HC Deb 27 March 1958 vol 585 cc654-71

In the application of rule 1 of the rules set out in the Second Schedule to the principal Act (which states the number of constituencies for the several parts of the United Kingdom) England shall be treated as such a part with a number of constituencies not substantially greater or less than five hundred and thirty (instead of, as at present, Great Britain being treated as such a part with a number of constituencies not substantially greater or less than six hundred and thirteen); and that rule shall be amended accordingly.—[Mr. Mitchison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Mitchison

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

This new Clause raises the question not only of the discrepancy between the number of electors per constituency in England, in Scotland and in Wales, but also of the number of Members that there could conveniently be in this House. The present position is that the rules provide for a fixed number of Members for Northern Ireland, a minimum for Scotland and a minimum for Wales. There is no question about Northern Ireland. Scotland has the minimum exactly. Wales has the minimum and one more; and it may be that the provision that we have just passed about Monmouth will add another seat. Nevertheless, substantially Wales is on the minimum. 6.45 p.m.

England is dealt with in this way. Great Britain as a whole has to have a total not substantially greater or less than 613. What happened on the last occasion when the Boundary Commission made its Report was as follows. Having ascertained the position as regards Scotland and Wales, the Commission was left with a number of 506 for England. It applied the electoral quota as it understood it, and the result would have been 519 seats for England. The Commission, however, took the view that that was substantially greater than the number in the Bill and accordingly, in the result, its recommendations were for 511 seats.

I am not for the moment quarrelling with that. I merely say that it was a rather unsatisfactory result because, on the limited equality which the Commission would have considered advisable, it was only the number of seats being substantially greater than the total derived from the provisions of the Bill that prevented it from giving effect to that. It had to allot England fewer seats than it thought right.

When we come to actual figures—I produced them on Second Reading, and I shall not produce them at great length again—there is a distinct discrepancy. There is a reason for some discrepancy, but on the existing position, taking the electorate as it was when the Report was issued, the figures were 56,564 in England, 50,363 in Wales, and 48,011 in Scotland. Those understate the discrepancy a little because of the Rule 6 constituencies, the ones with exceptional geographical considerations. We all recognise that they are apt to be distinctly smaller than the average in electorate. Consequently, if we left them out of the picture, the discrepancy would not be so large. Nevertheless, it exists, and it is quite definite. It is larger between England and Scotland than as between England and Wales.

Sir G. Nicholson

What would be the average Scottish figure if the exceptional constituencies were left out?

Mr. Mitchison

I cannot give the answer. I could give a guess as to what I thought the exceptional considerations were, and over Scotland, if I took the seven crofting counties, I do not think I should be far wrong. It is much harder to calculate for Wales, because I am not sure to which of the counties Rule 6 would, in the opinion of the Commission, apply. No one, however, will deny that the discrepancy exists if we take the average, leaving out any reasonably assumed Rule 6 cases.

Sir G. Nicholson

Not so great.

Mr. Mitchison

Not so great, but distinct and definite. The question is whether we ought not to ask for some more seats in England. No one wants to attack the number of seats in Scotland or Wales; I certainly do not. I appreciate that the existence of the crofter county seats in Scotland, for instance, makes it a little more difficult to try to reduce the number of Scottish seats and therefore to increase the average of non-crofting Scottish seats. It lends colour to a somewhat smaller electorate in neighbouring parts of Scotland, even though those parts are not Rule 6 cases. Still the discrepancy is there. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman or the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department can give us any more accurate figures than I have given, but I feel certain it will not be denied that the discrepancy exists and that it is distinct and recognisable. I suggest that there is no reason for it at present.

There is, moreover, another factor, namely, that the English population is growing much faster than the Scottish. I cannot give electoral figures, I do not think they are generally available, but the population figures show a much more rapid increase, and, indeed, it is what one would expect. There has been a general trend southwards for some time past, not merely of people who come to manage English affairs and then return to Scotland when they have finished, but of people who, for reasons of occupation or of choice, come south. I am not making any comment on it, and I cannot for the moment see any Scottish Members about, but even if they are not, I still make no comment. The position tends to be the same as regards Wales.

In those circumstances, we are dealing with a period that cannot be before November, 1964, and may go to November, 1969. Therefore, we ought to make an allowance not only for the increase that has occurred since the figures I have referred to, which are those used by the Commissioners in their November, 1954, Report, but also for the increase which is almost certain to continue until sometime between 1964 and 1969.

Though, of course, one can vary the figures, I suggest that what we have asked for in this proposed Clause is, from the English point of view, a moderate request. We have asked for 530. The figure at which the Boundary Commission jibbed, if I have it aright, was 519 and the increase would more than allow for that. Even so, when that has been done, owing to the way in which the Boundary Commissioners applied the quota arrangement, I doubt whether we would be up to the Scottish average.

It may be said that we ought not to add even nineteen extra Members to a House where many of us often feel that there is a considerable lack of accommodation already. This is not the moment to ask the Government to carry out recommendations of reports on that subject, but we used to have the Southern Irish in this House, and when they were here the number was 30 or 40 more than it is now. Though, of course, the building is not the same, the accommodation was meant to correspond, and I doubt whether an addition of this kind would seriously hinder the work we have to do here, or whether that is a good reason for accepting an English inferiority in numbers which seems to me in this case to go beyond a justifiable reason.

Therefore, the form of the proposed Clause is to substitute 530 as the figure for England, not substantially greater or less, instead of the Great Britain figure of 613. I do not think much turns on whether we do it that way, and I would not regard that as a matter of great importance, though it has always seemed to me simpler in the actual circumstances of the case to have a separate English figure. What is important is that we are asking for nineteen extra English Members on the substantial ground that the English representation is too unfair by comparison with the Scottish and Welsh figures.

Finally, I would not object to a certain advantage for Scotland and Wales, although I find it hard to give the reasons for that. I believe there are historical reasons one could give as regards Scotland and I have mentioned the point of the crofting counties. All I say at present is that this would still leave that advantage to Scottish and Welsh boroughs.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

My hon. and learned Friend has put forward an unanswerable argument for this proposed Clause. It seems to me that where we commence the inquiry by providing, as I understand the existing procedure does, for a minimum number of seats for Scotland and also for Wales, and then put a ceiling on the total representation, there is obviously a risk that England may become seriously under-represented. That risk is all the more serious when the movement of population is increasingly in the direction of England.

Speaking early in the discussion on this Clause, may I say that what would appear to be a relevant piece of information for the Committee to consider in this connection is the number of Rule 6 cases in England. For all I know there may be none, but it is a relevant factor how many of those cases, if any, there are in England, how many there are in Wales, and how the proportion of those cases between England and Wales compares with the proportion of population.

Representing an English constituency, I am greatly impressed by this discrepancy between 56,564 for England and 50,363 for Wales. It seems a very large discrepancy. As my hon. and learned Friend indicated, the figure of 48,011 for Scotland may not have the same relevance on this matter because of the influence exerted by the crofting constituencies, but surely that factor is far less important in Wales. I think that in considering this matter it is the discrepancy between the English figure and the Welsh figure that calls for the most searching examination.

This is not a matter on which I believe there could be a very strong difference of opinion in the Committee, because the objective which we all have is quite clear. We desire the fairest distribution of representation, bearing in mind that there will always be anomalies created by Rule 6 cases. On the other hand, we want to know more than I know at the moment about the operation of Rule 6 and we need a further explanation of the very striking discrepancies between the figure for England and the figure for Wales.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) that the discrepancy between the position in England and the position in Wales is probably not more marked than that between England and Scotland because of the application of Rule 6. My hon. Friend referred to the seven Scottish crofting constituencies. There are possibly three or four constituencies in Wales in that category, and having regard to the fact that the population and electorate of Wales are almost exactly half those of Scotland, the qualifying incidence of the crofting counties is similar in both countries.

May I turn to a more general point about the comparison between the quotas in the three countries? Some hon. Members seem to think that the differences in the three quotas are excessive, but, personally, I do not think they are. I recall that between the Act of 1885 and 1918 the country tolerated electorates which varied from a few hundreds in some of the small historic boroughs to 30,000 in Walthamstow. That situation was not put right in 1918.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has repeatedly drawn the attention of the House to similar but not identical numerical anomalies between the wars and since. I do not think that we can avoid these anomalies, nor can we pare down the so-called quota discrepancies between the three countries much more than we have already done. The figure for England is rather over 56,000, that for Wales is rather over 50,000, and that for Scotland is about 48,000. I think that the relative identity of representation is rather good.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill, who is sitting next to me, suggests that the ratio was metaphysical.

Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)

Let us all join in. We cannot hear the hon. Member.

Mr. Roberts

I do not think the Scottish quota was unduly metaphysical.

I do not think we need worry unduly about the quotas. We have achieved a reasonable parity between the three countries in the figures which I have given, having regard to the very wide disparity in local conditions in the outlying parts of the community.

I hope that in considering the Amendment we shall not over-argue in favour of mathematical identity of quotas. This does not mean that I, as a Welsh representative, am in any way opposed to increasing the number of English representatives. I think that it can be done without injury to either the Scottish or the Welsh representation. It should proceed, however, less on the mathematical basis and more on the practical basis as related to the local difficulties in England, Scotland and Wales.

Mr. Pickthorn

I was not here on Second Reading, and I hope that it is in order now to refer to what would have been in order then. I think that it is in order to do so on the Amendment.

The difficulty about the Amendment, with whichever prejudice we approach the subject—either prejudice from this side of the Committee or prejudice from the other side of the Committee—is quite clear. Most of us who are here now have taken a considerable interest in this matter on one or more previous occasions, and on each of those occasions, and certainly upon the last, it was quite plainly admitted that the situation as it then stood, or rather the distribution as it was then proposed, was in some respects intolerable and the proposal was then driven through.

It therefore becomes impossible to amend this Bill, which leaves those intolerabilities, so as to make it seem fair to both sides of the Committee. I think some gleam of hope was given by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts). The difficulty with which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was trying to deal was the difficulty of not increasing excessively the number of Members in the House and yet not being excessively unjust to England, a very odd, if not unique, ambition, the second part of it, if I may say so, but one with which I sympathise.

I believe that the hon. Member for Caernarvon showed how it could be done. He mentioned that it made no difference at all whether the average quota was 50,000 or 56,000. Very well; let us have the average quota for Scotland and Wales 56,000 and the average quota for England something not much more than 50,000, thus saving on Scotland and Wales enough seats to enable us to do justice to England.

Mr. Lipton

I will dispense with the preamble, which is already on record, and deal with what I think is the fundamental point, which has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He has slightly departed from what he said on Second Reading, because on that occasion he said The discrepancy is, obviously, very large".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1958; Vol. 581, c. 234.] I do not think he stands by that now, because tonight he said that the discrepancy is undesirable or greater than it should be.

As the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) said, it all depends what we take as our starting point. My learned Friend said that the representation for Scotland and Wales was more or less correct, and that the representation of England ought therefore to be increased. It is just as logical to take the view that Scotland and Wales are over-represented and that the number of hon. Members representing English constituencies does not need to be increased.

If, for example, at some time or other the Boundary Commission or such authority as may exist decided that the total number of Members should be 500, that would give an electoral quota of about 69,000 over the whole of Great Britain, and it would mean that there would be ninety-nine fewer English Members of Parliament, twenty-two fewer Scottish Members, and nine fewer Welsh Members. The Northern Ireland representation is already related to that quota, and would not change. Nobody can tell me that the work of the House could not be done just as effectively by 500 Members attending to their duties as it is at present by 630, of which 130 do not attend to their duties.

If we examine the situation in other Parliamentary assemblies, we find that whereas in France the average number of electors per representative is 49,000—which is too few from our point of view—in the United States of America the figure is 236,000 and in the German Federal Republic, 70,000. The German Federal Republic carries on its business with reasonable efficiency.

I know that the right hon and learned Gentleman is getting a little impatient and wants to take part in the discussion in order to give us the benefit of his views, but I must ask him to exercise his patience for a further few minutes.

The Attorney-General

The hon. Member has no grounds for saying that. I was merely picking up some paper in order to take a note of what he is saying. He really ought to apologise.

Mr. Lipton

I apologise unreservedly. I mistook the interest he was taking in what I was saying for an impatience at what I was saying. In those circumstances, I unreservedly withdraw my remark and hope that what I am saying is having some effect.

I suggest that we ought not immediately to come to the conclusion that the only solution of the problem is to increase the number of parliamentary representatives in this House. In the German Federal Republic, members find no difficulty in representing 70,000 electors each, and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) carries out his duties as well as any other Member while representing about 80,000 electors. I have not noticed that by reason of the fact that he represents such a large electorate he is any less efficient or active than other hon. Members in the discharge of his duties.

I should like my hon. and learned Friend to think about what he is saying. I do not believe that it is necessary to increase the number of hon. Members in order to ensure the efficient carrying out of our Parliamentary duties. If we have to make any change it should be by way of reduction. I know that in the case of Scotland and Wales all kinds of geographical and historical considerations enter into the matter, but it is rather ridiculous to say that because there are some crofting counties in the north of Scotland the number of Members of Parliament representing English constituencies should be increased.

7.15 p.m.

The Attorney-General

It might be to the convenience of the Committee if I said something about the Amendment now, and so help hon. Members to reach a conclusion. The hon. and learned Member based his argument upon the existence of a discrepancy between the electoral quotas of England, Wales and Scotland. Whether the hon. and learned Member's views are well founded, or whether the view of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)—who has said that we should not immediately come to the conclusion that there is only one solution of the problem—is well founded, I submit that although, technically, the proposed new Clause is within the scope of the Bill, it is not within the scope of its intentions.

In 1944 there was the Speaker's Conference, which was attended by representatives of all parties. That Conference favoured the acceptance of certain rules, among which was Rule 6, referring to the total number of Members of Parliament, which said: The total number of Members of the House of Commons for Great Britain shall remain substantially as at present, (i.e) 591, excluding University seats. That figure was then incorporated in the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1944. It is important to bear in mind that the Conference seems to have reached the conclusion that for the proper conduct of the business of the House of Commons the target figure should be 591, not taking into account the university seats which then existed.

Mr. Mitchison

Including Northern Ireland.

The Attorney-General

Including Northern Ireland. It also recommended that there should be the following special provision for Scotland and Wales—which is Rule 7: There shall be no reduction in the present number of Members of the House of Commons for Scotland or for Wales and Monmouthshire. That is where we get the present statutory stipulation of not fewer than 71, 35 and 12 Members respectively. That recommendation was clearly accepted by the Socialist Party when it formed a Government, because it was embodied in Rule 1 of the 1944 Act, which was passed during the time of the Coalition Government, and remained until it was altered by the 1948 Act. The Committee will remember that at that time, contrary to the Boundary Commission's recommendation, 17 seats were added, bringing the figure up to its present level.

The new proposal is that there should be a further 19 seats, and if I understand it right the object is to narrow the discrepancy between the electorates of England and the electorates of Scotland and Wales respectively, so as to try to make the weight of an Englishman's vote correspond more nearly to the effect of a vote of a Scotsman in Scotland, a Welshman in Wales and a Northern Irishman in Northern Ireland. That discrepancy between the electorates originated in the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, if not before.

Whatever may be the view of what ought to be done, and what is the right size of the House, it follows that if we accept the view that it should not be less than 71 Scottish seats, 35 Welsh seats and 12 seats for Northern Ireland, and also the conclusion that the House should remain at more or less its present membership, we must accept a discrepancy between the electorates in the different parts of the United Kingdom.

This is not the place for making any further alteration in that respect. An attempt to correct the balance between the different parts of the United Kingdom should not be made by means of the addition of a Clause of this character, providing a particular solution, in a Bill of this character. I suggest that that certainly should not be done without careful consideration of the whole problem again by another Speaker's Conference.

Mr. Mitchison

I appreciate what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, but I wonder whether he could tell us one thing. The trouble seems to me to be that the discrepancy that existed then was smaller than the discrepancy that exists now. Can he give us any figures on that point?

The Attorney-General

I do not think I can; I do not think I have them in my possession. Nor can I answer the question put to me by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) as to how many constituencies Rule 6 would apply, for the simple reason, as has been said before today, that the Boundary Commission does not give reasons in its Report for its conclusions. One can only speculate, and I do not think that speculation would be very helpful.

The point I am seeking to make is that the correction of the discrepancy between the different parts of the United Kingdom is a subject not for these Bills, but for consideration at another Speaker's Conference, when the time comes for such a conference. It may be—one does not know, and cannot predict—that there will be further shifts of population in one direction or another, but I am quite sure that we ought not to alter the balance between the respective parts of the United Kingdom without giving very careful consideration to the whole problem. One ought not lightly to depart from the accepted recommendations of a Speaker's Conference which have stood for so long.

May I add a further word? Various suggestions have been made. It was said, for instance, on Second Reading by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that we might have the same quota for England as now exists for Scotland. I quote the right hon. Gentleman's words: If we took the same quota for England as exists at the moment for Scotland, we should redress the balance and be able to feel that we were still preserving the Act of Union."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1958; Vol. 582, c. 262.] Of course, we would in one respect, but the consequences of this would be that England alone would have 607 seats in a House with a total membership of 726. We ought not to provide for that eventuality, I submit, by adding a Clause of this character to a Bill of this character, and it is for these reasons that I advise the Committee not to add the Clause to the Bill.

I have intervened now because I felt that perhaps these considerations might enable the Committee to reach a fairly speedy conclusion on this matter. It has been an interesting discussion. It is quite obvious that it is not being conducted entirely on party lines, but that some difference of attitude seems to depend upon from which part of the United Kingdom one may come.

Mr. Skeffington

I do not wish to prolong the discussion unduly, but I think there are one or two things that need to be said, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Attorney-General will give some further consideration to them.

I believe that if there were an offer of or suggestion for a Speaker's Conference, that would indeed be the best way of dealing with this point. Nevertheless, I do not think that the new Clause is out of keeping with the Bill. The Clause does not raise a matter of fundamental constitutional importance; it is merely an attempt to get some greater equality between the representation from different parts of the United Kingdom. This is merely an alteration of a comparatively minor character.

Before I develop the other points, I wish to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) that I do not support his argument. I wondered why, when there is some unemployment already in the country as the result of the Government's policy, my hon. Friend should suggest that we should increase it still further by putting Members of Parliament out of work. Then, again, if my hon. Friend thinks that the number of Members here could be reduced, I do not know what he would have thought about the composition of the House of Commons a hundred years ago, when there were 700 Members, but when the electorate of each constituency was a few hundred and the population of the country was much smaller.

I should have thought also, in reply to another point made by my hon. Friend, that a comparison between the responsibilities of British Members of Parliament and, with all respect to them, the responsibilities of Deputies in the West German Republic, was irrelevant. In addition to our responsibilities for the United Kingdom in this House, we also have responsibilities for the 60 million people in the Colonial Commonwealth who look to us. I think that, for all these reasons, there is no serious case for cutting down representation here.

I think it was the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation who said something the other day with which I agree. It was that when one looks at certain problems, one sometimes wishes that we had a Secretary of State for England to look after our interests. Certainly, I think in the matter of the great difference in the size of electorates between the English constituencies and the Welsh and Scottish constituencies, that sort of consideration arises. Why should an English Member have to represent so many more electors? One of the reasons why English Members have to represent a larger electorate is undoubtedly the use last time of the electoral quota which has now been authorised under this Bill for future redistributions. It is, incidentally, a tribute to those of us who believe that the Commission was, in fact, working upon an unauthorised quota that powers have been taken in this Bill to legalise the special quotas for different parts of the United Kingdom.

If one takes the number of constituencies which must be reserved to other parts of the United Kingdom, which on the last occasion totalled 107 for England and Wales and 12 for Northern Ireland, we are bound to get, unless there is some increase in English representation, a very much higher electorate for English constituencies. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) realised that the comparison was very much worse than even he suggested. He quoted the British quota of 55,670 which, in fact, was not the quota used. Indeed, I do not know whether the figures of the electorates now are different, because we have not been given any figures so far in the debate, but in 1953 the English quota worked out at 57,000, and the difference in the representation is that the average for Scotland in 1953 worked out at 50,353, a difference of about 7,000. In the case of the Welsh seats in 1953, the average was 48,000 electors, as compared with an electorate of 57,000 for the English constituencies. I think it will be rather difficult to justify that magnitude of difference of 9,000 between constituencies in the two countries, and I would still hope that further consideration might be given to this point.

I think there are two further arguments in support of the Clause. In the first case, from 1801 to 1918, this House was composed of about 700 Members. It did fluctuate from time to time, and at one period it was slightly less and at another slightly higher. The proposal in the Clause would not mean any more seats than the House has had for nearly 100 years.

Secondly, it appears from the movement of the electorates and populations that the English electorates are going to increase. If so, this is the time to make some concession to prevent the considerable difference in the electorates—which in the case of the Welsh and English constituencies is nearly 10,000—from becoming even bigger. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give some undertaking about this. If he cannot accept the Motion, he may indicate that some further consultation can take place.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Parker

The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) and myself are the only two hon. Members present in the Chamber who were at the Speaker's Conference, and I should like to raise various points regarding that conference with the Attorney-General. When we discussed this subject in 1944 there was a basic assumption that the population would remain roughly the same, and that the proportion of the population as between England, Scotland and Wales would remain roughly the same. But that has not been the case. There has been an increase in the population of the United Kingdom as a whole, and particularly in the population of England. That rise is going on steadily, so that the solution arrived at in 1944 is not relevant today and will become less relevant as time goes on.

I agree that in 1944 we decided it was right and reasonable that Wales and Scotland should be given a larger representation than the numbers justified. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) that there should be a continuing bias in favour of Wales and Scotland. The question is, how large should it be. I suggest that we should stick to the 1944 position and not differentiate further. That would be a reasonable solution. Let us keep the Welsh and Scottish figures as they were, but if we find, as is the case, that the population of England is increasing, there is a strong argument for increasing the representation and bringing it up to the same proportion as that decided in 1944.

I do not see why we cannot have a few extra Members in this House to represent English constituencies, if that would appear the right way to solve the difficulty. As has been said, there were times over a long period of history when the number of hon. Members was larger than it is today, and I do not think that a small increase, say to 650, or even another 10 or 20 more than that, would matter very much. We could have that number of Members without upsetting the arrangements of this House. I suggest that we go back to the 1944 position and add a number of extra English Members to keep the same sort of ratio from a population point of view.

If the population of England continues to increase, it might be necessary to examine the matter again; but I should think that in the long run the population of the United Kingdom will stabilise itself and there will not be need for a further drastic increase of Members. If in, say, a hundred years the number were unmanageable the matter might be examined again, but that problem is not likely to arise for a long time. I ask the Attorney-General to go back to the 1944 position and be prepared himself to bring forward some Amendment to enable the English representation to be increased to bring it to the 1944 proportion. I do not think there is need for a Speaker's Conference on that point. We are merely suggesting that we stick to the 1944 position. I do not think there is any strong feeling in the Committee that we should move away from that position.

Mr. Mitchison

Originally I had no intention of inviting the Committee to come to a decision on this matter, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation put before me by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. This new Clause has been on the Order Paper for some time. This subject—including the disparity and the question of the growth of the population—was mentioned more than once during the Second Reading debate. I can understand the Government saying that they do not think this is the right time to deal with it, but I do not understand the Government refusing to equip themselves with the necessary information which hon. Members obviously are entitled to have in order to form an opinion on the subject. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "I should like another Speaker's Conference, if I am to deal with this at all, and for that reason I have not equipped myself with the information."

The Attorney-General

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not desire to misrepresent what I said. I did not say anything of the sort he is suggesting. I said that last time there was a Speaker's Conference on the matter, and that we should not make a change of this character in this Bill without the matter first being considered by another Speaker's Conference. It was not on the ground that I had not equipped myself with the necessary information, and the hon. Gentleman has no reason for making that allegation.

Mr. Mitchison

I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if I said, or if he understood me to say, that he said he had not equipped himself with sufficient information for the purpose, I withdraw it unreservedly. I had no intention of saying it. I said that the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for another Speaker's Conference and he also admitted, in the state of affairs which I have mentioned—the new Clause having been on the Order Paper for some days and the whole matter having been discussed during the Second Reading debate—that he had not the obviously relevant information about it. I regard that as unfair to the Commission since that information must have been readily available at the Home Office and could well have been produced.

The point is, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), that the Speaker's Conference came to the conclusion, on the state of affairs existing at that time, as I admitted when moving the Motion, that there is a case, apart from the Rule 6 question, of there being some disparity in favour of Scotland and Wales. We admit that, but the point is that the disparity has grown and is still growing. I gave the figures so far as I could get them as at the date of the Report of the Boundary Commission. I added during the Second Reading debate, and I repeat again now, that since then the English population—I have not got the electoral figures—has been increasing twice as fast as the Scottish population. Clearly, the electoral position must reflect the same sort of change.

For those reasons there is no inconsistency whatever in saying now that on the principles agreed by the Speaker's Conference, and even on the proportion agreed, some figure or other ought to be allowed by way of an increased number of seats for England. There is no inconsistency about that. On the contrary, the inconsistency lies in the mouth of the Attorney-General who not only wants to go back on the conclusions of the Speaker's Conference, but also takes no account of the fact that since then the House has added an additional number of Members.

Clearly, the only conclusion I can draw from the Speaker's Conference is that it recognised the wisdom of some discrepancy and, further, that it gave attention to the matter and laid down minimum figures for Scotland and Wales which, unlike one of my hon. Friends, I would not wish to alter.

The right way to deal with the matter is to give some, not very large, English increases. The Government have always known that if they refused the necessary information it would be extraordinarily difficult to say what the right figure was. I should not be justified in asking the Committee to come to a decision on the Clause, when the figure of the additional votes must so largely be guesswork. I am trying to resist the temptation to ask for a decision because of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply. I think I have succeeded. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.