HC Deb 30 March 1965 vol 709 cc1537-61

10.27 p.m.

Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Northampton Order 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 250), dated 18th February, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be annulled This is the pay-off for the Home Secretary's scandalous decision, which we debated about a month ago, when, at the instigation of the local Labour Party and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), the Home Secretary decided to recall the decision which he had already taken as a result of the inquiry on the merits of an independent investigation into the re-warding of the County Borough of Northampton, and to hold an entirely new inquiry into precisely the same question on precisely the same principles.

The result of this is that we now have this Order which implements and puts into operation the result of that decision. I am sure that the House will recall the history of this matter, which I can deal with quite shortly. In March of 1964 my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke), who was then the Home Secretary, set in motion the processes by which it was hoped that before the County Borough of Northampton was extended by the addition of about 13,000 people the new ward boundaries within the extended borough could be drawn up and operated for the purposes of holding an election before the date on which it was expected that the extension would take effect; namely, 1st April, 1965.

He provided that consideration should be given as to how the wards should be dealt with. He made provision for an inquiry into objections. There were objections and an independent member of the Bar considered them and reported to the Home Secretary. On 23rd December the present Home Secretary accepted entirely the recommendations of that independent inquiry and insisted that elections should take place before 1st April upon the basis of the new warding arrangements. This left ample time for the normal pro- cedure when there is a new municipal authority or a radically altered one coming into operation; in other words, new warding arrangements, new elections and a new borough council newly elected to take over the newly extended borough or new area of responsibility.

But there were the most violent objections from the local Labour Party. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton and the Labour group on the council came to London and visited a number of Ministries, which are unspecified, on 28th January, and on 4th February letters were sent to the Northampton Borough Council from the Home Secretary announcing his intention to set up a new inquiry and from the Minister of Housing and Local Government announcing the policy which is now incorporated in the Order we are considering. It is clear that that important policy decision upon which the objectionable parts of the Order are based had been taken immediately before 4th February at a time when ex-parte and one-sided pressure from Northampton was being exercised on the Government by those who objected to what the independent umpire had decided.

We have certainly already debated the decision of the Home Secretary, but we are now concerned with the consequences of what the Home Secretary then did. Once he had taken his decision to abandon the Verney Report, the Government made an even more astonishing decision as to how they would deal with the situation which they themselves had created by abandoning the decision of the independent umpire.

They had three possible choices. They could have postponed the extension of the borough until the warding arrangements had been settled. This surely was the proper and safe course. This is the principle that the Home Secretary himself adopted in December, and it ought to have been the principle upon which the Government proceeded at that stage. If they had got on with it immediately, they could no doubt have arranged for a new inquiry, if they insisted on one, to be held shortly, new warding arrangements to be drawn up, new elections to take place and the extension of the borough to be delayed a month or so before the new council came into operation.

The second thing they could have done was to attach the added areas to existing wards and allow the ordinary elections to take place in May this year, and, having had in the ordinary course of events the annual elections in which the existing inhabitants and the new inhabitants of the borough could have taken part, they could then have arranged for re-warding arrangements to be put in hand to operate after the annual elections.

The third course, of which I think very few people would have thought, was the one which the Government adopted. It was to extend the borough and not to have any annual elections at all but wholly to deprive for a period of at least seven months all the existing inhabitants of Northampton borough and all the added inhabitants of the chance to decide who should represent them during the period until the new warding arrangements came into operation.

This was an astonishing way of solving the difficulties which the Government had themselves created. They have never justified it and never explained it. Without any explanation, we can only draw the inference that they proceeded from the desire to preserve the party majority on the county borough council at any cost and to ensure that it was not interfered with until the last possible moment.

What are the consequences of this Order? First, 13,000 people—or over 10,300 voters—are being added compulsorily to the County Borough of Northampton. People of all parties have strongly objected to this. If the Minister has the report of the boundary commission behind him in that respect we would not have objected to that, but he is adding them without their having any opportunity to vote for the people who will represent them on the council in the early months of the existence of the new borough, and without any chance at all of influencing the political complexion of the borough into which they are being compulsorily placed.

This is unprecedented and completely wrong. The new councils of the London boroughs were elected almost a year before the new metropolitan boroughs came into existence, and last night, when we were dealing with the Coventry Order, we knew that the Order contained provisions as to the wards under which the new borough as it came into existence was to operate, and it provided for immediate elections to take place at the very inception of the new and extended borough. At Solihull, Luton, Peterborough and elsewhere, new electoral divisions are shown on the maps attached to the Orders setting up the new voting areas. It is unprecedented that one should have put an extended borough with a much wider jurisdiction, and a large new area attached to it under the jurisdiction of the old council without any opportunity being given to alter the political complexion of that council.

This Order will result in taxation without representation, because all these people added will pay a very substantial increase in their rates. If they had stayed in the county they would have had to pay 6d. more. If they had been in the borough already, it would have been a rise of 8d. But as it is, they will suffer an increase of 1s. 1d. or 1s. 2d., and will not be able to play any part in controlling the people who will spend the product of the increased rates they pay.

The next consequence is that the Order as drawn fastens Socialist control on the borough. We all know that the elections in Northampton have been very close indeed. The present position is that there is a majority of 2 on the borough council. The Order provides that no elections shall take place until the re-warding arrangements have been completed—that is, between 22nd February and the end of the period.

The Home Secretary has told us that he hopes that that period will expire by the end of October, but it is only a hope. If anything at all should go wrong the elections in Northampton could be indefinitely postponed. If the validity of the petition which the borough is to present is challenged, if the validity of the local public inquiry under Section 25 is challenged, if the scheme of the Commissioner is challenged, there can be no elections until those challenges have been finalised and settled.

If a mere accident were to happen, if the commissioner were to die or become incapacitated before being able to complete his report, that, too, would postpone the proceedings under Section 25, and until that has been completed there can be no further elections in the Borough of Northampton. At the very best, on the Home Secretary's estimate, 19 months will have elapsed with no elections for anybody within the County Borough of Northampton, and it might well be a very much longer period.

There is another consequence of the form in which this Order is made, and I submit that it is a very objectionable provision. No election to fill a casual vacancy on the borough council can take place until the elections occur—that is, between 22nd February of this year and the postponed elections, which may be at least seven months, and may be a considerably longer period, despite the fact that the previous borough council will already have been a complete year in office without any form of renewal at all.

It may be that where there is a substantial majority one way or another in an outgoing council it does not make any great deal of difference if the odd casual vacancy is not filled, but when there is such a narrow majority it makes a great deal of difference, because it means that there can be no change in the political complexion of the borough council unless there are two Labour casual vacancies more than Conservative casual vacancies. If there were, for instance, one Conservative casual vacancy and one Labour casual vacancy and neither were filled the complexion of the council would remain precisely the same. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We are now beginning to see what hon. Members opposite want. This is what we had suspected.

On the other hand, if hon. Members opposite were prepared to face up to elections and allow elections on casual vacancies, and if the same situation arose and the Conservative seat were held and the Labour seat won by the Conservatives, the complexion of the borough council would change. Therefore, this provision whereby casual vacancies are not to be filled greatly increases the difficulties and decreases the chances of changing the complexion of this borough council. The Minister by the Order is cementing on to the borough a perpetual Labour government without giving the electorate any chance, and giving only a remote chance otherwise of changing that council.

There is no precedent for doing this in Orders. There have been Orders where it has been provided that in the outgoing council there shall be no filling of casual vacancies, for instance at Solihull and Luton for six weeks. That would be considered reasonable, because no one would wish to fill vacancies on an outgoing council which had only six weeks to run. The Stoke-on-Trent Order expressly provided that in the last seven months before the old council went out casual vacancies should be filled. It was thought right and proper in those circumstances.

That principle surely applies even more strongly where it is not a question of an outgoing council but of keeping an old council—without any election having taken place—at all for an extended period of office which nobody could have expected it to enjoy. The Peterborough and Cambridge Order provided that no casual vacancy should be filled in an outgoing council, but during that period there was a newly-elected council waiting to take office. In those circumstances, it might be fair to say that a casual vacancy should not be filled because the new council was in existence and was available and ready to take over control. But here we have a situation in which the Minister has not only postponed the annual election but is preventing any casual vacancy from being filled for an indefinite period of time, and for at least seven months. This must be wrong.

The other matter which is a consequence of the form of the Order is the method of obtaining the new wards. The Minister is proposing that the machinery of Section 25 of the 1933 Act should be used. The result is that this removes from this House all control over the final arrangements under which the added areas are incorporated into the electoral system of the Borough of Northampton.

In every other case with which we have dealt, for instance, Solihull, Luton and Coventry, all the Orders have provided that electoral boundaries were set out in a Schedule or a map attached to the Order, and the House has known the basis upon which the borough was being extended or the new arrangements were made. Hon. Members could control the arrangements and could vote against them. Here, however, the result of the device which the Minister is using is that, once we have passed this Order and once the County Borough of Northampton has forwarded its petition under Section 25, the matter rests entirely with the Home Secretary as to the time when he introduces an Order in Council and as to the content of the new arrangements. These will be laid down not by a Statutory Instrument which can be prayed against but by an Order in Council which cannot. We are, therefore, losing all control over the future arrangements to be made for these added areas and the electoral provisions in respect of them when they are added within the Borough of Northampton.

I am taking these matters briefly and hurrying along because there is not much time and I do not want to keep other hon. Members out of the debate. As I have said on previous occasions, we are still not satisfied that the powers the Minister is purporting to use under Article 6(2) of the Order are valid or capable of being used at all. He has assumed a right to direct that the elected representatives of the Borough of Northampton shall pass a resolution by a majority of their total number. I know of no Act, authority or precedent for a Minister assuming to himself the right to tell a local authority how it should proceed, how its members should vote, and by what majority. More than that, he has threatened that he will take the quite extraordinary course of proceeding under Section 25 of the 1933 Act as though something had been done which, in fact, had not been done.

All this the Minister justifies by saying that it is simply consequential upon the making of the Order. It is not, of course. The Order provides for the incorporation of the added areas into the wards of the borough, and his proposal is only consequential on the badness of the Order, not consequential on the Order itself. The borough council could at any time pass a resolution, either before the Order or after it, and it is not consequential upon the Order that the power which it has always had to act of its own volition at any time should be used at a particular moment on the direction of the Minister.

This matters not very much, perhaps, as to the validity of the Order, but it greatly imperils the proceedings hereafter because, if any electors of the Borough of Northampton or any other interested parties move to quash the petition and the proceedings which will be based upon it under Section 25, we may be in some difficulty and we may find ourselves in a situation in which the elections in Northampton will be almost indefinitely postponed.

The Order has been rushed. Last night, the Minister expressed regret that the Coventry Order had had to be rushed and brought into hasty operation. This case raises a much bigger issue. The time-table of this Order is this. The vital proposals under which it was drawn up were made only on 4th February this year. The Order was made on 18th February, and it came into operation on 22nd February. It was not even available in the Vote Office before it had started to operate. The appointed day is 1st April. This whole process, which vitally affects large numbers of people and the interests of the electors of the whole Borough of Northampton, has been brought into operation in a thoroughly hasty fashion.

We say that this is a bad decision and a bad Order, resulting from the astonishing gambit that the Home Secretary took. The Government, having got themselves into the difficulty, are getting themselves out in a thoroughly unsatisfactory manner. They are doing so by not postponing the extension of the Borough until new ward arrangements can be made and new elections held, as the Home Secretary himself originally proposed should be done last December. They are not even arranging that the ordinary processes of annual election should continue this May and that the new warding arrangements should operate after that.

The Government are adopting the extraordinary device of perpetuating the life of a council which has a party majority of two upon it and not even allowing casual vacancies to be filled in case that involves loss of the majority in the interval. We could not agree with the Home Secretary's original decision and we submit that the consequences it has brought about are wholly unacceptable.

l 0.51 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

We have debated this subject twice in the House and it has also been debated in another place. This House has come to a decision. I am wondering what useful purpose it serves to bring all this up again. Not a word of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) has said tonight has not been said before, and has not been said before several times.

I only mention it at all to correct errors of fact which have been corrected several times before, but which are still repeated. Once again, we have heard the tale of Northampton Labour Party rushing to London to see a number of Ministers. I can only say, for the third time, that no member of Northampton Labour Party other than myself saw any Minister on this subject at all.

I saw my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I believe that it was my duty to do so as Member for the borough and I venture to think that any other hon. Member who found his constituency in this situation would have done the same. I saw my right hon. and learned Friend to point out to him that, on the face of the commissioner's report, the commissioner had acted upon a misapprehension as to the facts. When I pointed that out to my right hon. and learned Friend he considered the matter very carefully and took what I should have thought was a difficult, correct and honourable decision.

As, on the face of it, the commissioner's report involved a misapprehension of the facts, my right hon. and learned Friend decided that an inquiry should be held when all parties could be heard. That decision may be right or wrong, but the matter has been debated several times and I feel that there is little point in proceeding over the same ground again.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Could the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) tell us whether or not, in his conversations with the Home Secretary, he pointed out to him the effect which he thought the Order would have on the fortunes of the Labour Party in Northampton? Does he say that he did not make overtures to the Home Secretary on that score?

Mr. Paget

I do not think that the hon. Member can have followed this controversy. The commissioner had reported and put in his report that he had made it because he was satisfied that there were no political objections to it. I pointed out that that was a mistake.

Mr. Buck

Answer the question.

Mr. Paget

Have I not answered it? That was what the mistake was about. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we gained a great advantage out of postponing the elections until October. I thank him for the compliment which he has paid to the present Government when he assures us that our position in October will be much stronger than it is now. It is a compliment which we appreciate. He has constantly repeated that the elections were very close. In seats that is true, but in votes we had a 10 per cent. margin. If that were translated throughout the country, it would mean a 250 majority in the House. That is not all that close.

I do not think that the new areas of Northampton can complain that this is not a representative council. Naturally, new areas do not like to come from a lower rated into a higher rated area, but, none the less, Northampton is one of those boroughs where one gets very good value for the rates. Under both parties it has been a very well and economically governed borough and the new areas, whom we take this opportunity to welcome, will be happy in their borough. At any rate, I hope that they will.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has taken a very prominent part in the proceedings which come to a conclusion tonight. I am sure that he has played a very effective rôle. In fact, he has completely succeeded in achieving his own ends, and there can be no higher recommendation of his efforts.

Although this is the final story as far as boundary revision is concerned, it is not the end of the story but only the end of a chapter in a sorry and shabby tale. We have yet to see the results of the commissioner's further report which the Home Secretary has promised, and this will be an enlightening document. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has already decided in his own mind what the result will be.

I will try not to go over the ground on which there has been so much charge and counter charge during our discussions of this matter, but it is clear that democratic principles and the rights of electors have been trampled underfoot on this issue. I speak particularly for the 10,000 electors, most of whom are in my constituency, who lose the right to play any part in the government of the enlarged County Borough of Northampton until it meets with the pleasure of the Government and the Home Secretary.

There is no doubt that both the Government and the Home Secretary have bowed to the pressure of Labour Party agitation. Although the hon. and learned Member for Northampton says that he was the only person to see the Minister and the Home Secretary, there is no doubt that leaders in the Labour Party in the County Borough of Northampton have played a prominent part in this matter, both in the county borough and here at Westminster. I maintain that there has been a serious error of judgment on the part of the Home Secretary. It has been said before, and I agree, that it has put at risk the reputation of the Home Office.

I leave the question of re-warding, because that will come before the House on a subsequent occasion, and turn to the issue before us tonight, which is that of the county borough boundary extension. I speak for 13,000 residents, approximately 10,000 electors, in the three parishes of Duston, Hardingstone and Weston Favell, the latter of which includes the area of Boothville. These parishes lie in an arc stretching from the west to the south and to the east, practically encircling Northampton, villages whose histories extend back into the centuries, each with its individual character and characteristics, affected to varying degrees by the development which has taken place in recent years. In some cases there is a continuing urban scene from the old county borough out to these villages, but that is not so in the village of Duston, where a large area of open country lies between the urban part of the borough and the parish.

Understandably, there is a strong feeling of parochialism in these villages which we must recognise. I know that it is so. Hardingstone, the village on the south side, has only open country affected by these proposals, but, naturally, all this is unwelcome to residents in the parishes. They have valued the three-tier system of local government with the parish, the rural district and the county council. Residents have a long record of devoted interest and service to parish affairs of all kinds, and particularly the parish council.

The purpose of the Order is to overlay and extinguish valued institutions and relationships. I have mentioned the village of Duston in particular and the open areas lying between the village and the existing county borough. The large firm of British Timken has made an invaluable contribution to village affairs, in addition to providing a livelihood for many of its residents.

The feeling was so strong in this village that a "Hands off Duston" committee, representative of all opinion in the village, was formed. Representations on behalf of this committee were made at the local inquiry, and the other parishes involved did the same. I should like to read a letter which the "Hands off Duston" Campaign Committee sent to all Members of this House. It is dated January, 1965, and it states: The above Committee has asked me to convey to all Members of Parliament its profound concern at the Minister of Housing and Local Government's decision to implement the Boundary Commission proposal that the Village of Duston be incorporated into the Borough of Northampton. The above Committee was formed as a result of the spontaneous feeling of anger at the temerity of the proposals. It in no way reflects the views of any one group or political party, but of the Village as a whole. The Committee is comprised of members of the political parties, the British Legion, local religious bodies. Allotment Asociation, Women's Institute. etc. The Government White Paper of July, 1956, expressly stated inter alia that the wishes of the people should be one of the most important considerations. To that end in April, 1960, the 'Hands Off Duston' Campaign Committee conducted a poll among all residents over the age of 18 years. The result of that poll was that 96.6 per cent. of the residents voted in favour of remaining outside the Borough of Northampton. There were many pertinent reasons put forward at the Inquiry held in April, 1962, conducted by Sir Harold Fieldhouse … proving that the people of Duston would suffer considerably if the proposals were implemented. Following the Inspector's Report further criticisms of its accuracy, validity and, in fact, veracity, were made known to the Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The most important point, however, which my Committee have asked me to emphasise, is its concern at the manner in which the firmly expressed wish of 96.6 per cent. of the people has been blatantly ignored. I am instructed to ask for the support of all Members of Parliament who value democracy and who accept the fact that the wishes of the people should prevail, in our plea that these proposals be rejected. Yours faithfully, L. Dorricott, Chairman. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leaming-ton (Sir John Hobson) has dealt with the implications of the Order which is before us this evening. I wish to refer to the effect which it has on local government in this area.

The peculiar form which the Order takes has already been referred to, and I wish to draw attention to paragraph 6 on page 6 in which it says that the parish councils of Duston and Weston Favell shall be dissolved. It is a sad note that Duston parish council met for the last occasion yesterday evening. Thirteen parish councillors were there, and there are 15 councillors on the council at Weston Favell. They are duly elected representatives, enjoying the confidence of and serving their fellow men.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)

All over London.

Mr. Jones

All over London indeed, it is true, but the difference between London and this proposal has been emphasised by my right hon. and learned Friend, and it is a very great difference indeed. These people are disenfranchised——

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

What is the difference?

Mr. Jones

The Minister asks me what is the difference. There is a great difference between what is happening in London and what is happening here. The Order goes on to say that rural district councillors should also surrender their posts which they have occupied as duly elected representatives, and the irony contained in paragraph 6 is almost unequalled when it says that the parish councils shall liquidate all current liabilities incurred by them.

They are asked to liquidate their responsibilities, and the Minister is liquidating the very purpose for which they were elected and denying to the people who elected them the right to choose representatives who shall serve them further when this reorganisation takes place. Surely here is the great fundamental difference. The Minister may tut-tut in that wonderful manner he has, but he must recognise as we do the fundamental unfairness of these proposals. He does not want to do so, because of course he is in a defensive rôle tonight.

What have we in place of 28 parish councillors and five rural district councillors? No representation at all, and a denial of democratic rights; no voice in all the important affairs there are to be handled in local government, and I hope that will not be denied by the right hon. Gentleman—no representation in the important discussions now in hand regarding population increases in the county borough.

I turn to the statement made by the Minister on 22nd March, 1965, when the right hon. Gentleman said I am consulting with a number of well established old towns—Ipswich, Northampton, Peterborough, Warrington—in order to evolve a system of twinning under which a new town corporation can be established so as to double their size in the shortest possible time …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March. 1965; Vol. 709; col. 87.] It is in these important negotiations that the voice of 10,000 electors shall not be heard. They will have no representatives to speak for them in these important negotiations which the right hon. Gentleman proposes. These decisions are to be taken by a Labour majority maintained on that council by the actions of the Government. It is a year-old mandate on the basis of one disputed vote.

There are 5,000 hereditaments, £700,000 of rateable value, and 13,000 residents. They are to have no voice or vote in local affairs until another warding inquiry has been held, and until the Home Secretary has made his decision, which may well mean that it will be the end of this year before elections can take place. Elections were initially proposed to be held on Thursday, 25th March, that is last week, which would have ensured proper representation for the electors to whom I have referred.

I have dealt with the doubling of the size of Northampton which is proposed, and, who knows, under these proposals, just how the boundaries of the yet greater County Borough of Northampton will be drawn? Where will the substantially additional land that is required be found? It is likely that it will be found within these parishes? That is out of the question. We need about 1,500 housing sites per annum to 1981 to provide for what we think the Minister has in mind, and different criteria from those considered in relation to the Order will be necessary.

The proper solution in Northampton might well affect the proposals in this Order so far as the parishes of Duston, Hardingstone, and Weston Favell are concerned. However, it is the denial of representation which is the more immediate issue, and which has greater significance.

I know that some hon. Gentlemen opposite regret the circumstances of this matter. It is certainly not beyond recall, but I fear that the Government have taken their decision, a wrong decision, bowing to party pressure on an electoral question. The Home Secretary has created a precedent in not accepting his commissioner's recommendation on the rewarding question. This has all the ingredients of a dishonourable situation, which indeed it is.

11.12 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

I have listened to all the debates that we have had on this question of the extension of the Borough of Northampton. Hon. Members may wonder why I have done this. It is because I was born in the constituency of South Northants, which once had a distinguished predecessor of yours, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in the Chair. I know Northampton Borough very well, having spent my boyhood days going there for cricket and rugger matches, shopping, and the rest. I, therefore, have a personal interest in the matter.

Before I listened to the debates, I did not know the whole question behind this issue, but, having listened to what has been said, I think that this is one of the most squalid and disgraceful stories that I have ever heard. The responsibility for this rests with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—if he had been a right hon. Gentleman, as he might have liked, we might not have had this situation—who tempted the Home Secretary, and, unfortunately, the Home Secretary lent an ear.

If a modern Guy Fawkes blew up the Council Chamber at Northampton, as I understand it, under this Order the Borough would be without any council at all. Similarly, if some of the Labour members decided to come to London and were incapacitated by an accident on the M.1, would the right hon. Gentleman be thinking differently if there were no longer an effective voting Labour majority in the town hall?

Mr. Mellish

Terrible thought.

Sir H. Harrison

That is the situation which the Minister must face, because it is a possibility, I shall not say a probability, because these casual vacancies are not to be filled.

May we have an assurance from the Minister that these elections will be held by October of next year? Is he prepared to give a firm date tonight, or may not the inquiry once again not suit the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, so that we shall be asked to have a third inquiry, and the election will be further delayed?

We seem to have no guarantee whatever that there will be a chance to debate these new wards when they are decided upon.

I say that this is one of the most disgraceful cases of jerrymandering with our constitutional, democratic way that I have ever known during all the time that I have been in this House.

11.15 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

At least it is nice to get the issue clear. On the last debate but three, we had a clear exposition from the Opposition Front Bench that there had been an error of judgment. Tonight, it is "the worst scandal'' and "the most disgraceful piece of jerrymandering in our history"; but if one accepts that last piece of comment, then all I can say is that we have a very pure system of democratic government.

I was very interested tonight in the start of our proceedings because we had a long repetition of practically everything the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Mernber for Warwick and Leaming-ton (Sir J. Hobson) said according to the previous copies of HANSARD, now recorded for yet a further time; but there was no discussion on the matter which interested me—the local government boundaries. Yesterday, he was passionately concerned for those electors at Finham. Now he is concerned only with political capital, and he left the serious issue—the really important matter—to the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones). It was he who talked of the things which really matter. He asked if the boundary extension was right or whether it was not.

This was said to be a scandal; an outrage; and he expressed a feeling for Duston village—a feeling which I think hon. Members for county areas always feel when some sort of urban penetration takes place from time to time—[Interruption.] I am answering the hon. Member for Northants, South, who expressed some concern about whether the boundary decision was right or not. Hon. Members opposite are praying against an extension of the Northampton boundaries, and the hon. Gentleman put the matter in its non-party proportion. He said that it was an assault on democracy, but did not then go on to say that it was a decision which was made by my predecessor. It was a long time ago, yes; and he told us that hands were laid on Duston. But they were not my hands. They were the hands of a Conservative Minister of Housing and Local Government who had read the Report of the Local Government Commission and who had listened to his inspector's views after the public inquiry. It was all so long ago that we cannot remember it. It was in December, 1963, that my predecessor permitted this desecration of Duston, this outrage of democracy, in carrying out a recommendation of the Local Government Commission.

Then we move forward. I looked at it, and asked myself if I could find any fault with what my Conservative predecessor had done, but, I had to say, "Alas, I cannot find any fault with him at all". I resisted the arguments of the hon. Member for Northants, South with the same stubborn pertinacity that was evinced by my Tory predecessor. The arguments were moving, and stirring, but it was nevertheless decided that hands must be laid on Duston—that it must not be defined any longer as a village, but as a suburb.

I remember that I first became a councillor in Oxfordshire by representing a village which was integrated into Oxford. It was a parallel with Duston, and the issue, I recall, was one of proper rights of refuse disposal. Oxford had three collections to Headington's one, but I was able to secure equality in refuse disposal at Headington. Now, I am sorry to say, Headington seems to have forgotten its refuse disposal rights, although then I was within the boundary and defending our rights. These things happen, but after I have looked at this Order most carefully, I must point out to the hon. Member that it got only four of the six built-up areas around Northampton. The Local Government Commission, quite rightly, said that it should not get the other two.

The more I look at this—I said this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman last night—the more concerned I am about this question of community rights. I shall, as Minister, treat this with the greatest seriousness, and weigh genuinely the resistance of the local feeling. If I had believed, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman does, that Finham will be a great deal more powerful and larger, I should have sustained his position against that of my predecessor. When I look at the areas, I find it difficult to deny the view that these areas have become suburbs of the city, have been genuinely integrated in the sense that they are now industrialised and have lost their rural and agricultural flavour, and that it is right that they should be administered centrally in this way.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue to me which he could not raise to my predecessor—because he did not propose it—of the new town, and he proposed that we should now postpone the issue once again, to see what will happen when we successfully twin Northampton and double its size. To postpone it again is something which we cannot do, and should not do. We do not know how long the negotiations will take, nor how long it will take to build the new town. It will be a mistake to have more years of delay. We have had too many years since the Commission started its deliberations, and I think that to add two or three more would be a great mistake. We cannot say, in Ipswich and Peterborough, whether we should do anything about the boundaries until we have seen what we shall do about the city. We shall retain the boundaries as they are now, until we see clearly the position of the city.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman posed questions with his usual courtesy, though, I thought, with an acerbity which was slightly stronger than when the Home Secretary was present last time, about this "pay off" in this "scandalous business". I shall try to reply as objectively and quietly as I can to the points which he raised. The first point was that, when we had this unfortunate hitch in the new inquiry, the sensible thing would have been to postpone the date of the boundary extension from 1st April, which would mean that we should withdraw the Order which he opposes, and make a new one, postponing the date for a few months. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that that is impossible. It was a question of postponing either for a year or not at all. We either had to postpone from 1st April, 1965, to 1966, or we had to carry on.

This is the decision which I had to make. There is no doubt about that particular issue. It is quite impossible to postpone for only a few months, I am informed by my officials, and I think that it is perfectly correct to say that we therefore had to make up our minds between this rather unusual procedure—indeed, the whole affair is very unusual for Northampton—of postponing for another year, and that of letting the boundary extensions go ahead as planned and then postponing the elections till after the boundary extension. This is the point which has aroused the greatest antagonism on the other side of the House. It has been suggested that, by having the boundary extensions—and we obviously cannot have the elections until we have the re-warding—and then postponing the elections until later in the year, we are outraging democracy and destroying the rights of the electors in that part of Northampton.

I think that that is just a little exaggerated as a picture of what has actually happened. First of all, there is no question of my right to do this, nor of my powers. Nobody has challenged the powers of the Minister. They know that whatever Minister was in charge would be able to do this; he has the constitutional power to do so under section 38 of the Act. In Northampton, the Home Secretary considered that it would not be right to hold elections on the basis of the existing wards, that we must first of all get the wards right and then hold the elections. This is what we have decided to do.

I should have thought that there are already a number of precedents for doing this—for postponing elections. For example, I gather that the London Government Act, 1963, put off the 1964 elections in Greater London and postponed the county council elections in Essex, Kent and Surrey. There was no word of protest from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those elections were postponed, and I suggest that it is humbug to have all this tremendous excitement about the postponing of the elections in Northampton for a few months during 1965.

There have been similar provisions in Orders under the 1958 Act. For example, the Huntingdon and Peterborough Order put off the 1964 county elections and postponed some district and parish council elections. Where were the protests raised on that occasion? They were hardly raised at all. I am putting these points to the Opposition so that we may get the matter in perspective.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite should recall that elections in the Isle of Ely and the Soke of Peterborough were put off. In that case the counties were brought to an end, without further elections, on 31st March, 1965, which is tomorrow, and elections for the new county council of Huntingdon and Peterborough, as well as Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, were held in the autumn of 1964, which means that there were no elections from April, 1963, to the autumn of 1964, a period of about 18 months.

When these things are described as a desperate desecration of the rights of the electors, one should see the matter in its right perspective. Nobody likes postponing elections.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the case of Peterborough it was mutually agreeable to both sides, all the way round, and that there were no special advantages involved?

Mr. Crossman

It would have been mutually agreeable here if the dust had not been stirred up on the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] All I am saying is that when one looks at the matter one sees it in perspective. Nobody wanted to postpone these elections. It was only because a new inquiry was forced that we had to extend the boundaries in April and then postpone the elections until the re-warding was completed. I was asked to give an assurance. As soon as the re-warding has been completed then, of course, the elections can take place in every part.

Sir J. Hobson

The example of Peterborough, Huntingdon and the other places is no analogy, because there were no added areas involved. The same representatives were continuing to represent the people who elected them. There were not a lot of additional people who had not voted for those representatives.

Mr. Crossman

Of course they are not identical, but the complaint was the denial of the voting rights of electors. I am pointing out that when we reorganise local boundaries such incidents occur

and election rights are sometimes postponed. I personally regret it, but I cannot think that this is a good reason for postponing this Order once again.

The House was reminded of the facts about the dates on which the process of reorganisation took place. I think I am right in saying that the beginning of this process, the time when the Commission first started, was in 1959. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had his way we would get the re-warding of Northampton and then finally have the first elections in 1967. That is too long. It really is too long a process. Already the process has gone from the period between the end of the inquiry and my predecessor's tardy decision in December, 1963.

The moment I came into office I started doing this work. I have worked very hard at this job. I give the assurance that we shall not have the same kind of delay in deciding this because delay is bad for the local authorities, and to have a Local Government Commission inquiry and then a delay of two or three years before any decision is taken cannot be a good thing. We will hurry it up. The reason why we put this through and why we did not have time for discussion in the House, which I regret, is precisely because we are determined to end the endless delay about the extension of boundaries. And, in respect of Northampton, I give the assurance that as soon as a decision is taken and the inquiry held, then the borough elections will take place and we can return to normal. That is why I resisted the temptation.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 160, Noes 177.

Division No. 80.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Agnew, Commander Sir Peter Carlisle, Mark Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Eden, Sir John
Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W. Channon, H. P. G. Elliott, R, W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Batsford, Brian Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Emery, Peter
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Errington, Sir Eric
Biffen, John Cole, Norman Fisher, Nigel
Bingham, R. M. Cooke, Robert Foster, Sir John
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Curdle, John Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)
Bossom, Hn. Clive Corfield, F. V. Gammans, Lady
Box, Donald Crowder, F. P. Gibson-Watt, David
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J. Curran, Charles Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Currie, G. B. H. Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Brinton, Sir Tatton Dance, James Glover, Sir Douglas
Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr) Glyn, Sir Richard
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Goodhart, Philip
Bryan, Paul Dean, Paul Grant, Anthony
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Gresham-Cooke, R.
Buck, Antony Digby, Simon Wingfield Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)
Bullus, Sir Eric Dodds-Parker, Douglas Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Gurden, Harold Lubbock, Eric Sharpies, Richard
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross & Crom'ty) Shepherd, William
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land) Sinclair, Sir George
Harris, Reader (Heston) McLaren, Martin Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Stainton, Keith
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Maccies'd) Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Stanley, Hn. Richard
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Maginnis, John E. Steel, D.
Harvie Anderson, Miss Maude, Angus Stodart, Anthony
Hastings, Stephen Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Studholme, Sir Henry
Hawkins, Paul Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow.Cathcart)
Hendry, Forbes Mills, Peter (Torrington) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Higgint, Terence L. Mills, Stratum (Belfast, N.) Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)
Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Miscampbell, Norman Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John Mitchell, David Thorpe, Jeremy
Hordern, Peter Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Hornby, Richard Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives) Murton, Oscar Walder, David (High Peak)
Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington) Neave, Airey Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hunt, John (Bromley) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Ward, Dame Irene
Hutchison, Michael Clark Onslow, Cranley Weatherill, Bemard
Iremonger, T. L. Osborn, John (Hallam) Webster, David
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Page, R. Graham (Crosby) Whitelaw, William
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Peel, John Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Jopling, Michael Percival, Ian Wise, A. R.
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Pounder, Rafton Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Kaberry, Sir Donald Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge) Price, David (Eastleigh) Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Kershaw, Anthony Prior, J. M. L. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Kilfedder, James A. Pym, Francis Younger, Hn. George
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin
Kitson, Timothy Ridley, Hn. Nicholas TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Roots, William Mr. MacArthur and Mr. More.
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Royle, Anthony
Loveys, Walter H. Scott-Hopkins, James
Abse, Leo Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Kenyon, Clifford
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fletcher, Raymond (likeston) Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Armstrong, Ernest Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Kerr, Dr. David (W' worth, Central)
Atkinson, Norman Ford, Ben Lawson, George
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton) Leadbitter, Ted
Barnett, Joel Freeson, Reginald Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)
Baxter, William Galpern, Sir Myer Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Ginsburg, David Lomas, Kenneth
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Gregory, Arnold McBride, Neil
Binns, John Grey, Charles MacColl, James
Bishop, E. S. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McGuire, Michael
Blackburn, F. Hale, Leslie Mclnnes, James
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Boardman, H. Hamilton, William (West Fife) Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.) Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.) MacMillan, Malcolm
Bradley, Tom Hannan, William MacPherson, Malcolm
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Harper, Joseph Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury) Hayman, F. H. Manuel, Archie
Buchanan, Richard Hazell, Bert Mapp, Charles
Carmichael, Neil Heffer, Eric S. Marsh, Richard
Chapman, Donald Hill, J. (Midlothian) Mellish, Robert
Coleman, Donald Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Millan, Bruce
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Horner, John Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Crawshaw, Richard Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Molloy, William
Crosland, Anthony Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S. Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick (SheffieldPk)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Howie, W. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Dalyell, Tam Hoy, James Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Phillp (Derby, S.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Norwood, Christopher
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Oakes, Gordon
Delargy, Hugh Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline) Ogden, Eric
Dell, Edmund Hynd, H. (Accrington) O'Malley, Brian
Dempsey, James Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Orme, Stanley
Dodds, Norman Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Oswald, Thomas
Doig, Peter Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Paget, R. T.
Duffy, Dr. A. E. P. Jackson, Colin Palmer, Arthur
Dunnett, Jack Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)
Edelman, Maurice Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H 'b' n & St. P' cras, S.) Pavitt, Laurence
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Pentland, Norman
English, Michael Jones, Dan (Burnley) Perry, Ernest G.
Ennals, David Jones. Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Prentice, R. E.
Ensor, David Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Redhead, Edward
Fernyhough, E. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Rees, Merlyn
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Kelley, Richard Reynolds, G. W.
Rhodes, Geoffrey Small, William Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Robertson, John (Paisley) Solomons, Henry Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank Wallace, George
Rodgers, George (Kensington, N.) Spriggs, Leslie Watkins, Tudor
Ross, Paul B. Steele, Thomas Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Ross, Rt. Hn. William Stones, William Whitlock, William
Rowland, Christopher Swain, Thomas Wigg, Rt. Hn. George
Sheldon, Robert Symonds, J. B. Wilkins, W. A.
Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N 'c' tle-on-Tyne, C.) Taverne, Dick Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Short, Mrs. Renée (W' hampton, N. E.) Thomas, George (Cardiff. W.) Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Silkin, John (Deptford) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Winterbottom, R. E.
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Tuck, Raphael Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Skeffington, Arthur Urwin, T. W.
Slater, Mrs, Harriet (Stoke, N.) Varley, Eric G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield) Wainwright, Edwin Mr. Gourlay and Mr. McCann.