§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I beg to move,That this House deplores the action of the Secretary of State for the Home Department in yielding to Labour Party political pressure concerning ward boundaries in Northampton and in reversing his decision to accept the report of an independent commissioner who had conducted a full public inquiry.The Motion clearly affects the Home Secretary in a matter of importance concerning his office, but I would like to make it perfectly plain at the outset that it is not my intention in what I have to say to use any words impugning his honour or integrity in a matter of this kind. All of us who know him in the House, on both sides, will realise, I think, that no Motion of that kind and no speech of that kind could really be made.
What I propose to do, however, is to question the right hon. and learned Gentleman's judgment and it is a part of my case that he has been guilty of a serious error of judgment in an important matter of Home Office administration and that he has shown some weakness under what, undoubtedly, was strong political pressure. On any account, the events that he set in train are, I think—and I believe that he would agree—remarkable in character.
To set up a second inquiry into ward boundaries because the result of the first one was not to the liking of the Labour Party is certainly a departure from the standards which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has normally used in exercising what must be regarded as a quasi-judicial function. To postpone elections, including by-elections, in the borough, thus freezing a Labour majority and disfranchising not only new electors who might be brought in, but all existing electors—Liberals, Conservatives and Socialists alike—in the borough over a period of months is, at least in our view, something of an abuse of the normal procedures of democracy.
I say at once that the issues with which we are concerned here go, of course, in their implication a good deal wider than the ward boundaries in Northampton. They touch, in an important particular, 629 on the policy and practice of the Home Office. The reviews of Parliamentary or local government boundaries are a matter of concern to everybody in the House of Commons and in the country. Indeed, many of them are in prospect all over the country. The practice followed has been hallowed by tradition and the sudden intervention by the senior Secretary of State, when that intervention is specifically made upon political grounds, must be a matter of grave import to the House of Commons. It must have fairly far-reaching consequences for the future, as I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree.
There are quite a lot of curious features about this story, but I want to restrict what I have to say to what I think is the gravamen of the charge. It is that having approved the report of an independent inquiry, the right hon. and learned Gentleman received political representations to overturn it. Having listened to those representations ex parte, without asking anybody else to express a view, he reversed his decision and ordered a new inquiry and determined that meanwhile the borough should for all practical purposes be disfranchised. Those are grave charges. I want to state the background factually and as shortly as I can.
Towards the end of 1963, proposals were in train for an extension of the boundaries of the Borough of Northampton. It is common ground that this extension called for a redefinition of the ward boundaries within the new extended borough. Instructions to this end were issued on 25th March, 1964, in a letter from the Home Secretary. The instructions are worth pondering. They were:The natural aims in drawing up the new ward boundaries would no doubt be—As I understand it, that letter is in common form and the House will realise that there is no reference to political considerations of any kind whatever. The 630 instructions were on the criteria laid down by the letter.
- (a) to provide an approximately equal number of local government electors for each councillor, allowance being made for any likely change in electorate because of development within the next five years; and
- (b) to have regard—
- (i) to the desirability of having easily identifiable boundaries; and
- (ii) to any local ties which would be broken by the fixing of any particular boundary."
On 24th July, control of the Northampton Council passed to the Labour Party on a very narrow majority and on an election petition concerning a spoiled vote. On 24th September, the Home Office gave notice of a local inquiry, which was the normal and proper course to take, and appointed an experienced barrister—a man who, I understand, has conducted a number of these inquiries before—Mr. Verney, to look into these matters and to report.
On 12th October, the inquiry opened and there were two proposals before it. One was the town clerk's proposal, which was supported at the inquiry by the Labour Party. Indeed, the chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee gave evidence in support of it. The second was some counter-proposals, which were not original but which were second thoughts in the way of proposals, which Conservative councillors had put forward and which were supported by Mr. Walmsley, who is a solicitor of the Supreme Court.
Each side had had some weeks to consider these matters and had full knowledge of what the other side was to do. As is not unusual in these cases, each side considered that its proposals would provide five seats to each of the parties and leave two uncertain. Each side held the view that the scheme of the other would secure a majority of two for the opponents. These were not matters, and it is common ground that they were not matters, about which Mr. Verney was called upon to adjudicate, and, of course, no reference to them was contained in the criteria set before him.
Against that background, the town clerk opened his case with supporting evidence from Labour councillors and, in particular, from the chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee. He did it in these terms, that the basis which he had adopted was to follow the criteria laid down by the Secretary of State, namely, approximate equality of electorates, making allowance for development within the next five years, easily identifiable boundaries and local ties, saying that any suggestion that the proposals were designed to secure a permanent Labour majority was 631 unfounded and that any political result would be fortuitous.
Mr. Walmsley, with the counter-proposal, intervened to say that he would not make the inquiry political in any way. This approach was entirely consistent with the Home Secretary's instructions and it was stated in the presence of Labour councillors.
At that stage, the inquiry got down to a hard analysis of the criteria which the Home Secretary had set. If the House will bear with me, I want to refer to the merits which they discussed and considered and how they discussed and considered them before I deal with the political issue. I do not want to miss out anything. I will deal fully with the political point, but it is important to separate the merits of the case as set out by the Home Secretary and to raise the political points later.
Mr. Walmsley stated his objections to the town clerk's proposals in these words:There remain three objections. First, unnecessary disturbance of existing ward boundaries and no sufficient account taken of historic associations or present ward loyalties. Secondly, artificial ward boundaries are created instead of such boundaries following clearly defined courses. Thirdly, insufficient numbers have been allocated to the inner land-locked wards which have no room for growth and are in many cases affected by proposals for slum clearance which will further reduce the numbers of the electors living in the ward, whereas in the outer ring of wards there is considerable growth potential.A great deal of the inquiry was about this third point. If exact equality of numbers in all the wards now were sought, then, as the density decreased at the centre and building took place outside, in the view of the objectors the result would be inappropriate in five years' time. As the House will recall, the Home Secretary had specifically asked that this point should be properly and fully considered by Mr. Verney.
It therefore fell to Mr. Verney to investigate these matters and to report, and the Home Secretary will agree that he did a painstaking and thorough job. He went to view the sites; his listened to the evidence and it is clear from the report—I will quote any part of it if the Home Secretary so wishes—that he did not accept everything that either side said about matters of this character. Even- 632 tually, he came to the decision which the Home Secretary will find on page 24 of the typescript.
The first quotation I want to make goes to the specific point about the inner and outer wards. He said:I accept the basic proposition that the inner ward should now be above the average and the outer wards below the average, if eventual parity is to be achieved.Then he came to his conclusion and said:Both the schemes which were put forward at the inquiry were honest attempts"—I ask the House to mark those words—to divide the County Borough into wards in strict accordance with the criteria laid down. The Council's scheme achieves more immediate parity of electorates, but the author of it conceded that, although he had looked to the future, he had not been in a position to ascertain all the current development plans, since he was acting privately in August, 1963. Accepting that due regard ought to be paid to foreseeable changes in the next five years, I am not convinced that the Council's scheme will show an equality of electorates at the end of that period.In recommending for acceptance the scheme prepared by the Conservative Group for the purpose of the inquiry, I am impressed by the evidence secured as to future trends both of development and clearance, and by the probability that within the relevant period something approaching equality will be achieved. The boundaries selected are, in my opinion, preferable to those put forward by the Council, and there is no obvious interference with any existing community of interest.I will refer to that again when I come to the political point.
Pausing there, on the merits of the case—that is, on the criteria posed to Mr. Verney by the Home Secretary—and confronted with these choices on the broad point that he had to decide, he came down, after careful consideration, firmly against the town clerk's proposals and in favour of the counter proposals.
That report containing that recommendation was forwarded to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary, or the Home Office, considered it with the care normally given to matters of this character and his views were conveyed in a letter dated 23rd December, which reads as follows:The Secretary of State has carefully considered Mr. Verney's report and the counterproposals made by the Conservative group of Northampton county borough councillors supported by the Northampton Conservative and Unionist Association. He notes that all 633 parties agreed, and Mr. Verney recommended, that there should be twelve wards for the enlarged county borough each returning three councillors. The Secretary of State accepts this proposal.The Secretary of State has considered the main criticism made of the Council's proposals, that they failed sufficiently to take into account residential development in Northampton. He appreciates the contention that, since such development would take place for the most part in wards abutting the boundary whilst wards in the centre of Northampton would be affected by slum clearance, the electorates of the former wards would tend to increase and those of the latter to decrease with the result that there would be disparities between the electorates of the proposed wards in a few years' time. In the view of the Secretary of State the counter-proposals take account of this situation more satisfactorily than do the Council's proposals, by providing for wards in the centre with high electorates at present and wards abutting the boundary with low electorates. The Secretary of State accordingly accepts Mr. Verney's recommendation that the counter-proposals should be accepted subject to minor changes for the purpose of adopting boundaries which are more easily identifiable.Having made that judgment, he is concerned about disfranchising anyone even for six weeks and makes a slight amendment about the arrangements for an election.
We have reached a situation in which two proposals have been canvassed. There has been a full independent inquiry. The inquiry has come down firmly on the side of the counter proposals. The report of the inquiry has been carefully considered by the Secretary of State, who supported what Mr. Verney had decided.
I would have thought that that would have been—and, indeed, I believe in my heart that the Secretary of State wishes that it would have been—the end of the matter. What happened next is, I must admit, in part a matter of conjecture. The Home Secretary's decision was greeted with considerable consternation by the narrow Labour majority in Northampton, which went straight into action in an attempt to get it reversed, using its narrow majority to pass a resolution which reads as follows:That the proposed warding arrangements are wholly unacceptable to the Council.This was a Labour Council with a majority of two.That the views put forward by the Chairman he accepted and submitted to the Minister of Housing and Local Government"—634 these were the views which had been rejected by Mr. Verney—with a request that the warding arrangements proposed be abandoned"—these were warding arrangements which had just been approved by the Secretary of State—and that the draft Order be amended.On 25th January, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee, whose evidence has been rejected—I do not mean that it was improper evidence, but, on the facts; it had been rejected by Mr. Verney—visited a Ministry in London, I understand. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton saw the Home Secretary—or so we are informed. On 28th January the Labour majority approved the resolution which I have read which was really from the Finance and General Purposes Committee, and forwarded it to the Ministry of Housing, with a copy to the Home Office.
On 4th February, a most remarkable document was issued from the Home Office. I want to read it:I am directed by the Secretary of State to refer to your letter of 29th January forwarding the resolution of the Northampton Borough Council asking him to rescind the decision regarding the warding arrangements for the extended county borough conveyed to you in the Home Office letter of 23rd December, and asking that the Order to be made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government under the Local Government Act 1958 should provide instead for the areas added to the borough to be temporarily annexed to contiguous wards and that the Order should include provision for the Council to submit a petition under … the Local Government Act 1933 by a specified date.The Secretary of State has given the most careful consideration to the Council's resolution. He notes the view expressed in the resolution that Mr. Verney, the independent barrister who held the local inquiry, was misinformed on certain material aspects. While the Secretary of State does not accept that insufficient opportunity was given to all concerned to express their views fully at the public enquiry he has decided that in the present circumstances the best course will be for the whole question of the warding of Northampton to be considered afresh and publicly at a further local inquiry.I am bound to say that I find that the most astonishing document. It followed with quite remarkable speed, particularly for the Home Office, on the receipt of the resolution, and it is 635 interesting in its content. It reverses a solemn decision which the Secretary of State himself had only recently made, and it refers to the fact that some suggestion has been made that Mr. Verneywas misinformed on certain material aspects.It is difficult to see from the resolution what those aspects were. There were some rather loose words about Castle Ward, but at that time no opportunity had been given to anyone else to question these representations which had been made.
We are left with the impression that a great deal had been said to the Home Secretary apart from anything contained in the resolution. We are bound to ask for an account of what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton had said to the Home Secretary in pressing this matter. We are also bound to ask whether any Labour councillors had had interviews with him. I hope not. Whether they had or had not, this reversal was certainly an astonishing procedure.
I turn to the Home Secretary's explanation of why he did this. The Home Secretary's points do not at any stage go to the merits of the case. On the basic issue of Mr. Verney's decision, which was the balancing of the wards at the centre with the wards at the periphery, I understand that no word of criticism is made by the Home Secretary. That is to say, on all the criteria which were laid down by the Home Office as proper matters for Mr. Verney to consider, Mr. Verney's judgment in this matter is completely accepted and without question.
It is not suggested that Mr. Verney was misled or under any misapprehension on any point concerning the numbers, the boundaries, the building proposals, the local affinities or anything of that kind. The Home Secretary went out of his way, the last time we debated this matter, to make it absolutely clear that there could be no suggestion that insufficient opportunity was given to anybody to put any point of view that people wanted to put. Indeed, they were, I understand, specifically told by Mr. Verney on more than one occasion that if anybody in the room had any 636 kind of point additional to the ones he was considering, the fullest opportunity would be given to put it.
The Home Secretary's whole case rests upon the question whether the political effect of this decision was fully considered. I am most anxious to put this part of the Home Secretary's case fairly. I hope that I am not delaying the House, but this is an important matter and I want to be quite fair about it. I want to quote the point as it was put by the Home Secretary himself in the debate of 17th February. The right hon. and learned Gentleman took the resolution in two parts and based certain arguments, I understand, upon it. The first part was this, and I read now from the resolution that was sent to him:The proposals which were drawn up by the Town Clerk and approved by the Council gave no political advantage to either party.This is what the Labour Party itself was saying about the resolution.The Labour Group of the Council accepted these as fair to both sides. The Conservative Party, whilst first objecting on political grounds, withdrew these objections at the inquiry. The probable political effect of the proposals drawn up by the Town Clerk was to divide the wards into five Labour and five Conservative, leaving Trinity and Kingsthorpe wards to swing according to the political pendulum. The effect of the Conservative counter proposals was to remove from both these wards a Labour area which would be added in each case to a ward which already had a substantial Labour majority, thereby making these two marginal wards into safe Conservative wards and giving a minority of Conservative voters a built-in majority of seven wards to five on the Council.That is the quotation.
The Home Secretary stated:I do not say that that is right; I deliberately avoid expressing an opinion about it, because I think that the inquiry which I anticipate will take place in due course should be conducted by a person with an open mind who should not be inhibited in any way by anything that I say in this debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1965; Vol. 706, c. 1302.]But is this really an inquiry that the Home Secretary wants? Is it not the most extraordinary thing to import into an inquiry which has carefully gone into the merits of the case this bitterly contested issue of what the likely political results will be? If it was intended by the Home Office that this should be one of the criteria laid down, surely it should be stated frankly, fairly and fully to any 637 barrister appointed to make an inquiry of this kind so that it could be argued in front of him.
I hope that the Home Secretary, for whom the whole House has the deepest respect and regard for his fairmindedness—I am not making a personal attack upon him in any shape or form—will reflect upon this matter and consider the effect, not simply in Northampton—that may be important, and it is, for the Borough of Northampton—but the effect upon our whole procedure for examining Parliamentary boundaries if once we were to say that these bitterly controversial local judgments about the results which might flow are to be introduced into a matter of this kind.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am trying to put these points as fairly as I can. I am not making a personal attack on anybody.
It is common ground, in any event, that in so far as these dubious considerations were relevant at all, they could have been put—everybody at the inquiry had the fullest possible opportunity to put them—but for the Home Secretary, of all men, to order a new inquiry especially to allow those points to be put seems to me to be the most extraordinary view of the responsibilities which fall to him.
That brings me to the second and rather more subtle point that the Home Secretary put during the course of his argument to the House. He sought to suggest that a reason for having a new inquiry was because Mr. Verney was in some shape or form under a misconception. I want to deal with that point. Again, I should like to quote the part of the resolution on which the Home Secretary relies and his comments upon it. The resolution from the Labour majority said:The Commissioner reporting to the Home Secretary emphasised that there was no political objection to the Conservative proposals. In this he was wholly mistaken. The Labour Group having accepted the Town Clerk's plan as fair and reasonable did not appear as objectors. As the Town Clerk was appearing for the Council and not representing the Labour Group, it was clearly impossible 638 for him to deal with the political consequences of these proposals, and as the Conservative Party withdrew all political objections to the Town Clerk's plan, there was no opportunity to challenge the Conservative proposals upon the basis of their political consequences.The Home Secretary went on to say:The case I make is this. I contrast, and I ask hon. Members to contrast, that passage, these assertions put forward by a small majority of the council after a debate, with the assumption that underlay Mr. Verney's report. He was clearly making his report on the assumption that there were no political aspects to the proposals, which he was considering and, as I read it, here is the council resolving by a small majority that the effect of the proposals was to remove from two wards a Labour area which would be added in each case to a ward which already had a substantial Labour majority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1965, Vol. 706, c. 1302.]If the Home Secretary is to reverse a decision of this character, not only a decision of an independent inquiry, but a decision which he had reached only a few weeks earlier upon the political issue, on the ground that there had been misconception, I think that he will agree with me that his case has to be put with the most meticulous precision. In basing himself on this resolution, he is on remarkably insecure ground, for he has already abandoned the second part of what I have read.
It is no longer contested but that everybody had the fullest opportunity to put his points at the inquiry. This is now common ground between the Home Secretary and ourselves.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
It most certainly is not. We did not have any opportunity to put our case against these proposals.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I ask the Home Secretary specifically to say in his reply whether he asserts that no opportunity was given to every person to put his case. The case that we are putting from this side of the House is that on more than one occasion the learned inspector invited anyone in the room to put any point that he wished to do so. I do not think that on the last occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman in any way sought to contest this. Indeed, the letter of 4th February said:While the Secretary of State does not accept that insufficient opportunity was given to all concerned to express their views at the public inquiry …639 I would have thought that it no longer lay open to the Home Secretary to raise that point at the present time.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am not dealing with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but with a more important issue. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to take back what was said in the letter of 4th February, he is free to do so.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Frank Soskice)
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I do not think that he would want to take back what was said.
The Home Secretary is basing himself on most insecure grounds. The first part he has already abandoned. He has abandoned the question of saying that insufficient opportunity was given to people to put their views.
The second question concerns the nature of what Mr. Verney said about the political side. He did not say what the resolution said. No one at any inquiry, or out of it, would pretend that political results would not flow from decisions of this character, however difficult and controversial they may be to assess. Any redefining of boundaries is bound to have a political effect. What was said was something quite different. What was said was that the proposals which were made went to the merits of the case as laid down in the criteria specified by the Home Secretary.
What was said in the report was that they were not an attempt to gerrymander on either side, and it is worth quoting Mr. Verney's comments because this is the point on which the Home Secretary stood. He said:Any suggestion that the proposals"—that is, the town clerk's proposals—were designed to secure a permanent Labour majority was unfounded and any political results would be fortuitous. Mr. Walmsley intervened to say that he was not going to make the inquiry in any way a political one.Then, when Mr. Verney was appraising the case, he said:It is right to emphasise that the Town Clerk's proposals, which now form the basis of the Council's scheme, were drawn up by him alone with no political outcome in mind. The 640 criticism from a political point of view was not pursued at the inquiry and should be disregarded in assessing the merits of the scheme. It is equally important to emphasise that no suggestion was made that the new Conservative proposals should be criticised as designed to secure political advantage, whatever may have been the defects of earlier proposals. The two schemes have to be judged solely according to whether or not they succeed in satisfying the criteria which have to be applied; the authors of each scheme have had these criteria clearly in mind.I would have thought that that was a proper view to take of the manner in which both these matters had been presented, and Mr. Verney himself had considered and related them to the precise criteria which the Home Secretary had set.
We then come to his conclusions. He said:Both the schemes which were put forward at the inquiry were honest attempts to divide the County Borough into wards in strict accordance with the criteria laid down.I cannot conceive that the Home Secretary wishes to go behind that at the present time. He went on to say:In recommending for acceptance the scheme prepared by the Conservative Group for the purpose of the inquiry, I am impressed by the evidence secured as to future trends both of development and clearance, and by the probability that within the relevant period something approaching equality will be achieved. The boundaries selected are, in my opinion, preferable to those put forward by the Council, and there is no obvious interference with any existing community interests.That is on the merits.
He then said:I am reinforced in my view by the fact that no suggestion of political motive has been advanced. When the balance of power between two parties is so close, it must be expected that legitimate criticism on this basis would be put forward, if it reasonably could be. There being no such criticism of the Conservative scheme, and the political criticism of the Council's scheme not having been pursued, I have been free to determine my recommendation on the merits of each scheme as presented to me.Mr. Verney accepted that even if the town clerk's scheme favoured the Labour Party, as the Conservatives believed it did, it was fortuitous. I, too, accept that. Indeed, the Home Secretary accepts it, and I am sure that the whole House accepts it. He accepted that the counter-scheme was not designed to secure political advantage; that the motive was to fulfil the criteria laid down by the Home Secretary.
641 If the Home Secretary's case is to be based on the argument of misconception, it must be directed at the precise terms of the report. It must go not to the resolution, but to the motives, the interests, and the purposes with which these two schemes were argued. If it is his case that these assumptions about the town clerk, a solicitor of the Supreme Court, might be false—although they were never challenged, though full opportunity was given throughout the hearing to challenge them—and that the opportunity should now be provided at a new inquiry for either side to accuse the other of jerrymandering, it is a most incredible proposition for a Home Secretary to put forward.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has reversed a very careful decision of his own on an independent inquiry. He has done it under admitted political pressure. He has disfranchised not only a number of new electors, but all the existing electors of all parties, whether Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, for a matter of months, when, only a week earlier, he had been expressing concern in case new ones were disfranchised for six weeks. He claimed on 17th February, rather surprisingly, that he thought that this was pouring oil on troubled waters. I would have thought that it was pouring petrol or the flames of local disagreement.
But the issues are graver and much more far-reaching than their application to Northampton alone. I believe that the Home Secretary's judgment here goes to the roots of Home Office administration at a point where the administration of the Home Office must not only be, but be seen to be, above reproach. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's honour and integrity are in no way at stake, but the reputation of a great Office of State for wise and dispassionate administration hangs in the balance upon the speech which I call upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Frank Soskice)
First, some questions of fact have been asked, to which I wish to reply. As I stated when we previously debated this issue, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) came to see me. 642 I did not see anybody else from Northampton from beginning to end. I have not been under the slightest political pressure of any sort, from any person—from my colleagues or otherwise—and I assert positively and categorically that this decision, whether a good decision or a bad decision, was taken in the exercise of my own completely free and untrammelled judgment.
It is for the House, to whom alone I am responsible, to form a view as to whether or not it was the right decision in the circumstances, but I repudiate at the outset any suggestion that it was arrived at as a result of pressure put upon me. It was not. There was no such pressure and, as I have said, I freely, voluntarily and deliberately reached the conclusion which is now the subject of discussion before the House.
The question is: was it a right decision or a wrong decision, in the exceptional circumstances of a very unusual case? Having carefully considered it, I think that it was the right decision to come to. It was a decision which inevitably brought the risk of the sort of misconception which has been imported into this debate. There was an obvious risk of that. I do not use against the right hon. Member the word "imported" in any derogatory sense, but it has been imported into the debate, and that is what the debate is about. It would be much easier, in a case like that, to do nothing, but in my opinion it would be very cowardly to refuse to do what I thought was the right thing in the circumstances in case my action might be misunderstood.
Was it or was it not the right thing to do in the circumstances? As I have said, this is the second time that we have discussed this matter. I think it right that the House should be reminded—although the right hon. Gentleman gave a general indication of the position—of the background of the incident that we are discussing. The May, 1964, elections in Northampton had produced an exactly equal number of Labour and Conservative seats. The mayor had a casting vote. An election petition was brought which centred on the question whether one vote cast in one ward was a spoiled vote. In July, 1964, the decision was pronounced on the election petition, which shifted the balance of power from the Conservatives 643 to the Labour Party, because it gave to the Labour Party what had been previously a Conservative seat. From July, 1964, therefore, there was a Labour majority of 25 against a Conservative minority of 23. I simply remind the House of those facts so that it should have in mind, how extremely evenly balanced the parties were in Northampton.
Why did I decide that in the circumstances the best thing would be for there to be a new inquiry? As the right hon. Gentleman has said, I had received what I thought was a careful and well-reasoned report from Mr. Verney. I was quite content with it, and I accepted it. It went into the merits and discussed them carefully. That report, in three places, contains passages showing that Mr. Verney placed great emphasis upon the fact that there were no political considerations to be taken into account in this case. The right hon. Gentleman has read those passages and has put one interpretation upon them. Frankly, I put a different one on them. I would like again to go through those passages in order to remind the House of what seems to me to be the right inference from the language which Mr. Verney used.
There are three passages altogether to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and I read first the second of the three. I would be grateful if the House would pay close attention to the way in which Mr. Verney phrases his language. He says:It is right to emphasise"—note the use of the word "emphasise"—that the Town Clerk's proposals, which now form the basis of the Council's scheme, were drawn up by him alone with no political outcome in mind.As far as I know nobody now disputes that the town clerk's proposals conform exactly to that description. It is true that the Conservative counterproposers first lodged a political objection against the town clerk's proposals. They lodged that political objection saying that it had a political result to which they took exception. When the hearing took place before Mr. Verney they withdrew that objection, I take it because they felt that they could no longer sustain it.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Surely the reason for that attitude was 644 that they realised that it was out of keeping with the criteria which the Home Office used in such circumstances.
§ Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that Mr. Walmsley, of whom I have spoken, took the view, when he appeared before the inquiry, that political considerations should not be discussed on either side. It was for this sole reason that he felt he should not pursue the objection.
§ Sir F. Soskice
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that, I accept it as a matter of fact. All I would point out is that at first the Conservative Party itself raised a political objection, so it hardly lies in its mouth to say that political objections were wholly irrelevant.
I will continue to read the passage, on which a lot depends. Mr. Verney says:It is equally important to emphasise"—I ask the House to note the phrase; he has already previously used the word "emphasise"—that no suggestion was made that the new Conservative proposals should be criticised as designed to secure political advantage, whatever may have been the defects of earlier proposals. The two schemes have to be judged solely according to whether or not they succeeded in satisfying the criteria which have to be applied; the authors of each scheme have had these criteria clearly in mind.That is the first passage, in which it certainly seemed to me that the Commissioner—Mr. Verney—in a careful report, was saying, "I attach considerable importance to the fact that there is no significant political outcome or result." It seems to me that that is the only way in which that passage can be read.
If there is any doubt whatsoever about it, I come to the second passage which the right hon. Gentleman also read out, and which actually appears in his conclusions. He states his conclusions, part of which the right hon. Gentleman read out. Again, I ask the House to note carefully the words that he used. Having stated in the previous paragraph that he preferred the counter-proposals to the proposals, the counter-proposals to 645 the town clerk's proposals, he goes on to use this language:I am reinforced in my view by the fact that no suggestion of political motive has been advanced. When the balance of power between two parties is so close, it must be expected that legitimate criticism on this basis would be put forward, if it reasonably could be. There being no such criticism of the Conservative scheme, and the political criticism of the Council's scheme not having been pursued I have been free to determine my recommendation on the merits of each scheme as presented to me.I read that passage in this way. Hon. and right hon. Members may interpret as they think proper. The right hon. Gentleman has put forward one view of what it means. It seems to me, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, beyond the slightest doubt that what Mr. Verney is there saying is, "This is a case in which it was not necessary for me to look at any political motives."The proposals put forward did not produce any advantage to either party, any marked advantage, at any rate. Every proposal, of course, advantages one party or the other to some extent. But what he is saying here is that this is a case where political questions just do not enter into it and the clear implication to my mind of that remark is, "Had it been present to my mind that there was a marked political result from the proposals or counter proposals, I certainly would have wanted to look at them and scrutinise them to make perfectly certain that they were purely coincidental."
I am not making any attempt to impugn anyone from beginning to end. I do not do so. All I am saying here is that Mr. Verney was, at any rate to my mind, as clearly as he possibly could saying, "Of course, if I had known that there were political results emerging from either of these proposals, the proposals or the counter proposals, I should have wanted to look at them." If one makes the conjecture that he would have wanted to look at them, there could be no question of motivation and the matter was one he could take on the assumption that neither party was trying to secure a political advantage against the other.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He keeps quoting Mr. Verney and saying "if he knew there 646 were political results". The point I put to him quite specifically—and I should be grateful if he would deal with it—was this. I said that Mr. Verney did not refer to the results. He really had in mind—whether the results might be fortuitous or not—whether the scheme was designed for a particular purpose. He referred to the question whether motives were directed to other causes than the criteria laid down. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman really say that he was under a misconception in those matters and that he wanted to have a new inquiry to go into the whole question of motive and design?
§ Sir F. Soskice
I would have thought that quite clearly there was misconception there. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman seeks to draw a distinction between motive and result which seems to me with respect to the right hon. Gentleman to be a very metaphysical distinction.
If one party produces a scheme which is designed by him to secure a political advantage over the other party—I am not asserting this, and I emphasise that—if he does, the likelihood is that there may be a political result which might operate in his favour. I think that it is quite unreal and, if I may say so, hair-splitting to try to draw a distinction between those two words. What Mr. Verney seemed to me to be saying was, "I can put out of my mind any question of political motivation or result in this case. All I have to look at is the evidence on the merits." That is as I read it. The next—
Mr. F. V. Colfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Surely the only issue that the commissioner could have had before him was the merits of the case in the light of the criteria. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that had he known there were political considerations he must look at some other criteria?
§ Sir F. Soskice
I can perfectly understand that some commissioners—and I believe they do—may say, "I will not even hear evidence or arguments about political results", and that other commissioners may take a different view, and say, "If it appears that the result of one scheme greatly advantages one political party, that is a thing I should 647 took into to consider whether I am forming a wrong conclusion in ignoring something not brought to my mind because those who have political motives in this have not brought it to my mind."
I am not saying that was done here. I am saying it is a matter of relevance, that is to say, that it is a matter which many commissioners may think is relevant. They would want to know whether a matter before them was something which tended to political motive in which they should make an inquiry. Mr. Verney was saying, "At least so far as any political motive is concerned I can put it out of my mind altogether. That is not present in this case." He having said that—
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. I want to ask him about a matter of some importance in this case, which is troubling me. Has the Home Secretary come to the conclusion that Mr. Verney, in arriving at his decision, was recognising or taking into account anything which he ought not to have taken into account in arriving at his decision?
§ Sir F. Soskice
Precisely the contrary—that he failed to take into account, because he did not know of it, something he would have thought relevant had he known of it.
We next come to the resolution passed by the council on 28th January, that is, the next stage in the history of these proceedings. What does that resolution say? It has been read out, but I attach great importance to what is stated:The proposals which were drawn up by the Town Clerk and approved by the Council gave no political advantage to either party. The Labour Group of the Council accepted these as fair to both sides. The Conservative Party, whilst first objecting on political grounds, withdrew these objections at the inquiry.Then it goes on to contrast the two schemes:The probable political effect of the proposals drawn up by the Town Clerk was to divide the wards into five Labour and five Conservative leaving the Trinity and Kingsthorpe to swing according to the political pendulum.I should be grateful if the House would note what is said in the next paragraph:The effect of the Conservative counter proposals was to remove from both these wards a Labour area"—648 that is to say, both the swinging wards—which would be added in each case to a ward which already had a substantial Labour majority, thereby making these two marginal wards into safe Conservative wards and giving a minority of Conservative voters a built-in majority of seven wards to five on the Council.I beg hon. Members again to contrast what is said there with what Mr. Verney had said in the second passage which I read. Rightly or wrongly, I do not seek to prejudge it, because I want someone to come to this with no preconceptions because of anything said in this debate, and, I repeat, in order that one can put an end once and for all to this controversy in Northampton. Contrast what is said in that resolution—that, there being five Conservative wards, five Labour wards, and two swinging wards which might go either way according to the shift of public opinion, the result of the Conservative proposals would be to turn both swinging wards into safe Conservative seats—with what is said in the second passage:When the balance of power between two parties is so close, it must be expected that legitimate criticism on this basis would be put forward, if it reasonably could be. There being no such criticism of the Conservative scheme, and the political criticism of the Council's scheme not having been pursued. I have been free to determine my recommendation on the merits of each scheme as presented to me.Before Mr. Verney was: the town clerk's proposal, which—so far as I know, it is not suggested otherwise—produced a rough balance; and the counter-proposal which, it is positively asserted in the resolution, so far from producing a rough balance, went completely away from that and took the two swinging wards and converted them into safe Conservative seats. That latter point was not present in his mind. Not only was it not present in his mind, but he thought that the opposite was the case. Therefore, he thought that he had to consider two sets of proposals and counter-proposals, both of which produced no significant political advantage to either party.
The question which emerged from the documents was what was the right thing to do. What should I do in seeking to approach a situation of this kind? I accept—and I do not seek to retire from the position—that undoubtedly the position could have been pointed out to him. 649 The Conservative counter-proposals had been urged in September. They could have been pointed out to him, but they were not.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the specific matter dealt with in The Times leader recently, whether it is the duty of a commissioner to take political considerations into account at all?
§ Sir F. Soskice
Certainly I will deal with that, if I may deal with one thing at a time. I shall continue with the point which I am developing and then come to the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The point which I was dealing with was that there was an opportunity to raise this. Suppose that this had just been a dispute between two private people, and that one of them had failed to put forward a part of his case. On ordinary principles, one would have said, "So be it. The loss must rest with you. You should have put your case forward." This was not the case at all. This was a public matter, with the votes of many thousands of voters in Northampton affected. It seems to me that that sort of consideration should not apply in such a public situation. Therefore, it should not be a bar to my taking into account, if I thought proper, that the Labour councillors who were present before Mr. Verney could—although in fact they did not—have put forward this consideration, which seems to me, at any rate, a consideration which he would have wished to take into account.
May I go on to deal with the question of the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe)—[Interruption.] I wonder whether the hon. and learned Member would mind not muttering and allow me to answer his question. I quite accept that the objective of an inquiry either under Section 25 or under the procedure which operated in this case is an inquiry designed to secure wards of equal numbers, and so on, possessing certain characteristics independent of political result. I repeat this and assert it and I think that in future it is a consideration which one has to observe with the greatest care. It is right that it always should be observed. When a situation arises in which one set of proposals produces 650 a most marked and, in this case, crucial and critical political result, I should not think it irrelevant if a commissioner thought, "At least, I want to look into it to see whether my judgment may be, in any event, honest on the merits of the case, by reference to the fact that one of the schemes produces this marked result." The marked result may or may not be fortuitous. It may be motivated. I do not know one way or the other, and I am not making any imputation against anyone.
I say emphatically that Mr. Verney came to his conclusion upon a misconception. He thought that there was no such consideration present in this case. It is clear from what he said that he would have wanted to consider it. Therefore, it seemed to me that it would have been quite wrong to leave the matter as it was and the question therefore was: what would be the proper thing to do. It seemed to me that if the matter were left as it was, there would have been a legacy of ill-will and suspicion, which would continue for a long time.
The only way in which one could avoid a situation of that sort would be to say, "Let us start again and have a completely full inquiry at which everybody, no matter who they are, can put forward any point of view to the Commissioner." No one would then have the slightest ground for complaint. It seems to me that if this new inquiry takes place, my great hope is that it will, once and for all, put an end to the disagreeable situation which has now arisen. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may scoff. It is a matter for them.
It seemed to me, when I considered these documents, that this was the right course to take. Having heard the criticisms of it and the arguments against it, I still think that it was the right course to take in the special circumstances of this very exceptional situation. Very rarely does this kind of situation arise, but, as it has arisen and circumstances have worked together to produce the result which the House is investigating, I thought, and I still think, that much the best thing would be to have a further inquiry so that everyone can be fully heard and the matter, as I hope, finally disposed of.
These are the considerations which I put before the House. As I say, I utterly 651 deny that this was the result of any pressure brought to bear on me. It was a judgment, right or wrong. It is for the House, to which I am solely responsible, to judge whether it was right or wrong. It may have been said that it was a difficult matter of judgment, but, such as it was, that was my judgment. Having heard all the criticisms, I still think that that, in the circumstances, was the best thing on balance for me to do.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
In the new letter to the new commissioner whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to appoint, will that commissioner be directed to take account of a further criterion, that is, the political effects?
§ Sir F. Soskice
He certainly will not. He will be asked to produce what I may loosely call the best warding system. If he wishes to examine, because they are brought to his notice, the political consequences of any proposals put before him, it will be for him to decide what attention he will give to it. I certainly do not intend to direct either him or any future commissioner to take into account the political results. Their only relevance is in deciding whether he may be quite certain that he has a full, complete, and accurate review of the merits of the case.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
In a case such as this, I cannot conceive that I or any other Conservative Home Secretary, having reached a considered decision, would have yielded to representations from one political party only and altered it.
I had about 40 of these re-warding cases to deal with while I was Home Secretary. There were more than usual, because all the new London boroughs came up. I reached a decision on every one of them, and the provincial boroughs, myself. There was some suggestion, some hint, in our debate last week that the original decision in the Northampton case was given in the Home Secretary's name but not by him personally. I cannot think that that is true. If it is true, I would strongly advise him to handle these important quasi-judicial matters himself, in person. That was certainly my practice.
§ Sir F. Soskice
In defence of those who 652 advised me, I would point out that it was entirely my decision, absolutely my decision. I do not know who signed the letter. It was signed after I saw it, and I take the fullest and most complete responsibility for it.
§ Mr. Brooke
The practice which I established was that each of these commissioner's reports came up to one of my Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretaries. He went through it carefully, and he minuted it, and in sending it forward to me he drew my attention to, for instance, whether it was a simple and straightforward case or whether it was a difficult and complex case.
The House will realise that many of these are quite simple. Perhaps the inquiry has revealed virtually no objection—possibly a dispute on some minor boundary, perhaps a dispute about the name of a new ward, and that is all. In every one which was a difficult case, I studied the commissioner's report most carefully and I went personally through the commissioner's reasoning to see whether it appeared to me that he had reached his conclusions in a reasonable and logical way.
In every case that I handled, without exception, including all the London boroughs, I thought it right to confirm the commissioner's recommendations. I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which I would have decided otherwise, unless it had been clear to me that the commissioner had failed to apply the criteria which he was required to apply—and those criteria have been mentioned. They are, first, equality of representation throughout the borough; secondly, identifiable boundaries; and thirdly, local ties.
In this Northampton case I understand that the Home Secretary agrees with the commissioner that the alternative plan, the Conservative plan, satisfies these three requirements better than does the town clerk's plan. I understand that he in no way goes back on that.
He wrote to the council on 23rd December confirming the commissioner's recommendations and saying, in the course of his letter, that it would be unsatisfactory if the new areas being included in the borough, where there are about 10,000 people, were not to be represented on the council until some time after 1st April. He therefore suggested 653 that there should be new elections well before 1st April, so that all these 10,000 people would have the chance to vote for those who were to represent them when the borough with its new boundaries came into existence on 1st April.
He wrote that letter on 23rd December. I suppose that it is quite likely that due to Christmas posts it did not arrive until after Christmas. But according to the minutes of the Northampton Council, the Finance and General Purposes Committee of that Council met on 28th December and had the Home Secretary's letter before it, and it resolved that the Home Secretary's decision be noted—nothing more than that. That report was sent forward by the committee to the full council, which met on 4th January. The report was received by the full council on 4th January without debate. If it had been felt that there were strong and tenable grounds for objecting to the Home Secretary's conclusions, that would have been the time to take the objection. Not one word was said.
It was after 4th January, after that council meeting, that things began to happen. A group of Labour councillors requisitioned a special meeting of the council, as they were entitled to do, to discuss this matter, which could have been discussed at the regular meeting on 4th January when it came up on the agenda then. The Home Secretary last week described as an accident the fact that the political considerations were not raised at the inquiry before Mr. Verney in October. I do not know whether it was another accident that the Home Secretary's letter was not discussed when it was on the agenda of the full council on 4th January. I understand that by an accident two of the Labour councillors were away that day, and therefore the Labour Party had not a majority. Whether for that reason or for some other, the discussion of this matter—this inherently controversial matter—was postponed until a special meeting of the council held on 28th January.
Meanwhile, so we have been informed here, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had a talk with the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Paget
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to know why that meeting was postponed? It was because of the law which provides how a meeting 654 is to be requisitioned. Although the mayor normally calls it on the first possible date, this mayor, who is a Conservative, called it on the last possible date.
§ Mr. Brooke
Perhaps I am as well informed about these matters as is the hon. and learned Gentleman. It seems to me that the mayor was acting quite reasonably in not bringing forward this special and obviously highly controversial meeting to take place immediately before a wholly noncontroversial special meeting of the council already fixed to take place on 26th January to confer the freedom of Northampton on two citizens.
On 28th January the council met and, by 25 votes to 23, on a strict party vote, passed the resolution which has loomed so large in these proceedings, based on a report that the plan recommended by the commissioner and approved by the Home Secretary would result in makingtwo marginal wards"—these are the words which have been repeatedly quoted—into safe Conservative wards and giving a minority of Conservative voters a built-in majority of seven wards to five on the councilThe Home Secretary, when he received the letter containing this resolution, was faced with representations from the Member of Parliament for the borough—the Labour Member of Parliament for the borough—and a resolution passed by the narrow Labour majority on the council, with the minority on the council strongly rebutting the majority view. It must have been quite clear to the Home Secretary by that time that this was a subject of acute party controversy within Northampton. As far as I am aware, no pressure for changing the decision came from anybody at all except members of the Labour Party locally.
I must say that if I had had to deal with this situation, with the parties reversed, when I was Home Secretary, I should have told all concerned quite plainly that I had reached a decision and that my decision was final. I would have explained to anybody who came to see me or communicated with me that where a Minister is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity he must not vacillate and, above all, he must not act in such a way as 655 to give rise to any taint of suspicion that there is political gerrymandering. I regard that as an absolute rule. [Laughter.] I am astonished that hon. Members opposite laugh at it. They must have a wholly wrong and warped idea of what the quasi-judicial functions of a Minister are.
I would have reminded anybody who came to see me or communicated with me that warding arrangements in a borough are not necessarily permanent and that a fresh review of them can be undertaken at any time. If the objectors replied that a fresh review, under the law as it stands, can be called for only by whichever is the majority party on the council, I would have expressed willingness to go into the question of amending the law in this respect for provincial boroughs and bringing it into line with the better law in the London boroughs, which is now laid down in the London Government Act, 1963. In London the law empowers anybody, not only the majority party on a council, to call for a review. I am certain that it is only on that basis that one can get absolute fairness and remove continuing suspicion and recrimination.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Would it not be very much more satisfactory to deal with this problem in the long term by having proportional representation? Then it would be entirely immaterial where the ward boundaries were drawn.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be able to argue that case if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker; if he can convince you that the subject of proportional representation is in order on this Motion of censure.
I cannot help wondering why the Home Secretary did not take the course I have mentioned. I cannot help wondering why he did not stand firm and tell those people who were seeking to get at him to go to blazes. He would have put himself completely above criticism, certainly above any criticism that could be justified. What he did was to yield, and to eat his words about the importance of the 10,000 new electors having their own representation on the council from 1st April.
While I listened to his speech today I could see that he was seeking to be as 656 persuasive and reasonable as possible but, so far as I could make out, he completely missed that count in the indictment against him. These 10,000 people, through his change of mind, now have no chance of voting until something like October. Meanwhile, the small majority of two for the Labour Party on the council will continue, through his action, for a further period of months.
The Home Secretary said last week that there was considerable feeling in Northampton. Can he produce any evidence of any feeling in Northampton, outside the Northampton Labour Party? I have certainly not come across any. I have not been made aware of any. Nobody else complained against the Home Secretary's original decision. But there must be a lot of those 10,000 people complaining now—now that they have discovered that they are to be disfranchised for six months. And maybe a lot of non-party people are complaining because they dislike this way of going about things.
The Home Secretary tries to justify his decision by arguing that the Commissioner was not properly informed on a subject on which the Labour Group on the council had had ample opportunity of informing him at the public inquiry in October. They did not mention then their views about the party implications of the alternative plan, nor at the council meetings which took place in November and December, nor at the council meeting of 4th January. It was only when the decision of the Commissioner and the Home Secretary had gone against them that they decided to bring up this argument that the alternative plan would bring about a built-in Conservative majority.
The House must realise the situation, that there is a claim and a counter-claim. Whereas the Labour Party in Northampton makes the claim which I have mentioned, the Conservative Party makes the counter-claim that the town clerk's plan—the plan which the Home Secretary originally rejected—would bring about a permanent Labour majority on the council. I do not know whether this is one of the matters which the new Commissioner is expected to sort out, but it must be an extremely difficult matter for him to address himself to.
The Home Secretary's argument does not convince me—his argument that the 657 Commissioner was not fully informed on a matter which he thinks was relevant to the inquiry, though the Commissioner's instructions did not ask him to take it into account—and I do not think it will convince anybody else in the world, except those who want Labour to be in power at any cost.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
When there is a political implication, are there any written or unwritten criteria which the commissioner is instructed to have in mind?
§ Mr. Brooke
None that I am aware of. The three criteria have been mentioned. They were mentioned by me and previously were quoted in full by my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), who read to the House that passage in the Home Office letter.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether or not he agrees that if the proposals had the result of giving a notable political advantage to one side or the other that is a ground for giving them particular scrutiny?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that if commissioners are to take specifically into account the sort of matter which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, it would be far better that they should be told that from the outset. That is not the case. If it is to happen in future it will mean a change in Home Office policy. I interrupted in the discussion last week and asked the Home Secretary a question, as a result of which he assured me that there was no change in Home Office policy. I said that I did not think that the Home Secretary's explanation last week and today would convince anybody, except those who want Labour to be in local government power in Northampton at any cost. The cost is high. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has thrown over his own argument about not disfranchising the 10,000 people. He has taken a step which is bound to be keenly resented by people, including non-party people in Northampton, who feel that all this savours of manipulating ward boundaries for political ends. He has also forgotten some words which he might well recall. Indeed, he may have been in the 658 audience which listened to them only 10 months ago. The words were:When the gods seek to destroy Governments they first tempt them into illiberality. For the misuse of power arising from the arrogance of office first manifests itself in straining, debasing, constitutional processes, not least in those cases where Ministers are entrusted with quasi-judicial functions.Those words were spoken by the present Prime Minister to the Society of Labour Lawyers 10 months ago.
This is not the way, as the Home Secretary suggested in his speech last week, to restore confidence. It is not the way to get rid of ill-feeling. It is the way to shatter confidence and perpetuate ill-feeling. I do not believe that ordinary people in Northampton are saying today, "What a wise Home Secretary we have. We are pleased to pay extra rates for the expenses arising out of a second public inquiry. This is the way we will get a solution on which everybody will happily agree". It is far more likely that they are saying, "Whatever happens now will be bad". If in the end it comes out in favour of the Labour Party, people will suspect that the whole affair has been rigged. If it comes out in favour of the Conservative Party, they will ask, "Why all this extra trouble and expense?"
What is the new Commissioner to do? This is the question which the Home Secretary has still not answered. Apparently, the commissioner is simply to take into account considerations of party political advantage which were not brought out at the last inquiry. He is to take into account the claim and the counter-claim. As I understand it, the Home Secretary finds no other fault with the commissioner's report, which he at first accepted and has now rejected.
If it is the Home Secretary's wish that these political claims and counterclaims shall be examined at a public inquiry, I must tell him that there is no provision in the law saying that such matters are to be taken into account. There is no provision in the existing instructions to commissioners that they should do this. It will be imported at the personal request of the Home Secretary. Hitherto, these warding and re-warding questions, political dynamite as they often are, as I well know, have been settled impartially 659 for many years—impartially, regardless of the colour of the Government in power. This is what the Home Secretary has changed, I fear. His decision will at any rate appear to give notice to future commissioners holding inquiries that, if their recommendations anger the local Labour Party, a new inquiry may be ordered. It would be far better, if the Home Secretary wishes these matters to be examined further on political lines, that he should say that in the official Home Office letter.
I understand his dilemma. Of course I have a great deal of sympathy with him. I know what it is to be up against the ruthless pursuit of power by the Labour Party in local government. I must say that a firmer Home Secretary would have decided differently from the way the right hon. and learned Gentleman did on this occasion. He said last week that Mr. Verney's inquiry had miscarried. No, there was only one miscarriage. That was the miscarriage of justice.
Some reports by commissioners which came to me while I was Home Secretary were obviously going to be popular with one party locally. Some were going to be popular with the other party. In approving some of the London reports which came before me, I realised that I would make myself hated by the local Conservatives in a particular borough, and I did. They never attempted to make me change my decision. If they had made representations to me, I would have stood up to them. I would have made them see that I was acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, and that a judge does not alter his decision or start to vacillate because one of the parties does not like that decision. In a case like this, where the Home Secretary was performing a quasi-judicial function, if I had been exposed to the kind of political representations to which he was subjected, I would have resigned rather than yielded to them. He yielded.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
When the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) spoke of the madness of illiberality and made a quotation on that subject, I was a little reminded of Disraeli's reply to Peel when he made his famous quotation from Canning. Disraeli looked at him, and said, "I amaze at the time, the quotation and the man."
660 This is a peculiar debate. What the debate is really about is an ingenious piece of gerrymandering which the Tory Party very nearly got away with, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is being censured for not having quite fallen into the trap. That is really what the debate is about. Let us get to the facts, because the House has yet to hear the facts of this case. When the boundaries of Northampton were extended, the Conservatives were in control. The wards had not been changed for 30 years, and a change of ward boundaries was clearly necessary. The two parties each agreed to appoint a committee and negotiate the wards on a fair basis. They were unsuccessful in doing so, so they agreed between themselves to ask the town clerk to make an impartial plan. The town clerk made that plan. He made it impartially. This is the first impartial plan.
§ Sir J. Hobson
The hon. and learned Gentleman should get the facts right. As I understand it—he knows a great deal about this—the position is that after the parties had discovered that they could not agree they discovered that a year previously, unrequested, the town clerk had himself produced a plan. They therefore asked to look at the town clerk's plan, and he produced it.
§ Mr. Paget
I am afraid that is not accurate. They asked the town clerk to prepare a plan. He said, "I have already done so because I anticipated that this might happen". That was the impartial plan which they asked him to produce.
That plan was accepted by the Labour Party, then a minority, but was refused by the Conservative Party. It was refused on absolutely frankly political grounds. No argument other than political grounds was advanced. The basis of the Conservative plan which was produced was that the wards were arranged on what the Conservatives described as rateable value, whereby votes would carry weight according to the rates paid.
Then the Conservatives lost control of the council. We considered—that is, the Labour Party considered—reverting to the plan which it had produced, but it decided not to do so. It decided to keep the same attitude in power as it had held 661 in opposition and support the impartial plan which had been prepared by the town clerk.
At that point, on 5th August, there was a debate in the chamber, and the attack on the town clerk's plan was purely political. None of the specious objections which we heard later at the inquiry emerged at all. The whole debate was political and nothing but political, based on the political results. I quote from Councillor Lewis, the Conservative vice-chairman of the Housing Committee:The Conservative plan had studied the central wards first, moved outward and gave consideration to all existing boundaries. … Throughout their deliberations they were constantly thinking of people within existing wards and the relative strength of the parties in them.They were indeed.
Another of their councillors said:The Conservative plan aimed at five Labour and five Conservative wards, with two marginal.Again quite clearly there was nothing but political considerations in attacking this plan. The Conservatives said of the town clerk's plan,Our objection is that it gives the Socialists far more than they ever could hope to obtain by … negotiation.When I say that the whole and only objection to the town clerk's plan was political, I mean that it was political in this sense. Nobody suggested, and I do not think that anybody has suggested, that the town clerk's plan worked out unfairly to the Tories in the sense that it would enable a minority Labour vote to win. It would not. That objection cannot be raised because it is simply not true. The objection was, and always was, that it was unfair to the Conservative Party because it deprived them of the advantage to which they had been accustomed, and that advantage was considerable. I will give the figures.
In the elections over the last 10 years Labour have polled 153,000 votes and got 50 seats. The Tories have polled 150,000 votes, that is 3,000 less, and got 57 seats, which is seven more than Labour. If it is said that that should be adjusted because some of the safer seats are not always contested, and if one brings in an average figure for the uncontested wards on the occasions when they were not contested, one finds that 191,000 Labour 662 vote produced 66 seats and 175,000 Conservative votes, that is 15,000 fewer, produced 67 seats, or one more. It will be seen, therefore, that the advantage to which the Tories were accustomed was pretty substantial.
If it is preferred to put the matter in terms of percentages, the Tory Party has held Northampton for nine out of the last 10 years with a poll of 47 per cent. as against 53 per cent.; that is, a 6 per cent. minority has enabled the Tory Party to hold Northampton for those nine years and the objection to the town clerk's plan was that it failed to perpetuate this advantage to which the Tory Party had become accustomed. That was all that it was about.
The town clerk's plan was carried. It was published. Objections were invited. It was lodged in the town hall. There were only two objectors. One was the Conservative minority on the council and the other was the Conservative Party in the town. There was not a single ratepayer and at this point no objection to the town clerk's plan purely confined to the criteria had been raised by anybody.
The Labour Party accepted the town clerk's plan and therefore, rightly or wrongly, they were advised that they had no locus standi at the inquiry and that they could not be represented there. They were not represented there and their objections were never heard. This is the advice which we obtained and we were told that we could not be represented because we were not objectors. The question is, was Mr. Verney deceived?
§ Mr. Hooson
Would the hon. and learned Member kindly tell the House who gave that advice? It seems to me to be the most remarkable advice.
§ Mr. Paget
It was Transport House.
That was the advice and that was the reason why the Labour Party was not represented. We will look at the question—and this is I think the question which interests the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson)—of how Mr. Verney was deceived. The basic question, of course, was what the inquiry was about. The real objection was throughout and always had been political. That was the only objection that emerged. It deprived the Tory Party of the political advantage to which 663 they were accustomed. That sole objection was concealed and other quite specious objections with regard to the disturbance of ward boundaries and historical association, not heard of before, were all trotted out. Why? They said that the town clerk's plan was wrong because he had made insufficient allowance for the fact that the inside wards would tend to decrease and the outside wards tend to expand.
On this point I will say that the evidence put forward was quite bogus and must have been known to be bogus. I will give the House a straight example. Let us take the Labour ward of Castle. It had an electorate of 8,400 which, in order to make the Conservative scheme work, had to be cut down to 7,500. Let us see how they did it. They put in builders' intentions as to building within that ward and proposals for demolitions. Councillor Lewis said that 1,260 houses were scheduled for demolition, and as they contained two and a half persons per house that reduced the size of the ward by 3,152, and "that brings us down to the right size". It may, of course, contain two and a half persons per house, but not two and a half electors. The actual figure was about one-third of what Councillor Lewis alleged.
The number of electors living in houses which were due for demolition was 1,100, and that demolition programme was for 10 years and not five years. Councillor Lewis also failed to mention that there were 150 new dwellings in the course of erection within that ward. He also told the council that no more new multi-storeyed flats were going up, which again was not a decision that was taken and was not correct.
§ Mr. Hooson
What the hon. and learned Member is saying is of great interest, but it seems to me to be the fact that he is now challenging the evidence given before the commissioner. That has never been suggested before.
§ Mr. Hooson
Did the hon. and learned Member make these representations to the Home Secretary when he saw him? If so, why is it that the Home Secretary did not advance this ground as a ground for a fresh inquiry?
§ Mr. Paget
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look, he will find all this in the council's resolution, the one forwarded to the Home Secretary. It deals with these matters. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend took the attitude that this must not be prejudged and he must not look at it, but I am putting the situation before the House and pointing out the degree to which this was a ramp.
In order to come down from the 8,400 to the appropriate level, the Conservatives made their assumptions. In fact, however, with all the building schemes and demolition programmes, the average drop in this ward is 33, and the thing has been standing pretty well still.
I take, next, the other ward, Kingsthorp Ward, the number in which, under the Conservatives' scheme, is 5,800, and which they had to put up by 2,000. They argued that there would be a population explosion here, promptly assuming that every builder's intention which they put in evidence would suddenly spring into being. In the ward, in fact, there is one housing scheme for 300 houses which started in 1957, and 140 of these have been completed. Thus, the building rate in that scheme is 20 to 25 houses a year. The other building scheme there was started in 1960, for 170 houses, and 60 or 70 of these have been completed in the four years. In other words, the building rate in this ward has been about 50 or 60 houses a year. Northampton's total building rate is about 400 houses a year, and it is spread round all the peripheral wards. The Tories succeeded in persuading Mr. Verney that roughly the whole of Northampton's building would suddenly take place in those wards where it was convenient for their argument that it should.
That is the way this game was played, and, putting it frankly, the town clerk who was appearing was completely outmanœuvred. This is no criticism of him. Advocacy does not normally form a large part of a town clerk's job. He allowed Mr. Walmsley to say he withdrew political objections and, therefore, there were no politics in this. He allowed him not to call his builders but simply to put in their proposals, so that there was no cross-examination of the builders. Broadly speaking, Mr. Walmsley succeeded in excluding politics from a 665 scheme which had the political advantage of enabling the Tories—on this our canvass is pretty firm—to rule Northampton by a 7 to 5 majority so long as they succeeded in polling between 40 and 41 per cent. of the votes. This is the scheme in which there are no politics.
I must refer to Mr. Walmsley's words in his final address, by which time, having got away with all this, he must have been feeling rather pleased with himself. He pointed out that one political result would be the amalgamation of two Conservative wards, which would lose the party three seats, and he thought that this was fair. No "con-man" has found more felicitious words to wind up his spiel.
That was the situation as it then stood, and it was only when the new scheme, which was a Conservative scheme, had been approved by the Minister, that, for the first time, we were in a position to object to it. That scheme had never been lodged at the town hall, and objections had never been called for. We were told that, as we were not objectors to the previous scheme, we had no locus standi, and we, therefore, found ourselves at that stage, and for the first time, able to make our objections.
My right hon. and learned Friend, having received the resolution of the town council, and, of course, having received representations from me—I told him what the position was—had to make a decision. In this, he acts in an advisory capacity because he only advises the Minister of Housing and Local Government on what he should put in his orders. My right hon. and learned Friend came to the conclusion that the advice which he had previously given was wrong and that it ought to be changed.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Did I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to say just now that the Conservative counter-proposals were not lodged properly at the town hall? If he did say that, it was contradicted directly and in terms by the Home Secretary last week. His words appear in the second paragraph of column 1299 of HANSARD of 17th February.
§ Mr. Paget
No. There is no procedure for lodging objections to objections. The taking of objections to objections does not happen. The Conservative proposals were never lodged in that way for objections to be taken. Only when their plan came out as a scheme accepted by the Minister was there anything to object to.
§ Mr. Hooson
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the actual scheme put forward by the Conservatives by way of objection was lodged at the town hall so that the citizens of Northampton had the opportunity to study it?
§ Mr. Paget
No, as objections to the town clerk's scheme, not as a counter-scheme.
That was the situation in which we found ourselves. It is a little ironic that it should be ground for censuring the integrity of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It is no good saying that charges and speeches of the kind we have heard are not an attack upon my right hon. and learned Friend's integrity. Of course they are.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
It would be a good thing if some right hon. and hon. Members opposite had his character.
§ Mr. Paget
If he has got himself into a mess, this is really because of his extreme integrity. Faced by objections from the Conservative Party, and the Conservative Party alone, to a ward rearrangement proposed by the town clerk, my right hon. and learned Friend is, should think, almost the only one in the House who would be innocent enough to believe that this scheme did not secure a party advantage and that the Conservatives had no political motive. Anyone else meeting such an astonishing proposition might ask the Labour Party, or he might ask the Liberal Party. If my right hon. and learned Friend had asked the Liberals, they would have told him what 667 the situation was and would have pointed out that it was a political ramp. They knew perfectly well that it was. He might even have asked me. But my right hon. and learned Friend simply accepted that these Conservative proposals were there without any political motive.
Secondly, I would say that it requires great political integrity to be prepared to reverse oneself when one knows that one has done a great injustice. That is precisely what my right hon. and learned Friend did. The other real irony of this case lies in the people who are censuring him for lack of integrity, for disfranchising.
We start off with the Leader of the Opposition. His entire Government constituted a disfranchisement of the people and he knew it. Throughout the whole of his period of office he allowed the country to drift into the economic mess we met—and all in the hope of advantage for the Conservative Party. Now the right hon. Gentleman censures someone. That is an irony indeed.
Then we have the Enahoro team—curious people to be censuring someone for lack of integrity. We also have the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft). Why is he with us for this debate? Because his uncandour about defence matters and armaments when he was Secretary of State has made him too much of a liability to the party opposite in defence debates. Finally, we have the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). The more and more we learn about Suez the more plain it becomes that, on his performance then, he would make Jack Profumo into a George Washington.
These are the people who have the impertinence to censure my right hon. and learned Friend for lack of integrity. Here was a political swindle. It very nearly came off. The objection was never honestly presented. This scheme was wholly political and never anything else except political. The balance was simply specious and because my right hon. Friend had the honesty to reverse himself when he saw that an injustice had been done his integrity is being censured. I hope that the Motion will be handsomely rejected.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has taken us up and down many by-ways of Northampton. The odd thing is that he himself disagrees on the real points with the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary made it clear that the Labour Party had every possible opportunity to object. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that he was advised by Transport House that it did not. Perhaps I may, therefore, tender some advice to the Northampton Labour Party. The next time there is this sort of difficulty, might it not consult a competent Q.C.?
§ Mr. Birch
The main part of the case of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is that the facts were not put to Mr. Verney. That is not part of the Home Secretary's case. The Home Secretary has never alleged that in any way. He has never alleged that the full facts about the actual building prospects and demolitions were not put before the commissioner. I want to bring out what I think are the real points of this case.
First, clearly the terms of reference of Mr. Verney are common form and they do not include a political clause. They are apolitical and, therefore, it would have been entirely wrong for him to consider political consequences. He was not there to produce a permanent majority for the Labour Party or for the Conservative Party, nor even to squeeze a tiny Liberal sardine into the box. Surely, the commissioner must be apolitical, as must a boundary commission of any sort be apolitical.
Clearly, there can be no boundary change which does not have a political effect. There might be, once in a blue moon, but nine times out of ten a boundary change harms either one party or another. If a political objection that one party's voting strength has been harmed is to be held to be a valid addition to the evidence given to an inquiry, certain things follow. One would never get changes in boundaries at all. For instance, we would never have got rid of the pocket borough of Limehouse. No doubt Lord Attlee could have objected 669 that boundary changes there would have a bad effect on his vote.
These commissioners have a judicial function and what political consequences may come from their observing their terms of reference are nothing to do with them and should be nothing to do with the Home Secretary either. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary altered his answer a good deal this time from what he said last week. He said today that he was horrified to find that there were real political consequences in Northampton. As he was so horrified what did he do? He cancelled the report and started again.
Of course, there would be political consequences in local government in Northampton, however this was done. It is almost impossible to do something which does not produce political consequences. But to say that, because the commissioner's report produced political consequences, it should not have been made, seems to me to be wrong.
The two main excuses that the Home Secretary made are, first, that the report that he himself accepted should now be rejected because the commissioner did not take into account political consequences and matters which he was expressly not authorised to consider or discuss. Secondly, the Home Secretary has brought sweetness and light to Northampton. Anyone who believes that has a very lively imagination.
In his speech last Wednesday the right hon. and learned Gentleman made a plea of mitigation. His quotation of ridiculus mus, veiled in the obscurity of a learned language, was really the housemaid's baby argument. This is a very serious point. What are the instructions to be for commissioners from now on? Are they to be the same as the previous ones? If a commissioner gets the instructions as they have been so far, he will know that if he finds in accordance with those criteria, and if the result is damaging to the Labour Party, he will be disowned. Will any honourable man consent to serve on these terms? I very much doubt it. I think that any man who consented to serve on such terms after the treatment of Mr. Verney would be risking a lot.
It is not only what is happening now. There are other major boundary issues coming along. I dare say some hon. 670 Members remember what happened last time there was a really big one. The Labour Party was in office then. The changes followed the Representation of the People Act, 1948. Not only were all the agreements at the Speaker's Conference cancelled but the findings of the boundary commissions were overturned. I end by quoting a remark made at the time by Sir Winston Churchill. He said:And so, with great reluctance"—this is speaking of the Bill which overturned the Boundary Commission Report—long hesitations and with a natural repugnance, it was decided to cheat"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 1381.]I hope that we will not have all this all over again. If the independent findings of a boundary commission are to be overturned on political grounds, we shall be sunk.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
This is a debate on a Motion of censure. It is a serious subject and, whatever disputes we may have about the situation, we can all agree that the subject is one of the most sensitive parts of the political structure of the country. We in the House of Commons are today discussing the sources of authority which the House of Commons has, and which the Northampton Borough Council has, and there cannot be any matter more delicate for us to discuss than the proper and correct methods by which we should be elected.
There was a time in the history of Parliament when a huge part of the time after every election was taken up in debating whether the election had been fairly conducted. There were long arguments in the House about the methods and practices which had been adopted in the elections and about the boundaries and the forms which the elections had taken. I am happy to say that those days have very largely gone, and nobody wants to see them come back. Therefore, the question whether there has been a breach of the proper and fair way of conducting an election to a local authority is a serious matter.
So I approach this subject in what may be described as my quasi-judicial capacity, a bit more quasi than judicial perhaps, but this is always a very tender 671 line for anyone to draw. This is the spirit in which I approach the debate and I first consider what the Opposition have said.
Let us not forget that the Motion is framed in fairly strong terms. The right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) started by seeking to lower the temperature of the debate and to disarm the criticism which—I hope that the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) will not skedaddle, because I should like to make some references to him and I would not like to say something behind his back which I would much prefer to say to his face, although I propose to say it whether he is here or not.
I was saying that the right hon. Member for Monmouth started at a very low temperature. He went out of his way to say that he was not criticising the integrity or honour of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). He said at the end of his speech that my right hon. and learned Friend's honour was beyond reproach. But even during the course of his speech there were one or two interjections from some other hon. Members. I heard the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who has now left the Chamber, say, "Caught cheating". I also heard the words "Tammany Hall". That is rather different from saying that this was a mere error of judgment, which was the accusation made by the right hon. Member for Monmouth.
We work our way further backwards—I will come to the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) finally—and we come to the right hon. Member for Flint, West. He finished by recalling what Sir Winston Churchill said about the 1948 arrangements and talked about cheating. Presumably, if he brought in the reference at all, he was trying to connect it with this accusation. So, after starting with the Front Opposition Bench saying that this was merely an error of judgment, we end with the accusation that my right hon. and learned Friend was cheating.
Well, is it? We are quite accustomed to this from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have it on the issue of immigration. On the Front Bench they say that, of course, they would not wish to arouse any racial feeling and that nothing would 672 horrify them more, but that they want to stop immigration as quickly as they can. Then we got further back on the benches and they say, "Stop it next week", and then when we get to the neo-Fascists at the back we get the real racial stuff coming out, and in this case the right hon. Member for Flint, West is almost in the neo-Fascist category.
The right hon. Member made the accusation that my right hon. and learned Friend has engaged in some form of cheating, that there was a taint of Tammany Hall in the business. I must say that if I were to select any member of Her Majesty's Administration to mark down as the Tammany boss of the Labour Party it would not be my right hon. and learned Friend. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have made an error in that case.
I think that I can explain how this case of mistaken identity arose. It is all revealed in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) in the earlier debate. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Monmouth dropped this part of the accusation altogether, but it will be seen from the earlier debate that the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington wanted to spread the fire and thought that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government was the real guilty party.
Of course, I must admit that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) is a rather different kettle of fish from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East—I know him very well—is a man of the world. He knows his way around. He is a student of that old totalitarian Plato. He knows about these matters. The real quarry in this hunt by the Opposition was my right hon. Friend.
Unfortunately for the Opposition, in the first debate they discovered that he had had nothing to do with it and that, under some formality, he had only issued an order and that the whole decision rested with the Home Secretary. The whole of this manoeuvre on the part of the Opposition started on a false scent. This clumsy St. George set out to hunt the dragon only to discover 673 that the maiden, radiant in all her innocence, was standing across their path and saying that she had never been molested by the dragon at all.
When the Opposition discovered this error, they should have packed up altogether. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), the spokesman for education in the Conservative Party, back again to his old pastures now—and we are glad to see him there, if not for his own sake, then at least for the one who has been removed—at the end of the debate the other day gave a good indication that his advice to the "Shadow" Cabinet was that, having started on the false scent, it should forget about it as soon as possible. He said that he was "a little anxious" and could not be "absolutely certain" what the Opposition's position was, but there was not the passion of a prospective Motion of censure in his last words in that debate. But, somehow, the Opposition decided to go ahead with it. I cannot understand that, particularly having heard all the facts, now that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has recited the details, which were not in the full possession of hon. Members before.
I am not surprised that this situation should have arisen. I speak as one who on a previous occasion, to create a new verb, was boundary-commissioned out of the House. I know how these boundary commissions work. It would not be for me to remind the House what was the loss to the nation on that account. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport had a similar experience. Boundary commissions are not always infallible, and I hope that that point is sufficiently taken by hon. Members from the examples which I have cited.
It is very often the case that a town clerk who knows the circumstances and conditions in his own town is more likely to arrive at a sensible conclusion than someone coaling from outside, particularly when the someone who comes from outside does not have presented to him all the evidence which he should have to help him make up his mind.
Now the right hon. Member for Flint, West says that it would have been entirely wrong for Mr. Verney to have 674 taken any account of political considerations. The right hon. Gentleman nods. In that case, Mr. Verney's report, on his own confession, should be condemned because Mr. Verney, in his report, indicates that if political considerations had been advanced he would have had to take them into account. But they were not advanced to him.
Therefore, on that testimony, on the right hon. Gentleman's pure approach to the matter, not only should this have been rejected on the grounds which my right hon. and learned Friend rejected it, but on the grounds that Mr. Verney himself took into account factors which the right hon. Gentleman says should never have been included. As has been indicated most clearly, political factors may be scrutinised in discovering whether proposals are valid and proper, but it does not mean that the political consideration determines the outcome of the inquiry. They are two separate things, and none of the right hon. Members opposite, throughout this and the previous debate, addressed themselves to this distinction. Instead, they have campaigned against my right hon. and learned Friend and said that he is a Tammany boss and a cheat.
I remember very well what happened in 1959. The question arose as to whether a member of the Labour Party was to be appointed Speaker of the House of Commons for the first time in history. There has never been a member of the Labour Party sitting in that eminent position. There were discussions between the two parties—through the usual channels. The indication given by the Conservative Party just after the 1959 election was that it would be prepared to allow a Labour Member to be nominated as Speaker of the House of Commons, but that it would allow only one to be appointed, and that was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport, which seems remarkable testimony to his impartiality.
It is very strange for anyone to come along afterwards and say that my right hon. and learned Friend has, somehow, been transformed in this period and that he has, in the words of the Motion, allowed himself to be subjected to Labour Party pressure. My complaint against my right hon. and learned Friend on many matters which I could cite on 675 other occasions is that he is not subject to pressure from the Labour Party. I could give him a great list, but I will reserve that for another occasion.
The Conservative Party has made a great error in the way in which it has dealt with this matter, for the reasons which I have given. It has dealt with it shockingly. I do not think that charges of this nature should be bandied about in the manner in which hon. Members opposite have bandied them about. Even so, there is one aspect of what they have done today, one part of their conduct, which, I think, deserves some credit—across the gulf of the House of Commons I would still be prepared to say it—and on which I agree with them.
I do not wish to state the matter in an offensive way which would stir up any trouble, but it is a fact that on this occasion the Conservative Party, in proposing this Motion of censure, has been prepared to agree that the speeches and the vote should take place before dinner rather than after. There cannot be any charges of post-prandial euphoria on this occasion, and I can congratulate them.
I do not wish to say anything which intrudes on the Committee of Privileges or which injures the susceptibilities of hon. Members opposite—this bunch sitting before me which does such collective credit to the Band of Hope, the serried ranks of outraged Rechabites. As I say, I do not wish to say anything offensive to hon. Members opposite, but I congratulate them on agreeing that such a serious matter as a censure Motion should be discussed in circumstances in which all of them are able to enter the debate in the sober manner which we would all wish to see.
But there is another reason why this matter has been presented in this manner, and it is the real reason for the debate. It was given in a speech delivered this week by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). I am sorry that he is not here. I am not sure what is the etiquette in this matter. I do not know whether one should give advance notice to a Member that one intends to attack him because of his absence. That is what I intend to do, because the right hon. Gentleman is absent. He should be here. He is one of the originators of the Motion. He is a 676 member of the "shadow" Cabinet which decided to press ahead with it.
The right hon. Gentleman made a speech this week from which emerged the reason why we are having this debate today. On Wednesday, The Guardian reported a speech he had made to the Women's Advisory Conservative Committee. He said that the Leader of the Opposition had given the signal for attack which must be done on all major occasions. This is a major occasion. On this major occasion, the Opposition decided that they must proceed with the attack even though they proposed to put up a spokesman on a censure Motion who was to start his speech by saying that he would make no real accusations; he was merely concerned about an error of judgment.
I do not think that hon. Members opposite should go about the matter in this way. They should not bring their controversies inside the Conservative Party into the House in this manner. Some people say that it is wrong for us to suggest reasons for what is going on in the Conservative Party and why it should bring forward such a Motion as this. Some say that it is quite wrong, as I have heard some of my immoderate friends suggest, that on the benches opposite there is a sordid scramble for personal power.
I do not agree with that at all. What we see going on in the Conservative Party is of highly philosophical content. The only thing which puzzles me is why, in such circumstances, we should have witnessed the departure from the scene of the Socrates from Saffron Walden. He could not put up with the atmosphere any more and so he got out; and I am not surprised.
The fight for what is sometimes described, for lack of a better word, as the soul of the Conservative Party still goes on. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Member for Monmouth is advancing himself as a potential candidate for the leadership. I am not indulging in any fantasies or hyperboles. I am merely trying to analyse why the Conservative Party went ahead with bringing forward such a calamitously foolish censure Motion as this one, which has so little substance and so much malice in it. I want to discover why it has happened.
677 The reason for it is not to be sought in the conduct of my right hon. and learned Friend. It is to be sought in the manoeuvres which are continuing inside the Conservative Party. Let hon. Members opposite continue their fight for the soul of the Conservative Party elsewhere. Let them do it in the Committee rooms upstairs, in their country houses, in the "Magic Circle", or in Eaton Square. But let them refrain from bringing this bleeding and dishevelled phantom on to the Floor of the House.
Let them at least spare us that and let them spare a long-suffering nation. Let them apply themselves to trying to bring to the Floor of the House the important matters which have to be debated and no longer waste the time of the House on a Motion which appears to be serious, but which, having listened to the right hon. Member for Monmouth, is shown to be a manoeuvre solely for their own purposes.
It may be that this is something which hon. Members opposite are entitled to do. Oppositions may have done it in the past, but—[HON. MEMBERS: "They did."] Some Oppositions have done it in the past. I am thinking back to the previous century.
What I think is somewhat discreditable, particularly when it comes from the right hon. Member for Hampstead and some of his associates, whose behaviour in months past we remember, is that to serve their own party interests they should attack the honour of a right hon. and learned Member of this House. I suggest that the only dignified resort which they have is to withdraw this miserable Motion.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
I hope that the House will permit one who was the Member for Northampton for four years and, therefore, has a considerable interest in this affair to take a few minutes of the time before we bring this debate to a close.
It is not easy to follow such an entertaining speech as that to which we have just listened. The hon. Member for Devonport—
§ Sir S. Summers
I am sorry, I should have said the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I know that he cannot represent two places at once and Ebbw Vale will be quite enough for him. The hon. Member was at pains to suggest that we had embarked on a witch hunt and were attempting to capture the wrong quarry. Let me assure him that his speech, at least in my estimation, is nothing but a red-herring drawn across the path to try to deflect serious attention from being paid to what is unquestionably, as the hon. Member said at the outset of his speech, a serious matter.
Unfortunately, I was not able to hear all the debate on this subject on the previous occasion, but I have read every word that was said. Having heard every speech in today's debate, I am more than ever convinced that the Motion on this occasion is abundantly justified and has been proved to be justified by the speeches to which we have just listened, in particular the speech of the Home Secretary. In passing, if the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale finds it difficult to contrast this Motion with the mention of the Home Secretary's name in connection with the Speakership some years ago, the proof is the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) today that it is not the Home Secretary's integrity that is impugned but his judgment. That is perfectly consistent.
I do not intend to take much time, but let us try to deal with the essentials. Here was a case that was judged by the Home Secretary to have been recommended according to the criteria laid down and approved on that account. When representations were made to him that political considerations had not been taken into account, he said, in effect, that this was a good reason for embarking upon a fresh inquiry. When we asked whether this deliberate introduction of political considerations meant, in effect, a change in the Home Office instructions, we were told "Oh, no. There is to be no change". When we asked how the new inspector would deal with political considerations, we were told that that would depend upon the inspector himself. Some inspectors would give serious attention to these matters and some 679 would not. What a negation of responsibility to pass to the inspector to decide what degree of significance to place upon political considerations.
What we have heard today, despite the attempt to conceal it by the Home Secretary, is an announcement that future boundary decisions will be rejected if there is a serious political effect in accepting a recommendation. [An HON. MEMBER: "For the Labour Party."] I was not going to add that, because the important feature in this case is to highlight the change in the situation brought about by the Home Secretary's decision, namely, that in future political results are to count. I do not go further than that by saying that it would count one way and not the other. This is a fundamental change.
When it is claimed that we ought not to be speaking like that and that my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary—I think that "purist" was the word used a few minutes ago—ought not to be saying that, again the Home Secretary has failed to appreciate the point, which has been made more than once—I repeat it because he has failed to appreciate it or has deliberately not wanted to—concerning the difference between a proposal brought forward for improper motives and a proposal which is brought forward and which may have significant political results. Proposals that are brought forward for improper motives solely for political reasons are properly rejected. Proposals that are brought forward in accordance with the criteria laid down, which may or may not have a political result, ought not to be rejected on that account. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the case that we make on this side in connection with the phrase "political considerations" is that they have no place in the motives building up the plan and they should be ignored in so far as the results themselves are concerned.
As has been said earlier, it is not Northampton alone which has aroused the interest of this topic. It is the effect of such a situation on future ward decisions. From what we have heard from the Home Secretary, I find it almost impossible to decide whether another verdict from an inspector which gave an objectionable result to Labour would be re- 680 jected, for the simple reason that every argument advanced today appears to be that if it has a major political result it should be rejected. If the next inquiry has the same result, the arguments advanced today will surely hold equally good the next time.
From this, we must deduce that the only recommendation in future which will be acceptable to the Home Secretary is one which preserves the status quo. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who is not in his place, took objection to the status quo. He said that the Conservatives had a built-in majority to which they were not entitled because of the relationship between seats and votes cast. I hope, therefore, that when the next inquiry is held, if this Motion is not carried, we shall not have a repetition of the nonsense that we have heard today. It is a serious matter that confidence in the boundaries of wards and constituencies should be subject to doubt and suspicion. This is inevitably the consequence when vacillation takes place at the Home Office.
I deplore very much that this has happened and I consider that the Motion is amply justified by all that has been said on this side.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
We have had a very good debate, at a high level, on an important topic, apart, perhaps, from the interlude of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), whose agreeable acrobatics we much enjoyed although they had little to do with the subject of the debate.
The hon. Member began by saying that this was a grave subject and he finished by giving us a pantomime. The bit I particularly enjoyed was the confirmation which I got from his documents on his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) that I was quite right, apparently, in his view, to have made inquiries on the last occasion about whether he might have had anything to do with it.
We are engaged on a much more serious issue and I should like to repeat, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) said, that 681 this is not—it certainly is not in my view—in any way a censure upon the integrity of the Home Secretary. All we are saying is that he made an error of judgment, that it is easy to make an error of judgment as a Minister, but that he is now sticking to that error of judgment when it has been fully explained and debated and that we consider that he is quite wrong to stick to that decision, not only for the reasons of the decision itself, but because of the consequences which it carries with it. It is both the wrong-headedness of the decision and the consequences which it will have, both generally on future decisions and on the actual Borough of Northampton, that merit the censure of this House.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman like to tell the House how he reconciles what he has just said, that this is not a Motion of censure on the integrity of the Home Secretary, with the Motion, which specificallydeplores the action of the Secretary of State for the Home Department in yielding to Labour Party political pressure …and so on? That is the charge. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman like to explain how he thinks that can be regarded as an error of judgment?
§ Sir J. Hobson
The error of judgment was in giving way to the Labour Party, which wanted a new inquiry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that all?"] Certainly that is all. We say that this is the error of judgment which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made.
On reading the life of Spencer Perceval, who was murdered in the Lobby of this honourable House, and who was the Member for Northampton, one realises that in the late eighteenth century the Borough of Northampton had a well-deserved reputation as one of the most tumultuous Parliamentary constituencies in the country. The situation was further complicated at that time when the party struggle extended to municipal affairs. My knowledge of Northampton is that even after the eighteenth century it has been a place where feelings have run very high in political matters, but it has not recently had its municipal affairs debated on the Floor of the House of Commons. The matter comes here now because the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as all who have listened to the debate know, has 682 decided to reverse the decision which he originally took on 23rd December last.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman explained during the last debate, and he explained again today, what he considers to be the justification for that decision. We all know the enormous burden that he bears. No doubt he had an "In Tray" with a vast pile of other things to consider, and other action to take. No doubt one or other of his Ministerial colleagues who remain under the blessed screen of anonymity sent him a note. No doubt he thought at the time, I am sure genuinely, that he was doing the right thing. What we complain about is that having had the opportunity to reconsider it, having had the implications explained to him, he is sticking to it, and taking the consequences of it both for the future of such cases, and for the actual electors of the Borough of Northampton.
How does the Home Secretary put his defence? Much as I would like to think that he had good grounds for justifying himself, I cannot say that he has put forward any basis at all for doing what he has decided to do. He relies on the way in which Mr. Verney approached this matter for his justification, and he interprets the words which Mr. Verney used in his report as meaning that there were either political motives which were not disclosed to Mr. Verney, or that there were political results which Mr. Verney did not consider.
We have had the relevant passages of the report read on many occasions, and I shall not read them again, but there can be no doubt at all now that what Mr. Verney was endeavouring to say had nothing to do with the consequences of one scheme or the other. Those passages on which the Home Secretary has relied went solely to the question whether one or other of the two schemes put forward had been put forward for political motives or not, and if one reads those two passages, one sees that they mean nothing else at all.
If that is the right interpretation, the Home Secretary cannot be justified in ordering a new inquiry because, first, he said himself that he does not accept that either the town clerk or Mr. Walmsley was acting from any improper motive at all, and he imputes no improper motives of any sort to either of them in the way in which they put forward and advanced 683 their arguments, and the way in which they conducted the inquiry. I know that Mr. Walmsley and others are grateful for the attitude which the Home Secretary has taken, and I am sure that it is the right one.
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is amply justified in that by the report of Mr. Verney himself, who begins his conclusions with the words:Both the schemes which were put forward at the inquiry were honest attempts to divide the County Borough into wards in strict accordance with the criteria laid down.Mr. Verney had seen both the town clerk and Mr. Walmsley, and the witnesses on both sides. He had seen the town clerk cross-examined. He had seen Mr. Walmsley conducting the case, and he had his two Conservative councillors who gave evidence being cross-examined.
I therefore think that with all that information before him Mr. Verney was satisfied that each of the two proponents of the proposals and counter-proposals was genuinely trying to do nothing but apply the criteria laid down by the Home Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has accepted that, and on that basis there can be no reason for—and he does not attempt to justify it—a new inquiry to discover whether the motives of one or other of the parties was suspect and ought to be looked at.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman interprets Mr. Verney's words—and I think that he does so wrongly, on a fair interpretation—as meaning that Mr. Verney was taking note of the fact that there would be political consequences which were not drawn to his attention, and that for that reason there ought to be a new inquiry because those political consequences should be looked at. It is this decision which disturbs us, and which has caused us to put down this Motion of censure on the judgment of the Home Secretary, because it is saying nothing else than this, that if a warding scheme is examined by an independent inquiry and accepted by the Home Secretary and his staff—as happened in this case in the letter of 23rd January—on its merits as fulfilling the criteria of the Home Secretary's letter which contained nothing to do with political consequences, nevertheless one should have another inquiry to look at the political consequences. Despite the denials of the 684 Home Secretary, the implications of that are that we are making a major departure in policy on all questions affecting ward boundaries, because it will become relevant in future to argue what are to be the political consequences, whatever may happen to the application of the criteria?
That brings me to the question which the Home Secretary has been asked, and which I hope the Under-Secretary will answer. What are to be the terms of the new inquiry? Are they to be the same terms, the orthodox terms, as they have been called? Are they to be the usual terms? If they are to be the usual terms, let us be quite clear that this new inquiry is pointless, because it will be justified in excluding any evidence as to political consequences, and the Home Secretary has accepted that many of these inquiries proceed on the basis that any attempt to discuss the problems of warding on a political basis can be rejected as wholly irrelevant.
One of the things that Mr. Verney himself said—and I think that it is right to draw the attention of the House to it—is that the two schemes have to be judgedsolely according to whether or not they succeed in satisfying the criteria which have to be applied. The authors of each scheme have had these criteria clearly in mind.That is what the new inquiry may do.
The Home Secretary was asked, I think by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), whether it was suggested that Mr. Verney had taken any evidence into consideration which ought to have been excluded, and he very fairly said that he had not, that he had considered only proper evidence; and we know that it is proper for a new inquiry to exclude any political evidence at all. Thus, we are to have another inquiry so that evidence which can quite properly be excluded, and very frequently and usually is, might be tendered, with the possible result that it might be rejected by the new inquiry.
I think that this goes deeply against our processes of fairness and democratic life. I think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was right in saying that here we touch a sensitive point as to how our democracy is to run, and whether we are to fall back into the sort of atmosphere in which every 685 election was contested on the Floor of the House at the end of the eighteenth century.
I am sure that many experienced people—not only in Transport House, but in the Conservative Central Office—who give advice about these local government boundaries frequently advise people that the one thing that should not be done is to embark upon an inquiry into the political implications of a particular scheme, one way or another, but that the only safe course for such inquiries is to proceed on the application of the Home Secretary's criteria as they have always been laid down.
Where do we get to if we do not do that? How is the wretched inquirer to consider the political implications? Are the respective political parties to produce their canvassers' returns for each street in the borough so that the inquirer may consider, on the evidence of the two political parties, what is the likely political complexion not only of a street but half a street, or even a few houses? That is where we are getting to if we are going to see whether the political consequences, one way or the other, are of importance and ought to be taken into account. This is why we feel such deep anxiety that the Home Office and the Home Secretary are embarking upon an entirely new departure which will radically alter the way in which all these inquiries are conducted and will introduce a matter which ought never to be considered at such inquiries.
The Home Secretary took his decision to embark upon this course upon one other ground which I find wholly surprising. He said that he thought it would be desirable, in the interests of setting controversy at rest in Northampton, to reopen the whole matter. It amounts to little other than saying that the Labour Party having been displeased, he thought that it would continue to be displeased unless there were another inquiry—because he never had any information that anybody else was displeased. He never had representations from any other person in the Borough of Northampton. The truth is that his new decision has created far more resentment than ever existed before, and it is a resentment that is felt generally throughout Northampton, on both sides, and has produced a situ- 686 ation in which feelings are running far more highly than ever before.
The only other point to which I want to draw the attention of the House is that this decision is not only to be criticised because the Home Secretary's defence of it is wholly unjustified. Motive is not imputed, and all that we are doing is to import political considerations into inquiries where they should not be. The consequences of proceeding in this way are serious for the actual borough which is affected. Surely the overriding object of this exercise ought to have been to provide for elections before the appointed day. This was the very purpose that the Home Secretary set out in his letter of 23rd February. It was regarded by him as of the greatest importance that the 10,000 new voters in the Borough of Northampton should not be deprived of their right to vote for a period of six weeks.
In all new redrawings of boundaries—and there will be many in the immediate future—I am sure that the object of all Ministers, of any Government, must be to try to see that the new borough, with its new boundaries and extensions, together with the old area from which those extensions have been removed, are able to begin their lives with a newly elected council on the basis of a new warding system applicable to the area as it is about to be. This desirable, laudable and overriding object is wholly thrown away by the decision of the Home Secretary.
Not only that; we are proceeding upon a rather odd basis. I have already questioned whether the method of obtaining a new warding for the new borough as it will be after All Fools' Day next is satisfactory, or whether it is not ultra vires. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has already laid on the Table of this House an order directing the councillors of the Borough of Northampton to pass by a majority of their total number a petition to Her Majesty the Queen for the re-warding of their borough, and he has provided, further, that if they do not do as they are told by the Minister he will proceed as though such a petition had been passed. Therefore, if no petition were passed, it would be quite possible to announce that he intended to re-ward the borough as though it had been passed, 687 and proceed without this new inquiry ever having been held at all.
There is another point about the consequences. We know from the order which has been tabled that no elections will be held before the expected date on which the new inquiry will have completed its activities and its results will have been considered. The Home Secretary expects this to be by the end of October. Therefore, the whole of the rest of the voters of Northampton—about 73,000—will be deprived for about six months of the right to exercise their vote and to change their councillors if they so desire in the spring of each year.
Not only that; the majority of two on the Labour council is cemented on the borough by the fact that if there are any casual vacancies by reason of illness, resignation, or any similar event, there will be no by-election. If there were a by-election and the Conservatives won it, control of the borough would return to the Conservatives, whereas if a casual vacancy were not filled the borough would remain under Labour control. This is a remarkable way in which to proceed as a consequence of a decision taken upon such flimsy grounds.
Another matter which is perhaps not very important, but which the House ought to know about, is that the first proposals which the Labour Party supported were put forward by the town clerk, which means, presumably, that the costs of that inquiry will be borne by the ratepayers of Northampton. The Conservative Party had to bear its own costs of the first inquiry. What will happen about the costs of the second inquiry? Will the ratepayers of Northampton have the pleasure of contributing to a second lot of costs to put forward, once again, the town clerk's plan? It is clear that the Conservative Party will have to bear the costs of the second inquiry, which can do no more than hack over the ground already so fully considered by Mr. Verney, who, as is clear, came to his decision upon the merits, having considered all the facts laid before him.
I divert here to say a word about some of the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). He relied upon the resolution of the council to show that certain 688 facts—"bogus evidence", was his phrase—had been put forward, and he accused a solicitor of the High Court of being "a con man." I was very glad to hear the Home Secretary entirely repudiate any such suggestion and say that no false evidence was put forward.
The truth is that the hon. and learned Member and those members of the Labour Party who discussed this matter entirely failed to appreciate that the figures given in relation to the ward in question concerned the proposed ward which would be greatly extended and not the existing ward. It is this misapprehension which has given rise to numerous accusations of bogus evidence and misinformation. One wonders whether such evidence as this was not the foundation of the charge of misinformation in the original letter of the Home Secretary.
§ Sir J. Hobson
The hon. and learned Member referred to some figures, but if one reads the whole of the report of Mr. Verney one sees that he was quite aware, from the evidence given to him, of the difference between the five-year plan and the ten-year plan, and the rate of development, and that he went into all the figures with meticulous care. I am assured by the Conservatives that every one of those figures can be justified from the planning books or from the builders whose evidence was given. They have been accepted by the Home Secretary and I am sure that it is right that that should be so.
This is really a short point. Are we, in future, to embark on a situation in which the result in terms of politics of every drawing of an electoral boundary, be it local government or political, is to be subject to argument and reversal because it does, or it does not, suit one or other of the parties? That is the fatal course upon which we are now likely to embark. We say the only safe course is to stick to the orthodox criteria and inquire whether they have been properly applied and choose of two schemes the scheme appropriate to apply them.
This is what was done and what the Home Secretary, in his letter of 23rd December, accepted had been done. In 689 that acceptance he did not attach any importance at all to the political results of that inquiry. He was quite right not to do so then, and he has committed a serious error in reversing that decision.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)
This has been a censure debate with a difference. It started with an apology. It started with an assurance from the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) who asserted that in no way was he casting any doubts upon the integrity or the honour of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I should have been surprised had the right hon. Gentleman said that he was—I should have been very surprised. There has been a note of apology running along the benches opposite as hon. Members on the other side of the House sought to explain that, unlike in other censure debates, where we have dealt with great issues of principle, here they believed that the judgment of my right hon. and learned Friend was wrong, and they had used all the machinery of a major Parliamentary occasion and tabled a Motion of Censure.
In this debate we have had recited for us again some of the arguments advanced in the debate on this subject which was held a week ago. The right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) asked a question a week ago and he took part in the debate tonight when he told us what he would have done. The right hon. Gentleman regards it as an offence that my right hon. and learned Friend, having issued a decision and received representations from a local authority, said that he would give further consideration to it. The right hon. Member for Hampstead said that once he had made up his mind he would listen to no representations at all, and, of course, this is exactly the way in which the right hon. Gentleman treated local authorities.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) complained about the disfranchisement of some electors in Northampton. He complained that they would be unrepresented. The right hon. Member for Hampstead was long enough at the Home Office and the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington has been in the House long enough 690 to know that it is common policy to annex added areas to existing wards with councillors apportioned to wards containing electors who have taken no part at all in their election. The right hon. Member for Hampstead was himself responsible for legislation and for helping to push through this House legislation which made that sort of thing possible. He will also know that hon. Members opposite have made much of this—that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has sent a circular to the local authority.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington, the former Attorney-General repeated—and so obviously he makes much of it—the argument that there was something wrong about my right hon. Friend requiring a local authority to submit a petition. A week ago the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:How, I ask, can a Minister of the Crown announce that if the legally elected representatives do not do what they are told to do by him, he will proceed under an Act of Parliament, which requires a resolution, as if that resolution had been passed, when, in fact, it has not? Is not this wholly unlawful and without authority or precedent of any sort?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1965: Vol 706, c. 1293.]The right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to know that there are abundant precedents and that this procedure is lawful and has full authority. I am surprised that tonight he should have repeated a charge which can be so easily refuted by quoting from Acts part of which he was responsible for introducing in the House and under which exactly the same procedure has been followed during recent years. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, Schedule 11 of the London Government Act makes provision for just the very thing we have been talking about. The Luton Order and the Solihull Order of 1963 and the Stoke-on-Trent Order of 1964 all contain provisions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought were non-existent and so the Minister was acting without authority.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am afraid the choice is of either being courteous to the hon. 691 Gentleman or of receiving the wrath of hon. Members who thought that they were going to vote 20 minutes ago.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The hon. Member has quoted a number of Orders and the London Government Act. This Order, which was placed in the Vote Office only today, having come into operation three days ago, was made under Section 25 of the Local Government Act, 1933. Were those other Orders made under that Section?
§ Mr. Thomas
Wait a moment. A question has been asked and we will see how it can be answered. The fact is that there is a precedent. It is a clear answer to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. I am going to give the authority. Paragraph 11 of Schedule 3 to the 1963 Act—the London Government Act—placed on the Essex, Kent and Surrey County Councils the duty to submit a representation under Section 11 of the Local Government Act, 1933, as soon as may be after the passing of the Act of 1963. Far be it from me to try to teach the hon. Member the law, but it seems that anyone can teach it to him.
§ Mr. Thomas
All right. I will leave that point now.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington complained that because there could be no by-elections between now and October, we were therefore cementing the Labour majority of two. When vacancies come, whether by death or resignation, by-elections will not be held. Therefore, he says, this means that we are cementing the Labour majority in Northampton. That argument would be right if we accept the assumption that Providence always has a Left bias. That is the assumption which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was making. The other argument on which we have gone to and fro, both tonight and last week, was whether my right hon. Friend by reaching that decision which he did in February, has changed the policy of the Home Office. I am very glad that tonight we have heard none of the charges which we heard last week of political chicanery against my right hon. and learned Friend. 692 The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) said that last week. There were some very ugly words, but I presume, from what has been said by the Opposition Front Bench today, that there is no encouragement by the Front Bench for claims that my right hon. Friend has acted in anything but an honourable capacity in reaching this decision.
There have been suggestions that the boundaries of Northampton will be shaped by political considerations in the future. The truth, which no one knows better than the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington, is that the commissioner who will sit to discuss the boundaries and to hear the appeals produced by various people in Northampton will be quite as impartial as the last, and will work on the same terms as the last, but he will have the added benefit of knowing what is behind proposals and he will know the feeling of the local people.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that discussions will be held at the headquarters of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party and that they will all be submitting their plans and proposals to the commissioner. We know that there is nothing dishonourable in the commissioner being aware of all the issues which are at stake.
The other side has made much ado about nothing on this question. In the exercise of his duties, my right hon. and learned Friend has behaved with the care which the House has grown to expect from him and which we all know he brings to his work. This issue is not one which has been decided on political grounds, but we believe that it is in the best interests of Northampton that another inquiry should be held.
§ Mr. Thomas
Thirty seconds and I will be sitting down. I remember the record of the right hon. Member for Hampstead at the Home Office and I recall that, despite all the upheavals, he went through that period of office without a personal vote of censure being tacked on to him. 693 [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not? "] We may have been mistaken. But we believe that issues of censure should be confined to issues of principle or a major breach in the standards of the House. That charge is not thrown against my right hon. and learned Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] I believe that in an effort to have their weekly Motion of censure, the Opposition have scraped the bottom of the barrel today. I hope that the vote we are
§ to have will reflect indignation from that side of the House as well as from this.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 299.697
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|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Glyn, Sir Richard||Litchfield, Capt. John|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Goodhart, Philip||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Bryan, Paul||Goodhew, Victor||Longbottom, Charles|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Gower, Raymond||Longden, Gilbert|
|Buck, Antony||Grant, Anthony||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Grant-Ferris, R.||Lubbock, Eric|
|Burden, F. A.||Gresham-Cooke, R.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Grieve, Percy||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Buxton, R. C.||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||McLaren, Martin|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gurden, Harold||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||McMaster, Stanley|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||McNair-Wilson, Patrick|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Maginnis, John E.|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Maitland, Sir John|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Marlowe, Anthony|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Cole, Norman||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Marten, Neil|
|Cooke, Robert||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Maccles'd)||Mathew, Robert|
|Cooper, A. E.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Maude, Angus|
|Corfield, F. V.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Mawby, Ray|
|Costain, A. P.||Hastings, Stephen||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hawkins, Paul||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hay, John||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Crawley, Aidan||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hendry, Forbes||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Curran, Charles||Higgins, Terence L.||Mitchell, David|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Hiley, Joseph||Monro, Hector|
|More, Jasper||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Morgan, W. G.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Ridsdale, Julian||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Murton, Oscar||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Neave, Airey||Roots, William||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Royle, Anthony||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Russell, Sir Ronald||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Scott-Hopkins, James||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Sharples, Richard||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Shepherd, William||Wall, Patrick|
|Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Sinclair, Sir George||Walters, Dennis|
|Osborn, John (Hallam)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Webster, David|
|Page, R. Graham (Crosby)||Speir, Sir Rupert||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Stainton, Keith||Whitelaw, William|
|Peel, John||Stanley, Hn. Richard||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Percival, Ian||Stodart, J. A.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Peyton, John||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth||Studholme, Sir Henry||Wise, A. R.|
|Pike, Miss Mervyn||Summers, Sir Spencer||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Pitt, Dame Edith||Talbot, John E.||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Pounder, Rafton||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Wylie, N. R.|
|Prior, J. M. L.||Teeling, Sir William||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Quennell, Miss J. M.||Temple, John M.||Younger, Hn. George|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon.S.)||Mr. MacArthur and Mr.Pym.|
|Abse, Leo||Crosland, Anthony||Gregory, Arnold|
|Albu, Austen||Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Grey, Charles|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|Alldritt, W. H.||Dalyell, Tam||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Darling, George||Griffiths, Will (M'chester Exchange)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.|
|Atkinson, Norman||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hale, Leslie|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Davies, S.O. (Merthyr)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Hamilton, William (West Fife)|
|Barnett, Joel||Delargy, Hugh||Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Baxter, William||Dell, Edmund||Hannan, William|
|Beaney, Alan||Dempsey, James||Harper, Joseph|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Diamond, John||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Bence, Cyril||Dodds, Norman||Hart, Mrs. Judith|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Doig, Peter||Hattersley, Roy|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Donnelly, Desmond||Hayman, F. H.|
|Binns, John||Driberg, Tom||Hazell, Bert|
|Bishop, E. S.||Duffy, A. E. P.||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis|
|Blackburn, F.||Dunn, James A.||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Dunnett, Jack||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur|
|Boardman, H.||Edelman, Maurice||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret|
|Boston, T. G.||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Hill, J. (Midlothian)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)|
|Boyden, James||English, Michael||Holman, Percy|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Ennals, David||Horner, John|
|Bradley, Tom||Ensor, David||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Fernyhough, E.||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Howie, W.|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Hoy, James|
|Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)||Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Floud, Bernard||Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Foley, Maurice||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Ford, Ben||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Chapman, Donald||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Jackson, Colin|
|Coleman, David||Freeson, Reginald||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Conlan, Bernard||Galpern, Sir Myer||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Garrett, W. E.||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Garrow, A.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Ginsburg, David||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Gourlay, Harry||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)|
|Cronin, John||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick (SheffieldPk)||Skeffinglon, Arthur|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Murray, Albert||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Neal, Harold||Small, William|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Newens, Stan||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Kelley, Richard||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Snow, Julian|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby,S.)||Solomons, Henry|
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Norwood, Christopher||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Oakes, Gordon||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Lawson, George||Ogden, Eric||Steele, Thomas|
|Leadbitter, Ted||O'Malley, Brian||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Ledger, Ron||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham S.)||Stonehouse, John|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Orbach, Maurice||Stones, William|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Orme, Stanley||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.(Vauxhall)|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Oswald, Thomas||Summerskill, Dr. Shirley|
|Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Owen, will||Swain, Thomas|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Paget, R. T.||Symonds, J. B.|
|Lipton, Marcus||Palmer, Arthur||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Loughlin, Charles||Pargiter, G. A.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)||Thornton, Ernest|
|McBride, Neil||Parker, John||Tinn, James|
|McCann, J.||Parkin, B. T.||Tomney, Frank|
|MacColl, James||Pavitt, Laurence||Tuck, Raphael|
|MacDermot, Niall||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Urwin, T. W.|
|McGuire, Michael||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Varley, Eric G.|
|McInnes, James||Pentland, Norman||Wainwright, Edwin|
|McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Perry, Ernest G.||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Popplewell, Ernest||Wallace, George|
|Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Prentice, R. E.||Warbey, William|
|McLeavy, Frank||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Watkins, Tudor|
|MacMillan, Malcolm||Probert, Arthur||Weitzman, David|
|MacPherson, Malcolm||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Randall, Harry||White, Mrs. Ei[...]|
|Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Redhead, Edward||Whitlock, William|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Rees, Merlyn||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Reynolds, G. W.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Manuel, Archie||Rhodes, Geoffrey||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Mapp, Charles||Richard, Ivor||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Marsh, Richard||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Mason, Roy||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Maxwell, Robert||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St.Pancras, N.)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Mellish, Robert||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Mendelson, J. J.||Rose, Paul B.||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Millan, Bruce||Rowland, Christopher||Woof, Robert|
|Miller, Dr. M. S.||Sheldon, Robert||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Molloy, William||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne,C.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Monslow, Walter||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Mr. George Rogers and|
|Morris, John (Aberavon)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Mr. Ifor Davies.|