§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Stonham)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is not an overstatement to say that this Bill was debated in another place with some vehemence. There was even talk of paper darts. But whatever doubts there are about your Lordships' welcome to this Bill, I am certain that in your consideration of it you will do nothing to damage the public image of Parliament. I am encouraged in this view by what happened in 1948, when there were also shenanigans in another place over the Redistribution of Seats Bill.
In this House on that occasion the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said:It is evident that this Bill is of more direct concern to the House of Commons than to the House of Lords. It is true that the other place do not seem to have had quite the same sense of delicacy about the composition of this House; perhaps it would have been somewhat better if they had used the same discrimination as we do on this particular occasion! But, in any case, it will be agreed that it is unnecessary for us to follow their bad example in that respect. It should be remembered that under the Constitution your Lordships, together with criminals and lunatics, do not enjoy the privilege of exercising the Parliamentary fran- 470 chise. And therefore it seems hardly appropriate, even if it is constitutionally legitimate, that we should attempt to mould the machinery to enable others to do what we ourselves are not allowed to do. That, it might well be argued—and no doubt would be argued—is somewhat outside our sphere."—[Official Report, 5/7/48, col. 295.]With these words to guide me, I propose merely to describe the main provisions of the Bill, and the effect of each and to deal with some of the accusations which have been levelled at the Government. I know that your Lordships will examine the arguments objectively.
The Bill, like Gaul, divides conveniently into three parts: the first deals with the four Boundary Commissions; the second with Parliamentary constituencies in Greater London and its immediate vicinity; and the third with existing constituencies with abnormally large electorates. My Lords, the Boundary Commissions are required by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 tokeep under review the representation in the House of Commons of the part of the United Kingdom with which they are concerned",and to report their findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State at intervals of not less than ten, or more than fifteen, years. The Commissions first reported in 1954, and they have all, within the last few months, submitted their second Reports. The 1949 Act provides that, as soon as may be, after a Boundary Commission have submitted a Report to the Secretary of State he shall lay the Report before Parliament together—if the Commission recommends some change in the constituencies—with the draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the Report.
This procedure, used in 1954 for the first time, would in normal circumstances work well. Indeed, when the 1949 Act was passed it was not possible to envisage circumstances in which it would not work. But when the Boundary Commission reported earlier this year, the Home Secretary and his colleagues in the Government had to take into consideration a factor which was wholly without precedent in relation to the Boundary Commissions' activities. This was the impending reform of local government on a massive scale not known for nearly a hundred years.
471 Just how "impending" are these unprecedented changes? Take England first. The Royal Commission on Local Government—the Redcliffe-Maud Commission—have produced recommendations for drastic change throughout local government, and the Government have accepted in principle that a major rationalisation is called for. Consultations with all interested parties are now proceeding, and the Prime Minister has said that Mr. Heath's suggestion that the changes are unlikely to be implemented before 1974 is unduly pessimistic. Next, Northern Ireland. On July 2 the Northern Ireland Government published their White Paper on local government reform, and they are pressing ahead with their task with some urgency. Plans for reorganisation in Wales have reached an advanced stage—indeed, they are furthest forward of all. As regards Scotland, we are awaiting the Report of the Wheatley Commission, which is expected in the autumn.
These radical changes have a fundamental effect on the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions because, under the Rules for Redistribution contained in the 1949 Act, they are required to pay attention, wherever practicable, to local government boundaries. And they do so. Indeed it is obvious that they regard this requirement as paramount among the three laid upon them because in Greater London (which is not affected by the Redcliffe-Maud Report) they recommend that every constituency should be contained within a Greater London Borough, even though this means that there will be considerable disparity in electorates. To take the two extremes in their recommendations for Greater London, it means that after redistribution one London constituency will have only 43, 000, electors while another will have 75, 000. The Government accept the Commissions' view that preservation of the identity of a community may be more important than the arithmetical importance of one vote one value. But, Greater London apart, the Government have had to consider the Boundary Commissions' recommendations in the light of these prospective major changes in the pattern of local government in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—changes of which the Boundary Commissions had no cognisance when they made their re- 472 commendations. We have concluded, therefore, that we must distinguish, as it were, degrees of imminence.
On the one hand we already know there will be a greatly changed pattern in England, and in Wales. But the Scottish Royal Commission have not yet reported, and the Northern Ireland Government White Paper appeared as recently as July 2. And, of course, decisions on local government reform there are a matter for Stormont and not for Westminster. Ulster seats at Westminster are matters for the Home Secretary, but he would consult the Northern Ireland Government before reaching his decision. It was for these reasons that I said we must distinguish degrees of imminence, because it is obvious that reforms in some parts of the United Kingdom are more imminent than in others.
The Boundary Commission for England recommended 271 major constituency changes and 75 minor changes, and the Government have decided, in order to avoid putting the greater part of the electorate to major inconvenience twice within a comparatively few years (and those noble Lords who have served in another place know what a major inconvenience that can be to everybody), that they ought not to implement the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales, except the recommendations for Greater London where boundaries are settled and not likely to be subject to major change for the foreseeable future. As for Scotland and Northern Ireland, we have decided that no decision should be made until we are in a position to assess the effect of whatever local government changes are proposed. This is provided for in subsection (4) of Clause 1 which provides, so far as the Reports of the Boundary Commissions for Scotland and Northern Ireland are concerned, that the Secretary of State can, in either case, take action before March 31 next year to implement them.
For England and Wales, Clause 1 provides that no action is to be taken on the Reports submitted by the Commissions before they make their next general Report. But in order that the Commissions may get to work on their next general review as soon as the way ahead is clear—that is, as soon as the new boundaries are determined—the clause 473 also provides for the acceleration of those Reports, and the Secretary of State is required by subsection (3) to lay before Parliament a draft Order in Council for this purpose for any part of the United Kingdom as soon as it appears to him that it would not, by reason of the prospect of local government reorganisation, be premature to do so. Once the Order in Council is made, the Boundary Commission must submit their report within four years. Thus the Bill implements the Boundary Commissions' recommendations in the Greater London area, and makes it possible to implement their recommendations for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It was suggested by the Opposition in another place that if this Bill is approved we might have to wait until 1983 before we have another Report from the Boundary Commissions. That is nonsense. Under subsection (3) the Home Secretary could lay a draft Order under which the Commission would start work as soon as the new local authority boundaries had been established. In this way legislation on the local authority changes and the Boundary Commission could go forward at the same time. My right honourable friend indicated that it could be possible for the Boundaries Commission to issue their first provisional recommendations in 1973. After that the Commission would hear representations from local authorities and others. That, he said, would be his view of the progress of events. He was not giving any undertakings—at this date he could not do so—but The Times suggested on Tuesday that he was doing so. He was not giving any undertakings about the date of completion of local government reform. The authorities which would make representations could be the "shadow" authorities which are likely to be set up on the ground in advance of completion of the reorganisaton to deal with transitional provisions. If that estimate works out to be fulfilled, the delay involved would be a very reasonable price to pay to avoid the very serious double upheaval in the constituencies which would otherwise occur within a few years.
I turn now to Clause 2 and Part I of Schedule 1 which deal with Greater London and which implement in full the recommendations of the Boundary Com- 474 mission for constituencies in Greater London. Local authority boundaries in Greater London were fixed in the London Government Act 1963 and the Redcliffe-Maud Commission did not have to look at London. There is every reasson, therefore, why constituency reorganisation there should go ahead immediately. This accords with the wishes of the Greater London Council which, shortly before this Bill was published, resolved in open Council to press the Home Secretary,for the early introduction of single member constituencies for Greater London …".That the Bill accomplishes.
Your Lordships may well be thinking why, since everything the Government are doing is so eminently fair and reasonable, do we need a Bill? Why not have Orders in Council? The answer is, first, because the law as it stands does not enable the recommendations of a Boundary Commission to be implemented in part; and second, because when dealing with Greater London it is necessary to deal with the parts of seven existing constituencies which straddle the Greater London boundary. The Government have also had in mind the desire of the Greater London Council to have its 1970 elections held on the basis of single-member electoral areas, and subsection (5) clears the way for the designation of each new constituency as a single-member electoral area !: or the G.L.C. elections in April next year. To meet this deadline the Bill must also provide for the parts of the seven constituencies which lie outside London The Government's proposals are set out in Parts II and III of Schedule 1. I would emphasise the fact that the 92 Greater London constituencies are those which the Boundary Commission recommended. We have not altered them.
I come to the third part of the division, I mentioned earlier; namely, existing constituencies with abnormally large electorates. The Government an: concerned about the number of these, and are anxious to go some way towards removing the resulting unfairness of representation, but we have had to balance this natural anxiety against the need to avoid, as far as possible, causing major double upheavals within a few years. Clause 3 of the Bill therefore provides 475 for the Boundary Commission for England to submit as soon as may be a Report containing recommendations for dividing each of the four pairs of adjacent constituencies with over 90, 000 electors into three constituencies, and for dividing the only other constituency with over 100, 000 electors into two constituencies. These constituencies are named in Schedule 2. In carrying out this special exercise, the Boundary Commission will follow their normal procedure. They will publish their provisional recommendations, consider representations, hold local inquiries and, if necessary, publish revised recommendations before submitting their final ones. What they are required to aim at is constituencies with approximately equal electorates. The boundaries of the new constituencies may thus be somewhat artificial, but your Lordships will realise that this artificiality is likely to be of limited duration, because the Commission will carry out their next general review as soon as new local government boundaries have been settled. It is precisely for that reason that we have kept the proposals for the division of large constituencies to a minimum. It is the intention that these recommendations of the Boundary Commission can be dealt with in time for the next General Election.
My Lords, I have briefly outlined the Bill which the Government think will deal in the most sensible way with the present unprecedented local government situation. Instead of two major upheavals—that is to say, local government boundary changes followed by constituency boundary changes—the Government prefer to deal with the matter in the far-sighted manner I have outlined.
According to the pundits, who show an enviable degree of omniscience, the totality of all the proposals by the Boundary Commissions would have benefited the Conservatives by anything from six to 15 seats. As this is incapable of proof, it is incapable of being disputed, and I let it lie. Yet it is this forecast, incapable of proof, which has led Mr. Heath to call the Government "Party political tricksters", and the Bill "a squalid Parliamentary manoeuvre". Powerful stuff, but we have heard it before.
In 1948 the Labour Government were in office and Mr. Attlee was Prime Minis- 476 ter and we had a Representation of the People Bill. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Winston Churchill, said,Every Parliament is entirely free to behave honestly or like a crook".During the Committee stage on that Bill, Mr. Quintin Hogg, then very much a supporter of "one vote, one value", but at that moment speaking in support of the retention of the business vote and separate representation for the City of London, said:We are disturbed about the method of forcing these proposals through at the present time. We believe there has been a breach of faith".We were alleged to be crooks then, because we were said to be forcing things through, and we are alleged to be crooks now when, for very sound reasons, we are not taking action. And my Lords—I hope this will go home to every Member of your Lordships' House—we foresaw this situation in 1966 and tried honourably to provide for it.
Following the setting up of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, the then Lord President of the Council discussed with the Opposition Chief Whip the possibility of suspending the work of the Boundary Commissions because their recommendations would be based on local government boundaries which were likely to be radically altered. On August 8, 1966, the Opposition Chief Whip informed the Lord President that the Shadow Cabinet felt unable to agree that there should be a standstill. I do not think there could be clearer evidence that we have acted in good faith. I would add that it is a matter of historical fact that the result of the 1948 Act, for which we were so much abused (just as we have been now), was that in the 1950 Election, based on that Act, Labour, although polling the remarkable total of 51-6 per cent. of all the votes cast, had a majority of only six seats. A year later the Conservatives, polling 224, 000 fewer votes, got 26 more seats than Labour and won the Election. We were not voted out of office; we were legislated out of office by an Act of Parliament, about which I make no complaint. So much for, "one vote, one value".
There is a built-in bias in our electoral system in favour of rural areas which are mainly represented by Tory Members. This has meant that in 12 out of 14 477 General Elections the Conservatives have gained more seats than were justified by their share of the votes. This is a fact of life which we may regret but have to accept. But we do not say it is due to Tory cheating. Perhaps it is because they have become accustomed throughout the years to benefit considerably from the boundary situation, that leading Conservatives in another place have worked up so much synthetic heat over the Bill. Indeed, the 1954 House which considered the first Boundary Commission Report was a House in which the Conservatives had the largest number of seats although it had fewer votes in the country than the Labour Party. At that time Labour had to poll half a million votes more than the Conservatives before it could start on even terms and it was that Government, elected by a minority of voters, which forced through the 1954 proposals against the determined opposition of the Labour Opposition who were supported by the greater number of electors. It is a sobering thought that no newspapers used the word "gerrymander" then.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will know that virtually every week the Home Office receives proposals from local authorities for the alteration of boundaries of local government electoral areas. Sometimes, as he knows, they are agreed proposals, but as often as not they are disputed. The main political Parties, having regard of course to the interests of the electorate and perhaps their own advantage, put forward conflicting proposals. In such circumstances a Commissioner is appointed to take evidence and report, and eventually bulky files come to Ministers for decision. For the last two years, on the Home Secretary's instructions, I have taken those decisions. Obviously, when two or more are in conflict, you must upset some, perhaps the majority, but never to my knowledge has any of my decisions been questioned or given rise to allegations of partiality, gerrymandering or cheating. In my experience the people in the constituencies just do not believe we are cheats, and I trust that such accusations will not be made in this House.
The other point that I want to deal with is what has been called the constitutional issue. It has been alleged that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has not complied with his 478 obligations under the 1949 Act. The Attorney-General was challenged to deal with these accusations during Second Reading in another place, and he did so. There is no need for me to read all he said, but I will quote his closing words:There is no breach of statutory duty. There has been here a proper exercise of constitutional power by the Home Secretary. What he has done is not in breach of duty." [Official Report, Commons, 2/7/69, col. 509.]Some newspapers have giver your Lordships a lot of advice as to your constitutional duty. I shall not. I would comment, however, on a piece of advice given to you in The Times leader of July 9 which said:The most serious responsibility of a second Chamber is to act as a const tutional watchdog, to prevent the majority Party in the Commons from using its temporary advantage there to change the Constitution for its own partisan purposes. When faced with a challenge of this sort the Lords have a duty to respond.Fine, sonorous words that may make constitutional sense to a logic-chopping leader writer in The Times but as an exposition of democracy it will not stand up. This Government owe their so-called temporary majority in the Commons to the votes of the electors. The permanent Conservative majority in the Lords owes its preponderance to biological accident. Yet The Times suggests that when an elected majority in the Commons makes a decision it is partisan, but if a non-elected majority in the Lords reverses it it is not partisan. No single Member of your Lordships' House could support that proposition. I have searched the 1954 columns of The Times in vain for any suggestion that the Conservatives were then using their temporary and unrepresentative majority for partisan purposes, or that, faced with such a challenge, your Lordships had a constitutional duty to respond. I believe that the majority of people in this country would strongly object to the Conservative Party's using its permanent, overwhelming, but non-elected, majority in the Lords to interfere with the fixing of constituency boundaries in the Commons. I believe that the only Bill this House is entitled under the law, to kill once and for all is one seeking to prolong the life of a Parliament beyond its five-year term; and by no stretch of the most perfervid imagination does this Bill do that.
479 There is only one real issue before us. It is whether the Government were right or wrong in deciding that it was in the public interest to defer some of the recommendations of the Boundary Commisions for England and Wales because of the impending unprecedented reorganisation of local government, and thus avoid two major upheavals within a short time. One can argue for and against, but, having regard to the 1966 conversations to which I referred, one cannot argue that we are acting dishonestly. If we were engaged in gerrymandering we should have made a lot better job of it than 6 to 15 seats; we should have proposed the same solution for Scotland and Northern Ireland and no change in Greater London, where the G.L.C. certainly want it, and where I think it must be done. I submit to your Lordships that on the basis of the facts this Bill stands up, and that I have proved that it is based on an honest decision and the right one. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has explained the provisions of this controversial Bill with his usual clarity and care, though on this occasion not wholly without the use of partisan language. He very rightly at the beginning of his speech stressed the importance of not damaging the public image of Parliament. My concern will be to protect that image from damage.
My only personal claim to speak at so early a stage in our debate is that I happen to be one of the only three Members of your Lordships' House who have served Her Majesty in the high office of Home Secretary. So I know at first hand the scrupulous fairness with which a Home Secretary must deal with all matters concerning elections and the representation of the people. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, spoke about the duties of the Home Secretary, now delegated to him, with regard to local government ward boundaries and the like. I had to take a great many decisions on that, and from the outset I made it an absolute rule that I accepted without modification and without delay the recommendations 480 of the independent Commissioner, however unfavourable his plan might be to my political friends in that local government area.
It was in the year 1944, under the war-time Coalition Government, that Parliament decided, with all-Party agreement, to set up completely independent and impartial Boundary Commissions for the four parts of the United Kingdom. Those Commissions were to recommend any redrawing of the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies that might be necessary to remedy the unfairnesses which movements of population might otherwise create. The Home Secretary of the day has an obligation imposed on him by law to lay proposals before Parliament, as soon as may be, based on, but not necessarily identical with, the Commission's recommendations. That is to say, the law requires him, as soon as may be, to propose to Parliament how unfairnesses can be removed from the electoral system, if not in the Commission's way then in some other way. But the obligation on him to take action to eradicate such unfairness is absolute.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has referred to this matter, I think it right to read out to your Lordships the terms of the Act:As soon as may be after a Boundary Commission have submitted a report to the Secretary of State under this section, he 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.That is the law. I believe that this system of impartial Commissions has thoroughly commended itself to the British public over the years, and that it will be a tragic loss to democracy if it is undermined. The last complete review by the Commissions was carried out in the year 1954. The Home Secretary of the day forthwith fulfilled his statutory duty of laying the reports before Parliament together with draft Orders in Council to implement the recommendations.
The Commissions were required by law to make a further complete review of the constituencies within 15 years—that is, by 1969. This they have done. Naturally after 15 years of industrial and commercial development and population movement they have found a great deal of unfairness and inequality of numbers 481 to rectify; and this is what has compelled the Commissions, and the Commission for England in particular, to recommend, as the noble Lord said, a great many changes, all of them designed to make sure that coming Parliamentary elections will be conducted on as fair a basis as the Commissioners can devise. The Home Secretary of to-day has, however, taken an unprecedented decision. Instead of laying proposals based on the Commission's reports before Parliament as soon as may be, he has introduced this Bill to postpone indefinitely any action on the Commission's proposals for almost the whole of England and Wales outside Greater London. Never before has action on comprehensive reports by these independent Boundary Commissions been postponed. To postpone action upon them is equivalent to declaring that forthcoming elections should be conducted on the out-dated basis of representation which the impartial Commissions have found to be unsatisfactory. If postponement is extended over a coming General Election, it means that the new elected Chamber will be elected on a basis which an indpendent and impartial authority, set up by Parliament to procure fairness, has declared to be unfair.
The case put forward by the Government, as I understand it, is that Parliamentary constituencies should be related to local government boundaries: that a Royal Commission has just recommended far-reaching changes in local government; and therefore that the revision of Parliamentary boundaries should be postponed until after Parliament has come to its decisions on local government re-organisation, whenever that may be. My Lords, there is a large element of uncertainty in this proposal, for nobody can be sure when Parliament will be in a position to reach decisions on the Maud Report. The Government think it will certainly be not in this Parliament but in the next Parliament, assuming the next Parliament runs the normal length. If that is so, the only absolutely certain fact is that the Parliament which is to decide on local government reorganisation will itself have been elected on an unrepresentative basis, with all the unfairness of size between the constituencies which the Boundary Commissions' reports say should be rectified, and which the law says should be rectified without delay.
482 These are the unfairnesses which the Home Secretary by Clause 1 of this Bill is seeking to preserve. To most people it must seem an odd way of doing justice either to the British electoral system or indeed to the Maud Report. The Government's case is that it will be intolerable if Parliamentary constituency boundaries were extensively changed now to comply with the Boundary Commissions' recommendations and then had to be changed again, perhaps five years later, to accord with new local government boundaries. My Lords, that might be a nuisance. I am not sure I should go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has to call it a major inconvenience. But there would be no element whatever of unfairness or injustice in it; it would break no principle of representative democracy; and frankly I do not believe that the great British public would be stirred by it at all. To find oneself voting in one constituency at one election and in another at the next is really not an uncommon experience. But what the Government propose is unfair and unjust and will not fail to be seen as unjust.
The British people have quite a clear idea about the importance and the value of keeping the rules. Their firs: count against the Government in this is that the Government are seeking to set aside rules which have been made by common consent and have stood the test of time, rules to ensure that representation of different parts of the country in the House of Commons is fair and is kept fair.
That is the constitutional issue here, and it is a grave issue. For if independent and impartial bodies charged with keeping the electoral system fair are ignored, what safeguards for the public interest are left? None, except your Lordships' House which, however it may be composed, is specifically armed with the most important constitutional power of all, power under the law to stop a majority in the elected Chamber from changing the law so as to prolong the life of a Parliament.
We should look not only at the great issue of principle, the issue of seeking to override the rules, but also at the detailed practical effects if this Bill becomes law unamended. Most ordinary people would agree that the elected Chamber 483 should be elected on the basis not only of "one man, one vote", but also of each man's vote having approximately equal value, equal value at any rate so far as reasonably practicable. Obviously, constituencies cannot have absolutely equal electorates, but the Act indicates that the electorate of every constituency shall be as near the electoral quota as practicable, having regard to the other rules laid down in the law. We have now had for 25 years this admirable system of impartial Boundary Commissions to recommend how the constituencies and electorates can most reasonably be formed or re-formed.
If the Government have their way, and this Bill goes through unamended, there will be six constituencies at the next General Election containing more than 90, 000 electors and two containing fewer than 20, 000. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, quoted from the Boundary Commission's recommendations for Greater London, seeking to prove that absolute equality was not a necessity, by taking an example which showed that under those recommendations four votes in one constituency in Greater London would be equivalent to seven in another. He seemed to think that that was straining equality a bit and that it was quite a surprising recommendation. But why should a vote in the Exchange Division of Manchester, containing 18, 643 electors, count five times as powerfully as a vote in the Wokingham Division of Berkshire, containing 99, 373? The Government propose no change in either of those constituencies. Do the Government truly believe that in the Election of the next Parliament gross inequalities such as that can be justified?
If the Government really do think this, I would invite their attention, and most particularly the attention of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, to the decisive words of a former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Earl Warren, in a judgment on electoral boundaries in the United States. He said:Representative schemes once fair and equitable become archaic and out-dated. But the basic principle of representative government remains, and must remain, unchanged—the weight of a citizen's vote cannot depend on where he lives.484 That basic principle of representative government this Bill violates.
My Lords, you will each wish to make up your own mind on these issues, and speak and act and vote accordingly. For my part, I think that the Government must be helped to see where their duty lies, and should be afforded time to think out the whole situation coolly, in the light of all the Press and public and Parliamentary comment. This Bill is of such a nature that your Lordships would surely be justified in refusing it a Second Reading. But I would not, myself, vote against the Second Reading, for this reason. In a situation where we all want the Government to be persuaded to put themselves in the right by doing something, it would seem wrong merely to bring everything to a halt and stop them from doing anything. Yet that would be the effect—or at any rate, it would seem to be the effect—of rejecting this Bill on Second Reading without even trying to improve it.
If the Bill is given a Second Reading to-day, Amendments will be tabled for debate in Committee. The main purpose of these Amendments will be to give the Government a breathing space, a breathing space of some eight months in which to reconsider their position: in which to appreciate how public opinion will be scandalised if the next General Election takes places on a constituency basis which is outdated and unfair, and which flouts the Boundary Commission's recommendations. The Amendments will give the Secretary of State up to March 31, 1970, to lay draft Orders in Council implementing the Boundary Commission's recommendations, with or without modifications as the law permits. Provided he does so by that date, the Amendments to this Bill will indemnify him against any breach of his duty under the existing law to lay those draft Orders in Council as soon as may be after receiving the Commission's Reports. In other words, whereas Clause 1 of the Bill now overrides the existing law, the Amendments will preserve the law but will grant the Secretary of State up to the end of March to comply with it.
The date in the Amendments, March 31, is the same date which the Government themselves have inserted in the Bill as the date by which the Secretary of 485 State may lay draft Orders in Council to give effect to the Boundary Commission's recommendations for Scotland and Northern Ireland; so there is good reason for the Amendments to take that same date. It is also, noble Lords will observe, a date before the next Greater London Council elections, so with these Amendments the Government will be in just the same position as under the Bill as it stands, to give effect to redistribution in Greater London. In fact, the change in the practical effects of the Bill which the Amendments will make will be limited to requiring the Secretary of State to lay Orders implementing the impartial recommendations of the Boundary Commissions not later than the end of March. This seems to me entirely in accord with the traditional function of your Lordships' House, that of granting time for further thoughts.
My Lords, I have only one thing more to say. The question may be, and indeed has been, raised whether it is proper for the Upper House to concern itself with matters affecting elections to the Lower House. The first answer to that is that, as I have said, the law specifically empowers this House, the non-elected Chamber, to insist that elections to the elected Chamber must be held at intervals of five years and no longer. But there is a broader and a profounder answer than that, and it is to be found in Dicey, the greatest of all authorities on our constitutional arrangements. Dicey says that in case of a conflict between the two Houses, the point at which the Lords must give way to the Commons isdetermined by anything which conclusively shows that the House of Commons represents on the matter in dispute the deliberate decision of the nation".My Lords, you will each wish to make up your own minds, but I find it hard to detect any evidence that the nation has come to a deliberate decision that the independent and impartial Reports and recommendations of the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales ought to be set aside, as Clause 1 of this Bill would set them aside. For myself, I believe it is likelier to be the general desire of the nation that the rules affecting fair representation in Parliament should be observed, and that if necessary the House of Lords should exert its lawful powers to see that that is done.
§ Lord CITRINE
My Lords, may I ask a question of the noble Lord? The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, refers apparently with authority to Amendments which are not before us at the moment. May I ask him this? Are those Amendments the consequence of consultation on a Party basis, or how are the remainder of Peers not Members of that Party given any opportunity to give any voice on the framing of the Amendments?
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
My Lords, so far as I know, it is the custom of your Lordships' House that those who put down Amendments are responsible for what they put down. It is not necessary to hold universal consultation before tabling an Amendment.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, I hope the Leader of the House will not intervene in the debate at this stage. I should like to say—
§ The Lord PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shackleton)
My Lords, I was going to say how grateful we were to the noble Lords opposite that, even though they had not given these Amendments to the House, they had at least given them to the newspapers.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, this is the first time in my recollection that the Leader of the House has been out of order. But perhaps I had better not pursue the matter; we are getting into a ragged debate, if I may say that to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. But the House has tremendous respect and regard for the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and I should like to thank him for the way in which he has deployed the Government's case. If I say that it is a most unconvincing case, I can only add that I am sorry that he got landed with it, because there is a real sense of outrage in the country at what is taking place at the present time.
As I see it, the impartial Boundary Commission, after four years' effort and an expenditure of £100, 000, has completed its work and put its proposals before Parliament as it has always been asked to do. In the G.L.C. area it looks as though, barring accidents, the new boundaries should marginally help Labour, overall. The rest of the proposals, the rest of the Bill, would perhaps give some 487 advantage to the Government; but by not implementing the Boundary Commission's full proposals, if the pundits are right (and I have some reservations on the pundits) my advice is that an advantage to the Conservatives of something like 6 to 15 or 8 to 20 seats will be avoided. The feeling is that that is what is going to happen. As a matter of fact, the noble Lord's argument was one of the best arguments I have ever heard in favour of proportional representation. We might have got an entirely different result in 1950 if he had had the sense to accept the traditional Liberal proposals. And I am told these Boundary Commission proposals to a lesser extent favour the Liberal Party. I am grateful for that.
But it is not a question of Party advantage which we ought to be debating now; it is a matter of principle. There is a great deal that we have most seriously to consider here, because whatever the motive or the reasons, good or bad, Labour does appear to stand to gain something from the present Bill and might be adversely affected if the Boundary Commission's proposals were accepted in full. As I say, I have no desire for another 20 Tories to be in the House of Commons; I think it would be a terrible thing. But it is not Party advantage; it is a matter of principle, and the acceptance of a recommendation of an independent Boundary Commission.
I did not follow the noble Lord, but I do not think there is much dispute about the legalities of the case. As I understand it, the 1949 Act provides that—the Home Secretary must, as soon as may be, give effect to the Boundary Commission's proposals by laying a draft Order in Council before each House—each House. This is an important point when we come to consider whether we have any responsibility in the matter. That is what it says. And it is quite clear that the Home Secretary has in no case followed this procedure. I should like to ask, if in fact he is not in breach of any statutory duty, why are we asked to give him an indemnity? Why is he seeking dispensation? I do not see that he can have it both ways. As I understand it, he is not amending the 1949 Act; he is asking us to put it into cold storage.
488 What the Government are now saying, standing there in anything but a white sheet—in fact, it is rather more of a see-through dirty grey at the present moment—is, "Here we are; we are acting from the most perfect of motives. Of course we have got to get on with the G.L.C. reorganisation—that is perfectly reasonable. It is a democratic thing to do". It means a few adjustments round the edges, as at Reigate and a few others. All this is sweet reason and common sense. They also say that it is common sense that the unwieldy constituencies should be split, too. We in the Liberal Party happen to have the largest constituency in Cheadle and the smallest in Ladywood. So they have invited the Boundary Commission to have another go at Cheadle, with its electorate of over 100, 000, and they say they want Cheadle dealt with because it is so big; but they want it split differently from what the Boundary Commission have proposed. They want to deal with other abnormally large seats, but only provided there are pairs of neighbouring seats, each with 90, 000 or more.
I think it is a most remarkable coincidence that that definition of the pairs of neighbouring seats conveniently avoids the necessity of altering the division of Huyton, where the Prime Minister's seat is left with over 90, 000. Surely there is a case for altering that. And it is being said—I am sure there cannot be any truth in it—that the fact that the Liberal Party have gained half that constituency in the last few months by taking the Kirby ward is a most odd coincidence indeed. I am sure the motives must be absolutely virtuous. But it is an odd thing to happen.
Then we are told that the overriding reason given for not accepting the Boundary Commission's full proposals is Maud—cursed Maud! I believe it is going to be a long time before we ever get Maud into the garden. She is going to be a grandmother by that time. If we manage to get her there by the end of 1973, I think that will be a miracle. With all the consultations that are to go on we shall then be told that we must await the Constitutional Commission's findings; and even if we are not told that, the Boundary Commission will take something like four years. Even if you 489 take 1973 as the date, and that is stretching it, you have got to 1977. An intervening period of 18 years will have gone by, and that is a long time to leave constituency boundaries as they are.
Incidentally, it raises the question, which ought to be aired at some date, why we need to keep to local government boundaries when drawing up new Parliamentary constituencies. It is because we are slavishly keeping to these boundaries that we are getting into situations where we have constituencies of 42, 000 and other constituencies of 70, 000-plus. If we are going to get this thing put right, there is a strong case for accepting the whole of the present Boundary Commission's proposals, then bring in the local government boundaries, and about five years after that get the Boundary Commission once again to look at the Parliamentary constituencies in the light of the experience after implementing Maud. Incidentally, we have not been told by the Government whether they have accepted the whole of Maud. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, can tell us that, because if they have not there is going to be quite a lot of negotiation to be done.
I believe that the Government's case is even weaker than it might appear to be at first sight, when one looks at the initial Report of the Boundary Commission for England which was made in October, 1947. In this they referred specifically to the whole question of local government boundaries. In paragraph 17 they said:With these exceptions our recommendations are related to existing local government areas. We have from the outset been conscious that substantial changes in local government areas may be expected to take place within the next few years as a result of the review now being carried out by the Local Government Boundary Commission, and that our recommendations, if accepted, may require considerable revision at an early date. It was, however, our duty to proceed with the formulation of provisional recommendations on the basis of local government areas as they now exist.I think they were right.
They later said:The solution of the problem of dividing Parliamentary boroughs was in some cases rendered more difficult by the disparity between the electorates of the various wards. It would ease the future labours of the Commission if, when local authorities re-distribute their wards, they would give some weight to 490 the possibility of grouping them into Parliamentary constituencies.That is why I ask, why all this magic of having to wait to implement Maud? Why not accept the Boundary Commission's proposals?
In the meantime, we are faced with this difficult problem of the determination of the Government to be selective; and in making their selection it is quite clear—and it is certainly thought so by the public—that it could well be to their advantage in a close-run election to fight it on the proposals in this Bill and not on the full proposals of the Boundary Commission.
I am the last one to want a clash with the Commons or indeed a clash of this sort with the Government. I think we ought certainly to work in harmony with another place. But if we in this House feel that damage is going to be done to the fabric of democracy, this is the House which has to take action; and I think the real argument is that this is the only Chamber which has the power to prevent Government, of whatever complexion, from yielding, or being thought to yield, to the temptation—perhaps not to gerrymander, perhaps not to fiddle, bit, at any rate, to flout the normal political conventions. This is the danger, and once we allow that to happen it is a slippery slope.
I received a letter from a fairly good authority on this matter to-day in which he said to me:In the Commons Second Reading debate, reference was made to 'the sovereignty of Parliament'"—This is the point that was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—as a justification of changing the procedures for revision; and on Monday Michael Foot, in the Committee stage, said that it was up to the Commons to decide what it wanted to do about its own boundaries."—This is the argument that it is nothing to do with this House. The writer of the letter went on to say that we ought toquery this interpretation of the British Constitution. The sovereignty of Parliament is, effectively, the sovereignty of the majority Party in the Commons—unless a free vote is given on questions of major importance, which did not of course happen in this case. If therefore the maintenance of our constitutional practices depends on the majority of the House of Commons, without any other protection, it depends ultimately on the willingness of that majority to observe the conventions of the 491 'Constitution', and to deny themselves opportunities to change the rules of political competition in their favour.If we allow this sort of thing to happen, we are going to have to embark on a Written Constitution; we are going to have to embark on entrenched clauses; we are going to have to have something like a Bill of Rights. I should prefer to stick to the conventions, if we can. I am concerned not only that a constitutional outrage should not be committed, but that fair dealing between the Parties in politics should be preserved. Too many people to-day express the view that "politics is a dirty business "; and we ought not to provide them with ammunition for this argument. I say that the standards of fair dealing are not being preserved.
I had quite a lot to do with the Boundary Commission problems in the 1945-1950 Parliament when I was the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party in the other place. I remember it was then discovered that the Boundary Commission were interpreting their terms of reference so strictly that it would, in fact, have caused the destruction of a number of country constituencies because of the phrase which was in their terms of reference, "not substantially more or less than" a certain number of seats. The Labour Government of that day needed no persuasion at all that this was an all-Party matter, and they convened, under Mr. Chuter-Ede (I think it was: it may have been Mr. Herbert Morrison) an all-Party meeting. I think the present Lord Avon (then of course Mr. Anthony Eden) was there for the Conservatives, and I was there for the Liberals. We had an all-Party meeting with the Boundary Commissioners, out of which we got an all-Party agreement. We cleared up the matter, and at no time was there any suggestion that any one Party was trying to get any Party advantage out of the set-up. We regarded the Boundary Commission as an independent tribunal doing a very difficult job, and trying to get a fair result.
Therefore, the advice which I have given to my noble friends is that we in this House must make a protest; and we must, if possible, make an effective one. I do not like this House to reject anything on Second Reading. I regard it as a very 492 fine revising Chamber, and I believe that whenever possible we should take Bills to the Committee stage. For this reason I would strongly recommend that we do give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon. But I should then like to see it amended. I should like to see it amended to include the Commission's proposals in full; and if this is not to be accepted I shall invite the House on Committee to include in the Bill a new clause saying that the operation of this measure shall be delayed for 60 Parliamentary days and six calendar months from July 15—which was the date on which the Bill came to this House. This is the exact period of delay, neither more nor less, which it was agreed by this House was perfectly reasonable and justifiable when we had the all-Party conferences on House of Lords Reform. We were told then that if we ever exercised this delay we should never be criticised. I feel that this is the only protest available to us, short of rejecting the Bill on Third Reading and bringing to bear the full thirteen months' delay of the Parliament Act.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Since we are getting this useful information about Amendments, would it be his intention that the delay, in accordance with the proposals of reform of the House of Lords, would operate for the 60 days and six months, and that thereafter this Bill would pass into law?
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, that is quite correct. The reason I am doing this, as I have tried to explain to the House, is that I feel that a constitutional protest must be made in a form which will be understood.
The Government, therefore, have the choice of giving effect to the full Boundary Commission proposals—in which case there will be no dispute on my side of the House—or risking a thirteen months' delay, or having the Act come into operation after 60 Parliamentary days and six calendar months. That will be inconvenient, but it will at least be a democratic Parliamentary protest, because I believe that if we allow any Government, of any complexion, to feel that they can do things for Party advantage, then this is the slippery slope and this House will not be doing what it should be doing.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord ROBERTSON of OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I am a Cross-Bencher—I think many of your Lordships know that anyway; you can see it from where I sit. Some very rude things were said about us Cross-Benchers during the debate on the late and much-lamented House of Lords Reform Bill. They called us "a bunch of don't knows", and it is largely for that reason that I have decided to speak for a very few minutes this afternoon. I have nothing very clever to say, but I feel fairly confident that by the time I have finished nobody will be able to say of me, at all events, that I do not know where I stand as regards this Bill.
In my view the Government ought not to have done it. In my view the Government have done something that is not worthy of them and not worthy of the Labour Party. This is not the Republic of Boriobulugah; this is Great Britain. This is Great Britain, a country of which we are very proud. We are also very proud of our democratic system, and we are particularly proud of the integrity of our political institutions. In this House occasionally, and in another place perhaps rather more often, epithets are thrown across the Floor of the House. Sometimes, Members even accuse each other of lacking in integrity; but they do not mean it seriously—not personally, at all events. I am throwing no epithets at the Government this afternoon—none. But this I do say: they ought not to have done it, and in doing it they are endangering the image of our Parliament, of which we are so proud.
The recommendations of the Boundary Commission are not of themselves law—that is well understood. For many years, however, it has been recognised that the findings of these Boundary Commissions should be accepted by the political Parties, and should be given the form of law; and that without undue delay. I do not say that they must become law tomorrow, but they should do without undue delay. But this Bill makes the date of their enforcement completely vague. I read very carefully what the Home Secretary said in another place, and it seemed to me that not only did he leave the date of its enforcement completely vague but that that vagueness was deliberate.
494 I repeat: I am a Cross-Bencher, and I do not consider that I am a very important person; and I do not like getting mixed up in an inter-Party political dogfight—I am well aware that if you do you are very liable to get bitten by both sides. The effect of this Bill on the relative strength of the Parties in the coming General Election is something about which I know nothing; and, between ourselves, I do not very much care, either. My personal opinion is that its effect would not be nearly so great as some people think it would be. That is not what gives me concern. What gives me concern is that, as I see it, this Bill breaks the rules. The rules are not written down explicity; we do not have a Written Constitution. But we do have rules; and this Bill, it seems to me, is a breach of the rules. As it is drafted at present—
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I think that if he is making these statements he really should justify them in relation to the legislation. This is only the second major, comprehensive review carried out by the Boundary Commission and there is in fact provision in the Acts of Parliament not to carry out the rules. I think he must justify his assertions.
§ Lord ROBERTSON of OAKRIDGE
My Lords, the noble Lord is asking me to do something which is difficult—not because I do not know the reason but because it involves my speaking of legal matters, in which I am not an expert. But I understand the law to say that the recommendations of the Boundary Commission must be laid before Parliament within a reasonable period. What is "a reasonable period"? That is a different matter; I have no definition for that, I am afraid. But it is certainly not an indefinite period; that I am quite clear about. This is an indefinite period, and that, I consider, is wrong.
I am not suggesting that the Government have any intention to defer the implementation of this Bill indefinitely. I did not say that. But I am saying that as the Bill is drafted it allows that, and in my view it puts us exactly where the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said it did—it puts us on a slippery slope; and it would 495 be all too easy for some future Government to quote the proceedings that are taking place now and to say, "In future, we will play the game according to our own rules". Incidentally, speaking for myself only, I do not like the way in which members of both political Parties have attempted to pressurise this House as to what it should or should not do about this Bill. Some time ago the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition said,, "What the House of Lords will do about the Bill is for their Lordships to decide". That struck me as a perfectly proper remark. But since then some of his colleagues have been far more explicit as to what they think we should do about this Bill, and at least one of them has told us what he considers it to be our duty to do.
As to the Government, the Government have left us in no doubt at all as to what we ought to do about this Bill. They have also made it quite plain what they will do to us if we do not obey their orders. My reaction to that is to say that I will do exactly what I think to be right. If there were to be a vote on the Second Reading of this Bill, I would walk into the Lobby against the Government on it; and, as to the consequences—be damned to them!
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, what I have to say to your Lordships this afternoon will be very brief, for I know there are many others who wish to speak, and I can in any case express only a personal view. Moreover, the issue with which your Lordships are faced, as I see it, though it is in some respects an embarrassing one—for it lends itself to misrepresentation on both sides—is in essence both simple and straightforward—and nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said has altered my view on that.
As my noble friend Lord Brooke said just now, in this country we have evolved over a period of time a system for readjusting the boundaries of constituencies to take account of the movements of population, which has been devised for the especial purpose of keeping this essential function of democracy outside and above politics. This system, as we all know, consists of Boundary Commissions—entirely non- 496 political bodies which sit, I think, every ten years—and it is laid down specifically, in order to ensure that their recommendations are in fact as well as in name completely uninfluenced by Party politics, that the Government of the day should bring these recommendations into force, whatever the political situation may be, "as soon as may be"—to quote the words of the Act.
This system, I think it is universally agreed, has worked extremely well, and it has, so far as I know, never been questioned. It has undoubtedly given an immense stability to our institutions. Now we are faced with a Bill which, for the first time, appears calculated to upset that stability; for if I understand it aright, it gives power to the Home Secretary, whoever that Home Secretary may be, to use his discretion as to the moment at which recommendations of the Commission should be given effect. That, my Lords, whatever the underlying reason for the Government's action—and I am not going into that—must inevitably, as I see it, bring Party considerations again into the very centre of the picture and destroy the healthy detachment in which the Commissions have previously done their work.
We have been told to-day that this unprecedented step has been made necessary by the publication of the Redcliffe-Maud Report, which is capable, so it is said (I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said it), of altering, at no distant date, the whole situation on which the present recommendations of the Commission have been based. But as has already been pointed out—but I think cannot be said too often—it is bound to take a considerable time, in the most favourable circumstances, to bring the proposals of the Redcliffe-Maud Report into effect. Moreover—and to me this is the essence of the matter—this is not what the law says. The wording is not that the recommendations should be brought into effect "when this or that or t'other has happened". It is quite simply "as soon as may be"; and that, in present circumstances, means immediately, without delay. I do not believe there is any other possible reading of those words.
Then there is the argument that, whatever may be the correct interpretation of the law, one thing is at any rate certain: it is not a matter for your Lordships' 497 House; it is purely a matter for the House of Commons. I hope that none of your Lordships will allow yourself to be influenced by that most specious argument. It suggests that the House of Lords and the House of Commons are two quite independent entities, having no direct inter-relationship with each other. But the truth is in fact, as I believe I have often said to your Lordships—and many others have said it—that there are, in the British Constitution, three main elements; the House of Commons, which is the elected Chamber; the House of Lords, which is the second or revising Chamber; and the electorate, of which the other two are merely, when all is said and done, emanations.
The main function of a second Chamber, perhaps the most important reason for its very existence, is to come forward and protect the interests of the electorate when, as sometimes—if not very often—happens, they are threatened by some action by a majority of the elected Chamber—which is, after all, as has already been said this afternoon, only a temporary majority, and, indeed, at the moment when the action is taken, may not even represent the majority of the British people—which, in the view of the Second Chamber, is calculated to impair the interests of the country as a whole. Nor, I believe, is this improper behaviour on the part of the Second Chamber. For if the elected Chamber—that is, the House of Commons—feels that it is aggrieved by what it may regard as the imposition of a brake by the other Chamber, it always has its remedy. It can return to the electorate which brought it into being and which must be the final arbiter in disputes between the two Houses.
In order to bowl me out in his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, quoted some words of mine spoken—I hate to think how many years ago—when I was leading your Lordships' House. He was good enough to give me notice that he was going to do this. I was afraid that I might have to say, like Sir Winston Churchill once did in a situation of an embarrassing character, "I suppose I shall have to eat my words—but, after all, I have often had to do this, and I have always found them a very wholesome diet". But, fortunately, I do not feel to-day the need to do any such thing. No doubt, the membership of the 498 House of Commons is of more immediate interest to that House than it is to us, We are all agreed about that. But that does not mean that when there is a question of the introduction of legislation in direct contradiction to the existing Constitution, the Second Chamber should regard that as entirely outside its sphere. For it affects not only the House of Commons but the third element, too, the British people, the electorate, of which, as I have said, the two Houses of Parliament are only themselves emanations. Now, in saying what I have to-day, have I made any very novel, revolutionary or indeed reactionary statement? I am only repeating what has already been said again and again by many of the most eminent Constitutional thinkers and writers that this country has produced.
§ Lord STONHAM
My Lords, the noble Marquess said that he was only repeating what has been said again and again by so many, but that does not make it true. He said just now and earlier that we are breaking the Constitution, that we are breaking the rules. I wonder whether he has ever read the rules of the Boundary Commission. I am not conscious that we have broken any one of them. I should be glad to hear which rules we have broken.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not want to contradict the noble Lord; but I still prefer the views of those many constitutional thinkers to those of the present Government. I do not say this in any Party sense; but I think they are more worthy of attention than the present holders of office.
§ A Noble Lord: What rules?
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
I am perfectly entitled to say that. The fact that some noble Lords, at any rate on this side of the House principally, derive their title to sit in this House by the accident of heredity does not seem to me, in this particular case, to have any relevance at all. When I look at the faces of noble Lords opposite, for whom I have the highest respect, I cannot believe that they are better qualified to judge on this particular issue, intellectually or morally, than we are on this side. This is not one of those issues where our own rights and privileges might conceivably be affected.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Marquess? There is one striking difference between this side and that side: there is always a permanent majority on that side.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House is perfectly entitled to make any point he likes when he makes his speech; but not now.
§ Several Noble Lords: Why not?
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I shall listen with interest to what he says at the end.
I was saying that this is not one of those issues where our own rights and privileges might be affected and where it might be suggested that we could be regarded as having some bias. This is just a plain simple question. Is it either right or wise to alter the Constitution in the manner proposed in this Bill to meet a temporary situation, with all the dangerous precedents that that might create, or is it not? Even an hereditary Peer can have a view about that.
I hope that your Lordships have noted that I have not at any time in this speech, in what I have said, concerned myself with the motives of the Government in introducing this Bill. I do not think it necessary to do so; I do not think it desirable to do so. It would be all too easy to reduce this debate to a mere slanging match, with each side slinging as much mud as they can at the other. But that would get us nowhere. If I have come down, as I have, against this Bill it is because I think it is a bad Bill and a dangerous Bill and that it might even create a precedent that might justify some Government in the future postponing a General Election.
It is for that reason, whatever horrific threats may be levelled against us—and I must say that they have not yet been in this debate—I should personally much have preferred, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to throw it out without more ado on the Second Reading, and so establish the principle of which, to me at any rate, this Bill constitutes so serious a breach. But I fully realise that there may be noble Lords, perhaps many noble Lords, both in my own Party and other Parties or on the Cross Benches, who, while disliking this Bill just as much as I do, would think it preferable to adopt 500 a rather less crude method for encompassing its destruction and who would think it right to give the Government some breathing space—I think it was the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke—so as to give them at any rate the opportunity to have second thoughts and alter their present views.
So long as it is understood that it still remains our unalterable purpose to prevent this Bill from passing into law, I do not personally care very much what method is used for that purpose. Moreover, speaking quite frankly, it is clearly better to adopt a course which rallies as many opponents of the Bill as possible into one single camp. If, therefore, the proposal which I understand is put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is generally regarded as preferable to flat rejection. I shall certainly not myself oppose it, so long as it is clear that our opposition to the whole principle of the Bill remains unaltered and that that position is not changed by any step we take now. I hope we may get assurances of this from the Leader of the Opposition in his final speech this evening.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, a number of sharp things have been said about this Bill and the Government, although no-one could object to the tone of the discussion. I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, when he comes to reply, will dispose of those criticisms very effectively. I myself am not one of the greatest enthusiasts for the Bill, as I shall explain as I proceed, and in that sense I am rather sorry that it has fallen to my lot, although it is a great honour, to speak so early. But, even at this stage, and before I offer a few general observations, I must comment on two developments in the debate till now.
In the first place, it was noticeable that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who is one of the most dispassionate Members of your Lordships' House, delivered his statement with absolute conviction that the Government were breaking the rules. When challenged, he was obviously surprised that anybody could wonder whether what he was saying were true. If I may say so, about someone whom I respect as much as anyone, he became flustered. I never expected to see the noble Lord flustered. 501 I remember that when he took charge of affairs in Berlin he was the coolest man in a very hot situation; it was due to him more than to any other that Berlin survived. Today, under that one simple question: "How are the Government breaking the rules?" He was taken aback and began saying something about not being a legal expert.
When the noble Marquess, again with the same absolute conviction, announced that the Government were breaking the rules, and that that was the sort of thing that any decent person would be well aware of, he too was asked: how were the Government breaking the rules? He referred to certain people outside—I do not quite know who these great gentlemen are. Dicey was mentioned earlier—though some people seem to forget that he has been gone these many years. At any rate, the noble Marquess referred to some unspecified experts whose words could not even be quoted on this occasion. So I must say at this stage that there is a certain innocence, shall we say?—I will not call it "holy innocence"; that would be going too far—about noble Lords who criticise this Bill. It is clear to me—I am not a great enthusiast for the Bill, but it is a very obvious point to me—that they have not done their homework. It is an obvious point that will strike every fairly dispassionate observer.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is saying that there is no political convention that the Parties should accept the findings of an independent Boundary Commission?
§ Several Noble Lords: Answer!
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, I am coming along to that. I am not so easily put off my stroke; I have been here for too many years. I was dealing, as I am entitled to, with two of the main critics of the Government, and I said that they were made to look—well, I will not say they were, but there were one or two Members of the House who were made to look pathetically small in face of the criticism brought against them.
§ Lord TANGLEY
My Lords, as a fellow Cross-Bencher of the much criticised Lord Robertson of Oakridge, may I ask the noble Earl this question? If nobody has broken the rules, why does anybody need an indemnity?
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
The noble Lord is clearly very well satisfied with his intervention; but may I say to him that the reason why it has been necessary to take these steps has been made perfectly clear, and in the changed circumstances an indemnity was required. That is not the same thing as saying that rules were broken, with the implication that something improper has been done. But perhaps I may get on with what I was proposing to say. I had not intended to speak for very long, but I may take longer than I thought. But for someone who is not an enthusiast for the Bill I have managed to stir up a great deal of antagonism among its opponents.
There is one other point that occurs to me. Shortly before I came to your Lordships' Chamber I was handed a letter which seems to me to express the point of view of the critics of the Bill, and an argument that has been put in various forms this afternoon—and I have no doubt that we shall hear more of it; that is, that the House of Lords ought to be a sort of watchdog or safeguard. The word "referee" has not been used this afternoon, but it occurs in this letter to which I have referred. Noble Lords may or may not have noticed that I wrote a a letter to The Times. It was a very meek and mild letter, but it drew this comment from an unknown gentleman. He said:Your letter published in to-day's Times suggests a new rule for football. If the referee awards a penalty for foul play, shoot him.Noble Lords do not quite know whether to cheer that, because that is what a lot of them in fact think: that the House of Lords is a referee. But if we pause to think for a moment we must surely see 503 that this unrepresentative Chamber, dominated by one political Party, is ludicrously unfitted to act as a referee on issues involving the rival interest of the two Parties. It stands to reason on the face of it. There is nothing that would fluster me here if I went on repeating that. It is quite absurd to suggest that the House of Lords could be impartial between the political Parties.
My Lords, may I now come on to my more general remarks? This is for me a depressing occasion, and not at all exhilarating. At least, those were the words I drafted; in fact it became more exhilarating When we got under way. But at any rate I came here in a mood of depression, for this obvious reason: that some weeks ago we held a debate in this Chamber about morality and Government; and I took a very high line—some would say a sententious line—and argued for higher standards all round on the part of Governments. I claimed that the reason why politicians were so much distrusted at the present time was that each Party pursued its own interests with such frenzy; and that until we moderated that frenzy public men in general would not command the confidence of the country which they required if fine leadership was to be given. Now here we are, within a few weeks of that involved in a painful situation.
This House, fortunately, is a very good-tempered House, but there is no doubt that if we take this discussion seriously, as we must, the Government of the day are being assailed by very severe Charges which I am sure are believed in. May I pay tribute to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, for not attacking the integrity of the Government.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
I think that tribute is due to the noble Marquess. May I say, as I have said so often, that no one who has been in this House for any length of time is unaware that this House owes more to the noble Marquess than to anyone else now living: that is simple history. The noble Marquess was very careful not to attack the integrity of the Government, but the integrity of the Government has been violently attacked by the colleagues of noble Lords oppo- 504 site; and therefore I think that we are inevitably, in a situation where charge breeds counter-charge and suspicion breeds rival suspicion. This, I am afraid, is apt to happen in disputes about boundaries and redistribution.
The most recent case in the memory of some of us has not, I think, been dealt with in this House to-day. I refer to the debate over the destruction of the old L.C.C. and the emergence or establishment of the Greater London Council. We on the Labour side of the House denounced that as an iniquitous procedure, and we still believe that it was. That was resented by noble Lords opposite, just as we, as I am sure they understand, resent their charges. The general public, taking all this together, regards the whole history of this kind of argument, since the war or before it, as "six of one and half a dozen of the other"; and I do not think that in a matter of this kind the general public is far wrong. But let me come on to the role of the present Government.
My Lords, I may be thought to have a slight bias in favour of the present Government. Noble Lords will perhaps believe me if I say that my adulation stops this side of idolatry; so I do not think that I should be thought to be a slavish admirer of the Government of the day. Nevertheless, I have a bias in their favour, therefore my testimony may not be taken quite so seriously as it might be. But I would venture to say this about the Government from my intimate knowledge—and if any noble Lord does not agree with me he is entitled to his opinion. I do not suppose that many noble Lords outside the Government of the day know the gentlemen who make up the Administration as well as I do: and I know a few things about them. I know that they are honest; I know that they are intelligent, and I know that they are too prudent to introduce a proposal that is totally indefensible.
When I talk of indefensible arrangements I do not have to look very far to notice indefensible arrangements. In Northern Ireland there is indefensible gerrymandering. That word has not I am glad to think been applied to-day to the operations of the Government. But if we want something indefensible; if we want real gerrymandering it is now common agreement that it has existed in 505 Northern Ireland for many years and, was condoned—and, so far as I know, no great effort was made to interfere with it—by the Conservatives during their years of rule. Our Government, the Labour Government, have taken the initiative in persuading the Government of Northern Ireland, to whom I give proper credit at the moment, to try to bring that situation to an end. But if we want to talk about something indefensible let us look at what has gone on, and what is going on, in Northern Ireland.
It seems to me that the real difficulty here (I am occupying a position in the Chamber at the moment as though I were a Cross-Bencher, so perhaps they will accept me for the present as almost one of their own) is not just a question of a Government deciding either to choose a defensible plan or an indefensible plan. The truth is that any proposal brought forward by the kind of Government we are likely to see in this country is defensible. The real difficulty is that, out of a number of plausible, or defensible, possibilities, the Government of the day, whatever their complexion—any Government and going back in history just as far as you like—left to themselves tend to choose the one that suits their own interests.
That is a painful view of history, but in my opinion it can be sustained by any student who chooses to look at the facts dispassionately. I know that that is what I would say on this occasion. This Government are doing much the same sort of thing as the Tories have always done and believe to be absolutely right, which throws them open to a lot of criticism. That is my view. I am sorry, as a citizen and as a member of the Labour Party, because we claim to stand for higher standards, and it is depressing if we have persuaded ourselves that it is all right because the Tories have always done the same. Be that as it may, that is how I see the present developments.
May I make one plea to the Government and to all the Leaders of the political Parties? If we look ahead, have we not arrived at a position where it ought to be possible to reach a large measure of agreement between politicians, who, after all, in their own different ways want the same thing—the good of the country? May I ask my noble friend the Leader 506 of the House (though I have not given him notice of the question) whether he could even consider the idea of a Government initiative, as soon as all this horrible storm blows over, in the direction of trying to find some new and combined machinery of consideration which will avert this sort of discreditable nonsense in future? That is how I see the matter. I beg the Government, in all humility, to consider the possibility of new machinery to avert this ever happening again.
Meanwhile, we have this Bill. It seems unlikely to-day that we shall be asked to vote on the Second Reading. If we were to be asked to vote, I should vote with the Government, because I am satisfied that it would be totally wrong for this House to throw out a Bill of this kind. The position is made more complex for me, if I may detain your Lordships with my own problem, because we are told that there will not be a vote on the Second Reading and that all that the House will be asked to do is to give time. It is very difficult to say this without annoying somebody (and this time it will not be the Government, I mink), but the noble Marquess has demanded that if an Amendment is carried it should not in any way diminish the unalterable purpose of this House to destroy this Bill. In view of what has been said elsewhere, I think that unless we are given some very clear indication to the contrary, we must conclude that if any substantial Amendment is carried—and that means if any Amendment is carried—it will be part of the process of wrecking the Bill. I can only say, in view of the situation of this House, and in view of the duties and rights of this House, and the part it has played and may play in future, that that would be a tragic outcome. Certainly I shall support this Bill, not in any passionate excitement, but after plenty of thought and with a clear conscience, through all its stages, now and later.
§ 5.4 p.m.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Longford, but it is quite an unaccustomed privilege for me, which I would do anything to dispense with, to talk as early as this in a debate when one has put one's name down comparatively lately. I shall be 507 extremely brief and confine myself to two points. Perhaps it would sound pompous to say that I rise to support every word of what my noble friend Lord Byers, the Leader of the Liberal Party, has said; but I do support him. I entirely agree with what he said. I think it is a good thing that at least one member of the Back Benches of this Party should attempt to make what seems to me all too often to be an important point in debate with reference to what is called the "built-in majority" on this side of the House. The noble Lord the Leader of the House went a little further and said it was a permanent majority on this side. He has a crystal ball which allows him to look into the future further than I can. All I can say is that, sitting from choice and not from accident of birth on these Benches, on the back row of a Party which has only three rows, I do not think that I can be accused of being a built-in part of that majority.
My excuse for speaking is that there is something which is built in here, but from the accounts of my speeches in Hansard does not always work—a microphone leading to hearing aids. I have always assumed that the task of all Members of the House, particularly of those who like myself have no conceivable qualification for being here except the accident of birth—an accident which qualifies others to sit on a jury or vote for Members of another place—was to listen to, and to understand as much as we could of, the arguments put before the House and decide whether to vote or to abstain according to that. In arriving at that decision which side the majority is on has always seemed to me unimportant.
I should like to give two examples to show that I am living up to this principle, whether right or wrong. I will not follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in discussing whether the rules are being changed, but there have been many occasions when it seemed to me the rules were being changed, many of which have occurred more in another place than here. There was the example of the Abortion Bill, a Private Member's Bill, on which the rules were changed fairly frequently, in the amount of time being given to a Bill on which the Government were quite neutral. I did not vote against it 508 for that reason. I voted against it, in a minority, because I thought it was a bad Bill.
On another, earlier occasion, I remember listening to and being convinced, by a noble friend on these Benches of great legal experience, in the matter of the Burmah Oil award damage, when retrospective legislation changing the rules was introduced. It was pointed out from these Benches that this was a dangerous precedent. The noble and learned Lord who spoke from these Benches said that in his opinion it drove a coach and horses through the rules for dealing with the proceedings of private persons against the Crown. I would have called it a nuclear rocket, because it started slowly and will develop at alarming speed. It seemed to imply that it was now legal for a private person to sue the Government; with the proviso that, if the Government won, the private person would have to pay, but if the Crown lost the decision in the case could be reversed. This occurred, a long time ago, but both were cases where it seemed to me that the rules had been changed.
On the one occasion, I went with only members of this Party into the Lobby to oppose a measure, for allowing it to go through without further protest, on the other occasion I went into the Lobby without this Party—though not without its permission. I propose to take exactly the same line on this occasion. I will listen to all the arguments, but the argument that will carry no force with me is that I have no right to vote because I am part of a permanent built-in majority. As a minority, I do not think that that applies to me.
The other point I want to make refers to preserving the image of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who does more to preserve the image than anybody else, in spite of some of the briefs he is given, is rightly concerned with preserving the image of Parliament, the image of this House, and the image of the Government which he represents. Sometimes it is less a question of preserving its image than of saving its face. It is difficult to save a face at certain times, and one of these is when there is not much face left to save, short of a complete face transplant. I do not want 509 to be persona], but I think the Government lost a certain amount of face when they lost one of its most attractive features, the noble Earl, Lord Longford.
If we are going to try to preserve the face and the image of Parliament, I am certain that what almost every noble Lord has said to-day in this debate is true: that the worst way to do it is to give the impression that we are not prepared to speak our minds because we are afraid of what will be done to us. I am quite certain that the worst way after that is to think too much about face and not enough about what is vulgarly called "guts". I know even less about boxing than I do about politics and as a small boy I could not understand the Queens-berry Rules because I thought nothing was more painful than to be hit in the face. Having learned a little more about the facts of life I realise there are other more painful places to be hit. Now I realise that these rules must be obeyed. I am not for a moment going into whether they are or not; but I think a good case is being made out for suggesting that they are not.
I do not like quoting poetry in this House, but the noble Lord, Lord Byers, did mention Maud, and added that she was not yet in the garden. I remember a few verses from the same poem, from which I can quote only one:Birds in the high Hall-garden"——and I intend no discourteous reference to your Lordships' Chamber and certainly not to the noble Lords opposite—When twilight was falling,Maud, Maud, Maud, Maud,They were crying and calling.I shall listen to what is said about this. I believe that is the duty of every Back-Bencher and Front-Bencher of this House. I will say no more.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Baroness SHARP
My Lords, I want to make only a short intervention. I do not want to become mixed up in either political or constitutional wrangles. I want to talk about the realities of the timetable on the reorganisation of local government. I was, as some of you may know, a member of the Royal Commission. Perhaps even more to the point, I have been concerned for, it seems to me, the best part of twenty years, when I was in the Ministry of Housing and Local 510 Government, in struggling for the reorganisation of local government. I therefore, in both of those capacities, very much welcome the Prime Minister's statement that the Government believe that a radical reorganisation of local government is necessary, and I also very much welcome the desire of the Government to get ahead very quickly with this.
I am sure that the prolonged delay which local authorities have now suffered for a long time and the uncertainty about their future is a bad thing for local government. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that I believe the Government are being very optimistic about the possibilities of the timetable. In the first place, I think they are rushing consultations with local authorities and representatives of local authorities in a way that is both unfair and, if I may say so, very ill-advised. I have great sympathy with the representations which have been made by the County Councils Association that it is unreasonable to ask them to give their considered opinion on the proposals in the Royal Commission Report by the end of October. It is not only unreasonable; it is also unwise.
What the Royal Commission, have proposed, indeed what is in the air whether the ultimate proposals follow the Royal Commission's Report exactly or not, is an enormous upheaval of local government; the disappearance effectively of hundreds of local authorities, a complete recasting of the whole structure. As I go round the country—and I have done a lot of this recently—talking to representatives of local authorities I find, very naturally, that they are not only shocked; they are "agin it". When they came before the Commission most local government representatives agreed that radical reorganisation was necessary; but faced with this holocaust they are naturally very disturbed. I believe, however, that with time, with patience, with discussion, with giving them a chance to dink it out and, above all, to face what the alternative for local government is if they do not accept radical reorganisation, the Government could get a large measure of assent to proposals for radical reorganisation. But not, I think, if it is too rushed. That is the first point.
The second, which is tied up with it, is that I think, from all the experience I had in the Ministry, and from what I 511 know from my years on the Royal Commission of what is entailed in a colossal upheaval of local government right across England (with the exception of Greater London), it will need all of three years first to reach the decisions and then to draft the necessary legislation. That is an absolute minimum, and indeed I am not sure whether it can be done, or done well, even in that time. But I put that as a minimum. That would mean, even if there were no election intervening, that no Bill could be introduced before 1972, and I think that is a pretty optimistic date. Certainly I should be very glad if it could be done by then, but I think the more realistic date is probably 1973, particularly if one remembers that there will be an election and that this may cause some interruption, some reconsideration of proposals, and so forth. So it does not seem to me that there is any possibility of seeing new local authorities in being before, at the earliest, 1974 and more likely 1975.
I think the noble Earl, Lord Longford, suggested that action could start the moment the decisions were reached; that means, of course, once Parliament has passed the Act. It is no good a Boundary Commission setting to work on what the Government propose because, as we all know, there is no Bill that Parliament can knock about more than a Bill for reorganising local government boundaries and functions. So the Boundary Commission cannot start until the Bill is through. I think, however, that the noble Lord suggested that it would be possible for the Boundary Commission to be working and perhaps having some discussions with local authorities. I am not sure about the procedures of Parliamentary Boundary Commissions perhaps to make use of local government officers at the very moment that reorganisation is struggling to its feet, when there will be two local authorities, the old ones dying, the new ones coming into existence—"shadow authorities" as we called them in London—struggling to get the reorganisation going. It seems to me out of the question that at that moment in time you could add anything more to what the local authorities are struggling to achieve. So it does not seem to me a reality—and I would emphasise I do not say this in any kind of Party spirit—that the Boundary Commission proposals 512 following local government reorganisation are likely to be completed before, I would say, 1976-77 at earliest. And I think that is hopeful. It seems to me that these are facts on which the issue before the House has to be decided.
I want to say only one more thing. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, cast some doubts on whether there is any great importance anyway in aligning Parliamentary constituencies with local government areas. I believe there is a great importance in it. I am quite sure about this. At the same time, if what one is having to weigh is the importance of getting such alignment as one can between the new local government areas and the Parliamentary constituencies against the immediate importance of relating Parliamentary constituencies to the electorate, it seems to me extraordinarily difficult not to feel that the second issue is the more important.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord SILKIN
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to me to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in the wise words that she has uttered to this House. For many years in the past I sat at her feet and listened with great profit to the wise advice she gave me, and I am sure that your Lordships' House has listened with profit to the advice that she has given this afternoon from her long experience of local government.
I had not intended to speak at all. I felt that after the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, there was little to say at this stage, although, of course, one will have a good deal to say when we reach the Committee stage. But I am glad I am speaking, because I should like to pay a tribute to the spirit and atmosphere in which this discussion has taken place. It really is a responsible way of discussing a matter of this kind. We are not here discussing a question of morality. It is not that the Government are trying to do something wicked and noble Lords opposite are trying to do something virtuous, and there is a conflict between the two. It is really a question of expediency and good administration.
There is the problem, and it is no good denying it. Whether the period concerned is as long as the noble Baroness has said, the length of time the Prime Minister thinks, or whatever it is, in a 513 relatively few years the whole system of local government is likely to be uprooted, with the consequence that whatever changes we make in the administrative structure, changes will have to be made all over again. Those of us who have represented constituencies in the past, and know what it means to start with, in many cases, an entirely different constituency, will realise that it is no simple thing to have this happening possibly twice in a relatively short time. I think noble Lords have failed to realise the significance of this fact.
It may be that the Government are exaggerating the importance of it; I do not know. But I will say—and I say it particularly to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who I am glad is back again—that this is not a question of morality. The Government are taking the view that it would be quite wrong, in the interests of democracy even, to create the tremendous disturbance of having two changes such as the reorganisation of local government would involve, with its effect on Parliamentary constituencies. As I say, their view may be right; it may be wrong; it may be exaggerated. But I am quite certain that noble Lords opposite are exaggerating when they point to the evils of large constituencies and small ones. Of course, I do not justify them; nobody can justify one constituency of 100, 000 and another of 25, 000. But we have lived under this and tolerated it, and noble Lords opposite have lived under it; and I do not suppose they have spent many sleepless nights over it. They have tolerated it in Northern Ireland, and in other parts of the country.
I am not imputing anything sinister to noble Lords opposite about this, and I am so glad that nothing sinister is being imputed in this debate, at any rate, to the present Government. I think, on the whole, that the Government are right, wise and sensible in the policy that they are pursuing. Two disturbances in a very short time would be almost intolerable. Therefore, I think it is far better to postpone, as we are doing, the reorganisation of a number of constituencies dealing with the worst cases, and, of course, dealing with the case of London, which is not affected by the reorganisation of local government.
I hope that when we come to the Committee stage (perhaps it is a little 514 premature to talk about that) we shall not look on it as a means of destroying the Bill. I think that would be quite wrong, and it is no part of the function of this House, particularly having regard to the constitution of this House. If your Lordships think you can improve it by amendment, then I have no particular complaint; but if it is looked on as a means of destroying the Bill, I think that this House would be doing itself a great deal of harm both in the eyes of the present Government—that is understandable—and also in the eyes of the general public, which is the last thing that I should like to happen.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord CONESFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who has just sat down, is, I think, the first lawyer to intervene in this debate, and I am the second. My conclusion is different from his. I think it is our absolute duty to prevent this Bill in anything like its present form from becoming law. My approach will be wholly that of a constitutional lawyer. It so happens that for most of my life I have taken a good deal of interest in this subject.
May I remind the House that we have perhaps the most famous Constitution in the world, and the longest history of Parliamentary government. But, unlike nearly every other country, we can change our Constitution by exactly the same legislative process as will suffice for the most trivial Act of Parliament. It would have been quite impossible for our famous Constitution to survive for so long, and to have shown such continuity, were it not for the political wisdom of our people, and the fact that successive Governments of all Parties have paid some attention and respect to the conventions of the Constitution.
I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Longford (I am sorry to allude to his speech when he is not here), was unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, in suggesting that he had not said where the rules were being broken. I thought that he had said it very distinctly. The noble Lord quoted—not with complete accuracy, but he was quoting from memory. The rule that has been broken is a statutory requirement… As soon as may be … shall lay the report before Parliament together … with the draft of an order.515 If that is not a rule, I do not know what is. I shall come to other rules in the course of my speech, but I thought it was unfair of the noble Earl to attack the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for not making clear what was the breach of the rules.
A good deal has been said in the other place and here about the sovereignty of Parliament—a most important part of our Constitution. I should like to remind the House, quite briefly, what it means. The sovereignty of Parliament means that we can by law, passed through Parliament and receiving the Royal Assent, make any change of any kind whatsoever without any limitation; and it also means that a law thus passed cannot be questioned in any court. Neither of those characteristics is at all common throughout the world, but it is a very important part of our Constitution. But the sovereignty of Parliament means what it says: it is not the whim of the House of Commons; it is what Parliament expresses in legislation. An Act of Parliament does express the sovereignty of Parliament. A Resolution of the House of Commons does not; a Resolution of the House of Lords does not. These things have been clear to constitutional lawyers for a very long time, certainly since the case of Stockdale v. Hansard in 1839. We are talking now of legal sovereignty. Legal sovereignty resides in the Lords, the Commons and the Crown.
Commentators on our Constitution also mention what I think Dicey refers to as "the political sovereign "; the political sovereign is the electorate. My noble friend Lord Salisbury quite rightly drew attention to the very important interests of that political sovereign, the electorate. Curiously enough, the electorate has practically no legal rights of any kind. May I quote a sentence of Dicey:The sole legal right of electors under the English Constitution is to elect Members of Parliament.That is why the circumstances of election, and the rules we provide for election, are so extraordinarily important. Unless we make the rules of elections, the size of constituencies, and so on, as fair as we can, we are depriving the electorate of their only effective power under our Constitution.
516 I agree, when considering legal sovereignty (meaning laws passed by both Houses of Parliament) that the House of Commons for all purposes is always the predominant and more important body. But what is the most obvious case where the House of Lords is not only entitled but, in my submission, under a duty to interfere with the will of the House of Commons? It is in defence of the political sovereign, the electorate. Whatever else is thought about this Bill it quite clearly injures the rights of electors. That has not been seriously disputed, either in the other House or this House.
Now I come to the conventions of the Constitution. Why do we take such trouble to get agreement? Because of the enormous importance of elections, we have such methods as the Speaker's Conference, inter-Party consultations and so on, in order to try to get agreed rules. How can it be in the interest of the electors that one constituency has 99, 000 electors, and another has 18, 000? The Government propose to do nothing whatever about it for the purposes of the next Election. The title of this House to prevent this Bill in its present form from becoming law is that it is the last bulwark to protect the electors from a serious diminution of their rights. That is the essential fact. It has not really been disputed.
But, says the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, it will be most inconvenient. Where is the convenience in having this reorganisation if, in due course, there is to be another reorganisation consequent upon local government reform? May I say how much I welcomed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who reminded us of the dates involved? It was a particular pleasure to me, as a former Minister who knew her in her Civil Service days, to hear her splendid reinforcement of one of the points that I propose to make. Hitherto we have spoken principally about these reforms, the Redcliffe-Maud reforms, as though it were only a question of date. But, my Lords, it is not only a question of date; it is a question of whether a future Parliament will enact them at all. I dare say it will. I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and many who sat with him. But I have not made up my mind about the proposals; nor, I imagine, have most noble Lords. They are still studying them.
517 Let me make three simple points about the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. The first is something which was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, himself, and has again been emphasised by the noble Baroness: that this is not only a most far-reaching and tremendous reform, but the most important reform for a hundred years or more. That is the first point. The second point, as the noble Baroness pointed out, is that the proposed reform is going to be highly controversial. The third point—the most relevant of all—is that the decision on it has to be made by a future Parliament. Does not that make it quite infamous to take steps now to see that the future Parliament is less representative of the electorate than it might be? Surely every mention of Redcliffe-Maud as important is an argument not for postponement of redistribution, but for getting on with the job, in order that the Parliament that has to decide on the Redcliffe-Maud reforms may be as representative as possible.
§ Lord STONHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? If I accept his premise, it may be that the Redcliffe-Maud proposals may never be implemented. But that would mean that the Boundaries Commissions could not carry out works in accordance with the Second Schedule to the 1949 Act.
§ Lord CONESFORD
My Lords, I am sorry, but the Boundary Commission have done their job: it is the Government who are not doing their job. I think the whole House was in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that he should have been landed with the defence of an indefensible Bill. But he gave as an argument against the Government's doing their constitutional and legal duty, as laid down in the Statute, that it was possible at a General Election, even if all the changes recommended by the Boundary Commissions were carried out, for one Party to win the Election and the other Party to have the majority of votes. I agree that it is possible.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was quite right when he said that probably the only way of avoiding that as a possibility would be to abolish constituencies altogether and to have proportional representation; or, if constituencies were not abolished altogether, to have very large ones so that there could be a considerable number 518 of candidates to be elected in each. I thought his point was sound, in that under any system that rejects proportional representation it is always conceivable that one Party forms the Government and another has the majority of votes. The extraordinary thing about the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, making all these points is this, that they result from the Boundary Commissioners' carrying out the rules under which they act. Yet this Bill does not propose to alter the rules. There is not a word about the alteration of the rules under which the Boundary Commission are going to act.
My Lords, I hope I have made it clear why I think it is essential, as a Constitutional duty in the interests of the electorate, to stop this Bill as it stands from becoming law. I agree with the proposal put forward by my noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that the Bill should have a Second Reading to-day and that we should seek to amend it in Committee, and I do not propose to discuss, those Amendments now.
I must conclude with a point: hat so many honourable Members on both sides of both Houses and on the Cross Benches have made clear, that if we allow this Bill to become law in its present form we shall do an appalling injury to the good name of Parliament and to the survival of Parliamentary Government.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, I am glad to find that there is one point on which I can cordially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and that is the importance of the electorate and their vote, and for that reason I attach a great deal more importance than noble Lords opposite seem to do to Election pledges. There is one election pledge that I have quoted before in this House, and I make no apology for quoting it again because it was reaffirmed as Government policy on April 12 1967, at column 1378of Hansard:Legislation will be introduced to safeguard measures approved by the House of Commons"—and then:from frustration by delay or defeat in the House of Lords".My Lords, I entirely agree with that, and discussions were held and the only apparent agreement was on the abolition of 519 one Bishops' Robing Room which was turned into a bar. On every other matter there was disagreement, or not sufficient agreement for effect to be given.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, the noble Lord is misleading the House. The Bishops and the bar had nothing to do with the discussions on Parliamentary Reform.
§ Noble Lords: Hear, hear!
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, I do not intend to spend too long on that and if I have misrepresented the state of affairs, I apologise. But seriously—and this is a serious matter, after all—an attempt was made to reach agreement. No agreement was reached, and this, pledge stands. And I think that if your Lordships reject this Bill to-day you will not be surprised to find that one of two things may happen: one is that the Government may take more effective steps than the Parliament (No. 2) Bill constituted, to deal with the powers of the House of Lords, because since that pledge was reaffirmed two things have happened. One I only mention because it is over: it is that your Lordships rejected a Southern Rhodesia Order which was made in pursuance of an international obligation. The second is happening today: your Lordships are claiming to decide a question about the constituencies of the House of Commons. I cannot imagine where your Lordships get any moral or social rights to do that.
No doubt your Lordships have a legal right—it is a legal right I think to be a wrong and out-of-date one, and I should like to see it removed, but it is there at present and therefore your Lordships can, to that extent, make a nuisance of yourselves to the Government. I have not the least doubt that that is what you all intend to do, and that anything I say or anybody else says will not shatter your determination to do all you can in that direction as soon as possible. This debate has been nicely conducted and one does not want to spoil the spirit of the thing too much. Moreover, I would not entirely share in the non-Labour newspaper which described your Lordships as "' Heath's poodle". But really this kind of thing seems to me to be quite extraordinary for discussion.
520 Then we are told that we have broken the rules, and an authority on constitutional law is prepared to tell us what the rules are. All I can say is that if this were the case we could never amend the Constitution of this country at all and we could pass hardly any Acts of Parliament. The object of the legislature is to keep the law up to date, and it involves changing it and changing the constitutional law from time to time. As for the existence of these rules, there has been only one large review before and I am sure I am right in remembering that when the question of the next one came along the Commons as a whole wanted the time to be longer than the Government of the day wanted. The reason they wanted it was because of the excessive inconvenience that this kind of thing causes.
Your Lordships can take it from anyone who has been a Member of the Commons, and who has had a change in his constituency, that even small changes are an incredible trouble to the electorate. When I was in another place I handed over a bit of my constituency to Northampton and we had a most awful difficulty in trying to get electors to realise who the candidates were. They were in fact my honourable friend Mr. Paget, who was then the Member for Northampton, and a Tory whose name I have forgotten. But the electors do not bother about this kind of thing except so far as it concerns them. Your Lordships will not attract great popularity by having two major changes made, one after the other—one major change being what is proposed by the Boundaries Commission and the other being the change in local government which is inextricably linked with it. We cannot dissociate in practice local government and Parliamentary constituencies; the two hang together. Does the noble Lord want to say something?
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords, as the noble Lord has insisted, I was going to say that the electors may not wish to be altered but surely anyone living in a Birmingham constituency which has over 100, 000 voters, would not feel very happy when he considered people in the other Birmingham constituencies—like Ladywood, with 20, 000 voters.
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, I quite appreciate the point. It happens whenever anyone draws a line anywhere. 521 Some constituencies will be on the right side and others on the wrong side. It cannot be avoided. If we look at the constituencies in the country as a whole the most startling point about them is that the role of the constituencies is considerably over represented. There is another point in connection with Scotland but that does not arise at the moment because we are not dealing with Scotland.
But one cannot be absolutely fair, and if your Lordships will forgive me for saying so—and I hope I am not saying it in any offensive spirit—it is sheer bunk to talk about Parliamentary democracy as nothing but "one man, one vote". What has the Tory Party been collecting over £2 million in the City for? What is the object of all this stuff we have read in the newspapers about "gerrymandering", and things of that sort? There is no gerrymandering about this. What the Government have had to do is to choose between two courses; either of which will involve considerable difficulty.
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, will allow me to say so, the constitutional object of having Ministers at all is that they should reconcile the irreconcilable. They spend their time doing it, and one has to leave questions of this sort to the Government unless there is a strong reason against it. I have heard no very strong reason against this to-day and I have not heard anybody who is attacking the Government, considering the alternative or considering the effect of what is going to be done if your Lordships turn this Bill down to-day.
I say to your Lordships that, if I were the Prime Minister—and I am not, and I am never going to be, and I do not commit anybody; I am merely a private Back-Bencher—there are two alternatives that occur to me. One is the first that I have mentioned; namely, to carry out my Election pledge and to deprive the House of Lords of the powers they have of delay and frustration. This is the clearest possible instance of it. Your Lordships may be perfectly right, but, with great respect, you are not the people to judge it or to say it.
The second alternative is a rather more difficult one, but the Maud Report is going to leave a large number of worthy public servants who have spent a great deal of their time in the politics of the country, local politics it is true, and some 522 of them ought to be ennobled. If the Government cannot manage to get through a Bill to carry out their election pledges, they ought at least to think of what they are going to do with all those local government servants. I hope your Lordships will not think that this is a thoroughly offensive speech. I am sure some of you will; but I do think this is a case for plain speaking.
Of course, it does not matter whether this Bill is rejected on Second Reading or by a series of Amendments. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he was Leader of the House put a fata! stop for a time on the Iron and Steel Bill by means of an Amendment, which finally resulted in agreement and ended in the Bill not getting through in time to be worked—rather like this one in that respect. One of the faults of the legislation the Government brought in about this House was that they did not deal adequately with Amendments. But we need not go into those details to-day All I say to your Lordships is that I think this is very nearly as bad as the Southern Rhodesia Order, that you should sit here and assume the right to decide about Parliamentary constituencies when there has already been a House of Commons decision about it. That you have the legal right I do not for a moment deny. That that right has any moral or social foundation I do indeed deny.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether, regarding the supremacy of Parliament, he considers that the House of Commons is the sole and only arbiter? Because from the noble Lord's speech I inferred that he thought that when it came to matters of the entrenched Constitution the House of Commons was the only body concerned in the protection or the alteration of the Constitution? This is, surely, a very false surmise.
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, perhaps the noble Viscount would like to exercise his right of going into the Printed Paper Office and getting a copy of the Bill which I introduced here for the purpose of making it quite clear what my views were, and I think he would find in that the answer to the question he has put. I am not a unicameralist. I do not think there ought to be only one Chamber. But 523 I think the powers of the House of Lords over Government Bills ought to be severely restricted, and I am confirmed in that view by what happened over the Southern Rhodesia Order, first version, and by what is happening to-day, not as a result of any argument here but as a result of a collective decision of the Tory Peers.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, may I put this to the noble Lord? He quoted from the gracious Speech the reference to the intention of the Government to reform the House of Lords. Could he refresh my memory and remind me whether the reform of the House of Lords was in fact a plank in the Election Manifesto of the Labour Party?
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, I am afraid I do not remember whether it was in the Election Manifesto. The important thing is that it was reaffirmed as Government policy as recently as April 12, 1967, and the noble Lord will find it quoted in full—I think I quoted it correctly—in column 1378 of the Official Report. I wish the Government would do what they told the electorate they would do. It was on that point that I was agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
My Lords, after the speech of my noble friend, Lord Stonham, one would have thought there was not much more to be said in connection with the actual factual position as seen in the eyes of the Government. I am rather surprised at the tone the debate has taken, the quotation of rules and so on, which I will deal with in a moment. The one thing I am rather pleased about is that there has not been the extravagant language that the Leader of the Opposition has used in connection with gerrymandering and all kinds of things; neither has there been the histrionic gestures of Mr. Quintin Hogg and many others who have spoken on this subject. The debate in this Chamber has struck me as more realistic, although at the same time the innuendoes against the Government have been prodding and prodding the whole time.
We are talking a lot about the rules. We have tried to get to what are the rules. The only attempt that is made is 524 by accusing the Government of not laying the Orders "as quickly as may be". Is that a rule? What is the definition of "as quickly as may be"? Undoubtedly, the Government have an excellent case for not accepting the Boundary Commissioners' proposals as they are. And let me say at this stage that when the Boundary Commission was set up it was never the intention that the Government of the day would be a rubber stamp of any Boundary Commission proposals; that was never accepted. I think Herbert Morrison was acting as Home Secretary at that time and who laid it down very clearly, when he was speaking on behalf of all Parties, that the real, basic purpose of the Boundary Commission was to make minor adjustments to deal with increases in population, making very large constituencies smaller constituencies and keeping a constant review. That is what they have been doing for quite a long time.
Then there was the major review upon which they embarked I venture to suggest that if, when the Boundary Commission proposals were before both Houses of Parliament, they had embodied giving authority to the Boundary Commissions to make drastic and major alterations in more than half the Parliamentary boundaries, those proposals would not have got the consent of both Houses at that time. We should take note of that.
We should also take note of the fact that, expressing the opinion of much of the electorate, the Government decided to set up the Redcliffe-Maud Commission with a view to going into the pros and cons and seeing whether local government structure could meet the needs of the present day. It was agreed that that Commission should be established. As my noble friend Lord Stonham has rightly reminded the House, the Government made an approach to the Opposition and said, "No doubt this Redcliffe-Maud Report will have far-reaching consequences in local government. Would it not be better for the Boundary Commissions to go, as it were, into cold storage until such time as the Redcliffe-Maud Report is published?" That was rejected by the Opposition. With that rejection three years ago, how can the Opposition, the Tory Members of the other place, including the Leader, now accuse the Government of gerrymandering? It is 525 absolute nonsense, and it is this attitude of an irresponsible Leader of the Tory Opposition—I am referring to Mr. Heath because he is entirely responsible—that the language he is using is not that of a responsible Leader. In the language he is using from time to time he is creating an impression in the country—
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me? I do not wish to interrupt him, but it is contrary to Parliamentary practice to make references to people in another place who have not any means of defending themselves. I do not think it is usual in this House to do that.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, whose judgment I always respect on these matters, I entirely agree that we are very careful in the remarks we make about people in their Parliamentary capacity when they are speaking in Parliament; but I must say I have heard many remarks in this House—and I am not throwing it in as an argument—attacking Mr. Wilson in his general capacity. I think the tone of the debate is such that on the whole we are avoiding personalities, but I should not like to accept the noble Lord's interpretation too strictly on this issue.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
With great respect, I think that the noble Lord is not following the traditions of this House. The debate has been good-tempered and good-humoured and it would be a pity if he introduced this sort of argument into it to which we should feel compelled to reply.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
My Lords, if I have offended the noble Lord I apologise for it, and if I have offended the susceptibilities of this House I apologise for so doing. We have heard from the other side numerous attacks by name on Members of the other House on our side. That being so, I felt justified in being clear and outspoken, because this is exactly what I feel. I think this type of thing has created such an impression that it has the eyes and ears of the Press, and as such I do not think it is doing Parliament any good at all.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. I am 526 grateful to the noble Lord that he is not continuing his line of argument.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
I have named the person who I think is leading on this. I apologise if I have offended the susceptibilities of the House, but] still insist that it is the right thing. It has created this atmosphere in the Press, and the Press is pretty united in accusing this Government of gerrymandering and something not quite cricket, as it were. We have long memories. I remember serving in the other House. I remember my boundary changing three times in less than nine years. I remember what happened in my adjoining constituency and in the constituency in which I live, in which, if the mining area had not been taken out and added on to another mining area with an overwhelming majority and rural villages coming in, Barkston. Ash would have been returning a Labour Member to-day. Real gerrymandering took place. I make no apology for saying this.
I remember what took place when I represented six wards in the City of Newcastle; changes that took place constantly and I ended up with only two of the six wards that I had at that time. I know the effect this had on the electorate and the constituency generally. Anybody who has not been subjected to that type of change cannot possibly understand the confusion that arises in consequence. You get local affinities created in your Party organisation—and all Members of the other House will know this. You get your electorate, you form intimate acquaintenances with your electorate and there builds up an esprit de corps that is not advanced when these constant changes take place.
With the Maud Committee having now issued its Report, with the assurance of the Government that they are going to make progress with it as speedily as possible, one can visualise that there will be tremendous changes again within the next few years. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said that it is not certain that the Maud Report will be approved by Parliament. Of course it is not certain; but the general atmosphere seems to be that the time is ripe for a change in the structure of local government and I therefore think the Government would be right in working on the proposition that 527 something resembling the Maud Report is going to go through.
That being so, it comes to the key point of the argument so far as Parliamentary boundaries are concerned. There are great difficulties when Parliamentary boundaries cut across local government boundaries. In certain instances they do. It creates a tremendous amount of confusion, and the general principle, accepted by the Boundary Commissioners, that the Parliamentary boundaries should be confined or circumscribed by local government areas is, I think, very good indeed and should be continued. Therefore I suggest that the attitude of the Government in this matter is right. It is not a question of gerrymandering. It is not a question of political trickery. When Members of Parliament are dealing in a public relations capacity with their electorate, it is a question of the hard facts of life. If you want to win the confidence of your electorate they have to know you, they have to know your capabilities, they have to know your sincerities, they have to know your weaknesses, and they can do that only over a process of time. Unless you can weave that loyalty together I do not think you get the best type of representation. I would end on this note. In my opinion it ill-becomes this unrepresentative House to thwart the will of the elected Chamber. It is the elected Chamber's matters we are speaking about, and they should be the masters in their own house.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, I imagine that I am not alone in being grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, for what I regarded as the devastating way in which he set out the simpleness of the case which is before us, and which he referred to as the duty that lies upon this House in respect of the Constitution. It was for that reason, when the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, spoke of our duty to the electors, that I asked the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison the question which I did. I think I am right in saying that, whereas a reference to the reform of the House of Lords has appeared in at least two gracious Speeches, it was not a plank in the manifesto of the Party at the last General Election.
§ Lord MITCHISON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. May I read to him the words on which I was relying, which are:Rather more than a year ago this Government were elected with a large majority on a manifesto which included one specific reference to this House. ' Legislation will be introduced to safeguard measures approved by the House of Commons from frustration by delay or defeat in the House of Lords'.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
Will the noble Lord give way? He is not entitled to make a second speech, even if he is challenged. I must say that noble Lords on that side and now on this side are breaching the rules. I am sorry to intervene, but I am sure noble Lords will support me.
§ Lord FERRIER
I will pass on from that matter. I wanted to establish what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford had said, because I am one of those who regard this issue, as I think most people do, as a straightforward constitutional one. If that is the case then I am satisfied that it would be too simple to refuse the Bill a Second Reading, though to try to do so was certainly in my case the natural and instant reaction of straightforward people such as those in many walks of life whom I have consulted very recently in the neighbourhood in which I live.
Unfortunately, living as we all do in the fog of Socialist ideology, it is symptomatic that the straightforward man risks being regarded as a simpleton. The hissing of reckless threats to the House of Lords does not carry any weight with me in a matter like this. Indeed, I venture to speak briefly in this debate for two reasons: first, to repeat what I have said before, that a Life Peer presumably does not accept a peerage to act against his conscience, and I, for one, am not going to be deterred by any threats; and, secondly, because it is only right that a few words should be said in this debate about the position of Scotland.
As for the first matter to which I refer, there is little more to say, unless it be to mention to your Lordships the reaction of one of my neighbours; namely, that if any threats are to be made upon the issue, is it outwith the possibility that the men behind the attempt to rearrange the Constitution unilaterally, if they persist in their policy, may be committing an offence not far removed from treason? That may be going too far, but 529 the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said almost as much as perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, even implied. This manner of thinking is some indication of the sense of impotent fury which abounds in parts of Scotland. To me, it is almost unbelievable that the Government should round off their series of attacks on your Lordships' House by putting forward this Bill which re-establishes the House in people's eyes as the last buttress of their liberties.
As for the second matter, the matter of Scotland, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is denying us his presence, because he said that we were not considering Scotland. But, my Lords, we are. If we refer to Clause 1 (4), to which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred at some length in his speech, we must realise that we are referring to Scotland. This is a most important matter and this I propose to develop. I come from what was a mainly rural constituency, the character of which has been radically changed—the electorate being now some 90, 000—by the creation and the growth within it of a new town. The recommendations of the Boundary Committee dividing it into two are quite clear-cut and acceptable, indeed welcome, to any reasonable man or woman, and their implementation is a matter of real urgency.
I have asked myself, where does Scotland stand under this Bill? What does Clause 1 (4) indicate? The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made reference to this, and I look forward to reading his speech with care to-morrow. So we are to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission under Lord Wheatley, are we? I take it that the Government intend to apply their Act, if they get it, to the findings of the Wheatley Commission, as they apparently propose to do with Maud in regard to England and Wales. If so, when may we expect the Wheatley recommendations? The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said "In the autumn". Well, the autumn is quite a long season in Scotland. Further, why have they taken so long? What is the cause of the delay? Is it political interference, or is it simply disagreement within the Commission. Who is to know?
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Is he 530 seriously suggesting that there is political interference with the Wheatley Commission? This is a most serious thing to suggest in regard to any Party. It is almost an outrageous suggestion.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, if the House agrees that it is outrageous I withdraw it. But the delay has been so long. That is the mystery. It is a most serious matter, particularly in the light of what the noble Baroness said, pointing out that under the Maud arrangements it will be (I think she said) 1978 before any further developments of this nature can take place. What is going to happen in Scotland under Wheatley? Lord Byers asked, "Why wait for Maud?" I say: "Why wait for Wheatley?" It is clear that, whatever happens, it is inevitable that the Wheatley proposals, if they ever take shape, will be implemented years later than those of Maud.
Can the noble Lord who is to reply tell us where Scotland stands? It would seem from the Wheatley delays that the implications of this Bill so far as Scotland are concerned are even more serious than they are in England. Many thousands of voters may be disenfranchised for many years to come. Is it any wonder that the people are stirring in their wrath?
At least it is to the credit of the Press—even the papers who have given practically no space to serious reports of your Lordships' House for years past—that they have voiced the people's dismay in no uncertain terms. With a chuckle I recall Kipling's lines:While its 'Tommy this' and 'Tommy that' an' 'Tommy fall be'ind, 'But it's 'Please to walk in front, sir,' when there's trouble in the wind".One might indeed be rather indignant that the papers now offer us advice. At the same time, the Press are in great measure the sounding board of public opinion.
In conclusion, I am in favour of giving this Bill a Second Reading in the confident belief, which I trust is well founded, that this House will take steps at a later stage to emasculate it. In saying that I am reinforced by what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said when he spoke of looking forward to the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House at the end of the debate. I say again, as I have said before, that the whole tenor of Government policies reeks 531 to me of incipient dictatorship, and I have considerable sympathy with many noble Lords opposite whose tolerance and integrity we have come to respect, and who now find themselves in some difficulty because thinking on this issue is a matter of conscience which should be untrammelled by considerations of Party advantage. To act in the manner suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is one of the powers which this House possesses, and I see no reason why I, for one, should lay that power aside.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Lord GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, may I say, as one who is on the opposite side, that I shall find no difficulty in supporting the Government. In this debate we have had the great advantage of speeches from eminent Parliamentarians, lawyers, and some noted public servants. I hope that perhaps it may not be altogether inappropriate if, as the debate draws towards its close, I speak as one who has been concerned at the grass roots of politics; that is to say, working in constituency, local Party and ward organisations for what I now realise is something over 45 years. I think it is at these grass roots where the democratic process really comes to light or where apathy lessens and weakens it. It is at this level that the voluntary worker who is motivated so strongly by loyalties is most vital to this democratic process.
If I may say so, too often the voluntary worker tends to be taken for granted, or is given insufficient consideration, when there is discussion about the shape of the machinery by which our democracy operates. It is true that the active worker has a strong sense of Party loyalty, but many of the best of Party workers—in all Parties—also have a strong sense of loyalty to their local organisation; a pride in their place within them, and a sense of loyalty to the district, the neighbourhood in which they live. Changes involving big upheavals in boundaries are seldom welcome, involving, as they do, disturbance of these local loyalties and the severance of association with colleagues and friends in what has been a joint enterprise. Too frequent change is certainly very unwelcome and can be very 532 weakening to local organisation, and it is at this level that so many people tend to be out of touch. I would stress again that it is healthy and the active local organisations that play so important a part in the democratic process.
Therefore, I believe that the Government's case for this Bill is a good deal stronger than its critics suggest. It is generally accepted that Parliamentary constituency boundaries should coincide with local government areas; in fact I had intended saying that I know of no one who would deliberately advocate the formation of constituencies which disregard them. I must confess that when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Byers, on the question of boundaries, I had my doubts whether I ought to say that. If I may say so, I am sorry that neither the noble Lord, Lord Byers, nor any of his Liberal colleagues appear to be present in the House at this time. The proposals of the Government for the Greater London area are so based on local government boundaries, and those areas are fixed for the foreseeable future. Therefore, those proposals for the Greater London area make sense now and in the long term.
For the rest of the country there is practical certainty that change in local government areas is not too far away. The Maud Report, of which we have heard so much this afternoon, whatever the eventual form of local government may be, has ensured that radical changes will be made. It would be wrong to ignore that fact, and undesirable to draw constituency boundaries now for the whole country on local government areas that are doomed to change.
I have lived in the same village for over 40 years. When the urban district of which it is part was formed in 1933 that district was split between two constituencies; part of it was in Epsom and part in Reigate. That situation led to many undesirable results. We had divided constituency loyalties and it was generally a divisive influence which militated against the concept of one community. We had, I suppose, something like the left leg of two M.P.'s, but we certainly never had the whole body of one. Altogether it was a pretty unsatisfactory position, creating problems for local and ward Parties. It meant that 533 we had to "double up" on representation from the wards to the constituency and to the local Parties. It involved stresses and strains—and I believe that it was not only the Labour Party that was affected thereby.
A great deal of heat has been generated in public discussion of this Bill, and the motives of the Government have been subjected to all manner of suspicious criticism by many who, as I see it, have resented the fact that the last two General Elections have resulted in Labour Administrations. I think it is not unreasonable to assume that those who impute base motives to the Government are themselves actuated by these very motives which they appear all too anxious to lay at the Government's door. If I may say this about the Party opposite, it has never been lacking in the pursuance of self-interest, and I think the electorate generally will so see it to-day. I recall my old friend the late Lord Chuter-Ede, when he was Mr. Chuter-Ede, advocating "One man, one vote, one value," and I think he did as much as most people in striving to secure them. What he certainly did not foresee was that in striving for that he helped to secure the return in 1951 of a Conservative Government that nationally polled a quarter of a million votes less than did the Labour Party who subsequently lost office.
My Lords, it would be regrettable if this House should be so used that it might be said—and with much to support that view—that this House is committed to uphold the Divine right of the Tory Party to hold office at all times. I find it quite impossible to conceive that this House, as at present constituted, would threaten a measure of this nature if it were sponsored by a Conservative Government. When the General Election comes the people will decide, as they see fit, who will govern, not as any of us in this House may wish. I believe that when that time comes they will show a greater sense of responsibility than many of the Government's most strenuous critics do to-day. I am certain that if the issue, when that Election comes, is: this Bill or the entrenched position of power of the Tory Party in this House, then the outcome will reflect on the prejudice of this House rather than on the merits of this Bill.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord STRANGE
My Lords, I have put my name down to speak because I believe that I am the most—not exactly cross, but Cross-Bencher of all Cross-Benchers; I am completely Cross-Bench. You have No idea the joy it is to go back to the Isle of Man and land in a country where there are no Party politics. It is the sense of relief; it is the sense of joy that fills one. One feels free. Yet our House of Keys are very sensible people. Everybody knows them, and if they put one foot wrong people give them a jolly good kick next time they see them. However, they have no Party politics.
With me it goes deeper than that. It goes back to my childhood. I had a lot of rather shabby relations who were professional politicians, and I used to be taken sometimes to their meetings and I used to hear them, and eventually I am afraid I came to an inner knowledge about some of my relations and others. I came to the conclusion that really professional politicians suffer from systemised delusional insanity. I dare not say that; you must be very careful how you talk to professional politicians or they are off to the nearest barrel or chair to speak. They have these ideas, these lovely ideals, built in them. They go back, but I do not know where they start. They are all different one;; the Socialists' are different from the Conservatives'—we know that. We can hear that to-day. They have these things built into them; they are part of their life; you cannot shake them out of them, and they believe in them until their dying day—in fact, they are buried with them.
When you receive your Writ to come to the House of Lords as a Cross-Bencher you read it just to see what you are supposed to do, and you know you are going to take an Oath on it. I am not the sort of guy who likes taking Oaths and breaking them, so I take my Oath dead seriously. Then you go up and shake hands with the Lord Chancellor, to show that you are unarmed; and after that you sit down to listen to these lovely debates. Being a Cross-Bencher and having friends on all sides of the House, I do not worry exactly what Party is doing it: I just worry whether there is any sense in what they are debating, and whether I can join in and help one side or the other. I vote Liberal, even—yes, 535 I have voted on the Liberal side—and Conservative very often and Socialist very often. That goes on happily from day to day, and one thinks that nothing will ever happen in your Lordships' House to disturb this lovely peaceful idea of voting on one side or the other.
There is an expression, "Once in a blue moon", which I believe in because once in my lifetime I have seen not only a blue moon but a blue sun; and when I read in the papers about this little thing we are discussing, and heard people talking about it, I said to myself, "This is once in a blue moon; this is it; this is my oath; this is what the general public have always been hoping you would do". You must remember, my Lords, that the general public think we are entirely useless. They come and sit and listen to our lovely speeches in the galleries, and they are not impressed. When they can hear me, they are not impressed. We are also run down a little in the Press, with a little bit of justification. But they hold on to us because they believe that one day there will be "once in a blue moon" and we shall stick up for their electoral rights, for their constitutional rights, against anybody—as it says, "without fear or favour". So that is what I will do.
My Lords, I do not think I shall talk about what goes on down the passage. I have actually been there, and I think the least said about that the better, because I do not think it is very tactful to talk about all those people down there. But I will say this: that I see this as the thin end of a wedge. We can just see the shining edge of it now; and if it is allowed to go on it means that all right honourable Gentlemen in all Ministries will be allowed a little bit of "ad lib.", and so it will come in insidiously, just like the take-over bids came into this country. You are considered almost dishonest if you do not take over your next-door neighbour's firm.
That is where the "once in a blue moon" comes in. That is where a stop should come to it. I feel that all Members of your Lordships' House, on all sides, who feel your duty to the oath that you have taken, will do something to show—I do not say disapproval, but just to say, "We are not amused". I think that could be done and I think it will 536 be done by a small Amendment which should be put in, signifying to the general public, "We are with you, mates! We know what this is all about. We know that this is the thin end of a wedge, pushed in consciously or unconsciously. We are going to stop it going any further". That, my Lords, is all—you will be glad to hear—I have to say.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, one of my noble friends pointed out to me in the course of the Lobby discussions that this was an issue that divided the men from the boys, and I gathered from the inflection in his voice that he regarded me as one of the boys, in spite of my birth certificate. Anyway, what he meant was that either you are a Politician with a capital "P", by which you mean a Parliamentarian, or you are a politician with a small "P". The great virtue of being a boy here, which is a politician with a small "p" in my case, is that first of all you can take all the liberties you like and ventilate all your convictions and feelings, righteousness and so forth, and the Front Bench or the Whips cannot do anything at all about it. I am not following the noble Lord, Lord Strange, on this one. I am a committed person, but I am committed in this sense: that I look pretty hard at what I act on or what I vote on or what I speak on.
Your Lordships should also remember that the great virtue of being a boy is that you can be the boy in the story of the emperor's clothes, and that you may in fact see with pristine clearness what is not there. What is not here to-day is a constitutional issue, unless your Lordships make it one. This is not a constitutional issue, even in the terms that, with great respect, Lord Strange was talking about. This is a question which has been made artificially, I assure your Lordships. I speak from a long experience of the Press—and I am not accusing the Press in this case of having deliberately created an artificial situation; it has been by default. And if I have one complaint against my Government it is the fact that this has been allowed to go by default. This is not an issue on which you can say that this Government, or a Party in this case, is deliberately gerrymandering a situation. You cannot say it. No one in any honesty could possibly 537 say it. If I were to say anything about it, it would be that it has been mishandled because the facts have not been made clear and therefore the intentions have been allowed to be made suspect.
I ask your Lordships (as I am going to be very brief) to take one simple case. We are discussing here a border reorganisation. In this case—and I speak as a boy, not as a man; not as one of the Parliamentarians who has been through the agony and the ecstasy of Parliament; my frontiers have never been altered except by nature—there is manifestly a very powerful case to be made, factually and objectively, on what you can or cannot do in the reorganisation which we are talking about. I am not going to go into the details; I am not going to get involved with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, whose speech I think was extremely forthright but with which explicitly I disagree. I do not think that people can determine what will happen with the Maud Report if in point of fact we know what we mean to do with it. I think that probably a lifetime of Civil Service is not always a good qualification for judging how quickly you can do something if you really have a conviction to do it. Therefore it is not a question of whether you mean to go on to 1977, or some other time.
In any case, we are discussing two conflicting things: a Report, the Redcliffe-Maud Report, which is by its very nature compulsive, imperative, whatever we may do by way of implementing it, and this question of the boundaries. We are not in this case considering what in fact are the merits—we should be, but we are not—of the administrative difficulties which have certainly been expressed by people who have had experience of elections, and so on. What we are talking about is some expression of motive. Motive—that is all we are talking to. You can add everything into it and throw every piece of kitchen furniture with it, but we are talking about motives. I would say this—and on this I am going to sit down: any Government who are prepared to give the vote at 18 to 2½ million completely unpredictable young people are certainly not calculating on what they are going to get out of the minor manipulations of a boundary.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lards, there can be few of your Lordships, if any, who even before the debate in this House were not aware of the purpose and the implications of the Bill to which your Lordships are being asked to give a Second Reading, and there can be nothing new to say about it. No one disputes or can dispute the undoubted fact that the Home Secretary is under a statutory obligation to lay draft Orders in Council before Parliament, with such modifications as he may think necessary, to implement the Boundary Commission's proposals, and to do it "as soon as may be". Without the legislation which is before your Lordships the Home Secretary and the Government would be in breach of their statutory duty, and this Bill is designed, and designed specifically, to indemnify the Home Secretary against such a charge.
So far as I can discover from reading the debates in another place, the only reason the Government have advanced for the course they have decided to pursue is that the Report of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, they say, makes it inadvisable to implement the Boundary Commission's proposals while it is uncertain when these local government changes will take place. It is the case of those who sit on this side, and I think of a great many more besides—and it has been argued conclusively by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor—that this argument about the Maud Commission does not stand up to examination for one moment. Since it does not stand up, the Government case falls; and there is no excuse for introducing this Bill. If my noble friend Lord Brooke did not convince your Lordships of that, I hope you heard the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who sank the argument about the Maud Commission without trace and with scarcely any bubbles.
It is again not disputed that since 1954, when the last Boundary Commission proposals were implemented, there have been very large changes of population. Some constituencies have grown enormously; others have dwindled to less than half their former size. It is to remedy these inequities and inequalities that the Boundary Commission have put forward their present proposals. If the Government 539 carried them into law—as it is their duty to do—15 years would have elapsed since the last change. If the Government succeed in passing this Bill through Parliament there will be no change—except in a few cases specially selected by the Government—not only for the next Election but almost certainly for the next Election after that: a gap of some 30 years between the implementation of the two Boundary Commission Reports. Of course, in the meantime the unfairness and inequities would become greater and greater.
The Home Secretary is reported to have said that be believes that it is possible that the Boundary Commission could report by about 1973. My Lords, I do not. I think he is assuming a very great deal. He is assuming, to start with, that the successors of the present Government are going to adopt, or could adopt, the same timetable that he has in mind. Even if the present Government were in office and he were Home Secretary, it is very much open to doubt whether the consultations with the local authorities and the preparations necessary for such a complicated Bill implementing the Maud Commission Report could possibly be made by 1973. Your Lordships will have seen that the local authorities are already complaining about being rushed. It is even more problematical whether the Boundary Commission could begin to do its work until the details of the boundaries were settled and the local authorities with whom they would wish to consult were set up.
But if a new Government came into office, looking at the proposals with fresh eyes and wishing to carry out their own consultations with the local authorities, it would be even less likely that a Bill could be on the Statute Book and the Boundary Commission proposals revised by the time of a subsequent election. Even if the Home Secretary were right—and I do not think he is—he is still suggesting that the next election should be fought on the boundaries of 16 or 17 years ago and that the Boundary Commission proposals should be ignored. Whether one agrees with them or not, no one can deny that the Maud Commission proposals are controversial and that a great deal depends upon them for a great many people. It is not right that the Parliament which is 540 going to alter our local government structure should be a Parliament which does not fully represent the electors whom they serve.
It is a matter of great regret to me—and I mean this sincerely—that the Government should have introduced this Bill. When the independent Boundary Commissions were set up in 1944, with the agreement of all Parties and with the specific object of taking the question of boundary revision out of Party politics by appointing, among others, a High Court Judge as Deputy Chairman of the Boundary Commission for England and others of independent mind to make recommendations, that proposal for the setting up of that Commission was widely welcomed. Indeed, it was precisely to avoid a Government doing something of the sort that the Government now at any rate appear to be doing—I impute no motive to them—that this legislation was introduced. I must say that I am sorry that the Government have decided, or seem to have decided, to ignore the precedents and to drag into the Party arena the whole question of boundary revision—because that is inevitably what happens.
My Lords, we in this House have to decide what we do, as we have had to decide in a great many difficult cases in the last five years. It seems to me that certain things can be dismissed without further discussion. There is no question whether or not the Government have a mandate for this Bill. It would have been unusual, to say the least of it, for the Labour Party to have put into their Manifesto in 1966 that they were not prepared to implement the Boundary Commission proposals. Of course, they did not. I do not challenge the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, to read the whole of the Manifesto to prove that I am wrong. We can dismiss the argument that this is no business of the House of Lords and that this is a matter purely for the House of Commons since it concerns primarily them. It does not primarily concern the House of Commons; this Bill primarily concerns the electorate, the people of this country.
The House of Commons is not a self-perpetuating institution. Every five years they are obliged to put themselves up for re-election. On the boundaries upon which the constituencies are based and on the divisions of those constituencies 541 depends the value of the vote of men and women who elect each successive Government. If it takes 100, 000 electors of one constituency to elect an M.P. and only 20, 000 to elect another in another part of the country, it is not just the concern of the House of Commons, it is the concern of everyone in this country—and it should be the concern of all of us that there should be fairness and electoral equality. If it be said that the House of Lords, being an unelected Chamber, has no right to have a say in this matter but that it would be at the discretion of the temporary majority in one House of Parliament to alter the statutory obligations of the Home Secretary, then we really do have single-Chamber government, and such an argument fills me with foreboding and alarm. I do not know where it will end.
It is certainly not your Lordships' fault that you are unreformed. The proposals for reform were discarded by the Government in the face of opposition in another place, and as a result your Lordships are left with the same obligations and responsibilities and duties as you have always had. It may be that some people do not like hereditary Peers. It may be, too, that some people do not like the composition of this House. But there is no other institution which can cause the Government to think again in what they are doing and to impose a period of delay.
The Government of the day, for reasons which do not seem to me to be either plausible or convincing, are changing the rules by which their successors are elected. That is something which no House of Parliament should allow to go unchallenged. This is a matter, I submit, of grave constitutional concern. I believe that it is fortunate that a Second Chamber exists and still has some powers. Your Lordships will have heard the advice which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor has given. There would be certain advantages in voting against the Second Reading of the Bill: it would be a clear-cut decision and it would, I think, be understood by everybody. But it seems to us that it would be a negative action in that we should be removing the Home Secretary's indemnity but we should not be obliging him to carry out his statutory duty. We have always argued, and I have always argued, that 542 it is the duty of the Second Clumber to allow time for second thoughts; and no second thoughts can be had if this Bill is not read a Second Time. It is an action which is final and conclusive and allows of No interchange of views between the two Houses. I, therefore, as did my noble friend, came to the conclusion that it would be better to seek to amend the Bill; and this, my Lords, my noble friends and I, and others, will try to do during the Committee stage on Monday.
We shall seek to amend the Bill, not by negativing its principle but by moving an Amendment that the Home Secretary should lay draft Orders in Council with such modifications as he may wish, implementing the Boundary Commission proposals before Parliament by Mar; h 31, 1970. Until that time the Home Secretary and the Government would have their indemnity and their immunity; and also they would have a period of time to reflect upon the discussions which have taken place in Parliament and outside of it. The Home Secretary can, if he thinks fit, make other proposals to Parliament which Parliament can approve.
I emphasise, my Lords, that I do not consider this to be a wrecking Amendment. It seems to me exactly the course that a Second Chamber, composed as we are, should follow. But of one thing I am certain: this is not a case in which this House should leave matters as they are. I do not think that any threats to the composition of this House, to the powers of this House, or to the existence of this House, should deter your Lordships from seeking, on what I believe to be sound and proper constitutional grounds, to uphold the law as it now stands. And, my Lords, if the Government introduce a Bill, as I have seen it suggested, to remove the powers of this House or to amend its composition because the House is doing its constitutional duty and seeking to prevent the Government from acting in a manner which I believe to be quite contrary to the traditions of political life in this country, then so be it. All I would say is that I would not have wished to be a Member of such a Government when history is written and when judgment is made upon their actions.
My Lords, I beg the Government to think again; to think over what has been 543 said in almost every newspaper and periodical in this country. For they have no friends outside their Party in Parliament. To think over the speeches that have been made in both Houses of Parliament and, having thought, to dp what they should have done in the first place and implement the Boundary Commission's proposals as it is their statutory duty to do. I hope, too, that they will reflect on what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said in the opening sentence of his speech this afternoon—he said it in a different context—and reflect that what they may be doing, if they continue in the course which they are now pursuing, may very gravely damage the public image of Parliament.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, it appears that we are not to come to the crunch to-day, and it certainly is not for me to twit the Opposition on avoiding a head-on collision. I should like to congratulate both the Opposition Leader and the Liberal Opposition Leader on the skill of the Amendments. We shall, of course, consider them very carefully and I will reserve my detailed remarks on them until we come to the Committee stage. But I am bound to say now that the skill in drafting does not mask the fact that the Amendments would totally destroy the purpose of the Bill. I think that the act of introducing them, the idea that it provides an opportunity for an erring Government to repent of their sins, has been reflected at times (although certainly there was moderation in the speeches) in the almost unbearably high-minded way in which we have been lectured on our duties as a Government.
My Lords, one of the things that astonish me—and I must admit that your Lordships have provided a striking contrast in this—has been the quite unbelievable barrage of innuendo, and the lack of understanding of the relationship between local government boundaries and Parliamentary boundaries. In particular, I wish to address my remarks directly to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, when I urge those noble Lords (of whom I believe there is a great majority in this House) who have not even looked at the Report of the Boundary Commission to do so, and to read the instructions at the beginning about this.
544 The main issue of the debate related to the date of the introduction of the Maud Report. It is true that an immense amount of consultation will be necessary. We do not underrate this. But the fact remains that this Government, or any other Government, must tackle the problem of local government boundaries; and soon. In the course of my remarks I shall deal with the very considered and weighty remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We certainly do not underrate what she had to say. One of the things that has astonished me, even when talking to quite well-informed journalists (I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, did not fall into this mistake; if he did not, I apologise in advance) was the rather easy assumption that there is really very little connection between Parliamentary boundaries and local government boundaries. If the noble Lord, Lord Byers, did not make that mistake, then I withdraw at once.
If one looks at the Report—and it is important to remember when people talk about rules that a great deal of the rules are in fact guide-lines—one sees that it is laid down as clearly as could be that the Boundary Commission must take local government boundaries into account. This has been reiterated time and again by members of Governments, of both Parties. The Act of 1958 laid down that the Commissioners should:take into account the inconvenience attendant on alterations of constituencies and of any local ties which would be broken by such alteration".In view of the way in which noble Lords have, I think, given us the benefit of the doubt, or at least have been willing to listen to our arguments, I would say that it is our clear view that, irrespective of the Parliamentary or political consequences of this redistribution, to have two major distributions within a short period would result in a most unsatisfactory and inconvenient situation.
The English Commissioners made clear that they were unable to take into account any possible local government boundary changes; that it was not within their ability to do so, and they had no alternative but to ignore them. I would say to noble Lords who talk about the Government's changing the rules that it was made clear (although it did not come out at once and there was not quite such 545 a rapid admission of the fact from the Opposition as I might have hoped for) that the Government, without any knowledge of what the consequences in political terms would be, did approach the Opposition in 1966 and proposed that the Boundary Commission Review should be postponed. My Lord's, it is perhaps the case—I believe this to be so—that the Labour Party attaches more importance to local government than does the Opposition. This is an arguable point, but we believe that this is an absolutely fundamental matter. There are reasons.
The members of the Conservative Party happily sit with their power base in the county councils, and it is no wonder that they do not particularly want to carry out the Maud proposals. I would say to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that we believe it to be of the greatest importance that if the Maud Report, the main recommendations of which the Government have accepted, is to be implemented, it should be implemented at the earliest date. I can only say—I say this perfectly honestly, and I have gone into this both officially and otherwise—that there is no reason why, subject to the development of the discussions, it should not be implemented in 1972. If it is not implemented by then, the Government would be willing to consider (and we can discuss this in Committee) putting a term to the time to which boundary changes are postponed. To those who say that there is no chance of implementing these proposals before 1980 or 1976, I would say that we would certainly be prepared to consider, though there are difficulties, whether or not there is some way which would ensure that boundary changes would not be delayed beyond a certain point.
I should like now to turn to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. He talked about breaking the rules. I apologise for having interrupted him. He is a noble Lord for whom I have the greatest affection and respect, but, honestly, I do not believe that he has studied the rules. I recommend that he looks first of all at the Act of Parliament, which requires reports to be laid and the necessary Statutory Instruments or Orders to be laid, and to consider the action of the Government in the present circumstances. Furthermore, it would have been per- 546 fectly possible for the Government to go ahead and avoid all this trouble by laying the Orders and, if necessary, not ensuring that they were carried out.
§ Several Noble Lords: Oh!
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, noble Lords are saying that we are breaking the rules, but I would again draw attention to what the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth, when he was Mr. Herbert Morrison, said in another place in 1947, when we debated the Redistribution Bill at that time. Speaking with the full authority of the war-time National Government in relation to major recommendations from the Boundary Commission, he said:But these recommendations will not, of course, be binding upon Ministers. 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.I find it hard to see that the Government have broken the rules in this matter; nor is there any question of indemnity arising. It is perfectly open for the Government to lay Orders while this Bill is before Parliament. I do not think that anyone would seriously suggest that this is a moment when action should be taken against the Home Secretary. It is absurd to suggest that this is a question purely of indemnity when the Government are trying to solve a prolem which to them is a real one.
Several of my noble friends behind me, who have had experience of constituencies, will acknowledge the great disturbance that boundary changes inflict. I say this in no disrespect to those noble Lords who have not been Members of Parliament, though several ex-Members spoke on both sides. I do not believe that it is appreciated how important are the relations of a Member of Parliament with his constituents, not just in terms of electors and Party organisation (my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy referred to this) but also in their day-to-day work in dealing with local problems, especially the problems of individuals. I would hazard a guess that anything up to 50 per cent. of an M.P.'s life is taken up in the arduous duties of dealing with every sort of problem that may come to him. 547 I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, would agree with this.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, I do not see why I should be subjected to this high-minded lecture. I was redistributed in 1950 and lost the seat by 97 votes.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, I was redistributed in 1951 and won the seat by 16 votes. Subsequently, I was redistributed again and lost by 400 votes. I am not giving a high-minded lecture to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, because he knows what the work of an M.P. is. It is a very important and creative task. I ask noble Lords to accept that major boundary changes are damaging. I think that this must be acknowledged. It is a question of the extent to which we should put weight on this. I say that it would be frivolous to carry out two major boundary changes in the course of five years, yet it is absolutely clear that if Maud is carried out we shall have to carry out such a major boundary change.
What, then, is the effect of the boundary changes which we now propose? My noble friend Lord Stonham indicated that it is likely in London—although I know that the papers have carried forecasts to the contrary—that the Labour Party may lose three, and probably more, Parliamentary seats, and that other changes which have been proposed will also be damaging to the Labour Party. I am rather impressed by the devotion of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to the "One man, one vote, one value" argument. I do not think that anyone heard him actively criticise the position with regard to the City of London in the past, in regard to which "One man, one vote, one value" did not apply. I think that his comparisons and what he was saying about what will now remain as a result of not carrying out the Boundary Commission proposals are inconsistent with the proposals that are likely to take effect anyway. He mentioned 20, 000 as being inadequate, but he knows well that for very valid reasons a number of Scottish constituencies have very few more than 20, 000 voters. The constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission in fact vary between 30, 000 and 80, 000. I do not want to go into this in great detail to-day, because we shall have a further discussion of this on Monday.
548 Let me just answer one point put by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. I am grateful that he restrained himself and did not agree with his constituent that the Government were actually committing treason, though I think he would have liked to do so. I should like to say to him, on the Scottish position, that the Wheatley Report is expected in the autumn. I assure him that it is not being held up by political interference and, depending on the nature of the recommendations and the extent to which they may or may not cross the proposals of the Boundary Commission, it will be possible to make a decision about implementing the Report. But in England the Boundary Commission proposals do cross, very heavily, a large number of the Maud proposals. In fact, it has been calculated that over 90 constituencies will be affected, and the ripple effect will spread far beyond these. I ask your Lordships to consider that there is a genuine case for what the Government are proposing.
Despite the luring attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to stimulate threats about the House of Lords, I am bound again to question whether this is a matter in which the House of Lords ought to hold up the decision of the House of Commons; and I will seek to give my reasons. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons were (I think these were the words he used)"an emanation of the people". If so, I can only say that the House of Lords is a pretty odd "emanation of the people". This is no personal reflection on many of those Peers by succession who contribute so nobly to our debates, and, if I may say so, with such marked reliability with their votes in support of the Conservative Party.
The simple fact is that if the Conservative Party had introduced this Bill—and they might just as well have done so because they have never been behind hand in pursuing their own interests—
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I am not speaking about the behaviour of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington or indeed of the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, but 549 if one looks at the history of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords over many years—and nobody knows this better than the Liberals—one sees that they have not been behind in seeking political and Party advantage.
The question is: should a House which we on the Labour side believe ought to be reformed, and ought not to be in a position to exercise a veto only on behalf of one Party, be enabled, in a matter which we are convinced, for reasons which I have given, is not constitutional, be in a position, in the fourth or fifth year—the fatal years which they always use for this purpose—be entitled, to hold up the House of Commons? I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who talked about a bee sting that this is not a very clever bee sting. It will not lead to any particular result except the total postponement of all the proposals of the Boundary Commission. My Lords, I do ask the noble Lords, and particularly those who sit on the Cross-Benches, to consider the arguments very carefully and not to be led by a Conservative Party which is motivated, in our view, primarily by political advantage in this matter.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.