HC Deb 27 March 1958 vol 585 cc671-87

  1. (1) A local authority may by resolution (hereinafter called a "constituency resolution") recommend that an alteration, to be specified in the constituency resolution, be made in the boundaries of a constituency, which or any part of which is in the area of the local authority.
  2. (2) A constituency resolution shall be communicated by the local authority to the Secretary of State and by the Secretary of State to the appropriate Boundary Commission.
  3. (3) On receiving notice of a constituency resolution a Boundary Commission shall consider and report to the Secretary of State whether or not they deem it advisable to make a report under subsection (3) of section two of the principal Act and, if they do deem it advisable to make such a report, they shall proceed to do so in accordance with the provisions of that section.
  4. (4) A report made under the said subsection (3) and in accordance with the last foregoing subsection shall not be confined to the alteration recommended in the constituency resolution and may include such further or other alterations in relation to the constituency in question or to any other constituency or constituencies affected as may appear advisable to the Boundary Commission, whether with or without the alteration recommended in the constituency resolution or with any modification of that alteration.
  5. (5) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament any constituency resolution together with any report of a Boundary Commission stating that they do not deem it advisable to make any report on that constituency resolution under the said subsection (3) or, notwithstanding anything in subsection (5) of the said section two, any report made under the said subsection (3) and stating that no alteration is required to be made in respect of the part of the United Kingdom with which by reason of the constituency resolution the Commission are concerned.
  6. (6) In this section the expression "local authority" has the meaning assigned to it by section one hundred and forty-four or, in relation to Scotland, by section one hundred and forty-five of the Local Government Act, 1948.
  7. (7) Nothing in this section shall be construed to derogate from the requirements of the said section two of the principal Act or to affect the generality of subsection (3) of that section.
  8. 672
  9. (8) This section shall not apply to Northern Ireland or to any constituency in Great Britain, which appears to the appropriate Boundary Commission to be one to which rule 6 of the rules set out in the Second Schedule to the principal Act applies.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Skeffington

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This Clause contains a new device designed to bring flexibility into distribution arrangements where the Commission either does not take any action about a change which occurred during the period between reviews or at a general review. I am all in favour of the Boundary Commission not being active. I have always been against having a permanent Boundary Commission because it will tend towards justifying its existence and unnecessarily interfering with boundaries. There is, however, a case where responsible opinion inside a constituency feels that there is an anomaly to be investigated and it would like to suggest a change to deal with it.

The purpose of the Clause is to make it possible for a local authority, as defined in Section 144 of the Local Government Act, 1948, or by Section 145 in relation to Scotland, to pass a resolution, which could then be forwarded to the Secretary of State. We suggest in the Clause that such a resolution should be called a "constituency resolution" and that it should recommend a change in the boundaries of the constituency when any part of it is in the area of the local authority.

It is suggested that such a resolution should be sent to the Secretary of State, who would then send it to the appropriate Boundary Commission. When the Commission receives the constituency resolution it shall consider it and make a report on its proposals to the Secretary of State, saying that it feels there is a case for a change, or that it does not recommend the change, or that it proposes other changes to deal with that and other constituencies. 7.45 p.m.

It has been suggested that this might start a chain reaction of changes very dangerous to other constituencies. There is something in that point, but equally the procedure could act as a safeguard against irresponsible resolutions being passed, because the local authority would know that it was not a matter of the Commission accepting the resolution but of considering the whole circumstances of the anomaly in the area in question and of making to the Home Secretary recommendations which were not necessarily in the resolution. The local authority would be careful and would be likely to act only in cases where it could make a fair and sensible suggestion. The Secretary of State would lay before Parliament any constituency resolution, together with any report of a Boundary Commission.

There are at least two comparable powers given to groups of individuals or local authorities and where they can ask for an inquiry. There is a provision in the London Government Act that a Metropolitan Borough or a group of responsible people or electors can suggest that there is a prima facie case for an inquiry for an alteration to ward boundaries. They can send to the Secretary of State proposals, and if he feels that a case has been made out he can order an inquiry, at which the group of electors or the borough council or both can put forward proposals and be examined about them.

This procedure has not been used extensively, but it has been useful on some occasions. A re-warding of the Borough of Camberwell was carried out in 1952 as a result of a petition to the Home Secretary from a group of electors suggesting the need for changes in the wards which had existed in their then state for more than fifty years. There had been a considerable movement of population in the intervening period. In due course, a special commissioner was appointed to hold the inquiry and made a report. The result was incorporated in an order by the Secretary of State, and new and better boundaries were created.

There is also provision in respect of parish councils whereby a group of electors can ask for an inquiry in relation to boundaries. Although I said that this was a new device it has, in fact, been used in the case of local government boundaries. It is within the experience of hon. Members that anomalies occur from time to time in constituencies. It would seem to be fair for a local authority to have the right to bring anomalies to the attention of the Secretary of State direct. I can quite imagine that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) would like to present a petition about his own constituency. It does not follow by any means that if a local authority passes a constituency resolution that there would be any change. It would simply mean that attention has been drawn to the difficulties in that constituency. The addition of this Clause would give a responsible local authority the opportunity to present to the Secretary of State in a direct and proper manner problems affecting the Parliamentary constituency with which it was concerned.

I do not believe that local authorities would use this power irresponsibly. There is the sanction that the Boundary Commission need not consider such a proposal and would suggest other proposals. The very fact that some avenue of appeal was open to responsible local opinion would introduce some flexibility into our system of redistribution. Generally speaking, if one can get an agreed change—because the resolution would have to be passed by a majority of the electors in the constituency, probably following some sort of local activity—put to the Secretary of State, it is very much better than having imposed on a locality a decision of other people, however eminent and fair they may be. A change that emanates from those in the area is much more desirable and often more satisfactory than one that is imposed from without. I hope, therefore, that the Committee and the Government will give serious consideration to this proposal.

Mr. Mitchison

I rise only to ask the Government to try to be a little more helpful about this than they have been about previous propositions put to them. They have combined immobility and infallibility to a degree that is rare even for a Government towards the end of their existence. There is a real point of substance here, and I hope that the Government will assist the Committee by making some positive proposals for meeting it.

Let me explain the point. It is that we are legislating for a period of from ten to fifteen years from the time of the last Report; that is to say, 1964 to 1969. Presumably, we shall go on in that sort of way. I am not in the least objecting to that; on the contrary, I welcome it. The disturbance that these changes make, not only to those of us who are engaged in parliamentary work but to ordinary people all over the country, is quite considerable. I am sure that after the last Boundary Commission Report, and its results, we all felt that we did not want that to happen too often.

There is another side to it, however. Some of us, like the Fat Boy—I think it was he—are "swelling wisibly," and go on swelling, and swelling until things reach a difficult stage where we are asked to represent an inordinate number of electors—to take one obvious point. Equally, there can be difficulties the other way. Nowadays, there can be changes in the disposition of population owing to the movement of industry, and so on, that make representational changes worth consideration. I say no more than that.

This point was put to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary during the Second Reading debate. His reply was that it could be done under Section 2 (3) of the principal Act, and there is no doubt that in that subsection there is power for the Boundary Commission to make an interim report. In fact, that power has been exercised, but exercised only for quite minor boundary changes.

The difficulty now is that we are appointing a Boundary Commission, with a judicial deputy chairman, to act over quite a long period, and nobody knows how to get the Commission to take action where it may be required. That question was asked of the right hon. Gentleman, and we never had an answer. I do not say that it is an easy question to answer. It is difficult.

What is proposed in this new Clause is that local authorities should do it, and I see at once that there are objections to that. It is only too easy to think of objections. For instance, in my own constituency I have seven local authorities. Some of them are a bit on the small side, and we do not know what may happen to them in these days. Nevertheless, by this new Clause, any of them would have the power to start the ball rolling.

One could think of doing it by basing the power to propose on a given number of electors. That, too, presents difficulties. It makes it rather easier to organise what might be a factious objection or petition. It could be done, perhaps, automatically—that, too, we shall have to consider in due course. I hope that the Government will be able to provide some suggestion as to what should be done if things approach the intolerable—let us put it that way—during the ten to fifteen years between these Reports.

This new Clause is very carefully worded. It does not oblige the Commission to make a report under the Act and, of course, if it makes a report under the Act, it can make a nil report, and say that nothing needs to be done. All that happens is that—

Mr. Renton

I am anxious to understand the new Clause. I take it that the hon. and learned Gentleman's words must be taken very literally when he says that the Commission can say that "nothing needs to be done." Does it not mean that the Commission must, in fact, show cause why it does not intend to hold an interim review on the lines indicated in the application?

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry that I did not, in the nature of the case, take a note of my exact words, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman looks at the new Clause he will see that it provides for the constituency resolution to go to the Home Secretary, and for the Home Secretary to send it to the Boundary Commission. What the Commission then has to decide is whether or not to make a report under the Act. It has to report to the Home Secretary whether it is to make a statutory report. I hope that I have made myself clear, because it is rather difficult to avoid using the same word twice, and it is used twice in the new Clause.

The Boundary Commission, therefore, is not obliged to make a statutory report which itself might be a nil report. It is merely obliged to consider whether or not it should look into the matter and report. It is about the minimum obligation that one could put on anybody. It is really no more than pulling the coat of the Commission, as it were, and reminding it that there is a certain place which it might perhaps look at.

I agree that it is quite easy to pick holes in this sort of proposal. One can say that a local authority might be captious and it might do this too easily. In my own constituency, as I say, there are several local authorities. One very small local authority might do it, yet might not represent a lot of public opinion or anything else. 8.0 p.m.

All that is true, but on the other hand, if we do not do it at all, look at the position. The Boundary Commission is there for a period of ten to fifteen years. The deputy-chairman, with great respect to Mr. Speaker—it is well recognised that he cannot do much of this sort of thing—is a High Court judge He is in office notionally. He is the deputy-chairman, but it is too much to suppose that he is going into these electoral questions continually or even at frequent intervals; there is nobody to stir him up, and there is no duty on the other members of the Boundary Commission to look into the matter.

While I feel that a provision of this sort might not be used often, while I feel that it is extraordinarily easy to pick holes in any sort of provision that is suggested, I still feel that it is rather dangerous and foolish to leave matters entirely to chance—because that is what it seems to me to come to—for so long a period as ten to fifteen years. The net result of that, without moving the Boundary Commission in the interval, may be that the pack of troubles one has to pick up at the end of the ten to fifteen years would be very much larger than they would be if they had been dealt with at the time.

May I add one other point. I understand, as I am sure my hon. Friends do—and I expect every hon. Member understands—that this is hardly ever a case of a single constituency. Other constituencies may very well be affected, too, and for that reason I am very anxious not to do more than just tug the coat of the Commissioners and remind them that there is something that might be looked into. Within those limitations, I suggest that this new Clause provides a workable means of giving the tug, that it does not do and does not pretend to do more than that. If the Government do not like it, let them tell us some other way of reminding the Boundary Commission of the real things that need attention.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I support this proposed new Clause to which I added my name. I did so because it seems to me to raise an important matter of principle. The matter of principle to which I attach importance is that the local authorities should have the right to make representations to the Boundary Commission. I do not put it any higher or any lower than that.

I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State to bear in mind that there is a principle of historic importance involved in this new Clause. Parliament has existed for 600 or 700 years, and historically, I am sure the Minister will agree, representation in this House is based on local boundaries. When a Royal Commission is read in the House of Peers we hear the traditional and age-old recital, whereby the Royal Assent is given to Bills and reference is made to burgesses, knights of the shires, citizens and so on. It reminds us always that representation in this place is based on local boundaries. Local authorities are, therefore, interested in the basis on which representation is made, whether it is representation in the shires or in the boroughs.

It seems to me that apart from all other considerations—and I endorse everything that has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington)—on the principle that we have moved into a sphere in which the regulation of boundaries is to be decided by a Boundary Commission, the definition and alteration of boundaries and the constitution of constituency areas should be regarded as a matter in which local authorities—the lineal descendants of the ancient shires and boroughs—are entitled to take an interest and, therefore, are entitled to make representations to the Boundary Commission. What the Boundary Commission may do about it when such representation is received is a different matter. That depends upon the instructions which Parliament gives to the Boundary Commission.

I hope the Minister will accept this new Clause in order to enshrine in our constitutional arrangements what seems to me to be a fundamental principle of historical importance, that local authorities should be entitled to make representations. It was always a matter of interest to them, even when they were rotten boroughs, like Old Sarum, also when county authorities like Cornwall or Devon were intensely populated compared with the modern industrial areas, at times when historically they were entitled to far greater recommendation than the more populous counties or shires. It was a matter of concern to them whether they lost their historic representation.

I do not dissent from the proposition, which is now accepted on both sides of the Committee as being almost axiomatic, that representation should be based on numbers—numerical representation. I am sure, however, that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), with his great sense of history, will agree with me that local considerations of historical significance also have a part to play, and I support this new Clause because I hope that in passing this Bill we shall not drift into a position in which we become so benumbed with mere arithmetic propositions that we ignore and depart entirely from the historical associations from which this Parliament is descended. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to write into this Bill that local authorities should be entitled to make representations to the Boundary Commission with regard either to the size of the area or to how the boundaries should be drawn.

The whole subject of local government is in the melting pot, and particularly so in view of the present Bill on the subject which is now being considered in detail by a Standing Committee. But whatever may be the pattern of local government organisation in the future, whatever may be appropriate for the administration of local government as such, that should not detract from the inherent and traditional right of any local authority, whether a county council or a borough council, a rural council or even a parish council, to make representations to this Boundary Commission, with suggestions derived from their own local knowledge and experience of how the boundaries should be drawn.

On that broad basic principle, I support this proposed new Clause and I hope it will be accepted.

Mr. Renton

I am sure that we would all agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) when he says that local authorities should have the right to make representations to the Boundary Commission, especially with regard to the need for the holding of an interim review.

As the background to this discussion there are, I think, three other things on which we can all agree, first, that it is a good thing that general reviews will be rather less frequent than under the old Act; secondly, that it is important that interim reviews should be held where necessary; and thirdly, that we do not want interim reviews to be too frequent or too extensive, for the reasons which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) put forward on 15th December, 1954, when, after complaining that a considerable number of interim reviews had taken place in Kent, he used these rather powerful words: It is quite unjustifiable to suggest that this sort of change is either necessary or achieves any useful democratic purpose. In the meantime, the individuals affected do not know who their Member of Parliament is, because there have been so many changes. We really must put a stop to that kind of nonsense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1828.] I therefore assume, in favour of the hon. Gentleman, that the last thing he would wish as a result of this Clause is that there should be unnecessary interim reviews.

As he has pointed out, and as I shall emphasise in one particular, local authorities, like any other individual, already have power to make representations to the Boundary Commission, and the Boundary Commission, under Section 2 (3) of the 1949 Act, has power to from time to time submit to the Secretary of State reports with respect to the area comprised in any particular constituency or constituencies in the part of the United Kingdom with which they are concerned, showing the constituencies into which they recommend that that area should be divided in order to give effect to the rules set out in the said Second Schedule. That is the power of interim review.

That being the present position what we have to consider is, what does the Clause really add to it? It does not add to the power to make representations to the Boundary Commission. It does not add any power to the Boundary Commission to make representation to the Secretary of State. All that it does, so far as I can see, is that when a local authority passes a resolution and makes a recommendation to the Boundary Commission the Clause will require the Boundary Commission to show cause why it will not hold the review if it decides not to do so; and then, of course, the matter is forwarded by the Commission to the Secretary of State, who can be required to lay before Parliament a report from the Boundary Commission as to why it decides not to hold a review.

That is the main effect. I shall be very glad to be corrected if I am wrong, as, perhaps, I may be, because this is a long new Clause which requires a lot of study. If I may say so, it has been most thoughtfully worked out, to try to cover the situation which hon. Members opposite have in mind. However, if that is all that this Clause adds to the present position, what we have to consider is whether it is really necessary to go through a rather elaborate procedure like that? I hope I shall not be considered to be provocative—although the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was inviting me to be as provocative as possible—if I say that I think that it would be rather over zealous to impose that procedure upon the opportunities which already exist. 8.15 p.m.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said very fairly indeed that if there were a case for revision of a single constituency the matter would hardly ever end there. Of course, I would agree with him, and the Clause recognises that. We might very well find that, owing to all the encouragement given by this new Clause to local authorities to pass such resolutions, and the feeling on the part of the Boundary Commission that it had to lean over backwards to do all it can do to consider the views of local authorities and, perhaps, to avoid having to make reports showing cause why it would not recommend alterations, we should be led into just that difficulty which in 1954 the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington deplored—the difficulty caused by too many interim reviews.

If we are extending the period between general reviews, there might of necessity—perhaps, according to circumstances—have to be rather more interim reviews. If the circumstances dictate that I should think it is hardly necessary for us to have a procedure of the kind suggested by the Clause.

Just suppose, however, that we accepted the principle and the spirit of this proposal, the question is, could we accept the Clause itself? There is at least one point in the drafting which, I am afraid, would vitiate it completely from our point of view, and that is subsection (8), which says: This section shall not apply to Northern Ireland or to any constituency in Great Britain, which appears to the appropriate Boundary Commission to be one to which rule 6 of the rules set out in the Second Schedule to the principal Act applies. An obscurity arises there, because although the decision is left with the Boundary Commission, one wonders, naturally, whether the Boundary Commission is expected to get out a list of those constituencies in which the local authorities would not be allowed to make recommendations under this Clause. If the Boundary Commission were to get out such a list I have a horrible feeling that it might arouse a certain amount of controversy in the minds of members of such local authorities. That certainly would be a matter to which we should have to attend.

One is very hesitant to mention Northern Ireland on an occasion like this when we have been discussing broad principles, but this Clause expressly excludes Northern Ireland, and although the number of seats for Northern Ireland is at present fixed in the Second Schedule as twelve, it might very well be thought by a local authority in Northern Ireland that it should have at least as good rights as local authorities anywhere else.

However, as I say, that is a drafting matter.

I would say to the hon. and learned Member that we do consider these as House of Commons matters. We have considered all the Amendments most carefully. The Home Secretary has considered the matter personally and in very great detail. If we felt that this Clause or any of the others would be likely to facilitate the work of the Boundary Commission, or to grant rights to local authorities or individuals which ought to be granted, then we should most certainly have conceded the Clause.

For the reasons I have given, we do not feel that we can accept the Clause. As I say, our main reason is that we do not think that it adds to the opportunities which already exist and that we feel that it would unnecessarily introduce a somewhat cumbersome procedure.

Mr. Mitchison

I agree that this is not an easy matter, but the Commission is to consist, besides Mr. Speaker, of the deputy-chairman and two members, one of whom is to be appointed by the hon. and learned Gentleman's right hon. Friend. At least, that is how I read it. It says: appointed by the Secretary of State and I think that must mean the Home Secretary in that context. I am thinking of England and Wales for the moment.

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman consider it the duty of the Home Office appointee on that Boundary Commission to keep an eye on the constituency position over the country, or, if not, would he regard it as the duty of the deputy-chairman, the High Court judge? It would help me a great deal—I am speaking personally—if I knew that the Home Secretary took the view that it was the responsibility of the Home Office appointee to keep an eye on the constituency position and to let the Boundary Commission know from time to time that there was a possibility that it ought to think of something or other. I do not see how, in practice, the High Court judge can do that. That is the point.

Mr. Renton

I would certainly agree that the Home Office appointee would have such a duty, but not for the reason that he was the Home Office appointee. I should have thought that the members of the Boundary Commission, having been appointed to fulfil statutory duties, would be individually and collectively responsible for seeing that they performed those duties. It will be their duty to scrutinise the population figures as produced by the Registrar-General, who will be an assessor, and to consider all representations made to them from time to time, and, generally, to keep their ears to the ground, in order that they may properly perform their statutory functions. I must stress, however, that I would not agree that the duty of a Home Office appointee would arise merely because he was a Home Office appointee, but would arise for the reasons I have given.

Mr. Mitchison

It comes to this, does it not, that the Home Secretary of the day takes no questionable responsibility, if the hon. and learned Gentleman knows what I mean, for the action or inaction of his appointee on the Boundary Commission? Therefore, so far as I can see, there is no Parliamentary responsibility. Because the Boundary Commission has power to make these interim reviews, it seems to be under the obligation to do so. I think that is the position.

I hope that the Government will consider the question. I agree that it is a difficult question and that, in practice, cases may not be very frequent. I agree, above all, that it is most inadvisable to have these interim reviews too often, but I am a little uneasy about this long period with nobody taking the responsibility for attending to what might be quite an abnormal growth of population, or something of that sort, in a constituency during the period.

Mr. Renton

Let us be a little realistic about the matter. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted "Pickwick Papers" and the Fat Boy. He said, "The Fat Boy is swelling wisibly." There is a further quotation about the Fat Boy. It is, "The Fat Boy has gone to sleep again." No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman remembers that. I think that if the hon. Member of Parliament who represents the Fat Boy keeps awake, the matter will right itself very quickly indeed.

Mr. Skeffington

I should like to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his courteous and patient reply, although, naturally, I found his rejoinder very disappointing. To some extent, I thought that his argument about frequent reviews and the quotation of my speech were not quite relevant, because the cases in Kent which I mentioned were not the results of interim reviews but the results of comprehensive reviews which were authorised by different Acts.

One case I had in mind was a place which, before 1945, was in one constituency, which was then placed by the 1944 review in another, then altered by the 1948 Act to another, and altered still further by the 1953 review. These were not interim reviews but the main general reviews, and it was that about which I was complaining. I do not quarrel with the general proposition that, in general, one does not want frequent reviews. The cases I mentioned were unnecessary changes as a result of the comprehensive reviews carried out by the various Commissions.

The real point at issue, and the point on which the hon. and learned Gentleman has not satisfied me, is that the Clause gives the right to a local authority to initiate a proposal direct to the Secretary of State. A local authority has not that right under the existing law or under the proposed changes in the Bill. That is very important. I do not think it is right to say that because a local authority can get in touch with the Boundary Commission, the power given to it under the Clause would add nothing. Getting in touch with the Boundary Commission may mean a lot or nothing.

Some of us and some local authorities had very unfortunate experiences in trying to get in touch with the Boundary Commission during the last review. One would not necessarily suppose, of course, that the difficulties which then arose would arise in future. A great many reviews were taking place, and the Boundary Commission was no doubt very considerably overworked. But representations were made by local authorities, and there was no indication that any attention at all had been paid to their proposals. That was particularly the case when no inquiries were held. As the Committee will be aware, there were only seven inquiries for the whole of England. It is, therefore, a rather poor bone to offer the local authorities to say that they can get in touch with the Boundary Commission. No doubt they will get their representations acknowledged, but there is no guarantee of anything more.

A representation to the Secretary of State is worth very much more. He is bound by constitutional practice as well as, I am sure, by general desire and courtesy to make a reply. Furthermore, he can be questioned in the House. The Boundary Commission cannot be questioned in the House. It may be right that it should not. Therefore, the really fundamental additional power which the provisions in the new Clause give is a right of direct representation to the Secretary of State. With respect, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman met that point. 8.30 p.m.

If Rule 6 is the difficulty I am quite prepared to drop it. It is a very minor point indeed. I realise that it might be difficult legally. It was included in the Clause because, obviously, where there are special geographical considerations, one would not want to prejudice the electors there. I do not, in fact, think that representations would be made; any area which was very much over-represented, in the sense of its population being small, would have little desire to change. Such areas are usually only too glad to hang on to the representation they have. However, I am very willing, and I am sure that my supporters also would be willing to drop it. For the sake of peace and quiet—no doubt, unusual in this context—I should be glad also to embrace Northern Ireland, if that would help.

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will reply to the main point I have made about the right of direct access to the Secretary of State. If he cannot concede the principle of the Clause, will he give some undertaking that the matter might be reviewed at a later stage? Rather than have nothing, I and my hon. Friends would be content with, at least, the right to present to the Home Office a case for a prima facie inquiry. If it went no farther than that, I think that it would be better than nothing. But without some powers of this kind, we shall be left with no responsible body being able to make direct representation to the Secretary of State. I regard that as a lacuna which should be filled.

Mr. Renton

I am glad that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has raised this further point. During our discussion, the matter has really been fined down to the question of what parliamentary responsibility there is. The hon. Gentleman is contriving a procedure which, he hopes, will of certainty engage the responsibility of the Secretary of State. Earlier, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) asked a question which corresponded broadly with that. He asked what duty there was on the part of members of the Boundary Commission to keep the state of constituencies under review so as to see whether any particular interim review was needed.

The first answer to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that the Act of 1949 begins, apart from the Short Title and Preamble, with these words: For the purpose of the continuous review of the distribution of seats at parliamentary elections, there shall be four permanent Boundary Commissions. Those words place upon the Boundary Commission, I suggest, the duty of continuous review, because that is the purpose of their existence.

As regards the position of the Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend has said that, although he has no right whatever to interfere with the work of the Boundary Commissions or to dictate to them how they shall do their work, he is quite prepared to pass to the appropriate Boundary Commission any representations which he may receive from, for example, any Member of Parliament or any local authority. A Question can always be put to the Secretary of State as to whether he has forwarded such representation. If that is not coming very close indeed to engaging parliamentary responsibility for the work of the Boundary Commission, I do not know what is.

Question put and negatived.

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)

I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss with the next new Clause the first Amendment to the Schedule, in page 5, line 2.