HC Deb 19 June 1969 vol 785 cc729-83

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)

I beg to move, That this House calls upon the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and Scotland to implement in full, and without further delay, the recommendations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions. The events of the past hour and ten minutes have somewhat truncated the time available for this debate and, therefore, I shall try to put my case in shorter form than I would perhaps otherwise have done.

We tabled the Motion, not knowing the Government's intentions, because we wished, first, to ascertain what they were and, secondly, to bring to the Government's notice and to place on record our strong views about these reports, both as to the propriety of the action to be taken and as to the requirements of the law in relation to it. We hoped to do so, and we still hope to do so, before the Government have taken up a position from which they could not withdraw without loss of face.

What I say to the Secretary of State will, I hope, be couched in language which will give offence neither to him nor to the party of which he is a member and which, for this purpose, he represents. We have had examples in the past 24 hours of the Government changing their mind. I do not know whether they will have to change their mind on this matter, but I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to what I have to say before taking up a position from which withdrawal is impossible. If the Government harbour intentions inconsistent with our views as recorded in the Motion, I hope that he will have second thoughts.

I do not think that anyone in the House doubts the importance of the delineation of Parliamentary constituency boundaries. We in this country invented Parliamentary democracy. We are widely looked to as a pattern of what things should be, and I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my desire that we should do nothing to impair that reputation. No one who is a mature political person doubts that the delineation of Parliamentary boundaries has from time to time been the subject not only of considerable controversy but of notorious impropriety in one country or another. The famous Mr. Gerry Mander, who, I believe, came from the United States and lent a new word of political vituperation to the language, used the delineation of boundaries as his principal method.

No one who has followed the controversy about the local boundaries in Northern Ireland recently will doubt that it is extremely important for a society which wishes to retain its reputation for constitutional propriety to be extemely careful about such matters. Whatever may be said about the local boundaries in Northern Ireland, the Parliamentary constituencies, which are under the direction of this House, have not, as far as I know, come in for comparable criticism on either side.

I do not wish to adopt an unctuous position to the Secretary of State. No one who has been connected with a political party for as long as he and I have will pretend that any of us can claim to be entirely devoid of original sin. We are all subject to pressures from our supporters and party organisations. May I say in passing that by no means all such pressures are illegitimate. We often spend our time abusing the professional organisation of the other—we in abusing Transport House, and hon. Members opposite in abusing the Conservative Central Office. But they are, by and large, highly reputable and experienced men and women, and it would be a mistake if we always spoke in pejorative terms of one another, because the public might believe us both, which would not be to the advantage of public life. By no means all the pressures to which we are subject are necessarily insincere, even when they are illegitimate.

It is easy to persuade oneself of the advantages of a course which will prove beneficial, and I am a long way from making angry charges of dishonesty before circumstances justify my doing so. But it has been recognised for a very long time that no party has a right to be judge, advocate and administrator entirely in its own cause. For a long time it has been a necessary part of political hygiene in this country that Parliamentary boundaries should be delineated by boundary commissions for the purpose of ensuring not merely that no impropriety can take place but that it is seen that no impropriety is taking place.

That was so for many years before 1944 when, according to my recollection, the permanent Boundary Commissions were instituted. They were instituted by the 1944 Act to take account of the fact that periodical reviews by ad hoc commissions, which had proved the rule up to then, were unsatisfactory owing to the important and constant shifts in population which render boundaries archaic after a comparatively short time. In 1949, when we repealed the 1944 Act and re-enacted some of its provisions in a modified form, we made the time bracket within which reviews should take place from three to seven years. This was increased to a bracket of from seven to 15 years by the amending Act of 1958. Therefore, there have been only three comparable precedents.

By the 1944 Act and the existing legislation, the Government are under an obligation to place the Boundary Commissions' reports before Parliament "as soon as may be". The English and Scottish reports were received in April, the others rather later. I am not sure how soon "may be" is. It has certainly taken this Government a little longer than either Mr. Chuter Ede in 1947–48—he placed the report before Parliament within a month—or the 1954 Conservative Government, which placed their four reports, except the Scottish one, within a week. This Government have taken a little longer.

If, however, the Government performed their statutory duty as we consider they should in other respects I do not suppose that any of us would complain about the delay. It is a little important to understand their statutory duty. As I wish to get the words exact, perhaps I shall be forgiven if I quote from the 1949 Act, which lays down that As soon as may be after a Boundary Commission have submitted a report to the Secretary of State under this Act, he shall lay the report before Parliament together, except in a case where the report states that no alteration is required to be made in respect of the part of the United Kingdom with which the Commission are concerned, with the draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report. It is important to consider the Government's legal obligation. It is to lay the report "as soon as may be", whatever that may mean. It is to accompany the laying of the report with draft Orders in Council, each relating to the relevant portion of the United Kingdom, giving effect to the recommendations of the Commision, with or without modifications. In a later subsection it is provided that if modifications are proposed reasons must be stated.

At 2.30 this afternoon I was able to acquire in the Vote Office the Boundary Commission's Report for England. I was not able to acquire the other Boundary Commissions' Reports. They may be available now, but I can only report what I was given.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

They were all there.

Mr. Hogg

Then the fault was either mine or that of the Vote Office. But I was certainly not given, in addition to the one report which I received, a draft Order in Council giving effect, either with or without modification, to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. In other words, as I stand here, the Government are in breach of their statutory obligation; they have not done what the statute requires, and they have broken the law.

The statutory provision which I have read, moreover, is not satisfied by a Government who reject the Boundary Commission's Report. The law is that they shall with the Report lay a draft Order in Council giving effect to the recommendations of the report. They are not entitled to reject it, although they may modify it. Second, at least as I read the Statute, they are not entitled to implement part of it and reject the rest. They are not entitled to implement part of it and substitute their own proposals in regard to the rest. It is the whole report on the relevant portion of the United Kingdom which they are bound to implement with or without modification and the draft proposals for the implementation of which they must lay at the same time as the report is laid before Parliament.

If the Government want to do anything else, they must produce a Bill. If minded to break the law, a Government with a temporary Parliamentary majority can always unconstitutionally use its Parliamentary majority to pass a Statute breaking the law retrospectively and indemnifying the Government against the breach. However, the reason why we have put the Motion down is that we should regard such a step in this context as a constitutional impropriety. It would strike a serious blow at the integrity of our public life and our Parliamentary institutions. It would be an instance of the improper use of a Parliamentary majority. It would be an example of changing the rules while the match was being played, and the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues could not escape without a serious blemish upon their personal reputations if they contemplated such an act. Speaking for myself, I very much hope that they would not contemplate such an act. We consider, with The Times, which wrote about this a few days ago in a leading article, that although there may be some inconveniences in keeping the law—there are usually some inconveniences in keeping most laws—the Government have no excuse for breaking the law.

It will be accepted, at least, that after the 15 years which have elapsed since the last review the present Parliamentary boundaries are intolerable—intolerable, that is, for the purposes of a general election. We are at present engaged in a by-election contest at Birmingham, Lady-wood, where the electorate is only 18,000, having gone down by 41 per cent. since 1964. Manchester, Exchange is virtually as small as Ladywood, and Leeds, South-East has fewer than 30,000. In addition to those three, there are 22 seats in England with fewer than 40,000 voters. At the other end of the scale, there are four seats with more than 100,000 voters, the prize going to Billericay with 113,000, which, incidentally, has risen by 25 per cent., since only 1964. There are a further 12 above 90,000 and another 31 above 80,000.

Quite apart from the law—this is not a case in which the question is one of mere technicality—it would be intolerable to allow those anomalies to continue into another General Election. I gather from the Report for England, which I have glanced at superficially since 2.30, that that is the view also of the Boundary Commission.

We keep on preaching to others about "One man one vote". What sort of practice have we adopted here? If Ladywood is to be equated with Billericay, we have either to say, "Six men one vote" or, "Six votes one man", in one or other of the two. It becomes an intolerable hypocrisy if, when we complain of other countries not observing the constitutional proprieties in this respect or even of different parts of the United Kingdom observing them less than we desire, we deliberately adopt a course of action perpetuating such anomalies.

I should not be at all happy, even apart from the technicalities of the law, to try to take out from any one part of the United Kingdom a selected number of constituencies as being worse than others and deal only with them. That would not only be illegal in the present situation, and improper if one tried to legislate retrospectively to justify a breach of the existing law, but would be a political outrage, because there is only a matter of degree between one case and another and because, as every member of a Boundary Commission has always known, one cannot take out individual constituencies without altering the balance of the whole.

It would not be legitimate to act in that way in respect of any of these four reports—neither legal nor politically legitimate—and if it were done on one of the four only, let us say in England and not in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there would be additional ground for complaint.

I put one other matter to the right hon. Gentleman, namely, the question of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. It is true that the Schedule to the 1949 Act provides that the Boundary Commission—not the Minister—should have regard to local government boundaries and to local communities—so far, that is, as is practicable. It is not bound to the boundaries pedantically, but it must have regard to them. But the local government boundaries to which the Commission must have regard under the statute are the existing local government boundaries, not some hypothetical local government boundaries of the future. That is the law, and it is also political wisdom.

We had an exchange across the Floor the other day about the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. I did not take part in it myself, but I thought that both sides were agreed that the proposals would require very careful study. Even the main features of the Redcliffe-Maud Report are matters of controversy, though not yet—and I hope that they will not become—matters of controversy between the parties. They have been hotly disputed in the Press already. We cannot hold up our implementation of the existing law, changing the rules during the match either by flouting the law or by legislating retrospectively to alter it, on the excuse that local government boundaries may be different, though we do not know how different or different in what respects, if or when the Redcliffe-Maud proposals are carried into effect or other proposals are implemented in place of them. [Interruption.] I hear my hon. Friend say, "Or when?". That was the very next point to which I intended to come.

Whether or not my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right, as I think he was, in saying that the actual implementation on the ground of this report would probably not take place earlier than 1974, it is absolutely clear that it will not take place even in a legislative form before the next General Election and not in an actual form for two or three years after the legislation, because this is the most fundamental change in local government practice, certainly as regards England, since the Conquest. To pretend that this could conceivably be an excuse for delaying a situation of the kind that I have tried to lay before the House, I hope fairly dispassionately, is to pretend something which no sober or dispassionate person can possibly believe.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Hogg

I cannot give way to four hon. Members. I was about to plunge into my peroration. However I will give way to the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard).

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way to me before his peroration. I know that this is a delicate moment at which to ask him to resume his seat. On the assumption, which I think is a legitimate one, that the Redcliffe-Maud proposals, or something like them, are likely to to be put into effect, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal for full implementation of the Boundary Commission's Reports is carried out does it not mean another Boundary Commission sitting as soon as the Redcliffe-Maud proposals have been put into effect so as to readjust the new Parliamentary boundaries to the Redcliffe-Maud ones?

Mr. Hogg

Yes it certainly does mean that. If my time scale is even approximately right, that new boundary commission would be plumb in the middle of the time bracket which the original Act of 1949, although not the amending Act of 1958, prescribed as compulsory.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

On the point of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that Liverpool City Corporation has decided not to re-ward its city, although the wards vary between 4,000 and 20,000, because its finance and policy committee decided yesterday to wait until Maud? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman use his influence with the Tory Liverpool City Council?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I was aware of what the Liverpool Corporation had done? The answer is quite simple—"No. I was not aware of it". No doubt there were other hon. Members also in my state of ignorance in that matter.

After this interlude, I must address some words to the Secretary of State. He is an extremely mature political personality, as we all know. I had not intended, and I hope I have not succeeded in appearing, to be unduly pious or unctuous about this business. I personally do not know what the effects of the Boundary Commissions' Reports will be. I saw what the Press thought. I saw what the two party offices thought. The Conservatives thought that it would mean another 15 Conservative seats and the Labour Party thought it would mean another six Conservative seats. The Times said that the Prime Minister's seat would be one of those that might be particularly vulnerable if the Commissions' Reports were implemented.

We are reasonable, mature people, I hope—all of us, on both sides of the House. We are not political innocents. Does the Secretary of State sincerely believe that any politically mature person if the right hon. Gentleman starts gerrymandering now will ever believe that he did so honestly?

5.5 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I want to begin by expressing the indebtedness of the House to the members of all the Commissions for the painstaking way in which they have carried out their general reviews and for the detailed reports that they have made. They have spent a great deal of time—four years—on them. On the last occasion—in 1954—it was 15 months. The reports of all four Boundary Commissions have been published this afternoon and arrangements have been made for a Welsh version of the Report of the Commission of Wales to be available next week.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a mild complaint about the time-able for publication. When I remind him that on this occasion the Commissions took four years to complete their consideration, as against 15 months on the previous occasion, he perhaps will not think it unduly long for me to take two months to consider and print these reports. [Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition has rushed into this debate. Perhaps he had better hear the end of it before he decides whether it is extraordinary. He has a great and delicate felicity for rushing into things before he knows where he is.

The timetable is within the timetable for publishing the 1954 reports. As the mild complaint was made, allow me to reply to it equally mildly. In 1954 the Scottish report was submitted on 23rd August. The other reports were received on 10th November. All were published on 19th November. On this occasion the English report was received on 21st April, the Scottish report on 24th April, the Welsh report on 19th May, and the Northern Ireland report on 10th June. All were published on 19th June—the same interval of nine days between the receipt of the last report and the date of publication. The reports are considerably greater in size and complexity than they were in 1954. However, I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman intended too much by that complaint, and I do not think there is anything very much between us on it.

I did not quite understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point that he wanted to give me time to reflect before I took up a fixed position from which withdrawal was impossible and that this was the reason for this debate. The Opposition were aware when they made the arrangements for the debate that the date of publication would be today. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, the Act provides that when the reports of the Commissions are laid before Parliament I shall lay the draft of an Order in Council to give effect to them at the same time. Therefore, I do not follow how I can have more time for mature consideration, when, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself points out, by not laying an Order in Council at 2.30 this afternoon I might be construed as being in breach of my obligations at the present time. I am not quite sure what the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant by it, but both legs of this argument cannot be true together.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said that I am required to lay Orders drafted either in accordance with the recommendations of the Commissions or with modifications in those recommendations. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the words. They are worth repeating: … the Secretary of State … shall lay the report before Parliament together … with the draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report. So the question that I obviously have to consider first before I come to Parliament is whether modifications are desirable on this occasion and, if so, whether they are modifications of such a character that it would be proper for me to put them before the House without fresh legislation, or whether it would be more proper for me to bring forward fresh legislation to fulfil the obligations.

Let us consider the background. First, what the Commissions have done, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly said, and as they are required to do by the law as it stands at present, is to base their recommendations on existing local government boundaries. This is what the law requires of them.

There are, of course, many "outs" for them. They do not have to adhere to it in all circumstances. The redistribution rules have detailed provisions for avoiding, as far as practicable, the linking of two county boroughs. They are told, under those rules, that they should not link part of a county with a county borough and should try to avoid dividing non-county boroughs, rural districts and urban districts between different constituencies as far as possible. There are corresponding rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Paragraph 25 of the English report and paragraph 6 of the Welsh report make it clear that the Commission did not and could not take into account prospective local government changes. I realise that the Opposition, by choosing this issue for debate today—that is, the day of publication of the reports, have not given themselves time to study them, so perhaps I should read the following from paragraph 25: In May, 1966 the Government announced the setting up of a Royal Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of local government in England. As a consequence, the Local Government (Termination of Reviews) Act 1967 provided for the dissolution of the Local Government Commission and for the removal of the duty of county councils to make country reviews under the Local Government Act 1958. The Royal Commission"— that is, the Royal Commission on Local Government— were expected to report in not much more than two years (i.e. mid-1968 onwards) but it seemed to us that by the time their report had been considered and any local government changes made, it would be too late to affect our general review report which had to be submitted to the Home Secretary not later than November 1969. That is the effective date. This is the date which has determined when they make their reports and under what conditions they make their reports.

Parliament has required them to report by November, 1969, irrespective of whether they would have preferred to delay it or not, and they have reached a perfectly valid conclusion, considering the time limit of November, 1969, laid on them. They are not free to delay their reports any further, even though they are conscious of and have taken into account the fact that the local government report was expected, but they thought that it would be received too late to enable them to take it into account between, as it happens, the month of June and the month of November, 1969, by which time they are required to report.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)


Mr. Callaghan

Not at the moment. I am in the middle of an intricate argument. There will be plenty of time to debate this. I can promise the hon. Gentleman that.

So they are unable to delay reporting any longer, although they are aware of, and have taken into account, the fact that the local government Commission is reporting at present. So the immediate question arises, whether, in all circumstances, Parliament wishes to adhere to November 1969 as the unalterable date for redrawing constituency boundaries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Let us hear the argument. There is no magic about the date. It is not divinely ordained, and what Parliament has done, Parliament can undo.

The new and important factor is the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government, which deals with powers and with boundaries. That was what it was set up to do, and that is what it has done. These local government boundaries are the foundation, let me remind the House, of the work of the Boundaries Commission. They start on the basis of local government boundaries. But, by the imposition of the date of November, 1969, they cannot take into account changes which will clearly be made, because we have, under the law, chosen this artificial date.

We have been faced in recent days with a far-reaching proposal to redraw the whole of the local government map in England. Everybody agrees that changes in local government boundaries should be reflected in constituency changes.

Mr. Ridley

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Boundaries Commission is not able to delay publishing its report; but surely he is not able to delay laying an Order. If he had wished to obviate the need for laying an Order, he should have introduced legislation and got it passed by this time. But by leaving the matter too late he is now legally bound to lay the draft Order. Why is he not doing so? Why is he gerrymandering with the Constitution in this unorthodox manner?

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Gentleman might wait for the rest of my speech.

Everyone agree that changes in local government boundaries should be reflected in constituency boundaries. Is there not general agreement about this? There always has been, up to this afternoon at least. Also, it is important that constituency boundaries should follow local government boundaries as far as possible.

So I asked the question—and the Opposition, without waiting to hear the argument, have already given their answer—do we have substantial constituency changes, to be followed by a further upheaval in a few years' time, or do we defer the changes until the local government map is redrawn? This is the question that I am considering, and that I put before the House.

The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) conceded that there was a problem, but, as I understand it, his view, and that of the Leader of the Opposition, is that any other solution but their own amounts to gerrymandering. There can be no other solution, I understand. We have to ignore all the practicalities of the situation—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about the law?"]—and deal with the situation which arises artificially because of the juxtaposition of these two reports.

The Opposition need have no fear that I shall do anything which does not have the sanction and the authority of the law. They can be quite content about that. It is proper for us to bring before the House our proposals for dealing with a matter in the light of the present circumstances, as changed by the Redcliffe-Maud Report. The requirements—

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

The right hon. Gentleman keeps referring to the Redcliffe-Maud Report; but the Report of the Scottish Royal Commission, the Wheatley Commission, has not yet appeared, and we understand from the Secretary of State for Scotland that it may not appear for many weeks.

Mr. Callaghan

I am aware of that point also.

The requirements in the Act of 20 years ago has resulted in November, 1969 becoming a fixed date for redistribution. This cannot be regarded as sacrosanct for all time. Parliament must be free to amend the 1949 provisions regarding the date if it comes to the conclusion that that is right. A number of hon. Members opposite will be very glad if we do, because of the circumstances which have hampered the work of the Boundaries Commissions, and which were unknown to the originators of the 1949 Act.

Let us consider the circumstances. Of the 630 existing constituencies in the United Kingdom, the Commissions propose to alter no fewer than 410. by contrast, in 1954, alterations were proposed in 215 constituencies. No one—not even a member of the Opposition—will deny that this is a major surgical operation. It is proposing alterations of a major character, on a generous interpretation of the term, in 322 constituencies, and relatively minor alterations in a further 88. This will mean a major upheaval of the political map.

It is not merely that reorganisation by the parties and by those responsible for conducting elections would be necessary on a big scale, although that is important in itself. It is not in the interests of the constituencies that there should be constant change. Constituencies are not merely areas bounded by a line on a map; they are living communities with a unity, a history and a personality of their own. If hon. Gentlemen will try to forget their party prejudice for a moment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—they will be ready to concede in their quieter and more sober moments that if we are to justify such a large upheaval affecting two-thirds of the constituencies, Parliament should be able to guarantee thereafter a substantial period free from further change.

But could we guarantee it? In England, it is clear that the setting up of a new system of local government in consequence of the report of the Royal Commission would entail further drastic amendment of constituency boundaries within a quite short period. When I compare the Redcliffe-Maud Report with the Boundary Commission maps, I see that between 90 and 100 of the constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission would be divided between two or more of the recommended main local government units. Outside Greater London there would be no more than two units out of the total number proposed where constituency boundaries and local government boundaries were coterminous.

A similar situation exists in Wales, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is engaged in consultations over his proposals for reorganisation. Nineteen of the proposed constituencies there would contain a part of more than one new county district.

About one in four, or certainly one in five, of the total number of constituencies in England outside Greater London, and one half of those in Wales, would be directly affected. But that is by no means the end. It would then become necessary to fit the remaining parts of these constituencies into new constituencies. So a second wave would be affected, and beyond that a third wave. It is quite clear that nothing short of a further general review of constituencies involving yet another major upheaval—not a minor upheaval—of the political map would follow within a few years, and nothing less than that would do.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said to the House, "That is all right; it will fall plumb in the middle of the next review that Parliament in any case intended." That is true; it would fall plumb in the middle. But what he is saying to the House in those circumstances is that he wants two extra upheavals, affecting hundreds of constituencies, within the period of seven to ten years. I claim that it would be against the best interests of the constituencies and our affairs to manage things in this way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will indicate to whom he is giving way.

Mr. Callaghan

There is not much choice among rotten apples. I give way to the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery).

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

I find that remark particularly offensive. Will not the right hon. Gentleman accept and announce that his whole argument is based on the hypothesis that the Redcliffe-Maud proposals will be enacted by Parliament, and that is a hypothesis which is not right at this moment?

Mr. Callaghan

Following his statement on 11th June on the recommendations in the Redcliffe-Maud Report, the Prime Minister indicated that consultations with the local authorities were to proceed at once with the idea of producing a White Paper before the end of this year. He indicated to the Leader of the Opposition that, while no firm estimate could be given, he believed that the Leader of the Opposition was rather pessimistic in assuming that it would be 1974 before the recommendations were implemented. It is important, as I think we have all agreed, that constituency changes should follow as rapidly as possible on the changes in the local government areas. We cannot subject constituencies to a second major upheaval of this sort within such a short space of time, and there are few parties which would welcome it if it were decided to do so.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to what the Prime Minister said in reply to my right hon. Friend's remarks. Does he not remember that the White Paper on Welsh local government reform was produced in July, 1967, and was not debated in the House until the autumn of 1968? Was there not reason for my right hon. Friend to have some doubts?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that it is a matter of judgment. The Government intend that these local government discussions should take place at an early date, if only for the simple reason, which I have found is widely shared in the provinces, that they do not want too much uncertainty about the future of local government. They want adequate and full consultation, but they want conclusions to be drawn swiftly because of the effect on the operation of their affairs, their staff and the slow-down of their programmes. Representations have been made to me within the last week that the local authorities do not want a long drawn out wrangle on local government boundaries or powers. They want full consultation; they then want the decisions to be taken and implemented. In reply to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I do not think there will be too much delay.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Is not the Home Secretary falling into the grave error of assuming that Parliament will agree to the radical changes in county boundaries proposed in the Redcliffe-Maud Report? Some of these changes are very drastic, and Parliament, when it considers the report, may in its wisdom not approve of them.

Mr. Callaghan

I should not be surprised if some changes were made, but the fact that they are going on is accepted on a non-party basis on both sides of the House.

I come back to the point that it has not been our policy in the past that we should be enslaved in deciding on redistribution at a single date irrespective of the consequences that surround it. Our history shows that, except for the last two occasions, general reviews followed by redistribution of seats have been comparatively rare. Following the Reform Act, 1832, they have taken place at intervals not of 15 years or seven years but of roughly 30 years—in 1867–68, in 1885, in 1910 and in 1948. Some people would argue, and I would agree, that an interval of 30 years between redistributions is too long, but many would argue that our present intervals are not long enough.

On the occasion of the last general review, Gwilym Lloyd George, when he was Home Secretary, in reply to the general complaint that came from the House, said that the interval between general reviews of three years' minimum and seven years' maximum was far too short because of the upsets which were bound to be caused by redistribution. That is why we amended the interval to between ten and 15 years. There is still a view that this is not a period by which we should necessarily be bound in determining the exact date when the redistribution takes place.

It seems to the Government that this is the problem which faces us now, and it is our duty to bring before the House proposals for dealing with it so as to avoid the too frequent changes of constituency boundaries which would result from the consequences of implementing anything like the Redcliffe-Maud Report.

The Royal Commission on Local Government did not cover London. London's boundaries were fixed some years ago. The objections that I have been raising in relation to England do not therefore apply to London. Here I remind the House that we are dealing with over 100 constituencies. Unlike England generally, there is no case for waiting in London. I propose, therefore, to introduce legislation which will give effect to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for constituencies in Greater London.

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Callaghan

The right hon. Member for St. Marylebone shouts "Shame". There is hilarity on the opposite side of the House. I ought perhaps to report that I was requested so to do by the Conservative majority on the Greater London Council at their last meeting.

Mr. Hogg

Yes, but not to break the law by not implementing proposals for the rest of the country.

Mr. Callaghan

The Conservative majority on the Greater London Council had nothing to say about the rest of the country. They did not think that it was shameful to implement the recommendations for London.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)


Mr. Callaghan

I am sure my hon. Friend wishes to be helpful, but perhaps he could make his own points later.

The legislation will include the consequential adjustments that will be necessary in the constituencies that straddle the Greater London boundary. The intention is that the Greater London Council elections—this will certainly meet with the applause of all authorities in London—to be held in April, 1970, should be for single-member electoral areas co-terminus with the new constituencies. I shall expect a vote of thanks at the next meeting of the Greater London Council.

There is a real problem in constituencies which have grown enormously in recent years, and where an element of under representation can result in heavy burdens falling upon the Member. The Boundary Commission will be asked to make recommendations for dividing these abnormally large constituencies outside London. The solution, which I shall propose to the House in legislation, is as follows.

There are four pairs of adjacent constituencies with over 90,000 electors. The Government propose that these twin constituencies should be treated as a whole and that the new areas should be divided into three new constituencies. The constituencies are Billericay and South-East Essex, which are adjacent; Portsmouth, Langstone, and Gosport and Fareham, which are adjacent; Hitchin and South Bedfordshire, which are adjacent; and Horsham, and Arundel and Shoreham, which are adjacent. This would give three Members instead of two and an electoral quotient of roughly 65,000 to 75,000 for each constituency. The Bill will also ask the Commission to divide the remaining one constituency, Cheadle, with over 100,000 electors, into two.

I acknowledge the great interest in the House, personal and otherwise, in these proposals. For the convenience of hon. Members I have arranged that when I sit down notes will be available in the Vote Office setting out these proposed divisions of constituencies and the proposed changes in the constituencies which straddle the Greater London boundaries. The proposals will, of course, be contained in detail in the Bill which I propose to publish tomorrow.

Apart from these changes—[Interruption.] If the Opposition had had a full day on this matter, or had waited for a week to see the effect of the proposals, there would not be so many interruptions now.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Callaghan

I will not give way any more. The debate finishes at 7 o'clock this evening, by arrangement with the Opposition.

Apart from these changes—in London and the biggest constituencies—the legislation will provide that no proceedings should be taken on the current reports of the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales. The right hon. Gentleman opposite need not fear. No boundaries will be changed except by Statute. Mr. Gerry Mander can continue to sleep quietly in his grave. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

The Boundary Commission will fix the boundaries and will be asked to make a further general review as soon as it is clear that the prospect of local government reorganisation will not make it premature. By this means we shall, by one operation instead of two, redraw in a major sense the political map of this country. Therefore, the Labour Party will not, as the right hon. Gentleman fears, be administrator, judge and jury. It will be for Parliament and the Boundary Commission to carry out the job between them.

The Bill will not attempt to make any changes in abnormally small constituencies because they are not amenable to this kind of treatment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I regard over-representation as far worse than under-representation in these cases. There will still remain some constituencies with electorates very much smaller than others. But this will always be so. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for St. Marylebone is so busy laughing at his own jokes that he has not had time to see what will be the effect of the Boundary Commission's proposals. Therefore, I draw to his attention some examples after the Boundary Commission—upon which all our hopes are pinned—proposals have been implemented. Will there be "One vote, one value" then?

The right hon. and learned Member ought to look at this matter. I will give him an example before he rises to his feet.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman not give way?

Mr. Callaghan

No. Even the Boundary Commission after its radical reorganisation of 410 constituencies—it has recommended, as I have said, the biggest upheaval in the political map—has recommended constituencies which are close to each other geographically but would have very different electorates.

The new Sidcup will have 43,000 electors; the new Paddington, under the Commission's proposals, 73,000 electors; Northwich, 44,000; Wirral, 76,000; Norwich, North, 40,000; Norfolk, North, 70,000; West Thanet, 38,000; Gravesend, 73,000. If one lives in Ripon the figure will be only 42,000 electors, whereas those who live next door in the Don Valley will have 75,000 electors to elect their member of Parliament. Let no one rise to his feet in all purity and say "The Boundary Commission will remove all this".

Mr. Hogg

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that after 70 local inquiries the Boundary Commission carried out its duties, as the Schedule to the Act says, "so far as practicable"? What the Home Secretary is doing is to throw over the Boundary Commission for party advantage.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know how the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that, since he has said that he has not looked into the party consequences. He has not himself examined the matter and does not know whether there is any party advtange for him or not. Certainly, up to the moment he has not tried to put that view forward. I suggest that he tries to look at the argument on its merits. There are a great many Conservative constituency organisations up and down the country which would not welcome two major upheavals in less than three elections.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

During the Commission's hearings in Bradford I had to listen to a sustained Conservative attack on the Commission's proposals on the basis that they would undermine Bradford's capacity to resurrect itself as an industrial city. In those circumstances, the decision now announced by the Home Secretary must be greeted with acclaim by the Bradford Conservative Association

Mr. Callaghan

I am quite sure, from the representations that I have received, that a number of local parties, both Labour and Conservative, will welcome what I am now proposing. But that is not necessarily the beginning and end of the commission. The plain truth is—this is what Parliament must focus upon—that we now have a date, November 1969, by which we are told that we have to have a major political upheaval, whether or not it is convenient for the constituencies or for the organisation of political life in this country. There is no reason why Parliament should submit to that if it wishes to change the existing set-up. That is what I am proposing Parliament should do.

My proposals have one further small advantage over the Boundary Commissions' proposals. The Commissions' proposals would have increased the total number of constituencies from 630 to 635. Under the Government's proposals, there will be no more than 626 seats—only one above the target in the redistribution rules and four less than at present. I believe that that is a small but necessary and worthwhile advantage.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

In expounding his proposals, my right hon. Friend referred to four sets of constituencies with over 100,000 electors. He then spoke of "the one remaining" constituency with over 100,000 electors, namely, Cheadle. He did not refer to the Epping constituency, which also has over 100,000 electors. Would he be good enough to explain whether it is proposed merely to cut off the bottom end in concert with the Greater London pro posals, or whether any other redistribution is proposed?

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend can be sure that the point has been taken into account. Epping in some ways falls into the G.L.C., but the parts of Epping and Chigwell lying outside Greater London would form separate constituencies. After I sit down, if my hon. Friend goes to the Vote Office he will be able to pick up the short notes which I have prepared in anticipation of the Bill and which indicate how the division will take place.

The Bill proposes to deal with Scotland and Northern Ireland. in another way. In these parts of the United Kingdom, it would be dangerous to assume that the reports of the Boundary Commissions will not shortly be overtaken by substantial changes in local government reorganisation in consequence of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland and proposals by the Government of Northern Ireland. We should give ourselves a chance to see whether that will be so.

The legislation which I shall put before Parliament tomorrow will enable a decision as to whether effect is to be given to the current Boundary Commission Reports in these parts of the United Kingdom to be postponed until the implications of the proposals for local government reorganisation in Scotland and Northern Ireland can be assessed.

The Bill containing the provisions that I have outlined will be published tomorrow, and it is the Government's intention to ask Parliament to pass it before the recess. I believe that that is the most sensible and workmanlike way of dealing with a problem which will be of very great significance to our people. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who seem to be so excited about it must have some reasons for it. I cannot imagine that they believe that the Boundary Commission is so overwhelming in its reasoning and philosophy that in no circumstances should Parliament be free to consider whether alternative arrangements will fit.

In this case, it is clear that alternative arrangements are best for the constituencies and for Parliament. Therefore, that is the way in which we propose to deal with the situation, and I ask the House to reject the Motion.

5.43 p.m.

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

It is only fair to the Home Secretary to say at once that his manner when making his speech showed that he knew very well that he was doing something for which this House and democratic institutions in the country will never forgive him. Many years ago Parliament in its wisdom put this sentitive matter of the redistribution of parliamentary seats into the hands of an independent commission. It did so because experience throughout the world has shown that all Governments, if left to regulate these matters for themselves, are tempted to rig the arrangement of constituency boundaries in their interests. Because that danger is so manifest, our predecessors in the 1940s took great care to protect the Government of the day from that temptation and that charge.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) pointed out, at a moment when the right hon. Gentleman is already under a statutory duty to make the Order operating, with or without modifications, the recommendations which the Boundary Commission has been making over these years, he says that he does not propose to do it, although now and until such Measure as he brings forward passes both Houses of Parliament he is under a legal duty to do it.

Far worse than that deliberate defiance of the law by the Minister of all Ministers who is under a special duty, in view of his responsibilities for a scrupulous observance of the law, the right hon. Gentleman is also seeking to destroy the safeguard of leaving these matters to an independent commission which Parliament has laid down. He is taking into his own hands what is to be done, whether one outside London is to be affected. He goes further. He is picking out individual constituencies, which he has named, in which in his own unfettered judgment and without consultation with other parties he will make those changes which he thinks fit.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is wrong. He knows that it is not only a breach of the current law, but is something which goes against the whole spirit in which a Parliamentary democracy can be expected to function. He is doing precisely what has been done in certain other countries and which has led to the collapse of Parliamentary democracy. Goodness knows, Parliamentary democracy is not all that widely respected in the country today. Once it becomes known that a Government—in this case a dying Government—can use their temporary remaining authority to bulldoze through Parliament those changes in constituency boundaries which suit them, does not the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Callaghan


Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No, I will not give way.

Mr. Callaghan


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that if the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) does not give way, he must remain seated.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I will show the right hon. Gentleman greater courtesy that he showed my right hon. and hon. Friends. I will give way to him.

Mr. Callaghan

The right hon. Gentleman has no warrant for saying that I am proposing to make only those changes which will affect beneficially the Labour Party. He said that I was rigging this. He cannot demonstrate that. If it were so, I presume that he would have difficulty in accounting for the reason I am proposing to do what I have told the Greater London Council. How does he account for that?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I think that the right hon. Gentleman understood what I was saying. I was saying that he was taking a step which, in his judgment, he thinks right, but which deprives him as well as Parliament of the protection of knowing that what is done is done on the recommendation of an impartial commission. He is taking the step which in his judgment, right or wrong, he wants to take. He is taking it without consultation and without advice, solely on his own unchecked discretion.

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman realises that that is precisely what has discredited Parliamentary democracy in other countries. He has announced a step which will damage it even in this country where it began. The right hon. Gentleman was once known as the Chancellor of the Exchequer who devalued the £. Today he has done something worse. He has devalued Parliament.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

I wish to say a few words on behalf of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and myself. I begin by repudiating utterly everything that has been said by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and paying warm tribute to the manner and tone and substance of my right hon. Friend's speech this afternoon.

I want to examine the proposals of the Boundary Commission regarding the Derby seats. They really have no rhyme or reason. On page 28 of its Second Periodical Report, the Commission says that the theoretical entitlement for Derbyshire per constituency is 58,750 electors. The present electorate of the three constituencies in Derby are to the nearest thousand: Derby, North 54,000; Derby, South 52,000; and Derbyshire, South-East 72,000. Certainly, Derbyshire, South-East is 14,000 above the theoretical quota, Derby, North is 4,000 below the theoretical quota and Derby, South is 6,000 below the theoretical quota.

But what does the Boundary Commission propose? It proposes that Derby, North should become 74,000, that Derby, South should become 72,000, and that Derbyshire, South-East should become 47,000. Derby, North would then be 16,000 above the theoretical quota, Derby, South would be 14,000 above and Derbyshire, South-East would be 11,700 below. There is really no rhyme or reason in such a proposal, which distorts the principle of "one man, one vote" far more than the present distribution.

Why was it put forward? For one reason only. Because last year the boundary of the Derby County Borough was extended. I hope very soon that Derby will become what it shouuld be by its history and its present importance—a city of this noble land. That borough boundary extension was the reason why the commission's proposal was put forward. But now we have the Redcliffe-Maud Report. If we make this major and absurd redistribution in Derby, within a short time it may all have to be done again.

I end by warmly endorsing what the Home Secretary said about the grave inconvenience caused to constituencies by frequent boundary changes. We have suffered such inconvenience in Derby. I will not weary the House with the details. In 1945, Derby was a two-Member constituency. Since then, various changes have been made and grave inconvenience has been caused. I warmly applaud the Home Secretary for avoiding the further grave inconvenience which would be caused in our area if the Boundary Commission's proposals were now carried out.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)

I should like to say a few words to the Home Secretary and to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, unfortunately, has left the Chamber.

I listened with great interest to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said in opening the debate, setting forth quite clearly the legal position and the consequences for the Home Secretary.

I think that I may be thought to be a reasonably mature politician, also. It is certainly the belief of most hon. Members that the Government had every intention of avoiding their legal obligations on this occasion. The admirably short speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was a genuine and spontaneous expression of disgust—

Mr. Callaghan

I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman on this moral tack for 25 years.

Mr. Noble

I am deeply sorry that the Home Secretary, if he has listened to my right hon. Friend "on this moral tack" as he calls it, should today have so much degraded his office as totally to ignore it, once again.

I know that what happens in Scotland is outside the Home Secretary's province. I understand that England is to be told what is to happen, but not a word has been said about what is to happen in Scotland. The Home Secretary tells us that in his view the new local government changes are likely to take place in England sooner than was thought. Perhaps he is right, but this is entirely hypothetical.

I can speak only of what I know in Scotland. We are already nearly a year late in getting our report from Lord Wheatley. Over a year ago a spokesman for the Scottish Office said in another place that it was exceedingly unlikely that the Wheatley Committee's report would be able to be put into operation before the middle 1970s.

I am very surprised if the Home Secretary is suggesting to the House that the even greater and more complicated changes in England are likely to be put into operation in the next two to three years, because that was the impression that he tried to give.

It seems to me that Scotland has a less acute problem than there is in England, because we have only two small seats, one of about 18,000 and the other of about 20,000, and we have only two large seats, one of about 86,000 and the other of about 77,000, taking them to round thousands. But the position is just as serious in Scotland.

When the Boundary Commission looks at the problems and makes its decisions, we expect the Secretary of State for Scotland, as we expect the Home Secretary, to lay them before the House and to lay the draft Orders in Council as well. I regret that this has not been done for Scotland. I regret that the Home Secretary could not give us any information about what is to happen in Scotland, because it means that we cannot consider it. I dare say that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to say something later in the debate, but that means that we cannot debate it in the least.

Mr. Callaghan

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman heard what I had to say about the provisions in the Bill for Scotland.

Mr. Noble

I tried to listen. There was a good deal of noise when the Home Secretary was talking about it.

Mr. Callaghan

I was not shouting myself down.

Mr. Noble

It certainly was not very clear to me what the intentions were for Scotland, though I understood they were put in a different form from whatever was being done in England, and the Home Secretary said that something different was being done in Northern Ireland. We must wait to hear more about it in due course.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

As the Home Secretary made clear, the decision about Scotland is deferred. Therefore, I will be relieved in the Bill of the obligation to lay an order now. When we know the outlines of the Wheatley report, we will be able to make a decision about Scotland.

Mr. Noble

That may be so. It merely puts the Secretary of State for Scotland, like the Home Secretary, outside the law and draws attention to the fact that we are already tremendously late in getting any information from Lord Wheatley. The Secretary of State for Scotland also knows that it was he who stopped the consideration of local government changes in Scotland for about 18 months as soon as he came into office. We have an extra delay there due to the right hon. Gentleman.

I do not wish to keep the House further. I am disgusted, but not as surprised as some hon. Members may be, that the Government are taking this action. I saw a report in a newspaper that at a Labour Party meeting an hon. Member was greeted with laughter for shouting, "What a fiddler". I gather that on that occasion the Prime Minister was the target. Today, we have another one.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

I have listened to the Conservative Party during the four and a half years that I have been in this House, and there is nobody quite so adept at concealing electoral motives in a constitutional argument as the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). We heard from him a speech which was intemperate in its tone, and unjustified in its effects.

This debate is not about a high-flown constitutional principle, but about one thing, and one thing only. Let us be realistic. It is about votes. Does the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames seriously expect us on this side of the House, or the country outside, to believe that if he and his party thought that the report of the Boundary Commission went against them, rather than, as they apparently think, in their favour, they would favour the implementation of the report? Would the right hon. Gentleman then be screaming for the report to be adopted because of a constitutional principle? I do not believe that he would

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As far as I know my party has always stood on the basis that electoral changes, which, as the hon. Gentleman says, can rightly affect the chances of parties, should be settled by independent outside machinery which is free from those pressures, and that that machinery itself should, wherever possible, be set up by agreement. It is because the Home Secretary has violated that that I attacked him.

Mr. Richard

I accept every word that the right hon. Gentleman says about the principle. All I am saying is that this is not a debate about the Commission's report, but about when it should be implemented, and what the right hon. Gentleman thinks are the electoral effects.

I want, therefore, to put three principles before the House. I hope that they are principles which one can generally accept as those which ought to guide the Government when they approach the whole difficult problem of electoral boundary reforms.

First, and it is in the rules of the Boundary Commission—and I hope that even the right hon. Gentleman will accept this—it is at least desirable, if at all possible, that the Parliamentary and local government boundaries should coincide. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go that far. Secondly, if we are to have great changes in local government and Parliamentary constituency boundaries it is at least desirable, if at all possible, that those two should coincide. If we can get a coincidence of change that is the best possible solution. Thirdly, if we cannot get a coincidence, or a near-coincidence, of change in local and Parliamentary boundaries, the question then has to be decided on the merits of the argument at the time when the Government have to apply their mind to it. In other words, is it more or less desirable that the full report should be implemented or rather that one set of changes should wait on the other?

Were this not a debate about boundaries and votes, and were this not such a highly political issue, and were the Opposition not approaching it in such a party political way, I am certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite would react differently. I have a considerable regard for the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, but he should rid his mind of the electoral arguments and the idea that the Government are "fiddling" to achieve an electoral advantage. He would then agree that the balance of convenience and the common-sense way of approaching the problem lies in trying to achieve a coincidence of change in both sets of boundaries.

I think one can accept that the Redcliffe-Maud proposals postulate the biggest change in the organisation of local government in England this century. If the House is to be tied to the reorganisation of Parliamentary boundaries in 1969–70, and if Maud is then to come in, and we are to go on within the next six or seven years to yet another full-scale reorganisation of Parliamentary boundaries so that they can again coincide with the new local authority boundaries, that would be doing a grave disservice to the people whom we are supposed to represent.

When I first came to the House, I represented a constituency which straddled two boroughs. Half of my constituency was in the Metropolitan Borough of Hammersmith, and half in the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham. I therefore have a slight knowledge of the problem of trying to deal with two local authorities. It is not an easy problem. It is very difficult to persuade people in my constituency that they live in Baron's Court. To most people, Baron's Court is a stop on the District Line going west. It is difficult when one is not part of an easily define-able and recognisable local authority to create the sort of identity with one's constituents which Members ought to try to achieve.

Once the reorganisation in London took place, and I then was part of a three-Member constituency which took in the whole of the London Borough of Hammersmith, it was very much easier for me, and, I hope, for my constituents. This coincidence of local authority and Parliamentary boundaries seems to be crucial if, as Members, we are to do the job that we are sent here to do.

Lest I be accused of any base electoral motives, let me make it clear that under this report and my right hon. Friend's proposals my constituency disappears. I hope, therefore, that it can be said that I am trying to approach this with neither an electoral nor a personal motive. The balance of convenience for everybody is overwhelmingly; that the bulk of the proposals should be left over so that we can get that coincidence of change of local authority and Parliamentary boundaries of which I have just spoken.

6.7 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Herefordshire, East)

The hon. Member for Baron's Court (Mr. Richard) said that this debate was concerned with votes and boundaries. It may be that votes and boundaries constitute a good deal of the letter of the matter with which we are here concerned, but the spirit of the matter with which we are concerned is something bigger than that. It is the sanctity of the rule of law, and the obligation on Ministers, as on other citizens, to respect it.

This is what has made this afternoon such a sad, and in some respects shameful, occasion, when we are faced with the melancholy, but fortunately rare, spectacle of a Minister seeking to evade his statutory duty, and doing it in circumstances which, at any rate, give colour to the possibility that he is doing it by reason of party advantage

There is a clear, statutory duty placed on the Minister by Section 2(5) of the 1949 Act. It has been read by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and by the Home Secretary, and it is clear that this is not a matter of Ministerial discretion. There is no Ministerial discretion here. It is a clear mandatory duty, and, subject only to modifications, imposes on the Home Secretary an instant duty to give effect to the totality of the Boundary Commission's recommendations. The right hon. Gentleman has made it quite clear that he has no intention of implementing that obligation. He is already in breach, subject to the interpretation of the term "as soon as may be".

The Act gives no latitude to the Home Secretary to pick and choose amongst the commission's recommendations, still less to reject them all. There is a dual duty laid down. First, to lay the report before the House, and that means the whole of it. No power to edit or expurgate is given by the Act. The second duty is to give effect, subject to possible modifications, to individual recommendations in the report, and that means to give effect to all of them. These recommendations, as we see from Sections 2 and 3 of the 1949 Act, are individual recommendations by the commission relating to areas which have been considered by the commission, and which very often have been the subject of public inquiry under the Act.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)


Sir D. Walker-Smith

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he is brief, because we have very little time.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman here confusing two things? Is he arguing that at the end of the day Parliament has to accept the Boundary Commission's report in its totality? Is there nothing in his mind about the supremacy of Parliament? Does he remember the debate in, I think, 1954, when there were protests on both sides, day and night, because of the attempt of the right hon. Gwilym Lloyd-George to ride roughshod to impose the Boundary Commission's proposals?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

The statutory duty is quite clear, and the Minister should comply with it. The Minister is in breach of his statutory duty. He seeks to use the sovereignty of Parliament to override the other great principle, the principle of the rule of law, and give a bogus and retrospective justification to his unconstitutional action.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

There may be future debates on this subject, so it would be most instructive to have the right hon. and learned Gentleman's answer absolutely clear. Does he argue that Parliament must accept the reports of the Boundary Commission?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

What the Minister has to do is made quite clear in the Act. It is quite clear what the Minister's statutory duty is.

As I explained in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), it is wholly improper, constitutionally and in any other way, for a Minister to be in breach of his statutory duty and then to use a temporary majority in Parliament, of those who have the same party interest in evading the law, to make a retrospective change in his statutory duty. The answer is quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing improperly to use his majority in Parliament retrospectively to justify a breach of statutory duty.

Mr. Michael Foot

Then Parliament has no power? Should it hand it over to the Boundary Commission?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

That is not it at all. The hon. Gentleman's cry is "to hell with the law", and he appears to have infected his right hon. Friend, who is the Minister charged with the duty of safeguarding and maintaining the law and who, most of all, should seek to comply with it.

There is in these Acts a power to modify individual recommendations of the Commission, but there is a duty to give effect to them, subject only to the power to modify. The meaning of "modify" is to make partial changes in something: to alter without radical transformation. The Home Secretary is not here modifying the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. There cannot be any more radical transformation than to eliminate them altogether. This is not modification such as that for which the Act provides, but the extinction and obliteration of the recommendations of the commission to which the Home Secretary is under a statutory obligation to give effect.

The right hon. Gentleman seeks to justify his position as best he may by relying on the rule in regard to local government boundaries, though, when it suits his purpose, he is very quick to break it. He will break it in his Bill tomorrow. He will take two seats side by side in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and make out of them a third seat cutting across local government boundaries.

It is the fact that it is the Commission which has to follow these rules, subject to the qualifications, and it has done so. It is not for the Home Secretary to inquire into the Commission's compliance with the rules, still less to apply them or alter them himself. To do that, is to run counter to the whole scheme of the law, which is to prevent redistribution becoming the subject of interminable debate, and to avoid its becoming a plaything of party interest.

The Commission has, in fact, had regard to the rules, and has respected them. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at Rule 4, which is the rule which requires the local government boundaries to be taken into account as far as is practicable, he will see that it is not mandatory in an unqualified sense. He must look also at Rule 5 of the 1949 Act, which states: … a Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application"— of rule 4— if it appears to them that a departure is desirable to avoid an excessive disparity between the electorate of any constituency and the electoral quota … Here, it is not a case of a single case or a few cases of excessive disparity. There is a whole host of cases of excessive disparity; of disparities not only excessive but incredible and indefensible; disparities going as far as doubling the electoral quota at one extreme and being only one-third of the quota at the other extreme. The law contemplates a departure from local government boundaries if insistence on them entails such disparities as these. Of course it does.

The Commission has done its duty. It has had regard to local government boundaries at the date when the matter was before it, which is the date which it is obliged to take into account. It has had regard to the boundaries, and to its duty to avoid excessive quotas. The present position makes a nonsense of fair Parliamentary representation. It is necessary to change it in conformity with the law and democratic principles and to give effect to the report and recommendations of the Boundary Commission. From one point of view, and one only, is it thought not desirable, and that is the partisan advantage of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is wholly wrong for that consideration to be taken into account, and for the Home Secretary to avoid his statutory duty and thereby derogate from democratic principle and the standards of administrative conduct which this House is entitled to expect.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is rightly said to be a mature political personality, and I do not deny it, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) must be described as senile, if that word were not to import a diminution of their political astuteness.

Those of us who have known them in the House for some time know full well that both of them retain very well their political astuteness. When they use high-flown phrases and refer to constitutional doctrine in order to attack my right hon. Friend, I begin to suspect, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard), that it was not entirely constitutional impropriety that was upsetting them. But when they tell us what are the political implications of the changes which my right hon. Friend has suggested in the proposals of the Boundary Commission, I should like to know what evidence they have for such suggestions.

I have appeared in a number of inquiries concerning either local government or Parliamentary constituency boundary changes. In almost every case, the fictions were gone through. We talked about the boundaries, and about community of interest, and so on, when every one of us knew that what we were talking about was what the change meant in terms of political effect. In almost every case I have listened to the arguments of the political prophets about what the changes would mean and, in the main, the prophets were proved wrong when the boundary changes were made.

So when people tell me that if these proposals of the commission are implemented now, the Labour Party stands to lose 15 or 20 seats, or six to eight seats, or any such number, I listen with some scepticism, and when I look at their analysis of where the political effects will fall I do not see that they fall entirely outside London.

After all, it is in London that they will lose 11 seats under the commission's proposals, yet it is the London proposals which we propose to implement in full. Both the right hon. and learned Gentlemen have said that these changes are being proposed by the Home Secretary for political advantage. If political advantage was what we desired, we would never have implemented the London proposals, if their prognostications about the results were correct, because in London we may, on their analysis or that of the wildest Conservative prophets, lose some seats.

We simply must come back to the question whether it is right in all the circumstances to make the changes proposed by the Commission or wait. The two right hon. Gentlemen, from their legal background and training, have called in aid the phrase of Professor Dicey about "the rule of law". The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) used it in ringing tones in his best oratorical manner, but he also remembered, even in his speech, that Dicey was the greatest exponent of the sovereignty of Parliament.

What we have to ask is this: is Parliament simply to be the tool of the Boundary Commission? Is it simply to say that, because it was decided in 1958 that a certain arbitrary date was to be the final date for proposals, this Parliament now, 11 years later, is to be governed by the wisdom of the Parliament of 1958?

I cannot believe that it is really the proposal of either the right hon. and learned Gentleman that Parliament should behave in this way. Surely it is right for us to exercise a new judgment in new circumstances and see whether it is desirable that we should conform to the date in the present Statute.

I am, therefore, brought back to the argument adduced so ably by my right hon. Friend. If we are to say that we will implement the proposals now, before the end of 1969 and in time for a General Election next year or the year after, we must then go on to accept that, if the Redcliffe-Maud proposals are accepted, or something like them, even within the time span suggested by the Leader of the Opposition—by 1974—there will need to be a further general inquiry almost immediately afterwards, which would have to be implemented within a reasonable time thereafter, say two or three years. Therefore, the major change proposed by the Commission at the moment would be followed, within about seven years, by another wholesale change.

The changes were made in the periods for review by the Boundary Commission in 1958, and it was then decided, in the wisdom of that Parliament, which is now held to fetter our wisdom, that we should move from a period of review of between three and seven years to a period of between 10 and 15 years, because the first period was all together too quick to make radical changes in boundaries, because of the upset on local communities.

Now, what right hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite are saying is that three to seven years, or at least seven years, is a right period in which to make not only some changes in the Parliamentary constituencies, but wholesale changes—from 400 now, to an even bigger number, if Redcliffe-Maud is to be brought into the conspectus of Parliamentary constituencies. As my right hon. Friend said, only two seats outside London remain unchanged by reason of the boundaries proposed by Redcliffe-Maud.

Should we believe that we can, on one occasion, say that the wisdom of the 1958 Parliament is paramount, and, on the other, that its wisdom is suspect? We must exercise our judgment according to the independent facts presented to us 10 years later.

Mr. Keith Speed (Meriden)

Would the hon. Gentleman not accept that what matters in redistribution is not Parliament in 1958 or any other time, but the movements of population which, if we take into account the new towns and the rest, are growing, as the hon. Gentleman will discover from Redcliffe-Maud? Whether we reorganise local government or not, we should still need another redistribution by 1978 or 1979. In my constituency, for instance, the population is growing by 400 a week.

Mr. Lyon

The hon. Gentleman is right. This is one factor which we must consider in our review, but it is not right that 400 seats are growing at the rate of his constituency. If we make a wholesale change, we will not have to make a wholesale change very quickly thereafter. Perhaps some would have to be changed within a reasonable time because they are growing apace, but not the whole mass of urban areas.

Therefore, my argument is the same as the Home Secretary's. The question is: do we need two major upheavals in our Parliamentary constituencies within a period of about seven to 10 years? I do not believe that it is either desirable or right or that our constituents want it. I speak with no interest in this matter for my own political fortunes, because the constituency of York will remain the County Borough of York under the Commission's proposals, under the existing situation, or under, presumably, any proposals to tie in with Redcliffe-Maud. York will be part of a larger community.

Mr. Hogg

There will be a new Member.

Mr. Lyon

I should leave that to my constituents to decide, I think. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong, I believe, as usual on these matters.

One thing which I have learned from representing this seat is something which I know will tie in with the experience of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. It is a delight—I speak in a purely Parliamentary way—to represent one county borough, which is expressive of one community with one set of problems, and where the Member is the Member for the whole community.

I look with a certain contempt, sometimes even with pity, upon those who represent only a set of houses from Street A to Street B, which is part of a great urban mass. I should hate—I hope that I never have to—to represent a seat which was only a part of a divided borough—[Interruption] I recognise the interest of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) in this matter, but when he represents a community which is one whole viable community he will see what is meant when we talk, in these inquiries and redistributions, about community interest.

It is community interest which should be reflected most in the representations of our constituents in Parliament, and which is the basis of Redeliffe-Maud. It was the whole purpose of redrawing the local government boundaries that we would create larger units, but units which were circumscribed by at least the "go-to-work" area, and in other aspects by the total community interest of the neighbourhood.

If that is within our grasp in seven years—the possibility of redrafting Parliamentary constituencies to fit in with real community boundaries—it is worth waiting that period to do it, and we would not have to make the upheaval which would follow from two major changes within a very limited time.

Without any political axe to grind, any independent person would conclude that the Home Secretary was right in his proposals.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

The Home Secretary has done something which I do not think any hon. Member has ever heard a Minister do. Certainly I cannot recall such an occasion. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that he is deliberately in breach of the law. He not only admitted it but said that he was right to be in breach of the law; and he is relying on an Act of Indemnity going through Parliament to relieve him of the consequences.

I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will get his Act of Indemnity through this House. However, since the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was anxious to emphasise the sovereignty of Parliament, I remind the hon. Gentleman that Parliament still consists of two Houses and that this is just the sort of unconstitutional action, in the form of an Act of Indemnity for a deliberate breach of the law, which another place may seriously consider. Will the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale be upholding the sovereignty of Parliament if the Upper Chamber takes a more serious view of the grave breach of the law to which the Home Secretary has admitted?

Mr. Michael Foot

I will relieve the hon. and learned Gentleman of any anxiety of dubiety by informing him that I have always believed in the sovereignty of the House of Commons and of Parliament in that sense. If the House of Lords were to exercise such a power, I hope that we would have a short, sharp Bill for its total abolition.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

The hon. Gentleman must be disappointed to know that his excellent work on the previous Measure to reform the House of Lords has had the result of there not being time to alter Dicey in such a way.

The Home Secretary, having acted in such a dangerous way, must be a brave man to admit that he is flouting the law and is relying on an Act of Indemnity which must pass not only this House, in which he has a machine majority, but another place, which used to regard itself—I hope it still does—as the custodian of constitutional propriety. That is what Dicey says, and, since the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has been quoting Dicey so frequently, he must take Dicey in all its aspects.

Mr. Richard

If the hon. and learned Gentleman were right and the other place rejected the Home Secretary's proposals, there would be no redistribution, which is the last thing I thought he wanted.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Being in breach of his statutory duty and not being relieved by an Act of Indemnity would result in the Home Secretary finding himself in grave peril, of what I am not sure, but, clearly, it would be of something very nasty indeed. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland assumed, in a short intervention, that he had already been relieved of this breach.

The only point of substance in all this is the suggestion from the Home Secretary and some of his supporters that Redcliffe-Maud's proposals will be through by 1974 at the latest. I do not know by what warrant they assume that. The Secretary of State for Social Services, who has just joined us, has had some experience of local government reform and matters connected with boundaries. His political mentor, the late Aneurin Bevan, also had some experience of these matters. These proposals, with beautiful maps and boundaries which look so good, have a habit of ploughing into the sand in a welter of inquiries, discussions and violent protests. If the previous ones did, how much more is this one likely to?

This one arouses two serious matters of opposition. The first is that it comes down absolutely conclusively—I am not saying whether this is right or wrong—in favour of large and efficient units as against small and participatory units of local government. This arouses enormous opposition. The second is that it upsets ancient county boundaries, in particular putting a lot of Yorkshire into the County Palatine of Lancaster. I cannot imagine anything taking longer to go through than this; going through not by 1974 but by 1984.

If the Home Secretary thinks that the Redcliffe-Maud Report is certain to be through by 1974—that is the whole basis for this bit of jiggery-pokery being brought forward today—it is the most flimsy basis for an argument that I have heard. Anybody with experience of local government knows that radical alterations of this sort which, rightly or wrongly, are already provoking enormous opposition, will take very much longer than that, if they ever get through at all.

6.35 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

My right hon and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylehone (Mr. Hogg) began his speech by saying that we wished to ascertain the intentions of the Government. I thought that the speech of the Home Secretary, and the shameful announcement which he made in it, fully justified my hon. Friends in having chosen this subject for debate at the earliest possible opportunity.

In the relatively short time in which I have to speak I will concentrate on three points. The first is that my hon. Friends take a perfectly simple position on this issue, as we say in the Motion, in that we call … upon the Secretaries of State … to implement in full, and without further delay, the recommendations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions. On several occasions the Home Secretary described November, 1969, as being what he called an artificial date. [Interruption.] He said that the position had arisen artificially. We know why we have the date 1969. It is because the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales and Ulster must report not later than November, 1969, since that date is 15 years after their last reports were submitted in 1954.

My hon. Friends and I are absolutely convinced that this interval of 15 years is long enough and that the time has come when we should have a new Parliamentary redistribution. The right hon. Gentleman described the number of seats, 410 out of 630, which would have major alterations under the proposals of the Boundary Commissions. I am not surprised at that, when one thinks of the movement of population across the country that has taken place during this period. Many constituencies need drastic alteration. It is, therefore, ridiculous for the Home Secretary to try to draw analogies or comparisons with earlier periods.

Anyone who has had responsibility, as I have, for planning a school building programme is aware of the evidence which such a task reveals about large movements of population throughout the country. After all, we have had to make a major alteration in our law about grants for denominational schools because of these large movements of population. There is, therefore, an overwhelming case, after a period of 15 years, for having a major new redistribution.

I could not help being amused when the right hon. Gentleman seemed to call in aid Major Gwilym Lloyd George. If the right hon. Gentleman will study the speech which Major Lloyd George made in 1954—he will find it in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 13th December of that year, col. 1790—he will find that he envisaged 15 years as the absolute maximum time that should elapse before a new distribution; and I am certain that he was right.

Another reason, to which reference has not been made, is the reduction of the voting age and the fact that large numbers of young voters are coming on the register. This tends to widen still further the gaps between some constituencies and others. It was ridiculous for the right hon. Gentleman to pray on his side the differences between constituencies of 40,000 and 70,000 voters when in, for example, Birmingham we have constituencies of 18,000 and 90,000.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman and others have made the suggestion that we should delay the greater part of these proceedings until after the implementation of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. I regard that as the greatest nonsense for a number of reasons.

First, as a number of my hon. Friends have rightly said, it prejudges the issue of what Parliament will do about the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations; this is itself a major issue on which I suspect Parliament will be widely divided. The Boundary Commission, not the Home Secretary, has to take into account local government boundaries. Quite rightly, the Commission must take account of them as they are, since it is not concerned with hypothetical boundaries. The idea that we should put off again the start of its work until after the legislation on the Redcliffe-Maud proposals has been completed is the greatest possible nonsense.

The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) and others have spoken about seven years. We all felt in 1954 that seven years would normally be too short a time. I take the view that 15 years is a fully long enough time. If because of this one particular occasion of the Redcliffe-Maud Report we shall have to have a further redistribution after another seven years, I would not regard that as necessarily disastrous. The imperative at the moment is to have a redistribution, which is highly desirable after 15 years.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

It would not be seven years because, as the Home Secretary has said, it has taken the Commission four years already for a start in 1975, and it will be 1980.

Sir E. Boyle

I agree. Like the end of the famous Housman parody, I think I can say … thine arithmetic is quite correct". We must certainly implement the present recommendations of the Boundary Commissions now and then consider what we should do about the Redcliffe-Maud Report and wait for that legislation before a further redistribution takes place.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The right hon. Gentleman says that on this occasion he would be prepared to accept as unique a very short period—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not very."]—a shorter period, of seven years. Equally, I should be prepared on this occasion to accept a longer period of, say, 20 years. Is that the only difference between us? Is there no issue of principle at all?

Sir E. Boyle

There are two answers to the hon. Member. First, I prefer to follow what the Act now says should be done, and what the Commissioners recommend. Second, and no less important, I believe that after the present period of 15 years—after this interval—the time has come when we must have a further redistribution The evils of waiting 20 years—which, in fact, would be longer—would be very much greater than the risk we should now take of having to have a further redistribution in—I will not say how many years, but between seven and 10 from now. I agree with the view expressed in The Times on this matter, that the best course is to implement these present reports fully and on time, even at the cost, maybe, of some later inconvenience.

My last point is the evil of attempting to implement merely parts of the Boundary Commission's report and not the whole. There are two great objections to this. The first was put extremely well by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) when this afternoon he drew attention to the strong objections to changing the rules unilaterally, while the match is actually being played. Of course the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) is right in saying that we are not bound by legislation for all time. Everyone in this House recognised the need for a change after 1954. That is why these reports have not come to us until 1969. But it is quite wrong now to make a further change, unilaterally, while the match is actually being played.

My right hon. and learned Friend was quite right when he said that not only is this legally wrong, but it is also improper. It is retrospective legislation of an improper kind and a political outrage as well. We cannot draw this sharp distinction between a small number of very large constituencies with over 100,000 electors and a number coming up close to 100,000. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed) had come into the debate he would have pointed this out forcibly. While it is obviously too early in these debates to go into too much detail, I hope that no one will be too much impressed by what the Home Secretary said about the four pairs of constituencies to be divided into three. This may be an extremely bad answer in certain cases. For instance, the right solution in the part of Essex referred to is not to divide Billericay and South-East Essex into three, but to divide those constituencies plus Chelmsford and Maldon into six. The Boundary Commission recommendation here makes much better sense than the proposal by the right hon. Gentleman.

Looking back over 20 years, we are bound to say that the Government have an extremely unhappy record on electoral boundary changes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They have and it is no good for the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) to laugh about it.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I think I am entitled to laugh at any charges of gerrymandering. My hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) would lose his seat altogether and mine would be put into jeopardy, so I am entitled to laugh at charges by the right hon. Gentleman that this is gerrymandering in my favour.

Sir E. Boyle

That was a not too coherent interjection.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was right when he said that the whole question of constituency changes should be made as objective and free from political influence as possible. We cannot forget what happened in 1948. Four constituencies of 80,000 electors were divided into two by Mr. Chuter Ede specifically without the endorsement of the Boundary Commission. Then we had the unsavoury episode at Northampton, which we debated in the winter of 1964–65. We had the postponement of the London local government elections in 1967, and now we have this wholly unjustifiable refusal to implement the Boundary Commission's report by the right hon. Gentleman.

I have no doubt that we shall have a number of most discordant debates on the legislation which the Home Secretary intends to bring forward. I warn him that we shall resist his proposals by all Parliamentary means.

5.46 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

If I may have the leave of the House, I shall be glad to comment on some of the points which have been made. I note what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) said about fighting these proposals with all the strength at the command of the Opposition, or whatever was the piece of rhetoric he will write into it. The proposals stand on their merits and will be argued on their merits, and supported on their merits.

Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)

There are no merits.

Mr. Callaghan

I wish the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) would not join in these debates.

Sir Knox Cunningham


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Ulster seats are being put into cold storage? If so, is the Antrim, South seat, the largest constituency in the whole country of the United Kingdom, with 127,000 electors, to remain at that size?

Mr. Callaghan

The seats in Northern Ireland, as I explained in my original speech, will be considered in the light of the review which is now taking place under the aegis of the Northern Ireland Government in relation to local government changes. It will then be open, under the Bill I shall be putting to the House tomorrow, for Parliament to decide either that the changes shall go ahead as laid down by the Boundary Commission, or to ask the Commission to make a fresh review because the local government boundaries may have been changed so drastically.

That is the answer to the hon. and learned Member. I was not dealing with that point when I referred to him, but to his well-known habit of making seated allegations of cheating. When he does that I search my Parliamentary vocabulary for an alternative to the word "hypocrite", but as I cannot find one I cannot use it.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), with all the synthetic indignation to which we have become accustomed over the last 25 years, combines the air of a bishop with the language of a Billingsgate porter in appropriate measures. I well remember the great reputation he made when, on one of his earlier appearances in the Chamber, he called, and became notorious and well-known for calling, the chairmen of nationalised boards "Quislings".

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the right hon. Gentleman will search his memory he will find that he has got it wrong. I referred to people, not on any nationalisation board at that time, who had responsibilities to private industries which they seemed likely to be willing to betray. That is a totally different thing. I would be grateful to have the right hon. Gentleman's withdrawal of what he said.

Mr. Callaghan

I was present in the House when the right hon. Gentleman said it and I can tell him that the impression left on hon. Members and on me especially was that he thought people who vote Tory and support the Tory Party should not serve on the boards of nationalised industries. That was what he wanted to say and what he said. I know that he has been ashamed of it ever since, but he cannot wriggle out of it after 20 years.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that he is speaking for a second time with the leave of the House. Will he accept from me that I was personally responsible for this side not objecting to his doing so. I regret my decision.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sorry if I am stinging the right hon. and learned Gentleman into his accustomed lack of courtesy when he is outside the House, although when he is inside it he is one of the most courteous of Members with whom we have to deal.

Frankly, there has been little serious argument to answer. There has been a great deal of personal abuse; and if we are to declare an interest let me declare mine. I understand that if we were to proceed with the Boundary Commission's proposals my seat would become very much safer, so at least I am not gerrymandering against myself whatever else may be alleged.

There has been little serious argument but a lot of denunciation, a lot of cheap prose, and party propaganda. With such serious argument as there has been I shall be happy to deal. It was because there was so little that I asked for only 10 minutes in which to wind up the debate. If I were to make a serious contribution by trying to get some chaff out of the wheat I have had to deal with, I could be up for two hours.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that before the Boundary Commission made its report affecting my constituency, South-East Essex, there were opportunities for local interests to make representations and this was done by them twice. This afternoon, quite arbitrarily, the right hon. Gentleman has announced quite different proposals affecting my constituency. Can he give an assurance that due time and opportunity will be given to local interests—and I am not talking about myself; this is something touching on the representation of people in my constituency—to make representations to the Boundary Commission, as was done before?

Mr. Callaghan

If the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition as a whole had not been so impatient and will await the Bill tomorrow they will have the answers to these and many other questions. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman contains his soul in patience for rather less than 24 hours and he will see what the answers are.

Clearly, this is not retrospective legislation. Changes have not taken place. Boundaries exist and there is nothing retrospective about what is proposed in the Bill that I shall be introducing; and there is absolutely no case for suggesting that there is.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) got into a great deal of difficulty and stumbled in a most unaccustomed way when he was asked a direct question by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) namely, did he argue that Parliament must accept the reports of the Boundary Commission? The right hon. and learned Gentle-had three opportunities to answer the question, but failed to do so. I propose to answer it for him. What I thought he said, though my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale may have a different impression, was that the answer was "Yes"; that Parliament is not supreme and that we must automatically accept the verdict of the Boundary Commission no matter what may come.

We can have an interesting constitutional argument—

Sir D. Walker-Smith


Mr. Callaghan

One of two things is true. Either the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that Parliament can alter it, or he believes that Parliament cannot alter it. That is susceptible of a simple answer, yes or no. If he wishes to give an answer now I will gladly give way. Does he believe Parliament has the right to modify and alter Boundary Commission proposals or not?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Parliament is able, by proper process, to pass any form of legislation. Meanwhile, as I made quite clear, the right hon. Gentleman, as Home Secretary, is in breach of his statutory duty. It will be a monstrous constitutional impropriety if he uses his temporary majority in the House to secure an Act of indemnity in that way for his breach of duty.

Mr. Callaghan

What is wrong with using the majority? It is an odd dogma that we cannot use it to make changes.

I want to come to the question whether it was ever intended, though or believed, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be arguing, though he now seems to be retreating from the doctrine, that in no circumstances can we alter the recommendation of the Boundary Commission. In 1944, there was a Coalition Government. It was headed by Sir Winston Churchill, who was then Leader of the Conservative Party. It had as its Lord President of the Council Sir John Anderson. The Home Secretary of the day was Mr. Herbert Morrison.

They were discussing the Redistribution of Seats Bill. Let us see what was the intention of both parties represented in one Coalition Government through the voice of the Home Secretary of 1944. This is what Mr. Morrison had to say at that time—never mind what Dicey says: These recommendations"— the recommendations of the Boundary Commission— will not, of course, be binding upon Ministers. That is clear enough. It will be competent for Ministers to accept or reject or amend the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners, subject always to two points, first, that they will have to explain the reasons for their decision, and, secondly, that Parliament must at all times be supreme in the matter."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 10th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1613.] That is a complete answer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity later—

Mr. Hogg

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Act of 1944 was different from the law now in that the Minister was not bound under that Act to present a draft Order with his report?

Mr. Callaghan

That makes no difference to the fundamental issue, which is whether Parliament is to be supreme in this matter.

The Coalition Government, under Sir Winston Churchill, gave a clear and complete answer to that question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, despite his synthetic rage this afternoon, was taking a rather different line on the Children's Bill only a week ago. He needs a longer memory. These were his words during the Third Reading late at night, or early in the morning, when asking the House not to go ahead with the Bill.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman pleaded with us not to proceed with the Bill, and not to put these changes into operation because he said: I am convinced that when it is implemented in its more extensive form its provisions as it stands will prove to be wrong in the light of the changes in local government which are shortly to be made …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June, 1969; Vol. 784, c. 1189.] That was the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attitude then. This afternoon, for party reasons, he has swung right round. We know why. We repudiate it and we intend to go ahead with this Measure.

Mr. Speed


Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly:That this House calls upon the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and Scotland to implement in full, and without further delay, the recommendations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions.

The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 270.

Division No. 277.] AYES [7.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Foster, Sir John McMaster, Stanley
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Astor, John Gibson-Watt, David McNair-Wilson, M.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n' & M'd'n) Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Awdry, Daniel Glover, Sir Douglas Maddan, Martin
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Glyn, Sir Richard Maginnis, John E.
Baker, w. H. K. (Banff) Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Balniel, Lord Goodhart, Philip Marten, Neil
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Goodhew, Victor Maude, Angus
Batsford, Brian Gower, Raymond Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Grant, Anthony Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Bell, Ronald Grant-Ferris, Sir Robert Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Grieve, Percy Mills, stratton (Belfast, N.)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Gurden, Harold Miscampbell, Norman
Biffen, John Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Biggs-Davison, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Monro, Hector
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Montgomery, Fergus
Black, Sir Cyril Harris, Reader (Heston) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Blaker, Peter Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Body, Richard Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Harvie Anderson, Miss Murton, Oscar
Braine, Bernard Hastings, Stephen Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Brewis, John Hawkins, Paul Neave, Airey
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hay, John Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Nott, John
Bryan, Paul Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Onslow, Cranley
Buchanan-smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Heseltine, Michael Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Higgins, Terence L. Orr-Ewing, Sr Ian
Bullus, Sir Eric Hiley, Joseph Osborn, John (Hallam)
Burden, F. A. Hill, J. E. B. Page, Graham (Crosby)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, w.) Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Holland, Philip Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hooson, Emlyn Percival, Ian
Chataway, Christopher Hordern, Peter Peyton, John
Chichester-Clark, R. Howell, David (Guildford) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Clark, Henry Hunt, John Pink, R. Bonner
Cooke, Robert Hutchison, Michael Clark Pounder, Rafton
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Iremonger, T. L. Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Cordle, John Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Corfield, F. V. Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Prior, J. M. L.
Costain, A. P. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pym, Francis
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Crouch, David Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Crowder, F. P. Jopling, Michael Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Cunningham, Sir Knox Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Rees-Davies, W. R.
Currie, C. B. H. Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Kerby, Capt. Henry Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Kershaw, Anthony Robson Brown, Sir William
Doughty, Charles Kimball, Marcus Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Royle, Anthony
Drayson, G. B. Knight, Mrs. Jill Russell, Sir Ronald
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Lambton, Viscount Scott, Nicholas
Eden, Sir John Lancaster, Col. C. G. Scott-Hopkins, James
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Lane, David Sharples, Richard
Emery, Peter Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Errington, Sir Eric Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Silvester, Frederick
Eyre, Reginald Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield) Sinclair, Sir George
Farr, John Longden, Gilbert Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Fisher, Nigel McAdden, Sir Stephen Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles MacArthur, Ian Speed, Keith
Fortescue, Tim Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Stainton, Keith
Stodart, Anthony Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Waddington, David Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Summers, Sir Spencer Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Tapsell, Peter Walker, Peter (Worcester) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek Woodnutt, Mark
Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart) Walters, Dennis Wright, Esmond
Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Ward, Dame Irene Wylie, N. R.
Temple, John M. Weatherill, Bernard Younger, Hn. George
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Wells, John (Maidstone)
Tilney, John Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Turton, Bt. Hn. R. H. Wiggin, A. W. Mr. R. W. Elliott and
van Straubenzee, W. R. Williams, Donald (Dudey) Mr. Jasper More.
Abse, Leo Ellis, John Lawson, George
Albu, Austen English, Michael Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)
Allen, Scholefield Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lee, John (Reading)
Anderson, Donald Faulds, Andrew Lestor, Miss Joan
Archer, Peter Fernyhough, E. Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold (Cheetham)
Armstrong, Ernest Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Ashley, Jack Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lipton, Marcus
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Foley, Maurice Lomas, Kenneth
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Loughlin, Charles
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Ford, Ben Luard, Evan
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Forrester, John Lyon, Alexander w. (York)
Barnett, Joel Fraser, John (Norwood) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, C.)
Baxter, William Freeson, Reginald Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Gardner, Tony McCann, John
Bidwell, Sydney Ginsburg, David MacColl, James
Binns, John Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Macdonald, A. H.
Bishop, E. S. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McGuire, Michael
Blackburn, F. Gregory, Arnold McKay, Mrs. Margaret
Blenkinsop, Arthur Grey, Charles (Durham) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mackie, John
Booth, Albert Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mackintosh, John P.
Boston, Terence McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) McNamara, J. Kevin
Boyden, James Griffiths, Will (Exchange) MacPherson, Malcolm
Bradley, Tom Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Brooks, Edwin Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Hamling, William Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hannan, William Mapp, Charles
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Harper, Joseph Marks, Kenneth
Buchan, Norman Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Marquand, David
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Haseldine, Norman Mayhew, Christopher
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hattersley, Roy Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hazell, Bert Mendelson, John
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Mikardo, Ian
Cant, R. B. Hilton, W. S. Millan, Bruce
Carmichael, Neil Hooley, Frank Miller, Dr. M. S.
Carter-Jones, Lewis Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Conlan, Bernard Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hoy, Rt. Hn. James Morris, John (Aberavon)
Crawshaw, Richard Huckfield, Leslie Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Moyle, Roland
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Dalyell, Tam Hughes, Roy (Newport) Murray, Albert
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Hynd, John Neal, Harold
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Newens, Stan
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Oakes, Gordon
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Janner, Sir Barnett Ogden, Eric
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jay, Rt. Hn, Douglas O'Malley, Brian
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Jeger, George (Goole) Oram, Albert E.
Delargy, Hugh Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Orbach, Maurice
Dell, Edmund Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Orme, Stanley
Dempsey, James Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Dewar, Donald Jones, Dan (Burnley) Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Dickens, James Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Paget, R. T.
Dobson, Ray Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Palmer, Arthur
Doig, Peter Judd, Frank Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Dunn, James A. Kelley, Richard Park, Trevor
Dunnett, Jack Kenyon, Clifford Parker, John (Dagenham)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Pavitt, Laurence
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Ryan, John Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne valley)
Pentland, Norman Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Sheldon, Robert Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E. Wallace, George
Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Watkins, David (Consett)
Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Weitzman, David
Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Wellbeloved, James
Price, William (Rugby) Silverman, Julius Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Probert, Arthur Slater, Joseph Whitaker, Ben
Randall, Harry Small, William Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Rankin, John Spriggs, Leslie Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Rees, Merlyn Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Richard, Ivor Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Roberts, Rt. Hn, Goronwy Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Taverne, Dick Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Robertson, John (Paisley) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George Winn'ck, David
Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as) Thornton, Ernest Woof, Robert
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Tinn, James Wyatt, Woodrow
Roebuck, Roy Tomney, Frank
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Tuck, Raphael TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Rose, Paul Urwin, T. W. Mr. Neil McBride and
Ross, Rt. Hn. William Varley, Eric G. Mr. J. D. Concannon.
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