HL Deb 08 February 1967 vol 279 cc1362-4

2.47 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Shepherd.)


My Lords, the changes made by this Bill in its present form are, so far as I can judge, wholly acceptable to all Parties. That is the quality which, I suggest, every Bill to alter electoral arrangements ought to possess. The very basis of our democratic elections is that when the rules are changed they are changed with the assent of all concerned. The Bill to which we are asked to give a Third Reading differs from the Bill which received its Second Reading some three weeks ago, in that the provision to prolong the term of office of the present London borough councillors for a further 12 months has been removed from it. The Bill in its earlier form would have deprived 5 million people in Greater London of the right which they possess under the present law to vote in May of this year for the men and women of their choice to serve as their borough councillors from May onwards. There was very strong and justifiable feeling about this postponement of elections, a postponement at the behest of the Party now in the majority.

My Lords, what gave me concern at the earlier stages of the Bill was that I seemed to have failed in my endeavour to bring home to noble Lords opposite that there was a moral and constitutional issue involved in this matter. The Liberal Party in your Lordships' House have appreciated that—and I thank them for it. But noble Lords on the Benches opposite seemed to continue to think that I was making merely Party speeches, and that there was something questionable and "fishy" about my argument that it is not honest to alter the rules in the middle of the game without the willing assent of both sides.

I hope I may have greater success today in convincing them that I feel this most sincerely, and I should feel it whoever was winning at the time or was in power at the time. I therefore hope that the Government will accept these words of mine in all sincerity, and that noble Lords who voted for the postponement of the forthcoming elections will recognise how deeply I, and many others, feel that that would have been an unfair interference with the machinery of free elections, which ought to be so designed by Parliament that it is assented to by everybody as being fair.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has once again expressed his strong feelings on the Bill that was introduced into your Lordships' House some weeks ago. I fully accept and understand his feelings. We have at least, in the passage of this Bill, found a general acceptance of the principles of the Bill, in that the elections in London for the Greater London Council and the London boroughs should be held in separate years. As I said during the Committee stage of the Bill, if the previous Administration who were responsible for the London Government Act 1963, had conceded the very strong case that we made on that occasion, and particularly that by my noble friends Lord Champion and Lord Latham, this Bill would not have been necessary. But on that occasion, as on so many other matters, they were extremely obstinate. However, we have now got the principle established, which I think is a good one for London government and local government as a whole.

The division that now lies between us is what is right in principle as to when elections should take place. I have made two long speeches setting out the reasons why we believe it is right that these important elections for the Greater London Council for 1967 should proceed and that the London borough elections should be postponed for one year, in order that the electorate should in no way be confused on the major issues. There is the division. I do not believe anything I can say is likely to persuade my noble friends to a contrary view, nor do I believe that anything I can say to noble Lords opposite will change their minds. As on so many things, there is a deep difference in our convictions.

This Bill now goes to another place. It is not for me in any way to surmise what their view will be. I hope that the rather rough remarks I may have made on Second Reading and during the Committee stage, and equally some of the rough words that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, used, will be forgotten; that we shall regard this more as a division of principle as to what is right, and leave it at that. In closing, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for his manner which has enabled us to treat this Bill with expedition.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.