§ 7.47 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Northampton Order 1965 (S.I. 1965 No. 250), laid before the House on February 19, be annulled. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, had this Order had to he considered by the Special Orders Committee I should have expected them to report that the Order, at least in certain parts, is not founded on precedent, and also that it raises important questions of principle. I have tabled this Motion in order to give the Government an opportunity of giving explanations to your Lordships of some of the curious features. The conduct of the Home Secretary in all this has already been the subject of a Censure Motion in another place. It is not my intention to have another Censure debate to-night, though I must necessarily criticise some of the actions of Her Majesty's Government.
§ This Order was laid on February 19; part of it came into force on February 22, and part of it takes effect on April 1. The first matter calling for explanation from the Government is why this Order, laid on February 19, was not made available to your Lordships in the Printed Paper Office until 10 o'clock on February 25, three days after part of it had come into operation, and six days after it had been laid. Why was this? Why was the Order held up for these days? On whose instructions? 595 I think we should be told, for I gather that definite instructions were given by somebody that on no account was the Order to be made available, either to your Lordships or to Members of another place, until that time, 10 o'clock on Thursday, February 25. That was the precise day on which the Censure debate on the matters dealt with by this Order took place in another place. I do not know whether there is a sinister relationship between the two, but at least this is a matter upon which we are entitled to have an explanation.
§ The time during which a Prayer to annul an Order can be effectively made is laid down by Statute, and it is surely wrong that a Minister can cut short the opportunities for securing the annulment of an Order by giving orders that it is not to be made available to Members of either House of Parliament until a certain date. I raise this matter at the beginning of my speech in order to give the Government full opportunity of obtaining, if they have not got it already, full information about this situation. Which Minister was responsible for this, and why was it done? May we have an assurance that it will not happen again?
§ I must, I fear, remind your Lordships of some of the facts to which public attention has already been drawn. I will do so as shortly as I can. Following on the recommendation of the Local Government Commission it was decided that the boundaries of the Borough of Northampton should be extended to include certain parts of my former constituency, and to include about 10,000 new electors in the borough. I may say, in passing, that the vast majority of my former constituents were bitterly opposed to this, and I even had representations from the local Labour Party about it. It was decided that these extensions should take effect on April 1 this year. This Order provides for that. The extension of the borough meant that the ward boundaries would have to be revised to take account of the fact that the new population was being brought into the borough.
On March 25, 1964, the usual instructions were given by the Home Office. May I remind your Lordships of what they were? The relevant parts of the
instructions contained in a letter sent to the Town Clerk read as follows:
The natural aim in drawing up the new ward boundaries would no doubt be—
(a) to provide an approximately equal number of local government electors for each councillor, allowance being made for any likely change in electorate because of development within the next five years".—
Your Lordships will note those words—
and (b) to have regard—
Your Lordships will see that there is nothing in those instructions from the Home Office about regard being had to the political consequences of complying with those criteria. It is, of course, right that regard should not be had to the effect on the political Parties of such a revision. It would be just as wrong to revise ward boundaries to secure political advantage as it would be to alter constituencies to make a safe seat for one Party or the other. The object of a review of ward boundaries must surely be to secure the fairest representation of the electorate, without regard to the interests of the political Parties or of the Party which for the time being has control of the council.
§ On October 12, 1964, a public inquiry was held at which an independent barrister, very experienced in this kind of work, presided. Two sets of proposals were considered. One was prepared by the Town Clerk, on his own initiative, and was adopted by the Labour Party; and as they had a majority on the council those were called "the Council's proposals". The other proposals were put forward by the Conservative Party. Both sets of proposals sought to comply with the criteria laid down by the Home Office. They were gone into in great detail. Evidence was given by, among others, the leader of the Labour Party on the Council.
§ The Labour Party's proposals were objected to by the Conservatives on three grounds. First, that they caused unnecessary disturbance of existing ward boundaries and that no sufficient account was taken of historic associations or present ward boundaries. Secondly, that artificial boundaries were created instead of having boundaries which followed 597 clearly defined courses. Thirdly (this was the important reason), that insufficient numbers had been allocated to the inner land-locked wards which had no room for growth and, in many cases, were affected by slum clearance proposals that would further reduce the number of electors represented in these wards, whereas in the outer ring of wards there was considerable growth potential.
The inspector made a very full report, and I will read his conclusions. He said, under the heading "Conclusions":
Both the schemes which were put forward at the inquiry were honest attempts to divide the county borough into wards in strict accordance with the criteria laid down. The Council's scheme achieves more immediate parity of electorates, but the author of it conceded that, although he had looked to the future, he had not been in a position to ascertain all the current development plans since he was acting privately in August, 1963. Accepting that due regard ought to be paid to foreseeable changes within the next five years, I am not convinced that the Council's scheme will show an equality of electorates at the end of that period.
In recommending for acceptance the scheme prepared by the Conservative group for the purpose of the inquiry, I am impressed by the evidence secured as to future trends, both of development and clearance and by the probability that within the relevant period something approaching equality will be achieved. The boundaries selected are, in my opinion, preferable to those put forward by the Council and there is no obvious interference with any existing community of interest.
He also recommended that the new Council should be elected en bloc in May, 1965, the extensions of the borough taking effect on April 1.
My Lords, that report was dated November 16. About five weeks later (I ask your Lordships to note the time), on December 23, the Home Secretary announced his decision in a letter sent to the Town Clerk. I should like to read from that letter:
The Secretary of State has carefully considered Mr. Verney's report and the counterproposals made by the Conservative group of Northampton County Borough Councillors, supported by the Northampton Conservative and Unionist Association. He notes that all Parties agreed, and Mr. Verney recommended, that there should be 12 wards for the enlarged county borough each returning three councillors. The Secretary of State accepts this proposal.
The Secretary of State has considered the main criticism made of the Council's proposals that they fail sufficiently to take into account residential development in Northampton. He
appreciates the contention that, since such development would take place for the most part in wards abutting the boundary whilst wards in the centre of Northampton would be affected by slum clearance, the electorates of the former wards would tend to increase and those of the latter to decrease with the result that there would be disparities between the electorates of the proposed wards in a few years' time. In the view of the Secretary of State the counter-proposals take account of this situation more satisfactorily than do the Council's proposals, by providing for wards in the centre with high electorates at present and wards abutting the boundary with low electorates. The Secretary of State accordingly accepts Mr. Verney's recommendation that the counter-proposals should be accepted subject to minor changes for the purpose of adopting boundaries which are more easily identifiable.
Apart from these minor changes, the Home Secretary made only one change from the inspector's recommendations. In view of what happened later, what the Home Secretary said about this is of particular importance. What he said was:
The Secretary of State notes that all parties are agreed that there should be fresh elections of councillors in 1965. Mr. Verney was in favour of elections on May 13, as preferred by all Parties, or alternatively on a date before the appointed day, April 1, 1965, so that councillors could come into office on the appointed day. The Secretary of State agrees that there should be fresh elections. As for the date on which they should be held, the Secretary of State does not consider that it would be satisfactory to adhere to the ordinary day of election if the effect is that the areas to be added to the county borough would be unrepresented on the Council between April 1 and the coming into office of the newly elected councillors on May 17. The alternatives are to provide in the Minister's Order for the added areas to be joined to existing wards for the period April 1 to May 17 or for the holding of elections prior to April 1. The Secretary of State takes the view that the first of these alternatives would complicate the order, which would then contain transitional provisions for the period April 1 to May 17 as well as provisions for the new ward structure after May 17. He considers that the more satisfactory course would be to adopt the alternative proposed by Mr. Verney, namely to hold elections before April 1. The Secretary of State has decided therefore that provision should be made in the order for elections to be held on such day prior to the appointed day as the returning officer shall appoint.
So the Home Secretary at that time regarded it as of such importance that the 10,000 new electors should not be unrepresented on the Council from April 1 until May 17, that he decided that new elections should be held before April 1. He rejected the alternative of just adding
new electors to the existing wards, on the ground of the transitory provisions involved.
§ There is, of course, another objection, which the Home Secretary did not mention; that is, that if that were done the new electors would, it is true, be represented on the Council, but by persons whom they had taken no part in electing. This decision was not to the liking of the local Labour Party. On January 5, at a meeting of the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the Council, the Chairman of that Committee, the leader of the local Labour Party and the gentleman who had given evidence at the public inquiry, said that the proposals accepted by the Home Secretary were weighted heavily in favour of the Conservative Party; and, secondly, that the Labour Party had had no opportunity of challenging them on the basis of their political consequences.
§ Your Lordships will remember that both the Home Secretary and the inspector had reached the conclusion that the Conservative proposals best satisfied the criteria laid down by the Home Office, and that meant that in their view these proposals provided for the fairest representation of the electorate. If the result was likely to favour the Conservatives, that was purely fortuitous. The Conservative Party had objected to the Labour Party's proposals on the ground that they favoured the Labour Party, but they did not pursue that ground of objection at the inquiry. The Finance and General Purposes Committee on January 5 recommended to the Council that the views put forward by the Chairman be accepted, and that they be submitted to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, with a request that the proposed warding arrangements be abandoned.
§ The local Labour Party, however, did not rest content with just making that recommendation to the Council. They consulted the Labour Member of Parliament for the Borough, and on January 25 that Member of Parliament and the chairman of the local Labour Party, who had given evidence at the inquiry, visited the Ministry; and I think that the Member of Parliament saw the Home Secretary. My Lords, it would indeed be interesting to know whom they saw and 600 what passed at the interviews they had. I suspect that the Labour Councillor was well satisfied by what he was told, for three days later, on January 28, the Council carried, in the face of opposition, the resolution recommended to them by the Finance and General Purposes Committee. Then, a week later, on February 4, the Home Secretary wrote another letter reversing the decision he had given on December 23. It took him five weeks (I make no complaint about that) to consider the inspector's report before reaching his first decision. But in less than a fortnight after the visit of the local Member of Parliament, and a week after the Council had passed this resolution, he reversed himself; and he did so just on representations made by, or on behalf of, the local Labour Party.
My Lords, this is what was said in his letter:
I am directed by the Secretary of State to refer to your letter of 29th January forwarding the resolution of the Northampton Borough Council asking him to rescind the decision regarding the warding arrangements for the extended county borough conveyed to you in the Home Office letter of the 23rd December, and asking that the Order to be made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government under the Local Government Act. 1958, should provide instead for the areas added to the borough to be temporarily annexed to contiguous wards and that the Order should include provision for the Council to submit a petition under Section 25 of the Local Government Act, 1933, by a specified date.
The Secretary of State has given the most careful consideration to the Council's resolution. He notes the view expressed in the resolution that Mr. Verney, the independent barrister who held the local inquiry, was misinformed on certain material aspects.
Your Lordships will note that the resolution did not, in fact, say that the independent barrister who presided over the inquiry had been misinformed on certain material aspects. What it did say was that the proposals were heavily weighted in favour of the Conservative Party. This observation by the Home Secretary could be understood to imply a reflection on the eminent solicitor who presented the case for the Conservative proposals at the inquiry, and I am glad that the Home Secretary has made it quite clear that he did not intend that.
§ But if the consequences to a political Party of warding arrangements considered to secure the fairest representation of the electorate are now to be 601 treated as a material aspect, It certainly is a departure from previous Home Office policy. What weight is to be given to this aspect? Are wards in future to be arranged so as to maintain the Labour Party's position? The Labour Party have a majority on the Northampton Borough Council—a microscopic majority—as a result of one vote, which has been held to be a spoiled vote, being held, on an election petition, to be a good vote.
My Lords, the Home Secretary's letter went on:
While the Secretary of State does not accept that insufficient opportunity was given to all concerned to express their views fully at the public inquiry, he has decided that in the circumstances the best course will be for the whole question of the warding of Northampton to be considered afresh and publicly at a further local inquiry.
So the Home Secretary rejects the contention that the local Labour Party had insufficient opportunity to express their views fully. But, none the less, on their representations, and on their representations alone, lie has ordered another public inquiry; and the sole ground for doing so is the alleged political consequences of the decision he first made.
It is true that in the body of his Report the inspector said—and I quote from page 23 of the Report:
These proposals are virtually non-controversial. but in approaching the remaining nine wards, there is a fundamental disagreement. It is right to emphasise that the Town Clerk's proposals, which now form the basis of the Council's scheme, were drawn up by him alone with no political outcome in mind. The criticism from the political point of view was not pursued at the inquiry and should be disregarded in assessing the merits of the scheme. It is equally important to emphasise that no suggestion was made that the new Conservative proposals should be criticised as designed to secure political advantage, whatever may have been the defects of earlier proposals.
After giving his conclusions he said:
I am reinforced in the view by the fact that no suggestion of political motive has been advanced. When the balance of power between two Parties is so close, it must be expected that legitimate criticism on this basis would be put forward, if it reasonably could be. There being no such criticism of the Conservative scheme, and the political criticism of the Council's scheme not having been pursued, I have been free to determine my recommendation on the merits of each scheme as presented to me.
He said, as your Lordships will note, that he made his recommendation on
the merits of each scheme as presented to him; and the Home Secretary's first decision was no doubt based on the merits of each scheme. I think we ought to be told what weight is to be given at the next inquiry to the Party political advantages or disadvantages of any particular proposals, and whether any new criteria are to be laid down. I ask that a positive answer should be given to that question. If they are not, why have another inquiry? If they are not, is it the view of the Government that warding arrangements which are considered to be the best on their merits should be altered so that the Conservative Party do not fortuitously derive any benefit there-from? My Lords, to do this would be a denial of democracy and political gerrymandering of the worst kind.
§ On these facts, which I have endeavoured to state accurately, it is not surprising that the Home Secretary's conduct was made the subject of a Vote of Censure in another place. I have known the Home Secretary for many years, and I do not doubt that he was led into doing what he thought was right, and honestly thought was right; but the fact remains that to very many people he appears to have acted very wrongly indeed in the discharge of what might be described as his quasi judicial duties. It would indeed be interesting to know what passed at the interviews that Mr. Paget, the Member for Northampton, and the leader of the Northampton Labour Party had on January 25. If an appeal were brought against a judgment in the courts and was allowed without the other side being heard at all, the Home Secretary would, I am sure, be one of the first to say that that was very wrong. But what he has done here is to allow an appeal and to order a new trial without hearing the other side, solely on representations by the Labour Party.
The consequences of his doing so are serious and, I would think, unprecedented. I am afraid I have already taken some time (I have taken it as shortly as I can, but I had to spend some time on the history), but I want to direct attention now to the consequences of his decision. May I read again from his letter? He says:
The Secretary of State understands that the Minister proposes to lay the Northampton Order before Parliament during the third week
of February in time for it to take effect on 1st April this year. There is insufficient time for warding arrangements to be fully and publicly considered afresh before this date. In the circumstances the Secretary of State has decided to advise the Minister to provide in his Order for the areas to be added to the borough to be temporarily annexed to the existing wards as from the 1st April next …".
That means that 10,000 new electors are to be represented compulsorily on the council by persons for whom they have had no opportunity of voting, and, as your Lordships will see, it is proposed that this should continue, not for a few weeks but for many months. The letter goes on:
The Secretary of State considers that the first elections to be held for the borough as extended should be held on the basis of a new ward scheme and not on the basis of the existing wards with the added areas annexed. It would not be practicable for the procedure under Section 25 of the Act of 1933 to be completed in time for the ordinary date of borough council elections, (13th May). Accordingly the Secretary of State is asking the Minister of Housing and Local Government to provide in his Order for the ordinary borough elections in May to be postponed to such date as may be provided in an Order in Council under Section 25; and that until the councillors elected at the postponed elections come into office, the existing councillors should represent the existing wards, subject to the added areas being annexed to contiguous wards. The Secretary of State very much hopes that it will be found possible to hold elections on the basis of the new wards at the latest by the end of October.
So because the Home Secretary, as a result of efforts by the Labour Party, has decided that there should be a further public inquiry, the ordinary borough elections are to be postponed, and to be postponed to an indefinite date. The Home Secretary just "hopes" that it will be possible to hold them "at the latest by the end of October".
§ The result is that the Home Secretary and his colleague, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, by this Order, secure that the borough of Northampton will be under the control of a Socialist majority when that may not be what the electorate want; and I ask the Government whether there is any precedent for such a postponement of borough elections. It surely cannot be justified merely on the ground that it is necessary to have another public inquiry. If your Lordships would look at paragraph 6 of this 604 Order, you will see that not only is effect given to this decision of the Home Secretary but it is also provided that there shall be no election before the new warding arrangements are made. The 10,000 new electors included in the borough on April 1 are, I see from the Press, to suffer a rate increase of 1s. Id. in the pound, whereas the present ratepayers in the borough will have only an 8d. increase.
§ Was it necessary to preserve this Socialist control, gained as a result of one vote at the last elections, in order to provide for a further public inquiry? Was it necessary to deprive the electors of the borough of their right to elect a new council on May 13 if they wished to? Was it necessary to do all these things in order to enable a new inquiry to be held? My Lords, I submit that the answer to these questions is in the negative. Why not just postpone the extension of the borough until after the public inquiry and approval of the new warding arrangements? There really cannot be any real urgency about making the extension. It could not have mattered very much if that extension had been postponed until, at the latest, October. If that had been done, it would not have been necessary to cancel the May borough elections; it would not have been necessary to provide by Statutory Instrument for Socialist control of the Council; it would not have been necessary to impose on the 10,000 new electors representatives on the Council whom they had no say in electing.
§ Why was this not done? It would have been much better if it had been. I ask the Government to "come clean" about this, and to tell us their reasons for not taking this course. If no satisfactory explanation is given, it will lead to the conclusion that a very unsavoury and disgraceful piece of gerrymandering is sought to be achieved by this Order—an Order which embodies the decision of the Home Secretary, made within a week of the visit by the Labour Member for Northampton and the leader of the local Labour Party from London.
§ On the information I have, and which I have given to the House, I felt very inclined to invite your Lordships to vote for this Prayer. However, I am not going to do so for a number of reasons. One is that it is most unusual for your Lordships to take this course, though it 605 is within your Lordships' power to do so. The more compelling reason to me is that we are now very close to April 1, when the extensions are proposed to take effect, and there may be some valid and cogent reason now, which did not exist when this matter was first considered by the Home Secretary, against postponing the extensions. If there is such a reason now, I hope that we shall be told what it is. It may be that the rate demands have gone out on the basis that the extension takes effect, and that if this Order was withdrawn and cancelled it would not be possible to send out fresh rate demands. But if this extension can, even now, be postponed, I ask the Government seriously to consider that course. If there had to be a further public inquiry, that is the course which ought to have been taken, and I hope that it is not too late to take it now.
§ There is one additional reason I would advance in favour of this course, and that is the Government's recent announcement in regard to Northampton that it is going to be very considerably extended in size. That will mean a further extension of borough boundaries, and presumably a further revision of ward boundaries. Would it not be much better to make all the extensions at the same time? My Lords, however this may be, I do repeat my request that the Government should now withdraw this Order and table a new one, if necessary, postponing the extension of the borough until after the public inquiry and new warding arrangements are made, so avoiding this extraordinary procedure which results from the decision they unfortunately made some weeks ago. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Northampton Order 1965 (S.I. 1965 No. 250), laid before the House on 19th February, be annulled.—(Viscount Dilhorne.)
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I think I am allowed to go this far: that was the most completely Party speech I have ever heard, even from the noble and learned Viscount. He went through what he considered was the history of the making of this Order, with particular reference to the conduct of the Home Secretary. He said that the Home Secre- 606 tary had been subjected to a Censure Motion. "A Censure Motion" is an ambiguous phrase; it might appear to mean that the Home Secretary had been censured. What, in fact, happened was that during two days' debate in another place, neither debate being on this Order, all the facts which the noble and learned Viscount has put before this House this evening were stated in full; and more fully than he has done tonight. The facts were printed in Hansard, summarised publicly in the newspapers and were the subject of general political comment, criticism and discussion for days on end. That is what in fact happened. What we are invited to do now is to consider this matter all over again.
I will remind the noble and learned Viscount, with respect, that the principal Secretary of State has been "acquitted" in another place—the proper place for him to be able to answer these questions himself—but, so far as I am concerned, I have no intention whatever of repeating the defence which the Home Secretary made in another place, a defence of his own personal conduct, properly made, satisfactorily made, in the House where it ought to be made.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, if the noble Lord would like to assert that any of the facts that I have stated are wrong or wrongfully stated, I should willingly listen. I repeated the facts; and unless he can state that I was inaccurate in any respect his observations are not justified. So far as the censure debate is concerned, I know perfectly well what took place in that debate. I am not asking the noble Lord to reply on behalf of his right honourable friend. I put to him certain specific questions which were not raised in that debate, and I had to refer to the facts in order to acquaint your Lordships with them. I raised this point to put specific questions about the extension of the borough, and these questions were not raised before. I think the noble Lord, if he is fair, will admit that.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I have every intention of being more than fair to the noble and learned Viscount. I should not wish to be anything else—not for a moment. But he must admit that he took at least half of his speech in describing the conduct of the Home Secretary and in attributing to the local Labour 607 Party and to the honourable and learned Member for Northampton a number of actions and motives which I should have thought had a general pejorative character. It was about that that I was complaining and I do complain, because, after all, these were political considerations, both on the part of the Conservatives in Northampton and of the Labour Party in Northampton. I think it is right and proper that questions of that kind should be taken into account, and that they should be looked at in the course of the debate, as they were in the other place. I am not talking about their relevance or otherwise to the particular Order which was made. What I am saying is that I dismiss as irrelevant and inappropriate that I may be called upon to make a defence of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. He has made his own defence.
With the good things the noble and learned Viscount said about him I think we should all agree. So far as his political conduct in this matter is concerned, it has been gone into at considerable length in another place where he was attacked on similar lines to the noble and learned Viscount's attack on him to-day. For it was an attack, and any person who listened to it could not mistake that it was an attack, could not mistake its political character, could not mistake the vigour and vehemence with which it was launched. It was made in the way I should expect the noble and learned Viscount to make it—he always does these things with vigour and I am the first person to accept that. But this is not the place to attack the Home Secretary who has already been "acquitted"—if one can use quasi-criminal language—of censure in another place. This is not the place to do it. It is utterly irrelevant, except in so far as it may derive from any criticisms that the noble and learned Viscount has to make of the Order which we are considering to-day. I would never deny that the noble and learned Viscount, when he was reciting the facts, recited them accurately: I should be sorry indeed if he thought that I was impugning his accuracy in any way. I was complaining of his description of the motives of the people concerned, but not of his factual accuracy.
608 Having dealt with his attack, I come to what we are really called upon to consider to-day: that is, whether or not this Order should be annulled. There is a great deal to be said about it that the noble and learned Viscount did not choose to say. I am not asking him to say any more, nor am I expecting him to do so, but in fact it is a voluminous Order and quite a good deal of it could be considered and discussed. I raise one point only; it is simply this. Should we or should we not carry on the provisions that appear in Article 6 of the Order? But before I come to that, let me just deal with one small point he raised at the beginning.
The position about the making of this Order is this. It was ready before the date on which it was made. When on February 11, the Opposition in another place intimated their desire to have a debate of the character which finally was held, it was thought right, out of respect to the House—and I must agree with this view—to refrain from making the Order until the debate had been held. After all, it is conceivable, more than conceivable, that the Vote of Censure might have been passed; and in that case, clearly, the matter would have required considerable further attention. The Order was then made and published as soon afterwards as it could be printed. I want to make one thing clear: it would have been possible to produce half-a-dozen copies, but not possible to produce the expected number of some 50 copies in the appropriate time.
May I assure the House that, so far as I am aware—and I have inquired into this and had discussions about it—nobody gave any instruction about the Order except the direction that the Order should not be printed until the debate had been held? It then went through the ordinary processes. I regret it if the noble and learned Viscount or any other Member of your Lordships' House has been inconvenienced, but it was a printing delay. One gets delays of this kind with printed Orders, especially when they are long ones, and it is often possible that someone may be inconvenienced. However, if the inconvenience has been excessive, I am sorry. I can only assure the noble and learned Viscount and the 609 House that there was no gerrymandering here; that the matter simply took the usual course after the debate had been held.
Now I turn to his next question. This, too, was fully explained by the Home Secretary in the course of the debate in another place. Therefore I am not going to deal with it in very great detail here, because this is a matter which I think it is appropriate for the Minister concerned to consider and to come to a decision upon. I have been looking for precedents for this form of words and I have some of them here—not always in the same form but having the same result. One was the Huntingdon and Peterborough Order, 1964. Another was the Stoke-on-Trent Order, 1964, where there was the provision thatif no petition is presented then Section 25 shall have effect as if it had been included.I have had a number of local Government Acts mentioned to me—Section 8 of the Gateshead Extension Act 1950, for example.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, the noble Lord realises that I was raising the point about the postponement of borough elections due to take place in May, 1965, under paragraph 2. I was not asking any questions about the petition.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I am sorry if I was answering an unnecessary point and I will leave it at that. It is sufficient to say that there was a precedent for this.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I know that the question of the petition under Section 25 had been raised in another place. I did not raise that. I was talking about paragraph 6(2), the postponement of borough elections, and I asked whether there was any precedent for the postponement of borough elections for the purpose of holding a public inquiry.
§ LORD MITCHISON
These are peculiar circumstances. There have been provisions to set up machinery by which wards are made, and this would appeal to be setting up machinery. I am told that in fact, on the point last mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount, it happens to be one of the provisions in the Huntingdon and Peterborough Order, 610 The reference (which I give in case the noble and learned Viscount wants to look it up) is Statutory Instruments, 1964, No. 367.
I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that that is not really the point. The real point is what is the fairest and most practical thing to do now—to follow the terms of this Order or to do something else? I must go into what was said in another place to this extent. The original wards were dropped for the reason stated by the Home Secretary and the result was that, at a comparatively short period before the due date, some new arrangements had to be made. That has happened often before. The result is that an extension, such as is going to happen in Northampton, is bound to put into the existing wards a number of electors who have not voted for the councillors who represent those wards. That is an inevitable result of an extension, unless it happens to coincide with an election.
It seems to me that the overwhelming requirement here is a really simple one —that is, that a new inquiry should be held, as it will be held, by a new inspector and with complete impartiality. I should like to say that no one has ever suggested that the first inspector acted otherwise than with complete impartiality and to the best of his sound judgment in this matter. No case has ever been made, on either side of this controversy, against him and I hope that no case will prove to be made against the next inspector.
But we are seeking, as it were, a clean slate. If the elections are to be held on the date which seems to be the alternative that the noble and learned Viscount has in mind, on or about the time of the appointed day, or later in the year, perhaps as late as October, the result is going to be that there will still be representation on the basis of existing wards which are admittedly, if only by dint of the proposals put forward by both sides, unsatisfactory at present and which will become more unsatisfactory when the additional extensions are made. For this reason my right honourable friend the Home Secretary recommended that the responsible Minister, my right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government, should make this postponement in order that there 611 should not be, after this unfortunate series of incidents, an election on a basis which is at present admittedly unsatisfactory and which would be worse by reason of the extension. That is the substantial reason for this change.
In the interests of Northampton as a borough—and that is a thing which, apart from any Party questions, both the noble and learned Viscount and I have very much in mind—it is highly advisable that there should be a solution as soon as possible and one which will be accepted by all concerned as having been made with complete impartiality and on a fair basis. If there is an intervening election, on what is admittedly an unsatisfactory basis, then I suggest that that will be impossible of attainment and since, at the end of the day, what we are trying to produce is a better Northampton in many respects, then surely the course now being taken is the most sensible way of doing it.
Surely the noble and learned Viscount will agree that, in questions of an involved character in connection with local government elections, one can assume that any Minister and Ministry have a good knowledge of what is practical and sound and of what is the best and fairest way to reach a desired result. Take, for instance, the precedent I quoted just now of Huntingdon and Peterborough. I did not know it before and I am sure that the learned and noble Viscount did not know it. It is not the sort of thing one knows until one has to look it up. But Ministries have great experience in these matters and there is no conceivable reason why they should not produce a solution that will be fair and reasonable all round.
Without reference to the past, I would say that really the noble and learned Viscount should not say that these arrangements are being made for the purpose of preserving a Labour majority or anything of that sort. It just is not so. The arrangements are being made to reach a solution which is thought to be the fairest and which we believe is most likely to commend itself to the people of Northampton. They are a genuine attempt to do the right thing in the right way. I do not want to press things too far, but I think that we can regard this on the basis of what the noble and learned 612 Viscount and I both know of the Home Secretary. He is really about the last person in the world to do something of this kind for the purpose that was suggested. He is doing it because he believes it is the best way to arrive at the desired result.
I want to take up but one moment more at this hour of the night. I think that what we are considering to-day is simply the question of whether a particular Order should be annulled or not. That is the Prayer before us. We have had a great many of these Prayers in another place and I myself have taken a hand in many of them. And although it is perfectly true that they can be, and are, used without any intention of dividing the House, in order to elicit matters from the Government, I think it is, to say the least of it, unusual to say that the only object of such a Prayer is to enable the Government to defend themselves against a very strongly worded attack, particularly when the whole matter has been previously considered. I feel—I say this on my own authority; I have not consulted colleagues about it, but I know the feeling in my own Party—that it is not in the best interests of this House that we should have Prayers, or Divisions on Prayers, particularly in matters which really are primarily very much the concern of the other place.
I regard the political balance in a borough, whether it is a matter of Parliamentary or local government balance, as a matter which is, in the first place, something for another place. I am glad, therefore—although I am not surprised—to hear that the noble and learned Viscount does not propose to divide the House. If he wants a fuller explanation of what happened in this case, I think it would be more appropriate to consider the debates in the other place than to repeat the substance and the detail of them here.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I realised full well when I moved this Prayer that the noble Lord might seek to attack me on the ground that I was repeating a great deal of what was said in another place. I had to do so for the purpose of making the case which I wanted answered. I cannot, for one moment, agree with the noble Lord when he says that local government matters and fair representation of electorates in 613 local government is a matter for the other place alone.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
Or even primarily. I do not accept that for one moment. Surely your Lordships are just as much concerned about local government as about many other matters. Furthermore, I do not accept the noble Lord's strictures about tabling Prayers and debating upon them. The right way to proceed on a question with regard to the content of an Order is, I should have thought, the tabling of a Prayer.
May I deal shortly with the various points the noble Lord made?—I do not intend to be long. I did not say—and Hansard will show if my recollection is wrong—that this had been done for the purpose of securing Socialist control. The noble Lord used those words. I said that the effect of this was that Socialist control would be preserved. That is one of the consequences. I think it is an unfortunate consequence that because of the decision to hold a further public inquiry, the people within the existing boundary are deprived of their right to elect a new Council should they so wish.
§ LORD MITCHISON
Let me assure the noble and learned Viscount of two things: first of all, that on any statement of fact I am sure that his recollection is excellent; and secondly, that if he says that is what he meant to say, I treat it as said. I will not quarrel with him on matters of that sort.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
I was emphasising that point, not on the ground that it was a sinister conspiracy but because that is, I think, a reason why, if possible, an extension of this borough should not take place on April 1. If it did not take place on April 1, there would be the usual borough elections within the existing borough boundaries. It is the first time I have heard it said that the existing borough boundaries are unsatisfactory. It is said that if the borough is enlarged it is necessary to revise the boundaries, and that that was the basis of the first inquiry. I did not know—it is certainly news to me—that the existing wards were in such a condition that, even if the borough was not extended, they should be reviewed. 614 That may be the case, but it certainly was not the reason for the first public inquiry.
What I am saying to the noble Lord—and I say it still, despite what he has said—is that once the Home Secretary had made his decision to hold a further public inquiry which might enable elections to take place at the end of October, at the latest, it would have been much better if, at the same time, he had postponed the extension of the borough. I am not saying that all the other provisions in this Order need not have been included in some Order (no doubt a great many detailed matters should have been included), but if that postponement, too, had been made as a consequence of holding the new inquiry, the unfortunate results to which I have drawn attention would not have occurred. That has been my plea throughout this discussion.
I still ask the noble Lord if he would be good enough—because he has not advanced a powerful reason—to see whether it should not be done now. It might be possible. If it is possible, I ask him to look at it; and I do so for this reason. I spoke at the beginning of my speech about the attitude of the new electors before they were going to be included in the borough. But what that attitude is now, when they are included against their will, when they will have a bigger rate increase than the people already in the borough, and will not have any say in who represents them until October, your Lordships can imagine. I myself want—and I am sure the noble Lord does—proper local government in the borough. I think the consequences of this will be disastrous.
I am not challenging the decision to hold a further public inquiry. That was part of a long preamble, which I think was factually stated, to the point I was making. But I am asking whether the noble Lord would try to persuade the Home Secretary, even now, to say that, as we have had to postpone the public inquiry and the revision of the wards, at least he will not extend the borough until that is completed. If he can go so far as to say that, I think it would do a great deal to alleviate the situation in Northampton, and would make things far happier in future for all those who engage in politics, on either side, in that borough.
615 It was primarily for that reason that I tabled this Prayer. I drew upon my head (I have done so before, and I expect I shall do it again) a great many strictures from the noble Lord. I am never alarmed at being accused of making a Party political speech. But it was not what I should call a Party political speech: I should have called it a very factual speech.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
I still say a very factual speech. There were one or two observations as to what inferences might be drawn, I agree. I will not take up more time. I would ask the noble Lord to look into this particular facet. If they took this Order away and laid it again with that slight modification, I am sure there would be no trouble.
If I may say one word about the first explanation as to why this Order was not made available until February 25, quite frankly, I am not altogether happy about why copies of a Statutory Instrument should be denied to your Lordships because of something taking place in another place. If I have the dates aright—and I am not sure that I have —the fact that there was going to be a censure debate in another place was known, apparently (I think the noble Lord said this) before the date when this Order was made. It was made on February 18, laid on the 19th, came into force on the 22nd—that is, the first part of it—and was not available to your Lordships until February 25. I think that is unfortunate; and I think it is wrong. In fact, I plagued the Printed Paper Office for copies, because one knew from the first letter of this Order, but I did not understand it was available. I think it was done from the best of motives, but I do not think it is an entirely satisfactory explanation.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I am obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. On the last point, the two debates in another place were on February 17 and February 25. On February 11 I understand that the Opposition in another place intimated that they proposed (I do not 616 know the exact form) to debate the Home Secretary's actions. That is what it comes to. There was an Adjournment Debate first, and a vote of censure afterwards.
On the other point, I should dislike leaving the noble and learned Viscount under any illusions about this matter. I am perfectly certain that the Home Secretary and the Minister of Housing and Local Government—I think it is just as much the latter who is concerned now—will take account, and careful account, of what the noble and learned Viscount has said, and particularly so because we all know his interest in Northampton—a genuine and natural one. On the other hand, all I can say is this. If I were either of those two Ministers I should feel that the whole of this story had been fully discussed and debated in another glace, first of all on the Adjournment Debate, and secondly, on the Vote of Censure. I dare say that the noble and learned Viscount could find some point which had been omitted—he would not be his ingenious and able self if lie could not. But the substance was discussed, and I would not go back on it now, and I do not think it would be fair to Northampton to do so. So he must not rely on my personal influence, be-because I have not any to start with. and it might be the wrong course if I did exercise it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.