HC Deb 13 December 1966 vol 738 cc259-330

Order for Third Reading read.

3.50 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is perhaps unnecessary to speak at great length at this stage of the Bill, because, after it had had its Second Reading, the first Amendment, which covered the same ground, was discussed for nearly an hour longer than was taken by the Second Reading debate. I therefore think that there has been adequate discussion of its principles.

As the House knows, the Bill provides for triennial, elections to the Greater London Council and triennial elections to the London borough councils to be held in successive years instead of, as under the London Government Act. 1963, in the same year, and ultimately, but not in 1967, on the same day; and for the new arrangements to be put in train by postponing until 1968 the borough council elections that would otherwise be held next year.

In our debates, there has been little dispute about the main provision, which is to ensure that the two sets of elections do not have to be held on the same day. My right hon. Friend said on Second Reading that in his view the arguments for and against such an arrangement were fairly evenly balanced. That appeared to be the view of the then Government during the passage of what was the London Government Bill in 1963. In fact, they promised to look into the question of altering arrangements for simultaneous elections before the Report stage of the Bill in another place, but no change was made.

In our view, this matter is properly to be determined by consideration of what is practicable. Once the new London boroughs had been set up there were in office the town clerks who have to run both sets of elections. They set up their own working party to consider the problems involved. I want to emphasise that the working party was not set up at the instance of the Home Office, nor, it is understood, at the instance of the London borough councils, but by the Association of London Town Clerks itself, as a professional study. The report of the working party was forwarded by the London Boroughs Association to the Home Office in April, and copies of it have, with the permission of the Association, been placed in the Library of the House, as was requested in Committee by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod).

I want to make it clear that this report, and we never hid the fact, deal with elections on the same day. But the real difference between the Opposition and the Government relates to the Bill's proposal to defer the 1967 London borough council elections which, but for these provisions, would have been held one month after the Greater London government council elections.

We believe, in spite of everything that has been said during the Committee stage, that there is a very good case for deferment. If the elections are held in different years, we think, as does the Greater London Council, that this will help to foster a continuing interest in local government. Those in favour of combined elections on the same day say that in this way the electors interest would be concentrated, and a better understanding of the respective functions of the Greater London Council and the London boroughs would be promoted.

This was the argument of the Royal Commission on Local Government in London, although we must bear in mind also, when discussing this subject, that the Royal Commission also recommended annual elections for the boroughs.

Whatever views may be held on the respective merits of elections on the same day and elections in successive years, I have no doubt at all that the proposed interim arrangement of elections in successive months would have given us the worst of both worlds. There is not the concentration of interest—given that this is a valid point, as some people argue—on one day, and there is not the means of fostering the continuing interest in local government which could be achieved by elections in different years. Instead, I believe that there is likely to be confusion and annoyance for electors who are asked to turn out twice within a few weeks for two different sets of elections.

The 1964 elections were accompanied by exceptional publicity both for the Greater London Council and the London boroughs. Those were the first elections to the new Greater London Council and to the new London borough councils. Yet even in those exceptional circumstances, with all the publicity that was given to the elections, when large polls might have been expected, there was a big drop—over 8 per cent.—from 44.2 per cent. in the Greater London Council elections to 35.7 per cent. in the London borough council elections which were held one month later. These figures seem to give substantial support to the view that an arrangement by which elections take place in successive months is as unreasonable as it is unnecessary.

It is quite true, as was pointed out during earlier stages of the Bill, that for the councils in the counties outside London there are elections in successive months, but this is unavoidable in the case of boroughs or districts whose elections are held annually. In London, the situation is quite different. Since elections both to the Greater London Council and to the borough councils are held at three-year intervals such an arrangement is unnecessary and can easily be avoided by having elections in different years, with the advantages I have already mentioned.

We, have been asked why, if we can have two elections at a few weeks' interval in the counties, we cannot do the same in London. It is not the ideal arrangement for the counties—and I live in a county—but it cannot be avoided there because, as I said, there are annual elections to the non-county boroughs and to the district councils. In London, it can be avoided.

Another point is that if the two elections are held in the same year in London, with triennial elections both for the boroughs and for the Greater London Council, there will be no local government elections at all for three years. I do not believe that it is a good thing not to have local government elections at all for three years. It is also worth remembering, as I pointed out in our earlier proceedings, that the London borough councils elected in 1964 will, by 1967, have only had two years of effective operation, and the Government regard this change as a commonsense measure. It seems to have been so seen by the majority of London boroughs, including three that are Conservative controlled, when the London Boroughs Association sought the views of their constituent councils early this year.

I am sorry to have to come back—as it may be considered rather irrelevant —to the decisions of the Special Committee of the London Boroughs Association. I do not regard this as a very great point, but it has been blown up out of all proportion by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West. I believe him to have been completely mistaken every time he has referred to this aspect.

On 29th November, when moving to report Progress, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West said: We think that the Minister of State, Home Office, would welcome the rest, and we hope to accord that to her. She would then come back refreshed with new arguments, which might even relate to the Amendments before the Committee … She would perhaps like time to turn over the simple fact that the earliest moment that one can question the minutes of one meeting is at the next meeting. I have no doubt that we shall return to this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November. 1966; Vol. 737, c. 383.] Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman had alleged—column 296–7 of HANSARD—that Conservative members of the Special Committee of the London Boroughs Association had questioned the minutes at the next meeting of the Special Committee. I told the right hon. Gentleman that he was wrong at the time, but he did not believe that he was and still said that I was wrong. I have looked into this matter a little more and I hope, during the next two or three minutes, to prove that the right hon. Gentleman was completely wrong. It has been said that this is an irrelevancy, but the record needs to be put straight.

On 28th January, the Special Committee of the London Boroughs Association unanimously agreed with the views expressed by the Greenwich Council, but instructed that the views of the constituent councils should be sought. The decision was completely unanimous.

Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)


Miss Bacon

The right hon. Gentleman must wait until I have finished and then he will see where he has made his mistake.

The decision was completely unanimous and the committee instructed the honorary secretary to write to the boroughs to state that the committee was unanimously in favour of the proposed change.

There were present at the Special Committee representatives of Bexley, Bromley, Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Harrow, Havering, Merton, Wandsworth and Westminster, not all Labour boroughs, as the right hon. Gentleman will realise. The committee's report to the London Boroughs Association at a meeting on 9th November—and this was to the whole Association—said: We are unanimously in favour of this proposal and subject to the views of the constituent councils which we have sought we have authorised the honorary secretary to submit the suggestion to the Home Secretary. The unanimity of the committee was not questioned by any of the committee members present at the Association meeting, and all were present except the Ealing representative. However, the representative from Bromley stated that the matter had been put before the committee at very short notice, which was true, and that on further consideration he had changed his mind.

However, a woman alderman from Enfield, which is not represented on the Special Committee—no doubt this is the source of the right hon. Gentleman's information, which was wrong—said at the full Boroughs Association meeting that two members of the council had told her that it was not a true minute and she asked whether it was true. The chairman assured her that the report was correct. No members of the special committee challenged the chairman's reply and no member of the committee has at any time suggested that the decision was not unanimous. Only much later in the day did the Opposition begin to seek a hidden motive.

On 28th April, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), my right hon. Friend informed the House of the representations of the London Boroughs Association.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Like the right hon. Lady, I am not anxious to pursue this point— unless she wants to—because I am convinced that she is making what I described as an extremely elementary mistake. When a minute is produced, in the first instance it is the draft of the secretary and cannot be the opinion of the Committee until next time—the minutes of the previous meeting are always the first item which one takes at a meeting. Therefore, the fact that it appears in what I might call the secretary's draft as unanimous I have admitted from the beginning. I have never heard about the alderman from Enfield, whom the right hon. Lady has just mentioned, having anything to do with it. The point is that at the next meeting Alderman Jordan—perhaps the right hon. Lady wishes to contradict him—and two other councillors challenged the validity of the secretary's draft.

Miss Bacon

That is not my information. My information is that this was not challenged at the meeting of the Special Committee, but that at the meeting of the Association the woman alderman from Enfield said that someone had informed here that the minute was not correct. The chairman assured her that it was. My information is that no member of the Special Committee itself challenged the chairman's reply and no member of the committee at any time has suggested that the decision was not unanimous. Both the right hon. Gentleman and I have to rely on other people for information about that, but that is the information which I have received and I have seen that it has been checked as far as possible. I have returned to the matter only because of the right hon. Gentleman's attitude when we discussed these matters on 29th November.

As I was saying, on 28th April, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Orpington, my right hon. Friend informed the House of the representations of the London Boroughs Association and said that they were being considered and that the reasons advanced by the hon. Gentleman for deferring the 1967 borough council elections would be looked at sympathetically. This seems to have provoked no reaction from any hon. Member opposite. Not only was little interest shown in the matter in the House, but Home Office Ministers received not a single letter between that date in April and the time, three months later, when it was announced that the Bill was to be introduced.

The sequence of events leading up to the introduction of the Bill was precisely as I stated on Second Reading. I shall not repeat what I then said, other than to say that it originated with representations from the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs Association and not with soundings by the Home Office. The Opposition have been totally unable to substantiate different accounts or allegations of pressure, first from one quarter and then from another, from any improper motive.

Some hon. Members opposite seem also to have been confused about how the voters in Essex, Kent and Surrey were treated under the London Government Act, 1963. County council elections were postponed for the whole of those counties in 1964.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot, on Third Reading, discuss what was done in 1964.

Miss Bacon

The relevance is that it was a precedent which had been set and which was challenged by hon. Members opposite in our earlier discussions, but I shall bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

To sum up, we believe that combined elections for the Greater London Council and the London borough councils would not work satisfactorily and that, therefore, there must be amending legislation to provide for elections in successive years. In addition, we think that the present arrangement for two closely following sets of triennial elections in the same year gives us the worst of all possible arrangements. In our view, the sensible course is accordingly to introduce the amending legislation now so as to put matters right before the next elections.

4.9 p.m.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)

The right hon. Lady has proposed the Third Reading of the Bill in what I can only describe as a perfunctory and banal speech in which she has said nothing new, except what was out of order. I do not intend to pursue her into the jungle of your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, because on Third Reading we are limited to what is in the Bill, nor into the arcane secrets of the voters in 1963 in the Kent and Surrey elections or the mysteries of the Special Committee of the London Boroughs Association.

Perhaps, before I do stick strictly to the Bill, I may not be rebuked if I thank the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House, who is absent, for having allowed us these two extra half days for debate on the Bill. In doing so, they acknowledged the seriousness of the issue which divides the parties in this case, and showed themselves to be better Parliamentarians than the Under-Secretary of State, whose officious observation from a sedentary position I have just heard, or the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), whose attitude towards this Measure has been both frivolous and discreditable and unworthy of the name of Liberal.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

It was because I did not acknowledge the seriousness of this issue that I protested when the Government gave way to the Opposition and allowed the two extra half days.

Mr. Hogg

That is why the right hon. Gentlemen opposite have proved themselves to be better as Parliamentarians than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington, because by giving us these two extra half days they have shown us that they recognise clearly the strength and feeling which exists on this side of the House. If I may say so, it is the mark of Parliamentary democracy as much for the majority to prevail in the vote as for the majority to show a certain degree of consideration for the views and feelings of the minority when deep passions are roused. I therefore thank the Home Secretary for showing himself to be a better Parliamentarian than some of his supporters.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's thanks, but I would have thought that the Opposition's strength and feeling might have shown itself by a greater strength of Members.

Mr. Hogg

It is the London Members who feel most strongly and who wish to speak, but when the right hon. Gentleman sees our strength in the Lobby I hope that he will not be disappointed.

It is true, as the right hon. Lady has said, that a great deal of what needs to be said has been said on the earlier phases of the Bill, but it would be a mockery if we allowed the Third Reading to go by default without summarising the state of the argument as we see it. We are opposing the Bill on principle. The principle is that one should not deprive voters of a vote to which they are entitled by law. One should not prolong the life of an elected body be yond its allotted span by the brute force of Parliamentary majority. I would go further and say that the principle is that it is never right to do this without proof of necessity which, in this case, is absent, and even then only after adequate consultation between parties and other interested bodies. That principle has been breached and virtually, at this stage of the Bill, the Government have offered no defence whatever for having breached it.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have never objected throughout these proceedings, and we do not object now, to the principle of staggering the elections of boroughs and the Greater London Council in separate years. That has never been the issue. That has never been the principle on which we fought. Obviously, it is open to dispute, but we have, in fact, never sought to dispute it. The right hon. Lady referred to it as being the main principle in the Bill. The main principle of the Bill is that the Government are depriving voters of their votes. The main principle of the Bill is that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are prolonging, by the brute force of their Parliamentary majority, the life of elected bodies beyond their allotted span. The main principle of the Bill is not separate elections in separate years.

The main principle of the Bill is not supported by the report of the Town Clerks' Committee. Indeed, the right hon. Lady took pride in the fact that this is now in the Library, but that report establishes be yond doubt that it is wholly irrelevant to the real principle in the Bill, which is to deprive voters of their votes. The report says: The Working Party has met to consider the practicability of simultaneous elections. It says: We have confined our consideration to the administrative problems posed by this combination … of two sets of elections on the same day; and that blows sky high the suggestion that was made by the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing the Second Reading, and by the right hon. Lady, a few minutes ago, that the Town Clerks' Committee in any way supported the real issue in the Bill.

Miss Bacon

I have never said, either now or at any stage of the Bill, that the town clerks' memorandum did anything other than discuss the proposal to have elections on the same day.

Mr. Hogg

We agree at last that the Town Clerks' Committee, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, has nothing to do with the case. What is now apparently plain, and what is now agreed by the right hon. Lady, is that what we are fighting about on Third Reading, is the claim of the Government to the naked right to deprive people of their votes for 12 months—and we are fighting about nothing else—to do so when there was no necessity, to do so when there has been no prior consultation between parties, and to do so by the brute force of a Parliamentary majority which was not elected on this mandate. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. The hon. Member for Orpington knows that, and the right hon. Lady who has just spoken knows that.

Now, on what kind of arguments has it been sought to approve the principle in the Bill to deprive voters of their vote for 12 months? The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), whom I am glad to see in his place, with a fine disregard for relevance, and in a series of magnificent forensic jury speeches, said that we were to accept this Bill because, in effect, the Conservative Party was alleged to have acted for political motives in passing the major legislation of 1963. We must leave it to another day to fight about that, because this is not in the Bill, but I would say to the hon. and learned Gentleman, in passing, that if he had established his point, which I do not admit, it would be a sorry and shoddy defence of a Government Measure to say that two wrongs make a right, because that is all that it would amount to if it were correct.

A slightly more sophisticated, but not, in the end, a more defensible argument, in favour of the Bill has been proposed from time to time from the benches opposite. It was proposed by the right hon. Lady a few moments ago. It was proposed by the hon. Member for Orpington during the Committee stage. He claims that the same was done to the County Councils in Kent and Surrey in 1963. The right hon. Lady was called to order when she produced this argument, and, therefore, I will not be called to order, because I do not intend to refute it. It would be easy enough if I sought to do so. The only point which the right hon. Lady sought to put forward with any success this afternoon was that, if the voters were not to be deprived of their votes, to which they are entitled by law, there would have to be, oh, horror! two successive elections in two successive months. The right hon. Lady was uncomfortably aware, though she utterly failed to answer the point, that in every county in England and Wales and, for aught I know, in Scotland as well, the same situation arises every time there is a county election.

Apparently, according to the right hon. Lady, the London voters are to be so pampered that what their fellow citizens in the rest of the realm have to put up with they cannot be expected to support. Apparently, to expect the London voters to do this and to exercise their rights as voters for just one year is—I quote her words—both unreasonable and unnecessary.

Even if one did accept that it was a terrible misfortune for the voters to have to vote twice in two successive months, I can only say that anyone who had the smallest respect for democracy and for the responsibility of the electorate would insist on this occasion that they should do so. I assure the right hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend that the Conservative voters in the boroughs are raring to go. It is they who will be deprived of their votes. If the Labour and Liberal voters are not willing to fulfil their responsibilities in a democratic society, they must take the democratic consequences.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that in 1964 only one-third of the voters in the May elections had the smallest respect for democracy?

Mr. Hogg

Like all right hon. and hon. Members, we want to see as high a poll as possible in local elections, but, when the elections of 1964 elected the borough councils for three years, to prolong their mandate without the smallest necessity—the right hon. Gentleman now knows that there was no necessity—without the smallest consultation, and by a sheer act of the brute force of an automatic majority in Parliament, is something which no man with any respect for democracy should seriously support in Parliament, least of all one who usurps the once honourable name of Liberal, least of all one who usurps the ancient tradition of a great party.

If Liberal and Labour voters are too apathetic or too lazy to go to the polls, let the Conservative voters do their job for them. Let them take the consequences. Democracy does not consist in pampering the lazy or the irresponsible to the deprivation of the serious-minded. On the other hand, I would like to think —indeed, I am sure this is so—that in this attack upon the voters of London the right hon. Lady has committed a serious slander upon them. I believe that, if this were taking place in Leeds, she would take a more responsible attitude.

It is said that there would be a low poll. Originally, that was an argument presented by the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading in favour of staggering the elections between the years. It is now trotted out as an argument for not having elections in two successive months. It has been replied to in detail at every stage. There is no reason to suppose that the poll will be lower. There is no reason to suppose it because in successive years, in particular when there were three successive elections in 1965 culminating in a Parliamentary election, there was no such low poll as the right hon. Gentleman fears. But even if there were a basis of truth in that argument it would be no reason whatever for disfranchising local government voters who have a right to vote at the time when the mandate of their local council expires.

Last of all, the right hon. Gentleman relies upon the respectable presence in the wrong lobby of Westminster, Sutton and Harrow Councils. I have answered that before. Obviously, breaches of principle, however serious, can be condoned when they have no practical results. But this argument is not about safe seats. It is not about Tower Hamlets, or Westminster. The Government know this, the hon. Member for Orpington knows it, everyone knows it. It is about the 20 marginal seats in Greater London, and it is there that there is a stark division between the two parties, one party—unfortunately, in the minority in this House —deprived of its votes and deprived of its right to elect new borough councils, and the other party sitting pretty on its marginal seats and afraid to face the polls.

The right hon. Gentleman need not imagine that he has escaped attention. We cannot afford to disregard principle when the fundamentals of democracy are involved, even though the issue may appear to be a little one. The right hon. Gentleman, as the possessor of a Parliamentary majority, has in this case been the trustee of democracy, and in pushing this Bill through against the rights of the minority he has been guilty of a gross and deliberate breach of trust.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Weatherill (Croydon, North-East)

I am very grateful for the opportunity to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in this debate, especially as I was unable, being out of the country, to take part on Second Reading and subsequent stages. I have carefully read the proceedings in those debates, so that I can, I think, take a fairly detached view of what has gone on.

I say at once that there is a case for holding the Greater London Council elections and the London borough elections in different years, especially if they were to be held on the same day. This is not in dispute. What is in dispute—this is the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend, and I make it again—is whether it is right or, indeed, honourable, to extend the life of the London borough councils to four years, when they were elected for three years, and to do so without reference to the wishes of the electorate.

This is the point which my right hon. and learned Friend has made so forcibly today and which others of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been making throughout our proceedings on the Bill. I cannot believe that any hon. Member who has any feeling for democracy will agree that it is right. Local councils are the very basis of our democratic system, and nothing could be more calculated to bring that system into disrepute than to produce a Measure of this kind.

There could be only one possible reason for taking such action, and that would be to avoid confusion, the kind of confusion there would be if the Greater London Council elections and the London borough elections were to be held on the same day. But this is not the case and it never was. Confusion seems to have arisen outside even in such institutions as the B.B.C. The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) drew attention to this in Committee, pointing out that on 16th November the B.B.C. announced that London local government electors would be saved a double trip to the polls on the same day. But, as I say, this was never the case. The Greater London Council elections are to be held on 13th April, and the London borough elections were to be held on 11th May.

Far from there being confusion, interest in the elections—here I take issue with the right hon. Lady—would have been intensified, because both elections deal with different aspects of the same matter. The electors will vote on 13th April to decide the control of the Greater London Council and all that that involves. One month later, on 11th May, they would have had an opportunity to decide how local affairs were to be run, and by whom. The two elections are largely complementary, and it is absolutely a myth to say that they would have caused confusion. The reverse is true.

On Second Reading, the Home Secretary made great play with statistics in his effort to prove that, whenever the London County Council elections and the Metropolitan borough elections had been held in the same year in the past, the polls were exceptionally low.

It is worth saying again, even at this late stage, that the fact of the matter is that in 1949, when the elections were held in the same year, the average poll was 38.2 per cent. At the next four elections, when they were held in different years, the polls were: in 1953, 39.9 per cent.; in 1956, 30.9 per cent.; in 1959, 32.1 per cent.; and in 1962, 32.3 per cent. In 1964, when the polling for the Greater London Council and the new London boroughs were held in the same year, the Greater London Council poll was 44 per cent., as the right hon. Lady told us this afternoon, and that for the boroughs was 35.7 per cent.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the hon. Gentleman comparing the percentage figures for the whole Greater London area in 1964 with those of the inner London area in previous elections? If so, will he bear in mind that we always have very much higher polls in the outer London area than in the old L.C.C.?

Mr. Weatherill

Perhaps the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) will be patient. I am just coming to that point.

What the right hon. Lady did not say in support of her statistics today was that in the inner London boroughs the percentage poll was only 27 per cent. and that was largely as a result of a low poll of only 17 per cent. in Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the percentage of poll in the outer boroughs is always higher than in the inner boroughs.

A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have made the strong point that if one takes the 1949 and the 1964 figures together the average poll is 36.9 per cent., and compared with the years when the L.C.C. and the Metropolitan boroughs polled in different years the percentage poll shows a drop of only 1 per cent. Therefore, there is no more force in the low poll argument than in the argument of confusion.

There is, of course, the argument—I do not think that this point has been made during the debate—that local party organisations would have had their resources extended. It is only right to pay tribute to the part which local party organisations play in keeping interest in local elections high. We all agree that the polls are not nearly as high as we would like them to be, but without the activities of local party organisations they would be very much lower.

As one who has had to deal with these matters over many years, I have no hesitation in saying that I think that although two elections in one year may embarrass local party treasurers the task of local party workers is made not more difficult, but considerably easier, because they can use the same marked register for both elections.

Why has the Bill been brought forward at this time? It is certainly nothing to do with confusion or low polls. The reason, simply and solely, is political. The Government know that the tide of public opinion is running against them, particularly in local matters of education and housing. Nowhere has this been more clearly seen than in my own borough of Croydon, where we have recently had three by-elections. In each of them the Labour candidate was convincingly beaten, and in the Waddon Ward, a Labour majority of 515 was recently turned into a Conservative majority of 765.

The Government admit that their legislative programme is overcrowded. It is, therefore, legitimate to ask why the Bill is being given precedence over so many others of much greater importance. I have been pressing the President of the Board of Trade to introduce a very simple Measure which would have direct relevance to our export trade. I have asked him if he will implement the Report of the Johnston Committee. I got nowhere over a long period, but I have a letter in my hand, written recently, in which he says that he is fully aware of the views—

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I always understood that on the Third Reading of a Bill right hon. and hon. Members must confine themselves to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with care. He is getting a little wide of the subject of the Third Reading, and I hope that he will return to the point.

Mr. Weatherill

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not read that letter in support of my argument. Nevertheless, it is a fact that this Bill has been given precedence over other very much more important Measures which would have had direct relevance to our present problems.

The only reason for the Government to introduce the Bill at present is that they are hedging their bets. They are fearful of losing control of the Greater London Council next April. They are introducing the Bill to ensure that for at least a year the control of certain marginal boroughs will remain in their hands.

It is a sad business and a bad business. Carried to its extremes—and in their present desperate state the Government show themselves capable of carrying things to extremes—it could perpetuate the ruling party in power. The Bill is an affront to hard-won democracy. It is sheer jiggerypokery. The Government know this, the House knows it, and I am certain that The country also knows it. I believe that the country will give its verdict on this shabby business on 13th April next year, and also in May, 1968, or whenever the borough council elections are to take place.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I would not have ventured to take up the time of the House but for the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). He said that I put forward a case of two wrongs making a right. I did nothing of the sort, and I hope that he will do me the compliment of reading my speeches carefully and intelligently, as I know that he can. What I said quite clearly was that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) had accused the Government of putting the Bill forward for ulterior motives, and that it did not lie in his mouth to make an allegation of that kind, having regard to what his Government did in promoting the London Government Act, 1963.

I put forward a reasoned argument in support of the Bill, which he did not for a moment attempt to refute. That argument was simply that I knew from practical experience what would happen if elections were to take place upon the basis laid down in the 1963 Act, the confusion that would arise with the danger of one election following another within one month. It is no use hon. Members saying that this happens all over the country. I am talking about London, and I know from experience what will happen. In this Bill, the Government have tidied up the position and put it on a sound administrative basis.

4.39 p.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I do not want to detain the House for long. I decided to speak only because I wanted to draw the House's attention to one particular aspect of this sorry business.

Today, the Government are forcing through a Measure to gerrymander the borough elections. Tomorrow, they are steamrollering through a Measure to alter the procedure of the House. I do not think that those two events in one week are a coincidence. This is a black week in the history of the House of Commons, and I hope that the country will reflect on that. I recall that, during the Committee stage, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) consistently told us that we were wasting our time discussing the Bill.

Mr. Lubbock

Hear, hear.

Captain Elliot

The hon. Gentleman even had the effrontery to reprimand my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and others of my hon. Friends for taking part when they were not Greater London Members. As I have suggested, however, this Measure does not only concern Greater London Members. It is a national issue. It concerns all right hon. and hon. Members, for it is gerrymandering elections, just as the Government are steamrollering alterations in procedure tomorrow.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman really mean that, when Liberals and Socialists criticise Tories, that is effrontery but when Tories criticise Liberals and Socialists that is making democracy work? It is a load of rubbish.

Captain Elliot

The hon. Gentleman is being very simple. It depends on what the criticism is. I would not generalise, but I have said, and repeat, that the Bill concerns not only Greater London Members, but is a national issue because it gerrymanders elections.

On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that the Bill was not very controversial. Why he said that I find it difficult to fathom. Surely controversy, particularly about elections, is the stuff of democracy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is now aware that this is a very controversial Bill. That is why the right hon. Lady's speech today was so unsatisfactory in the perfunctory manner in which she dealt with these vital principles.

I believe that, when it is shown that a Bill dealing with elections is controversial between the parties, it should be withdrawn. We have no constitution in this country. We live on our precedents. We are constantly reminded of them. I believe that we will live to regret the precedent being established by the Government in this Bill. Even at this late stage, after hearing the right hon. Lady, I must confess that to me the reasons on which the Government base their arguments are more confused than ever.

In earlier debates, the report made by town clerks has been referred to and it was said that the Home Secretary had attached weight to the arguments they put forward. But that has nothing to do with the issue. The elections were in any case going to be a month apart and there was no reason why the organisations of the borough councils should not be able to conduct two elections a month apart.

Mr. Lubbock

Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that, after the 1967 elections the two sets would have been held simultaneously, had it not been for the Bill, so that the town clerks' report is relevant in that case?

Captain Elliot

That is the argument put forward. We on this side have persistently stated that we are prepared to look at this in future and to stagger the elections—but only after the electorate have been properly consulted and informed of what is to happen.

The right hon. Lady seemed to think that the main argument on which this Measure was based was that the electorate would be apathetic. I shall not go over the arguments that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) gave. I would only remark that the right hon. Lady gave us some figures for Greater London and then dealt rather quickly with the counties, which go through this procedure; but she gave us no figures for county elections.

Half my constituency is in Greater London and the other half comes under the county council. Speaking from memory, I believe that the urban district that is in the county of Surrey has a higher percentage of polling than the other half of my constituency. I was disappointed that the right hon. Lady did not give figures to back up what appeared to be her main argument.

Has any consideration been given to the inconvenience involved to councillors? The argument has been made that they have not done their full three years. But they were elected until April, 1967. They put themselves up for election until that date and it is a serious business for quite a number of them that the period is to be extended by another year. I could produce the headlines in one of my local papers about two weeks ago concerning three key councillors who must resign because of pressure of work, so I suppose that we shall be faced with three by-elections in the new year.

Whatever the arguments for or against the Bill, the fact remains that there is no agreement about it between the two sides of the House and in these circumstances it should be withdrawn. When the elections were held, the voters were not aware that such a Bill would be produced. There is no agreement about it. We for our part agree that, in future, the elections should be staggered but only after the matter has been put before the electorate and the councillors.

In these circumstances, I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage, to reconsider the position and bear in mind that, in a democracy, on matters dealing with elections and boundaries, unless there is agreement between the two sides of the House, that so-called democracy is well on the way to becoming totalitarian if controversial measures are steamrollered through by the majority.

4.48 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) rebuked me for criticising the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover)—whom I am delighted to see here—for taking part in the Committee stage of the Bill.

I think that London Members know more about the local elections situation in London than people from outside, delighted as we are to see them in the Chamber and to discuss with them some of the problems we have in common. We have the Scottish Grand Committee to deal with Scottish affairs and the Welsh Grand Committee to deal with Welsh affairs. It is rather a pity that the Conservatives, considering the strength with which they have expressed opposition to the Bill, had to bring in at every stage of the discussion the hon. Members for Peterborough and Ormskirk.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I object very strongly to an hon. Member imputing that I have no right to speak in a debate and I ask him to withdraw. I am not a local Member, but a national Member.

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Sydney Irving)

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Lubbock

I was not making any such imputation and I hope that the hon. Member for Ormskirk will acquit me of intending to do so. I was saying that it was rather a pity that the Conservatives, who have expressed such strong opposition to the Bill all the way through, had to bring in the hon. Member for Ormskirk and the hon. Member for Peterborough to make up their number.

Mr. Hogg

Where are the hon. Member's numbers?

Mr. Lubbock

The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has asked me that question previously. If he had been paying attention to what I have been saying, he would recall that I said that London Members are best qualified to express themselves on this—while defending to the death, of course, the right of the hon. Member for Ormskirk to take part if he wishes. But the hon. Member for Ormskirk is not likely to be an expert on the London Government Act, 1963, nor the provisions of Schedule 5 and whether or not they should be altered by the Bill.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Is the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) aware of what he is suggesting in saying that only London Members should take part in the proceedings on the Bill?

Mr. Lubbock

I did not say that.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The imputation behind what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that no principle is involved—that the vital alteration of an election date is not a national principle needing detailed examination by hon. Members of the House as a whole.

Mr. Lubbock

That is exactly what I was about to suggest. The hon. Gentleman has taken the words out of my mouth.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The Liberal Party has no principles.

Mr. Lubbock

I am saying that there is not a principle at stake here. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said that, by giving two extra half days to the Committee stage and Third Reading, the Government had acknowledged the seriousness of the issue. This only underlines how foolish it was of the Government not to proceed on the advice that I gave them at 2.30 one morning when we were in Committee on the Bill. I said that I thought we could dispose of the whole business during the remainder of that night.

There is something illogical about the attitude of the Conservatives on this matter because, whereas one hon. Member claims that the legislative programme is overcrowded and that it is difficult to understand why the Bill should take precedence and thereby take up so much time, the Conservatives were screaming, in the middle of that night, for an extra half day, thus displacing important matters from the legislative programme. I was right in saying, in the middle of the night, that the Government were making a great mistake.

In spite of the fact that the hon. Member for Peterborough may feel strongly about this issue, none of my constituents do and I do not believe that any of the constituents of any other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken do either. I have challenged hon. Members at successive stages to produce letters from their constituents objecting to the Bill. The only answer I got was from the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, who said that he had had a letter from someone in Orpington. I think that he muse have been making a mistake because, when I spoke to him about it afterwards, he said that he could not locate the letter at that time.

I do not believe that any great volume of correspondence has taken place on the subject—certainly nothing like the volume of correspondence, for example, on the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, or on the export of animals for vivisection, on both of which we all have showers of letters and cards. I have had only one letter during the whole of the proceedings on this Bill.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

What has that to do with it?

Mr. Lubbock

Hon. Members are continually saying that the public feel strongly on the matter and that democratic rights are being denied. I ask them why, if that is so, our constituents have not taken the ordinary recourse of constituents and written to us.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

The hon. Member made exactly the same point in Committee. I took him up on it then and I quoted at considerable length a letter I had received from a body of voters in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman was present at the time, because I commented on the fact that he had come back to his seat.

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Genetleman quoted a letter from a body which had a political axe to grind. I remember that quotation, but it does not disprove the point I am making—that no public disquiet has been expressed on this matter, whatever the principal cause of the Bill.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

At an earlier stage I quoted to the House a letter sent by the Council of the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, with the support of Labour councillors, objecting to this Measure.

Mr. Lubbock

We are not talking about organisations. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone said earlier was that people felt strongly about being deprived of their democratic rights. He has not made out a case by quoting the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. I know that it is composed of people—[Laughter.]—but they are people with a political axe to grind, and so are those whom the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) quoted. The man in the street, the ordinary elector, has not protested during the whole of the Committee stage. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not deal with the point that the Conservative Party generally, quite apart from individual constituencies, could have raised the matter as early as the correspondence with the London Boroughs Association or at the time of my Question to the Home Secretary on 28th April.

It is very significant, and more important perhaps than the right hon. Lady may think, that no objection was made to this minute at the time and that it was only very much later—and I believe her account of this; it has the ring of truth—that objections were subsequently raised by Alderman Jordan and others in a bit of esprit d'escalier, designed to fit in with the Conservative Party's political opposition to the Bill.

As the right hon. Lady pointed out, they had fair warning that the Bill would be introduced, when the Home Secretary replied, in a very accommodating way, to a Question put to him by me on 28th April. I asked him what consideration he had given to postponing the borough elections for a year. In my supplementary I put various considerations to him which I knew were in the minds of the London Boroughs Association at that time. Presumably, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite could have had the same information if they had cared to make inquiries of their colleagues on the Association. Yet there was not a peep out of them, not a single cheep, at least not until well after the Summer Recess.

That makes me a little suspicious of their motives in prolonging the discussion on the Bill—

Mr. Hogg

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would care to correct what he has said, but it is within my clear recollection that shortly before the Summer Recess, on 4th August, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) raised this question in a strongly controversial way and was supported by myself and my other hon. Friends representing London constituencies. The hon. Member for Orpington is trying to say that nothing was said until long after the Summer Recess.

Mr. Lubbock

I accept that correction, but there is a long time between 28th April and 4th August. One could go back even further than 28th April, to the meeting of the Special Committee which was as early as 28th January. Since the Conservatives were represented then they could have raised it at that time.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is on a real point here. I gave fairly clear notice to the House, in reply to a Question on 28th April, that I was considering this change. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman complains that he was not consulted it would have been useful if he had made his position clear during the three and a half months which passed between April and August.

Mr. Hogg

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that he ever did consult us?

Mr. Lubbock

As someone once said, if I might be allowed to intervene in my own speech may I say that I am sure that this matter could be further pursued. It was noticeable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not answer this point when he spoke, following the right hon. Lady. She pointed out that he had had the opportunity of doing so in the months following my Question of 28th April, when the matter was made fairly plain and yet no action was taken by the Conservative Party until 4th August, shortly before the Summer Recess.

In a short debate I do not intend to rehearse the reasons why the Bill should be accepted by the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has expressed mystification in the Daily Mail as to why the Liberals support the Bill. I have explained at considerable length, on two occasions our attitude and I can only think that his mind must have been wandering at the time. A clear case has been made out by the London Boroughs Association, by the Government Front Bench, and if we look at this impartially there is no democratic principle at stake.

If we are to talk about democracy in Greater London I wonder why it is that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House do not complain about the Greater London multi-member constituencies, which mean that if one has a bare majority say in the London Borough of Bromley, for the Conservative Party, as is the case at the moment, then the Conservatives get all four councillors elected, in spite of the fact that the Labour and Liberal Parties in the borough each poll about a quarter of the total and ought, therefore, to be entitled to one councillor each. It is the same in every other area.

Take Enfield—

Mr. Hogg

On a point of order. Every hon. Member, including the right hon. Lady, were very strictly called to order for going outside the ambit of what was in the Bill. I am wondering how far we can go on the exact composition of the Greater London Council's representation in Enfield.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. The debate is going rather wide. I understand that the right hon. Lady was allowed to mention some of these matters, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come back to the Third Reading and then we can all say what is required.

Mr. Lubbock

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I strayed outside of the rules of order, which I am sure you are more capable of interpreting than the right hon. and learned Member.

If I may finish the sentence, I was saying that in the Borough of Enfield we have a situation where the Labour Party control the borough and yet the Conservatives elect all three members of the G.L.C. If the Conservatives are looking for defects in the democratic system of Greater London, perhaps they would address themselves to this situation, which is far more serious than the postponement of borough elections for one year.

It is my firm opinion that this postponement will be for the convenience of electors in Greater London, and that they will find it much easier to direct their attention to the issues involved in the Greater London Council's election next year, when these can be presented, uncluttered by a vast range of borough responsibilities, which they will have to deal with one year later. It is found in constituencies where there are urban district and county council elections in the same year, as was the case in Orpington before we became part of Greater London, that it is necessary for candidates and their political helpers to do very much more explanation to the electors on the doorstep than is the case when one has only one election at a time. The set-up becomes much more complicated because of the proximity of urban district and rural council elections on the one hand and the county council elections on the other.

This is not just a question of convenience of local authorities or the convenience of police forces, although I am surprised that that has not been mentioned. We depend very much upon the police forces during the operations of elections and with the present state of the police force, I do not think that it would be a negligible factor if we were to take them from their duties for the whole of one day in two successive months. I do not attach great importance to this.

Basically, the reason why the Bill should be supported is because it is for the convenience of electors, and it is right that the borough elections and the Greater London Council elections should be held in different years, not just from 1970 onwards but during 1967 as well.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

May I say, with the greatest respect, how much I enjoyed the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), I listened to it, as I always listen to him, with great interest and a very great deal of attention, although with some amusement, because naturally enough, there is always some amusement in a speech made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I thought that a noun which summed up what we had this afternoon would be vintage "Hoggery." It is a little difficult to define that particular noun and as I was waiting to be called I thought, since I had invented it, how I could best define it. It seemed to me that "Hoggery" deserves a place in the Oxford Dictionary, defined as constitutional trumpeting of a high order, usually delivered at full volume, and almost, invariably designed to conceal an electoral motive.

I must admire the right hon. and learned Gentleman's skill in doing this. I admire the skill of the Tory Party generally in doing this, for no one is more skilled in the art of wrapping up electoral motives in constitutional principles than the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite. There is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) but the king of them all is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone. Yet, having listened to everything that he said this afternoon what did it all come to?

To look at the history of this matter, this started off, almost as an agreed matter of convenience between the parties, if not in this House, at any rate in London. At the beginning of this year the Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Parties in the London boroughs, all seemed to be generally agreed that it would be a good idea, and a matter of great convenience for the London electorate, if the borough elections were to be postponed for 12 months and that they be not held in the same year. What is happening now? We have spent one and a half days in Committee, most of a day on Second Reading, and we are now adding a half a day on Third reading.

I suggest that the reason is that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have now discovered that there are votes in this issue for their party at the next borough elections in London—or so they think. Let me pose a question to the House. If the Conservative Party felt that the issue of comprehensive schools in the London boroughs would lose them votes next year instead of, as they mistakenly believe, gaining them votes, is it really believed that we would have spent two and a half days in discussing this trivial little Measure?

Does anyone believe that if the party opposite did not think that it was able to campaign in the outer London boroughs during 1967 on comprehensive schools, and win votes by it, we would be so concerned about this Bill tonight? I do not believe it. I believe that what has happened here is that the party opposite has decided, I think mistakenly, that there are votes in this issue and that, having decided that, we have now had two and a half days complete waste of the House of Commons' time, taken up by an attempt on the part of the party opposite to gain an electoral advantage from what is and what was agreed to be, a matter of convenience to the London electorate as a whole.

It is an odd constitutional principle which the Conservatives apparently enunciate thus, saying that the Government, far from regarding the views of the majority of the London boroughs, should instead disregard the views of the majority of the boroughs and regard the views of part of the minority. It is an odd constitutional principle which says that we shall pay no attention to what most of the London boroughs say, but we shall only pay attention to what some, not all, of the Conservative boroughs, say.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman dismisses the safe Conservative boroughs like Westminster as of no account. I do not see why. If the constitutional principle is valid for Conservative boroughs in outer London, it should be valid for those in the centre, like the one he represents, or the Cities of London and Westminster. If it is a valid principle for people in Brent and Ealing, if they are being grossly deprived of their constitutional rights, why is it not such a great principle for the centre—

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Member is forgetting the obvious point—that those who are being deprived of their rights are the voters, not the boroughs.

Mr. Richard

Of course, but when the right hon. Gentleman enunciates a great constitutional principle, if it is such, geography must not be taken into account. He cannot disregard the views of the central London boroughs, some of which are those of his own party, in favour of the outer London boroughs. This is the fallacy of his argument.

I do not believe that there is any great feeling in London generally against post poning the elections until 1968. People in my constituency to whom I have spoken are very much in favour of it as a matter of practical convenience. I should have thought that the one set of people who would be screaming loudest about this are the Conservative electors in my borough of Hammersmith, if they felt themselves about to be disfranchised in 1957 because they would not then have an opportunity of turning out the borough council.

My experience precisely resembles that of the hon. Member for Orpington. I have not had one letter. I have not been lobbied by one Conservative in my borough who is against this Bill. If a great constitutional principle were at stake, and so many people in London were being deprived of something for which our forefathers fought or which was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, I should have expected one or two of them to have taken a 1s. 2d. bus ride to send in a green card to their M.P. It has not happened to me, and I do not think that any of my hon. Friends have had a contrary experience.

There have, of course, been expressions of Conservative opinion. In the last debate, we heard about a remarkable petition which all sorts of voters had signed protesting that their constitutional rights were being eroded. However, on closer examination, one finds that some of the people who signed it came from Bournemouth, Worthing, and various other parts of the South-East of England—good Conservative boroughs, all of them—[Interruption.] This was said in Committee. I remember interrupting the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames on this point.

Many people from well outside London signed this great petition, all good Conservatives. They did not feel that their own constitutional rights were being eaten away. They were not the people who were being deprived of their votes. Most affected were the people in the Greater London area. They have apparently remained unmoved, whereas good Conservative constitutionalists away from London have been extremely vocal—

Mr. Molloy

Is my hon. Friend being fair to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg)? As I understand, he received one letter in protest from Orpington, and lost it.

Mr. Richard

I would of course not wish to take a false point—

Mr. Berry

The hon. Member must recollect that, in the last debate, I mentioned three examples given by his right hon. Friend, all of which were of school teachers living outside my borough, but teaching at schools in the borough. Does he suggest that they had no right to sign that petition?

Mr. Richard

Of course not. What I do suggest is that much of the agitation which we have heard about in the Greater London area has been whipped up by the Conservative Party for an electoral motive. That is what I suggest: it is perfectly simple.

I do not believe in the constitutional trumpetings of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. They are very impressive—indeed the first time I heard them I was very impressed—but if one considers what has really happened, one sees that what started off as an agreed convenience between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party by which, in Greater London—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Gentlemen say "No", but we have heard a lot about the minute, and about the committee at which, apparently, the Conservative members first of all agreed unanimously and then challenged the minute at the next meeting. But the minute was not altered. I understand that nobody else at the meeting agreed with the three Conservatives who protested that the previous meeting had not been unanimous. When they made their first protest, nobody else at the meeting agreed that their recorded agreement was wrong.

Therefore, if one takes that incident together with the fact that it took a long time for hon. Gentlemen opposite to wake up to the fact that the Bill was anything other than non-controversial. If one then considers the way in which party feeling has been whipped up about the Bill in the last three months, culminating in the 2½ days which we have had to spend on the Bill, then my views, suspicious though they may be, of the motives of the party opposite are very probably justified.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

The Government have so far advanced three arguments for changing the present arrangement for election—first, that it would lead to confusion, second, that it would lead to apathy among the voters, and, third, that the present arrangements are administratively inconvenient.

In defence of the Bill, the Minister of State referred to an Amendment about the system of elections which was moved in Committee on the original London Government Bill by my friend and former colleague Mr. Robert Jenkins. It is perhaps worth recalling that, in that discussion of the election arrangements for Greater London, no Labour Member—in fact, no Member of any party—referred to confusion, apathy or administrative inconvenience. The two Labour Members who spoke based their arguments solely on the fact that it would be difficult for the various councils in Greater London in the three years between 1964 and 1967 to make sufficient impact on the problems or on their new electorates.

Certainly, one could make a very good case for saying that many of the London borough councils have not been able to tackle the problems facing them or to make impact on the electorate, but this argument has not been put by the Government. Therefore, faced with the fact that the arguments which now seem so pressing were simply not mentioned at all by hon. Members opposite in 1963, one is left, after all the discussion, with the strong suspicion that the sole reason for the Bill is to cheat a number of electors in a number of marginal constituencies out of a fairer opportunity of expressing their views on the system of comprehensive education, before that matter passes beyond their reach for all time.

I well remember the speech of the then "Shadow" Minister of Housing, the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) on the Third Reading of the original London Government Bill. He said that if a Labour Government were elected in time they would destroy the Bill altogether and that, if not, they would seek the earliest possible opportunity to amend it so as to alter the balance of power between the boroughs and the G.L.C. This is the first Bill of the Government amending that original Bill. It does not destroy that Bill—or even significantly amend it—or change the balance of power. All that this little Bill does is cheat the electorate.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris), I cannot claim to be in a virginal state over the Bill, but, in view of certain remarks which have been made, I should like to comment further.

The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) referred to the Bill as a complete waste of time. I suggest that to refer to a very important Bill, affecting the largest city in the world and depriving its electors of their rights in local borough elections by a year, on which we spend two and a half or three days, as a waste of time is a disgraceful description of the Parliamentary timetable—

Mr. Richard

The hon. Gentleman is not quite accurate. What I described as as waste of time was the conduct of the Opposition, not the Bill.

Mr. Berry

That reinforces my point. It is all right for the Government to allow time for a Bill, but not for the Opposition to spend time discussing it.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has, twice during the last three weeks [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He has left the Chamber, like the rest of his party. He said that there had been no letters to hon. Members about the Bill, and the hon. Member for Barons Court followed that point. That is nonsense. I can quote, not from my earlier quotation, but from a letter in my local paper in Southgate last week, which was mildly critical of me for not having done as much as I should to criticise what was described as a little Bill. I have done as much as I can. Hon. Members opposite are putting their heads in the sand if they think that the public in London do not realise what the Bill is doing. They will have this borne in upon them in May 1968, at the latest.

We have gone back today to the bogus argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the Bill is intended to avoid elections being held on the same day. I had hoped that we had got away from that. That is not what the Bill is about. It is to prevent next year's borough elections being held in May of next year. They are not being held on the same day next year. They would have been in 1970. I hold no brief for them being held on the same day in 1970, but that is not the point.

The point is that the Bill is intended to put off elections which would have been held next year in a completely different month from the G.L.C. elections. The Under-Secretary of State referring in Committee to the last elections, said that education and housing were the two major items in the G.L.C. elections. He said that the public had had their chance of voting on that. I put it to him that the public in my area had their chance and voted in those G.L.C. elections in favour of the Conservative Party. That, therefore, makes complete nonsense of his argument.

The hon. Member also tried to make out that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) and I were disagreeing with each other on the question of consultation. I wish to correct him on that, too. My hon. and gallant Friend was making the point that the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, was receiving deputations and addressing meetings on this subject. I was making the point that there was a complete lack of consultation with the parents of the children who would be affected. They were vastly different points. No question of disagreement between my hon. and gallant Friend and I had arisen.

Through no fault of mine, "that" petition has again been mentioned As the Minister of State is in her place, I assure her that I have now traced the signatory, who is in Bournemouth. As I suspected, that signatory had recently moved from the borough; and I am grateful for the interest which the right hon. Lady has shown in this matter and for the publicity which she has given to the petition.

Although I was not in the House prior to the 1964 General Election and was, therefore, unable to take part in the discussions on the London Government Act, I assure the House that I would not have supported a Measure to have elections on the same day. I will not go into the reasons, which have already been ably put forward. It is preferable for people who have elected their councillors for a given period to know that those councillors will be in office for that period. The electors should not suddenly find that the period is to be extended, without their having any further say in the matter.

On several occasions the Bill has been referred to as a "modest little Measure". Modesty and size do not necessarily go together and the fact that it is a short Bill does not make it any the less serious or any the less undemocratic. The Home Secretary, who is chiefly responsible for the Bill—although I wonder how happy he is about it now—when not spending his time on Government business, spends it far more usefully for the general public in his extremely distinguished rôle as a biographer.

I quote from the right hon. Gentleman's recent excellent book, in which he says about Mr. Asquith: He had always been faithful to liberal humane ideas and to civilised even fastidious standards of political behaviour. In presenting this Measure, both he and the Liberal Party, which now supports it, are far lower than any of those standards and the right hon. Gentleman is himself not worthy of them.

5.32 p.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) began his speech by referring to what he called "Hoggery". From his definition of it, I gather that one commits "Hoggery" if one makes an interesting and worth-while speech. If that is "Hoggery", I hope that I am often charged with it.

As the hon. Member for Barons Court spoke, I formed the view that one could commit "Richardry". The "Richardry" which he committed was, first, to claim a unanimity of thought that had never existed—that the Conservative and Labour members, at a meeting, were unanimous and always had been—and, secondly, to disregard the views of a minority, even a relatively large one.

The real point behind the Bill is much wider and more important than the effect it will have on the London boroughs or on any elections to be held in London. We are discussing a 100 per cent. House of Commons principle, which is that the rules should not be changed without all the people who must adhere to them agreeing to the change.

It is no good the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) chastising my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and me for speaking on these vital matters, because we do not represent London constituencies. If we want Parliament and local government to work, the machinery of electing representatives to those bodies must be above any sort of suspicion. People must not even begin to think that that machinery is being tampered with for partisan reasons. Despite all the talk during the long Committee stage on the Bill, as the Measure stands it appears that the machinery for elections has been tampered with for partisan reasons. Those reasons seem to be that the Treasury Bench wants to get a full comprehensive education system on the move before the parents who do not agree with it can have a say in the matter.

Apart from the importance of the question of comprehensive education as against preserving independent schools, as many parents and ratepayers would like to happen, we must consider this vital question of ensuring that the machinery of elections is above suspicion. If any Government discover that something that is vital is being injured because they cannot get agreement on an alteration of the rules—something fundamental to the country generally, or, as in this case, to London—then perhaps there would be some excuse for attempting to break this vital principle. But that situation does not exist.

What would happen if the Government had the decency to withdraw the Bill? The answer is that the elections would take place 12 months later, and that is all. There is nothing fundamental about that. The fundamental point is that the elections are being put forward. Right outside the effect that that will have on the elections in London, I appeal, without apologising for not representing a London constituency, to the Government to keep to a principle which is vital to our electoral system. They should not alter the machinery by which elections work without having the agreement of both sides and without it having appeared in their manifesto prior to the General Election. This House could not work if the Government of the day decided to ride roughshod over our accepted rules and procedures. I am certain that local councils could not work in similar circumstances, either.

I was not impressed by the point made by the hon. Member for Barons Court when he referred to protests not having been made in a sustained way. He referred to a meeting and a minute passed at it. Is he suggesting that because something of fundamental importance is discovered later, it should be ignored simply because the matter was not raised at the time?

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

The electorate is represented in this House by hon. Members and we are making the representations.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I agree with my hon. Friend. It was a feeble excuse put forward by the hon. Member for Barons Court, who suggested that because there was not an instant reaction trumpeted by the members of the committee when the matter was first mentioned—and we do not know in what form it was first mentioned—there is no need to protest now. I sat on a local council for 16 years and many things went through at meetings which I did not recognise to be important until later, when I read the minutes. Often at that point, after the matters had been first raised, I objected. If one misses a point one's mistake is propounded if one does not, at the earliest opportunity, attempt to put the matter right.

There can be no doubt that there are extremely strong feelings existing on this issue. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should stop talking about a small minority, because the division of view is nearly equal. That being so, the Home Secretary has no title to alter the machinery in this way. I therefore appeal to him, even at this late stage, to withdraw the Bill. Alternatively, he could take steps to put the matter right in another place so that we may feel that the old systems are not being jettisoned merely for an immediate party advantage concerning education.

I cannot accept the view of the hon. Member for Orpington that the only time one can pass legislation is when one has received many letters on the subject. Are we to have Government by post, or are we to make up our own minds by representing our constituents? In any case, it seems that the hon. Member for Orpington can never be satisfied. Although he asks for letters, when my hon. Friends remind him that letters have been received, he refuses to take them into account.

One of my hon. Friends said that he had received letters, the purport of which he gave to the House, but the hon. Member for Orpington discounted them by saying that they were from an organisation and not from a man in the street. This means that the woman writing a letter to her hon. Member would not stand a chance—

Mr. Lubbock


Sir Harmar Nicholls

—because she could not be called a man in the street. The hon. Member for Orpington would, therefore, discount her protests. Presumably, if Mrs. Smith sent in a letter he would not accept that, either, since she is not a man.

I hope that my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies will continue to press their protests upon the Government, remembering that it is fundamentally wrong for the electoral laws and rules to be changed unless the Government have the support of both sides. This Bill certainly does not have the support of both sides and will only weaken our electoral machinery. It will weaken the comprehensive education system which the Government are aiming to achieve and the trust that the electors have in our electoral system. I hope, therefore, that even at this late stage the Government will withdraw the Bill.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I would award the accolade for supreme banality to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), although it was a bit thick of him to begin by holding forth on the fine principles enshrined in democracy—in our electoral machinery and the need for people to have the right to express their views—and to go on to hope that the views of the ordinary people, decided by their elected representatives in this House, might be changed in that great democratic institution which we call "another place". What a ridiculous thing to suggest.

The next remarkable point made by the hon. Gentleman was that nothing should be changed unless there is agreement between the parties in this House. Is he aware that that would rule out all other forms of political life in Britain, particularly those which have no representation in this House? Hon. Members who have studied the evolution of Britain's constitution will agree that history has shown that many great changes in our democracy have come about as a result of the actions of people who have had no representation in Parliament.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to what I said. I said that if we are to change the rules in this House, that should be done by agreement between both sides, but that, in terms of changing the rules for local government elections, that should be done only with the agreement of both sides connected with those elections. That was the point I had intended to make.

Mr. Molloy

It depends on what the hon. Gentleman meant by "both sides". Either he meant both sides in this House or both sides in various councils in the Greater London area.

In any case, the hon. Gentleman was on very weak ground indeed, because in a number of boroughs—some Conservative and some Labour controlled—there has been agreement about this. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are, therefore, revealing the third face of the Conservative Party—the face which is turned towards comprehensive education. That has come out clearly throughout this discussion. It is an idea which, hon. Gentlemen opposite think, provides them with an opportunity to say that the Bill is trying to push the matter through without giving the electors a chance to express second thoughts.

This is putting it very crudely. I want to be fair to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). He put it fairly when he said that in many boroughs the argument is about the particular scheme, not about the principle of comprehensive education. If he would like to contradict me, I should be prepared to give way to him. That is what he inferred. It was an honest thing to say. Certainly, in the London Borough of Ealing the principle of comprehensive education was accepted by all three political parties in the General Election and the G.L.C. and local elections. This is the point which the right hon. Gentleman has made from time to time, and which I make, too. I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I are at one on this. There has, however, been argument about the particular schemes.

I have examined this matter, and have discovered that the scheme envisaged in the London Borough of Ealing, introduced by the Labour-controlled council, is not particularly liked by the Conservative opposition. But in other parts of the country the position is the reverse: the Labour Party does not like what is being introduced by Conservative councils. There is nothing illogical about this, because the circumstances of two different parts of London can accommodate both views or allow opposition to them.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I agree that the argument is not about comprehensive education. I have a very good comprehensive school in my constituency which was started by a Tory Middlesex County Council. Nor is the argument about particular schemes. The argument is about whether the electorate should have the right to vote on these matters.

Mr. Molloy

These schemes are being introduced not by a council which stole power and which invaded the town hall and said, "We are the authority", but by London borough councils which offered themselves for election.

Mr. Iremonger


Mr. Molloy

There have been occasions in the past when Parliament has changed the rules concerning local government elections. There is nothing new in this.

As I said on Second Reading, there has been a great debate on this matter among Liberals, Tories and Socialists and people of other parties, and the argument has cut right across political lines. I freely admit that ther are Labour councillors who are not enamoured of the Bill. There are Conservative councillors who are very much in favour of the Bill, and not only on the Westminster Council.

The Government's duty is to assess the situation and to take full cognisance of the views of all bodies interested in the proposition, whether they be administrators, like the town councillors, the elected representatives of the people as far as their views can be ascertained, or the people. When this has been done, it is the duty and right of the Government to introduce a measure which they feel meets the situation and which can be discussed by the House. This is what has been done. It is the proper way to deal with any situation like the one with which we are faced.

Mr. Iremonger

The hon. Gentleman has left the point on which I wished to interrupt him. He has expounded an extremely dangerous doctrine. He made a remark about councils having been elected. For how long had they been elected?

Mr. Molloy

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that point, because one Member opposite seemed to think that if a councillor is elected for three years he has no right to die, to resign or to withdraw. This is an absurd attitude.

What has happened is precisely the same as happened when the Conservative Party decided that democratically it might never get political control of the London County Council, and that the only way in which it could get control was to find an administrative excuse to modernise it and then destroy it and then it could take over political control. But that did not work.

This Bill is no way the same as that Measure. It is not of the same size. What is more important, it has not the villainous political motives which lay behind that Measure. This is the point which hurts. Right hon. Members and hon. Members opposite realise that this is a telling Measure, that this is the kernel of the truth—[Laughter.]—and, therefore, they try to drown it with nonsensical laughter. But it is there, and they cannot deny it; no hon. Member opposite has jumped up to deny it.

When we discuss issues like this it is right and proper that every possible example should be quoted and that a number of hypothetical instances should be quoted in the peradventure of some of them materialising. But during the various stages of the Bill we have listened to the same arguments repeated in different forms time and again. They have been hardly related to the ideals behind the Bill. One can only come to the conclusion that either right hon. and hon. Members opposite have very little knowledge of local government, or that they are concerned to give a picture that politics has descended into some form of Tammany Hall politics, which they are bound to know in their hearts is quite untrue. If they felt in this way, many of them might be tempted to support us on the issue of the lack of democracy in the City of London.

I have not heard mention of that by the great democrats on the benches opposite—not a single word. No one has defended it. All that we have had is the incredible statement of the hon. Member for Peterborough who, when he was talking about the principles of democracy, expressed the hope that that great democratic institution, the other place, would help to save democracy in this country. That summed up the Opposition's attitude, which has been tawdry and banal. If anything has been done to reduce the standard of political discussion, which must affect the principles of democracy, it has been the ridiculous attitude of the Opposition to the Bill.

Many Conservative as well as Labour councillors in London know full well that the Bill is not merely a good thing for the democracy of London; it is a good thing for efficient democracy which we are trying to achieve in London and which we hope to maintain. I hope that in the great political battles which will take place when the Bill has been passed we will realise that it has not harmed the democratic structure of local government, but has made a great contribution towards enhancing it.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)

I expect that the House, like myself, was somewhat blinded by that burst of clarity of thought with which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) realised that the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames was comprised of people, but some hon. Members may have been surprised that he could find no point of principle in the Bill. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has left the Chamber. I thought that I might be able to help him. When one thinks for a moment one realises that it is not altogether surprising, because I do not suppose that anyone in the House can find any issue of principle running right through the Liberal Party, so on that aspect he may be at a disadvantage.

I think that possibly the most creditable aspect of the Bill was the extremely unhappy terms, and the manner, in which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary introduced it. I think that it was significant, and it did him credit, that he appeared to lack the enthusiasm with which he speaks when dealing with those extremely important prisoners who have escaped his grasp.

We on this side of the House, or at any rate myself, regard this as a major issue of principle. It involves the extension of the term of election of mem-members of democratic bodies. There may be reasons for doing that, but it is clear that it is a major matter of principle whether we do, or do not, do that, and I cannot think that there are many hon. Members who do not recognise this. In fairness to the Home Secretary, it must he said that he never suggested that it was a triviality. Indeed, what did appear was that he recognised that it was not a triviality and that, having undertaken to sponsor the Bill, he realised what an extremely weak case he had been furnished with to carry out that task.

What have we had to support this proposal? We have been given as a reason for it the view expressed by a committee of town clerks, and the Minister of State appeared to rely on this as an important argument. However, the Government were driven off that. It was clearly evident that the town clerks were not addressing themselves to this major matter of principle of the deferment of democratic elections.

The right hon. Lady then spent a lot of time delving into the minutes of meetings held by several bodies and different aldermen in the Borough of Enfield, but as they were not the same aldermen as those with whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) was dealing, that did not carry us a great deal further. The only surprising thing was that if the hon. Lady did really intend to investigate the whole thing she did not make inquiries from the aldermen who are alleged to have protested and who are members of that body.

But that again is not a reason for carrying out a major change of principle in elections, whether or not somebody protested, or was going to at the next opportunity, or was ill, or was there, or was not there, or forgot, or anything else. What we have to ask ourselves is: what reasons have been given for postponing the elections? I ask hon. Members to consider what reasons the Government have advanced. Some reasons have been given for not having elections on the same day, but what valid reasons have been given for interfering with a major matter of principle and carrying out an alteration which, admittedly, is confined to Greater London at the moment—a matter of principle which will have the greatest possible repercussions, or could have?

Surely this is the case which needs to be made overwhelmingly before the House consents to a Measure of this type, and so far the Home Secretary, to his credit, has not said anything to contradict that. Neither he nor his hon. Friends has been able to produce any valid reasons for doing it.

As against that, they are utterly unable to meet the undeniable instances which have been given from this side of the House of practices and policies in several boroughs. I am referring, not to the comprehensive school issue, but to the malpractices in many boroughs. No reason has been given why the people in these boroughs, members of the public, should be denied the right to change the council if they wish. They might wish to endorse the action which has been taken. I very much doubt it, but no answer has been given. There has been no answer to the point that where boroughs are education authorities they should be given the right to vote in accordance with the present law. In other words, the law should not be changed to stop them from voting on schemes which are still under consideration.

Finally in that context, one has the whole issue whether people should be enabled to express their opinions about the policies being carried out by their councils, be they boroughs with large Conservative majorities, or with large Labour majorities, or marginals. A number of instances have been given in addition to what I might call the hair-raising one. I gave one example in the Royal Borough of Kingston, namely, a challenge to the housing policy, which I am sure the majority party will wish to meet, and, indeed, has been challenged to meet, but if this Bill goes through it will be prevented from doing do.

Nobody save the hon. Member for Orpington has sought to deny that the extension of the period of the borough council elections is a major matter of principle. No valid reason has been brought forward in favour of any change. Even at this late stage it cannot be right for the House to approve this Measure. I sincerely hope that both sides of the House will recognise that, and that the Bill will not be given its Third Reading.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)

I was here at the beginning of the debate, but then had to leave for a short while. I returned in time to hear the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), and I was rather sorry that I had missed all that he said, because what I heard sounded rather interesting.

I think that I heard the hon. Member say that we should not pass a Measure of this kind without there being agreement between both sides. I hope that I have interpreted him correctly. This is an interesting thought on which I should like to dwell for a moment, with particular reference to what has happened in the several London boroughs concerned, because in many, though not all the London boroughs, agreement has been reached between both sides on the propriety of this Measure.

It is true that there is disagreement in other boroughs, and I hope that I am not being too cynical when I associate that fact with the parallel fact that it is in those boroughs that members of the party opposite, see, or think they see, some political advantage in this Measure not going through. It is, therefore, very difficult to resist the conclusion that the opposition to this Measure from the other side of the House is opposition for the sake of some political party advantage, and I throw back at them the charge which they have made, that we are doing this for some political advantage.

If this political question were detached —as it can be seen to be detached in those boroughs where there is no question of party political advantage—it is reasonable to suppose that agreement of the kind suggested by the hon. Member for Peterborough might be reached. On those grounds, there is adequate justification for considering this Measure.

A curious argument has been advanced that voters should be given an opportunity to vote upon certain Measures. The proposal of comprehensive education is the one chiefly raised in this instance. I was always a little surprised to hear this argument advanced by hon. Members opposite because I had understood it to be their constitutional doctrine that government by referendum is not the system that we operate in this country. That is my opinion, and I do not understand how a decision on a certain issue, such as comprehensive education, can be adequately expressed by voting in this way.

It may be that I am unique among hon. Members representing London constituencies in that mine is split almost exactly in half between two boroughs—one half being in the Conservative-controlled London Borough of Bromley and the other in the Labour-controlled Borough of Bexley. On this issue of comprehensive education which was fully discussed at the General Election, I feel that a majority in both halves of my constituency is probably rather cautiously in favour of the principle of comprehensive education.

I have had a number of letters which, while accepting the principle, criticise certain points of detail. Some criticise details of the plan put forward by Bromley Council and some those of the plan put forward by Bexley Council. In the event of an election in the manner proposed by hon. Members opposite how it is practicable and possible for electors, by casting their vote, to express the view that they are in favour of the plan for comprehensive educatioin in principle but do not like its detail? I do not understand the practicability of the doctrine that they are advancing.

In common with every other hon. Member, I suppose, masses of letters come to me commenting on Measures which the Government and borough councils are introducing. As I am concerned with two borough councils I receive a double set of letters of that kind. I have had letters upon a variety of subject, but none concerned with this Measure. Therefore, I cannot accept the suggestion of hon. Members opposite that there is a passionate surge of feeling in respect of this proposal, and I am, therefore, forced back to the conclusion that hon. Members opposite oppose it because they think that they can see some political advantage in so doing. I say "they think" because the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt)—whom I am glad to see in his place, because he has the chance to speak after me; it was the other way round in the Second Reading debate —will know that at a recent by-election in his constituency his party lost a seat. I therefore emphasise the words, "they think".

I cannot be satisfied that this political advantage is as real as they make out, and I am looking forward with confidence to elections to the Greater London Council. I detach from my mind any question of political advantage. This is a desirable Measure, and it has been evidenced in boroughs where no political controversy is involved that it is an acceptable Measure to both sides. I therefore see no reason why it should not proceed.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)

I shall not follow a great deal of what the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) has said. He put forward the view, however, that my hon. Friends and I were arguing in favour of a referendum. In fact, we are arguing that electors in the Greater London area should be allowed to go through the traditional democratic processes of the ballot box so that they may say what they think about their local councils. This opportunity is being denied to them by the Bill.

The hon. Member referred to a by-election in my constituency, but surely the fact that my party happened by chance to lose that by-election underlines how altruistic I am in my opposition to this Measure.

The right hon. Lady referred to the attendance of hon. Members on this side of the House—

Miss Bacon

I did not. It is immaterial. I would have referred to it if I had thought of it, but I do not think that I did.

Mr. Hunt

When the right hon. Lady reads HANSARD I think she will find that she made some reference to the fact that not many hon. Members on this side of the House were interested in the debate. I hope that the empty benches behind her—which were only partially replenished, for a time, by the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard)—are a reflection of the sense of guilt and shame which hon. Members opposite feel about the Government's determination to press forward with this unsavoury and undemocratic Bill.

The right hon. Lady spent a long time in a very short speech arguing the case for borough and G.L.C. elections being held in different years. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) said, this argument has already been accepted. Our case is that this situation could easily and democratically have been achieved by changing the future term of borough councillors elected from 1967 onwards, rather than by tampering with the existing term of sitting councillors.

We believe that councillors elected for a set period of three years should not be allowed to sit for a day longer. Our opposition to the Bill was referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) as a great deal of "huff and puff". What he and others who speak like him fail to appreciate when they use foolish phrases of that kind is that local democracy means something to hon. Members on this side of the House, even if it no longer counts for much on the Labour and Liberal benches.

We still hold the old-fashioned and seemingly out-dated view that having elected our councillors for three years it is immoral and indefensible for any Government arbitrarily to extend that term of office without any reference to the people most concerned, namely, the ratepayers and electors. This is the nub of our antagonism and opposition to the Bill and, with respect to the right hon. Lady, it is something she totally ignored in her thoroughly inadequate speech.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Barons Court has now left the Chamber. I felt that he made an arrogant speech. He seemed to be saying that the Parliamentary Labour Party knows what is best for the electors and that it is thoroughly frivolous and irresponsible for the Opposition to challenge what that party is seeking to do. I hope that he will not accuse me of committing "Hoggery". He seemed to be saying that "Hoggery" was something reserved for consenting Tory M.P.s in private. I hope that he will not accuse me of "Hoggery" when I say that we believe that a vital democratic principle is at stake here.

It is deplorable that 5 million electors throughout Greater London should be disfranchised next May and denied the opportunity to make their opinions known by their votes on a number of important issues, not merely to comprehensive education, as the hon. Member for Chislehurst said, but on all sorts of questions, including housing, rates and matters about which they feel passionately and in respect of which they want to record their opinions through the ballot boxes.

The right hon. Lady said that the local borough councils have been effective for only two years. Much preparatory work was done during 1964 and 1965. Each of the Greater London Borough councils ever since 1964 has been engaged on the mammoth task of implementing the London Government Act, 1963. The councils have done it with varying degrees of success. In areas such as my own Borough of Bromley these immense new powers and responsibilities have been discharged with wisdom and foresight. In other areas perhaps they have been discharged with less success. By now it is fair to claim that many early teething troubles have been overcome and that the councillors and council officials are settling down to their new responsibilities.

We believe that elections next May would have provided an appropriate opportunity for the electors of all these boroughs to renew the mandate of their sitting councillors, or else to decide, as they surely would have done in the case of boroughs such as Camden, Brent, Enfield and Hillingdon, that changes were necessary. What these electors will never forget or forgive is for this House to step in, as it is seeking to do tonight, and for reasons of short-term party political advantage deny them their political rights to go to the polls next year.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is in his place. I am sure that the electors of Greater London will be very puzzled, as I have been, by the attitude of the Parliamentary Liberal Party to the Bill, and, in particular, by the attitude taken to it by the hon. Gentleman who, with me, represents one of the component constituencies of the London Borough of Bromley.

Mr. Lubbock

They will not be, because I have taken the trouble to send out large numbers of my own Second Reading speech.

Mr. Hunt

I believe, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), that it is a very sad day indeed for Liberalism when its representatives here renounce the principles and traditions of a once great party and lend themselves to the squalid purpose of aiding and abetting the manipulations of the London Labour Party. For the information of the hon. Member for Orpington, I shall take steps to see that that part of my speech is circulated in his constituency.

I believe that the Bill was conceived by stealth and subterfuge and will ultimately bring shame and dishonour to all those who support it in the Lobby tonight. That is why we shall continue resolutely to oppose it.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I know that the Secretary of State will want to wind up the debate soon, so I hope to sit down by twenty minutes past six, if that would not be unduly inconvenient to the House.

I feel bound to reiterate, even at this late stage, the very great misgiving with which I come to the Third Reading of the Bill. It deprives the electorate of the right to vote in elections promised to them in the House by an Act of Parliament. It extends the life of 32 borough councils elected for three years, but now given a reprieve, by an extra year.

This would be dangerous if no one minded, but it is absolutely inexcusable to do this when many people do mind it and have said so. Whether or not they have said so in letters to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), whether or not they have said so in letters to us, or whether or not it is merely we here who say so, the principle still remains that this is a bad and dangerous thing to do and something that the House should not let go by lightly. I think that it should be resisted. I still hope that the Secretary of State will, on consideration, decide that it would become him better to withdraw the Bill.

This principle applies to all electors in every local authority throughout the country and it applies also to the entire electorate and to the House. The principle underlying the Bill cannot be belittled simply because the Bill is about elections in London. The Bill is about tampering with the electoral system. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), who made a gallant if highly sophistical speech, said that he did not think that it was an idea of fundamental constitutional importance that constitutional change, because it is constitutional change, should be avoided unless there was general agreement. Mr. Speaker himself is presiding over Mr. Speaker's Conference on changing the electoral law. If the principle applies to that, it applies also to the holding of local government elections which have been fixed by the House in an Act of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North made a good debating point which has been made from the other side on several occasions, but which I do not think should be allowed to pass on Third Reading. He said that, if we were accusing him and his right hon. and hon. Friends of gerrymandering, it lay ill in our mouths, because we had gerrymandered in a big way with the whole of the Local Government Act and all that was done subsequent to it. I do not think that should be allowed to pass, because it is a reflection not upon right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House—our shoulders are broad enough to bear it—but upon the Royal Commission on Local Government in London, upon its distinguished chairman, upon its members, and upon the Report it made.

In so far as there was any constitutional principle involved in, or any party advantage to be gained from, the London Government Act, it was based entirely upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission. There were alterations, certainly, but they were not constitutional alterations. They were not alterations which gave any advantage to the Conser- vative Party. If this was an effort by the Conservative Party to gerrymander and fix elections and electoral boundaries to their advantage, all that I can say is that it was the one really incompetent thing they did during their thirteen years of office.

The electoral boundaries were very radically changed by the town clerks, who were asked by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government to fix them. I should have thought that, if anything lies ill in anyone's mouth, it lies ill in the mouths of hon. Friends of the Home Secretary to say that town clerks fixing boundaries could possibly be suspected of doing it in anything other than the best interests of electors, because this whole Bill proceeds on the basis of the moral infallibility of town clerks in deciding whether we should have elections or not.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North protested that the same arguments had been repeated on Second Reading, in Committee, and on Third Reading. The hon. Gentleman derided the notion that we should state these arguments again and again. He referred, I thought rather touchingly—this was the only rather serious dialectical blunder in his speech—to the ideals behind the Bill. If these are ideals, it is the first time they have been referred to by any hon. Member opposite. The ideals are on this side of the House. The principles lie on this side of the House. If the arguments are repeated, they cannot be repeated often enough. I make no apology for repeating them again.

It is not that the electors of the Borough of Redbridge are particularly concerned to vote about the schemes for comprehensive education, about difficulties of car parking, about town centre redevelopment, about private and public development of housing, or about any of the other important issues. That is not what matters at all. It does not matter whether they want to vote about those things, whether they want to vote about other matters, or whether they want to vote about nothing at all. The fact is that they were promised in an Act of Parliament that they would have an opportunity to exercise their vote in three years' time. The three years are up next year. They should not be denied that opportunity now.

This is the fundamental constitutional principle. It ill becomes hon. Members opposite to object to hon. Members on this side who come from other parts of the country taking an interest in the Bill. The Bill most certainly refers to them as much as to anyone else. I think that it was the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) who objected that the Bill was about London and not about Scotland. I can assure him that it is about Scotland. Hon. Members opposite who think that this is a little Bill about London local government would do well to bear in mind the words of John Donne, who, when preaching from the pulpit of the ancient Gothic Cathedral of St. Paul, he advised his listeners that if they heard the passing bell they should never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

Even the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary's worst enemies would not accuse him of having shown any undue enthusiasm for this Measure. His appearances during our debates have, for understandable reasons, been intermittent, and the right hon. Lady the Minister of State, Home Office, assured us earlier today that the origin of the Bill was not to be found in the Home Office. I can well understand her desire to make that clear.

I must say that there have been moments during this debate when I have felt a great deal of sympathy for the Home Secretary. On the one hand, this Measure, for which we all know he was not in substance responsible, has been attacked as introducing a most unhappy precedent in the making of changes in electoral arrangements. Even more disturbing, no doubt, than my hon. Friend's powerful attacks, have been the attempts made to defend it by, above all, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). Indeed, I could not help feeling during the speech of the hon. Member that the Home Secretary, being a Balliol man, was muttering Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istiis, which, for the sake of the Liberal Party, I will translate as "For God's sake don't let Orpington support us"——

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am a Balliol man? I read engineering there.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

This is a matter concerning the Home Secretary's and my own college which we have been sedulously trying to keep secret for a long time. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman has now disclosed this.

The only other support that I could see the Home Secretary received from his own side came, first, from his hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard), who described this as a trivial little Bill—rather a curious Measure on which a Home Secretary, in these days, should spend several Parliamentary days. He got support also from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who suggested that his constituents were incapable of doing what is done by every constituent in the counties in the United Kingdom. Those were hardly powerful supports for this Measure.

I take up at once the point made by the right hon. Gentleman himself. To put the matter in its accurate perspective, I must say that he intervened during the intervention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) during the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington. He then took up the point, as I understood it, that there had been no real objection to this Bill for some considerable time after an intention to proceed with it had been announced, and that that apparently accounted for the lack of what one would call the normal inter-party consultation.

It may well be that my right hon. and hon. Friends did not react immediately to what was, I believe, a Written Answer given by the Home Secretary on 28th April——

Mr. Roy Jenkins


Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

So be it. Hon. Members will recall that the House was engaged in very serious and difficult matters at that date. Nevertheless, it is quite wrong to suggest, as did the hon. and learned Gentleman, that none of us reacted before the Summer Recess. Quite apart from the Parliamentary Question to the Home Secretary of 4th August to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred, I have in my hand a copy of Early Day Motion 166, which appeared on the Order Paper on 26th July, in the name of a number of my hon. Friends from London and myself. It is headed "Election in London Boroughs", and it deplores—I will not read it all unless the Home Secretary wishes deplores the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation which will cause the postponement by a year of the 1967 London Borough elections … Therefore, both by Parliamentary Question and by Motion on the Order Paper our position was made clear well before the Summer Recess.

Why, then, was there not consultation? The Home Secretary knows as well as anyone that it is the healthy habit in this country that when we propose alterations, great or small, in our electoral system we have inter-party consultation. I give the right hon. Gentleman the present o' the fact that, as far as I know, neither I nor any of my right hon. or hon. Friends asked for such consultations—I say that at once—but I say also that the polemical and, as he will recall, factually inaccurate terms of his Answer to me on 4th August did not lead anyone to draw the conclusion that he was disposed to discuss this as an inter-party matter. If he re-reads his own Answer he will be driven to the same conclusion.

But, in any event, if there are to be consultations of this kind, the onus for initiating them lies with the Government which propose to alter the electoral system rather than with members of the Opposition who realise how unhappy its effect will be. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us why, before introducing this Bill only a few weeks ago, and knowing, as he did, that we were critical of it, and knowing, as I am sure he does, the ordinary constitutional custom in this country, he did not enter into consultations with my hon. and right hon. Friends to see whether it was possible to come to inter-party agreement on important changes in London's electoral arrangements. It is the absence of the consultation, which is normal in these matters, which naturally arouses the suspicion not only of my hon. Friends but of people outside as to the real purposes that lie behind this Measure.

The right hon. Lady the Minister of State did not add very much to human wisdom on this point—or, indeed, if she will allow me to say so, on matters generally. What she failed to do, and what the right hon. Gentleman has failed to do throughout our proceedings, was to show the slightest willingness to compromise over the method of achieving what I think opinion generally wants to see achieved—the separation from 1970 onwards of elections on the same day.

It is beyond dispute that there are perfectly reputable methods with good precedents behind them—one was the precedent set by the late Lord Chuter Ede in 1949—for achieving this aim. What seems to me to be incredible is that the right hon. Gentleman should have made no attempt, having failed to have prior consultation, to show any willingness to compromise on what is, if one accepts his version of the reasons, a matter of means rather than of ends.

Why did he not show willingness to compromise? It is incredible that he should persist in making this change by the only method which, as he knows, involves the postponing of the 1967 elections, and by, as he also knows, the only method which involves serious Parliamentary controversy. It is quite extraordinary that the Home Secretary, faced as he admitted to the House yesterday with one of the biggest crime waves in history, and faced, as he showed today, by a situation in which all our prisons appear to be open prisons, should take on board, wholly unnecessarily, and at the expenditure of a great deal of Parliamentary time——

Mr. Lubbock

Whose fault is that?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

—the one method of achieving his object of the separation of elections which he knows to be controversial, and which involves the postponement of elections. The hon. Member for Orpington asks, "Whose fault is that?" I say at once to the Home Secretary that some of my hon. Friends and I made it quite clear at an earlier stage that we were prepared to accept either of the methods of doing this, which we put forward in an Amendment at the Committee stage. Subsequent proceedings would have proceeded quickly. It is just this point, that it is the Home Secretary's fault, and therefore one cannot help asking the Question, why does he proceed in this way?

The right hon. Gentleman—and, it is fair to say, his supporters—seemed to take an extraordinarily lighthearted approach to altering the election arrangements and the dates of elections. I would ask him this: does he accept the principle—and I hope he will answer this—that one should only alter electoral arrangements in this country either as a result of physical necessity, such as a reorganisation or redistribution, or on the basis of inter-party agreement? Does he accept that? If he does not accept that, will he tell us whether it is his view that it is right for a Government to use its majority to rig an electoral system in its own favour? Will it stop here? Will it stop, for example, at postponing the implementation of the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission, because its results look like being highly unfavourable to the Labour Party? It is a logical process that if one is prepared to postpone borough council elections when there is no necessity and no measure of agreement, why should one stop at postponing Parliamentary elections in the same circumstances?

One of my hon. Friends, the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), said that this set a very bad precedent. I agree with that, and I hope that the Home Secretary, who is responsible for the electoral machinery of this country, will also be unhappy that he should be setting a precedent which other Governments in other times might find it extremely convenient to be able to quote and to follow.

What is the position of the councillors who, I suppose, are the beneficiaries of this? It is the essence of the position of a local councillor that he is the locally elected representative of the people for whom he works. What is to be his position if he is there not by electoral choice but as a result of Parliamentary legislation? That affects the whole of his moral position, particularly when he knows, and knows well, that if the elections did take place in May 1967 he would not be there thereafter. Many of them must know that perfectly well, and, indeed, the right hon. Lady, in her speech this afternoon, said, "We believe that there is very good reason to defer the 1967 elections." We know what those reasons are—the mounting tide of by-election failures which would-be Labour councillors have had during these last few months. Take the position of honourable men in all parties, hard-working people who serve their local community, knowing they are there not because their fellow citizens elected them, but knowing they are there because the right hon. Gentleman put the Whips on and carried, with his majority of 100, a Parliamentary Bill to perpetuate their term of office which had expired.

The silliest argument we have had in the course of these debates—and that is not an inconsiderable tribute—is that we would do even better as a party in 1968 and, therefore, it is not to our advantage to have the elections in 1967. That has been seriously propounded. I am not concerned on the point of whether it is right or wrong. I think it is right that we should do even better in 1968. because the whole tide is in our favour, but that is no justification for obtaining local power by a cheat during the very important and decisive year 1967–68, a year in which, as has been said again and again—and I repeat it for completeness—crucial decisions as to how our children will be educated will be taken in the outer boroughs due to be contested this year.

I say again, this not a question of whether one believes in full comprehensive or partial comprehensive schemes or in grammar schools. It is this, that we have a system of locally administered education in this country. In the outer London boroughs the parents and the electors should have the chance this spring of saying how they want their education to be organised. For this purpose, I do not care a rap whether the argument is for the comprehensive system or against it. I am concerned that this is an important matter. No hon. Member disputes that. It is so important that when it has to be decided by local representatives, they should be in truth and in fact local representatives properly elected.

There is a further horrifying argument, which was that this matter has already been decided. That has an unhappy echo of the dictators who always claimed to have arrived by electoral title and then saw to it that the election which gave them their title was the last. I beg the Home Secretary to understand that it is a serious matter to extend the term of office of elected persons be yond the period for which it was understood they were going to be elected at the time they stood for election, and that this is a thing which he should avoid if he could. It is absolutely beyond dispute that he could perfectly well have avoided it.

No one now believes the story that all this arose as a result of a meeting of town clerks, concerned as we now know not with the 1967 elections, when there will be a month's gap under the present law between the G.L.C. and borough elections, but with the simple question whether or not it was a good thing to have the G.L.C. and borough council elections on the same day. We know that it arose as a result of a manoeuvre put forward in the political interest of the London Labour Party, which has good reason to fear facing the electors now, and even better reason to fear facing the electors after a winter of rising unemployment and a spring of rising rates.

This is a dishonest Bill which reflects no credit on its promoters. Its Short Title is misleading. It should read "A Bill to retain control of certain London boroughs by the Labour Party; to impose Labour councillors on the electorate of such boroughs; to deprive certain electors of the right to decide what provision shall be made for the education of their children; and for connected purposes."

If this Bill passes both Houses of Parliament, it will be known—and I shall be sorry, for I am an admirer of the right hon. Gentleman—as "Jenkins fiddle".

6.37 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) always presses his points, both his big and his little points, with almost equal cogency and courtesy. What he had to say this evening was no exception to that rule. I will endeavour to reply to some of them. I have listened to the great majority of the debates on this Bill, in spite of one or two absences on one day in Committee, and I still say that it is wrong to describe this as a storm in a teacup. It is a storm in a thimble. It is a very contrived case which has been made against the Bill.

Perhaps I may use a hunting metaphor. I am not sure whether I am less familiar with them than the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who yesterday in the House used one of the most striking and brilliant hunting metaphors I have ever heard developed. Mine is a much more modest one. Time and again, hares have been started from the other side, but, as soon as we have got very close to catching them, they have immediately been declared to be irrelevant. We had a good deal of dispute about whether Mr. Pritchard had or had not correctly quoted the minutes. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State this afternoon refuted this very powerfully, whereupon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. fain Macleod) said it was not relevant and that he did not wish to press it.

We had the further case of the town clerks. There was a great issue as to whether the town clerks' memorandum was a secret document or whether we would put it in the Library. There was a great issue about whether I had set up a corrupt committee of town clerks. It was explained that I had set up nothing, that this committee had set itself up voluntarily. It was made clear that the document was completely open and we were happy to put it in the Library, whereupon we were told that the town clerks' position was completely irrelevant to what we were discussing.

Mr. Hogg

I told the right hon. Gentleman that on Second Reading.

Mr. Jenkins

The right hon. and learned Gentleman wound up on Second Reading, but he was not here to tell it to his right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, who made a most impassioned speech about the iniquities of the town clerks. If it was irrelevant at 9.30, it was certainly not regarded as irrelevant at 4.30 that afternoon, or, if it was, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West made a speech of remarkable irrelevance, and I would never accuse him of that.

The fact is that the town clerks' memorandum was relevant to the central purpose of the Bill, which is to separate for the long term the dates of London borough elections and G.L.C. elections. If it is contested that that is the central purpose of the Bill one would have to say—which I would hesitate to say in your presence, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that almost the whole of our proceedings in Committee were out of order because so much of our time was devoted to debating an Amendment which was a direct negative to the Second Reading. But I cannot believe that that is so. In fact, the central purpose is to deal with the long-term position.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

What about the short term, then?

Mr. Jenkins

I am coming to that. I am saying what the central purpose of the Bill is, and the town clerks' memorandum is directly relevant to that.

Having decided—there is a good deal of agreement on this—that one should alter the long-term position, although, of course, this is to go hack on the position we inherited from the previous Government, one then has to decide what is the sensible time at which to do it. If it is right to make this separation, I think that it should be done fairly soon. In my view, the worst of both worlds, which should be avoided if possible, would be to have two successive local government elections in successive months. I do not think that it makes good sense. It is no good the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) shaking his head. As I understand it, no one takes the view that this is a desirable position from the long-term point of view.

If it is desirable to have two successive elections in two successive months, and if it is good for local enthusiasm, as I think the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill) suggested, and good for the party organisations, why not go on doing it indefinitely? But this is not proposed by anyone. Not one borough out of the 32 wants to do that. [Interruption.] I wish that the right hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South, who has only just appeared in the debate—

Mr. Rippon


Mr. Jenkins

—for Hexham—I was omitting his defeat. I apologise, and I am glad to know that he has found a seat, even if it be more in a more remote constituency.

Mr. Rippon

There are elections there in the same year.

Mr. Jenkins

Elections there are in successive months, but this is, none the less, not a desirable situation, and I do not understand that it is argued by any right hon. Gentleman opposite, and it is certainly not argued by any London borough, that such an arrangement is desirable in the long term. If that were the point a different proposition would have been before us.

If it is the view that there should be a separation, which I believe is the view generally acceptable to the House, the question is when should it be done. I should have thought that the broad proposition that, if changes were desirable it would be desirable to make them sooner rather than later, must also be acceptable, other things being equal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, other things being equal. We shall come in a moment to what other things are not thought to be equal by hon. Members opposite, but, other things being equal, it must be desirable to make the change sooner rather than later.

Second, when the position is that the councils which would come up for election in the normal way in the spring of 1967 have, in fact, had only two years of effective power, I should have thought it more desirable to make the change at this stage, at the beginning, rather than make it at a later stage, either by giving subsequently elected councils four years of effective power or by then reducing their period to two years so that one increased the frequency of elections in the future. Leaving party considerations aside, I do not think that anyone who has regard to our local government polling figures and the number of electors who bother to go to the polls could take the view that we ought to increase the frequency of elections and that we would thereby be more likely to secure more democratic representation.

It has been alleged, again by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East, I think, that I made this decision as the by-elections in Croydon or somewhere else went against us in the autumn. It is perfectly clear that the Government were near to making this decision when I gave my answer to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) at the end of April, and the Government made the decision, in fact, whether it be thought a right or wrong decision, at the very peak of their popularity immediately after the election when we were streets ahead at every conceivable poll. Therefore, what happened at the by-elections is totally irrelevant to any consideration here.

Another of the irrelevant hares which have been put up or which have been declared irrelevant and not pursued as soon as we got after them is the extraordinary suggestion that the parentage of the Bill rested with various sinister figures on the Government Front Bench other than my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and myself. First, it was suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, was the parent of the Bill. It was then pointed out that he had not understood exactly what the Bill would do. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members opposite, who have a high respect, as I have, for my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, would not suggest that he was the parent of a Bill which he did not fully understand.

More significantly—this has figured a good deal in our debates—it was suggested that the Bill was the result of a sinister plot between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and myself in order to enable him to steamroller through plans for the reorganisation of secondary education in London. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend and I discuss many things together, but we have never discussed this Bill, at least not until this morning, when I did ask him something which was relevant to it. Therefore, this argument which was not plausible when first advanced, today looks even more threadbare.

Hon. Members opposite may look rather sceptical about it. Perhaps I can reassure them by saying that, when they read my right hon. Friend's comments on the various schemes which have been put to him, some of which comments will be received by the boroughs in the morn- ing, they will find, as I expect they know already, that their fears are quite unfounded and that speeches such as those made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) at one stage in Committee bear no relation in fact to what is remotely likely to happen.

We can dismiss a great number of the matters which have been raised. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames has been moving rather rapidly backwards and forwards between the third bench and the Front Bench opposite during our debates. When speaking with, perhaps, even greater freedom and fluency from the third bench than he commands on the Front Bench, the right hon. Gentleman indulged on one occasion in a remarkable flight of hyperbole, saying that nothing like this Bill had been seen since the Septennial Act. I only hope that the Septennial Act was opposed rather more vigorously and by a rather larger number of Opposition Members than has been the case with this Bill. This afternoon, while the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone was speaking, I counted the attendance opposite, and there were 14 Members present. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many on the Government side?"] The point which this side of the House makes, which I have put fully to the House on earlier occasions and which I shall continue to put, is that the Bill is a small and reasonable matter of administrative convenience. The Opposition's point is that the Bill is a constitutional monstrosity. There is, therefore, no comparison whatever between the attendance on this side and the attendance on the other side of the House.

Fourteen hon. Members opposite were listening to the inspired oratory of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, and no fewer than 13 came from the Greater London area. I do not for a moment take the point that those from outside the Greater London area should not speak. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) was not called. But I would have thought that if the Bill were a constitutional monstrosity, and if the opposition to it were not just a bit of little local log-rolling, there would have been a great many more speeches from hon. Members not directly concerned, but with a much wider national interest. However we have seen nothing of that sort.

Captain W. Elliot

Surely the right hon. Gentleman would agree that we got only the comparatively limited time we did by pressure from this side of the House? Had the right hon. Gentleman given us more time we would have had more speeches.

Mr. Jenkins

We could not have had more speeches by hon. Members who were not in the Chamber to make them.

Another point was developed by the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), representing the broad acres of England and not the Greater London boroughs. That was the view that constitutional change should in all normal cases take place by agreement between the parties. If that can be secured, it is desirable, but to take the view that it is a well-established practice of English history and English constitutional development that constitutional change normally takes place by agreement between the parties, and that it is most unusual for anything else to happen, is a remarkable version of English history over the past 150 years. If that were the only way in which it were to happen we would have a constitution very different from that which we have at present.

The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone several times used the phrase, "the brute force of a majority", with which he said that we were pushing the Bill through. We had the biggest majority on Second Reading that any Government Bill has secured in this Parliament. If it were a squalid little Bill, I am not sure that that would happen. The majority did not come from one party only but from the Liberal Party as well as the Labour Party.

As far as I am aware, the Liberal Party has no great vested interest to defend in these matters, and I think that the hon. Member for Orpington has argued most cogently and consistently throughout the debates. There have been a great number of disparaging remarks about the Liberal Party, particularly by the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) in his speech. He asked why the Liberal Party renounced its traditions as a great party, and one must ask, "When, in the view of hon. Members opposite, does the Liberal Party renounce its traditions as a great party?" I think that the answer is, "When it disagrees with the Conservative Party". That is precisely the position held to have arisen throughout the Bill.

The Bill has had the largest majority on Second Reading of any Government Bill, and there has been a good deal of cross-party feeling outside. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames this afternoon referred to the fact that Labour councillors in Kingston-upon-Thames are protesting about the Bill. That is quite reasonable if they do not like it. But it shows that it is not a party manoeuvre. Equally, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone knows very well, the Conservative Party in West-minister is, and has been throughout, solidly behind the Bill. Does he think that it is necessarily undermining democracy, and that all those supporters of his who are also supporters of the Bill are necessarily betrayers of local democracy?

There is a solid majority in the House, a great deal of cross-party support outside, and, I believe, a general feeling in support of the Bill, which I think is a sensible arrangement which, if the party opposite—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the right hon. Gentleman, before he sits down, deal with my question of why there was no inter-party consultation?

Mr. Jenkins

I will deal with that point. The history of the matter has been gone into to some extent. I indicated the movement of the Government's mind fairly clearly to the hon. Member for Orpington at the end of April. In the first week of August I answered a Question giving the clear position. When—as the House knows because it has often been reminded of it—I inadvertently misquoted a figure for which I apologise once again, that matter was raised with me by the right hon. Gentleman.

I dislike quoting conversations outside but I have been pressed to do so by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone and I had conversations about this matter, and I explained to him that I had made a mistake. He said that he did not accuse me of bad faith, but warned me clearly that the Opposition would return to this matter. But he showed not the slightest desire for consultation or the desire to find any sort of compromise solution.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. He had already announced his decision at that point. The time at which I should have wished to be consulted was before he made up his mind.

Mr. Jenkins

I indicated the way our mind was moving—that was part of the interchange we had earlier. There were three and a half months during which I gave clear indication of the way our mind was moving. No approach was received. But the point which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames took was not only the question of why there was no consultation before the Government announced their decision but why, after we announced our decision

and when he made his opposition clear, we did not then have consultation to see if we could find a compromise. That was the point the right hon. Gentleman put to me precisely, but there was no indication of it then.

I think that the Bill, which has aroused much more controversy than I would have hoped—our debates have been long and on the whole good-tempered—proposes a sensible arrangement. If the party opposite did not see—probably mistakenly, but none of us can tell—the prospect of a big electoral advantage next May they would support it, as I believe do many of their followers outside and the public generally.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 328, Noes 227.

Division No. 226.] AYES [6.58 p.m.
Abse, Leo Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Fowler, Gerry
Albu, Austen Crawshaw, Richard Fraser, John (Norwood)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Fraser, Rt. Hn, Tom (Hamilton)
Alldritt, Walter Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Freeson, Reginald
Allen, Scholefield Cullen, Mrs. Alice Galpern, Sir Myer
Anderson, Donald Dalyell, Tam Gardner, Tony
Archer, Peter Darling, Rt. Hn. George Garrett, W. E.
Armstrong, Ernest Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Ginsburg, David
Ashley, Jack Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Gourlay, Harry
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Gregory, Arnold
Barnes, Michael Davies, Harold (Leek) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Barnett, Joel Davies, Ifor (Gower) Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)
Baxter, William Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
Beaney, Alan Davies, S.O. (Merthyr) Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.
Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J. Delargy, Hugh Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)
Bence, Cyril Dell, Edmund Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Dempsey, James Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Dewar, Donald Hamling, William
Bessell, Peter Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Bidwell, Sydney Dickens, James Hart, Mrs. Judith
Binns, John Doig, Peter Haseldine, Norman
Bishop, E. S. Donnelly, Desmond Hattersley, Roy
Blackburn, F. Driberg, Tom Hazell, Bert
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dunn, James A. Henig, Stanley
Boardman, H. Dunnett, Jack Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Boston, Terence Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hilton, W. S.
Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)
Boyden, James Eadie, Alex Hooley, Frank
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly) Hooson, Emlyn
Bradley, Tom Edwards, William (Merioneth) Horner, John
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Ellis, John Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Brooks, Edwin English, Michael Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Ennals, David Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Ensor, David Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Howie, W.
Buchan, Norman Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Hoy, James
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Faulds, Andrew Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Fernyhough, E. Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Finch, Harold Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Carmichael, Neil Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Hunter, Adam
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Hynd, John
Chapman, Donald Floud, Bernard Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Coe, Dennis Foley, Maurice Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)
Coleman, Donald Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Janner, Sir Barnett
Concannon, J. D. Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Conlan, Bernard Ford, Ben Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Forrester, John Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'stle-u-Tyne)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Morris, John (Aberavon) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Moyle, Roland Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Murray, Albert Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Newens, Stan Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Judd, Frank Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Kelley, Richard Norwood, Christopher Skeffington, Arthur
Kenyon, Clifford Oakes, Gordon Slater, Joseph
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Ogden, Eric Small, William
Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) O'Malley, Brian Snow, Julian
Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Oram, Albert E. Spriggs, Leslie
Leadbitter, Ted Orbach, Maurice Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Orme, Stanley Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Oswald, Thomas Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Lee, John (Reading) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Stonehouse, John
Lestor, Miss Joan Owen, Will (Morpeth) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Padley, Walter Swain, Thomas
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Swingler, Stephen
Lipton, Marcus Paget, R. T. Taverne, Dick
Lomas, Kenneth Palmer, Arthur Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Loughlin, Charles Pardoe, John Thornton, Ernest
Luard, Evan Park, Trevor Tinn, James
Lubbock, Eric Parker, John (Dagenham) Tomney, Frank
Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.) Tuck, Raphael
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Urwin, T. W.
Mabon Dr. J. Dickson Pavitt, Laurence Varley, Eric G.
McBride, Neil Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
McCann, John Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
MacColl, James Pentland, Norman Wallace, George
Macdonald, A. H. Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Watkins, David (Consett)
McCuire, Michael Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
McKay, Mrs. Margaret Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Weitzman, David
Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Price Christopher (Perry Bar) Wellbeloved, James
Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Mackie, John Price, William (Rugby) Whitaker, Ben
Mackintosh, John P. Probert, Arthur White, Mrs. Eirene
Maclennan, Robert Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Whitlock, William
MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Randall, Harry Wigg, Rt. Hn. George
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Rankin, John Wilkins, W. A.
MacPherson, Malcolm Redhead, Edward Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Rees, Merlyn Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Rhodes, Geoffrey Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Mal1alieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.) Richard, Ivor Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Manuel, Archie Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Mapp, Charles Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Marquand, David Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Robertson, John (Paisley) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Mason, Roy Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as) Winnick, David
Maxwell, Robert Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Mayhew, Christopher Roebuck, Roy Winterbottom, R. E.
Mellish, Robert Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Mendelson, J. J. Rose, Paul Woof, Robert
Mikardo, Ian Ross, Rt. Hn. William Wyatt, Woodrow
Millan, Bruce Rowland, Christopher (Meriden) Yates, Victor
Miller, Dr. M. S. Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Zilliacus, K.
Milne, Edward (Blyth) Ryan, John
Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Molloy William Sheldon, Robert Mr. Lawson and Mr. Grey.
Moonman, Eric
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Corfield, F. V.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Braine, Bernard Costain, A. P.
Astor, John Brewis, John Craddock Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Brinton, Sir Tatton Crawley, Aidan
Awdry Daniel Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. Sir Walter Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver
Baker, W. H. K. Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Crouch, David
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Bruce-Gardyne, J. Crowder, F. P.
Batsford, Brian Bryan, Paul Cunningham, Sir Knox
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bullus, Sir Eric Currie, G. B. H.
Bell, Ronald Burden, F. A. Dalkeith, Earl of
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Campbell, Gordon Dance, James
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Carlisle, Mark d' Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Berry, Hn. Anthony Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)
Biffen, John Cary, Sir Robert Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)
Biggs-Davison, John Channon, H. P. G. Digby, Simon Wingfield
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Chichester-Clark, R. Doughty, Charles
Black, Sir Cyril Clark, Henry Drayson, G. B.
Blaker, Peter Clegg, Walter du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Body, Richard Cooke, Robert Eden, Sir John
Bossom, Sir Clive Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Cordle, John Errington, Sir Eric
Eyre, Reginald Kerby, Capt. Henry Prior, J. M. L.
Farr, John Kershaw, Anthony Pym, Francis
Fisher, Nigel Kimball, Marcus Quennell, Miss J. M.
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Forrest, George Kitson, Timothy Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Fortescue, Tim Knight, Mrs. Jill Rees-Davies, W. R.
Foster, Sir John Lambton, Viscount Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Langford-Holt, Sir John Ridsdale, Julian
Gibson-Watt, David Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Glover, Sir Douglas Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Roots, William
Glyn, Sir Richard Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Royle, Anthony
Goodhart, Philip Longden, Gilbert Russell, Sir Ronald
Goodhew, Victor Loveys, W. H. St. John-Stevas, Norman
Gower, Raymond McAdden, Sir Stephen Scott, Nicholas
Grant, Anthony MacArthur, Ian Sharples, Richard
Grant-Ferris, R. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Gresham Cooke, R. Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Sinclair, Sir George
Grieve, Percy McMaster, Stanley Smith, John
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Stainton, Keith
Gurden, Harold Maddan, Martin Stodart, Anthony
Hall, John (Wycombe) Maginnis, John E. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Marten, Neil Summers, Sir Spencer
Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh) Maude, Angus Talbot, John E.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mawby, Ray Tapsell, Peter
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Harris, Reader (Heston) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Miscampbell Norman Teeling, Sir William
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Temple, John M.
Harvie Anderson, Miss Monro, Hector Tilney, John
Hastings, Stephen Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Hawkins, Paul Morrison, Charles (Devizes) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vickers, Dame Joan
Heseltine, Michael Murton, Oscar Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Higgins, Terence L. Nabarro, Sir Gerald Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hiley, Joseph Neave, Airey Wall, Patrick
Hill, J. E. B. Nicholls, Sir Harmar Watters, Dennis
Hirst, Geoffrey Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Weatherill, Bernard
Hudson, Rt. Hn. Sir John Nott, John Wells, John (Maldstone)
Holland, Philip Onslow, Cranley Whitelaw, William
Hordern, Peter Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Hornby, Richard Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Howell, David (Guildford) Osborn, John (Hallam) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Hunt, John Page, Graham (Crosby) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Hutchison, Michael Clark Page John (Harrow, W.) Woodnutt, Mark
Iremonger, T. L. Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Worsley, Marcus
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Percival Ian Wylie, N. R.
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Peyton, John Younger, Hn. George
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Pink, R. Bonner TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jopling, Michael Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Price, David (Eastleigh) Mr. R. W. Elliott and Mr. More.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.