placed upon the existing rule or the slightest need for the introduction of a rule headed, "For the avoidance of doubt", because there is, to my mind, no doubt on this matter of legal construction. It has been said already that the chairman of each of the Commissions will now be a judge.

I cannot advise the Committee to insert into the Statute a provision "For the avoidance of doubt" when there is no doubt as to the legal interpretation of the Statute. The application of that Statute is another matter. Its application in the past has, as I have sought to indicate, been due to the difficulty created by the boroughs having electorates in excess of the quota and the feeling of the Boundary Commission that it was compelled by the rules to make adjustments to secure more uniformity in electorates. It is given greater discretion by subsection (2) as it stands and I can only advise the Committee that any further Amendment of this nature is wholly unnecessary.

Question put, That those words be there added:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 117, Noes 174.

Division No. 81.] AYES [5.7 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Brockway, A. F. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Darling, George (Hillsborough)
Balfour, A. Callaghan, L. J. Davies, Harold (Leek)
Beswick, Frank Chetwynd, G. R. Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)
Blackburn, F. Clunie, J. Deer, G
Blyton, W. R. Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) de Freitas, Geoffrey
Boardman, H. Collins, V.J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Corbet, Mrs. Freda Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Cove, W. G. Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Boyd, T. C. Cullen, Mrs. A. Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Fletcher, Eric Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Short, E. W.
Foot, D. M. Mason, Roy Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Mellish, R. J. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
George,Lady MeganLloyd(Car'then) Mikardo, Ian Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Gibson, C. W. Michison, G. R. Skeffington, A. M.
Greenwood, Anthony Moody, A. S. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Grey, C. F. Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Sparks, J. A.
Hastings, S. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Steele, T.
Hayman, F. H, Oliver, G. H. Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
Henderson, Rt. Hn. A.(Rwly Regis) Oram, A. E. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Hobson, C. R. (Keighley) Owen, W. J. Swingler, S. T.
Holman, P. Paget, R. T. Thornton, E.
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Palmer, A. M. F. Tomney, F.
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Viant, S. P.
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Parker, J. Weitzman, D.
Jeger, George (Goole) Parkin, B. T. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn & St.Pncs,S.) Paton, John Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Johnson, James (Rugby) Pearson, A. Wheeldon, W. E.
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Pentland, N. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield) Prentice, R. E. Willey, Frederick
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
King, Dr. H. M. Proctor, W. T. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Randall, H. E. Woof, R. E.
Lewis, Arthur Rankin, John Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Lipton, Marcus Redhead, E. C. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
McCann, J. Reeves, J.
MacColl, J. E, Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
McKay, John (Wallsend) Ross, William Mr. John Taylor and
Mr. G. H. R. Rogers.
Agnew, Sir Peter Fort, R. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Aitken, W. T. Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Gammans, Lady Linstead, Sir H. N.
Alport, C. J. M. Garner-Evans, E. H. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Gibson-Watt, D. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Anstruther-Gray, Major sir William Glover, D. McAdden, S. J.
Arbuthnot, John Glyn, Col. Richard H. Macdonald, Sir Peter
Armstrong, C. W. Godber, J. B. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Ashton, H. Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley)
Atkins, H. E. Gough, C. F. H. Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)
Baldwin, A. E. Grant, W. (Woodside) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Barber, Anthony Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr.R.(Nantwich) Maddan, Martin
Barlow, Sir John Grimond, J. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Hall, John (Wycombe) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H. Marlowe, A. A. H.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Marshall, Douglas
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Harris, Reader (Heston> Mathew, R.
Bingham, R. M. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Mawby, R. L.
Bishop, F. P. Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere(Macclesf'd) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Body, R. F. Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Bossom, Sir Alfred Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Moore, Sir Thomas
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Boyle, Sir Edward Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Nairn, D. L. S.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Nicholson Sir Godfrey (Farnham)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Oakshott, H. D.
Bryan, P. Hirst, Geoffrey O'Neill, Hn. Phelim(Co. Antrim, N.)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Holland-Martin, C. J. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A.(Saffron Walden) Hope, Lord John Osborne, C.
Channon, Sir Henry Hornby, R. P. Page, R. G.
Chichester-Clark, R. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Partridge, E.
Cooper, A. E. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Peel, W. J.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hurd, A. R. Pike, Miss Mervyn
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Hyde, Montgomery Pitt, Miss E. M.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Powell, J. Enoch
Cunningham, Knox Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Currie, G. B. H. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Davidson, Viscountess Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Profumo, J. D.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Rawlinson, Peter
Drayson, G. B. Joseph, Sir Keith Redmayne, M.
du Cann, E. D. L. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Kerr, Sir Hamilton Remnant, Hon. p.
Errington, Sir Eric Lagden, G. W. Renton, D. L. M.
Farey-Jones, F. W. Lambton, Viscount Ridsdale, J. E.
Fell, A. Langford-Holt, J. A. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Finlay, Graeme Leavey, J. A. Robertson, Sir David
Fisher, Nigel Leburn, W. G. Roper, Sir Harold
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Russell, R. S.
Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Sharples, R. C. Teeling, W. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Shepherd, William Temple, John M. Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Williams, Paul (Sutherland, S.)
Spearman, Sir Alexander Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Speir, R. M. Tilney, John (Wavertree) Woollam, John Victor
Stevens, Geoffrey Vane, W. M. F.
Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Vickers, Miss Joan TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Studholme, Sir Henry Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F. Mr. Wills and Mr. Legh.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, at the end to add: (3) For the avoidance of doubt and notwithstanding any previous practice, it is hereby declared that, subject to the application of rule 6 of the said rules to any constituency to which by reason of special geographical considerations that rule relates, nothing in those rules enjoins or justifies any difference between the average electorates of urban and rural constituencies, as such, or the average electorates of borough and county constituencies, as such. This is another Amendment designed to remove doubt. The question of practice in this case is a litle more clear than it was in the previous one. Let me begin by stating what the difficulty is and how I believe it has arisen. In terms, the rules provide for one exceptional case—mostly, from its nature, a rural case. Rule 6 provides that A Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of the last two foregoing rules"— and I would add that the last two foregoing rules are themselves grafted on to the first three— if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable. I suggest that it is obvious to what type of case the rule applies. It applies not merely to a rural constituency, but to a special type of rural constituency. Some instances are obvious, the most obvious being the crofting counties in Scotland and some similar areas in Wales. We can all argue whether or not there may be other cases; it is arguable that one or two English constituencies might be regarded in the same light. However, that is a matter for the Commission, because special geographical considerations have to appear to the Commission to render a departure from the previous rules desirable. It is not a matter which was intended to be decided in the rules themselves; on the contrary, it was expressly left to the Commission.

Of one thing there can be no reasonable doubt. The rule is not intended to make any general distinction between the country and the town, or between a county and a borough constituency; it is wholly inappropriate for that purpose. In the ordinary case of a county constituency, in Surrey, for example, it is pretty obvious that the rule will not apply. If we take the County of Northampton, one division of which I have the honour to represent, it is quite clear that none of its constituencies are of that type. If the Boundary Commission chooses to apply the rule rather more widely or narrowly than other people, that does not matter; the point is that it is a rule for special cases.

Subject to the application of the rule, which applies only where there are special geographical considerations, there is no distinction between urban and rural constituencies, or borough and county constituencies. Accordingly it follows that, as such, no distinction is made in the rules with regard to their average electorates. It could be put in, but it certainly is not in. The trouble is that in this case, at any rate, the Commission certainly acted as if there were such a distinction. The passage of the Report which I have in mind is that at the beginning of paragraph 14, which says: In our initial Report we express the view, that, in general, urban constituencies could more conveniently support large electorates than rural constituencies and our recommendations were framed so as to enable recognition to be given to this view. Then, the Commission refers to the addition of the borough constituencies in 1948, and continues: The modification by Parliament of those recommendations, resulting in the creation of additional constituencies in a number of the larger boroughs, had the incidental effect of upsetting the balance that we had thought appropriate between the electorates of urban and rural constituencies. We have given considerable thought to the treatment to be accorded to the areas thus affected. The Report goes on to deal further with the matter. It is perfectly clear that the Commission believed that it carried in its mind an appropriate balance between the electorates of urban and rural constituencies. There is nothing whatever in the rules to justify anything of the sort, and it is open to one very obvious objection.

If, in fact, the Commission was trying to strike a balance of that sort and to consider how far recognition should be given to that view, then it ought to have considered the facts about the constituencies concerned, and ought to have taken evidence—not only as regards this, that and the other constituency, but generally—as to the position between rural and urban areas. Of course, the Commission did nothing of the sort, and the balance which it had in mind was a general balance. It has the incidental effect of upsetting the balance that we had thought appropriate between the electorates of urban and rural constituencies. It is not a particular case, but a general balance, and that general balance was something which the Commission devised in its own mind, and, so far as I can see, by no light whatever, except, remarkably, an intuitional one.

That really will not do. The Commission is not set up to form opinions on general considerations of that nature. It is not set up to take account of factors which are not in the rules. It is particularly not set up to take account of factors the weight and quantitative effect of which cannot be within the knowledge of the members of the Commission, and must be a matter of highly individual opinion, in so far as it is not a question of actual evidence.

It is for a very good reason that the Statute does not require this balance to be struck or this view to be formed, and it is not because it is a matter that has been omitted, for in the different, but not wholly dissimilar, case of the special areas—the places where special geographical considerations have to be taken into account—there is a direction, and this has been followed out. If we look at the average electorates of the crofting counties in Scotland and corresponding areas in Wales, we see that they are very definitely below the average, and I hope that nothing I say today will be taken to indicate that I find any fault with that. I see a very good reason for what is in the Statute—for instance, the special treatment of an area like the County of Argyll, which I know well. To get from one end of it to another is an extremely difficult matter, and this is what the word "accessibility" means.

On the question of size in relation to population, I should guess that it is much bigger in relation to its population than any constituency in England. It is certainly bigger than most. As regards its shape, if anybody ever tried travelling along the coastline of Argyll, he would go an extremely long journey to arrive at a point not nearly so far distant from that from which he started as the devious ways he will have followed—up one sea loch and down another, round this bend and that one—along one of the most rocky and indented coasts of the country. If we wanted to convene the County Council of Argyll, it would be no use expecting the members to use railway trains. They would come by a strange diversity of routes and a strange variety of methods of carriage, some by air, some by sea, some by road, and occasionally, but only very occasionally, with a little help—and no more—from the railways.

This is exactly the type of constituency to which Rule 6 is intended to relate; but to try to apply it to justify striking some balance between a county constituency in Surrey or in Northampton and an urban borough constituency within the same geographical area would be to apply a complete misreading of what the rules are about and of the directions which they give to the Commission.

I must at once not only admit but assert something. There is not the least doubt that, on the political balance in this country, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are much more listened to and heeded in the remote countryside, where ideas, perhaps, penetrate rather more slowly, than they are among the more quick-witted—I think I may say, with all respect to the countryside—inhabitants of the towns. On political considerations, the balance is quite obviously in our favour in the urban districts, and, by and large, in the borough constituencies, and in favour of the party opposite in the county constituencies and the rural areas. From our political point of view, to look at the Home Counties is occasionally a trifle depressing; not so when we look at the large industrial centres, or even at London itself.

That being so, it is the more necessary that the party opposite, being in power at the moment, should be completely frank on this matter, and should make certain that the directions to the Commission by these statutory rules should be followed. If they have been misunderstood or misapplied that should be corrected, for there is a duty on the Home Secretary of the day to have a measure of impartiality in this matter. 5.30 p.m.

I can see no justification whatever for one vote in the country counting for more than a vote in a town. The actual figures show a difference of a few thousand. The difference at present is an average of about 4,000; but I do not think that is the point. It may very well be that, for other reasons, there was some difference between the two averages. I am interested only that, in the name of justice as between one electorate and another, and between one political party and another, we should declare clearly that to strike a general balance of some sort and to make a general distinction between urban or rural constituencies—or their more strict counterparts, borough and county constituencies—is not justified by the rules and is not enjoined by them and is, in fact, quite wrong.

From the passages which I quoted, there can be do doubt that the last Boundary Commission did it. There can be no doubt that if we look at the electorates for England there is a discrepancy, part of which may possibly be explained on other grounds. I am not concerned with that. I am concerned that we should indicate clearly and simply to this judicial and official Commission that these are the rules; that they must be carried out, and that they do not justify any distinction between the average electorate of one type of constituency and that of another.

Of course, there may be differences in the electorate as between one borough constituency and another. Equally, there may be a difference between one county and another or between a borough and a county. I am not concerned with that. I am concerned that an error into which in this case the Commission indubitably fell shall not be repeated. That it has been done once should not serve as an excuse or reason for it being repeated.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I wish to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). It is important that this difference because of size between county and borough constituencies should be terminated. I agree with what was said by my hon. and learned Friend about the remote parts of the Highlands or Wales, and the need to have constituencies there with smaller electorates to ensure that the people are adequately represented in this House. But in considering the greater part of the English countryside one realises that it is not difficult to get from one part of a constituency to another. In fact under modern traffic conditions in some cases it may be easier to travel by rural roads rather than by main roads through industrial areas.

This idea of the county areas having a smaller average electorate than that of the towns is based upon the conditions prevailing in the pre-motor car age. I should have thought that in these days, when political speakers go about by car from one part of their constituency to another, whether they are fighting an election or attending functions in the ordinary work of a constituency member, there is no need for that distinction in size to be maintained. Even more important is the feeling among many of us that this is a form of political discrimination in favour of one party.

At the last General Election when the present Government came to power there were a larger number of constituencies where the number of votes for the Government dropped than there were in the 1951 Election when the increase in the Government majority was due mainly to the fact that the Labour Party dropped more votes than the Conservative Party. It is important to realise that in the 1951 General Election the Labour Party won a larger number of votes in the country than did the Conservative Party, yet the Conservative Party secured a majority of seats in this House. That was due partly to the fact that the Labour Party votes were more concentrated than those of the Conservative Party. There were many constituencies like my own with a large majority of Labour votes while the Conservative votes were spread over a wider area. That was to their advantage and it gave them more seats. The areas over which the Conservative votes were spread tended to be county areas, and a bias in favour of the county areas would be to the electoral advantage of the Conservative Party—as it was in 1951 and as it has been throughout General Elections. That, of course, may not be so at the next Election.

We should not, however, look at this matter from the point of view of whether a General Election gives an advantage one way or the other, but with the idea of ensuring that the political forces are adequately represented in this House. I think it a disadvantage to our political system if we frequently have General Elections which lead to a majority in the House of a political view different from that of the majority of the electorate. In the last century, under a two-party system, that rarely happened. Once or twice there was a majority of voters whose views were not in accordance with the majority of those elected to the House. One famous occasion was when Mr. Disraeli came to power with a minority of the electorate behind him, but generally speaking, that did not happen, and under a two-party system it is not likely to happen.

At present, however, with a three-party system, it is a distinct possibility that a party may come to power, but that a second party may have received more votes. That should be avoided. We should have normal-sized electorates in constituencies of approximately the same size all over the country and bear in mind the point about them coinciding so far as possible with local government units. We should give instructions to the Boundary Commission—as we should if the Amendment were accepted—to see that in future when drawing up the constituency boundaries it does not give an advantage to county areas as opposed to urban areas.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

Before replying to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) I wish to challenge a statement by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). From personal experience I can say that the use of a motor car does not enable one to serve a rural constituency with the same facility as one can serve an urban constituency. In a three-week Election campaign in Huntingdonshire I have to travel over 1,000 miles, and in order to visit less than half of the committee rooms I must travel over 100 miles. It takes the best part of two or three years for me to get round the constituency, which includes eighty villages and half-a-dozen small towns. I do not know how many weeks it would take the hon. Member for Dagenham to get round his constituency but I can assure him that his is a very different problem. I think that should be stressed because it is fundamental to our discussions.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering based his case strictly on the interpretation of the rules, and I will endeavour to deal with the matter in the same way. I have no quarrel with the hon. and learned Gentleman about Rule 6. That rule applies, not to the average run of rural constituencies in England, for example, but to those constituencies where there are geographical considerations. It is interesting to read the rules and note that it is not size, shape, or accessibility, but a combination of all three factors, that must apply before the rule can be brought into operation. I mention that because it emphasises the somewhat narrow scope of Rule 6.

The intention of the Amendment which the hon. and learned. Gentleman has submitted is clear from its emphatic wording. The essential meaning is—to paraphrase it—that nothing except special geographical considerations justifies any difference between the average electorates for urban and rural or borough and county constituencies.

Mr. Mitchison

If the hon. and learned Gentleman would add the words "as such" that are in the Amendment he would be nearer. There are other circumstances to be taken into account. All I am saying is that the Boundary Commission did make a distinction between them as such.

Mr. Renton

That brings me immediately to what the Boundary Commission did and why it did it. It found, in the period up to 1947, that there was a disparity—I think there has always been one—between the electorates of urban and rural constituencies since the rationalisation brought about by the Reform Act. In 1954, there was a disparity of about 1,700. As the result of the review of that year the disparity, as the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned earlier, reached nearly 4,000. What he may not know and what it is material for the Committee to consider, is that the disparity on the 1957 register has readjusted itself to 1,625.

Therefore, when the hon. and learned Gentleman speaks about the Boundary Commission having offended the rules by creating a disparity, we have to bear in mind that there has always been some disparity and that the greatest disparity which it created was just under 4,000, which, in an average electorate of 57,000 in England, gives us a difference between an average of 55,000 for rural constituencies and of 59,000 for urban constituencies. Neither figure is unreasonable.

Mr. Mitchison

It tried to create a disparity of 6,000 but Parliament stepped in and gave the seats to the boroughs. The hon. and learned Gentleman's party complained.

Mr. Renton

Perhaps it is material to consider what was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman's party, which was in power at the time. It is true that in 1948 the party considered that the Boundary Commission's 1947 review contained undue weighting for county constituencies, but none the less the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when he was Home Secretary, said that the Government accepted the view that there was a reason for giving some advantage in numbers to county divisions.

In 1954, when we were discussing the orders following the review of that year, the right hon. Member for South Shields said that he had contested both rural and urban constituencies and knew the extra strain placed on a candidate in a county division. This year, in the Second Reading debate on the Bill, he said he stood by that. He said there was ground for some slight weighting where there was a genuine county constituency. I do not wish to take the right hon. Gentleman's case any further than he wished it to be taken on that occasion. He went on to qualify this statement by adding that some county constituencies were more urban than rural.

Mr. Ede

I could illustrate that by the Surrey constituency in which I live, which consists of the Borough of Epsom and Ewell and the urban district of Leather-head. It might just as well for all practical purposes have been called a borough.

Mr. Renton

I fully accept that, but the right hon. Gentleman's intervention does not in any way destroy the validity of his earlier statement which I have quoted, to the effect that there are genuine rural constituencies in which, for one reason or another, we may expect to find a slight weighting. From the figures I have given, I do not think the weighting can be said to be other than slight; 1,625 on an average of 57,000 is very slight weighting indeed.

The hon. and learned Gentleman made the point which, on the face of it, is technically good, that there is nothing in the 1949 Act or in the rules made under it, which justifies a disparity between urban and rural or county and borough constituencies, as such. I accept the force of those words "as such", because they are important in this context. That seems to be so, and if it is, there is no need for an Amendment starting with the words: For the avoidance of doubt … Let us consider not merely the rules but the way in which they have come to be operated. In operating the rules, the Boundary Commission has clearly acted in accordance with Rule 4, and in accordance with the kind of sentiment discussed on earlier Amendments today it finds itself obliged to follow local government boundaries where possible. When dealing with the boundaries of rural local government areas it necessarily has to embrace quite large territories which are sparsely populated. That reason alone accounts for the very slight weighting between rural and urban areas and fully justifies it.

I was prepared, in case the matter should arise, to make a most impassioned speech saying that, quite apart from what is in the rules, it was clearly right and just, in order that our constituents might be properly served, that the representation in rural areas should not be as heavy as in urban areas, but the case is so clearly understood and has been so clearly put by the right hon. Member for South Shields in the past, that there is no need for me to do so. I come back to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, in relation to what the rules contain. 5.45 p.m.

The rules themselves are plain enough. Rule 6 makes special provision, and Rule 4 says that local government boundaries have to be followed. The necessary and, indeed, inevitable result of that, coupled with other factors which it might not be in order to discuss on this Amendment, leads to a disparity. The disparity itself can be justified on broad, historical and practical grounds. Surely the Commission, in exercising what is, after all, a discretion in the interpretation of these rules, is not only entitled but obliged to bear in mind the historical and practical reasons.

I wish to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman—

Mr. Mitchison

No, not that.

Mr. Renton

The hon. and learned Gentleman has so often the prestige of a Privy Councillor when he speaks that one tends to make that mistake. I assure him that this matter has received the most careful consideration, and that neither from the point of view that he expresses, nor in order to achieve greater clarity in the Bill, nor in order to put forward the point of view that I was tempted to deploy but did not, is his Amendment necessary.

Mr. Parker

I have been a Parliamentary candidate in the rural area of Holland with Boston. I agree, of course, that candidature in such a rural area is very hard work, but I do not think that that rules out the argument that in the days of the motor car there is no justification for special representation there. That particular seat, of course, is in one of the most prosperous agricultural parts of the country. It has an electorate of about 70,000, as well as covering an enormous area. It must have about the largest agricultural electorate but I do not think that that fact justifies a bias in favour of agricultural areas.

The point has been made about the bias now being only 1,625 instead of 4,000 to the advantage of the county constituencies as opposed to the urban, but I should have thought that that change was largely due to the growth of industrialisation in a limited number of county seats; and that if some of the seats—such as Epsom, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)— were transferred from the county to the urban list the difference would be very much larger, and much closer to the 4,000 that previously existed.

We may still find more industrialisation taking place in the seats round the big towns which would, on figures, possibly abolish the distinction altogether, whilst still leaving a very real bias in favour of what I would call the real rural areas. That fact should be borne in mind when the figures are considered.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Edge Hill)

It was my misfortune to come in rather late to what has all the character of a somewhat esoteric discussion, but perhaps I might support the proposition just advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker).

I understand that the disparity of 1,600 is that between the average electorate of the county constituency and of the urban one. It seems to me, and I appreciate that this is really my hon. Friend's point, that if that is the basis of calculation, its significance may be very nearly entirely destroyed if it be the fact that some of the county constituencies are urban constituencies in all but designation and name.

So far as I have followed the argument, I should have thought, bearing in mind that factor, that a case had certainly been made out that it would be appropriate to take steps to ensure that a disproportionate overweighting in favour of county constituencies was something to be avoided.

Mr. Ede

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary, in what he said was not the impassioned speech that, in certain circumstances, he might have delivered, quoted me as having made pronouncements on this subject in the past. Of course, when quoting me, he did not give due weight to the word "slight". He quoted it and then proceeded to assume that it could be ignored. My own view is that an average difference of 1,625 is not slight. I should have thought that the Boundary Commission could have got a great deal closer if it had regarded this from the urban and rural point of view rather than that of county and borough, because the words are not quite interchangeable. All borough seats are not entirely urban, and, certainly, a large number of county seats are not, in any sense of the word, rural.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has sought to make a distinction between what he said about a previous position and that with which we are faced today by defining the word "slight." It is entirely a matter of judgment and opinion, but, with all respect, we do not agree with him. We consider that in relation to an average of 57,000, 1,600 is a slight distinction, and that, in all the circumstances and all the difficulties with which the Boundary Commission has been faced, it has done a good job if it has managed to get the averages within 1,600 of each other.

Mr. Mitchison

I should like to liven up this discussion a little, as I regard the defence put forward by the Government as absolutely scandalous. The 1949 Act clearly states that Each Boundary Commission shall keep under review the representation in the House of Commons of the part of the United Kingdom with which they are concerned and shall, in accordance with the next following subsection"— and that is the subsection relating to time, and so on: submit to the Secretary of State reports with respect to the whole of that part of the United Kingdom, either … showing the constituencies into which they recommend that it should be divided"— and for what purpose: in order to give effect to the rules set out in the Second Schedule to this Act … and for no other purpose.

The idea that some sentimental association of the hon. and learned Gentleman's with Huntingdonshire or general considerations of the balance to be struck between countryside and town should enter into the matter at all strikes me as conferring on the Boundary Commissions a distinction and a duty which the Act that constituted them has not conferred on them—

Mr. Renton

As the hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned my representation of Huntingdonshire, perhaps I may tell him that I happen to represent the whole of an administrative county which had an electorate of 45,000 last time and may have one of about 50,000 next time. Does he say that, for the sake of some mathematical provision, the boundaries of that parliamentary constituency should be extended so as to take in part of some other county? If so, I should have thought that there were very few people who would agree with him.

Mr. Mitchison

So should I, and that is not what I was saying. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would pay a little more attention to the substance of the matter and a little less to the metaphysical deductions that he chooses to make from perfectly clear statements, we should get on a little better. After all, Oliver Cromwell came from those parts, and his language about this sort of thing would have been very forthright. 6.0 p.m.

Unless or until the House alters the law, the Government should carry it out. The law lays down that the Boundary Commission has to carry out the reviews in accordance with the rules. What the Government are trying to do is to add on top of the rules a number of quite different things. When he gets up, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General will, no doubt, manage somehow or other to engraft them into the rules. I wish him all success. But, in fact, the Boundary Commission did not do that.

What the Boundary Commission did was to try to strike a balance, to give weight to its own views as to the relative convenience of a rural constituency or an urban constituency, or, if one likes, of a borough and a county constituency. The difference is smaller. No doubt it may exist. I do not say that it does not. All I say is that it is not a matter upon which the Boundary Commission had any ground for forming a view at all. It is not a matter upon which it took any evidence. It is not a matter it was charged to consider by the terms of the rules, and the Commission was thereby giving to itself a discretion and duty which it cannot justify in the terms of the Act.

All I ask for in this Amendment is that this should simply be stated. I defy the right hon. and learned Gentleman to get up and tell me that there is any distinction in the Act either between urban and rural constituencies—neither of which, of course, is mentioned in the Act—or between borough and county constituencies. What there is is a wholly separate point, which I am glad to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman on behalf of the Government accept so unreservedly, that Rule 6 does provide for some special cases. I share his view as to what those separate cases are. There is no doubt about that. Apart from that, there is no distinction at all.

The fact is that, in this instance at any rate, there can be no doubt that the Boundary Commission acted on a distinction and sought to strike a general, not a particular, balance between rural and urban constituencies and to form its own view, on a matter of policy, as to what the balance should be and what advantage in votes should be given to those who live in the countryside as against those who live in the town. I am not asking for mathematical exactitude. I am not asking for similarity in all these points. All I am asking is that it should be made quite clear that even the Government and the Boundary Commission must carry out the law.

Finally, we have the somewhat startling defence, the classic defence about the poor illegitimate child—"It's only a little one". And this from the Home Office! I should have thought that the Home Office would be the last place to produce that particular defence. It really puzzles me. If the Home Office or the Boundary Commission is going to break the law, does it matter whether the breach will be a large one or a small one? In fact, the numbers have fluctuated. They were up to 6,000 as an average, if the Report of the Boundary Commission had been accepted by the House. It was not, and the seats were given to the boroughs. Then the figure came back to 1,900, then up again to 4,000, and now it is back to 1,500 or 1,600. Obviously, it may vary one way or the other.

Equally obviously, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, these figures do not touch the reality of the matter. It is not a question of whether a constituency is one of a large number of constituencies that are county constituencies or of similar ones which are not county constituencies. It is the substance of the thing which matters, and the substance is that the yokel in the countryside has more value for his vote than a workman in the city.

There is another matter of substance, a very important one, which I do not want to have neglected. The Conservative Party profits by this anomaly. However small or however large the illegitimate child may be—and this is an illegitimate child to the extent that it exists at all—the Conservative Party profits. The Government ought not to hesitate to put matters right in the Bill. There is no doubt that it has not been acted upon. There is no doubt that we are now to have a judicial and official Commission which will look at its rules.

The trouble is that it may also look at the doings of previous Boundary Commissioners, some of whom themselves have had legal and official associations. The Commission may say that this repeated illegality, this succession of little bastards coming along one after the other in this manner, may result in the practice acquiring the force of law. Really, some of the contentions of the hon. and learned Gentleman were quite remarkably like it—"It has been done before," "It is a reasonable thing to do"—and, therefore, he suggested, the Boundary Commission ought to do it.

The Boundary Commission is bound by these rules. If it is sought to put something else into them, the right thing to do is to put it in in terms, and to have the matter properly argued, not to let illegalities creep in, to the advantage of one political party, by mere repetition.

The Attorney-General

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that he wanted to liven up the debate, and he has strained very hard to achieve that object. I must say that I cannot congratulate him upon the arguments that he has advanced to do so. He sought to make some reflections upon the Home Office and its attitude to what he regards as a little breach of the law, and he sought to make a substantial attack upon the Boundary Commission, praying in aid what he conceives that Oliver Cromwell might or might not have done in Huntingdon. Really, his argument cuts right across the arguments he has advanced on previous Amendments. There is no ground whatever for his unwarranted attack upon the Boundary Commission and how it operated.

I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to pay attention to this particular factor. If one preserves the local communities, the boroughs, where the population is in excess of the electoral quota—and we recognise and agree that that should be done—it is quite impossible that one should maintain as high an average for the county constituencies as one does for the boroughs, unless one makes county constituencies of a size which it would really be quite impracticable for an ordinary Member, of whatever party, adequately to represent. It follows from the proposition that one should depart from mathematical accuracy in having regard to local ties and community interests that one encounters the impossibility of achieving a precise equality of average electorates between counties and boroughs.

It is very easy to say that the workman in the county has more value attached to his vote than the workman in the town. But that must follow inevitably if one accepts the proposition that, because in a borough all people want to vote in that borough and nowhere else, the electorate in the borough is kept above the electoral quota. It must happen. But, as I see it, it does not follow that the Boundary Commission, which has a duty and discretion, was in any way guilty of a breach of the law. If it had been, it would have been possible to take proceedings in the courts with regard to it.

Mr. Mitchison

The difficulty is that, although the Boundary Commission did not give many explanations, it did explain, in the passage I read out before, what it did in this respect, and it was not what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that it did. The Commission did make a distinction of kind between the two types of constituency.

The Attorney-General

We have all read the Commission's Report. I am trying to point out that there is no escape from this fact if the hon. and learned Gentleman insists on the average for the county divisions being the same as the average for the borough divisions. That is the point of the Amendment.

Mr. Mitchison


The Attorney-General

I seem to be succeeding, where the hon. and learned Gentleman did not, in enlivening the proceedings, although I do not wish to do so.

The efforts which we have made in past years to secure the acceptance of a mathematical principle have always landed us in difficulties. Here again, one cannot completely match the average for counties and the average for boroughs if one gives preference, as I submit that one should, to the community interest and local ties which the Bill recognises. In both its Reports the Commission has acted in precisely the same way in this respect.

May I give another reason why the Committee would be most unwise to accept the Amendment? The rules apply to England, Scotland and Wales, and the Amendment says: Nothing in those rules enjoins or justifies any difference between the average electorates of urban and rural constituencies, as such, or the average electorates of borough and county constituencies, as such". That being so, the provision has a general application. That means, as a matter of interpretation, that throughout the United Kingdom we should have to have the same average electorate for borough and county constituencies, and for urban and rural constituencies. Because the provision for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland membership is in Rule 1, this would mean that one would have to depart from the rules—that is to say, reduce the Scottish, Northern Ireland and Welsh representation in the House—to secure the maintenance of this average between borough and county constituencies.

There is nothing in the Amendment which limits its application to England. We have three different Boundary Commissions, but the rules which they have to apply are the same for each Commission. If it is to be declared that there is nothing in the rules at all which justifies any difference, it seems to me to follow that this would open up the whole question of Scottish, Northern Ireland and Welsh representation.

For this and other reasons, I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment. In my belief there is no need whatever for a provision of this sort. Indeed, a provision of this sort might well cause very great difficulties for the Boundary Commission, having regard to its possible impact on the other rules.

Mr. Mitchison

if the construction put forward in his last observation is the construction which the Attorney-General puts on the Amendment, he had better think again. What it says is perfectly clear. It refers to the average electorates of those types of constituency as such. It is clear that it applies in the same way to England, Scotland and Wales and that it would have no effect whatever on any differences between averages in England, Scotland and Wales.

I will not argue with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about it, partly because of the distinguished office which he holds and the respect which, for that reason, I am compelled to pay to his opinions, and partly for another and simpler reason, which is that he knows quite well what the Amendment intends. If he chooses to say that it does not have the intended effect, he must answer the question: does he agree with the intention or not? If he does, then, on Report he should put down an Amendment which, in his opinion, is more suited to the purpose.

It is complete nonsense to say that the Amendment has any connection whatever with other factors which will no doubt affect the average when we get them. The point is that the Boundary Commission not merely gave effect to those factors, but said, in terms, that it had struck a

balance between rural constituencies as such and urban constituencies as such. It said that it had struck a general balance. Apart from the circumstances which may affect many rural constituencies in one way and many urban constituencies in another, the Commission drew a definite general balance and made a general distinction—and that we say it had no right to do on the rules.

All we wish is that the clear meaning of the rules should be stated—and it is stated, notwithstanding previous practice. We think it the more necessary because the excess of authority in this matter has clearly inured to the benefit of one political party as against another. We ask for fair treatment, the law as laid down in this Statute, and no more illegitimate excursions defended by the Home Office on the ground that they are only little ones.

Question put, That those words be there added:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 105, Noes 160.

Division No. 82.] AYES [6.18 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Hayman, F. H. Proctor, W. T.
Balfour, A. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Randall, H. E.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Hobson, C. R. (Keighley) Rankin, John
Beswick, Frank Holman, P. Redhead, E. C.
Blackburn, F. Houghton, Douglas Reeves, J.
Blyton, W. R. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Boardman, H. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Ross, William
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena(Holbn & St.Pncs,S.) Silver-man, Julius (Aston)
Boyd, T. C. Johnston, James (Rugby) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Brockway, A. F. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Skeffington, A. M.
Callaghan, L. J. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Lewis, Arthur Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Chetwynd G. R. Lipton, Marcus Sparks, J. A.
Clunie, J. MacColl, J. E. Steele, T.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) McKay, John (Wallsend) Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
Collins, V.J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Swingler, S. T.
Cove, W. G. Mellish, R. J. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Dal[...]on, Rt. Hon. H. Mitchison, G. R. Thornton, E.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Moody, A. S. Tomney, F.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Viant, S. P.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W.Brmwch) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Weitzman, D.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Oliver, G. H. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Oram, A. E. Wheeldon, W. E.
Fletcher, Eric Owen, W. J. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Foot, D. M. Palmer, A. M. F. Willey, Frederick
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then) Parker, J. Woof, R. E.
Gibson, C. W. Parkin, B. T. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Greenwood, Anthony Paton, John Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Grey, C. F. Pentland, N.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Prentice, R. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hastings, S. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Mr. Short and Mr. Deer.
Agnew, Sir Peter Graham, Sir Fergus Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Aitken, W. T. Grant, W. (Woodside) Mawby, R. L.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Grant-Ferris. Wg Cdr. R.(Nantwich) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Alport, C. J. M. Grimond, J. Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Nairn, D. L. S.
Arbuthnot, John Hall, John (Wycombe) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)
Armstrong, C. W. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan
Ashton, H. Harris, Reader (Heston) Oakshott, H. D.
Atkins, H. E. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Baldwin, A. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.
Barber, Anthony Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Page, R. G.
Barlow, Sir John Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Partridge, E.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Peel, W. J.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Pike, Miss Mervyn
Bingham, R. M. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Powell, J. Enoch
Bishop, F. P. Hirst, Geoffrey Price, David (Eastleigh)
Body, R. F. Holland-Martin, C. J. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Hornby, R. P. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Profumo, J. D.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Rawlinson, Peter
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Redmayne, M.
Butler,Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden) Hyde, Montgomery Rees-Davies, W. R.
Channon, Sir Henry Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Remnant, Hon. P.
Chichester-Clark, R. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Renton, D. L. M.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Ridsdale, J. E.
Corfield, Cant. F. V. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Roper, Sir Harold
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Joseph, Sir Keith Russell, R. S.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Sharples, R. C.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Lagden, G. W. Shepherd, William
Cunningham, Knox Lambton, Viscount Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Currie, G. B. H. Langford-Holt, J. A. Spearman, Sir Alexander
Davidson, Viscountess Leavey, J. A. Speir, R. M.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
du Cann, E. D. L. Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Errington, Sir Eric Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Studholme, Sir Henry
Farey-Jones, F. W. Linstead, Sir H. N. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Fell, A. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Teeling, W.
Finlay, Graeme Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Temple, John M.
Fisher, Nigel McAdden, S. J. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Macdonald, Sir Peter Vane, W. M. F.
Fort, R. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Vickers, Miss Joan
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Gammans, Lady Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Maddan, Martin Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Gibson-Watt, D. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Glover, D. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Glyn, Col. Richard H. Markham, Major Sir Frank Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Godber, J. B. Marlowe, A. A. H. Woollam, John victor
Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Marshall, Douglas
Gough, C. F. H. Mathew, R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. E. Wakefield and Mr. Bryan.
Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, at the end to add: (3) Sub-paragraph (a) (iv) of paragraph (1) of rule 4 of the said rules (which provides that, so far as is practicable, no county district shall be included partly in one constituency and partly in another) shall cease to have effect. The intention of the Amendment, which has not attracted very much visible support, is purely exploratory, to find out what is in the Government's mind about a point which I hope to develop.

The latter part of Clause 2, as drafted, refers to Rule 4. Its effect would be that all parts of Rule 4, other than those which the Committee has amended so far, will continue to apply. The effect of my Amendment would be to cancel Rule 4 (1, a, iv) which refers to county district boundaries. I understand that under Section 11 of the Local Government Act, 1933, it lies with the counties, if they consider it necessary, to initiate county district boundary reform or readjustment. They can make representations, accordingly, to the Home Secretary and, during a six weeks period, objections may be lodged.

The effect of this can be that it will lie with a county council completely to alter the political complexion of a county constituency. I think I am right in saying that this applies fairly exclusively, though possibly not entirely, to county constituencies. The kind of case I have in mind is where the detachment of a large parish from one county district and its attachment to another, with the consequential boundary adjustment, can substantially alter the political complexion of two Parliamentary constituencies. That is, of course, on the assumption that the present present Rule 4 (1, a, iv) continues to apply.

My point, therefore, is whether it is the intention that political initiative in the matter of the political complexions of counties can lie—and I use the expression "can lie"—with a county council. I hope that I have made my point clear, though I should like to record that in my judgment it would be wrong to take away from county councils the right to readjust boundaries of county districts. I only want to ascertain whether it has been realised what could be the political consequences should a county council get into extremist hands at that level.

Mr. Renton

The Amendment will have the effect of deleting from Rule 4 the provision that in England and Wales no county district shall be included partly in one constituency and partly in another so far as that can practically be avoided. In practice, it has been avoided nearly always. Only in the rarest cases has it had to be done. It would be a pity to strike it out altogether, because there might be very rare cases where it would be the only way of resolving a great difficulty in deciding among a group of constituencies exactly where the boundary should be.

That is the substance of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment. But he has raised a separate point. I hope that I may be in order in reassuring him about his question whether county councils will still have the power which they have under local government legislation to alter the county district boundaries within their own areas. May I give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman? We are dealing with legislation for Parliamentary boundaries, and that does not in any way affect the rules or laws relating to the boundaries of local government.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Snow

I feel that I have either not made myself clear, or that the Minister has not taken my point about the question of political initiative on Parliamentary divisions by county councils.

Mr. Renton

The position is that an individual or a local authority may at any time make representation to the Parliamentary boundary commission to suggest that a particular Parliamentary constituency needs review. That right is present, and it will remain.

Mr. Snow

I feel that I must persevere with this point. It is true that the initiative is present and, so far as I can see, should remain with a county council to alter its own district boundaries. What I do not understand is this, and perhaps the Minister can explain. Suppose, for example, that it is desirable to transfer a tightly knit and well populated parish from one county district to another. The effect of that transference can completely alter the political complexion of one of the districts concerned. I gather that the Minister agrees with me so far. Since a Parliamentary constituency should normally only comprise whole county districts, and not parts of county districts, does it not follow that a county council can initiate a change in the political complexion of a constituency?

The Attorney-General

The county council can initiate a change which may affect the political complexion of constituencies, but it would not be right for any county council to seek to make such a change in local government areas solely for the purpose of altering the political complexion of Parliamentary representation. I trust that different considerations would prevail in relation to a change of parish, for instance, from one district to another district. But the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that, if that change is made, then, so far as is practicable, the Boundary Commission would try to make the Parliamentary boundaries accord with the county district boundaries and thus avoid having part of the county district in one constituency and part in another.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I am not satisfied with that explanation. The Attorney-General says that it would be entirely wrong for a county council to attempt to alter district boundaries for reasons of political prejudice or partisanship. Would it not be right and proper that the Parliamentary boundaries, having been decided and laid down, should not in any case be altered except by the Boundary Commissioners?

The Attorney-General

The Parliamentary boundaries will not be altered except upon a recommendation of the Boundary Commissioners. The point put to me was whether, in view of the rules, the recommendations of the Boundary Commission would follow so far as is practicable the local authority divisions. It depends on the circumstances, but the answer would be "Yes" for the reasons that I have given.

Mr. Snow

We are indebted to the learned Attorney-General for putting on record, as I hoped he would, that it would be improper for a county council to alter deliberately the political complexion of a constituency. I take it from that observation that, in any representations that might be made by county councils to the Home Office, that sort of danger would be taken into consideration.

The Attorney-General

Any representations from a county council would no doubt be considered on their merits. While it is open to any county council to advance any arguments that it likes for a change, it would have to be borne in mind that one could not properly condemn a county council for what we might call political partisanship without that charge being conclusively established.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

May I ask a question? It may be completely irrelevant because of my lack of knowledge of the Act. I can envisage a position where there might be redistribution, and it might be thought that the only way to solve the problem would be to take a part of one county and a part of another county to make a Parliamentary constituency. That is still possible under the original Act and I believe that it is possible under this Measure. But would the Attorney-General tell me whether that is possible, for instance, with regard to parts of Staffordshire and parts of Derbyshire?

The Attorney-General

I could answer that question if I were in order, but it has no relation to the Amendment. If I may be permitted to be out of order, under the Act as it stands—and it will remain when this Bill is passed—the Commission can recommend a constituency which consists of part of one county and part of another.

Mr. Snow

As I understand the Attorney-General, we now have it on record that it would be appropriate to object to a county council's allegedly partisan proposals for boundary readjustment and that such objections would have to be established; but that, nevertheless, they would be considered. Having that assurance on the record, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.