§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, to leave out from 'shall' to 1968' in line 9 and to insert:'take place in 1967, 1969 and each third year after 1969'.
§ The Chairman
I think that it may be for the convenience of the Committee to discusss, at the same time, the following six Amendments:
Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, leave out from 'shall' to '1968' in line 9 and insert:
'take place in 1967, 1971 and each third year after 1971'.
§ Amendment No. 4, in line 9, leave out from '1968' to end of line 12.
§ Amendment No. 5, in line 13, leave out subsection (2).
§ Amendment No. 7, in line 19, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment No. 8, in line 21, leave out from second 'each' to end of line 23 and insert:
'take place in the same year as the elections and retirements of councillors'.
and Amendment No. 9, in line 24, leave out subsection (4).
§ I should point out that there is a verbal inaccuracy in Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I think that they are intended to read "… leave out from 'shall' to 'and'…"instead of"… to '1968' in line 9 …"and with the consent of the Committee I propose so to interpret the Amendment.
§ Mr. Macleod
Yes, Sir Eric. It is in no spirit of controversy that I start this Committee stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am on a rather different point —by observing that it is something of a euphemism to say that "it may be for the convenience of the Committee" to take together seven of the most important Amendments on what we regard as a very 219 bad Bill. I am sure that it is for the convenience of the Government, but then it would obviously be for their convenience if we did not have a Committee stage at all. The view of the Opposition is that we should debate many of these matters separately, and we hope that we can at least divide separately when we come to the time for that.
§ The Chairman
On that point, I should perhaps have added that it will be open to the Committee if it so desires to have a Division on any of the Amendments. With regard to the right hon Gentleman's other point, I should observe that a number of the Amendments which I have suggested should be considered with Amendment No. 1 are, in fact, consequential upon it.
§ Mr. Macleod
With respect, Sir Eric, some of them are. But the decision is, in any case, for the Chair. I am merely pointing out that the conventional phrase "it may be for the convenience of the Committee" is, perhaps, not particularly appropriate at this stage.
We come to the Committee stage from the somewhat rougher waters of Second Reading, where, to adapt a phrase about a different activity, one has only one speech and a limited number of interventions. In Committee one may usually, subject to the rules of order and the Chair, and subject always to the activities of the Government Chief Whip, make as many speeches as one chooses, unless Amendment No. 1, which is the key Amendment, is to be accepted, in which case we could save many hours of debate.
I shall address myself mainly to Amendment No. 1, which is really in two parts. The first and most important part says that the elections for the London borough councils should take place next year. There is now overwhelming evidence that the whole Bill is founded on the complete and general misconception that in 1967 the elections to the Greater London Council and the London boroughs would have been on the same date, whereas of course, the real situation is that the elections to the G.L.C. would have been on 13th April and those to the London boroughs a month later, on 11th May. That is a very different proposition.
To illustrate my observation that the whole Bill is founded on a misconception 220 I should like to read to the House how the B.B.C. reported this matter the morning after Second Reading, at 7 a.m. on the Home Service:Now, elections in London. As things stand at present, if you live in one of the London boroughs, you could find yourself going to the polls twice on the same day next Spring. Once, to elect your local representative on the G.L.C. and a second time to elect the councillors in your own borough. But now it seems unlikely that you will have to face this problem because in the Commons last night the Government had a majority of 111 when the London Government Bill got a Second Reading.The nice, kind Government say that they have prevented us from going to the polls on the same day, which we would not have had to do, and voted separately on the same day, which of course, again, we would not have had to do.
It seems incredible that that sort of report should go out from the B.B.C. I am told that a correction was made two days later, but it shows that the view that elections next year were to be on the same day is fairly widely held outside the House.
On Second Reading, I ullustrated the point which I then made by reference to what had been said by Councillor Tom Newson, Chairman of Ealing Education Committee, in December, 196. I have here the report in the Middlesex County Times, quoting Councillor Newson's words, the very first words said, as far as we know, about this proposition. This is what he said, reported in the Middlesex County Times of 10th December, 1965:Personally, I think it is wrong to hold the London Borough and the Greater London Council elections on the same day in 1967, as the London Government Act says. I hope people will see the light of day, and separate them.Councillor Newson, like the B.B.C., was mistaken. No doubt, he was genuinely mistaken, but mistaken he was.
I come next to that famous programme which the Committee will expect me to refer to, the David Frost programme, of which I have a transcript here. I shall not read all of it because, if I may say so to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) and to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), it gets a bit repetitive.
§ Mr. Macleod
No doubt, but I shall make some quotations from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bermondsey. He said:In London, we should have had a situation where in fact the Greater London Council and the Borough elections were all held on the same day, and this would have meant that the electors of London, about 8 million of them, would in fact have gone in and faced ballot papers with masses of names on them, which is absolutely ludicrous.A little later the hon. Gentleman said:First of all, as I understand the Act—I have read the Home Secretary's speech very carefully—the Home Secretary said that with the Bill as it is now active, the elections are on the same day".Finally, he said:I am telling you, Quintin, that the Home Secretary in the presentation of this Bill argued that in fact the Bill had to be changed in the form we did it because of the very reasons I have given, that the elections were on the same day.The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bermondsey will recognise on this issue he was wrong. He is Chairman of the London Labour Party and of the coordinating committee of the London Labour Party. On Second Reading, I called him—I believe that it is a correct verdict, and I do not use the words at all opprobriously—the true victor and the true author of the Bill. I say at once, as I made clear to him, that I do not suggest from that that he, in his personal capacity, made any approach to the Home Secretary about it. Of course not. The action he took is one which it is perfectly reasonable for him, given his somewhat misguided politics, to take in the capacities which he held.
The Committee will note that for the third time we have someone, now the hon. Member for Bermondsey, who is an important figure in this matter, genuinely believing a mistake. It is beginning to strain the intellect a little, but we must once more accept that it is genuinely true that the hon. Gentleman thought that the elections would be on the same day. It goes one stage further, in fact, because the hon. Gentleman will recall that councillors from my own Borough of Enfield were asked later in that programme why they had voted for the change, and they said, "Because we were told that the elections would be on the same day".
222 This begins to become very interesting. The same phrase is used by someone else deeply connected with the matter. In his letter to The Times of 26th October, Councillor Prichard, Chairman of the London Boroughs Association, said:The provision in the London Government Act of 1963 that elections for the London borough councils and the Greater London Council should be held on the same day would have involved a very heavy burden for administrative staffs and confusion for electors.This matter is of first importance because, if I am right, the whole Bill is genuinely based on a misconception which can be put right only by acceptance of the Amendment. I wish to make clear that I believe that all these people were genuinely mistaken. But we now know that the Chairman of the London Labour Party was mistaken. We know that the Chairman of the London Labour Party co-ordinating committee—it is the same person—was mistaken. The Chairman of the London Boroughs Association used the same phrase in his letter to The Times.
We know that the council in the most marginal of all boroughs, my own council, took its decision on what is an entirely false premise. We know that the very first speech made by Councillor Newson, in December last year, was based entirely on misapprehension.
Thus, in every case, the Bill has been presented, to the point of being put to the Home Secretary and so to the House, on a view and analysis which, in the light of what I have put to this Committee during the last few minutes, simply cannot be sustained. It follows, therefore, that the Bill is not a Bill with which we can proceed unless something very similar to the Amendment which I am proposing is accepted.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that I presented the Bill on a false premise on Second Reading? I made it perfectly clear, and I was never in any doubt about what the position was.
§ Mr. Macleod
I wonder. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I shall read from HANSARD. Referring to the speech of the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said:… the right hon. Gentleman then introduced this Bill, under which the elections are 223 to be held in separate years. He then dealt with the argument about whether the elections should be held in different months of the same year. He put forward for saying that they should not be held in different months in the same year his case against having them on the same day. He did this so brilliantly that by the time he had finished speaking everyone accepted his argument for not having elections on the same day as an argument for not having them in the same year, and on this I compliment the right hon. Gentleman."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 277.]Perhaps the Home Secretary's speech was not as crystal clear as the likes to think. It certainly misled not only the B.B.C., but also his hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, as the transcripts I have read clearly show.
Finally on this point, I cannot resist quoting from a document from the Conservative Central Office dated 14th December, 1965. I said on Second Reading that the intelligence of Central Office would be proved to be more lively than that of the Home Office. This is what was said:It is considered that the London Labour Party did not fully realise that the election dates would be in separate months, and that the 'relevant year of election' in the Act would not be until after the overhaul of constituencies, that is, in 1970".The Home Secretary is satisfied that his own speech was clear, and I am bound to say that I was not in any doubt about the situation. I am quite prepared to concede that, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes, but the other evidence is clear, too. One of my hon. Friends found the right hon. Gentleman's argument brilliantly confusing, to paraphrase the quotation I have read, and it is plain, also, that on several occasions the hon. Member for Bermondsey said that he had read the speech and had come to the conclusion that the elections were to be on the same day.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
This is what I said on Second Reading:If we accept, as I hope the House will, that the case against having elections in successive months of the same year is a very strong one, it remains to be decided whether the change to hold them in sucessive years should be made now, that is, before the elections otherwise due to be held for Greater London in April 1967, and for the boroughs in May 1967, or whether we should wait until 1970 when the next set of elections would fall due."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 236–7.]224 I fail to see how I could possibly have made it clearer than that.
§ Mr. Macleod
Very well. Then will the right hon. Gentleman explain how, after he had made it so crystal clear, his hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, who is a very intelligent man, read that speech and still could not find the nice distinction which the right hon. Gentleman has made?
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
The right hon. Gentleman must not try to get away with that. He said earlier that, in his view, I had not made the position clear. I told him that I was not in any doubt and I had made it clear. He said, "I wonder". I do not know what he meant by that, but it was clearly intended to have certain undertones. I have now given him a quotation which is absolutely clear from my speech on Second Reading. It is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to go on in that way and to mislead the House by quoting what someone else said. He should withdraw.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
May I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend and of the Home Secretary another passage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech? He said:We have to recognise that electors, in practice, already find it difficult to distinguish between the large number of candidates listed on the local election ballot papers, and it is important not to increase this difficulty by presenting each elector, on the same occasion, with not one but two ballot papers, one of them involving a multiple choice and the other involving a choice between several candidates for a single seat."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 234.]How can the Home Secretary say that that did not carry the plain implication that he was talking about two elections on the same day?
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
Surely the hon. Member and the right hon. Member would be capable of understanding that one can take an argument in a series of stages? In my Second Reading speech I applied myself first to the argument as to what the long-term position should be, and then, if we decided that a change should be made in the long-term position, whether we should make it in 1967 or in 1970.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
If I may intervene in my own speech for a moment, the 225 Home Secretary really must not start bleating like a wounded sheep because he is attacked. The point is perfectly clear. I said—and he will find this in HANSARD—that I found what he said to he satisfactory. Is that all right?
But it remains a fact, does it not, that the Minister—and his Government colleagues, sitting not very far away from him, NOD are deeply concerned with this matter—did not come to that conclusion. It also remains a fact that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hornsey did not come to that conclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) cut in with the next sentence that I was about to make in my speech. He read out the report of what the Home Secretary said, which showed that, if I may coin a phrase, he was really too clever by half in his argument to the House.
Proceeding on this amiable note to the next point in my argument, there is, in fact, a formidable case, which the Committee should not ignore, for having these two great elections on the same day. I am not talking about separating them by months or years, but about the original date in 1970 as it would be if we let the Bill remain as it is. This did not just happen by accident. It was considered by the Royal Commission, and its argument for not having a Bill, such as the one before the Committee was based on the Home Secretary's comments.
I am referring to the Royal Commismission of 1957 to 1960, which said:We believe it would be possible and, if so, we think it very desirable that elections for the Council.…that is, the L.C.C.—… and elections for the Greater London London borough Councils should be held simultaneously so that at one and the same polling booth at one and the same time an elector votes on a Parliamentary constituency basis for one member of the council for Greater London and on a ward basis for his own Borough councillors as at present.It seems to us that this would bring about a very desirable measure of simplification and would help Londoners to understand better the types of council for which they are voting and the functions of the councils to which the candidates are seeking election.There is very strong and reasonable evidence, not only for not having this Bill, but also for not having this Amendment, and for allowing 1963 to take its 226 own course in conjunction with the 1963 Act.
If I may say so, the Minister of Defence for the Army—I think that the Minister of State, Home Office, misheard a hurried reference that I made in my Second Reading speech and thought that I meant the Secretary of State, whereas I meant the Minister of State for the Army, who is an alderman—was reported in the Acton Gazette of 15th December, 1965 as saying:A two-in-one election day for Ealing in 1967 gets the blessing of Alderman Gerry Reynolds, M.P. I don't know what all the fuss is about.… Many authorities throughout the country have held two elections on the same day for many years.It then explains what would be entailed by having the G.L.C. and borough elections in Ealing on the same day. He speaks about the candidates' names for the G.L.C. election and the report goes on:Alderman Reynolds favours the idea of the two elections on the one day.In the past, the Middlesex County Council elections have always had a lower electorate than the local elections. Here's the chance of getting more people to vote for the G.L.C. at the same time as they elect their local councillors.So, against all this, what is the Home Secretary able to put? I have shown that the Royal Commission is on my side—or, in a sense, is against us both because the Royal Commission would not want either the Bill or the Amendment. The Royal Commission is certainly against the proposal enshrined in the Bill. I have shown the Home Secretary that a member of his own Government, arguing, of course, in his capacity as an alderman, was in favour of that. I have shown him the evidence, which I think stands up, that there is, to put it at its mildest, overwhelming ignorance about the question of the date.
The Home Secretary must agree that the evidence I have adduced to the House is formidable, going from the B.B.C., through the Frost programme, to the original statement back in December, 1965. Against this, the Home Secretary produces what he calls a narrow balance of argument that a town clerk will find it marginally more convenient to have the elections in separite years. I am bound to say that I find this a very curious argument to put before the House 227 of Commons, particularly at rather a late stage. This was not referred to in the answers which the Home Secretary gave, mainly to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), earlier this year.
I have a Written Question on the Order Paper for today, which, no doubt, the Home Secretary will answer in due course. The point seems to be so important that perhaps I should let the Committee know for what information I am asking. I am asking the Secretary of State for the Home Departmentwhen and by whom under his general authority a working party of town clerks of London boroughs was appointed to consider the question of elections under the London Government Act 1963; when and to whom it reported; which town clerks were members of the working party; and whether he will make copies of their report available to hon. Members.Perhaps the Home Secretary will deal with this point. A copy may be in the Library, but I do not know of it. We really cannot judge the strength of the Home Secretary's case from his Second Reading speech alone. We must see the evidence on which it is based, and the evidence on which it is based is the report of the town clerks, in connection with which he said quite frankly that they felt that at best it was a marginal advantage.
I should like to know—and this is why I should like the terms of reference of this working party—at what point in time they were invited to address their minds? In other words, were they invited to address their minds to the complication which would arise in 1970 if the 1963 Act were allowed to roll on unchecked, or to the complications, which most people think wholly imaginary, which would arise in 1967 if one election were held on 13th April and the other on 11th May?
It is of the first importance that we should know exactly to what point this inquiry by the town clerks was addressed. We should have this information in full at the earliest moment. I am not complaining about what is an important Question on the Order Paper for today. I am merely indicating the importance that we on this side of the Committee have to give to it, the importance to seeing this report in full, and, in turn, the 228 importance that the Home Secretary gave to it when he spoke.
I must repeat the point I made on Second Reading, that this honourable House is not concerned in the last resort with the administrative functions of returning officers, for whom no doubt—as I said in another context it would be convenient for the Government not to have a Committee stage—it would be convenient not to have any elections.
The point which concerns us is whether we are protecting the right of the electorate, who have been expecting, and will expect until the moment that this Bill receives the Royal Assent, the right to vote next year on matters which are, of course, of the gravest and greatest concern to them.
In my view, the Home Secretary simply cannot make out a case. He has based his case against this Amendment —not directly, but for the Bill, which comes to much the same thing—on low polls. I think that we shot down that argument on Second Reading and I do not want to go over the figures again. There is nothing in the Home Secretary's case or, even at best, a less than 1 per cent. margin comparing like with like, and it is inconceivable that we should base a Bill with such profound consequences upon such a slender foundation.
The precedents, as far as they are relevant—though here, of course, there are no changes in boundaries at all—are in favour of our arguments; that is to say, the Chuter Ede precedent is wholly on our side and would operate in almost exactly the way we suggest. The first part of my argument, therefore, is that next year should see the start of the elections; and I will deal with the second part much more quickly, as I think that the first part is a good deal the more important.
The second part of the argument is: if we decide to stagger elections, how are we to do it? One way, which we cannot discuss until we come to Clause 2, would be not to stagger the London borough elections, but to stagger the Greater London Council elections. That way has some attractions to some people, but I do not think that it would be in order for me to argue it now.
If, then, we are to be confined by Clause 1 to the London borough councils, 229 two methods face us. One is the way outlined in the names of my right hon. Friends and myself in Amendment No. 1, and the other, as is suggested in an Amendment in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) and others of my hon. Friends, is to have a four-year interval. I must make it clear that in both cases elections would take place next year, but in the case I am primarily arguing they would take place, after 1967, in 1969, and then each third year after 1969, while my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley goes for 1967, 1971 and each third year after that.
There are respectable arguments for having a four-year period—and I need not develop them as no doubt my hon. Friends will do so—not for extending, which is the Government proposal, the present period up to four years, but extending the next period to four years. My hon. Friend would then seek to do, with a mandate and openly, what the Government at present seek to do without mandate and furtively. On balance, though, for reasons that I shall summarise briefly, I prefer the first proposition of two years, though we would wish to vote also on the four-year Amendment.
The reasons are three. First of all, if we are to play about with the time-table —and this seems to be the result either of the Bill or of the Amendments, so we must take it as the basis for discussion—it is better, on balance, to bring the election nearer than to push it further away. If, after 1967, we have an election in 1969, obviously that is an advantage; that brings the elections nearer to the annual than to the triennial, which was the subject of another Amendment which has been withdrawn and Amendment No. 30 substituted, which is starred and therefore not selected at this stage.
The second reason is that if either side is at all sensitive to the charge of gerrymandering—an issue on which the Home Secretary showed himself remarkably sensitive at the end of his Second Reading speech, even going so far as to say, with small pedantic philology, that what he was doing was not, in the strict sense of the word, gerrymandering. I suppose it depends on how one defines that particular word. I personally think that gerrymandering is not confined to playing around with constitutions or bound 230 aries, but that one can do it equally by playing around with time. Governor Gerry of Massachusetts would call the right hon. Gentleman "brother" if he could see what he was putting before the Committee—
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Oxford Dictionary the definition of gerrymandering is to manipulate in order to gain an unfair advantage?
§ Mr. Macleod
Yes. I looked it up about an hour ago. I got Governor Gerry of Massachusetts in exactly the same place.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)
On that definition, surely one of the greatest examples is the London Government Act.
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not think so. The Minister of State ought to have read, for example, the evidence presented by the London Boroughs Association, to which I shall probably return later, saying how marvellous everything in the garden now is—and I am paraphrasing somewhat roughly—as a result of the 1963 Act, and that it is so much better than before. If we are sensitive to this charge, clearly for the House as a whole the less time we are subjected to it the better, and the earlier we can get on a three-year basis the better.
Thirdly, if one is doing something unusual, it is clearly better to do it for a shorter than for a longer period.
Let me now summarise the case. We make no bones about our genuine belief that this is a squalid Bill. We think that we know a good deal about its origins, and the origins are frankly and plainly political. We hope to be able, during this Committee stage, and without the intervention of the Government Chief Whip, to develop some of the points I have outlined on this Amendment, which is the most important of a number of very important Amendments indeed.
Though a large part of this debate may well be conducted by London hon. Members, what is at stake is the very much wider interest outside London. If this can be done in London, there is no reason why it could not be done in other parts of the country, or why it could not 231 be done to Parliament itself. Perhaps I can quote from the Home Secretary's concluding words on 4th August—I am sorry that he has gone from the Chamber, but no doubt there is a good reason —when he said:In considering the representations from London boroughs, I have to take into account the fact that the electorate of London boroughs have, in their wisdom, given very large majorities to Labour representatives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1966; Vol. 733, c. 667.]If I may say so with respect, this is the very last thing the Home Secretary should take into account. It just shows what a deeply political Home Secretary we have when this consideration on this sort of issue weighs with him. With respect, it should not weigh.
It is absolutely unimportant, or should be, in the Home Secretary's mind, that this is something that has been recommended to him by the London Labour boroughs as a whole, with one or two exceptions, and opposed by the London Conservative boroughs as a whole, with one or two exceptions. If that were the case a very similar argument could apply to Parliament on the basis of the majority which the electorate thought fit to give in March to hon. Members opposite—
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account what Conservative feeling was when the London Government Bill, 1963, was passed?
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to follow up that point, because I do not see the relevance of his interruption. Would he like to take it up again?
§ Mr. Weitzman
The right hon. Gentleman talked about taking into account what Labour feeling was, but what happened in 1963, when his party took into account Conservative feeling and refused to take into account all Labour feeling?
§ Mr. Macleod
The shortest of many answers to that question is that the London Government Bill, 1963, was based directly on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, while this Bill 232 goes 100 per cent. against the advice of that same Royal Commission.
§ Miss Bacon
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what happened about Surrey, in respect of which the Government of the day decided against the recommendations of the Royal Commission because of pressure from his own party?
§ Mr. Macleod
But if the right hon. Lady recalls what she has just said, she will realise that she is supporting my point of view. I was Leader of the House and Chairman of the Conservative Party at the time. The fact that we took out parts of Surrey and other outlying counties was a disadvantage to our side in the elections. It proves exactly the point I am now making—that these are not matters which should be judged, as this one is apparently being judged, wholly on a basis of political expediency.
Unless these Amendments are carried, people in the whole of the Greater London area will have no opportunity to vote in London borough elections for or against the councillors of their choice. There are particular arguments to which we shall return later—for example, comprehensive schools in the boroughs which are education authorities outside the Inner London Education Authority. If the Home Secretary, the Minister of State, and everyone else opposite really believe in schemes of comprehensive education, or housing, or whatever it may be, if they believe that right, as it were, is on their side in these cases, they should put it to the test of the ballot box. That is all we ask.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I have listened carefully to the speech of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), and I was particularly interested in his reference to expediency. It does not lie in his mouth to make such an accusation when one remembers that the motive behind the London Government Act, 1963, was expediency. The Act was wholly motivated by political expediency. It was hoped directly as a result that the Conservative Party would gain control of London. I am glad to say that it did not. We opposed that Act very strongly because of its motive.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that 233 the Act was based on the Royal Commission Report. That Commission contained a number of Labour supporters, including the greatest expert on local government in this country, Professor Robson. What price the hon. and learned Gentleman's charge of political motivation?
§ Mr. Weitzman
The Act followed some of the recommendations, but its whole essence was political expediency and nothing else. If the hon. Gentleman had been present in the House at the time and had followed the debates, studying the views put forward by us when we were in opposition, he could be in no doubt about the motive behind the Act. I do not think that anyone doubts that the Act was motivated by political expediency.
It lies ill in the mouth of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West to put his Amendment on the basis of accusing the Government of political expediency with this Bill. The only reason that I can think of for the Opposition putting forward that argument is that they themselves think so much of political expediency that they cannot for one moment consider that the Bill has been introduced as a genuine move of administrative necessity.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris(Croydon, North-West)rose—
§ Mr. Weitzman
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but there will be opportunities at later stages for him to put forward any case there may be against what I have said.
§ Mr. Harris
Will not the hon. and learned Gentleman give way on this point? He will recall that many of my hon. Friends and I opposed the London Government Act very strongly. Yet not a single Member of the party opposite is opposing this Bill. Does that not make nonsense of what he has said?
§ Mr. Weitzman
No hon. Member on this side of the Committee is opposing the Bill, because a strong case may be made out on grounds of administrative need and of putting the matter upon a proper basis. I propose to prove that that is so. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West made great play of the fact that certain statements were made about elections being held on the same day. He should read the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill. If anyone has any such mis- 234 conceptions he has only to do that. It is all very well accusing someone of having made a statement, but let us look at the Explanatory Memorandum, which states:Clause 2 makes provision for the date of ordinary elections to the Greater London Council (which under the London Government Act 1963 were ultimately to be combined with the London borough council elections).It was clear to everyone that, as the position stood, if there was no alteration, the elections for the G.L.C. would take place in April and the elections for the borough councils would take place within a month and that if the provisions of the Act stood the 1970 elections would be on the same day. There was, therefore, every right for chairmen of committees and members of the councils to talk about what would happen when the elections took place on the same day, as they would do in 1970.
What is the position? If, under the Act, we were to have G.L.C. elections in April 1967, followed a month later by elections for the borough councils, there was a real practical difficulty from the administrative point of view. It is not only the question of town clerks and their difficulties—and I assure the Committee that these would have been genuine, and I see no reason why this Committee should not have regard to them. There is a further factor.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West may not know much about the Greater London Council or the borough council elections. I do not know whether he has any experience of them. But surely he will recognise the position. If a G.L.C. election were held in April 1967, with a long list of candidates on the ballot paper, with all the organisation required—which applies to the Conservative Party as much as to the Labour and Liberal Parties— and then, a month later, in the same borough, another election for the local council had to be held, we should be throwing a very great burden on the electors and it is wrong to do so.
§ Mr. Worsley rose—
§ Mr. Weitzman
May I continue for a few moments?
We have had many elections in the last two or three years following upon one another and it would be a great imposition on the electors if, within a 235 month of one election, another followed. It would entail great hardship and expense. This is not a party matter. It is not a question of saying that this is confined only to the Labour Party. It affects both sides, for both would suffer hardship which should be avoided.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Explanatory Memorandum as making clear the position, which was not so clear to the Chairman of the London Labour Party. Can he point to the sentence in the Memorandum which says that the London borough elections for 1967 were going to be in May, 1967, and not in April, 1967?
§ Mr. Weitzman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman heard my reference. I made it clear that the reference to Clause 2 referred to elections being held upon the same day in 1970. That is clear.
§ Mr. Weitzman
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at it the words within the brackets are:…(which under the London Government Act 1963 were ultimately to be combined with the London borough council elections).
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has considerable ability, and I am sure that he is able to read the Bill and to understand what it means. I do not doubt for a moment that as a Member of the House of Commons the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows exactly what is meant. I was pointing out the fallacy of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, who was suggesting that we need not bother about having elections on the same date. The whole difficulty has arisen because there were to be elections on the same date in 1970. Anyone can understand from reading the Explanatory Memorandum that that did not apply to 1967. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has diverted me from my argument about the elections in 1967.
236 These elections, for the Greater London Council in April and for the borough councils in May, were to be separated by four weeks. If the matter had remained there, great hardship would have been imposed on the electors. I appreciate that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West has very little regard for town clerks or returning officers. I appreciate that his argument is that we need not take much notice of them and that they do not matter and that they are only the administrative machinery. However, we have to have regard for the electors. They are the people who matter. It is no good grinning about it, and it is no good the right hon. Member shaking his head about it.
The people who matter most are the electors, and one of our main considerations should be how they will be affected. I challenge the right hon. Member to deny that if there is an election for the Greater London Council in April next year, followed a month later by borough council elections, great hardship will be placed on the electors. I have had representations from many members of my own party about the difficulty which would arise in my constituency if the matter remained there, and I therefore welcome the change which has been made in that direction.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
As the hon. and learned Member is so concerned about the rights of the electors, does he consider it right that they should be denied the opportunity of voting about the future education of their children before it is fixed by the boroughs concerned?
§ Mr. Weitzman
I know the phoney argument which is put from the other side of the Committee. The electors will have the opportunity of dealing with the matter at the proper time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good hon. Members opposite interrupting in that way. I shall make my case and if they do not like it, they need not. I do not like many of their arguments, but at least they give me the opportunity of speaking.
The main argument here is concern for the electors. I say that it would be imposing a grave burden on the electors if there were an arrangement whereby a month elapsed between the date of the election for the Greater London 237 Council and that of the borough council elections. Administratively what is now proposed is a sensible arrangement. Moreover, it tidies up the matter in a proper way, because thereafter—
§ Mr. Hogg
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman again. As he is aware, this Parliament will terminate on 31st March, unless there is a prior dissolution. Does he consider that the double burden on the elector; at that time, with the local elections, will be a good argument for postponing a General Election of Parliament?
§ Mr. Weitzman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that although Parliament will have to terminate by 31st March, a Parliament never goes its full time of five years. With all respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that was an absurd argument which was merely trying to draw a red herring. It reminded me of one of those rollicking speeches which one sometimes hears at the Old Bailey.
I have made the argument about the administrative arrangements for 1967. But the Bill also tidies up the matter by laying down specifically a period of three years for the election of the Greater London Council and the election of the borough councils. My own view is that the Amendment is put forward in the wrong spirit. It is simply confirmation of the sort of suspicious attitude to which I referred on Second Reading. This is an administrative Bill on sound lines which tidies up the position, and I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)
It gives me great pleasure to support the Amendment and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). As has been readily conceded, we on this side of the Committee accept the argument that there is a case for holding the G.L.C. and borough council elections in different years. The fundamental difference between us, which has emerged today as it did on Second Reading, is that we believe that this desirable separation of election dates can best be achieved by altering the terms for which borough councils are elected next year rather than by tampering with the existing law now. 238 These Amendments offer a way out for the Government in what has obviously become a very embarrassing situation for them.
It was quite clear during Second Reading that the Home Secretary had come along with very little knowledge or appreciation of the facts or of the motives behind this particularly squalid Bill. The draft of the Bill was one of his inheritances at the Home Office, and it appears that amid all his other preoccupations—gaol escapes, police pay and the increase in crimes of violence—he has not devoted sufficient attention to the very dubious parentage of the Bill. At the time of Second Reading, it could be pleaded that the Home Secretary just did not know, but that excuse is valid no longer because, as a result of the devastating exposure by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, the Home Secretary must be all too painfully aware of the sordid political pressures which have been brought to bear in this matter.
Today, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front bench have their last chance to withdraw from this squalid manoeuvre with dignity and honour. Let them have the courage to support and accept these Amendments, when all our suspicions of skulduggery at the Home Office will be forgotten. If the right hon. Gentleman refuses to accept these Amendments, our worst fears will have been confirmed and we on this side of the Committee from then onwards will lose no opportunity of exposing this example of political sharp practice and of alerting the electors of Greater London to what we believe to be this gross subversion of their democratic rights.
Admittedly, if the Amendment were to be accepted, the G.L.C. and borough council elections would be held in the same year, although not, as has been stressed, on the same day, just once more. What is the objection to that? In my own borough of Bromley until recently we used to work under the system of annual borough council elections and so inevitably once every three years those elections clashed with the elections for the Kent County Council. But the elections were always a month or so apart, as they were to have been in the Greater London area next year, and there was rarely any confusion or difficulty.
239 What an extraordinary thing it is that amid all the stormy debates on the London Government Act three years ago, in which the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North told us he played such a leading and notable part, this specific point about the clash of election dates which seems to assume so much importance in the minds of hon. Members opposite was not mentioned once. What has suddenly happened to arouse the interest of hon. Members opposite on this point?
I suppose that one hon. Member who might give us a clue on this new-found enthusiasm for a change of date is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who was with us earlier but has now left the Committee. I hope that he will be prevailed upon later to take part in our discussions, because I am sure he has unique inside knowledge of what has been going on which he should, in fairness, reveal to the Committee. I hope that he will return to the Chamber, and, provided he can keep his temper and get his facts right, I am sure that we shall welcome him to the debate. We shall all be fascinated to hear from him a full and frank revelation of the exact rôle of the London Labour Party in this mysterious affair and to know the secret of the immense power which he appears to wield in the corridors of power in the Home Office.
As I said on Second Reading—and I urge hon. Members opposite to take this point very seriously—there is a vital principle at stake. We say, and I am sure that we are right, that having elected a council for a fixed statutory period it is immoral and indefensible to extend that period arbitrarily without any further reference to the people most vitally concerned, the electors themselves. I therefore maintain that the only honest and honourable thing for the Government to do is to climb down, to admit their error, to accept the Amendment and to allow the election to take place next year as originally planned, and then to vary the terms in advance for future elections in the way suggested by the Amendments. There would then be no breach of faith with the electors, there could be no allegations of sharp practice or fiddle, and the proud principles of local democracy 240 in Britain would have triumphed over the sinister schemings of the London Labour Party.
We beg the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late stage, to reconsider his approach. If he persists in his intentions, I believe that he will have brought disgrace to the party which he represents and shame to the very high office which he holds.
§ Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)
I wish to address the Committee on the first Amendment. I am not entirely convinced that the case for an alteration in the provisions of the London Government Act, 1963, has been proved, but the House of Commons gave a Second Reading to this Bill and, therefore, we should proceed on that basis.
The fundamental point is, and should be, whether we should lightly, or at all, grant an extension of the period of office of an existing elected body. Surely the Committee must require the strongest possible reasons for doing that. On the contrary, hon. Members have a very strong feeling—indeed, it is more of a suspicion—that this amounts to a blatant holding on to power. In the speeches made on Second Reading, particularly in the rather unhappy little speech of the Home Secretary, the only valid reason which it seemed to me was adduced was the report of the little group of returning officers, and, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, my recollection is that he had not found that wholly convincing.
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) says that his main concern is for electors. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have heard that one before."] I am a little apprehensive of that remark, because I was about to claim the same feeling for myself. It is accepted that the main concern of all of us should be for the electors. In that case, this is a most extraordinary step to take.
Consider the matters on which there is an overwhelming case for saying that the electors should have as early an opportunity as possible of expressing their views. One of them has been referred to—comprehensive education. But let us consider others. The basis of the London Government Act was that to the 241 G.L.C. went the wide and generally technical matters affecting the whole county, whereas matters concerning the personal services, in particular, were allotted to the boroughs, to the smaller units.
The Bill does not postpone the G.L.C. elections. It postpones the borough council elections, which are about matters which concern people in their everyday life.
§ Mr. Weitzmanrose——
§ Mr. Roots
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not very quick to allow interventions. I will give way to him later.
That is the first objective, that the idea is to hang on to power in the boroughs for as long as possible. I should think that that strikes the Committee as very wrong.
Let us consider the matters on which, on the lest put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, the electors should have power to express an opinion immediately. Take Lewisham, where I am informed that a committee has been set up comprised only of the majority party on the council. Surely that strikes the hon. and learned Member as most extraordinary. Why does the position of minorities in Africa seem to hon. Members to be of enormous importance, whereas the position of minority groups on a London borough council is apparently of no importance and not one on which the electorate should express an opinion? It is reported in the Press that the leader of one of the London borough councils became so pugnacious that on the directions of the mayor he had to be carried out of a meeting by the police. Why should not the electors of that borough express their views at an early date?
In the London borough of Camden the financial arrangements have been the subject of devastating criticism by a quite independent official. But again the opportunity is to be taken to stop the electors putting that right. On the very test which the hon. Gentleman has chosen, concern to the electors, does he really think that the electors of that borough—and one can think of other examples in other boroughs —are not going out to see the financial arrangements put straight, in the other borough to see that the council's meetings 242 are conducted with reasonable decorum, and in the third one to see that minority groups are not fiddled out of their proper consideration of affairs which directly affect those whom they represent?
There can be no doubt that the fundamental principle with which we are concerned—and the hon. Gentleman's speech drew attention to it—is that of ensuring that there is no rigging of elections. The mere fact that some returning officers have said—and not very decisively—that there may be some difficulty and inconvenience to them should surely not override the fundamental principle to which I have drawn attention?
If there were any serious difficulty, far the easiest step would have been to postpone the G.L.C. elections.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I wonder what the Opposition would have said if we had postponed the G.L.C. elections?
§ Mr. Roots
I have already said that I consider that the London Government Act of 1963 had not proved a failure, but the House has given this Bill a Second Reading, and if there is to be a change it would have been far easier to have put back the G.L.C. elections. The strongest reason would have been that it is not a body which is nearly so closely concerned as the borough councils are with the individual's rights and services.
The Home Secretary admitted that the arguments for and against postponement were very evenly balanced. When one gets these further factors, when one considers the devastating harm which will be done by postponing the elections, surely this must be the decisive factor, unless there is this gerrymandering to which we have had reference.
There is no reason of benefit to the electors. I have shown that the electors, certainly in those three boroughs, will suffer very materially. There are other boroughs in which the electors have the matter of education with which to deal. Boroughs in the inner London area, where my constituency is, are not local education authorities, but in the three London boroughs to which I have referred the matter at issue is a factor of family life on which they are entitled to express an opinion by their vote.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that if there is some difficulty 243 it would be proper to delay the G.L.C. elections? Is he saying that it would be correct for the Government to arrange for the borough council elections to take place in 1967 and for them to delay the G.L.C. elections for a year?
§ Mr. Roots
I have twice said just the opposite. If it really were a matter of the convenience of the returning officers, it would have been an easier choice to delay the G.L.C. elections. I am anxious that the elections should take place. I regard it as essential that they should take place next year and that the electorate should be able to express its opinion on these extremely important points.
There are these vital matters which I am convinced need to be ventilated in public. The formation of a policy committee and the exclusion of representatives of the public from meetings of the council is a terrible step in local government. It is a step on the very road which hon. Members on both sides decry so loudly. It is a terrible thing if minorities are swept aside, because this process simply goes on, and time and again one has seen articles in the Press suggesting that that kind of thought should be remedied at the earliest possible moment.
Continental countries are allowing their systems to become subject to rackets. There has been criticism of the Germans, and of others, and yet here, on our very doorstep, there are three examples of gross maladministration. If only on this ground, the Amendment should be accepted, because it is monstrous that the electorate should be refused the opportunity to vote in those three boroughs, and in all the others.
§ Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
Mr. Irving, I am always glad to see you in the Chair, but on this occasion I am rather sorry that the Chairman himself is not here, because he has deemed that these Amendments shall be taken together and, although I have no intention of debating his decision, I think that he has rather missed the sensitive nature of them. Like you, the Chairman is a London Member.
The Deputy Chairman
Order. I understand how the hon. and gallant 244 Member feels, but I am afraid that he cannot debate the selection.
§ Sir E. Bullus
As I was saying, Mr. Irving, like the Chairman, you are a London Member. Traditionally you are outside politics. It is possible that by virtue of the impartiality of your office you are not aware of the sensitive nature and the strong and bitter feelings of the people of London about the proposed postponement of these elections.
The Deputy Chairman
Order. I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for exonerating the Chairman and myself from any prejudice in the matter, but he still cannot debate the selection.
§ Sir E. Bullus
Mr. Irving, I am not debating the selection now, but you have made my speech for me, because you have referred to your own impartiality, and traditionally the House would be astounded if either you or the Chairman left the Chair to sit on the Government benches and to make a political speech on behalf of your constituents. It would be heinous, and the decision unilaterally to postpone the election is equally heinous.
There is much more than the postponement of the elections at issue here. As has been pointed out on many occasions, a vital principle is at stake. It is the right or otherwise of the majority power unilaterally to alter times or conditions of future elections. It is as simple as that. This is the principle at stake, whether a majority power should have this right unilaterally to decide conditions and times of future elections.
Let us follow that argument to its logical conclusion. If the present proposals are enacted, the precedent is established whereby the majority power could, if it so desired, make it well nigh impossible for any minority to come to power in future. You will see, Mr. Irving, that I am leading to the logical conclusion. It is possible that the rules of the game could be so altered that in future a minority would have no chance at all of acceeding to power.
Similarly, if we continue with these logical conclusions—I have made this suggestion before—it could be brought even to this House. One could imagine three of four years hence the Prime Minister saying, "Owing to the 245 dire condition of the country following four years of Labour rule, this is quite the wrong time for an election and I have decided with my Cabinet that we shall dispense with the General Election and lengthen the term of office of the existing Administration."
That is the logical conclusion. That could be done. It was done in the war —but by agreement. There is nothing that Parliament cannot do. Parliament is supreme. The only thing which Parliament cannot do is to bind a succeeding Government——
§ Mr. Albert Evans
Since the hon. and gallant Gentleman is being logical, he will surely agree that, in the event of the Prime Minister adopting the suggestion which he made, it would also be necessary for us to wind up the Conservative Party.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I find that rather irrelevant, but no doubt the hon. Member will develop his own point——
§ Sir E. Bullus
Similarly, the point has been made that the continuation of the life of the old London boroughs for 12 months was a precedent. But this was not postponement of an election, but merely the extension of an existing administration's life before it was deceased. That also was done by agreement. It was not postponement.
The case from the Government benches for elections for the Greater London Council in alternate years is a good one. I am the first to admit that. It is sensible and logical, and we could accept it, if the conditions were right. But this is not to say that it should be used as an excuse to interfere with the legitimate period for which the councils were elected when there is bitter opposition not only from these benches but throughout the Metropolis.
There is no hurry for this change, except to establish schemes of comprehensive education in the boroughs. It is obvious that that is the reason for the hurry. If we could do without that, we could agree that it is logical to have elections in alternate years. Then let us have an orderly, constitutional change, 246 by agreement. Otherwise, the Government must accept the charge as undisputed that they are changing, for party political purposes, not at the behest of the Home Secretary but at the direction of the London Labour Party——
§ Mr. Weitzman
If it is fundamentally wrong to interfere with the date of elections, why is it not equally wrong to interfere with the composition of the London County Council and the composition of the boroughs, as the previous Government did on the last occasion?
§ Sir E. Bullus
I do not think that that follows. The hon. and learned Member might want to develop that point later, but it is not relevant to my case. I am saying that a postponement agreed by all parties is very different from the imposition of a decision of the majority party to hold or postpone elections for its own party political ends——
§ Mr. Weitzman
The London Government Bill, with respect, was not agreed to by the Labour Party. It was opposed by the Labour Party here, but was pushed through by the Opposition, who were then the Government.
§ Sir E. Bullus
With respect, that is a matter of opinion. Those proposals were based on the decisions of a Royal Commission. Not everybody agreed with those decisions, and it is well-known that I did not agree with them——
§ Sir E. Bullus
Well, I voted against them. But that is not a parallel case. This is the postponement of elections by the majority party. I see no parallel between putting into effect the main proposals of a Royal Commission and the postponement of the elections by the majority party for its own party political ends.
I said, Mr. Irving, that I am always glad to see you in the Chair. Equally, I am always glad to see—I nearly said my hon. Friend—and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). He is well respected in the House, but there is no doubt about it—this is his decision. This has nothing to do with the Home Office. This is done by the London Labour Party, about which I know something. I was not the secretary of the London Municipal Society for many years without effect. I was there during the 1949 elections, 247 when, had my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) got 22 more votes in her constituency, the Tories would have gained power in the London County Council.
I know something about this, and I know the power with the Government of the London Labour Party. This has nothing to do with the Home Office——
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)rose——
§ Mr. Mellish
I would ask the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) to accept from me, as I have already indicated to his right hon Friend, that at no time has the London Labour Party discussed this matter, at no time have I written to the Home Secretary, at no time have I ever spoken to him on this matter. Would he please take it, therefore, from me that he must not get up and say that the London Labour Party has manoeuvred it, because it knows nothing about it?
§ Sir E. Bullus
One is bound to accept the assurance of such an honourable Gentleman as the hon. Member for Bermondsey, but perhaps I can switch to the Minister of State, Home Office, who made something of my case for me.
The right hon. Lady accuses me at various times of "smears". I assure her that I have no desire to smear anyone. However, I cannot understand why she made my case for me, when in the Second Reading debate on 15th November, she said:Let me go through carefully—this is important—the sequence of events, and what happened leading up to the Bill. The first letter which we had about this was from the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North, who wrote on 10th January, 1966 to my right hon. Friend.…The right hon. Lady then quoted from my letter:'I understand that the London Labour Party has approached you with proposals to change the date of the borough elections from 1967 to 1968. If this is so, may I lodge my complaint and that of my divisional Conservative Association. I would be grateful for a comment.'The right hon Lady went on to say that this letter was answered by her hon. 248 Friend who was then the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and is now Minister of State, Welsh Office, and quoted from his letter:'You wrote to the Home Secretary on 10th January about the suggested change in the year of the London borough elections from 1967 to 1968. The Home Office has received no proposals from the London Labour Party. I note that you would object to such a change.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November 1966; Vol. 736, c. 359–60.]And I continue to object, because it is perfectly evident that a year ago consideration of these proposals was taking place.
There should be no question. They did not come to me out of the blue. I did not just dream it up and write to the Home Secretary. It was being discussed. It was suggested already that the London Labour Party had approached the Home Office. I have to accept the denial of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. But I do not claim to have had great foresight in this matter, yet I wrote about it a year ago.
It would be wrong of me to say that I have no desire to detain the Committee. However, I intend to end my speech now, as I will have much more to say later on this iniquitous Bill. To sum up, I think that the factual misrepresentation by statements of elections on the same day calls for some recognition from the Government and an endeavour to meet our reasonable demands in a spirit of real contrition.
The Government should recognise that they are taking unilateral action which will set a dangerous constitutional precedent. If the administrative convenience of town clerks and returning officers is to be the sole criterion for the change, this could have been obtained by the Government accepting the Amendment. If the Amendment is not accepted, the conclusion—that the change is for party political ends—is obvious.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said that the electors of London, for whom he professed great concern, would be allowed to vote at what he called "the proper time". By "proper time" he plainly meant any time at which his party would not do remarkably badly, 249 and this Bill is designed to postpone the elections until "the proper time".
The hon. and learned Gentleman went on—and he seemed to be followed in this by the Minister of State—to draw a remarkable comparison between the Bill and the London Government Act. He seemed to be saying that it was every bit as wrong for a Government to bring in any local government reform which was opposed by the party in opposition as it was to gerrymander elections. I am sure that if the hon. and learned Gentleman reflects, he will realise that there would then be no local government reform at any time because there could never be unanimity on such matters. I should have thought that he would prefer to forget his party's behaviour in 1963, for while the Local Government Act is by no means perfect, it has made local government in London a great deal less obsolete than local government is elsewhere. We remember the churlish behaviour of the L.C.C., which at that time refused to allow its officials to testify before the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
Does my hon. Friend recall that when the Labour Party came to power they did not, despite their earlier opposition, try very much to alter the London Government Act?
§ Mr. Gilmour
That was one of the good things the Labour Party did. Indeed, in a number of ways hon. Gentlemen opposite have had a remarkable tendency to carry out Tory policy. We welcome this.
I am speaking not as a London Government Member but because the Bill raises wider questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said that the Bill was based on a misconception. It is really based on a double misconception, because the foundation on which the Clause is based—and which the Amendment seeks to alter—appeared in the Home Secretary's speech of 15th November, when he cited a report made by returning officers. That report was not published, so we do not know quite how ridiculous is was. On the face of it, it must have been particularly ridiculous, to him in view of his statement that:… there is great force in the argument—which has been put forward for example by the Greater London Council—that it might well 250 be difficult for the elector, aproached by a political party in which would often be a single election address, to distinguish his preference for one party for borough purposes from his possible different preference for another party for Greater London purposes.Earlier the right hon. Gentleman said:The working party drew attention to a number of difficulties …".…[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c.234.]and he enumerated them.
The Home Secretary is extremely interested in American politics and has great knowledge of them. I share his interest. He knows only too well what happens in America. He is aware that in many States at the same time American electors are voting, and returning officers carrying out elections, for a president, senator, congressman, state treasurer, judges, state assemblymen, state congressmen, mayor and a great many other officers and officials. Knowing this, how can the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that the electors of Greater London are unable to carry out an election on the same day for two sets of councillors? The right hon. Gentleman said that, on the basis of the report which has not been published, the returning officers would be unable to handle this apparently complicated process.
§ 5.15 p.m
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Leader of the Opposition has said that there is something to be said for desynchronising the London borough and G.L.C. elections?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I agree that there is something to be said for doing that, but by agreement. The argument put forward by the Home Secretary, on the other hand, is totally implausible, above all in view of the right hon. Gentleman's considerable knowledge of American politics and practices. It may be that some of the electors of Orpington would not be able to distinguish between two sets of elections, but that is not the case in a great many other council areas in London.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Another point nearer home is the fact that under the old method of electing councillors for the L.C.C. electors often had to choose from among perhaps six candidates from each party, meaning a list of 12 or 18 candidates. On the old basis of electing councillors to the L.C.C., 251 before the G.L.C. was formed, this often happened, and it happened to me when I stood for St. Pancras in 1954.
§ Mr. Gilmour
That is so, yet the Home Secretary was not worried about the possible stupidity of the electors next April but about their intelligence. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not reading a brief prepared by himself. I suggest that he found himself reading a lot of stuff which he knows, from his interest in and knowledge of the politics of other countries, does not bear serious examination.
The Home Secretary went on to speak about lower polls. It is true that the polls were low in 1964. Indeed, I had tabled a new Clause which you in your wisdom, Mr. Irving, have not called. Had it been called and accepted the Home Secretary would have been out of trouble and we would have had high polls. He would also have been able to bring forward a reforming Measure instead of this highly anti-reforming Measure.
If the right hon. Gentleman is worried about low polls, the right thing to do is to have the elections on the same day. He will recall the exciting election in New York last year for Mayor Lindsay, when there was an enormous ballot paper. It is difficult to work out the exact percentage poll on that occasion in New York. It was 96 per cent. of those registered, but the registration procedure there is very different from that operating in this country, and it is apparently impossible to find out the exact number of New York electors over 21 who are of voting age. By a rather specious means of calculation, I calculate, although I may be wrong, that nearly 60 per cent. of New York's electorate turned out. They did so because, first, they had individuals for whom to vote and, secondly, because the elections were on the same day and a considerable amount of excitement was built up. That being so, to recommend a Measure which separates elections, and at the same time, to complain of low polls, makes no sense at all, particularly to someone like the Home Secretary who understands American politics.
The Home Secretary was sensitive about the charge of gerrymandering. To someone like him it must indeed be very 252 disturbing to have had to introduce a Measure which combines all the worst features of American politics without, at the same time, introducing any of their advantages. To say by relying on a strict definition that this is not a gerrymandering Bill does not wash in these days of relativity and Einstein, for space and time are now very much the same. If we get the same result by altering the date as by altering the boundaries, it is gerrymandering.
In America, there is an even more modern form of gerrymandering. The Home Secretary will remember that in 1948 Mr. Lyndon Johnson became senator for Texas by a majority of 87 votes. He did that because in Duval County he polled the remarkable number of 4,622 votes and his opponent got 40. That is a much more modern gerrymandering performance than even the Home Secretary envisages, but at least the people in Duval County were allowed to vote, which is more than the electors in the London boroughs are to be allowed to do. It seems that the London Labour Party did not use the customary processes of consultation with the Home Secretary. The consultation was even more informal than usual.
We feel considerable sympathy for the Home Secretary in being landed with this most unpleasant foundling child. He is a reforming Home Secretary and we look forward to his doing great things. We feel sympathetic towards him because he has been landed with the Tammany Hall machinations of some of his colleagues, but by accepting this Amendment he now has an opportunity to undo some of the harm that the Bill could do.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who said that the whole purpose of the Bill was for the convenience of the electorate. We could agree that the convenience of the electorate is what we all seek, but how he reached that conclusion after reading the Home Secretary's speech is beyond me.
Unfortunately, I was away on Parliamentary business at the time of the Second Reading of the Bill which we are seeking to change. Coming back with, 253 I suppose, a slightly fresh mind, it has been illuminating to read the debate. I read that my hon. and right hon. Friends referred to the Home Secretary when bringing in the Bill as "innocent" and "naïve." I am not absolutely certain whether they meant that he was innocent or naïve in expecting us to accept the explanation he offered. If so, I think that the description of him was right.
I notice that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said that he was a front man for the London Labour Party who, as we know, are really responsible for putting forward this Measure. That suggested that he was innocent and naïve in accepting the Bill and that the reasons he put forward were not the actual reasons. I do not accept that. We have read recently that the Home Secretary is the best debater on his side of the House. I have even seen it stated that he is a possible heir apparent to the Prime Minister as leader of the Labour Party. That might well be so. When one reaches that position I do not think that he can be described as innocent or naïve in bringing forward a Bill such as this. I believe that he knows exactly what he is doing and I shall not accept any other explanation.
In his speech on Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman started by saying that the Bill was relatively non-controversial. How anybody could say that about a Bill dealing with an election is beyond me. If there is anything controversial, or likely to be controversial, it is an elction. Anything that is proposed to alter its date or to alter the boundaries of a ward or constituency is bound to lead to most violent controversy. So I find that statement most surprising.
The right hon. Gentleman described it as a simple Bill. In length of wording and layout it is quite simple, but a Bill does not end there. I suppose that it is a simple operation to cut off a man's head. He puts it on the block and there is one stroke of the axe and his head is cut off. That is a very simple operation, but the effects are very profound. There is no doubt that the effects of this Bill will be very profound. We all know of the extremely violent controversy about comprehensive schools and botched-up plans which are being introduced in some boroughs. If the 254 elections are delayed a year those plans will be consolidated and it will be very difficult to change them. There is also the housing problem. The effects will be very profound although in lay-out the Bill may be simple.
I find it difficult to see why the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North—if he had read the Home Secretary's speech, which I have no doubt he did—thought the Bill was for the benefit of the electorate. What seemed to be the main and only real point the Home Secretary made was about the difficulties of returning officers and town clerks. Looked at in that way, if ever there were a case of the tail wagging the dog this is it. Professionals attached to the borough councils are in a position to overcome those difficulties. To put forward that as the main argument of the Bill seems absurd.
Theirs are not the only difficulties, either. There is the position of the councillors. I have spoken to some in my constituency recently. Part of my constituency is in a London borough. Most of them are very busy men who have other work to do during the day. When they came forward as candidates they wanted to do only three years as councillors. That was all the time they could afford. It is very difficult for them to take on another year. If they find that impossible to do there will be by-elections with all the difficulties——
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
The hon. and gallant Member says that they wanted to do only three years. But their term of office did not start until 1st May, 1965, because the other councillors were still in existence until that date.
§ Captain Elliot
The hon. Member may say that they did not get into the saddle for the whole period of three years, but they were operating for most of that time.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will have had the same experience in his borough as I have had in mine. It was in the first year when the committees were being arranged, and there was the hand-over from the previous authority. Many who were councillors on both councils had a great strain put upon them.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Captain Elliot
I was about to make that point, but there is another point which is more important. They took on the job which they expected to end in 1967. Under this Bill it will not; it will go on for another year. That raises considerable difficulties for them.
Many arguments have been presented about the difficulties and the effects of having the Greater London Council elections and the borough elections a month apart or on the same day. I personally think that there are difficulties and complications if they are a month apart as at present. I would not change it as we have been committed to these dates, but I think that there are difficulties. If it were to be changed—I suppose we must accept that it will be—it would be better to change it and have the elections on the same day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) spoke about the American elections. Their voting is a most complicated process. Our electors, with all their education behind them, would have no difficulty about sorting out a couple of ballot papers. I believe that our ballot papers could be much clearer. The Home Office might consider, for example, putting the party label against the names of candidates.
If democracy is to remain democracy, certain legislation can be passed only with the agreement of the Opposition. I profoundly believe that anything to do with elections is one such type of legislation. If the Government choose to ride roughshod over the Opposition, not only will they progress along the dictatorial path which they are following in many other spheres but they will less and less enjoy the co-operation of the Opposition. If the Opposition are treated in this manner they can, if they care to do so, completely hold up Government business. The Opposition never want to do that. Such a process is bad for our democracy, but if it is forced on an Opposition they can do it.
I hope that the Government will think very profoundly on this point, because they are rapidly moving to the position when they will force the Opposition to resort to perfectly constitutional means of 256 holding up business. This fiddling with elections is just about the last straw.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
My impression of this debate and of the debate on Second Reading, which I followed with great interest, is that the Conservative Party is now trying to get its revenge on the Labour Government for what Labour Members did on the London Government Bill, 1963. Hon. Members opposite have said that the London Government Act was a political fiddle. Hon. Members on this side have been opposing the Bill in general, and speaking in favour of the Amendment in particular, having in mind what happened during those debates a few years ago.
I say that because there is little in principle dividing the two sides of the Committee. In spite of what the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) said, it is generally agreed by hon. Members that a strong case exists for not holding these elections simultaneously. The Leader of the Opposition has expressed this view. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has said that he agrees with it. This is not the question to which we should address ourselves today.
The question is whether we should continue the present temporary arrangements for holding the G.L.C. and the borough elections in the same year but in different months, either for 1967 or for the indefinite future, or whether we should come to some other arrangement for these elections. Twenty-seven out of the 32 London boroughs were in favour of some kind of change, even though only 20 of them—that is still a majority, and a substantial one at that—were in favour of the particular solution proposed by the Government this afternoon.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
The London Borough of Sutton is not in favour. Nineteen is the correct figure.
§ Mr. Lubbock
That is true. As the Home Secretary said on Second Reading, a long time after the representations of the London Boroughs Association were submitted to the Home Secretary in April, the London Borough of Sutton changed its mind. One can only assume that some political pressure was brought to bear on that borough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I think so. It is not 257 only the London Labour Party which is capable of exercising political pressure.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Yes. I have advised the House of Commons of the part the London Liberal Party played in getting this legislation under way. I am not ashamed of that. It is the legitimate right of political parties to make their views known, although I prefer it always to be done in the open and not in some underhand way. In saying that, I am not accusing the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), because I believe implicitly in the assurances he has given. I think that the history given us by the Minister of State in her winding-up speech on Second Reading made absolutely clear what happened.
I said on Second Reading that it was odd that so much fuss should be made about the Bill by the Conservative Party when, as far as I knew, no demand had been made by members of the public for the existing arrangements to be maintained— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—for the London Borough elections and the G.L.C. elections to be held in April and May, respectively, of next year. No one has written to me saying that they think that this is the best of all possible arrangements and that the Government are wrong in introducing the Bill.
When I said this on Second Reading, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) intervened and said that he had had a number of letters to that effect, including one from Orpington. He did not follow the usual custom of sending me that letter so that I could consider it and decide whether to put it forward as my own view. I wonder whether perhaps he made a mistake in the address and whether the letter was not from Orpington at all.
I reiterate the point that, if there had been some letters from members of the public addressed to hon. Members who spoke on Second Reading and who have spoken so far in Committee, I would have expected at least one or two of them to be quoted. Therefore, I can only assume that this pressure from the public in favour of what the Conservative Party allege are their democratic rights has not been exercised.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
Has the hon. Gentleman had any requests from his constituency, or from the public in general, requesting the change the Government now propose to make?
§ Mr. Lubbock
No. I said that I had received no correspondence whatsoever, either calling for the change or objecting to it. Since I made those remarks on Second Reading, that debate has been fully reported and, as the hon. Member for Enfield, West told the Committee, it was fully discussed on the Frost programme, which has a very large audience, indeed. I should have thought that, even if our constituents had not read HANSARD or followed the debate in one of the daily newspapers, they might, as a result of seeing a reference to the matter on television, have expressed a view one way or another. So far, there has been a deafening silence.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West made a good deal of the discussion on the Frost Programme, in which the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) wrongly said that these elections would take place on the same day in 1967. The hon. Member was not present during the debate on Second Reading. I do not blame him for that. I am sure that he was very well occupied in Parliamentary activities somewhere else. So he did not have the advantage of hearing what the Home Secretary told the House of Commons about the arrangements for 1967.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he can have read the Home Secretary's speech. [An HON. MEMBER: "He said that he did on television."] I do not think that he can have read that speech as carefully as he maintained on television, because there is no doubt that the Home Secretary made himself absolutely clear, and he had to remind the right hon. Member for Enfield, West this afternoon of the words —the hon. Member for Bermondsey is blushing—[Laughter.]—that he used on Second Reading, which left the matter in no conceivable doubt.
I can only say that the Chairman of the London Boroughs Association, who wrote the letter to The Times and the B.B.C. reporter who, according to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, got the matter entirely wrong in the news 259 the following day, obviously do not pay very much attention to what is said in the House. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West can build the great edifice he is attempting to construct on the basis of one or two misunderstandings by these individuals.
Another statement which has been repeated several times from this side of the House during the debate is that the London Government Act, 1963, was based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That is entirely fallacious. Hon. Members were resting their case on, I think, paragraph 156 of the Royal Commission's Report, where the Commission said that there was much to be said for having the G.L.C. and the borough elections simultaneously, but there was no attempt by the Royal Commission to substantiate that; it just said that as a fact.
There is a number of respects in which the London Government Act, 1963 differed very markedly from the Royal Commission's Report. The Royal Commission recommended that there should be two-tier education in Greater London; it recommended smaller boroughs and many more of them; and it recommended that boroughs should be larger at the centre than at the periphery, whereas some of the larger boroughs, like Croydon and the London borough of Bromley, are on the outer edge, directly contrary to the advice given by the Royal Commission. We also have the Inner London Education Authority, which was devised during the passage of the Act through Parliament, and of which no mention was made in the Royal Commission's Report.
Therefore, it is not a very good argument for hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to say that the Royal Commission did not recommend the separation of the G.L.C. elections from those of the boroughs, and that therefore it should not be done. My own opinion is that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who said that the separation is in the interests of the electors, is perfectly right, although he did not give the correct reason, which is that if one has elections either coming very close together or simultaneously, which are the only two other possibili- 260 ties besides having them a year apart, it is extremely difficult—one knows this from experience—trying to explain to electors the separate issues involved in the two separate elections.
One must try to explain to them, as we did in 1964, the responsibilities of the Greater London Council and explain separately the responsibilities of the London boroughs. One can have extremely long conversations trying to sort out this matter on the doorstep when canvassing, and it is a large problem for the average elector to cope with one set of elections at a time, quite apart from the complication of counting. As the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central suggested, that complication can be solved if it is vitally necessary to do so, as it is in the United States, where one votes for many different offices at once. The conclusive argument is really that the electors are confused if they have to vote for two authorities with quite different responsibilities that overlap in no way, either at simultaneous elections or elections within a month of another another.
In passing, I wish to mention the argument that the town clerks are trying to make life easier for themselves. I think that that is the implication of what has been said both on Second Reading and today. What the Home Secretary quoted the town clerks as saying was that they were not concerned so much with themselves as with a number of other difficulties which, the Home Secretary said, included the provision of equipment and staff, complications in postal voting and the greater risk that mistakes could be made. He said that they concluded that:while these difficulties might not be insuperable, the burden that would be placed on returning officers would be very heavy and the resulting procedure might not be very satisfactory, either to candidates or to the electorate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 234.]We are considering not only the returning officers but the whole of their staff engaged in the very important operations of counting the postal votes, of physically seeing to the county, and many other matters which have to be dealt with at the time of elections.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. If he had been 261 successful in getting his two new Clauses in the Bill the job of the returning officers would be far more complicated than under the Amendment.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I had hoped to have a chance of debating those two new Clauses, but I am sure that the Chair would not allow me to do so since they were not selected and I shall not be tempted by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), to follow him in that intervention, much as I should like to do so.
§ Captain W. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the difficulties of counting postal votes. Can he say what number of postal votes he gets in Orpington? Does he think that it is a considerable number? In my area it is practically nil.
§ Mr. Lubbock
We are very keen on elections in my constituency. We have the second highest poll in the country. Only Cornwall, North exceeded the percentage poll at the last General Election, and I think that we had something like 3,000 postal votes——
§ Mr. Lubbock
Similarly, in local elections we tend to get very much higher polls than in Greater London as a whole. For example, in the recent by-elections in the Farnborough ward in my constituency the poll was just over 46 per cent., as compared with the figure for 1964 of all the boroughs in the Greater London area of only 35.7per cent. Therefore, there is a greater degree of electoral interest in my constituency and probably in the London borough of Bromley generally than in Greater London as a whole.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite understood me. I asked him what number of postal votes he got in the local elections.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I would have to have notice of that question, but I shall certainly write to the hon. Gentleman and give him that information.
It would be very useful if a little more information could be given to the Committee when the debate is wound up about the difficulties which the Home Secretary mentioned on Second Reading. I am convinced that the town clerks were not 262 just trying to make life easier for themselves as individuals, but were concerned with the whole staff in the local authorities who must operate these very complex arrangements. Even in a single election a great deal of overtime is involved and one is very grateful to the staff of local authorities who are prepared to undertake that work.
The town clerks wrote to the Home Secretary spontaneously, and that is the answer to one question put by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West. The Home Secretary then got in touch with the Greater London Council, which considered that the borough elections should be deferred, and after that he sought the advice of the London boroughs as a whole and the majority was in favour of the deferment. I cannot understand why after all this time, when the views of all these experts—the Home Office, the town clerks, the Greater London Council and the London boroughs—have been received, the Conservative Party suddenly takes it into its head to make a big political issue of this matter.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Is it fully in accord with Liberal principles that, whatever the difficulties involved, after councillors have been elected for three years the Executive may unilaterally extend their term of office for one year? Is that the new Liberal principle?
§ Mr. Lubbock
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that, a change of fundamental importance having been made in the local government of Greater London —I did not agree with it at the time, and I voted against the Third Reading—certain consequences have ensued which were not apparent to either side of the House at the time. This is one of them. The hon. Gentleman will recall—at least I hope he will, even though he does not represent a constituency in the neighbourhood of Greater London—that when the change was made in 1963 county councillors in the present outer metropolitan areas who were then serving on the authorities of Kent, Surrey and so forth had their terms of office prolonged by one year. I remember no objection being made to that at the time. It was part of the necessary consequences of the rearrangement of local government in Greater London.
263 After the Act has been on the Statute Book for some time, we discover consequences which were not expected when the Bill was passing through the House, and this is the reason for the change now. Although, in general, there should not be any unilateral alteration by the Government of the day of arrangements previously made for the holding of elections, I think that if one is dealing with the consequences of a most important piece of legislation such as the London Government Act, 1963, the Executive must be allowed that right.
I cannot for a moment foresee the kind of consequences which some hon. Members have painted in lurid colours today, suggesting that the Government of the day could defer a General Election. This is so absurd that one need not consider that part of the argument at all. If any hon. Member really thinks that such consequences might ensue, he ought to remember that no Government could possibly get away with it because of the weight of public opinion which would be brought to bear against them. As I said earlier, in this case we know that the electors of Greater London have no strong feelings on the matter at all.
I was about to come to a conclusion, and I was asking why, after the representations made to the Government by the London boroughs and after the matter has been on record since before the Summer Recess—it came in a Written Answer to a Question which I put to the Home Secretary—the Conservative Party should suddenly take it into its head to make a political issue of it. The only possible conclusion I can come to is that the Conservatives, seeing the Greater London Council elections coming in May next year, have decided to stir the pot. They were given instructions at their Blackpool conference this year to vote against the Government on every possible issue, irrespective of whether opposition to the Measure before the House had any merit whatsoever. This is why we are to be kept here late tonight, and this is why the Conservatives have decided to oppose the Bill line by line.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
With respect, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is very naïve in his approach to this question. He sees no danger in 264 the proposition at all. Those of us —I know that he was among them—who listened to and took part in the Second Reading debate and who have listened to the whole discussion so far today cannot deny that there is a strong opinion that the Labour Party as the Government of the day are most anxious to delay the borough elections because of the political consequences of those elections when they come. There can be little doubt about that. If there is doubt in anyone's mind, we have practical proof of the present situation in Croydon. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) in his place, because what I am about to say will, I am sure, encourage him no end.
We are having much controversy in Croydon on the subject of education, a state of affairs not uncommon in the rest of Greater London. Public debate has been going on and there have been a number of public meetings. A Minister was purported to have said that the Government's attitude was that, if necessary, comprehensive education would be made compulsory in due course if a great progressive education authority like Croydon did not toe the line when the time came. The hon. Member for Croydon, South will recall the meetings which have been hotted up for this purpose in order to try to test the views of the public.
A few weeks back, we had two by-elections in Croydon, one in East ward and one in Central ward, at which the anti-Government, anti-Socialist vote was completely overwhelming. The poll was deplorably low because the Labour Party refrained from taking a really active part, but this was the result none the less. However, they were traditionally anti-Government and anti-Socialist wards. Then, last Thursday week, we had a much more interesting result, a result which gave an indication of what the Government would be up against if the people of Greater London had an opportunity soon to cast their votes. This came in the traditionally Labour ward of Waddon, which, by strange coincidence, is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Croydon, South. The result was an overwhelming victory for the Conservative Party, which absolutely knocked the Labour Party and thereby the Government's policies for six.
265 I could not make up my mind whether this was a vote just completely against the Government of the day, partly because of the education problem and the suggestion of compulsion, or whether it was the result of sheer opposition to the activities of the hon. Member for Croydon, South. I have come round to the feeling that it is a bit of each, though I rather think that the bias leans against the hon. Member for Croydon, South. That part of his constituency took the obvious opportunity open to it to tell him frankly that it would wish to see him soon disappear from the political scene. That is my feeling on the matter. I may be right or wrong. Certainly, whatever else may come out of this debate, it is definitely not in the interests of the Government of the day to have to put themselves seriously to the test at least in the Greater London borough elections, and they are only too pleased to postpone them for another year.
I said on Second Reading that this Bill is a mockery of democracy. I thought it a sound phrase at the time, and I repeat it now. When the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) tells us that it is all for the convenience of the electors, this is sheer hypocrisy. I have great respect for the hon. and learned Gentleman, but if he, an intelligent man, believes that, all I can say is that it is a very poor show.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to misrepresent the hon. and learned Gentleman. What the hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to say is that he believes in democracy and freedom for the electors to have an opportunity to express their voice. He wants one man one vote, but at the time when he thinks people ought to have it.
§ Mr. Harris
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it in such devastating language. He has put it far more powerfully than I could.
Let there be no doubts or queries on this matter at all. Whatever the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) had in mind at any time—I respect him tremendously and I accept what he personally says—I cannot believe that he is busting keen to see borough elections next April in Greater London. I am sure 266 that he is very happy in the circumstances to leave them for another year and not to face a public test. What happened in Waddon might well happen everywhere else. It was a real test with an outstanding result. I admit that the people of Waddon are politically very unfortunate in their Member of Parliament, but they demonstrated in a very definite way last Thursday week what their view was.
If the test were put on a Greater London basis, there would be a devastating vote against the Government of the day, even on education alone. People do not want their education steam-rollered. But this is what they are being told. A Minister came to Croydon and is purported to have given this indication, and there was no real doubt about it. There were some queries later on at the Dispatch Box, but there was no serious doubt at the time. There was a headline right across the Daily Express the next morning. Nobody made much about it, except my own Front bench raised queries on it. We were told this would be compulsory, if necessary, and the public do not want that sort of thing. I can assure hon. Members that this is an actual fact. I feel the answer to it will be in the greater London elections results of next year. When those elections take place I have no doubt that the Government will receive the answer. It will be the same answer it would have had had we been propertly entitled to hold the borough elections in April next. In the meantime, this gerrymandering, this playing about with elections, as has been done in this case, will go hard against the Government, as indeed, it certainly should.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Worsley
I hesitated to rise because I thought the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) would address the Chamber. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do so, because I have heard nothing more depressing this afternoon than the silence of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. Worsley
That is what I think is a tu quoque. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity in a moment to relieve the tedium of the debate by his contribution, and I hope that he will take it.
267 This is an important matter. It is wrong that hon. Gentlemen opposite should not contribute to the debate. This is an important matter, principally for the reason that the whole of the Bill—and this is the nub of the Amendment which we are now discussing—has been put over on grounds which are misleading. One of the grounds for the Bill—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) illustrated this point in some of the quotations he made in his opening speech on the Amendment —is that it is undesirable, for reasons which are not frequently explained in detail, to have elections either on the same day or in the same year.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman)—we had his valued contribution earlier, and we were very glad indeed to have him join our debate—said that it was for the convenience of the electors. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join our debate. I will finish my speech and will listen with great pleasure to the hon. Gentleman subsequently.
The first thing which has been indicated is that there is a difficulty for electors in voting on the same day. I should like to express my own personal view that this is not, in itself, a valid point. I cannot understand why the electors of North America should find it easy to vote in this way, and we are told that the electors of Greater London would apparently find it difficult. I do not understand this. I do not think that argument has been sufficiently put forward.
Secondly, it has been suggested that there is some difficulty for electors in voting at intervals of something like five or six weeks. The hon. and learned Gentleman wept tears for the difficulties of electors in doing this. His tears were metaphorical. Indeed, if I may say so, they were crocodile tears. He shed crocodile tears on the difficulties which electors would face in voting for two elections, with an interval of five to six weeks between the two elections.
I should like to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that this is the case in all the counties of England. I hope that he will not say to the Committee that the electors of Greater London are less 268 intelligent than are the county electors in the rest of England. I do not think that he can be suggesting this. In point of fact, this could work perfectly well. I merely indicate the point. My own feeling would be for a single electoral date. I believe that that would be the best answer, and it is one that is used very successfully, even for presidential and congressional elections, in the United States.
However, I will not pursue that point, because it is not the essential point before the Committee. I can say—and I am sure that I have the concurrence of my hon. and right hon. Friends—that were this simply the issue, we would be willing to support a Government Bill which simply changed the present system so that elections took place in different years. My own personal predisposition is the other way. It has been made quite clear by a lot of people that they would like to have elections in different years. The non-sequitur in all this is that the Government should try to put it over that it follows from this that we ought to have a Bill of this kind; that it follows that (a) elections should be held in different years and that (b) therefore, they should not take place next year.
This is a total and absolute non-sequitur. It does not follow, and I could point to two alternative ways in which this could be avoided.
Next year we could very well have, as the counties always have, two elections separated by a month or so. Nobody has seriously suggested that this would be difficult. The town clerk's report, to which reference has been made so frequently, does not cover this point. The town clerk's report is solely on the question of elections being held on a single day. I think that the Under Secretary will confirm that in the town clerk's report the convenience issue is something that does not apply to next year's election.
The hon. Gentleman nods. I am glad to have his concurrence. There is no argument over convenience or administrative matters concerning next year's election. We have, therefore, the very simple proposition. To avoid elections on the same day, which will not happen, in any case, before 1970, we have two very simple methods of achieving this. We could have the elections next year, and 269 elect candidates for either two years or four years.
I can tell the Government Front bench that if they had come to the Committee with a proposition on those terms, they would have had the support of my right hon. Friends and myself.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Rubbish. Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that if that had been done the Opposition would have found a political reason for opposing it? They are only opposing it now from the point of view of political expediency.
§ Mr. Worsley
The hon. and learned Gentleman should not judge others by himself.
It is simply not a fair proposition that the Government should come to the Committee with Ito precedent which holds water and then for the hon. and learned Gentleman to turn to the Opposition, when they oppose this Measure on strictly democratic grounds, and say that they are doing so as a matter of expediency. That will not do, and the hon. and learned Gentleman should realise that it will not do. Had the Government come to the Committee and said that in view of the discussions which had gone on they felt the original idea of elections on a single day was a bad one, there could have been a non-controversial Bill, sailing perhaps into the serene waters of a Second Reading Committee.
The Government could still have a non-controversial Bill, and that would be a happier augury for the future of local government in London. If the Government force through this Measure—and it will have to be forced through, because we feel passionately about it—there will be left a legacy of a sense of gerrymandering and of fixed elections that will last for a very long time.
I therefore seriously ask the Government to consider accepting one or other of the Amendments. I am prepared to support either, though my preference is for that moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West. Would it not be a happy augury for a system of local government in London that is now accepted by all parties? There is no wish to dismantle the system, It would, therefore, be a good thing were the Government to tell the Committee, "We have listened to the arguments and realise that, 270 to get the advantage we seek, it would be worth our accepting the proposition that for 1967 only there should be two elections and that, subsequently, the elections should be held in different years".
The Government are seeking to do something without precedent. The precedent indicated from the opposite benches throughout has been the original London Government Act, which we seek to amend, but there is one perfectly enormous and outstanding difference. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—who has now left the Chamber—said that the changes then made were the necessary consequences of the reform that was being made. In saying that, he hit on the nub of the matter. Those changes were a necessary consequence. I know that the change itself was disputed, but no one would dispute the fact that the alterations made in the electoral timing were a necessary consequence. The point about this present change is that it is in no way a necessary consequence either of the original Act or, more importantly, of the Government's desire to have elections in separate years.
The Government should, therefore, realise that there is no necessity to force through this Bill to get the result they seek. I beg them to accept one or other of these Amendments in the interests of agreement on democratic procedure and, above all, on the ground that electoral changes like this should only be made because of strict necessity. There is no ncessity in this case—it is a non sequitur —so I beg the Government to accept one or other of the Amendments.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
I was not at all surprised by the somewhat unpleasant and personal remarks made by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) about the Croydon Labour Party or myself. The truth is that the Conservative Party and the hon. Member in question have not been able to get over their defeat in the General Election, and in Croydon there is still a great feeling of bitterness among members of the Conservative Leadership because they were beaten in one constituency in that election—
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
Will the hon. Gentleman please take it from me that 271 I was not the slightest bit offensive towards the Labour Party in Croydon—I count so many of its members among my personal friends—but that I was putting a factual point about what happened by way of condemnation of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Winnick
That sort of excuse wears rather thin. There is all the difference in the world between having personal friends and political opponents. The political leadership in Croydon has deeply resented the result of the General Election. If I may say so—and it is only right and proper that I should—the hon. Member's majority has slipped at each successive election, and he may feel frightened and think it necessary to make personal attacks, which I deplore.
It is perfectly true that in the recent elections in the London borough of Croydon the percentage vote was rather low. In the East ward and in the Central ward, the poll was very low indeed, but one could use that fact locally to argue that there was not a great deal of interest either way in the battle over comprehensive education. The hon. Member has argued that the low poll showed that not many people were interested in the Labour Party's arguments, but one could also say that it did not seem to show that a great number of people voted for the Croydon Council's defence of the 11-plus. That argument can go both ways. There was a low vote in Waddon.
With the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West, I always deplore low polls. I always wish that people would take the opportunity at General Elections and in local elections to exercise their democratic rights. In the recent elections, very few people turned up to vote——
§ Sir S. McAdden
The hon. Member says that he is in favour of the electorate exercising its rights; and of as many people as possible voting. May I therefore take it that he is opposing the Government's present proposal to take away that right next year?
§ Mr. Winnick
The point was quite clear. I was expressing the wish that people would exercise their democratic right in elections. Next year, the people in the London Boroughs will have the opportunity to vote in the Greater London Council elections, and I hope that as 272 many people as possible, of all political shades or no political views, will exercise their voting rights. I am keen on democracy in theory and in practice.
I look upon the argument about whether local elections should be held next year or in 1968 as a sort of Opposition political gimmick. It could be described as opposition for the sake of opposition. They know that there is no great argument either way. Obviously, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has said, they got their marching orders at the Blackpool Conservative conference to obstruct and oppose as much as possible in the coming Parliamentary days.
If it is to be said of us that we want to delay the local elections in the boorughs because we may lose, we might use the opposite argument that the Conservatives are very keen to have elections next year because they believe they will win. It is not a question of winning or losing but of common sense. I would rather have the G.L.C. election in one year with the borough elections to follow in a different year. I am not in favour of the two elections being held in the same year. I did not like the original arrangement in 1964, so I am not at all unhappy about what the Government now suggest.
Judging by what hon. Members opposite say, one would imagine that we were all receiving large numbers of letters deploring the delay in the borough elections. They may have received a large number of letters on the subject, but I have not. I am receiving letters on abortion reform, on Vietnam, on pirate radio and on a number of constituency problems, but not one letter have I received on the subject of the borough elections—not even from the Conservative organisers in my constituency. Perhaps they should have written to say what a wicked Socialist plot it was to delay the elections, but not a word have I heard from them. I would not be surprised of course if, following my present remarks, I were to receive a letter or two in the next week, but that would be understandable. I always answer, of course, every letter from my constituency. When, as I do sometimes, I receive letters from other parts of the borough, as well as informing the hon. Member concerned, I also reply to the writer of the letter. That is only right and proper.
273 But, leaving aside the "gimmicks" of their Opposition and their opposition for its own sake, I want to put two points. If we are to deal with this matter seriously, it is deplorable that so few people bother to vote not only in local by-elections for borough councils but also in the main local elections. I want to see far greater interest taken in local elections. I should like people to say, "This affects local education and welfare matters, and it is only right and proper that I should spend five or ten minutes recording my vote." It may be said, "That is all very well, but how do we get this interest in local government?" I suggest that those boroughs—and Croydon is one of them—which do not open up committee meetings to the Press should change their ways.
It is notable that many boroughs are now willing not only to have the Press at their council meetings but at the meetings of their major committees. I am afraid that Croydon does not do this, but I hope that in time it will be willing to reconsider this. It may be argued that this will not work very well, but I have been a member of the Brent and Willesden Borough Councils where the Press is admitted to meetings of the major committees and the arrangements work well. I hope that in Croydon, in order to get the sort: of interest that I and, I am sure, the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West would like to see, the Council will consider opening its major committees to the local Press and creating the sort of interest we would like to see.
My other proposal which relates to Croydon is the holding of civic forums. Nowadays, people say that local government is rather remote, that it does not have a great deal of interest for the ordinary person. That is why I suggest, that, in Croydon as well as in other places, the local councillors should consider holding a civic forum where councillors and leaders of various committees could put their points of view and the ordinary persons could put theirs at the microphone for three or five minutes.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Harold Lever)
Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to bring his remarks into relation with the Amendment. I would be grateful if he would now do so.
§ Mr. Winnick
With pleasure, Mr. Lever. I was trying to show the interest I take in trying to get people to the polls and was putting forward one or two proposals for increasing interest among the local government electors. It does not make a great deal of difference when the local elections are to be held, either next year or the year after. I support the Government on this issue and will do so in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Winnick
That is a fair question, and the answer is simple. I would make the same kind of speech. If I believe that elections should be held in different years, there would be no reason for me to change my party line if we were in Opposition. The hon. Gentleman laughs, but he must be a very cynical person.
I am pleased to have intervened in the debate, even if I was provoked to some extent by hon. Members opposite. The Bill is sensible and logical. The Opposition are opposing it only for the sake of opposition and as a political gimmick to obstruct Government business. I deplore the way they are carrying on and that apparently they are going to hold up business all night to put their views.
§ Mr. Anthony berry (Southgate)
For a short time I thought that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) was starting on a point with which I could agree, but before he could develop it, Mr. Lever, you correctly ruled him out of order, so I cannot comment.
For the hon. Gentleman to talk about ways of increasing interest in local government elections in one breath and then, in the next, to support this Bill to deprive people of a chance to vote in local elections means that he is at cross-purposes with himself. However, we welcome his intervention, because not many hon. Members opposite have spoken today or on Second reading.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Gentleman says he agrees with my suggestions. Does he believe that major committees of councils should be open to the Press? We do not have that situation in Croydon. Is he in favour of civic forums being organised?
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. This must be consigned to the realms of those curiosities which must be gratified on another occasion.
§ Mr. Berry
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Lever, and I hope that the hon. Member for Croydon, South will accept that reason for my not following him.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is back, because both he and the hon. Member for Croydon, South suggested that neither of them had had letters on this subject. I am provoked into reading out one letter to show that there are bodies of people and individuals among our constituents who are seriously concerned and have indicated as much to their hon. Members. This is a letter from the general secretary of the Federation of Ratepayers and Civil Associations of the London borough of Enfield. [Laughter.] Before hon. Members laugh too much, I would point out that, until the last elections, my constituency was the last borough in London with an independent majority, although it had a large Conservative minority. We still have independent people who call themselves independent and vote independent.
The letter, dated 8th August, said:Three months ago, I wrote to you on behalf of the Federation, enclosing a resolution, strongly opposing the suggested postponement of the next elections to the London Borough councils.I am now informed by the Home Office that legislation to this purpose is being introduced this autumn. May I appeal to you on behalf of a large body of opinion within this borough to oppose this Bill.It seems to us most undemocratic to prolong the term of office of any elected authority beyond that for which they were elected and quite incredible that a Government with a very full legislative programme and facing serious economic difficulties, should make time for such an unnecessary and controversial Bill.
§ Mr. Berry
I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. There are now no Independents on the council. There were until the last election. The council has a Labour majority. I will refer to that in a moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not think that hon. Members could 276 have listened to my right hon. Friend if they still believe that we have a Conservative majority in that part of London.
Basically, what we are discussing is whether the local elections in London should be held on the same day either next year or in four years' time. If our Amendment is accepted, those elected will have a period of office in accordance with that for which they were elected. It is wrong that people elected for a given period should be voted an extra period in office by Parliament.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Did the hon. Gentleman make these views known at the time when Surrey and Kent County Councils were having their periods of office prolonged by the London Government Act, 1963?
§ Mr. Berry
I was not in this House at the time. I do not remember the Liberal candidate in Southgate, at the last General Election, who went down from second to third place, taking any view or saying anything in his election address about it, or calling for local elections in any particular year.
The Home Secretary, on the Second Reading of the Bill, claimed that, if elections followed each other closely, this caused lack of interest. I must quote him the figures which I also quoted on Second Reading. These show that, over the last four general elections in my constituency, the percentage of the vote has gone slightly down each time from the peak, which was in 1955—the year when the General Election came at the end of May and was the third election within about two months. I suggest, therefore, that far from the figures showing less interest when elections follow closely, very much the reverse is the case and people are becoming used to elections or more interested in them and in what is happening and, therefore, more of them try to vote.
The Home Secretary said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) was in favour of changes. Considering that we have a Labour majority which was elected by a majority of two, 31 against 29, it is not at all surprising that those councillors wish to remain in office an extra year. The right hon. Gentleman said that my 277 right hon. Friend's purpose was less than benign and was less representative of his borough. That is nonsense.
Reference has been made to the town clerks. While we are agreed that great attention must be paid to their views—because they are uniquely qualified to advise on all matters pertaining to elections—surely theirs is not the final say. The right hon. Lady the Minister of State, who wound up the debate on Second Reading, said that if elections took place on the same day a breakdown would occur. Nothing which was said in the report of the town clerks or by the working party bears out that statement.
The Home Secretary suggested that a reasonable case could be made either way. In this context he was referring to the difficulty of electors having a multiple choice or single choice at elections. Whether or not it is a good thing for voters to vote at elections only a month apart—and I think that it is wrong—the only point at issue now is that the elections fixed for next year should take place. I have no strong views about whether, if they are deferred, they should be deferred for two years or four years. Probably there is more to be said for a two-year period and then for a three-year interval after that.
I turn now to the election of aldermen, which is covered by one of the group of Amendments.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The Amendment dealing with aldermen emerges later on the Notice Paper. It is not one of those which is being discussed in the group of Amendments at present before the Committee.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I must apologise to the hon. Member. The group of Amendments includes No. 7, which is, therefore, well within order. I beg the hon. Member's pardon.
§ Mr. Berry
Thank you, Mr. Lever. I appreciate that Amendment No. 31, which appears in my name, is not in 278 cluded, but I hope that my remarks will be in order on Amendment No. 7.
One of my reasons for feeling strongly about this is, in particular, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West and I both represent part of the borough in which a Labour majority was elected by 31 votes to 29 and that after those elections all 10 aldermen were chosen by the Labour Party. The hon. Member for Orpington, who spoke after me on Second Reading, emphasised this. Surely, it is completely contrary to the whole principle of aldermen in local government. I believe that it goes against the principles laid down by the great political leaders of the immediate past.
I would like to refer to the speech made by Lord Attlee in another place on the earlier Bill. This is what he said:The fact is that the general idea of aldermen, giving the possibility of bringing in people of experience, was very good, but it has been abused. It is rather like the university seats "—if I were to follow that point I should be 20 years out of order, so I will not pursue it, much as I would like to—… which were used for people who were rejected by public vote. That is an objection which holds today against the aldermanic bench".Of the 10 aldermen who were elected by the Southgate Labour councillors 18 months ago, eight had been rejected by the electors of the Borough of Enfield only a few weeks earlier.
The late Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who was closely connected with local government in London, said this of the aldermanic system:I agree with…Lord Attlee that it ought not to be used primarily for the purpose of making a member of the council of a defeated candidate.… I think the right thing is, if you can do it, to share the aldermen between the parties on the basis of the proportions of elected councillors, and that each party should choose whom they like in whatever way they like.…What I do not like is when, out of sheer hatred of the other side, the majority party seizes all the aldermen, which they do not need to do to make the machine work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th May, 1963; Vol. 249, c. 951–4.]
§ Sir Edward Brown (Bath)
Surely the interpretation of the Local Government Act, 1933, is that there shall be three councillors for a ward and that for those three councillors there shall be one alderman. What is happening now, particularly 279 in London, is that if three Conservative councillors are elected for a ward where the Socialist Party has a majority on the council, it appoints a Labour alderman. The spirit of the Act was that there should be one Socialist alderman for three Labour seats and one Conservative alderman for three Conservative seats.
§ Mr. Berry
I appreciate the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir E. Brown), who speaks with close knowledge of the area and of the subject. What he says is quite right.
In the debates on the Bill, I suffer under the advantage of inevitably having to speak after my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, who is likely to deal with all the local points which are of relevance. My right hon. Friend mentioned earlier that there would be a chance later of referring to education, and I certainly intend to use it. On this occasion, however, I hope that the Minister of State will forgive me if on this occasion I do not allow her the opportunity, which she had on Second Reading, of speaking about comprehensive schools.
Talking of the Government Front Bench, I would still like to know the views on the Bill and on the Amendments of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), Minister of State, Department of Economic Affairs, and his hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie), Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who are the other two Members in the borough which I represent and whose views on the subject have still to be made known. I suggested earlier that all local controversial matters in the area which cut across party lines should be postponed until after it was decided whether the election should be held as arranged. I expected that remark to bring forth comment, but as yet there is dismal, golden silence.
In her closing speech on Second Reading, the Minister of State, Home Office said:I am quite sure that at the elections in 1967 or 1968 the people of London will do what they did in 1964."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 366.]One interpretation of the right hon. Lady's remarks, I suppose, is that three years afterwards they will find once again that their elections have been put off. 280 Under the present Government, that would not surprise me at all.
The hon. Member for Orpington has referred to public opinion in the event of General Elections ever having to be postponed. I suggest that the postponement of these local borough elections is just as vital a matter and will be just as strongly felt by the people of London and that their present feelings, which they will hold even more strongly if the Bill is passed, will be expressed in the ballot box in no uncertain way next April in favour of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Brian Walden (Birmingham, All Saints)
The first thing I want to do is to apologise to the Committee for speaking in this debate at all, because I am a Birmingham and not a London Member, although I have a residence in London. I want, secondly, to apologise to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench who are, no doubt, alarmed that I shall consume a great deal of time. I assure them that I shall be very brief.
It is incredible that a day of the time of the House of Commons should be wasted by the sort of thing which we are discussing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In spite of the cheers of hon. Members opposite, the blame for the discussion and for what economists call the future projections which I have heard about an all-night sitting rests on hon. Members opposite.
Everybody in the Committee and outside knows what the argument is about. It is not about the great enthusiasm for democracy which at a very late stage the Conservative Party has discovered. This afternoon, when I heard the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) I could scarcely believe that he was the chairman of a party which was advised in the public periodicals for about three years to hold an election and which waited until the last possible moment. Enthusiasm to have a mandate fresh from the people was then terribly lacking. The argument is about votes. That is what the argument is about.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South) rose——
§ Mr. Walden
I will not give way.
The Conservative Party, which is always very badly advised psephologically, has decided that if an election is held in 281 1967, it will win more seats than if an election is held in 1968. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they are wrong and that they are operating against their own best interests. If they will make a careful study of previous local election results in both London and elsewhere during the lifetimes of Labour Governments and average them out with the present results of the opinion polls, they will see that it is much in their best interests for the elections to be held in 1968, when they will win more seats than they will if the elections are held in 1967.
However, it may be that I am doing hon. Members opposite a terrible injustice and that none of this discussion has anything to do with seats or votes, difficult though that might be to believe after some of the speeches which I have heard this afternoon. If they are wholly above such sordid considerations, then, of course, they will continue to press to have the elections in 1967. But before they insist too much on our going to the polls in London at that time, I advise hon. Members opposite to check the advice which they have received, because they will find that they will serve their best interests by having the elections in 1968 and not 1967.
Hon. Members opposite will also serve the best interests of the Committee by withdrawing the Amendment, because we could end this discussion and get on with something which matters and serve the best interests of everyone who wants to take part in a debate tomorrow on a subject which does matter. If they take my advice, hon. Members opposite can wind up this whole miserable business and agree that the Government are making an administrative change, identically the kind of change which right hon. Gentlemen opposite made three years ago, and they can then elevate the discussion well above the present level and serve their own interests best.
Should the Opposition be successful in the Division Lobbies tonight, which they will not be, they will discover that they will not make the gains which they expect this April. However, they will not be successful in the Lobbies. There will come a time when they will thank me for my excellent advice, although when they have had had a very good year in 1968, as they will, that will not 282 mean that when the next General Election comes they will do any better than last time. If they had studied local government election statistics, they would know what was in their best interests and they would stop this boring, pointless and tedious debate.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Sharples
The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden) has reduced the debate to its lowest possible level.
§ Mr. Walden rose——
§ Mr. Sharples
He has made it quite clear that the Government have introduced a Bill which is all about votes. We all know that and I think that the public knows that, but it took the hon. Member——
§ Mr. Walden rose——
§ Mr. Sharples
The hon. Gentleman did not give way and I shall not do so. It took the hon. Gentleman, and not his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to come out with the truth of what the Bill was about.
The Government have got themselves into the most appalling mess with the 1967 local elections in London. They have done so because they have not made out any case whatever for postponing the 1967 election to 1968. There may be a case—and I give the Government this—for an alteration in the 1970 election, but no one on the Government Front Bench, or anyone else, has made out any case for a postponement of the 1967 election.
On Second Reading, there was a great deal of discussion about the misconceptions and difficulties which had arisen, and they were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) this afternoon. There was the issue of whether people were considering whether the elections should be postponed on the basis of whether the 1967 elections were to take place on the same day. On Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman devoted a great deal of time to what had been said about town clerks. He said that a committee of a group of town clerks had been set up to consider the working of the 1963 Act as it applied to the London local elections.
The right hon. Gentleman said:We have not yet had any combined elections under the 1963 Act, but—as I have 283 endeavoured to explain—unless there is amending legislation we are bound to have them in due course.There was no reference to the 1967 election. The right hon. Gentleman went on:With this prospect in view, a working party of town clerks of London boroughs has been considering the question of the practicability of combined elections".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 233.]On Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to make it clear that there was no question of combined elections in 1967, although he failed to convince even his hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that that was the case, because many of those who had advised him that a Bill of this kind should be introduced were under the impression—Mr. Pritchard for one and the hon. Member for Bermondsey for another—that all the Bill was to do was to remove the possibility of simultaneous elections in 1967 and subsequent years.
That is by no means the point. It is most important that before we proceed further in discussing the Bill, the Committee should know exactly what the town clerks were asked to recommend and what they recommended. I hope that before long we shall have the Answer to the Question which my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, has tabled on this matter. Winding up the debate on Second Reading, the right hon. Lady equally made it clear that the town clerks said in their report that they had pointed to the breakdown which would occur if they had to have two elections in one day. That was the point. No evidence was introduced on Second Reading or at any other time to support an alteration of the 1967 elections. As the hon. Member for All Saints has quite clearly said, the alteration of the date of the 1967 election is entirely a matter of votes and of nothing else.
The Economist, which is often kind to the Home Secretary, hit the nail absolutely on the head on 19th November, in an article headed "Robber Roy"—and it is hard for a Home Secretary to be associated with the people whom he is endeavouring to keep inside—
§ Mr. Sharples
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has seen these words:Mr. Roy Jenkins is unwise to chaperone so dubious a measure as the London Government Bill. The effect of it will be to rob parents in the outer London boroughs of the right to choose new councils next year, and so the opportunity to strangle at birth some comprehensive school schemes which local authorities are trying to ram through against all protests.This is what the Bill is about. This is the level at which it is being pushed through.
Later, the article stated:…in the outer London boroughs, education is run by the individual borough councils and at least six of them (including two run by the Tories) are working on comprehensive schemes which have, rightly or wrongly, aroused a great deal of local opposition. Given another year, these schemes could be pushed past redemption. The parents whose children's schooling will be affected have the right to pass judgment on the date now laid down by law.These borough councils have been in existence for about three years. Now is the time when the schemes which they initiated when they first came to office in connection with housing, education and other matters should be judged by the electorate.
My council in the London Borough of Sutton has produced a scheme for education. It was passed by the council on 24th November and now goes forward to the Minister for his comments and, I hope, approval. None the less, I believe that the electorate of Sutton should have the opportunity of expressing its views on a scheme of this kind before it is too late.
By accepting the Amendment, the Government would achieve the main purpose of having, in due course, elections at different times. There is no question of the elections being on the same date in 1967. Therefore, all the arguments of the town clerks concerning the 1967 elections are entirely irrelevant. The Government could remove all the political bitterness which the Bill arouses by accepting these Amendments, and I beg them, even at this late stage, to reconsider their position and to accept the Amendments.
§ Mr. Rossi
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) for bringing the debate 285 back to its proper perspective and underlining the matters which are at the root of the argument between the two parties.
What has clearly emerged from the debate is that it is conceded by all that if the Bill were not passed the elections in the spring of 1967 for the Greater London Council and the London boroughs would not take place on the same day. The Greater London Council election would take place on 13th April and the London borough elections would take place on 11th May. This is now clearly understood and accepted by all hon. Members.
This was not the case at the end of the Second Reading debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) was kind enough to refer to my remarks on Second Reading, but he did me a little less than justice when, in his summary of the debate, he suggested that I joined in the confusion of some hon. Members opposite about the final position. I was at great pains in my speech then to draw attention to what the Home Secretary was doing. As a new Member, I thanked him for the lesson which he gave me in the art of sophistry.
On Second Reading, I said that the right hon. Gentlemanput forward as his main contention for bringing it"—that is, the Bill—forward the great confusion which was likely to arise if the G.L.C. elections and the borough elections were held on the same day.This is why we had all this talk about the town clerk's report, about postal votes, and matters of that kind.
I went on to say:We are not talking about the difficulties over postal votes because the elections are on the same day. We are talking about whether or not these elections should be in the same year. The moment we appreciate that that is the point at issue, all the arguments which have been constructed or put forward from the other side, with the exception of one…fall to the ground. The one argument which stands is the argument of sympathy towards our party workers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 276–7.]Today, we have had another argument. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) advanced an argument of sympathy for the electors who will be greatly 286 inconvenienced by having to go to the polls twice in, say, a month and who would be so stupid as to be confused by the elections if they were held within a month of one another. This was the burden of the argument. I have heard in this Committee no greater insult to the electorate of London.
As has been said from this side of the Committee, we have had, and continue to have, elections throughout the counties within a month of the urban and rural district elections. This was the position in Middlesex up to the reorganisation of Greater London. Before the 1963 Act, the boroughs were elected as to one-third annually, and once every three years there was an election of the whole of the Middlesex County Council, so that once in every three years, within a few weeks of one another, there was a county council election and a borough election.
I am not aware that there was then any confusion in the minds of the electors. Indeed, inasmuch as they were kind enough to return me to both the borough council and county council I always consider that they are extremely discriminating, but I cannot say how discriminating they may be in the constituencies of hon. Members opposite. I have my doubts on that subject. Therefore, this argument will not wash.
Once that argument goes, there is nothing left to support the Bill. I deplore the speeches made by the hon. Members for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) and Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden). They said that all that this election is about is the voting. It is suggested that the Labour Party is putting forward the Bill because it believes that it will lose the London borough elections. It is suggested that we are opposing this Bill because we believe that we are likely to win those elections. I think that that argument does not do justice to either Party in this Chamber.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling the House, and, I suppose, the country, that if he thought that the issue of comprehensive schools was likely to bring votes to the Labour Party in 1967 he would still oppose the Bill? If he is, I do not believe him.
§ Mr. Rossi
I shall come to the point about comprehensive schools in a moment, because I believe that this is the true basis of the matter. That is a cynical argument, and it is one which will gain ground outside the House of Commons among people who regard politicians with a certain amount of cynicism. They will say that we are really squabbling about who will win the election in the spring if it is held then.
I regret the speeches to which I have just referred if they have given weight to this kind of thought. This is not the basis of the opposition on this side of the Committee. Our opposition is not based on who will win this election. It is based on whether or not the electorate should be denied the right to vote in 1967.
§ Mr. F. A. Gurden (Gillingham)
Was not that point made clear by one of my hon. Friends who concluded his speech by saying that if the election was held next year, the Tories would come out far worse than the Labour Party? If that is the case, that exonerates this side of the Committee from the criticisms which have been made.
§ Mr. Rossi
I do not wish to speculate about who is likely to win or lose the election. I consider this to be completely irrelevant to the argument. What is relevant is whether or not the electorate should be denied an opportunity to vote, whatever its vote might ultimately be. It does not matter how the people vote. What matters is that they should vote on this matter of education, if on nothing else.
There are divided views in the Committee on comprehensive education. Supporters of comprehensive education are to be found on these benches, as well as on the benches opposite. As I said during my Second Reading speech, I concede the advantages of constructing comprehensive schools in certain localities, provided that they are purpose-built. I concede this at once, and I am not arguing whether or not a comprehensive system of education is good or bad, whether a scheme in a particular borough is good or bad. What I am saying is that the parents of the children whose future lives are to be affected by the schemes which are being introduced 288 should have the right to vote on them before they come into effect, because after that they no longer have any say in the matter.
The spring of 1967 is vital to the outer London boroughs whose schemes are now with the Secretary of State for Education and Science. He will approve or modify them by July. Once that date has passed, the parents will have no say in the matter. But at this point of time the parents who are concerned know what schemes are going forward, and they should be able to go to the polling booths to give their views on them. They should be able to say, "Yes, I want this for my children", or, "No, I do not want this for my children."
I do not mind how they exercise their votes. What is important is that they should be able to exercise their right to vote. This is a fundamental democratic right, which the Bill is seeking to deny them. I deplore this Measure, not because of what might be the ultimate outcome of the elections, but because we are not allowing these parents to determine the future education of their children.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Maurice Foley)
The hon. Gentleman will recall that during the G.L.C. elections comprehensive education and housing were the two dominant issues. He will recall, too, that there have been two General Elections in which comprehensive education was one of the major issues and that the electorate gave its views by returning a Labour majority both to the G.L.C. and to this House.
§ Mr. Rossi
In as much as the electorate has given its views, it may have done so on general principles, with which I suggest there may be a measure of agreement between the two sides of the Committee. What people have not had is an opportunity of voting on the particular scheme which affects the school at which their children are being educated.
This is the kernel of the matter. I am not surprised at the interventions and interjections by hon. Gentlemen opposite, nor by the fact that the Bill is being presented in this way, because in the infamous circular issued by the Secretary of State for Education and Science he spoke of consultations between teachers 289 and local authorities, but when dealing with parents he said thatthey shall be authoritatively informed.They will receive the diktat. What is meant bythey shall be authoritatively informed"?It means that they will be told which type of education is good for their children, and now they are not to be allowed to vote and decide for themselves. This is why we on this side of the Committee are opposing the Bill.
We are arguing on behalf of the parents. I am the father of five children. I am very much concerned with this matter, and I know that many of my friends and neighbours, too, are concerned about it. We are anxious because we are not being given an opportunity for proper consultation. We do not like being authoritatively informed by the Secretary of State how our children shall be educated, and we resent it most bitterly when the opportunity for exercising our votes and the right to express our opinions is being snatched away from under our noses.
I should like hon. Gentlemen opposite, who talk in glib terms about democracy and democratic processes, to think seriously about this. Is this right? Is this fair? Is this proper? It is no wonder that publications such as the Economist hold up their hands in horror at what is being suggested, and rightly so.
This is something which must be brought home to the public, and I should like them to understand that this is the real issue here. The issue is not who is likely to win the election, or whether parents are likely to vote in favour of, or against, comprehensive education. The point here is that they should have the right to vote. It is this, and nothing else, and it is this for which we are fighting, and about which we are arguing.
I hope that this will get home, and that we will not be misled by sophistry of the kind that we had on Second Reading as to whether or not we are having elections on the same day, or having them a month apart. This is a smokescreen to cloud the issue, and to confuse the electorate, and I hope that if nothing else emerges from this debate, this point will clearly come out, and that it will be understood what the Labour Party is about in this Bill.
290 It has been suggested that we do not come to this debate with clear hands because we were guilty of gerrymandering in the 1963 Act. However, as has already been forcibly said much better than I could say it, that Act was based on an impartial Royal Commission's Report. In detail, there might have been departures from that Report—the right hon. Lady is smiling. Of course, one of the departures was the creation of the I.L.E.A., and at whose behest was I.L.E.A. retained? Certainly not the behest of Conservative hon. Members. We had a very clear-cut idea of what should be done about I.L.E.A. and I regret that the Cabinet of those days gave way to the importunings of those who said what should be done about it——
§ Mr. Richard
The reason that the I.L.E.A. was formed was because the parents of London took it upon themselves to agitate sufficiently to influence some of the constitutional purists now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Rossi
I do not accept that for a moment. It was a purely Left-wing, Labour Party, L.C.C. caucus agitation—that and nothing else.
We think that personal services should be operated at a local level and that is our answer to I.L.E.A. We departed from the Royal Commission's Report, not in a gerrymandering spirit but to give a concession. That is one instance. The other instance mentioned is that of Surrey. The Royal Commission suggested that parts of Surrey should be within the Greater London area. The Government of the day, in their wisdom, decided to give way to pressure and excluded Surrey. In whose favour did that operate? It operated in favour of the Labour Party. So far, they have departed from the recommendations of an impartial Royal Commission.
May I give another instance in which I was very much personally involved and in which the wounds received have not yet quite healed? This was a proposal of the Royal Commission that my borough, which is now my constituency, should have been amalgamated with Southgate and Wood Green. There was an independent inquiry and the Commissioner, in his wisdom, suggested another amalgamation 291 which, in my view and that of my colleagues who knew the locality, was disastrous both for local government—as the events have proved—and from a party political point of view.
I used every means which I thought available to me to have that decision changed. One of the channels which I thought open to me was through the Conservative Party machinery. I was given this blank answer, "A Minister cannot be influenced by party political considerations. You cannot put this forward." This is the extent to which the Conservative Party, a Conservative Minister, gerrymandered at the time of the London Government Act of 1963——
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Perry
The hon. Gentleman has referred to gerrymandering and to a Conservative Minister not giving way to him. In London, under pressure, he issued a circular that only single-barrelled names were to be used, but in the Tory boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea he linked those two names together, having denied that to every other borough in London.
§ Mr. Rossi
I must say that I am overwhelmed by the hon. Gentleman's point. It makes me look at the Minister of the day in an entirely new light.
I am satisfied, from my own experience, that, far from gerrymandering over the London Government Act, the Conservative Administration of that day leaned over backwards to show that they were not acting in any party political way, to the disadvantage of their own party. This is not merely the experience of my locality. This is something which members of the Conservative Party in various areas still feel extremely sore about. I discount the suggestions which have been made—in particular that of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman).
I noticed that one of his points in support of the Bill was that Clause 2 states that ultimately the elections will be held on the "same day". His argument was that, therefore, this is as convenient a time as any to make the change. If it were not for the great pressure on Parliament at the moment and the great difficulty of finding time for matters of 292 this kind, were it not for the fact that this is a vital year for the parents in Greater London, I would agree with him. Certainly, if it is a bad thing to have the elections on the same day in 1970, at some time or other the change must be made and time must be found.
But this is not so, because we have seen the importance of this year, of spring 1967, not from an electoral point of view but from other points of view—the importance to the electors, the people concerned. We also know what pressure there is on Parliamentary time. In any case, in 1970—I make this point because I have not heard it mentioned yet in the debate—the situation would be somewhat different from what it is at the moment.
By 1970, the Greater London electoral areas will be divided up into the equivalent of the parliamentary constituencies. At the moment, Greater London councillors are elected on a borough basis, with three or four to a borough as the case may be. In 1970, they will be elected singly per constituency. Fewer names will, therefore, be put before the electorate. In those circumstances, one can argue that there will not be a great deal of confusion. Indeed, the Home Secretary said in the Second Reading debate that there was a balance between whether or not it is desirable to have these two elections on the same day. He thought that the arguments for and against balance themselves out.
I have taken up a great deal of the time of the Committee on this, but I hope that the kind of cynicism shown on the other side of the House about the objections from this side do not gain very much ground outside. It is simply not true. We are extremely and deeply concerned about the defranchise with which the electorate of Greater London are threatened, over their civil rights, in a vital year.
I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will realise the mistake which they are making. I believe that they were themselves confused over this question of "same day" or different days in the same authority and that this is how the problem came about. I am sure that if this confusion had not existed, the Bill would not have appeared before us. I hope that they will have the courage to say, "We have made a mistake with the Bill. We will withdraw it."
§ Miss Bacon
When the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) moved the Amendment, he introduced, as is usual in his speeches, an air of mystery. He inferred that something had been going on somewhere and that only he knew about it.
On Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman had a great deal to say about a decision of a special committee of the London Boroughs Association and about whether or not that a decision, which that committee had taken at a meeting in January, had been taken unanimously. It is significant that when the right hon. Gentleman spoke today he did not mention that subject—for several good reasons, which I will come to in a moment.
Today the right hon. Member for Enfield, West had another mystery. He spoke mysteriously about a report of town clerks and he alleged that the whole of the Bill was based on a misunderstanding. He inferred that we had said that in 1967 the elections would be held on the same day. If the right hon. Gentleman studies the speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself he will see that we made it perfectly clear that we understood this point very well indeed. Parts of our speeches were devoted to the difficulties of holding the elections on the same day and, after all, the London Government Act made provision for that from 1970 onwards. My right hon. Friend and I also pointed out that in the coming year, 1967, we had readily admitted that they would not be held on the same day but with a few week's interval.
Today the right hon. Gentleman talked about a report from town clerks. He asked how the committee which had produced that report was set up, who was on it and whether their deliberations were devoted merely to the difficulties of holding the elections on the same day. The right hon. Gentleman had a Question down for Written Answer today, in which he asked my right hon. Friend…when and by whom under his general authority a working party of town clerks of London boroughs was appointed to consider the question of elections under the London Government Act 1963; when and to whom it reported; which town clerks were members of the working party; and whether he will make copies of their report available to hon. Members.The committee of town clerks was not set up by my right hon. Friend. It was 294 a working party of town clerks of London boroughs. This working party on local elections in London was set up by the Association of London Town Clerks. I have with me a list of the members who were on it, and while I will endeavour to see that the whole of the report is placed in the Library, there are difficulties involved in my giving the names of those who were on the committee. As members of an officers' association, the people on the working party were acting independently and not under instructions from their councils. London borough town clerks are returning officers for London borough and Greater London Council elections. I understand that, in view of their responsibility as returning officers, the members of the working party felt, after considering the matter, that they should report to the London Boroughs Association.
During this debate I have been in touch with the London town clerks and they tell me that they have not the slightest objection to the report being placed in the Library for the benefit of hon. Members, although they ask—and I feel, in the circumstances, that I should agree—that it would not be right to state the names of the town clerks who were on this special committee.
As I explained on Second Reading, the first representations received by the Home Office were from the Association of London Boroughs. With a letter dated 12th April from the London Boroughs Association, there was enclosed this working party's report from the town clerks. I hope that that explanation will satisfy the right hon. Member for Enfield, West and will convince him that it was not set up by us, that it was not set up by the London Boroughs Association but was a special committee set up by the town clerks themselves.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that explanation, which is extremely helpful. I agree that we can leave the names out of this, and I trust that she realises that I phrased my Question which appears on the Order Paper in that way for Parliamentary reasons, mainly, of course, to get it past the Table. As long as we can have the report, even without the names, that will be of great service to the Committee.
§ Miss Bacon
I have arranged for that to be done. In my speech on Second Reading, I made it perfectly clear—I did not wrap this up at all—that this report was devoted to the difficulties that would ensue if the elections were held on the same day. Indeed, I said:It is true, as my right hon. Friend said, a report was enclosed from the town clerks of the London boroughs and, after all, the town clerks are those who must do the work in this.I went on, after pointing out that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West had said that we were not here to protect the comfort of town clerks, to say:That may be so, but the town clerks pointed to the breakdown that would occur if they had to have the two elections on one day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1965; Vol. 736, c. 362.]I made it perfectly clear that the report of town clerks was devoted to the difficulties of having the elections on one day.
§ Miss Bacon
I am coming to the question of the year, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient and allow me to develop my speech. I am trying to be open and frank with the Committee and to show exactly what happened. The letter from the London Boroughs Association which accompanied the report from the town clerks stated that having received that report from the town clerks the Association had consulted the boroughs in the Greater London area, with the result, as I said on Second Reading, that the considerable majority of members—not only members of Labour boroughs; there were some Conservative boroughs, too—thought not only that we ought not to have the elections on the same day but that the elections should be postponed from 1967 to 1968.
On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West made great play about a meeting of a sub-committee of the London Boroughs Association, which he called a "special committee". I had said that this special committee was unanimous in its decision to recommend the postponement of the 1967 elections to 1968. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was not true. The Chairman of the 296 London Boroughs Association, Mr. Prichard, had written a letter to The Times in which he had said that that special committee was unanimous—and it was that letter and that assertion which the right hon. Member for Enfield, West was disputing on Second Reading.
Since Second Reading Mr. Prichard, who is naturally upset about his letter to The Times being called in question, wrote a further letter to The Times, which the newspaper did not publish. However, Mr. Prichard sent a copy of that letter to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West saying once again that the decision was unanimous. I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention that today, particularly since he has sent a letter to Mr. Prichard in reply; and I propose to read it. It states:
"Dear Prichard,I don't think that the facts are in dispute"—which is not what the right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading—although their interpretation is a matter for debate. Of course the Minute records unanimous agreement. My own speech made this clear. I also spelt out in detail the reasons why the Conservatives raised this, and did not agree with the Minute. You hold the view, as in your unpublished letter, that this is unimportant. I am afraid I don't agree".If the right hon. Gentleman thought that the matter was so important, why did he not raise it today?
The right hon. Gentleman said that his speech made this clear, but I shall read from the right hon. Gentleman's speech on Second Reading. He said:I turn now to the claim that this meeting on 28th January was unanimous, according to the claim made by the Home Secretary, and according to the claim made by its chairman in The Times. It would be very odd if it were unanimous, because among the members present were Conservative representatives from Bromley and Merton, both of which boroughs were among the small number of those who were totally opposed to the change."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966, Vol. 736, c. 246–7.]Yet he said in his letter,…the Minute records unanimous agreement. My own speech made this clear.If the right hon. Gentleman sees any consistency between the letter and the speech he made, I am sorry but I do not.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
I should have thought the point so obvious as not to 297 be necessary to make. The right hon. Lady and I have had many experiences over the years about minutes. One does not get the minutes of the meeting one is attending at that meeting but at the next meeting. The minutes at the subcommittee recorded the officials unanimity, and no doubt the right hon. Lady has seen this, but when the committee met again that was challenged by the three people whose names I have mentioned. Alderman Jordan and two other Conservative members made it quite clear that in their view that interpretation was incorrect. That is the point. Therefore, it is absolutely true that at the first meeting at which one would not see the minutes unanimity was recorded, but as soon as the Conservative members read that in print they challenged it.
§ Miss Bacon
I think there is a different interpretation. What happened appeared to be—and I have Mr. Prichard's views—that the meeting was unanimous, but in the meantime the Conservative Central Office get busy on the Conservative members of the committee. I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not even mention this matter in his speech this afternoon.
§ Miss Bacon
I have evidence that this was unanimous. I have the word of the chairman of the committee, and it is perfectly well known that, for instance, Sutton—which is one of the boroughs which first agreed to the change—afterwards changed its mind. Why did it change its mind afterwards? Because, I am quite sure, pressure was put on it.
§ Sir D. Glover
I do not know whether the right hon. Lady realises the allegations she made about perfectly honourable citizens, aldermen and councillors. She is saying in fact that they have been telling lies and have been got at by someone. I hope that she will withdraw that, unless she has some evidence.
§ Miss Bacon
Mr. Prichard has been accused of telling lies. Other people have been accused of telling lies. I wanted to put this straight, and I read the letter which the right hon. Member for Enfield, West sent.
298 During this debate the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, as he mentioned on Second Reading, the Petition which was presented in this House from Enfield. We remember that one of the hon. Member's whose constituency covers part of Enfield presented a Petition about comprehensive education on behalf of the people of Enfield. We have heard a great deal about comprehensive education and what this will mean to a borough like Enfield, but a cursory look at the Petition in the Petition Office will elucidate the facts that in addition to people in Enfield and many with postal districts in London outside Enfield the Petition was signed by people from Cambridge, Surrey, Bournemouth, Rickmansworth, Chigwell, Cheshire, Essex and other places. That much from the Petition from Enfield. We have had a lot of righteous indignation from the right hon. Gentleman——
§ Mr. Berryrose——
§ Miss Bacon
Wait a minute. I shall give way when I have finished my sentence. I do not think any hon. Member likes to be interrupted in the middle of a sentence. We have had a lot of righteous indignation about the people of Enfield, but I wish to show that this Petition included the names of people who do not live in Enfield.
§ Mr. Berry
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. As I presented the Petition, I thought that she would allow me to make a point about it. The phrase in the Petition was:On behalf of parents, teachers, school governors and others troubled about proposed educational developments in the London Borough of Enfield."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 909.]One does not have to live there in order to send children to be educated there. Whether parents from outside Enfield will be fools enough to send their children to be educated in our excellent schools in future, I very much doubt.
§ Miss Bacon
Now that the hon. Member has made the point, I should like to know which parents in Bournemouth send their children to be educated in Enfield. It might be the other way round, that parents in Enfield send their children to be educated in Bournemouth, but I do not think it is the former way.
299 The Amendments we have been discussing would accept that elections should not be held on the same day but that after 1967 they should be held in different years and they would allow two elections in 1967 a few weeks apart. As was said by my right hon. Friend on Second Reading of this Bill, this matter was evenly balanced. If the elections are held on the same day I am sure there would be great confusion, but if they are on different days in the same year and two local government elections come only a few weeks apart I am sure there would not be a great deal of interest in those elections—[An HON. MEMBER: "As in other places."] An hon. Member says, "As in other places". I happen to live in a place where there are local council elections and triennial elections for the county council. In the years when those two elections take place within a few weeks of each other there is not a great poll. People are apt to say, "We have just voted. What are we voting for again?" We felt that if we were to make this change it would be much better to make it from 1967 to 1968 than to have the 1967 elections and make this change at a later stage.
As was suggested on Second Reading of the London Government Bill in 1963, the ordinary triennial county council elections in Kent, Surrey and Essex were postponed from 1964 to 1965. In Committee on that Bill an hon. Member of the party opposite moved an Amendment and actually voted against his own party—Mr. Robert Jenkins then the Member for Dulwich—to postpone the London Borough elections for a year on the grounds that although the members were elected in 1964 they would not actually begin to operate until 1965 and would be in operation for only two years.
For all these reasons, I hope that the Committee will decide to defeat these Amendments and to accept the Clause as it stands.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I think that the right hon. Lady will have deluded herself if she thinks that what she has said will have reduced in any degree at all the anxieties of my hon. Friends. I am certain that, on the contrary, they will want to probe what she has said very thoroughly as to both the origins and the justification for the Measure.
300 I thank her for saying that she will put the town clerks report in the Library. However, that cannot help us in this debate, because we shall not see it in time. She made it quite clear that that report had nothing to do with the origin of the Bill. She said—I took down her words—that it was devoted to the difficulties arising from there being two elections on the same day. She knows, therefore, that it has nothing whatever to do with the elections in 1967. It is not a point that arises until 1970 when, under the London Government Act, those elections would come together. It does not arise in 1967 and is no justification whatever for postponing elections in 1967.
What the right hon. Lady made clear was that one of the sources from which the decision to introduce the Bill no doubt derives was the transactions of the London Boroughs Committee with its substantial Labour majority. I thought that the right hon. Lady fell below her normal standard when she sought to attack those members of that Committee who disputed the conclusion that the original meeting had come to a unanimous decision. As I understand it, what happened was this. They saw the minutes after the meeting in the normal way. When they saw the conclusion that the decision had been unanimous, they challenged it at the first available opportunity, which was the next meeting. This is normal practice. The right hon. Lady herself knows perfectly well that, if there is an error in the minutes of Cabinet Committees, which can happen, even with the Cabinet Secretariat, rare though it is, any member can challenge the conclusion on the next occasion.
To say that this is accusing the chairman of telling lies is plain nonsense. I have no doubt that Mr. Prichard thought at the time that this was so. What the right hon. Lady is doing, however, is accusing the Conservative representatives who at the next meeting disputed that the conclusion was unanimous, of telling lies —quite unnecessarily, quite wrongly and quite unfairly.
I think that it is disgraceful that a member of the Government, particularly a Minister at the Home Office, charged with responsibilities in respect of elections, should make such an allegation against people who are not here to reply and then decline to withdraw them, although 301 my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) explained to her so simply and clearly how the position arose. The right hon. Lady will leave us with the impression that she is so determined to cover up the origins of the Bill that she is prepared to make charges against perfectly responsible people and not withdraw them.
§ Miss Bacon
I do not intend to withdraw this, because what the right hon. Gentleman keeps assuming is that in fact this Committee was not unanimous. I will read a paragraph from a letter which Mr. Prichard sent to The Times but which was not published:Does Mr. Macleod think that the Chairman of the London Boroughs Association would write to The Times a letter without having first verified the facts? The decision of the Special Committee was indeed unanimous and the Committee instructed its officers to inform all the boroughs that the decision was unanimous.The right hon. Gentleman might say that it is not true, but Mr. Prichard and others who were there say that it is true.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Times shows wisdom sometimes in the selection of the letters it prints and sometimes even greater wisdom in its selection of those it does not print. I hope that this is an example of the latter. The right hon. Lady is no doubt giving Mr. Prichard's impressions, but he was indeed the chairman at the subsequent meeting when the alleged unanimity of the earlier decision was challenged. I am not accusing Mr. Prichard, because I am not so easy with these charges of telling lies. I say that Mr. Prichard was plain wrong, and it is even more wrong of the right hon. Lady in these circumstances to charge perfectly responsible—indeed, very distinguished—public representatives in local government of telling lies. This is what she said.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich) rose——
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am dealing with the right hon. Lady and I do not see why it is necessary that she should have learned counsel come to her defence. The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) will have every opportunity to take part in the debate later, if he wishes. The Committee will simply note—and I pass on—that the 302 right hon. Lady has made wholly uncorroborated charges, but has not the courage to withdraw them.
The Committee has before it a perfectly clear issue. Part of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Lady's speech was that she never addressed herself to it. The clear issue is this. Granted that it is desirable, if it be so granted, that elections should take place on different days for the G.L.C. and for the boroughs, the methods proposed both in Amendment No. 1 and in Amendment No. 2 would achieve that purpose. That is not disputed. They would achieve that purpose without doing what is repugnant to many of us—that is, extending the mandate of people already elected to serve for a period for which they were not elected. Is that disputed?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Under-Secretary has already made one very unfortunate observation, to which I shall return later. I would counsel him not to go on doing so, or he may find the Chief Whip tugging at his sleeve.
It would be perfectly possible to do this. I am not saying—I turn to the Under-Secretary now—that never in any circumstances can or should the term of office or people who have been elected be extended. But there are two conditions which seem to me to be fundamental. One is that there is a real practical necessity, such as a reorganisation of local government or a redistribution. The second is that there should be broad agreement between the parties. Neither of those circumstances occur here.
As I have said—the right hon. Lady has not challenged it—there are two methods—those set out in Amendments Nos. 1 and 2—by which this could be achieved without extending for a day the term of office of any councillor. That being so, the Committee wants to know why the right hon. Lady has not adopted one of these methods.
I had much sympathy for the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden) when he said that it was incredible that a Committee of the whole House should spend a whole day, and it may be other days, discussing this matter when there are, as he so rightly said, so many other matters that the 303 House of Commons would wish to discuss. The responsibility for that lies with the right hon. Lady and, indeed, with the Home Secretary, because, if they were prepared, even at this stage, to accept either of these Amendments, I have little doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends would do everything possible to facilitate the passage of the amended Measure.
Therefore, if time is being wasted as the result of the Measure—a Measure introduced, as the Committee may remember, in priority to half a dozen other Measures of social merit which the Home Secretary himself has said he would like to introduce—this is due to the right hon. Lady's persisting in the one method of effecting the variation in dates which involves a continuation in office of councillors already elected.
The Committee must ask why the Government are prepared to sacrifice that most precious of all commodities to a Government—Parliamentary time—to do it in this way. The only conclusion must be the sordid one that they desire at all costs to avoid having elections in 1967 in the London boroughs, many of which they know they will lose. This is the irresistible conclusion to which the Committee is led by the Government's conduct.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
If the right hon. Gentleman really means what he said—I hope he does not—he could lay the same charge against all the various committees, including the town clerks' committee, which studied this problem and arrived at the same decision. The gravamen of his argument is that people were influenced in securing a delay because they wished to give one particular party electoral advantage. Was this why the town clerks reached their decision? Was this why the many other associations which met reached their decision? The right hon. Gentleman and his party are in a minority and have an illogical argument.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman has got into a fairly lengthy intervention—I must hand it to him—more concentrated nonsense and inaccuracy than I have ever heard any Member get into a comparable period. But there is one basic flaw.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would perform at the Palladium. He is more suited to a provincial hall.
The one basic flaw in his argument is that the town clerks did not—so far as the right hon. Lady told us, and we have not seen their report—recommend this particular solution. I have already quoted the right hon. Lady's words, so that the hon. Gentleman has absolutely no excuse for saying what he did. The right hon. Lady's own words were that their report was devoted to the difficulties of having two elections on the same day. There was not a single word about postponing the elections in 1967 when, as the hon. Gentleman may perhaps by now be aware, the elections would not be on the same day anyhow.
I return to the right hon. Lady and the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) was right to refer to the limited contribution by hon. Members opposite. I feel that this is a criticism of them, because in the past there have not been lacking hon. Members on those benches who have been prepared to stand up for the rights of the citizen to vote for his representatives. There seems to be no appreciation on that side of the Committee that what is being done now is to diminish the rights of the citizen to elect his councillors on the date on which, under the present law, he would be entitled to do so. That is a diminution of the rights of the citizen as an elector.
I have conceded that there may be circumstances in which that right must in some measure be sacrificed—plain necessity and perhaps agreement between the parties—neither of which exists here. What is so depressing about the debate is that hon. Members opposite do not even seem to think that it matters that this right is being taken away. They do not say, "This is a bad thing—we accept that—but we have to put other considerations against it". They do not even seem to appreciate that to diminish the rights of the citizen requires very special justification, which we have not so far had.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there was broad 305 agreement between the parties when the London County Council was destroyed by the London Government Act, and the borough councils were altered?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As the hon. and learned Gentleman has, I think, the clearness of mind to appreciate, that is a very different matter. The essence of that was not the postponement of elections, but the reorganisation of local government in London. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing that the Metropolis should be saddled with a local government system which is 80 years out of date, because a minority in the House did not agree that it should be reorganised. If that is the hon. and learned Gentleman's view, it is rather odd coming from one who regards himself as a member of a progressive party.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to take part in the debate later if he so wishes. We are in Committee and as his first interjections have been, as he must well know, wholly irrelevant to the argument I am putting, I do not see why he should pile a Pelion of futility on an Ossa of irrelevance.
Even more astonishing than the attitude of hon. Members opposite was the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who said that it was odd that the Conservative Party should make so much fuss about this. There was a day when the Liberal Party stood up for the rights of the electors and free elections. There was a day when it used to care about them, and it is no coincidence that since it ceased to care about them it has also ceased to matter in this country.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in five local by-elections in the London Borough of Bromley this year the Conservative vote has decreased by 1,600, the Socialist vote by 1,000, and the Liberal vote has increased by 450?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the hon. Gentleman is as encouraged by that as he would have us believe I would expect to find him in the Lobby with us on the Amendment, because if he really believes 306 that his party, contrary to all the evidence, is going forward—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Of course, I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's word, but I am expressing doubt whether the singular triumph which he has carefully produced for us this evening represents any general tendency throughout the Metropolitan area. I give it to the hon. Gentleman that he has had a wonderful triumph, but it is odd that he is not prepared to put it to a more general test by having elections as we could and should have in May.
Then we come to the extraordinary intervention of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department who, when one of my hon. Friends was saying that the electors should have a chance to pronounce on the very difficult question of comprehensive schools, said, "Oh, but you have had two General Elections and you have had a G.L.C. election", leading to the conclusion that such elections were final. That is the very language of tyranny. Hitler came to power after winning an election, and there never was another. His line of reasoning was that these were final.
If the Under-Secretary knew as much as he should about the structure of London he would know that in the outer areas the education authorities, which are the bodies here concerned, are the boroughs, and their electors have not had the chance to vote since 1964. The Under-Secretary well knows that in 1964 the question of comprehensive schooling was a very minor issue. Therefore, I do not think that he has helped his case.
If one has a democratic system in this country, one election is not final. When the predetermined period is over, those elected must submit themselves to the judgment of their fellow countrymen, but that is precisely what the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues seek to deny them under the Bill, and to deny them in a very crucial area.
I do not want to trespass over issues which you may think will more conveniently arise on later Amendments, Sir Eric, but the fact remains that the year in which the electors are to be disfranchised in the London boroughs is of 307 crucial importance to them. There is the issue of the form of secondary education, into which we shall perhaps go at greater length later. It was extraordinary that the right hon. Lady thought that the only people entitled even to petition the House were those who lived in the boroughs concerned and the other people concerned. The right hon. Lady thought that she had made a great point because one of the signatures on my hon. Friend's petition came from the remote hamlet of Rickmansworth. She evidently thought it a very good point. But there are other people concerned with schools, with children at schools in these boroughs or with the structure of education in this country, about which many of us care a great deal——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am in the middle of a sentence. They are fully entitled to question whether the Government are right, and to petition the House in appropriate terms that this be not done. If the right hon. Lady is reduced to that point, her argument is becoming very weak indeed.
§ Mr. Richard
As I understand the Opposition's argument, it is that the people who live in the areas of London who are affected by the comprehensive reorganisation who should have the right to vote on it in 1967. How does someone living in Bournemouth, who is interested in what is happening in Enfield, have a vote in the Borough of Enfield, which is affected by the Bill?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Any citizen has the right to petition the House that another citizen be not disfranchised. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman could apprehend that. We are still a country in which there is this right of expression and many of those citizens, being sensible people—they would not have signed my hon. Friend's petition if they were not—know perfectly well that if there are elections in these boroughs there will be a change in the composition of those borough councils. They think, as they are entitled to think, that it will be a change for the better.
If the Government have their way, the decision is to be shuffled off for a 308 year, shuffled off while they decide the issue of secondary education, and shuffled off until, so they hope, they will be on a better wicket. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) said that we were wrong about this and that we might do even better in 1968. He may well be right. I think that the swing will continue against the Government. But this is no conclusive argument for submitting the electors of these boroughs to Socialist misrule for a further year, even though the Conservatives will have a larger majority when the time comes.
Implicit in the hon. Gentleman's observations, of course, was the real condemnation of this Measure. He admitted the force of our case that opinion is against the Labour Party and it is keeping its councillors in office against the tide of changing public opinion. This is the condemnation of what the Government are doing.
This is not a question of the Home Secretary's bland comments about the town clerks. It is not a question of neatly balanced considerations as to whether or not elections should take place on the same day or another day, with which the right hon. Gentleman regaled us at the beginning of his speech on Second Reading. This is a deliberate decision by the Government to effect the separation of dates from 1970 onwards by the one method open to them which will deprive the electors of London of the right to decide how they want their local authorities run in 1967 and 1968. As the Economist said in the passage already quoted, it is a sorry matter with which the Home Secretary has soiled his fingers.
§ Mr. Scott
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has dealt with the Minister of State's intervention more adequately than I can, but I hope that, before the debate ends, we shall have something like an answer from the Government Front Bench. The smokescreen put up by the right hon. Lady was of a quality which should qualify her for the Treasury before next year's Finance Bill comes round. We had the smokescreen, we had talk about the town clerks' committee, which is irrelevant to today's debate, and we had a long diatribe about the special committee, but no attempt at 309 all to answer the points which have been made.
After a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, though most of the contributions have come from this side of the Committee and we have heard precious little from hon. Members opposite, the fact remains that no one really believes that, were the Labour Government not in the mess they are in today, we would have had this Bill before us now. Only the Government's knowledge that their national policies are in such a state that their dismal performance will be reflected in local elections next spring and the unpopularity of so many local authorities controlled by the Labour Party have brought them to the decision to postpone these elections.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden), whose reluctance to give way is matched only by his ignorance of affairs in London, seemed unsure of what the debate was about. The debate is about the rescue by this Government of Labour local authorities from the wrath of the electorate next spring. It is about the right of parents to vote against the spread of comprehensive schooling in outer London.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) pointed out that, in the few contributions we have had from the Government side of the Committee, there have been constant references to the London Government Act, 1963. One would imagine from these references, particularly from the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), that the Labour Party is now thoroughly disillusioned with the working of this Act and regards it as a thoroughly bad Measure. Yet this is not the view of the London Boroughs Association, which, in its evidence to the Royal Commission on Local Government in London, paragraph 6, says:The general view is that the new system is working well and that the advantages are many and that these by far outweigh the defects. This is in spite of the fact that, in a reorganisation of such magnitude, difficulties and disadvantages are at their most apparent in the early days and that the full advantages will not be fully felt for some years to come".Although it is not strictly within the terms of the debate, it is worth pointing out the now generally accepted view of the advantages which have accrued to 310 London from the reorganisation of its Government flowing from the 1963 Act so that it is now the only great city in the world whose administration matches the reality of its geography. This is something for which the electors of London are thankful.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The hon. Gentleman gives that as a generally accepted view. Who says that it is the generally accepted view? He has quoted one opinion in its favour. He can take it from me that there is a great deal of criticism and, had it been possible for this Government to reverse the Act, they would, I am sure, have done so.
§ Mr. Scott
In his rather irrelevant talk about the town clerks' committee on Second Reading the Home Secretary laid great stress on the value which should be placed on the opinion of people who have to work a particular system. The London Boroughs Committee has to work the system of London Government, and it wholeheartedly supports the new scheme.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) made clear at the outset, this Bill has been reared on a misconception and on squalid electoral advantage. The impressive build-up of opinion in responsible journals like the Economist and others has been quoted already. They are united in acquitting the Home Secretary of being anything but the dupe of the London Labour Party, but it is on his shoulders that the real blame for the Bill must rest, for it is he who has brought it before the House.
When the trimmings have been stripped away, we are left, first, with the argument based on administrative convenience. This has been cleared out of the way now. Although it was not made clear on Second Reading that it is largely irrelevant to the question of elections next spring, this point has now been settled and we know that the town clerks' arguments for administrative convenience were not concerned with the postponement of the elections next spring. Even so, the Home Secretary said that the arguments were very nicely balanced in this matter and that it was a nice question to decide on which side of the fence to come down. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who has 311 unjustly incurred a certain amount of unjustified odium for other causes for which he stands should think it worth while to incur more for bringing this rather squalid Measure before the House.
We are left, therefore, with party political advantage alone. The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. Albert Evans), who has left the Chamber now, tried to make the rather ludicrous case on Second Reading that the new arrangement had been reached so as to save Conservative Party workers in North London. No one will give much credence to that. He was very much nearer the mark when he said:My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has rightly introduced the Bill in order to make as sure as he can that next spring the field will be clear so that the Greater London Council elections can be held in the most favourable circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 305–6.]That is probably closer to the political truth than the other ludicrous argument to which I have referred.
The London Labour Party's approach to local government in London, ever since the reform of London government was first mooted, has been motivated simply and solely by party political advantage, with no consideration whatever for good government and democracy in London. In paragraph 210 of its Report, the Royal Commission said:The London Labour Party is not only the policy-making body, but is also the party machine for organising the party and fighting elections. It appeared to us that its principal…object was to ensure that as far as possible any reorganisation of London Government would facilitiate rather than impede its task as a party machine of gaining and maintaining political power.I do not dispute that it is perfectly right to do that. It is a legitimate aim. It is what political parties are for, and it is perfectly legitimate for them to do that if they pursue it according to the rules; but it is not legitimate for them to do that if they persuade the Government of the day to change the rules, as they are doing in this case, so that they can secure an unfair advantage.
§ Mr. Molloy
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can enlighten me. What rules were broken for members of the London Labour Party for over 30 years when they consistently won elections in London?
§ Mr. Scott
If they were confident of their ability to get control of the boroughs, then they they did so. Why are they doing so now? I am saying that they are breaking the rules in persuading the Government of the day in this Bill, to gerrymander elections for their advantage. I am not speaking about what happened over the last 30 years. This is the time when they are bending, or breaking, the rules to their own political advantage.
I now return to the question of administrative convenience. The Report of the Royal Commission on London Local Government, page 59, says, in defining local government:By local government' we mean 'local self-government'. We make the point because at all historical times in England there have been, in any given locality, two forms of government existing side by side. One is the local administration of the central government carrying out within the locality the policy of the central government; the other is the internal regulation of the affairs and services of some community.…It seems to me that the Labour Government, by this Bill, are confusing two systems of government of local affairs.
The Report goes on to say:Great sums of money and a great effort in terms of man power are annually spent on the provision of local government services. It is essential therefore that the system of government should be one which promotes efficiency and economy in the use of both human and financial resources. There is need for a continuous search for methods of operation which will yield the best results at the lowest cost.The next paragraph says:In contrast to some other systems of government, representative Government properly so-called seeks to give outward form to the inward unity of a living community. Local Government is with us an instance of democracy at work, and no amount of potential administrative efficiency could make up for the loss of active participation in the work by capable, public-spirited people elected by, responsible to, and in touch with those who elect them.It seems to me that the Government are planning to deny the working of local democracy in London by the Bill which is before us.
Briefly, I want to look at the argument advanced by the right hon. Lady about the confusion which is supposed to occur from elections which take place around the same time. I am not even sure that I accept the argument about the confusion which arises from elections taking place on the same day. Indeed, in many 313 ways I think that perhaps it will make it clearer to people who are voting for different bodies if the elections should take place on the same day. Certainly, I think that when we have elections in successive years there is a case for saying that a proportion of the electorate believe it is the same body or the same local council that they are re-electing when the next election comes around. If we have elections that are fairly close at least we have the opportunity to explain to the electorate the different functions of the two local authorities for which they are voting.
Then we are told that a low poll results from this sort of election; yet the 1949 figures show that there is no case for this suggestion, because in 1949 we had a higher than average poll in London when the L.C.C. and the local boroughs were elected together. Even if we did accept that some confusion resulted from the holding of the elections fairly close together, we have also to ask ourselves whether the confusion is such that we are entitled to deny the electors of London their right to pass their judgment next spring on the borough councils' performance over the past three years.
Of the two Amendments that seek to alter the situation, I come down in favour of that which would give the new councils four years rather than two in which to govern. A two-year period would smack of a rather temporary arrangement and councils would immediately be thinking of the next election. If we must have either a two-year or four-year period, the longer period would be better. But the principle is that for whatever period they are elected they should be allowed to serve.
Finally, one accepts that there will be some administrative convenience which will result if this Bill unfortunately is passed. I do not personally accept that the argument about confusion is at all valid, but one may be wrong. Even if one accepts both these things, one comes down in favour of the solution which was found in 1948 by the then Labour Government. What I do not accept is the solution which the Government are putting before the Committee, and I hope, therefore, that before the evening is out the Government will decide to accept one of these Amendments which are before the Committee.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
I am grateful for being given this opportunity to speak. As you yourself will no doubt have observed, Mr. Brewis, I took the very first opportunity of rising to address the Committee at the end of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), but, unfortunately, I was not at that time able to catch the eye of your predecessor in the Chair.
It was my intention to reply immediately to the disgraceful insinuations made by the right hon. Gentleman against a distinguished servant of London, Mr. Norman Prichard. The right hon. Gentleman did not give way to me when I sought to put a question to him about it. He singled me out by giving me the compliment of making me the only hon. Member for whom he did not have the courage to give way during the course of his speech.
I rise to make only a few remarks. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's attack on Mr. Prichard was shocking. Mr. Prichard is a gentleman who for many years was chairman of the Finance Committee of the London County Council. He was for many years chairman of the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Committee and then of the London Boroughs Association. He has, therefore, had tremendous experience, particularly experience in taking the chair. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the course of a meeting of a special committee consisting, I understand, in its full complement of 15 members—10 Labour members and five Conservative members—and inferred either that Mr. Prichard told an untruth about the way in which three members of that committee voted or that this distinguished chairman, with his very great experience, on a matter which is regarded by the Conservative Party as a very great and indeed fundamental matter, was quite unaware of the fact that three Conservatives out of five were opposing the proposal which that Committee was putting forward.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really expect this Committee to believe that anything of that kind could have happened? If he does not, the only possible alternative is that notwithstanding the words that he used to this Committee, he is accusing this distinguished public servant of telling lies—
§ Mr. Silkin
I will not give way. The right hon. Gentleman refused to give way to me. Why should I give way to him? His was an utterly shocking speech. He made some utterly shocking insinuations. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have the grace at some stage to withdraw and apologise to Mr. Prichard.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On a point of order, Mr. Brewis. The hon. and learned Gentleman issues an express challenge and asks me to say something on the point. Is it in order for him to lack the guts to give way?
§ Mr. Silkin
On this matter, I speak from the standpoint of someone who has at all times taken the view that, in broad principle, the Report of the Royal Commission was right; who has said so to his colleagues—although his colleagues have frequently disagreed with him—and who, indeed, anticipated the views of the Royal Commission in the report for which he was responsible at a time when he was a member of the Camberwell Borough Council. I therefore hope that it will not be suggested by any hon. Member opposite that in opposing these Amendments, and supporting what the Government are doing, I am acting from any point of view of "squalid political advantage"—to use an expression that has been put forward.
What encourages me is that as far as I can understand the argument which the Opposition has put forward on the basis of squalid political advantage, it must mean that they, at any rate, expect that in 1968 we shall be in a much more popular state in the country than in 1967. Otherwise, there could be no possible advantage in deferring the election to that year. I am much encouraged to hear that that is their view. I have no doubt that we shall be in a much more popular state in 1968 than in 1967, but I am equally confident that in 1967 we shall be popular enough to swing London and win control, whether we are fighting for the G.L.C. alone or for the London boroughs as well.
316 The reason for this deferment has nothing to do with political popularity or any matter of that kind. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State herself has said, there is every reason—whether or not one accepts the views of the Royal Commission and what was done by the Conservative Party in the Measure which we are now amending—to ensure that elected members have adequate time for the discharge of their duties.
The hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) said that he much preferred the Amendment which would give four years of office to elected members rather than that which would give only two years. I think that the elected members should have a normal period of three years; that councillors will be better councillors if they have three years, and that, if the matter is looked at from a perfectly dispassionate and impartial point of view, there is every reason why the extra year should be given to them.
In those circumstances, and having regard to fact that, as I understand it, it is accepted that there is advantage at some stage in altering the situation so that the elections do not come in the same year or at the same time, I think that by far the best time to do it is now, when we will have given these gentlemen the benefit of the two years' experience they will have had, and add to those two years an extra year to form a normal triennium period for councillors.
Having listened to a substantial part of the debate, I find the arguments in favour of the Amendments singularly unconvincing. I can see no other reason for their being put forward than an attempt to wreck the Bill, which the Opposition clearly dislike intensely.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I support the argument of my right hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for not postponing the elections, and those advanced by my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) and for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) for educational reasons. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) and I probably have stronger reasons than anyone else for not wishing these elections to be postponed, because I understand that the 317 scheme for comprehensive education put forward by the Borough of Brent Council is further advanced than that of any other outer London borough. In fact, I believe that it is the only one that has been passed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
When the Brent Council was elected, three years ago, the electors had no idea —although they knew perfectly well that the Labour Party intended to put forward a scheme of comprehensive education—what the comprehensive education scheme would be, nor do I think that the Labour majority on the council had any idea until it got control. The scheme being put forward joins at least three groups of schools in different places, separated, in some cases, by important main roads, and schools that are totally unsuitable for grouping for comprehensive education.
Like many of my hon. Friends, I do not take a doctrinaire view of comprehensive schools. If they are set up in new areas, in one building, or in buildings grouped in one area, where there is not a lot of running from one part of the borough to the other, there may be something to be said for them, but there is nothing to be said for a scheme such as that put forward by the Brent Council, and the electors should be given their chance next May to vote on this scheme. No one can say with certainty how the vote would go, but they should be given that chance, as is laid down by the law as it stands, and should not be compelled to wait until May, 1968, when the scheme may have been put into operation, as it might not have been in 1967. That is my main reason for objecting to the Bill, and for hoping that the Government will yet see the wisdom of allowing these elections to take place in May, 1967.
As the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) is in his place again. I should like to deal with what he said about too many elections taking place in quick succession. In 1955, outside inner London, there were elections for the county council on 14th April and for the boroughs on 12th May. Only two weeks later, there was a General Election——
§ Sir R. Russell
That may be the hon. and learned Gentleman's personal opinion, but I would point out that my party made gains in both those local government elections and made sweeping gains in the General Election on 26th May of that year, when we increased our majority from about 15 to about 50. That shows that the electors did not take umbrage at having three elections thrust upon them not only in outer London but all over the country. The fact that they had all this work to do and three successive votes did not at least alienate them from the Conservative Party at the time.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Sir R. Russell
I have not the figures for these areas, but I hazard a guess that it was about 40 per cent. in outer London for both the county council and borough council elections—the average is between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. and that in the General Election it was 75 per cent. to 80 per cent.
I do not think that three successive elections had any effect on the General Election figures that year, although they may have had some effect on borough figures. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will find that the figures have held a fairly steady average in outer London of about 40 per cent. plus in local elections in every year in which there have been elections up to 1964. On the other hand, the poll has been small in inner London. Sometimes it has been as low as 30 per cent.
The first election I took part in was in the old division of Southwark, South-East, in 1934. The candidates were the present Lord Silkin, the present Lord Jessel, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and myself. There was a 21 per cent. poll in that small area of about a square mile bounded by the Old Kent Road and Walworth Road. That is about the lowest percentage poll on record. The percentage varies all over inner London but I think that the average for the former Metropolitan boroughs was probably lower than anywhere else in the country. That may be because they always had triennial elections instead of annual.
§ Sir R. Russell
The Labour majority was about 5,000, I believe, with about 1,300 for the Conservatives. I believe that annual elections, which were held for so long, were one of the reasons for low polling.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Surely this is the point. The intervention of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) strikes the nail right on the head. The constituency I represent, for example, is, in Parliamentary terms, a highly marginal area, unlike Southwark, South-East. The proportion of people who vote in local government elections in such areas, even in those which are very one-sided, is very much wider. We normally reach 50 per cent. poll or more.
§ Sir R. Russell
I am glad to hear it, but it varies from area to area. It may be that there is a low poll in Westminster, but I have not the figures for inner London. What the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests may be one of the reasons for a low poll. I am in favour of annual elections.
I stress the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley)—that the problem of having two successive elections separated by only a month occurs everywhere else in the country, in Scotland, I believe, as well as in England. Indeed, during the debates on the London Government Act, I gave some figures of the number of local authorities which have annual elections. This means two elections in the same year because county councils are involved as well.
No fewer than 1,317 non-county boroughs, 435 urban districts and 125 rural districts in England and Wales and 198 burghs in Scotland have annual elections. I have not checked the figures recently, but I have no reason to think that they have altered during the last three years. Thus, these areas outside the inner London area have double elections separated by probably only one month, possibly even less in Scotland. There never seems to have been any protest against that system from other parts of England and Wales. I see no argument for going against the system now.
320 I was rather impressed, too, by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour), who quoted what happens in the United States when often 10 individuals are elected on one poll. I have no doubt that the Americans have mechanical methods of electioneering which may make it easier than it would be for a returning officer to deal with elections over here. It is a little difficult to understand why the town clerks' committee should have been so nervous of having elections on the same day in Greater London when such a scheme can be managed in the United States. However, I do not intend to argue that, As I say, I am in favour more of anual elections than of biennial elections.
I feel very strongly about the educational aspect of this matter, but for which I would not worry so much about the rest of the Bill. I am also rather surprised that during the whole of this debate there have not been more than about 15 of the Labour Members for Greater London present at any one time.
§ Sir R. Russell
There have been about 15 on this side, too, but we are only 30 strong, whereas the Labour Members for Greater London total 60-plus, not including the Chairman of Ways and Means. While there are some who have been present consistently throughout the debate, like the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), I sometimes wonder whether the others are paying enough attention to the main issue in this debate, which I regard as education. For this reason, I hope that the Government will still agree to postpone the Bill.
§ Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)
The indictment which faces the Government as they sit in the dock this evening is, to my mind, one of obtaining time and further time by false pretences. I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden), who has now left. He stressed that the debate was a complete and utter and disgraceful waste of time. If the hon. Member has time to read HANSARD tomorrow, I think he will find that so far the only time which has been wasted 321 was the time taken up by his speech. It was utterly irrelevant and showed absolutely no knowledge whatever of the subject.
The only matter of any concern in the hon. Member's speech was when he apologised for coming from Birmingham to speak. I hope that he and his constituents are now taking advantage of the changes in local government there which will enable them to buy their own council houses, which will, no doubt, have a great success in the elections here in Greater London in the near future.
I rise to speak in this debate because I represent the constituency of Ruislip and Northwood, which is situated in the borough of Hillingdon. If there is one matter which is causing more concern than any other during the 16 or nearly 17 year; that I have represented the constituency, it is the reorganisation of education. Parents and teachers are very worried and upset by the reorganisation which is taking place. They would dearly bye to have an opportunity of expressing their views—I am not arguing the merits of the comprehensive school tonight—one way or the other about how they feel that the future of their children should be treated.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) But for the question of comprehensive schooling and the tremendous upset which has taken place in particular in my constituency, I certainly would not be speaking here tonight. From what I have seen, however, I have no doubt whatever that the Government are pushing this Measure through because they want to get their own comprehensive plan. Unfortunately, although large numbers of meetings have been held in Ruislip and Northwood, there has never been true consultation as between the local education authority and the parents and teachers concerned.
I wonder whether I can give the Committee on independent example of the sort of thing which is going on and of the way in which this Measure is being pushed through and will ultimately be pushed through if elections are not held to save the situation when they should be held early next spring. On 5th October, there was a public meeting at Uxbridge when one of the speakers was 322 a Mrs. Dean, who is an officer of the Hillingdon Federation of Parent-Teachers' Associations representative of no fewer than 10,000 children in school today. She said:The consultation has not been as real as the number of meetings has indicated. We asked the chairman of the education committee to meet our chairman, in July. The letter has not even been acknowledged. If Hillingdon borough are really sincere about consultation they must meet us in a different atmosphere than mass meetings.That is the sort of situation which is being stirred up. That is why parents and teachers, throughout not only my constituency but the whole Borough of Hillingdon, naturally want to be able to do what they should be entitled to do, which is democratically and freely to state their opinions in the ballot box next April. As we have heard, because of the action taken by the Government, they are to be denied that opportunity.
It was only as late as May of this year that it was suddenly decided by the local education authority to alter the age of transfer from 11 to 12 years. This decision has caused great anxiety. The education authority claimed that there had been full consultation, but the parents have not been consulted about this alteration of the age of transfer. There has not been the time.
I do not wish to mislead the Committee in any way, but there is one matter which I should like to raise. When I was discussing these matters in the constituency on Friday, I was informed by persons who should know—and I say at once that they might well have been wrong—that a letter had been sent from the Home Office to clerks of various local authorities asking for their views on the postponement of the elections on the basis—and I stress this—that the elections were to be held on the same day. I do not know—I have not see the letter——
§ Miss Bacon
If the hon. and learned Member has not seen the letter, he ought not to say that. I would be very glad to see the letter to which he is referring, because my information is that it did not say that. The letters which have gone out are with HANSARD at the moment and so I cannot quote them, but what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is completely untrue.
§ Mr. Crowder
We shall have to see. I am not making an allegation but merely reporting to the Committee what I have been told. At this stage it is purely hearsay evidence.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
On a point of order. I thought that it was the accepted practice of the House of Commons that a Member should accept responsibility for the statement which he made. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make a statement and then to deny its authenticity? [Interruption.] When the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) stops cackling, I will wait for a response from the Chair. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make a statement and then withdraw it and say that he accepts no responsibility for it? I venture to suggest that there have been rulings that hon. Members must accept responsibility for statements which they make.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Further to that point of order. I do not see how you could rule on that, Mr. Brewis. It will be within your recollection that the statement on which the point of order was based was completely invalid. That was not what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) said.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I think that the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) is correct. As I understood what passed, the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) asked a question and got an answer. I have not heard anything out of order.
§ Mr. Crowder
That is precisely what the situation was. I was only reporting to the Committee something which I had been told. It was purely hearsay. I said that it was, and I said that I was unable to substantiate it. I was asking the 324 Minister for information as to whether there was any truth in these statements which had come to my ears. I should have thought that one was entitled to ask even a Socialist Minister for that sort of information and to get an answer.
§ Miss Bacon
If the hon. and learned Gentleman reads HANSARD of 15th November, he will see that I quoted the letter which was sent to the G.L.C., a copy of which was sent to the London Boroughs Committee, in which we said:Note has been taken of the suggestion that after 1967 the election of London borough councils should be held not only on a separate day but in a different year from that on which the elections of Greater London Councils are held.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1966; Vol. 736, col. 361.]That was the only communication which went from the Home Office.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Crowder
Would the right hon. Lady help me in this way? Would she consider publishing or putting in the Library all the correspondence which has gone from the Home Office to the various local authorities and the clerks concerned so that we might have an opportunity of perusing it? That would probably clear up the matter straight away.
§ Miss Bacon
I have no objection to that, but the only letter which has gone out from us is the letter to the G.L.C., a copy of which was sent to the London Boroughs Committee, which I quoted on 15th November. No other letter has gone out.
§ Mr. Crowder
Is the right hon. Lady certain that no other letter has gone out to local authorities? I do not ask her to state that categorically. If she does not know the answer, I will accept that. But can she give a complete answer? I see her looking to the Official Box.
§ Miss Bacon
No other letter has gone out. The letter which went out was sent to the G.L.C. and a copy was sent to the London Boroughs Committee. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had read my Second Reading speech or had been present during the Second Reading debate he would have realised that.
§ Mr. Crowder
I end by saying that the parents, voters and teachers in my constituency think it an absolute outrage that they should be denied the right to vote 325 and express their views particularly on comprehensive education next spring.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
I am glad to follow in the debate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder), because only a short time ago I supported him in the debate which he so wisely initiated in the House calling attention to the incompetent and unsatisfactory way in which the borough of Hillingdon had approached its responsibilities in education. In that debate, I was able to support him because many of my constituents in Harrow are educated, and indeed some teach, at the schools in his borough. It is fair to say that we had the better of that debate. Points concerning my hon. and learned Friend's constituents were brought to the Floor of the House and the follies of the Hillingdon Borough Council were exposed.
How right my hon. and learned Friend was to speak in this debate and to indicate the sort of thing which is going on all over London—these inadequate, unsatisfactory schemes for education, which do not meet the wishes of parents, of the electorate, or of the teachers. [Interruption.] Whether they do or not, the fact is that the public should have the right to decide on them. That is precisely what this debate is about.
I do not care two hoots whether the town clerks approve, whether they have a meeting, whether the meeting is unanimous, or whether it is difficult to hump ballot boxes about. Nor do I care for the absurd argument advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) to the effect that the poor, dim-witted electorate find it so terribly confusing to have to make a simple choice for their borough candidate and G.L.C. candidate. I do not believe that people are such fools.
I recall a local election some years ago—I cannot remember exactly where it was, but it was not very far from my constituency—in which there were no fewer than three candidates with the name of Smith. But this did not confuse the electorate in any way, because the Smith who was a Conservative was elected with a substantial majority. I do not believe that there is anything in this argument, any more than there is in 326 what I call the town clerk argument. We can sympathise with the town clerks. They are local officials, and they are administrators. They are like the Civil Service. They are sea green incorruptibles. They are anxious to see the business dealt with as quickly as possible. They want the minimum amount of trouble. They carry out their job with the greatest degree of efficiency, but they will be pleased if there is no election. But there is one qualification. Town clerks and local government officials are paid for carrying out their duties, so I do not think that we can count this argument very strongly, and I think that those are two feeble arguments to advance in support of the Bill.
The third argument is one which the Home Secretary advanced. It was on some rather grandiose democratic principle, that there is such a low poll when there are two elections on the same day that it is a denial of democracy in some way, and therefore people cannot be bothered to turn out. I do not think that this argument can be supported, and indeed the figures which I have do not bear it out. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the position which existed in 1949, he will find that when the Metropolitan boroughs and the L.C.C. elections were held in the same year the average turnout was 38.2 per cent. If one looks at the average for the two years when elections were held in the same year, namely, 1949 and 1964, one finds that in the former the average turnout was 38.2, and in the latter it was 27.6 for the Inner London boroughs, so that one gets an average of 32.9 per cent.
If that is compared with the average for the four years when the metropolitan borough elections and the L.C.C. elections were held in separate years, from 1953 to 1962, one finds that the average was 33.8 per cent. If the House is not entirely and utterly bored by this recitation of percentages, it will be appreciated that the difference in the poll in those two circumstances was no more than 1 per cent., thus the right hon. Gentleman's argument about a low poll also falls to the ground.
It is my submission that all these arguments are a mere smokescreen to disguise the real purpose behind the Bill. It really is monstrous, and I believe insulting to the House—we are all engaged in politics—to suppose that we can fall 327 for the tale that this is something to do with the convenience of town clerks, or low polls, or something of that nature. This is absolute nonsense. The object behind the Bill is clear. It is to perpetuate Labour rule in those boroughs where they have the power so that they can perpetuate their educational policies. This is perfectly clear.
In my submission there is nothing wrong in people wanting to win an election. There is nothing wrong in a democracy in wanting to get votes, whether Conservative or Socialist. This is a thoroughly good thing. There are some high-minded people, and some of them on local authorities, who take a rather detached point of view, and think that politics in local government is not a desirable thing, that it should be expunged in some way, and that we should all be non-party political animals. I do not share this view, although I appreciate that it is held with the best possible motives. There is nothing wrong in seeking to get votes, or to win elections. What is wrong is to monkey with the rules by means of jiggery pokery and to pretend that one is doing something else. This is what is wrong.
Where will it end? What will be the next stage? What will happen about boundaries? This is the next lot of jiggery pokery to which we shall be subjected. What is happening in London now could happen in many other parts of the country. If this is to be the normal pattern, what about Parliament itself? When this was raised, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock),—I am sorry that he is not here—who we all know is such a non-party political animal, poured scorn on the suggestion that Parliament might be affected. He said that it was absolutely absurd and that people would be so surprised that they would rise up in anger against such a proposal.
For example, the Prime Minister might decide that the Government needed more than five years to fulfil all the Socialist programme, and might say, "We have been blown a little off course, the wind has not been quite right and, after all, we need a little longer, perhaps another year, in which to achieve reflation in time to persuade the electorate to give us another mandate." Therefore, I can well see him arguing, "This is a simple 328 and not a party political move to extend the life of Parliament, and a grave national disaster—
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
On a point of order. Has this anything whatever to do with the London Government Bill?
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member is straying somewhat wide, but I have heard nothing out of order yet.
§ Mr. Grant
I am most grateful, Mr. Brewis. I can understand the anxiety of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), but I should have thought that he would have been as concerned as anybody at the thought that Parliament's life could be extended. If it were, I am certain that the Parliamentary majorities of hon. Members opposite would be far worse than if it took place in four years' time. I merely emphasise that it could easily happen.
After all, there have been many surprises since the last election. Who could have imagined or expected the powers which have been taken under the Prices and Incomes Bill. I appreciate that I must not stray into these fields, and I pass now to the basic points which concern us under the Bill.
I thought that the speech of the right hon. Lady was one of the most inadequate defences of a wholly indefensible Bill which we have heard in the House for a very long time. The fact that she sought to draw red herrings across the path about whether votes at meetings were unanimous or not and other irrelevant matters like that disguised the fact that this is a basic interference with the rights of the people to decide what sort of local government they want. This is the guts of the matter. I am anxious to discover what is behind this.
We heard the Home Secretary, in very fine and superior terms, propose this Measure, saying that it was on some purely administrative and non-partisan basis. We then found, when we probed a little more deeply, that although the voice may be the voice of the Home Secretary, the hand is the hand of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), that he lurks behind this. I am not certain what has gone on between the two. We are asked to be so disingenuous as to believe that no word 329 of communication has passed between these two gentlemen, that they have not discussed the matter, that not a word, not a nod, not a wink, not even a kiss in the dark has taken place between these two gentlemen on a matter of vital importance to the future of the Labour Party——
§ Sir S. McAdden
Why does my hon. Friend think that it is so surprising that Members of the Government do not speak to one another?
§ Mr. Grant
This is a matter on which my hon. Friend would be a much better authority than I. As to why they should not speak to one another, I do not know. I had always believed that the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Bermondsey were very much at one in that they were bitterly anxious to resist the invasions of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) and his friends, but evidently that is not the case.
The truth is, obviously, that the London Labour Party is behind this proposal, which I have no hesitation at all——
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)
Would the hon. Member explain something? When the suggestion was made from this side that pressure was put, for example, on Sutton to change its mind, hon. Members said that this was a slur and that if it were denied that denial should be accepted. If it is denied, as it has been, that there was pressure by the London Labour Party, which caused the introduction of this Measure, why does he apply an entirely different standard and say that this denial is not to be taken at its face value?
§ Captain W. Elliot
Before my hon. Friend answers that, may I, as a Member with part of my constituency in Sutton, emphatically refute what the Under-Secretary of State has said——
§ Captain Elliot
If what he said has any truth at all, would he tell us where he got this information from?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant
I wish to make it clear, first, that I accept entirely that what the 330 Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bermondsey said is completely true. He is an hon. Member for whom we have the highest respect and regard; a nice, honourable man. However, I wish to make it clear, secondly, that I do not have the slightest objection to the London Labour Party bringing pressure to bear on the Government as long as hon. Gentlemen opposite will be open and honest about it and admit that that was the position. Had there not crept into the fertile brain of the Home Secretary one chink of possibility of political advantage in introducing this Measure?
As for Sutton, I see no reason why a local authority should not change its mind. My authority did not raise any objection at the time, although, on further investigating the matter—and without having put any pressure on my authority—I have been told that had it realised, being composed of innocent and honourable men, the chicanery and gerrymandering behind this and the implications for education and other matters contained in it, it would not have made the decision it did make. That is clear and I have with me a letter from the leader of the council to that effect.
Be that as it may, my authority made its decision honestly, freely and openly, although in my constituency of Harrow it is not a matter of great concern because we have produced an eminently sensible education plan which does not conform to the dogmatism and doctrinnaire approach of the Ministry of Education, and the people in my part of the world are perfectly satisfied. We are prepared to have an election next year, or whenever one likes, to test this issue in my constituency. The guts of the matter is that if we have a difference of opinion—if, for example, we believe that comprehensive education is good or bad—we should have the courage to put it to the test and not use a facade like this Measure to perpetuate the matter.
§ Sir S. McAdden
Lest it be thought that I am an intruder into an exclusively London affair, I hasten to make it clear at the outset that this is not an exclusively London business. A matter of deep principle is involved and hon. Members of all parties should be keenly 331 interested. The serried ranks of Government supporters—now, with the departure of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), diminished by one—denote how little interest hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking in this debate. I understand that they are probably a little worried about this manoeuvre, which the Amendment seeks to correct.
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) is in his place because I listened with attention to what he said with his hand on his heart—no; we must not bring his heart into this—about the purity of the motives which had inspired the Bill.
§ Sir S. McAdden
I was talking about purity. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that the purity was "phoney", that is for him to decide.
Touching on the motives of the Labour Party, the hon. and learned Gentleman gave the impression that any idea of political advantage had never entered the heads of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were interested only in administrative convenience so that the elections were efficiently run. They could not be run efficiently unless the Bill was passed and any motives of a party political nature had never entered the thoughts of the Labour Party on these great matters of local government, he said, I assure him that he would not be representing his constituency were it not for the fact that political considerations have always governed the lines followed by the London Labour Party.
I remind him that were it not for the fact that the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth, when he was Mr. Herbert Morrison and leader of the London Labour Party, had transferred the building of council flats to the borough, the hon. and learned Member would not be here today. This is a political matter. We have a proposal made by the Government that we should so alter the pattern of elections as to deny the electors of London a chance to express themselves next year. This is quite outrageous.
As many of my hon. Friends have said, there are great issues involved which 332 ought to be discussed and decided by the electors—and decided before it is too late. I understand clearly that there is a plan afoot to impose comprehensive education willy-nilly on the whole country and particularly in London. Here is an opportunity for the electors to say whether they like the idea or not. Because they do not want to give them the chance of expressing their opinion, the Government propose to defer the elections for 12 months.
All the arguments in the world about the hon. and learned Member's dedication to democracy and the right of people to express themselves through the ballot box fall to the ground if his willingness to extend the right to vote is to be deferred in order to suit his party's pleasure.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The hon. Member knows North London very well. Will he tell the Committee whether any constituencies in North London have the slightest interest in an election being held next year for voting on the question of comprehensive schools?
§ Sir S. McAdden
I certainly know the constituencies of North London. Indeed, for a period I was a representative on Hackney Borough Council, when it was a very much better council than it is now. When I was there taking an active interest in local affairs the people also took an interest in them. It may be that since they have had one party government in Hackney that interest has declined.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I asked the hon. Member a specific question and I relied on his so-called knowledge of North London to answer it. Does he for a moment suggest that if there were an election next year any of the electors would be interested in the subject of comprehensive schools? We have comprehensive schools and we know how successful they are.
§ Sir S. McAdden
The hon. and learned Member says that in his area there are comprehensive schools and that people are satisfied with them, but, important as it may be, the Borough of Hackney is not the whole of London. Many other parts of London, as exemplified by speeches by my hon. Friends, do not have the ardent acceptance of the party political philosophy which is peculiar to 333 the part of London which the hon. and learned Member represents where there is not any opposition and people do not have a chance to express themselves in the council chamber against the policy advocated.
§ Sir S. McAdden
Of course. What is wrong with that? Many hon. Members do it and I rather like doing it. At least I know, where my heart is. My heart is with the Opposition in resistance to the Government's proposals which we are seeking to amend. I hope that as a result of the efforts of my hon. Friends to deploy the case against the Government proposals the Amendment will be accepted.
I know that is a faint and weary hope, because the Labour Government, with their Parliamentary majority, have made up their minds, come what may, that they will force this Measure through as they have forced other disastrous Measures through. It will be left to the electors of London to decide, when they can vote, to take the opportunity of getting rid of hon. Members opposite not only in local government but in central government as well.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
This has now become an argument right outside the boundaries of London, big though London is. It now verges onto something which affects the whole electoral system of the country. One thing is vital. If we are to ask people to accept the edicts which come from a local council or from Parliament, they have to feel that the local council or Parliament has been fairly and properly elected.
If they feel that the formation of the council was brought about by some manoeuvring, though that suspicion may not be well founded, the respect, and attention and adherence they give to the decisions made by the council will be affected. The very fact that so many of my hon. Friends who are well informed on these matters have said that they feel that there is a doubt about whether the decision to postpone the elections was made impartially convinces me that it is more important than merely that the Government should get their way that the Government recognise that it is in their interests to ensure that the machinery of 334 election is above any suspicion. I should have thought that on those grounds the Government would have been prepared to accept our Amendments.
This is particularly so since the issue which is likely to be affected is the important one of education. Next to housing this is the topic which most closely affects family life and family thought. Education gets into every house. People are prepared to hand over decisions on foreign policy and on high economic matters to the Government and the supposedly clever people of the day, but they feel that they themselves know something about education. They have all been to school. They have children who want to go to school. They have views about the type of education they want.
The question whether comprehensive education is right or wrong does not enter into it. Many people think that it is being introduced prematurely. They think that there should be a longer period of trial before their children are expected to accept it. That is one point of view. They are doubtful about the comprehensive principle in itself. However, parents who have this doubt and who feel that comprehensive schools are not yet proved would be prepared to accept the idea, as indeed they have to in certain areas, if they felt that those who had made the decision are people who have been properly elected at elections at which that issue had been properly examined.
Two things are being put at risk—impartiality and the fairness of elections. Once people start having doubt about the impartiality or the standard of the machine, that doubt last much longer than the period of the election. If, on top of that, people have doubts about whether the form of education which their children must have has ben arrived at free from prejudice or bias, they will feel that they are being led up the garden path by their leaders in Parliament and on the local council.
The arguments for and against were expressed on Second Reading. They have been more than reinforced today. This issue goes far beyond the narrow question as to when the election shall take place. The whole system has been made suspect. The only way to get rid of the suspicion and ensure that any weaknesses that flow from this will not be long lasting is for the Government to say 335 that the elections will take place as they would have done before this legislation was introduced, thus removing any question that the Government are trying to gerrymander or put the thing together for narrow party reasons.
The arguments put forward by the Government as against what I think are the fundamental points which I have sought to reinforce are tiny and tawdry. It is said that the town clerks do not think that they could do it. This argument has merely to be stated for its ridiculous nature to be apparent. Of course these elections could be run. Any number of elections could be run on the same day and at the same hour if that were requored. It might be inconveneient to some, but it would be worth a great deal of inconvenience to retain people's faith in the form of elections. We know that it can be done. Town clerks are merely like the rest of us who, in doing our daily tasks, like to proceed in the easiest and most convenient way. It is not always the best way or the right way just because it is convenient to the people who must operate it.
It does not matter if a ballot box is lost, for it is usually found again. In my constituency we lost a ballot box for about a couple of hours at the last General Election, but we found it and got the right result in the end. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We had arranged for the count to take place the day after the election. I did not see why the boxes could not be gathered in the same night, minutes after the polls had closed, but we had that delay overnight and took a full day, as it turned out, to do the counting. Even when that extra time is taken it does not mean that there is freedom from some of the risks that go with running an election, and, therefore, we know that the town clerks' point is little and fiddling and does not bear examination.
There have been suggestions that there was some sort of exchange between the people who run the party on which the present Government are based. It has been said that those exchanges did not take place, but we see what goes on when we see an election on television or films, or read a book and the possibility that people have got together has a certain 336 realism about it, and ordinary people would feel that the exchanges might well have taken place. It is not all that wrong if they did talk to one another. If one is the leader of a party and really believes the things that the party stands for, and one is working within the proper rules. There is nothing wrong in trying to get one's point of view accepted by the people running the machine.
But in this instance the fact that it has been suggested that the Government have used this sort of discussion to bring about this change, which will affect the fundamental things of which I have spoken, is a reason why they should consider accepting the Amendments in the interests of their party, if they want to keep the party above the suspicion that they took advantage of their 100 majority in the House. If there is one issue which should not be left to the party in power, although it has the power of government, it is the machinery of government. That is why anything to do with the changing of procedures in the national sense goes through Mr. Speaker's Department, and by and large the rules are not changed until there is mutual agreement on both sides. That is the only way it can be done if one wants to hold the respect of the people whom the machine must affect at the end of the day.
Now it can be seen that, whether the basis for their feeling is good or bad, pretty well the whole Opposition are worried and suspicious about certain things, and have raised evidence which looks real, although some points have been denied by the Government. It is now seen that there is no question of this matter being mutually agreed, and in the interests of the good machinery of government the Government should now be prepared to accept the Amendments.
In the long run it will be in their best interests to do so, because if they push this through and retain their majorities in these local education authority areas parents will never feel happy. There will be a feeling of sourness, uncertainty and unhappiness in all the families in those boroughs, whereas if they go to the polls the decision is theirs. If they support comprehensive education on the scale on which it is proceeding, well and good, but if they feel cheated of being able to add their voice on this important question they will carry a sourness over 337 the years which will reflect very badly on right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Although I do not represent a London constituency, many present London citizens are coming to live in Peterborough under the new overspill arrangements and I want them to come feeling that they have not been driven out of London by the suspicion that there may have been cheating in the machinery of their government.
§ Sir D. Glover
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), I do not represent a London constituency, but I make no apology for intervening in the debate. We are discussing a great constitutional issue. It has been shown both today and on Second Reading that strong views are held on this side against the Government's present proposal. This is a squalid Measure and it is entirely unnecessary. When we are dealing with the Constitution—and this is what we do when we deal with elections and the rights of the electorate—it is always wiser to proceed by concensus.
As my hon. Friend said, this is why, when we deal with national constitutional matters in the House of Commons, electoral changes are almost always brought about after careful consideration by a conference under Mr. Speaker's chairmanship. There is always an effort to reach a concensus of view in regard to any changes in our electoral system. This has been the long established rule. The House in its wisdom always acts in this way because it is better to proceed on an agreed view when dealing with constitutional matters.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The hon. Gentleman said that it has always been the view that constitutional changes should be the subject of agreement. I take it that he means agreement by the parties. The London Government Act of 1963 made extraordinary changes in regard to the London County Council, which was destroyed, and the borough councils. It was opposed by the Labour Opposition. There was no agreed Measure. The Bill was pushed through. How does that square with what the hon. Gentleman is saying?
§ Sir D. Glover
It squares absolutely. I realise that we are in Committee, but I suggest that, if the hon. and learned 338 Gentleman wants to intervene any more, he had better get up and make another speech. He has intervened in nearly every speech made today.
§ Sir D. Glover
Yes, he has been most helpful to our argument. I am surprised that the Chief Whip has not taken him outside and put him in the Clock Tower until the end of the debate.
By his intervention this time, the hon. and learned Gentleman tries to lead me into a discourse on constitutional law and the rights of Parliament. I was talking about the question of electoral machinery, and it is on this that we have Mr. Speaker's Conference. I was emphasising the wisdom of proceeding in these matters by consensus. The hon. and learned Gentleman is far too old in politics not to know that, after a General Election, if something has been part of one's programme, however controversial one has a perfect right to bring it into law if one becomes the Government. This is the working of democracy, and no one in the Committee will dispute it.
The London Government Act may have been controversial, but no one disputes the Conservative Government's right to bring it in. It may be controversial to bring in a Bill to nationalise steel, but no one in the Committee disputes this Government's right to bring it in if they want to. But this is totally different from the machinery of elections. When one deals with the machinery of elections, one always tries to reach a consensus.
I have said that this is a squalid Measure and that it is unnecessary. If the only difficulty that the Government are trying to overcome is the difficulty, which seems more apparent than real, that returning officers and their clerks will not be able to deal with elections on one day, or they do not think that it is right to have two elections in one year and would like them to be staggered, it is surprising that the Government did not consult the Conservative and Liberal Parties.
I am quite certain that on the lines of either of these Amendments we could have had an agreed Bill that would have gone through on the nod on Second Reading. There would have been no 339 controversy about it. We could have come to an agreed solution which would have carried out what the Government want to achieve, and the Conservative Party would not have found it necessary to oppose it.
What should be one of the first thoughts brought by any Government to any change in the electoral system? I should have thought that if a person is returned to elected office for a given period of years we could remove the anomaly that we want to remove without extending that period of office. That is the way in which we should proceed. In other words, if the electorate returns a councillor for three years and we wanted to alter the system, we should alter the system to take effect after that councillor has done his three-year term. We should not extend his tenure of office against the wishes of the electorate.
We on this side of the Committee are offering in our Amendments two ways whereby this evil could be overcome, whereby those people who are elected for three years will serve their three-year term. When the next election takes place they would be elected on the basis of either two years or four years, but the electors—and this is important—would know when they vote for how long they are voting those people on to the council. That is very different from the House of Commons extending a councillor's term of office by 12 months, when the electorate have no say in the argument. That is a breach of our constitutional law.
I will not say for one moment that a condition might not arise when Parliament might be forced to take the action which it is taking tonight. There might be conditions which made it inevitable that some action should be taken, but in this case there is no necessity. The problem with which we are confronted does not arise until 1970. There are at least two, and probably even more, Amendments which could be made to the Bill which would produce all that the Government want to produce, but which would save this arbitrary extension of the tenure of office to the present sitting members.
As the Committee knows, I have a very unsuspicious mind. I view everyone in the light of human kindness, and 340 I am quite certain that the Government Front Bench never have any evil intentions. I always impute the best of intentions to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) in his speeches. I think that he always speaks with great sincerity—as, indeed, he does. But I have a feeling that this does not quite jell. Let us see what went on. We have had a sort of red herring dragged backwards and forwards in this debate, all about some clerks—we are not allowed to know who they were—who sat down together and decided that it was not a very easy way to run an election as laid down in the 1963 Bill. Then by some means, not very clear to me, the Home Office heard about their deliberations and asked them what had been going on. The clerks sent the Home Office a letter pointing out that they would find very great difficulty in having the G.L.C. elections and the borough elections on the same day.
There is no question of the elections being on the same day next year. They are a month apart, as things stand. Even the weakest returning officer is ready to count votes again after a month's rest. He does not first need a 12-month sabbatical. The problem certainly does not exist in 1967, so that either Amendment would ensure that it did not happen in the next election or in the future after that.
Is not this just what the mysterious clerks want to happen? Do they not want what these Conservative Amendments are designed to bring about? In that case, why cannot the Government accept one of our Amendments? To do so would be a lot better than to break constitutional practice. The Amendments do not give anyone an extended term of office. The electors would know exactly for how long they were returning councillors. Why do the Government not accept one of our proposals?
If they do not accept one of these Amendments they must have some other reason. Logic is so heavily on our side that my mind wonders what is going on behind the scenes. What is that great man the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) up to? What has that great Tammany Hall boss been thinking about in recent months?
§ Sir D. Glover
I am sure that the hon. Member underrates himself, and that he has much more power and influence than he says. And I am glad of that, because I think that he is one of the nicest Members on the Government Front Bench—[Laughter.] I have to balance the record after the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
What is the reason behind this move? Let us be quite honest and brutally frank. This is political jobbery in the worst possible form. That is the only reason why the Bill has been brought in. The purpose is blatantly to achieve a political objective by a roundabout means. The Government know that there is a good deal of controversy going on about comprehensive education. I shall not go into a long spiel about the rights and wrongs, the virtues and vices, the strengths and weaknesses of comprehensive education, but I do say that the electors are the people who have the right to decide that issue.
From the boroughs where the elections are to be put off, schemes are going to the Secretary of State which will be approved by July of next year. The Government are thereby effectively depriving the London electorate—and let us not forget that it is one-fifth of the electorate of Great Britain—of any chance of expressing their views on this very important matter to the authority responsible for education. If hon. Members opposite think that this step will, in the long run, be to their advantage, I regret to inform them that one can fool some of the public all the time but one cannot fool the lot. They will know which side is gerrymandering.
The Home Secretary has built up a great reputation since his party got power. I could have thought of a lot of adjectives for him—that he was arrogant, or that he was supercilious, that he was clever, or that he had a great future. The one label which, up to now, I would not have given him would have been a squalid and also a fiddling politician.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, even at this stage, to think what he is doing. He has read the Ecomomist. He knows its views. He is besmirching what is becoming a great reputation. If he allows 342 the Bill to go through without accepting the Amendment, his reputation will not be as high tomorrow as it was at the beginning of today.
§ Mr. Hogg
I want to take the opportunity to make an appeal to the Home Secretary. He explained to me that he had preoccupations today which have made his visits to the Chamber necessarily fleeting, and I make no complaint about that. I know what those preoccupations are and that he intends absolutely no discourtesy to the Committee by his absences. But those absences have had one most unfortunate result, although no doubt fortuitous. He has not been able to hear the course of this debate, except perhaps from the reports he has had from his colleagues, and I beg of him now to take the Amendment rather more seriously than the Government have so far been prepared to do.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) has just said is no more than the truth. This is a case where the honour of the Government is, we believe, in jeopardy, and it can be redeemed. I think that the Home Secretary's own political reputation is in jeopardy, and it can be redeemed because there is only one point at issue in the Amendment. It is not whether the borough elections are held on the same day or in the same year as the Greater London Council elections. We have been prepared to give him that. Many of us would agree with him, though not all of us. But it is not an issue of principle which need divide us.
The only issue in the Amendment is whether the borough elections shall be held in 1967 as the law at present provides or whether they are to be postponed by Act of Parliament—in other words, whether the right hon. Gentleman is to use the brute force of his Parliamentary majority to destroy the rights of the voters in London to vote this year as the law provides or whether he is going to postpone it.
Of course, we recognise—and I must say this to him, as I said it on Second Reading—that occasions of great necessity can occur when postponement is justified. But the need for it needs to be made out. This is not a matter of cynicism; it is a matter of principle.
343 I do not care what the results of elections in 1967 in the boroughs would be so far as this point is concerned. It is a question of principle, and the Government, by holding out the whole of today and giving us banal and stereotyped answers, have been fighting for only one point, and that is at all costs to postpone the elections for which the law provides.
I told the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading that I thought that his argument was disingenuous. I believe that it is. He fought his whole case on Second Reading on the need to stagger the elections of the Greater London Council and the boroughs so as to put them in different years. I told him that this was not the point and that he knew it was not. If anybody doubts that his whole speech was a disingenuous piece of advocacy, one only need look at the effect upon his hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who genuinely believed, and committed himself to the view, that the right hon. Gentleman was saying that the elections would take place on the same day this coming year.
Of course, if one looks at the small print of the right hon. Gentleman's speech one will see that he was not under a misapprehension, but that was the effect he had on his colleagues, that was the effect he had on the B.B.C. and on numerous newspapers. He argued a point which was not at issue in order to secure one which was a matter of principle against the whole weight of reason. No reason has been put forward today for postponing the elections of 1967 which bears the smallest resemblance to being convincing.
The argument about the smallness of the poll is relevant not to that point but to the staggering of the elections. Various other arguments which have been put forward—by the town clerks, for example —are relevant to the staggering of elections but not to this point. The question whether the Committee, whose name I have forgotten, was or was not unanimous is wholly irrelevant to this point whatever the merits may have been. The question is why the right hon. Gentleman sticks at all costs in favour of postponing the life of an electoral body one year beyond what the law provides.
344 The only argument of the smallest relevance which has been put forward on the other side of the Committee during the entire debate from about 3.30 this afternoon has been that the electors might find it inconvenient to vote twice at intervals of a month in the course of 1967. The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that outside London there is not a place in England where this does not happen. He knows that in 1955 three elections had to be held, culminating in a General Election. If it had any relevance, it would be false; and even if it were true, it is not a consideration which a reputable public man should put forward in favour of postponing an election, because if democracy means anything it means that the electors have a duty and a responsibility to vote, even when it is slightly inconvenient for them to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman rather puts himself forward as a Sir Galahad in this matter. He is very touchy when people attack his honour, but I assure him that his honour is at stake in this debate. If he does not get up with the responsibility which is his and allow the Amendment, his honour will have been seriously blemished.
The right hon. Gentleman must recognise this. Throughout the debate we have had to put up with junior Ministers—junior Ministers whom we respect and whom we like, but junior Ministers who, we know, have no authority to accept the Amendment. This is the only moment, practically speaking, during the course of the debate when there has been sitting on the Treasury Bench a senior Minister with the authority to do the honourable and proper thing and let us have our way on the only point which matters. Let it be said at once that if the right hon. Gentleman gives way on this point—if he does not destroy democracy in London boroughs in 1967 and gives way to the minority for once, but also to reason—he can have the Bill without further debate now.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Silkin)rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Mr. Hoggrose——345
§ Several Hon. Membersrose——
§ The Chairman
Order. I was about to say that it seems to me that there are other hon. Members who wish to address argument to the Committee before the Committee comes to a decision. Therefore, I do not think that I ought at this stage to accept a Motion for the Closure.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
In view of that, Sir Eric, will you allow me to apologise? I am very sorry indeed.
§ 9.45 p.m
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I have been in and out of the Chamber several times today, wanting to take part in the debate, but have not yet had an opportunity so to do. I welcome this opportunity to say a few words on this important subject.
Listening to the earlier part of the debate, it seemed to me that the Government were in considerable difficulty and that it arose because two elections, for the Greater London Council and the borough councils, would clash in 1970. It seemed to me that the Government had a case which needed proper consideration. I went to the Library to think about the problem and I found an easy solution. It was for the Greater London Council election to be held in 1967, as originally proposed, and for the borough council elections also to be held in 1967, but a month later, the borough councils being elected for only two years.
When I returned to the Chamber, I found that this was exactly the Amendment which my right hon. Friends were putting forward. It seemed to me that this was a most reasonable compromise in this difficult situation and I cannot see why the Government cannot accept the compromise which is the first of the Conservative Party Amendments.
The Under-Secretary and the Minister of State have told us that we cannot have two local elections in one year. But when my constituency of Twickenham was part of Middlesex we had two elections in one year as a matter of course. We had the local borough council elections and a month later we had the Middlesex County Council elections. There was absolutely no difficulty about it. Anyone who cares to telephone my town clerk tonight can reassure himself that that was the normal practice in 346 Middlesex and that there was no difficulty. I therefore cannot see why the Home Secretary——
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
My hon. Friend may have noticed that the Home Secretary is now leaving the Chamber. Can he use his time in making this appeal to ask the Home Secretary to reply to the personal appeal made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg)?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am assuming that the Home Secretary will reply to the debate. It has been a very important debate, in which about 20 speakers have taken part and it is the Home Secretary's duty to reply. My right hon. and learned Friend made a forceful appeal to him, appealing to his honour, and, of course, as a man of honour the Home Secretary must reply to the debate. I imagine that that was one of the reasons which lead you, Sir Eric, not to accept the Motion for the Closure put forward by the Chief Whip.
It is perfectly possible to have two elections in one year and my constituents are actually waiting to do so. First, they want to have the borough council elections to support their Conservative councillors and, in particular, to show that they support them in their fight against the Government and against the proposals for the forcible introduction of comprehensive schooling in Twickenham and Richmond-upon-Thames. The electors are with the councillors in their fight against the Government.
Secondly, they want the opportunity in 1967 to give the Government a kick in the pants, because they are upset by everything which is going on on the national scene and the local elections will be the one opportunity which they will have in 1967 to register their displeasure with the Government. They also want to get rid of Labour control at County Hall, where Labour has been in power for 33 years. My constituents are fully seized that it is time that those 33 wasted years came to an end and they are determined on 13th April to turn out the Labour government of London for all time. Those are three good reasons why they particularly want to have the borough and the G.L.C. elections in 1967.
347 As I said, I went into the Library with the idea of finding a compromise solution which might get the Government out of their difficulty. I reached the conclusion which had occurred to my right hon. Friends, and I cannot see why the Government cannot accept this reasonable compromise.
I hope that the Home Secretary has left the Chamber to think about this problem and will return and tell us that he accepts this reasonable compromise to his difficulties.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I do not think that I speak only for my right hon. and hon. Friends when I say that it is a matter of very great concern to us that the Home Secretary, whom we understand was not able to be here before, has left the Committee. I do not want to do him an injustice. I should like to hope that he has gone to confer with his right hon. Friends about the response which he should make to my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod).
I do not think that I am alone in taking this matter very seriously. I hope that there are right hon. and hon. Members opposite who take it very seriously. It has been very evident to us on this side of the Committee that the benches opposite have been absolutely empty all through the day. That does great credit to hon. Members opposite, because I think that they must have found it very painful that their Front Bench spokesmen could not attempt to meet the one central argument which my right hon. Friend made. It must have been very painful for junior Ministers to sit here knowing that they were mouthpieces of the Department, that their chief was absent and that they might not be able to impress on him the seriousness of the argument put forward.
I do not blame supporters of the Government for absenting themselves from this shameful scene. I hope that those who have come here will lend their voices in defence of the principle of democratic elections which we are putting forward. This is a serious matter. I perfectly well understand that Governments take the view that Oppositions are inclined to be captious. I perfectly well understand that the right hon. and hon. Members 348 responsible for managing Government business find it extremely tedious and tiresome when the Opposition protract the business at what may seem to them to be undue length.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). My speech has something to do with the Amendment; it has something to do with the Bill. But it has something to do with Scotland as well. We are debating a principle which applies to London, but it applies no less to the rest of England, to Wales, to Scotland and to Northern Ireland, where they know something about these things.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member who intervenes in this vocal way, even if he is sitting down, has made a very revealing intervention. He said, "About London government?" This Bill is not about London government; it is about democracy.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Member made reference to Scotland. I was indicating that there was nothing in the London Government Bill concerning Scotland, and I think that I am correct in that.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I believe that the Committee is seized of the point, even if the hon. Gentleman is not. I do not want, although I would have very good excuse if I did, to take the hon. Gentleman through the argument again step by step. I should be wasting the time of the Committee if I did. Although I do not want to spare the Committee, although I shall be glad to keep it here if necessary all night, I am not anxious to indulge in tedious repetition or anxious to waste its time. I want to try to get the Committee to see this as a serious matter, but I do not think that one ought to waste time on the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. It is with his right 349 hon. Friend the Home Secretary that we should be concerned.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That may not be a bad thing, because perhaps it might be as well that more people than saw my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) the other night should realise what is cooking in this House.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West told the Committee earlier in the debate, what is being done here now could be done to Parliament itself, and a party which accepted the principle in this Bill would have no moral strength in arguing against the principle applied to Parliament. In fact, it would be able to quote this Bill as a precedent, as being the will of Parliament, to apply to the extension of the life of Parliament itself. The life of Parliament has been extended in the past, and perhaps the question of precedents ought to be examined, because they have been called in issue in support of the Government's arguments that this Bill is not in any way unique or unconstitutional.
I think that even the Government would say that the precedents of extending Parliament during the last war are hardly relevant, but it has been argued that a precedent was created when the elections for the counties, parts of which were brought into Greater London, were extended for a year under the London Government Act, 1963—the county council elections for Essex, Surrey, Middlesex and Kent—but there is this very important distinction which I hope will be accepted by the Committee as putting this Bill into a totally different class.
In the first place, the elections which were deferred did not deprive the electors within Greater London of the 350 opportunity to express their views on the way they should be governed, because other elections took place to the new authorities at the time when the old elections should have taken place. I must say that there is a difficulty in this argument in that the outer parts of Essex, Kent, and the other counties concerned had to carry on with their old councils for a year—and I think that it would be unfrank and dishonest not to recognise that—but this was not raised at the time, and there was not at that time, as there is now in London, one great overriding political issue which was able to be deferred by deferring the elections.
§ Sir D. Glover
If those elections had taken place everybody would have had to go to the trouble of voting and they would have been in office for only 12 months because the authority was going to cease to exist.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I think that what he said fortifies my argument still further.
I wanted to expand on this point of a distinction concerning the existence now in the boroughs whose elections are being deferred of a major political issue which concerns as closely as any of the matters for which local authorities are responsible the needs, the hopes, and the desires of the electorate, namely, the issue of the enforcement of schemes of comprehensive education upon the London boroughs.
It may well be that in many boroughs this is not an issue upon which the electorate is seriously divided. The point is that there may be a number of boroughs in which the electorate wish to express a view and might well return a council which would put forward a different view to that of the council now in office, a view which would be acceptable to the Government and which would——
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left to Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.