§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
I beg to move Amendment No. 50, in page 14, line 3, leave out from beginning to 'the' in line 4.
This Clause does two major things. First, it takes away the vote which is linked with the ownership and occupation of property; and, secondly, it prevents people outside a particular local government area standing for the council. Amendments which we trust will be called later will deal with the latter point. I consider the later Amendments far more important, in terms of their effect and their adverse effect, on local government than Amendment No. 50.
I should like, first, to ask the Government for an explanation why they have decided to proceed with this Clause. Not very long ago—indeed, this year—a conference of local authority experts and representatives of the major political parties was organised by the Home Office to discuss local government and election law. This point in no way came up at that conference. There was no proposal to take away this form of voting. I know of no pressure by any local authority body, by any people concerned with elections, or by any major political party to this end. There have been no discussions between the major political parties or with the local authorities on this topic. If a Government decides to take away the vote from a certain body of electors, in the normal course of the democratic processes which we have known in the past consultation usually takes place, and if no agreement is forth-coming the Government have a right and a duty to go ahead with their views. This point was not put to the conference 293 by the Home Secretary, no conclusions were reached, and since that time no consultation has taken place.
The vast majority of local government electors qualify as such by virtue of residence in the local authority area. This qualification also gives them the vote in Parliamentary elections. This provision would make residence the only qualification for all electors for the Parliamentary and local government vote. The non-resident qualification means the occupation of land or premises of a yearly value of not less than £10 and gives the local government vote only. A person cannot establish a non-resident qualification in the same local government area in which he has a residence qualification. There is no question of someone having two votes because of owning property and being resident in a locality. He can only have one vote in any local government area.
The reason why I thought it was sensible and reasonable to keep the nonresident electors on the electoral roll was primarily that these people contribute substantially to the finances of the locality and they also depend substantially on the services in that locality. A large proportion of the rates in a locality comes from the owners of property, some of whom are not resident in the locality. It is in the interests and the general strength of local government that those people should be allowed to cast their votes in elections and to feel that they are participating in the government of the town. The owners of property also depend on many of the services provided by local authorities. To create a situation whereby these people have the vote taken away serves no purpose, other than providing a sense of frustration to those who provide a lot of the finance for a particular local authority.
It is worth recalling that we lost some colonies in America on the basis of taxation without any form of representation. If the Clause goes through in its present form, we shall have owners of properties in localities making a very considerable contribution to the rates, depending to a large extent on the services provided, but having no right to cast a vote for the council.
I think we all agree with the principle of one man one vote at elections, and this 294 is preserved. No one can vote more than once for any local government authority. As there has been no pressure on this topic from any responsible body, as no consultations have taken place, and as none of the major committees which have reported on local government reform in past years has made this recommendation, I hope that the Government will think again and accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Stanley Henig (Lancaster)
I have rarely heard a more tongue-in-cheek speech than that just delivered by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). The hon. Gentleman talked about voting, and the fact that an anomaly in our voting system has survived over the years. The anomaly is based on the fact that once upon a time a vote was given, not per person, but according to wealth, according to money, and according to income.
It is not the case that people whose interest in a locality is commercial, or because they work there, have the vote at the moment, but business men have the vote. The property owner in an area has a vote. But what about the person who lives in one locality, and goes to work at a factory in another? Is not he as bound up with the welfare of that area as is the property owner? In the City which I have the honour to represent there are hundreds of local government voters.
If everybody who worked in a city, including the thousands of people who come in from outside to work in the factories, were to be given the vote, I should join hon. Gentlemen opposite in their proposition, but then the hon. Gentleman would not be advancing this theory. He would be arguing to the contrary, because he knows that the local government voters who have this special privilege, those who get their votes because of money, tend to vote for his party, while those who do not get the vote, the factory workers, vote for the party that I represent. This is partly political.
The hon. Gentleman then moves on to a most disingenuous argument. He says that there is no question of these people having two votes in the election for the same local authority. But they can have one vote in the election of one local authority, and another in the election for another local authority. This 295 is an anomaly, and will remain so as long as it is connected with the fact that a person gets the vote because of his money.
I am sorry to see that once more the party opposite, instead of being concerned with whether the Government, locally and nationally, represents the wishes of the people concerned, on the principle of one man, one vote—which I should like to think, though I sometimes doubt, is recognised by everyone in the House—is more concerned with safeguarding for the few a privilege which they own by virtue of their wealth.
I believe in a democracy in which people are treated equally. Unless my right hon. Friend comes up with an alternative suggestion on the lines suggested by me on a previous occasion, that factory workers should also be given this extra vote, he should stick to his guns, abolish the anomalies, and make sure that local government is local, and is based on the principle of one man, one vote, one value.
§ Mr. Speed
Having heard the speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) I can only say that we seem to be harking back to the cloth-cap days of party strife with a vengeance.
It seems to me that there are three fairly important reasons why we are discussing this at the moment and why the Amendment has been put forward. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) said, when we have the reform of local government looming round the corner it seems nonsensical to try to take on a fairly major reform of the way in which local government is made up, because many of the councillors will not be councillors in two or three years' time.
The second anomaly in the present system—and here I am arguing against my own side—is that where there is a limited company, a great company which is a household word, the directors, or management, or owners of that company do not enjoy the facilities given to someone who has private business qualifications in a city. In view of the state of local government at the moment I think that we ought to be trying to get more people both to vote and to stand for 296 local elections. We ought to try to get more people of a higher calibre into local government. We ought to extend the franchise, not limit it.
Thirdly, if we believe in more efficient and more responsible local government it seems to me that to tackle things piecemeal while we are on the threshold of the greatest reform of local government in our history is nonsensical and extremely short-sighted.
I hope that the Committee will reject the argument of the hon. Member for Lancaster, which added nothing to the debate. I accept the limitations of the argument advanced from this side of the House. There are limitations in the lack of representation of limited companies and great public companies. Bearing in mind the principle of no taxation without representation, we ought to see whether we can extend the franchise rather than seek to limit it.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
I rise briefly to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig). In the Luton-Dunstable area we have the double problem of seeing this on a national basis, and of being approached by local Tories. The attitude of the Opposition on this matter, more than any other, identifies them as belonging to a party which is tied to wealth and property. This is basically what the argument is about. It is this type of property qualification which is associated with the infamous régime in Rhodesia. It is this type of property qualification which is regarded as necessary to vote in local government elec tions.
In Luton, we have the farcical situation of a local authority discussing an extension to the airfield, a move which will affect the lives of the great majority of the people there. Many of the Tory councillors concerned live in secluded villas many miles from Luton.
§ Mr. Allason
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that those people living in villas many miles from Luton are most troubled by aircraft taking-off from the airfield?
§ Mr. Roberts
I accept that if someone lives in a certain direction from Luton he is affected by aircraft noise, but not all 297 the gentlemen on the council live in that direction Some live in the opposite direction. It is wrong that such people, who will not be affected by any decision taken about the airfield, should partake in those discussions. I believe that while the present boundaries exist people within those boundaries should control the local authority.
Perhaps I might for a moment come back to what my hon. Friend said about no taxation without representation. If this doctrine is to be applied, as he rightly said, every person who works in, and contributes to, a town in which he does not live should have the same entitlement as the people who get the vote because of their business connections. I say that because the value of a business is created largely by the people who work in it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot have it both ways. If they want to give people who live: outside an area the right to vote in that area, they should extend this privilege to those who work in a city in which they do not live, in whatever capacity, or in whatever kind of business. This cannot be operated in practice. In a town like Luton, with thousands of people coming in to work in a factory like Vauxhall, this would be quite impracticable. I therefore ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ Sir D. Glover
This is the most reactionary Clause that the House has debated for a long time. When the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) opposed me in, I think, the 1959 Election, he did not seem too inhibited from coming to fight in Ormskirk, despite the lovely Welsh lilt in his voice, which was obvious evidence that he was not a native of Ormskirk—
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
The hon. Member must remember that I actually lived in the Ormskirk constituency, which I do not think he did at the time.
§ Sir D. Glover
Then it must have been for a very short period. But I was delighted to see the hon. Member come into the House.
We should make a great mistake in a small country like this if we brought in legislation to limit the ability of hon. Members; in this matter. I am dealing at the moment with the question whether a person can stand for a council—
§ Sir D. Glover
Well, we will come to that question later.
If we were logical, we would remember that the United States of America rebelled and became independent on the slogan of "No taxation without representation". The party opposite, who live in the House and have a picture of a great feudal agricultural system, do not seem to realise that that society has changed in the last 50 or 60 years. A firm like I.C.I. is probably the biggest ratepayer in its area and it is incredible that it should not have a vote in what happens in the spending of the money which it has to contribute.
The Tory Party is not completely guiltless, because we have, over the years, allowed the removal of the vote from business firms other than unlimited companies. The proposal which we are debating is that the business vote for unlimited companies shall still be allowed in the area in which they do business. If we want to run a sound local authority, we should recognise that those who are interested in its efficiency are not entirely governed by considerations of where they sleep at night. Surely, the way to get a good local authority is to have people voting for their own personal, local interests, as agents, manufacturers, travellers or shopkeepers. They are all interested in how the area in which they do business develops.
Until now, very wisely, Parliament has allowed all those entities which are not corporate—in other words, limited liability companies—to have a say in what goes on in such development. Under this proposal, they will have that right no longer. This will not improve local government but will lead to overweighting in favour of the householder and against general community development. Of course, the householder is important—he wants schools, playgrounds and the amenities provided by local authorities—but the business community which must pay a great deal of the cost takes a slightly different attitude and should have at least some say in the decisions of councils after they are elected.
There may be a development in the centre of a city, or in an urban district like Ormskirk, but the shopkeepers there will be deprived of any say in how that 299 takes place, even though they live only half a mile away. Particularly in small authorities, people do not live 10 or 12 miles, but sometimes only 200 yards, from where they do business. A person might live in a rural district and will no longer be able to vote in the nearby urban district in which he does business, although he is far more interested in the development of the latter than in that of the former. Depriving these people of a vote will only lead to over-emphasis purely on the householders' interests as against those of the other people who make up a viable and alive community.
There are very few limited liability companies in the smaller local authorities who are deprived of votes. These small firms are the people who will be deprived of votes and of influence over any development and the weighting of the rate burden between householders and shopkeepers. The Government are depriving the local authorities of these people's advice and influence, so they will inevitably lose interest. They will not be able to vote or stand for the council in that area and so will feel isolated and might even take an irresponsible approach to these problems.
This argument is not so powerful in the great cities, because people working there live 12 or 15 miles out; in the large authorities it is almost fortuitous whether a person lives within or outwith a boundary. This applies to my constituency. A great many people in my constituency do not know until election time whether they live in the Ormskirk Urban District Council area or over the boundary in the Rural District Council area. Nevertheless, they all have a desire to improve conditions in this part of the world and I do not want them to be deprived of their vote as a result of the Bill.
I have shown that instead of making an improvement in local government, the Bill is reducing local autonomy to a bitter party battle. I doubt if the Bill would have been introduced had the Labour Party not suffered some devastating defeats at elections in the last couple of years. A great deal of tit-for-tat is going on, with people having the feeling that the Labour Party is saying, "Many local people have not supported us. We will 300 sack half the councils and put the matter right." That appears to be the attitude of the Clause.
Hon. Members should accept that they are here as wardens with a responsibility. The legislation which we pass now will affect our areas for many years to come. In perhaps 50 years from now many people with interests in the United Kingdom may live abroad, such is the advancement of mobility. Under the Bill they will be deprived of the interest which they can now take in the places where they work. I have no objection to workers coming into this if they have genuine interests in these areas. As long as people's interests are greater in the areas where they work than in the areas where they live, they should have this right.
I am not being political in stating this view. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Gentlemen opposite are amused. I am never political on these issues. The idea that people should be deprived of having an interest in the development and wellbeing of an area simply because of past ideologies is the thinking not of a progressive party but of a reactionary one.
Do hon. Gentlemen opposite want small local authorities to be entirely controlled in their thinking by local householders who want benefits like swimming baths for their children? Is nobody who pays the rates from which those benefits are financed to have a say in the local community? I warn hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they introduce this system—and they probably will as a result of their majority—they will produce unhealthy rather than healthy local government. The basis of all government, national and local, rests on a balance, and the basis of that balance is that those who pay should have an equal voice with those who receive the benefits.
It is illogical that we should be considering a provision of this kind when the whole of local government is under review. We are waiting for two Royal Commissions to report. We even have a Commission considering our constitutional arrangements. The Clause is wrong in its timing, is spiteful and does not represent coherent thinking. It will produce an unbalanced system of local government, particularly for small local authorities.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) never ceases to astonish me. A moment after entering the Chamber he began speaking about the Amendment which we will be discussing next. Having been corrected, he went on to speak for 20 minutes on this Amendment. I am beginning to understand why the Conservative Party has mooted its original opposition to this part of the Clause.
When I studied the Amendments I discovered that the party opposite has only one to this part of the Clause, No. 30, which would leave out the Clause in its entirety. There are obviously different considerations applying to the two different parts of the Clause and I hope to speak to later Amendments concerning the latter part of the provision. Meanwhile, I have no difficulty in supporting the Government on this part of the Clause.
No argument in favour of the business vote is now tenable, although the hon. Member for Ormskirk did his best to adduce same. His first was the idea that there should not be taxation without representation. In my constituency a major part of the rates is paid in respect of industrial premises, in particular by large public companies. They have no say in the sense of voting for the election of the local authority.
There is a large, internationally-known company employing one-sixth of the total labour force of the York area; yet none of its directors has a say in the election of the local authority; and if they live outside the area none of the employees right down to the gatekeeper, has any say in the choice of the local authority. Those who have a say are those who live in the area. There is a small number of self-employed businessmen with businesses in the area who choose to live outside it and refuse to pay towards the domestic rates of the area. I cannot conceive that that small minority should have additional representation, in addition to the others who come to work inside the city.
One is therefore faced with two choices; either to take away the business vote, which the Government propose to do, or to extend it so that anybody who comes to work in an area or who has substantial business interests in it should have a second vote. Apart from the question of duality of voting, such a 302 system would be completely impracticable. It could not be made to work, since employees may shift their employment at any time, because there is no question of regularity of tenure of office and because a public company with 12 or 20 directors might have premises throughout the country—or even outside the country—and so be entitled to 20 or 30 votes in lieu of its 20 or 30 premises. How many votes would the managing director of Montague Burton have? As that proposal is utterly unworkable and must be rejected—and one must therefore reject the business vote—there is only one argument left, and that the Government have adopted.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)
I had not intended to intervene until I heard the hon. Member for Bed fordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) discussing Rhodesia. I thought it time to come nearer home. I wish to spell out some of the facts of life as they are known in some cities. In Leicester, a boundary was quite artificially drawn about three years ago, during the time of this Government and when there was a Labour city council, against the advice and recommendations put forward to the Boundary Commission.
That was done to bring within the boundaries of the council's area estates which were outside the city and to leave out private estates which were left as indentations on the map. [An HON. MEMBER: "Gerrymandering."] As an hon. Friend says, it was gerrymandering. The intention was obvious, but my presence here shows that it did not work out that way. I am happy to say that those who live in council houses do not reckon that they have any longer to show allegiance to the party opposite in whom they have lost trust and confidence.
A result has been that people with businesses within the city—many small shopkeepers and businessmen whose livelihood depends upon those businesses—by reason of the development of the city and imposition of standards by the local authority about living accommodation and shops, have had to move out of the city boundaries. Yet to anyone who motors into the city and does not study a map those people are still part and parcel of the city. Their livelihood depends on the city, not on where they happen to rest their heads at night. They 303 are concerned whether a local road should be widened, whether a bus stop is in the right place, and that sort of thing.
These are matters on which they are entitled to vote because they pay rates in the city. They pay out of their own pockets.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
Do they not include their rates among expenses for which they are allowed Income Tax relief?
§ Mr. Boardman
Of course they do. They also include payment of wages and many other things, but they are concerned to get value for money. This is something which hon. Members opposite do not understand, but it is about time that they realised it. There is no excuse for squandering money because it happens to be allowed as a relief against tax. That is another thing which the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) might learn.
By this Clause these people are to be dispossessed of the right to have a vote to protect their businesses. That is quite wrong. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) referred to widening the network. There is much to be said for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) spoke about people who work in an area having a vote there. There are grave practical difficulties and a distinction to be made between those who work in an area and are intimately concerned with its welfare and shopkeepers who have to pay rates in the area.
I agree with hon. Members that those who work in an area should also have a vote there but that would be affected by the Maud Commission and Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government Boundaries and this Bill should have come after those Reports have been received. Probably as a result of the Royal Commission's findings a large proportion of people will live and work in the same electoral area. Then many of these problems would be overcome. This provision is premature and wrong. Because we cannot do complete justice to everyone it is quite wrong to do injustice to some people.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Marks
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) made the understatement of the year when he said that the case for the business vote was not so strong in the large cities. If I may use the expression, he was "not kidding". The argument is that because people pay rates they should have representation. In the City of Manchester the people who pay big commercial rates are the Co-operative Insurance Society, £218,000 a year; the C.W.S., £106,000; Lewis's, £204,000; and I.C.I., £124,000. None of those has a single vote.
There are bigger ratepayers, the Crown, which pays £250,000 a year; the North Western Gas Board, which pays £170,000; the two electricity boards, which between them pay £580,000; the university, which pays £232,000; and the College of Technology which pays £141,000. They do not have a single vote. We should look at the effect of the business vote and how it has been manipulated by party organisations. In Albert Square, Manchester, there are 36 electors. Only one is resident in the square, an attendant at the town hall, the rateable value of which is £100,000. The other 35 voters are business voters and 24 are in one building which has a rateable value of £470.
Theoretically, it would be possible with good organisation by dividing rooms and tenancies to have 47 votes for the building since the qualification is a £10 valuation: In St. John Street—the Harley Street of Manchester—there is multiple occupation of old Georgian houses by medical consultants. In one such house seven doctors applied for business votes. Two did not get them because they live within the city. The other five got the vote and also got a vote for the area in which they live. At No. 2 Booth Street there are 18 votes, nine of them in a suite of offices occupied by a firm of lawyers. In another block in Booth Street there are 11 business voters all of whom have applied for postal votes and the nearest address for those postal votes is Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
Let us have no doubt about the value of those votes. Most are concentrated in the central ward of St. Peter's, which has 3,860 voters. These areas are weighted for high rateable value in assessing the boundaries. In the Gorton North ward 305 there are 13,558 votes. So a vote in St. Peter's ward, a business vote, is worth three times as much as a residential vote in Gorton. There is no democracy when some people are to have two votes and others to have one. One man, one vote is the democratic way that we should follow.
§ Mr. Lane
I strongly support this Amendment. I am totally unconvinced by the objections which have been made to it. We are talking about the non-resident qualification for voting. So far, most hon. Members have used general arguments to develop a case for or against the Amendment. I want to take the debate down to the level of the people concerned, whether they are small businessmen or shopkeepers, because this is not just a matter of taxation plus or minus representation and paying rates. I want to describe the position of those faced by important decisions affecting their businesses, decisions taken by their local authority. Paying rates in that situation is often a secondary consideration.
I illustrate this by a small street near the centre of my constituency. It is largely a shopping street. There are three very important topical questions before the local authority, in all of which the shopkeepers in the street have a direct interest. First, building operations started a few months ago on either side of the street. It is not so much a feeling of the shopkeepers that they are between the devil and the deep blue sea. They are between Jesus College, on the one hand, and Christ's, on the other.
This matter first came to my attention while one of these sites was being excavated in the autumn after the extremely wet weather of September. Even at the time, before the operations had really started, several of these shop keepers said to me that the mess on the road, and the mud thrown up by vehicles passing to and fro, made the pavements harder to walk on and caused them to wash their windows, as one of them put it to me, twice in the day. In a matter of this kind, as the operations get under way on both sides of the road during the rest of the winter, they rely on their local councillors to act vigorously and ensure that their trade is not affected, or is affected to the minimum, by this development.
The second example of a topical problem which is affecting these people and 306 which will affect them for many years, is the possibility of drastic traffic control schemes being introduced in the centre of the city, making large parts of it pedestrian-only areas and turning other parts of it, possibly including this street, into a one-way system. We all know that nothing so arouses the feelings of shopkeepers as proposals for traffic regulation or a one-way system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Their trade".] Of course it is their trade. That is what they feel strongly about. That is what the Amendment is about. Here again, they are relying on the representatives of their ward to speak for them. Nobody else can do it.
The third matter before the local authority is one of even greater importance to the shopkeepers in the longer term. It is the redevelopment of an area lying within a quarter of a mile in the opposite direction. Again, there is a question of traffic schemes, of new roads, of an alternative shopping centre, of parking problems. It is very costly in terms of finance, but important, also, in terms of the whole centre of gravity of shopping and trading generally in Cambridge. Again, these shopkeepers are relying entirely on their councillors to take the right decision in this very important problem which is shortly coming before the local authority.
I suggest that to accept the Amendment would be simply to act in common fairness to a number of people. I emphasise that these are all small people. Some of these are one-man businesses. Earlier speakers have spoken about I.C.I., the Co-op, and other large ventures. The shopkeepers I have mentioned are small men who care seriously about their local representation on matters of this kind.
I have mentioned this as one topical example within the experience of my constituency. I am sure that other hon. Members could illustrate the problem equally well by taking similar examples from their own constituencies. These issues deeply affect these people. They have the right to some say in the men and women who are to represent them. I believe that there is already a risk of business people becoming increasingly disillusioned with local government. We should seek to narrow and not widen the gap between business and local government.
307 This is the purpose of the Amendment, and I hope that all hon. Members will support it.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) has argued that the small shopkeepers to whom he refers cannot make representations. They can make representations to the local councillors and to their local Member of Parliament, as they have done.
The hon. Gentleman has argued, secondly, that these people have interests in the town. I am sure that directly or indirectly many other people have interests, but they do not demand a vote because they have such interests. In a perhaps rather naive democratic way, I have always believed that representation is not about interests but about people. I believe that the arguments we have heard advanced by hon. Members opposite tonight are much the same arguments as were used by the Duke of Wellington at the time of the Reform Act, 1832 and by Lord Salisbury at the end of the century, when certain people were described as stakeholders and were said to have an interest in the country as a business. It was argued that they should, therefore, be able to express their views.
That concept of representation should have gone out during the past century. We are picking up one of the last pieces of this way of thought, which has been a Tory way of thought. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) said, this is the last fling of the party of rotten boroughs which we are seeing tonight. They speak with 20th century accents, but from a 19th century point of view.
I welcome the principle embodied in the Bill. I want to ask my right hon. Friend, who comes from a rather different part of the country from myself, whether the Government have fully taken into account the special circumstances now prevailing in Wales as a result of the attempt to apply this welcome principle to Wales. The defects in the present Welsh local government structure have been recognised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. We have had a White Paper. We expect the boundary reforms to be implemented within two or three years.
308 In the present unreformed structure, the application of this welcome principle would create considerable anomalies. For example in Monmouthshire the Borough of Abergavenny has overflowed its present boundaries. Over one-third of the council houses of that borough are built outside. If the principle were implemented immediately, a very high proportion of the councillors would leave the council, but only for a year or two until the boundaries of the borough were brought into line with its natural boundaries, as foreshadowed in the White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation.
It is absurd that these people should be without representation in the borough for this interim period of a year or two. There should be a little flexibility in the application of this welcome principle to the peculiar circumstances of Wales. I would welcome an assurance that the Government recognise this anomaly and will take steps to meet it, ideally by deferring the application of the Clause until we have the reformed local government boundaries in Wales.
§ [Sir RONALD RUSSELL in the Chair]
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)
I was greatly amused by the speech of the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Marks), and, having been so amused, I should be delighted to agree with anything he said. However, I can only say that, in citing the examples which he did, he completely missed the illogicality of his argument.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a square in his constituency—I have for gotten the name—where there is one building with a large rateable value giving one vote and another building with a small rateable value giving 25 or 26 votes. There are two possibilities in that situation. One is that the hon. Gentleman could be arguing that those who had gone into the second building had done so specifically to secure a vote. I do not imagine that he would regard that as a tenable explanation. It is not reasonable to suppose that people will set up offices in order to obtain a vote which will have only a marginal effect upon the election in the ward.
§ Mr. Marks
May I clear up the misconception? The offices were of the kind which one finds in buildings of that sort, where one firm has a business—perhaps a firm of solicitors or estate agents—and it divides its offices up into separate rooms, giving each member of the staff a room and therefore, since the rateable value is more than £10, a vote.
§ Mr. Silvester
The position would be different in the case of a professional firm organised on a partnership basis from that of a commercial firm. To take the other example which the hon. Gentleman gave, he said the effect was most noticeable in the central Ward—I forget the name again—where there was a small electorate in numbers because it had a high rateable value, whereas in the north-east ward there was a large number of electors because the rateable value was low. The same argument must apply. If one gives weight to rateable value as between wards, it must follow that there is point in having regard to rateable value in relation to people who have an office or a firm there.
As I understood it, the hon. Gentleman's argument is that we should ignore the fact that a man has property in an area although that property has a rateable value which contributes to the rate fund. Yet his authority is prepared to divide up the wards in such a way that it determines the number of representatives according to rateable value rather than according to the number of electors. The way out of his problem is to redistribute the seats in accordance with the number of electors rather than in accordance with the rateable value, in which case the effect of the business vote would be marginal.
I come now to another illogicality which has run through this debate. It is said that the main objection to the business vote is that it prevents application of the principle of one man one vote. The illogicality is obvious. The argument depends on what one is voting about. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) and other hon. Members opposite have talked about rotten boroughs, and several hon. Members have drawn analogies with the national situation. Obviously, in the national situation, any member of the community is interested in what the national Government does, 310 and it is right that he should have a single vote. On the other hand, the man who has a property in one area where a specific and different authority is deciding different matters may quite properly have a voice there, and, similarly, have a voice in another local authority area where different matters are being decided.
§ Mr. Anderson
Does the hon. Gentle man follow that line of argument through and say that Messrs. Marks & Spencer should have a vote in every area?
§ Mr. Silvester
No. I was coming to that point in the context of such companies as Montague Burton, to which reference was made. We recognise that Montague Burton as such—or the Crown, for that matter—does not have a vote nationally. We recognise that distinction because companies of that kind are corporate bodies. What we are concerned with here, however, is the business vote of people who are, in the main, small business men or traders who individually and in their corporate status are one and the same.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting in his rather strange argument that for some reason or other Mr. Burton is less interested in his business in a particular town than a small shopkeeper who has a shop there?
§ Mr. Silvester
That is not what I am suggesting, but a man whose sole business is in a town could have a much greater personal interest than a corporate body with interests spread over the country, which may be much more directly affected by what the national or regional authority does—if we get regional authorities—than by what the local authority does.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the logic of his argument is that when a man starts a small business in a town he deserves a vote there, but that if he expands and becomes a public company he no longer deserves it?
§ Mr. Silvester
I do not disagree with that view. It is the view that we apply in national politics. We make a distinction betwen a corporate body and a man voting personally. The individual interests of the owner of a small business and his interests as the owner, are much 311 more closely married than those of the managing director of Montague Burton and its branches scattered around the country.
§ Therefore, I hope that the Committee will support the Amendment.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
The Amendment would result in leaving out the wordsThe non-resident qualification for voting at local government elections….It therefore considerably narrows our discussion.
Every hon. Member opposite who has spoken has confirmed that the party opposite wants to retain the non-resident vote purely and simply for itself. No one has mentioned what I thought on Second Reading was the real reason for the opposition to the loss of the non-resident vote, that it also meant the loss of qualification to stand as a candidate. That has not been mentioned—
§ Mr. Ross
That may well be, but this one on its own does not make good sense or good grammar. Leaving out the words that the Amendment would de lete would result in the word "are" appearing where "is" would be much more grammatically appropriate.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) chastised us because the provision had not been a matter for discussion at any of the Conferences. He is right, but I think that we explained this on Second Reading. We are doing it because a vital principle is involved in respect of franchise. The hon. Gentleman seemed to take a certain amount of pride that the Amendment would mean one man, one vote in one area. But the implication is that he is fighting to save for the man who already has a vote in another area, as a resident, his right to vote where he does not reside.
The hon. Gentleman's main plea was that the individual had a financial stake, and he stated that a large proportion of the rates was paid by non-resident occupiers. The case quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), where the combined rateable value was £470, hardly bore that out. The outstanding fact is that 312 the largest ratepayers, the industrial rate-payers, have not got a vote, for the simple reason that they are limited companies, and public bodies have not got the non-resident vote.
Reference was made to the High Streets. I do not know whether the High Street of Cambridge is unique, but in most of our High Streets we find banks, building societies and multiple stores, not a single one of which has the non resident vote, no matter how much it pays in rates. On Second Reading, I stated that the form required that… for registration a non-resident local government elector … must be in occupation, either as owner or tenant, of rateable lands and heritages …I commented:The fact that companies or public bodies, or the like, occupy land and hereditaments does not entitle their officers and members, as such, to be registered.—[OFFICUL REPORT, 18th November, 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1024–5.]Thus, the sole qualification for the non-resident is that he must be the owner or occupier or tenant of property whose gross annual value is £10 per year. This is a legacy from the past. If there were any truth in what the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) had to say, we should not be discussing this Amendment but something to give more effective power to those who substantially form the basis of his case.
However, the whole trend of the franchise for a long time—and I hope that we shall not turn the clock back—has been away from property qualifications. In 1945, we got away from the restriction to ratepayers in local authority elections and extended the franchise to everyone who had a vote in the Parliamentary elections. This is, therefore, a very small hangover.
In England and Wales, municipal voters total 32,130,000, of whom 130,000 have the non-resident vote. Obviously, this is a very small number and, by de finition, a very privileged number. In Scotland, the total electorate is about 3,400,000, of whom about 23,500 are non-resident voters. That is what all the song and dance is about.
§ Mr. Ross
It is not principle. If principle were involved, hon. Members 313 opposite would have sought to extend non-voting rights to those who have financial interests.
Indeed, that was the sole basis of the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester. He said that a large proportion of the rates were paid by non-resident voters, who had, therefore, a financial stake. If that is so, he should have sought to extend the non-resident franchise instead of merely trying to hold it to this very small number. I hope that the Opposition realise that they are well behind the times on this matter. One hon. Member suggested that we were making this change out of spite. Nothing of the sort. This is a sensible approach to the modern franchise.
The case of shopkeepers was deployed. In my part of Scotland they say about the shopkeeper in the main street, "His grandfather lived above the shop. Now the grandson lives about his income in Troon." Those involved having lost their domestic and resident votes in a town, it is a bit much to expect us to give a non-resident vote to this small hangover from the past.
Is anyone telling me that shopkeepers do not complain? Even the non-resident companies which occupy premises in the greater part of our commercial areas complain when they do not get the services of the local authority. They can quite usefully use the local or national Press, if need be. If they have a case local authorities are quick to deal with the matter, because it affects the residents in the town who are the customers of these companies. I hope that hon. Members will be reasonable about this, or at least appreciate that their arguments are not very strong.
We are saying that in local elections it is a case of one man, one vote, and that that vote may be cast in the area where he lives. We are denying no one the franchise; we are not taking away the right to vote. We are saying that people have the right to vote only where they reside. I see no reason why, in these days, there should be a duplicate franchise. A very small number is involved. When one looks at the limitations in respect of the amount of money that may be involved, £10 a year on a land or heritage, it can be a shop, office, factory, or 314 garage, a very small property indeed. It does not matter about its size or importance, so long as it is £10 a year.
Hon. Gentleman have to face up to this. They are not fighting for a principle. They are fighting for a relic of a past age, one that should go. The biggest ratepayers in my constituency would not seek to have a vote for one moment. They prefer to depend on the good sense of the electors. The same thing is true in places like Motherwell, with Colvilles. Probably the greater part of the rates are paid by that firm. Hon. Gentlemen do not seek to give Colvilles a vote. Let them recognise what they are fighting for—for the past. If hon. Gentlemen do not withdraw the Amendment, I ask my hon. Friends to make no mistake about rejecting it in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Sharples
This part of the Clause takes away a right from a number of local people. The right hon. Gentleman said that only about 130,000 people out of 32 million electors were affected. He made out a reasonable case, as did many of his hon. Friends, for an extension of the right where there is an interest involved. Why, if the Government feel this, did they not so word the Clause as to meet the point of an extension of the franchise, rather than a restriction of it?
I hope that when we come to consider the next group of Amendments, in which we propose an extension of the right to stand, the right hon. Gentleman will be consistent in his argument. He has made it clear that this subject had not been taken up previously in consultations with any of the bodies concerned—the chambers of trade, the local authorities, between the political parties or anyone else concerned.
The Home Office Advisory Committee has been sitting for a year or so, considering all these matters in detail. The Secretary of State says that this is a great issue of principle to his party. We should be told why this proposal, which must have been in the Government's mind, was concealed from those taking part in the discussions of the Advisory Committee. We have had no answer to that, either now or on Second Reading. We should be given the genuine reasons for this alteration in the franchise being made at this time and why there was no consultation. No case for it has been made out by the Secretary of State.
315 We know why this alteration in the law has been made. This is the alibi, and a very poor one, too, for the massive defeats of the Labour Party in the local government elections. The country will see this as an alibi, and it will not do right hon. and hon. Members opposite any
§ good. I advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to vote in favour of our Amendment.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made.—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 208, Noes 260.
|Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick||Wright, Esmond||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Woodnutt, Mark||Wylie, N. R.||Mr. Reginald Eyre and|
|Worsley, Marcus||Younger, Hn. George||Mr. Bernard Weatherill.|
|Albu, Austen||Fernyhough, E.||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Finch, Harold||Mackie, John|
|Alldritt, Walter||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Allen, Scholefield||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Anderson, Donald||Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||MacPherson, Malcolm|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Ford, Ben||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Forrester, John||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Bagier, Gordon A, T.||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Manuel, Archie|
|Barnes, Michael||Freeson, Reginald||Mapp, Charles|
|Baxter, William||Galpern, Sir Myer||Marks, Kenneth|
|Gardner, Tony||Marquand, David|
|Beaney, Alan||Garrett, W. E.||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Bence, Cyril||Ginsburg, David||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Bessell, Peter||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Millan, Bruce|
|Bishop, E. S.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Blackburn, F.||Gregory, Arnold||Milne, Edward (Blyth)|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)|
|Booth, Albert||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Molloy, William|
|Boston, Terence||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Boyden, James||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hannan, William||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Bradley, Tom||Harper, Joseph||Moyle, Roland|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Brooks, Edwin||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Murray, Albert|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Haseldine, Norman||Neal, Harold|
|Brown, Hugh D. (C'gow, Provan)||Hazell, Bert||Oakes, Gordon|
|Brown,Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||O'Malley, Brian|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Heffer, Eric S.||Orbach, Maurice|
|Buchan, Norman||Herbison, Rt. Hn, Margaret||Orme, Stanley|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Hilton, W. S.||Oswald, Thomas|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hooley, Frank||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hooson, Emlyn||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Padley, Walter|
|Cant, R. B.||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Chapman, Donald||Hoy, James||Pardoe, John|
|Coe, Denis||Huckfield, Leslie||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Coleman, Donald||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Hunter, Adam||Pentland, Norman|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hynd, John||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Jeger,Mrs.Lena (H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Probert, Arthur|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Randall, Harry|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rankin, John|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham.S.)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Judd, Frank||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Kelley, Richard||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy|
|Dell, Edmund||Kenyon, Clifford||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Dewar, Donald||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Robinson, Rt.Hn.Kenneth (St.P'c'as)|
|Dickens, James||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Doig, Peter||Lawson, George||Rose, Paul|
|Driberg, Tom||Ledger, Ron||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Dunn, James A.||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rowlands, E.|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lee, John (Reading)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Short, Mrs. René e (W'hampton,N.E.)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lipton, Marcus||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lomas, Kenneth||Silverman, Julius|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Loughlin, Charles||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Lubbock, Eric||Slater, Joseph|
|Ellis, John||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Small, William|
|English, Michael||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Snow, Julian|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||McBride, Neil||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)||McCann, John||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Macdonald, A. H.||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Ewing, Mrs. Winifred||McGuire, Michael||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Faulds, Andrew||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Swingler, Stephen|
|Symonds, J. B.||Watkins, David (Consett)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Thomas, Bt. Hn. George||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)||Willis, Rt. Hn. George|
|Thomson, Rt. Hn. George||Weitzman, David||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Thornton, Ernest||Wellbeloved, James||Winnick, David|
|Tinn, James||Whitlock, William||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Tomney, Frank||Wilkins, W. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Urwin, T. W.||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Varley, Eric G.||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)||Mr. Ernest Armstrong and|
|Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)||Mr. Charles Grey.|
|Wallace, George||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I beg to move Amendment No. 95, in page 14, line 4, after 'elections', insert 'is hereby abolished'.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Ronald Russell)
I think that it would be convenient, with this Amendment, to take Amendment No. 51, in page 14, line 5, leave out from '1933' to end of Clause and add:'shall be amended to read "he has during the whole of the twelve months preceding the last day for nominations owned freehold or leasehold land within the area of the local authority, or has during the whole of the twelve months preceding the last day for nominations had a principal place of work within the area of the authority"'and Amendment No. 48, in line 14, at end add:(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, a person shall be qualified for election to a local authority in which he is non-resident provided that he shall have had a principal place of work within the area of the authority during the whole of the 12 months preceding the last day for the nomination of candidates for the election.
§ Mr. Walker
The major part of this debate will take place on Amendment No. 51. Here, we are trying to obtain a very considerable extension to those who will be able to stand for local government elections in the future. The views expressed in the last debate, for example, by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) and by other hon. Members opposite is met completely by the Amendment.
The last time that I took part in a debate on a Bill for which the Home Secretary was responsible—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it is difficult to hear what he is saying. There are too many private con versations going on.
§ Mr. Walker
The last occasion on which I took part in a debate on a Bill for which the Home Secretary was res- 320 ponsible was in the course of the 1965 Finance Act. On that occasion, we differed on many Clauses and Amendments. However, of all the Amendments that I have moved, never has there been a more important one than this. Unless an Amendment such as this is accepted, the Clause will have a very damaging effect on local government throughout the country, for what the Government are doing is ensuring that a large number of councillors and county councillors will, at the end of their term of office, be unable to stand for those localities.
Some of the most distinguished men in local government, men of all political parties, are affected by this provision. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) knows that seven Labour councillors on Manchester City Council are affected by this proposal. The present Labour Leader of the G.L.C. will no longer be able to stand for election if the Clause goes through in its present form. The Government are removing from local government men of all political parties who have a distinguished record of service.
I cannot understand the reason for the Government taking this action. Every piece of evidence, provided not by party politicians but those genuinely interested in the future of local government, has called for an extension of those able to stand for election rather than a reduction. Indeed, only this year the Home Secretary was responsible for setting up a conference on local government law. That conference discussed this matter and concluded that there should not be a reduction in the scope of those people standing. The Home Secretary has, therefore, gone against the advice of his conference on this subject.
The right hon. Gentleman has also gone against the advice of the Maud Committee on the management of local government. It is important that hon. Members on both sides should recognise how strong and positive was the 321 unanimous recommendation of the Maud Committee on this subject. Having heard the expert witnesses, having discussed the topic at great length, and having heard all the representations, the Maud Committee said in paragraph 424 of its Report:Our conclusions are that:—Paragraph 425 says:
- (a) the present legislation makes it difficult for certain people to stand for election and may be the cause of their resorting to arrangements to enable them to satisfy the requirements of the law;
- (b) mobility of people increases; many may have just as much interest in the area in which they work as in the area in which they live and this should be recognised;
- (c) the effect of the law is to exclude some people who may be valuable candidates for election to local authorities particularly in urban areas."We recommend that there be an additional alternative qualification for election to local authority, namely that the person should have had a principal place of work within the area of the authority during the whole of the 12 months preceding the election.That is what we are endeavouring to achieve by Amendment No. 51.
All of us concerned with local authorities recognise the difficulty of all political parties to obtain men of high calibre willing to devote a great deal of their time to the work of local government. Only yesterday the House, by the Rate Support Grant Order, authorised local authorities to spend millions of pounds. We ought, therefore, to be searching for ways by which we can improve the calibre of local government. I find it extremely disappointing, very much to understate the case, that the Government are going forward with a proposal which, if anything, will diminish the calibre of people operating in local government.
There are many reasons why the Government should not proceed with the Clause in its present form. One was given by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Anderson) who has now left the Chamber. He referred to the position of a number of his councillors on the Monmouth Council, presumably Labour councillors. They are on a council housing estate which will be affected by future boundary changes. The hon. Gentleman will lose a number of those councillors under the Government's proposal, but under our scheme, if they work in 322 Monmouth they will be able to continue to serve.
The pattern of rehousing in our major cities is interesting in this regard. Certainly, in my own City of Worcester, the local authority is short of land and is building estates outside the City. A number of men will go into those estates who are actively engaged in local government and working in the city. Under the Amendment, they would be able to continue to serve on Worcester City Council.
This applies also to men of calibre in both political parties. I believe that the property qualification, for example, enables the present Labour Leader on the G.L.C. to continue to give his services to the party opposite in that assembly. These are men of high calibre. Many men in the professions, perhaps solicitors and doctors, are willing to devote their time to local government; many of them buy houses near the city concerned and their major interest continues to be in that city. It is the city where they shop and carry out their business.
It cannot be in the national interest suddenly to remove all these men from local government. Many of them, for example, live in the rural districts surrounding some of our major towns and cities, and, as a result of this Measure, they will have to lose their places on local authorities, on which some of them are chairmen of committees and leading figures. They will be lost to local authority work altogether; they will not start it again on the rural district councils, since their real interest is in the welfare of the cities involved.
There is a whole series of arguments against this proposal. One is that Members of Parliament do not always live in their constituencies, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a difference, of course, in that we represent the national interest in a national assembly, but we have a duty to voice here matters of local interest and to ventilate in this assembly the local problems of people concerned. Certainly, all of us try to carry out that task well and few would argue that those who do not have a residence in their constituencies are necessarily worse constituency members as a result. My home is in my constituency, but if I lived a few miles outside, I would hope that the service I gave my electors 323 would be just as good and thorough. The same applies to these councillors.
The only defence which the Govern ment can make for this Clause is that all these Manchester City Councillors and the leader of the Labour Party on the G.L.C. are worse councillors because they do not happen to live within the city concerned. The Government have failed to recognise the pattern of the typical provincial town. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) implied earlier that he was more in sympathy with this Amendment than with the last. In a city like York, many men of high calibre, of both parties, live just outside the city boundaries, but nevertheless make very good councillors.
Added to this, however, is the whole question of local government reform which is coming up. It is the general guess of both sides of the House that this will create larger local authority areas. If so, most of the men adversely affected by these proposals will be able to come back into the new, reformed local government. But what is the sense of having this legislation now, so that many able councillors in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and London will be removed from active participation in local government? Probably, a few years later, when the reform takes place, they will have lost their interest and knowledge and will be lost to local government for ever.
Even if one wanted to advocate the case of necessity of residence within a local boundary area it would have been in the interests of local government to have waited until after the Royal Commission had reported and the Government had decided on the action to be taken.
As far as I know, this Government proposal has no real support. I have never heard the Labour Party propound as its official policy the view that people should be resident within a local authority area. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had propounded that view they would not have adopted candidates without such a residence qualification—and they have done just that in many major local authorities. Such a step was not sug- 324 gested by the Home Secretary to the local government conference which he called. The Maud Report—the major report on local government in recent years—was not in favour of it. None of the local authority associations with either predominantly Socialist or Tory councils has advocated this proposal.
What can be the explanation for the Government taking this step? Is it not just a piece of sheer political spite and gerrymandering? Is it not because they want to remove a large number of Tory councillors from active participation in local authority activities? This can be the only real argument for such a proposal. With so many local authorities being predominantly Tory controlled, large numbers of Tory councillors will be affected by this proposal. There must be a temptation on any Government who do not like the complexion of the majority of local authorities to take such a view. Doubtless there are many people who do not like the complexion of the Government and would be anxious to introduce all sorts of franchise changes to help remove a lot of hon. Members in the near future.
This is tempting, and I remember Harold Macmillan, when asked to reflect on the occasions when he stood for Stockton, replying that he had been three times defeated and three times elected. He said that on the three occasions when he was defeated he had reflected on the stupidity of a system whereby anybody, however foolish, was able to vote. On the three occasions when he was successful and was elected he had reflected on the inherent good sense of the British people.
There must be a temptation for the Government to look at the large number of Tory dominated local authorities and wish to take spiteful action. In terms of electoral reform, we have always avoided such party action for the sake of spite. We have always had party agreement on major reforms and there has always been proper consultation. The Home Secretary has had no form of consultation whatever on these proposals, except when the matter was discussed in a slightly different context at his own conference—and that was, if anything, in favour of extending the possibility of non-residents standing in local government elections.
325 I urge the Home Secretary to think again. It is in the interests of the Government that we have the ablest men possible operating in local government. As a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary will be aware that these people are responsible for the expenditure of a very large proportion of public money.
If one can persuade men of high calibre distinguished businessmen and top executives—to give their time and service to local activities, that must be in the interests of the locality, of the Government and of the country. It is because the Clause as it stands is so completely against those interests and because the Amendment would extend further the availability of able and willing people in local government, so enabling them to make a useful contribution, that I urge the Committee to support the Amendment.
§ Sir Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
It is very rarely that I find myself in agreement with the Front Bench opposite, but on this occasion I think there is great force in the argument we have just heard from the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). I think that all of us who have had some experience of local government must agree with him.
It frequently happens that members of a town council—we find this phenomenon in all parts of the country—spend the whole of their working lives inside a borough but for domestic reasons live a mile or two outside it. They may be, and they often are, most valuable members of the council. They bring their special or professional experience to their work and the council would be very much poorer without them. If we are to cut them out we shall narrow to a very serious degree the area of recruitment.
I speak with the highest admiration of those who serve without any material reward in local government. None the less, the area of recruitment is not always as wide as we would wish it to be. In this House we pride ourselves on the fact that we draw hon. Members with first hand experience of al kinds of trades and occupations and profesions. It is very desirable that we should have the same qualifications on local authorities. This 326 perhaps goes a little wider than the Amendment, but I am never able to see why we should distinguish in these matters between Parliamentary and local government elections.
We have never in 700 years insisted on a residential qualification for Members of Parliament. If we had, the history of this House would have been very different. We would have lost a great many of our most distinguished Members. For example, the late Sir Winston Churchill, who was my predecessor at one time in the representation of Dundee, represented, first, Oldham, then Manchester, then Dundee and then Epping. He had no territorial connection with any of them. He was born in Blenheim and would probably never have been returned there. If we had this sort of rule we might never have had the services of Sir Winston Churchill There are many other examples.
I cannot see why we should not extend the same freedom to local government electors. Suppose that someone comes from outside the borough; it is a matter of controversy and a matter which the electors in the ward can take account of, just as Parliamentary electors take it into account. Why should they not be free to choose whom they like?
By way of example I give a piece of my own family history. My father was born in Plymouth and lived a large part of his life in the City of Plymouth. He was a town councillor in Plymouth for many years before it became a city. In later years was elected to Parliament for the adjoining constituency of Bodmin. He and my family left the city and lived a few miles outside the city boundaries. But he retained his office in Plymouth, never lost his interest in the affairs of the city, and, a year or two after the last war, he became Lord Mayor.
I know that Lord Mayoralties are not touched by this Clause, but the principle is precisely the same. I think that his choice as Lord Mayor was not unwelcome to the citizens of Plymouth, of all parties, but he was outside its boundaries. Applying this principle, he ought never to have been chosen.
This change can be justified only on doctrinaire grounds. I always remember the phrase, one of the many phrases I 327 recall used by Mr. Lloyd George. I once heard him say:Doctrinaires are the vultures of principle. They feed upon a principle after it is dead."I hope that my right hon. Friends will not be vultures tonight.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On the last occasion on which I followed the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot), I wholly agreed with him. I find myself in the same position tonight. It seems that one or other of us is now getting soft. The alternative and more agreeable thesis is that we are both dead right.
I differ from my hon. Friend the Mem-for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), who expressed surprise that the Government should have introduced this proposal. I do not find it surprising. Everybody in this world is inclined to do things they do well. For that reason the Government have given up bothering about handling the economy, which they have discovered they cannot do. But they are very good at rigging elections. Therefore, very naturally they abandon the economy and concentrate their efforts and those of the House of Commons on electoral rigging.
It is one of the curious ironies of history that the Chancellor of the Ex-chequer who devalued the £ will now apparently go down in history, not for that, but as "Jim the Rigger", assisted by his acolytes "Elwyn and Merlyn the Fixers".
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester understated the case when he said that the Government had had no consultations about this. This is not so. The Under-Secretary told me in a Parliamentary Answer a few weeks ago that the Government had consulted the local authority associations. He admitted, which is the fact, that the local authority associations had expressed the view that they were against these proposals. Why, if the Government were determined to do this anyhow, did they go through the form of consulting people whose advice, it must be clear, they had made up their minds from the beginning to reject? Why did they waste the time of busy local authorities by going through the farce of a consultation, when they got the most emphatic rejection, before going placidly ahead with their pro- 328 posals? The best comment of all was that expressed in its own minutes by the greatest local authority in this country, if not in the whole world—the Greater London Council—that these proposals had, in the measured view of the Coun cil, no merit in them.
It it not a question, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—nor can it be suggested by the Government—of anybody seeking to impose on local electors anyone they do not want. The remedy is in the hands of the local electors. If they take the theoretical view that they can be properly represented on the local authority only by people who live in the town, the remedy is in their hands: they can vote for those candidates who live in the town and reject those who would be in on the qualifications proposed in the Amendment. It lies with them.
What the Government are trying to do is to restrict the freedom of the electors to choose the very people whom ex hypothesi they want. What is the justification for this? Everyone knows that the crying need of local government today is for men and women of the ability and capacity to handle the enormous problems which local government has to face. Committee chairmanships of the G.L.C. and other major cities are jobs not much less in responsibility and difficulty than those of members of the Cabinet. They are unremunerated. It is a matter of extraordinary difficulty for people who perform them to earn a living outside. Unlike those of us in the House and unlike Ministers, who have some remuneration, this is done for nothing, or virtually nothing, by public spirited citizens. The problem, as every local authority would tell the right hon. Gentleman, is to get for these chairmanships, whatever party is in power, men of the quality and capacity needed to do these important jobs well. Why, then, restrict the choice? Why quite deliberately limit the number of people who can do these jobs?
On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that all this might well be eased when the Redcliffe-Maud Report came along. So it may, and let us hope that it will, but why rush the thing through 329 now? Why not wait and see what Redcliffe-Maud recommends, see what the Government decide on it and see what legislation Parliament passes as a result, and then, if one likes, review the situation? As my hon. Friend said, to remove people, many of them at the height of their powers and performing responsible jobs in local government, with the consolation, "In a few years, old boy, we may let you come back", is to play foolish jokes with local government.
In any event, Redcliffe-Maud does not apply to London where the problem is particularly acute. I pointed out on Second Reading that the Borough of Camden, one of the largest boroughs and one of those with the largest rateable value in the country, would under the Government's scheme lose four first-class committee chairmen. Why? What justification is there for it? It will not hand the Borough of Camden over to the Labour Party. Camden has made its mind up on that all right. All it will mean is that the Conservative leadership in that borough will have a smaller choice of eligible men to perform the important jobs involved.
The Government have made life much more difficult, apparently deliberately, for local government this year. Why add this extra problem? The only explanation is the one my hon. Friend gave, that the Government, having been rejected by every county in England except Durham, having been rejected by practically every major urban authority and almost every rural authority, have decided that, although they can no longer resist the Conservative rise there, they can still wound—willing to wound but yet afraid to strike.
§ Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) made a good democratic speech. He made the best of a bad job. But the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames—[HON. MEMBERS: "Right hon. Member."]—I am sorry; I shall give him his correct title, and I am sure that he deserves it—the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has not yet learned the elementary lesson of not mistaking abuse for argument. One would imagine that, after all his years in public life, he should know the difference.
330 I can speak from first-hand experience of the situation now under discussion. At the age of 23 I became a member of a council, and now, at the age of 59 today, I am an alderman of the Borough of Bootle, having been a member of that council for 36 years. Now that the Conservative Party has control in Bootle, my brother and I—he has had about 20 years as a member of the council and, as the House knows, is the Member for Bootle—will go out of the council quite unceremoniously, since democracy will have its way. It is right and proper that democracy should have its way.
It is no good hon. Members opposite arguing that local government ought not to be local. We on this side assert the principle that local government should be local government. It is no good liking democracy only when one can have one's own way. True democracy means that one must like democracy when one does not have one's own way. I shall not like democracy very much—[Laughter.] I have a good idea why hon. Members opposite are in such an uproarious mood. But they must listen. We listened very attentively to the good case made by the hon. Member for Worcester, but there is always another side to an argument, and the reluctance of hon. Members opposite to hear it convinces me that in their heart of hearts they do not believe that they have a good case.
In two years' time I shall be bundled off the Council, because the Conservative Party is now in control after many years, and my brother will be bundled off with me. But we shall not go around shedding the crocodile tears that hon. Members opposite think people should shed because they are put off a council.
I believe that a business qualification is not a strong qualification for council membership. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I will explain. Members of Parliament should be patient. They should be able to demonstrate to people in the Gallery and outside that they have a modicum of patience and the ability and tolerance to listen to a different point of view. I know that hon. Members opposite will not accept my point of view.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
We accept that in two years' time due democratic process may cause the hon. Gentleman to cease to be an alderman and leave the Council. Does he agree that it might be a pity from his point of view and possibly that of the people of Bootle if he decided to move, perhaps even a few hundred yards, and for that reason had to cease to be an alderman?
§ Mr. Mahon
I am grateful for that intervention. I believe that it would be a pity, and that what is to happen will be a pity. I say with all humility that during my 36 years on the Council, I have been 17 years chairman of the Finance Committee, the premier committee in local government. I have been a member of the Watch Committee for many years, and I have been chairman of the Housing Committee and the Fire Brigade Committee. It could be said that I had a unique local government experience. But democracy should have its way, and that is right and proper. Other things have been affected by the Maud Report, but we should not worry if we feel that democratic procedure is being adopted.
The wisdom behind the proposal is that when people are looking for good, wise and efficient representation from their councillors and aldermen they do not invariably look into the Chambers of Commerce, the factories and workshops. They look for the men and women who are resident in their locality. If they want to have a form signed they do not go to the places of enterprises but to the homes of their representatives.
I could speak on the subject for a long time with great earnestness, but I shall resist the temptation. For the reasons I have stated, if for no others, hon. Members should consider the question with greater vision and foresight, and with a more democratic outlook.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
It is a measure of the great importance I attach to the Amendments that I have been waiting since 4.45 p.m. to speak. I served for 10 years on a local authority before coming here. I never lived outside the town boundary 332 and, therefore, would not have been debarred by Clause 15 from serving had it been in operation. But I had ample time to observe that just as valuable service was rendered by colleagues living outside the borough as by those who lived within it. They did not attempt to leave earlier or shrug off their full burden of committee duties, and they were never averse to taking their full load of civic duties.
I served on a small committee which was given the job of appointing a council official. It was suggested that we should appoint a person only if he lived within the borough boundary. However, it was argued against this that, although it could be said that his time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. was the town's, where he went afterwards to live was no business of ours. It was argued that he was willing to provide a service and if his qualifications measured up to the job he should be taken on. A man who lived outside the borough was appointed. He was receiving a premium for his service. We are talking about people who give their service free.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
I have many very large firms in my constituency, most of them limited companies. Most of the executives and managers could not serve on the borough council, anyway. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that the principle of non-resident qualification should go to all and sundry?
§ Mrs. Knight
Exactly. If a person is willing to serve a council, he should not have to be told where he must live, and this should apply whether he is receiving a salary or is giving voluntary service. I attach great importance to preserving voluntary service, but I cannot help thinking that the Government set the principle at little value.
I recall that it was said time and again on Second Reading that one should only serve the community where one lives. On that argument, presumably, one could be a member of the W.R.V.S., but not take meals on wheels to people living elsewhere than in one's own area. Are we to expect that boy scouts and their helpers will be debarred from joining cert-am troops unless they are locally resident?
If hon. Members opposite adhere to this principle, at the next General Election, when they are looking for Labour Party workers, they will be thin on the 333 ground. If they are to tell their workers, "You can come and help only if you live in the area," I shall be even sorrier for the party opposite than at the moment.
I believe that to give time and money and thought and ability voluntarily enriches character. The community badly needs voluntary service. It is not easy to find people who are willing to give up the amount of time necessary to take on the full duties of local councils. It is even more difficult to find thoroughly able people who are free to do so. 9.45 p.m.
It ought not to be lost sight of that councils will be the poorer unless this series of Amendments is accepted. I was interested to read the case made out in the Second Reading debate by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I was appalled at the paucity of their arguments. The Home Secretary asked: is it not sensible that the residents of a housing estate in Leeds should be represented by someone living in Leeds rather than someone living in Oxfordshire? If a man living in Oxfordshire is keen enough to travel to and from Leeds to serve on the city council he is zealous and hard-working.
I cannot follow that argument at all. It has been said twice during the debate that it is for the people to decide whether they accept someone who lives inside or outside an area. As we come to the end of the debate I am searching hopefully for genuine reasons why Clause 15 should go through as it stands.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, on Second Reading with condescension, and showing an attitude which was totally insensitive, and displaying a complete lack of understanding, said that there was nothing to prevent people standing as candidates in the area in which they live. I would contrast that with a statement he made a little later, which contains some small degree of self-satisfaction. He said:The people of Kilmarnock would not allow me to leave Kilmarnock."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1027.]They would be all too keen for him to leave. Yet he perists with this stupid argument.
As anyone who has served on a local council knows, there are many differences between the various councils. One might 334 just as well tell a man who is used to working with a blast furnace to go off and amuse himself with a sparkler as tell someone who is used to the blood and thunder of a city council to spend his time in the dreamy peacefulness of a parish council. People will not be told where to go, where to give their services. They will give their services if it is made easy for them and if they have an interest in an area.
I made this point briefly in an intervention on Second Reading, but I make it again now because it is so important. Hon. Members should understand that frequently in big cities one is very much nearer to the ward one represents if one lives just outside the city boundary than one is to a ward on the other side of the city. I am thinking of my own City of Birmingham, where there are many parts which are geographically very close to the places of residence of the councillors. Birmingham is one of the places which will suffer greatly unless this series of Amendments is accepted, and I have great pleasure in supporting them.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
The debate so far has avoided the realities of the facts of life. What we ought to be talking about are not the uncommon people. The inference is that these uncommon people with knowledge lie on one side of the political spectrum. I know that the Opposition will not like that, but basically it is their belief, and that is why they are hanging on to this privilege, which should have gone many years ago. Let me bring this home to the area in which I am profoundly interested.
I can see the point of living in a large county borough and then perhaps moving out of the boundary at some time. Where are one's loyalties then most likely to be? This is the supreme test. For 40 years I have lived just inside the boundaries of Cheshire, and within the environment of Manchester. I have seen people with a local knowledge and understanding torn between their loyalties to the regional centre—and that is what Manchester is—and their loyalties to the rural area of Cheshire.
This is nearly always expressed, here and in the counties, in terms of the rate. They live, rightly or wrongly, away from the city and in the more salubrious areas. I do not blame them for that. But if 335 they do that for the purpose of bearing a smaller rate, they must accept the con sequences.
I have seen all too frequently this struggle between Conservative Members with some philosophy of life. They try to do the right thing by a great city like Manchester, with all its difficulties and problems, but finally rally to the counter side of the argument because, in the long run, they are not concerned with the development of the social structure of our large cities. They are primarily concerned with how much it will cost, residentially or in office or business terms, to keep the city going. We consistently hear an argument not about whether we are getting value for money in terms of services or rates, but about cutting the rate, however it is done.
A rate precept should be seen to be a worthwhile investment. Hon. Members opposite want the best of both worlds. They are very lucky if they can continue to get it. It is my choice if I continue to live in a county borough with heavy financial problems, or if I seek to go into the country for reasons of amenity, and so on, I should not seek to impose any influence on the county borough, which has enough problems without the reactionary influences of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I am astonished by the ignorance of the hon. Gentleman. Does he not know Lancashire? Does he not realise that Liverpool owns a vast number of houses outside the county borough boundary and that people are compulsorily moved from the centre of the city to areas outside? That is not of their own choice. Are we to deprive them of all say in the government of Liverpool and housing matters?
§ Mr. Mapp
I am aware of these elementary facts.
The Opposition have not argued the case for the Amendment, which refers toa principal place of work within the area of the authority".Why did we not get an explanation from the Opposition Front Bench about this matter? Do they wish to have it both ways? Are we to assume that this covers the manual or the clerical worker who spends his life in the heart of a great city 336 like Manchester, Liverpool, or London, and lives in Cheshire or Middlesex? The Amendment would seem to imply that we should give him a second opportunity to serve the public, but the Opposition have not said so. They have not told us how a town clerk would be able to decide whether a civil servant working in this city in one office for one year, or a railway clerk working at one station for a year, should qualify under the verbiage in the Amendment.
The Opposition's case tumbles because it is not an attempt to draw into local government the best that there is in the areas. It is merely a justification of a vested interest. The comparison of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) with this House is false. One can live in the Greater London Council area 15 miles away from another point in that area and still be available as a candidate. In the same way one can live at the extreme end of the City of Manchester and be available for any ward or any party. The analogy with this House is quite false. This is an argument for the old plural vote and it is now time to put that on one side and bring ourselves up to date.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
I am aghast at this most reactionary proposal. It is a reaction to the days long before the invention of the motor car, to the days of the horse and buggy. It is a reaction to the time when the businessman lived above his business premises. My experience of local government is no doubt less than that of many hon. Gentleman opposite, but I have had the experience of canvassing in local government elections along the streets of rural towns and in my constituency.
In my home town, which I once had the honour to represent, there is a long street with tradesmen's shops on each side, above which there is living accommodation. That accommodation is no longer occupied by the people who own the shops. With the coming into general use of the motor car people find it more convenient to live away from their business premises. This is not peculiar to one part of England. The fact of living outside the borough boundary does not remove the interest of those people from 337 the activities of the borough and their business in it.
I cannot follow the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), who thinks that people make a long appraisal of the rate situation before deciding where to move. The opinions of most wives on the desirability of living accommodation do not take account of rates, and I should be surprised if people were guided by an appreciation of the likely rates in their choice of accommodation.
An important part is played in local government by the people who, in earlier generations, would have lived inside the borough, but who now live outside. They are doing the same work as their ancestors, and they are able to do it because they use a car.
The responsibilities of the local council can be undertaken only by people of real ability who have business training and education. There is on the Walsall Council a most distinguished industrial ist, a man of first-class ability. He gives his time on a voluntary basis to the ratepayers of Walsall. He would not devote the same time, for example, to the rural district of Lichfield, because their problems are not problems with which he wants to deal. Therefore his services to local government will be lost if this Bill goes through unamended.
These circustances could be illustrated by many other examples, but I want to stress the position in the towns of the West Midlands—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.