§ Leave out Clause 3.
§ The Commons disagreed to this Amendment but proposed the following Amendment to the words so restored to the Bill:
Page 4, line 30, at end insert—
(3) This section shall not effect the operation of section 2 of this Act in relation to the constituencies named in Schedule 2, and any Order in Council made in relation to any of them by virtue of section 2 shall supersede any Order so made by virtue of this section."
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords with the leave of the House I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments and doth not insist on the Lords Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed.
I move this Motion with a deep personal sense of sadness. My noble friend Lord Stonham, who bore the full brunt in your Lordships' House on this controversial measure, has now left the Government, with universal praise for his hard work, for his skill in high office, which he has held since 1964, and for his transparent integrity. I find it hard to believe that the compliments which have been paid him were not genuine, yet he and his colleagues in the Home Office have of late been criticised in another place and in the Press for having lowered the standards of public life. We, who know my noble friend and my right honourable friends in another place, know that this is a transparent he. I hope, with confidence, that the aspersions which were cast in another place will not be repeated to-day.
1547 In the two major debates on this Bill which we had before the Summer Recess, the different attitudes to the problem which the Bill seeks to solve were put forward with much force and with great sincerity. I have no doubt that our debate to-day will be of the same high quality, but I hope very much that on this occasion your Lordships will not insist on the Amendments made during the Committee stage in this House. The Commons have agreed to our first Amendment. They have disagreed to certain other Amendments and have made Amendments to one other of our Amendments.
In view of the time which has elapsed since we last debated this Bill, I propose first of all to go over the ground which led the Government to introduce the measure which was passed in another place. In accordance with the statutory timetable in Section 2 (1) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1958, the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland submitted their second periodical general review reports in the spring of this year. Each of those reports provided for a radical alteration of constituency boundaries in accordance with the redistribution rules—that is, based on existing local government boundaries.
At about the same time, the Royal Commission on Local Government in England published their Report. The Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland was then awaited. It has since been published, on September 25. In Wales, the Government had published a White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation and were in consultation with the interested organisations, and in Northern Ireland, the Government there published, on July 2, a White Paper on The Reshaping of Local Government. All these recommendations, both Parliamentary and local government, were major in character. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. It was the duty of the Government to consider the implications of the proposals for local government on the recommendations for constituency boundaries. To have disregarded the local government proposals would have been 1548 a gross neglect of the responsibility of government.
During the debates on the Bill, the Government have indicated the extent of the divergences between the recommended constituencies for England and Wales and the local government proposals for those countries. I invite your Lordships to keep this very much in mind to-day. I hope that the House will examine carefully the scales upon which the decision should rest and that to-day we can do so free from the artificial, emotive atmosphere that surrounded us in July.
In England, the Boundary Commission recommend 271 major constituency changes. Of the recommended constituencies, 94 will be divided between two or more main local authority units proposed by the Redcliffe-Maud Commission and many more recommended constituences would need consequential adjustments to accommodate the 94 constituencies entirely within the area of a proposed main authority. In Wales, major changes were proposed in seven constituencies and minor changes of boundaries in another four constituencies. If these changes were to be implemented the total effect would be that 19 constituencies in Wales would contain a part of more than one proposed new county district.
The Report of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Scotland recommended major changes in 37 constituencies and minor alterations in a further 9 constituencies. In Northern Ireland the Commission recommended major alteration of 7 constituencies. In all, therefore, the Commissions recommended changes in no fewer than 410 out of the 630 existing constituencies in the United Kingdom. That then was the exent of the recommendations for constituency changes, based—and, as I have said, quite properly based—on existing local government boundaries. Nevertheless, the constituency boundary changes were recommended at a time when the prospect of radical reorganisation of local government was upon us.
It has been said that in considering these circumstances the Government have assessed the situation on what, at the present stage, are no more than recommendations for local government reorganisation. What the Government have 1549 accepted is the principle that a major rationalisation of local government is called for but the details of the proposed local government boundaries are matters for consultation. There is, however no doubt that alteration of local government boundaries to the extent envisaged in the various proposals would certainly mean that another major review of constituency boundaries would be needed in a few years time, as soon as new local government boundaries have been settled. The view of the Government is that two major upheavals of the constituency map should be avoided.
On this let me give an example of the upheaval which would be caused if the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions were to be implemented now. Take the parishes of Bramshill, Eversley, Hartley Wintney, Winchfield, Dogmersfield, Odiham, Long Sutton and South Warnborough, in the rural district of Hartley Wintney. These parishes are at present in the Aldershot constituency, along with the rest of Hartley Wintney rural district, Aldershot, Fleet and Farnborough. If the Boundary Commission's recommendations were to be implemented these parishes would be transferred to the Basingstoke constituency. Local government reorganisation would subsequently come along and the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations would include the parishes in the West Surrey unitary area No. 53. The Boundary Commission would then come along and would probably recommend that the parishes be included in a constituency with other areas of unitary area No. 53; that is, that they should be transferred back again into a constituency along with some of the areas of the constituency—Aldershot—of which it at present forms part.
I am confident that no one would quarrel with my argument that unnecessary alteration of constituency boundaries should be avoided. It is not only the convenience of Members of Parliament and candidates that is involved. There is also the effect on local political Parties, who in my view are the grass roots of democracy in this country, and, as has so often been said by noble Lords opposite in the past, the importance of ensuring that our people and local interests having a stable and recognised local entity. We need to balance that need with the result of the Government's proposals.
1550 It has also been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that it is unfair to have constituencies with such a wide range and number of electors, bodies affecting the value of the vote. He said that 90, 000 to 20, 000 was about five to one, and that this was intolerable. However, the noble Lord and his; Party appear to be prepared to tolerate four to one, because the Boundary Commission propose ratios of that sort. In the English Boundary Commission the range is from 83, 000 to about 30, 000, and we know that in Scotland the constituencies drop to 20, 000. The question is: do we have a mammoth upheaval twice over a short period of time by changing the ratio of five to one to four to one immediately? Reorganisation is bound to mean disturbance, but I am quite clear that we ought to minimise the amount of chopping and changing so far as possible. That is what the Government's proposals are all about.
My Lords, before I come to the solutions which the Government consider appropriate in these circumstances, I should like to deal with the point that has been expressed in some quarters that the Government ought to have taken steps to suspend the activities of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions when the Royal Commissions on Local Government were set up. I do not want to dwell on this matter too much, but the Home Secretary has made it quite clear that in 1966 the Government approached the Opposition through the usual channels, on the question of suspending the work of the Boundary Commissions, and the Opposition would not agree. This is why the problem is still with us. But I personally have no doubt, on reflection and with hindsight, that we should have legislated then. However, I would pose this question: had the Government taken action in 1966, immediately after the overwhelming Election victory, should we have heard, as we have heard repeatedly, the charge of cheating? I doubt it very much. Then why now?—except in terms of Party political gamesmanship.
The Government's solutions were embodied in the Bill in the form in which we received it from another place in July. Briefly, the Bill provided for no action to be taken on the 1969 Reports for England and Wales; for a decision on the implementation of the Reports 1551 for Scotland and Northern Ireland to be deferred until not later than the end of March, 1970; for the Boundary Commission to be reactivated as soon as the new local government boundaries have been settled for the purpose of carrying out another general review of constituencies; for the alteration—in accordance with the recommendations of the Boundary Commission—of constituencies in Greater London where local government boundaries are not likely to be substantially altered in the foreseeable future; for the 1970 Greater London Council elections to be held for single-member electoral areas based on the new Parliamentary constituencies; and for the division of certain abnormally large constituencies so as to remove the unfairness of under-representation in those constituencies until a further general review of constituencies was practicable.
I mentioned the provision in the Bill relating to the 1969 Reports of the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales. During our discussions on Committee stage on July 21 there was some misunderstanding between the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and my noble friend Lord Stonham on his remark that Clause 1 of the Bill as introducedsuspends action completely and for all time on the recommendations which the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales have recently submitted".I accept that this would be the legal effect of Clause 1 of the Bill as introduced, but I would again make the point that I do not regard the work of the Commissions for England and Wales as being entirely wasted. In carrying out another general review following local government reorganisation, the Commissions would be able, in preparing their provisional recommendations, to look at their 1969 recommendations and relate the considerations which were involved in making those recommendations to the new local government boundaries. It is also relevant to point out—though I will come to this question later—that the Commons Amendments to your Lordships' Amendments would provide for the implementation of the 1969 Reports for England and Wales if the Commissions are not re-activated by March 31, 1972.
My Lords, having gone through the provisions of the Bill as passed by an- 1552 other place, I am convinced that they represent the best and the most practicable way of dealing with the problem with which we are faced. Your Lordships, however, came to a different conclusion and sent the Bill back to another place in such a form that its effect from the point of view of altering constituency boundaries was little different from the law as it stands at present. Despite the prospect of local government reform on a scale never contemplated before in our lifetime, the Amendments made in your Lordships' House called upon the Secretary of State to lay by March 31, 1970, draft Orders in Council for giving effect to the 1969 Reports of the Boundary Commissions based on existing local government boundaries. These Amendments represented something quite different from the Bill passed by the House of Commons. The principle of the Bill was completely changed.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, explained in Committee that the object of the Amendments was to enable the Government to reconsider their action and to have time to reflect upon the debates and discussions which have taken place. The whole issue which is at stake on this Bill is one to which the Government gave the most serious consideration before they first brought their conclusions before Parliament. The matter has been debated with great fervour since then, and the decisions of the elected body in another place have on each occasion supported the views of the Government. The Government have considered most carefully what has been said in the debates on the Bill. The text of the Amendments they proposed to the Lords Amendments was available before Parliament adjourned for the Summer Recess.
The Government Amendments go a very long way towards meeting the criticism which had been made that the Bill contained no terminal date by which the Boundary Commissions should be reactivated to carry out another general review. The main effect of the Government Amendments is to fix March 31, 1972, as the date by which either a Boundary Commission has to be re-activated or the 1969 Report of the Commission has to be implemented; and a decision on which course would be appropriate has to be taken in the light of 1553 progress on local government reorganisation. The course chosen would require the approval of both Houses of Parliament, by way of approval of a draft Order in Council, either to re-activate a Commission or to give effect to its 1969 Report. The effect of the decisions on the Bill which have now been made by another place is to restore those provisions of the Bill which the Amendments made by your Lordships' House sought to delete, but the Bill is modified by fixing a terminal date of March 31, 1972, for either re-activating the Commissions or implementing the 1969 Reports.
Having given a general indication of the Government's views on the Amendments made by your Lordships' House and of the Government Amendments to those Amendments, perhaps I might explain briefly the effect of the particular decisions which have now been taken in another place. The Commons have agreed to our first Amendment, which is a matter of drafting. They have disagreed to those of our Amendments which, taken together, would mean that no proceedings on the 1969 Boundary Commission Reports could be taken in the present Session of Parliament, but that draft Orders in Council must be laid by the Secretary of State by March 31, 1970. My Lords, I have fully explained already why the Government cannot accept the proposition that draft Orders must be laid by March 31 next, and the Government's views have been endorsed by the Commons. Their disagreement with your Lordships' Amendment that draft Orders should not be laid this Session is for the reason that it is irrelevant in the general context of the Government's view that draft Orders in Council to implement the 1969 Reports are not appropriate either in the present Session or at any time while there is the prospect of drastic local government reorganisation.
The Amendments which the Commons have made to our Amendment at page 1, line 9, (No. 6 in to-day's list) represent a modification of the Bill as originally passed by them. The effect is to provide a new Clause 1 to the Bill which is then divided into two clauses. All the main provisions of the original Clause 1 are preserved, but modifications have been made so as to fix the latest date—March 31, 1972—by which a Commission must be re-activated if by that date the 1554 1969 Report of a Commission his not been implemented. The new provision would operate in the following way. By March 31, 1972, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament for approval the draft of an Order in Council for the purpose of re-activating a Commission, and he is to do so earlier if it appears to him that it would not by reason of the prospect of local government reorganisation be premature. But if by reason of the continuing prospect of local government reorganisation reactivation of a Commission is not practicable, then the Secretary of State must lay a draft Order for the approval of Parliament to implement the 1969 Report of the Commission except the report of the English Commission in so far as it relates to Greater London. This is the effect of the Government Amendment to insert a new Section 2 (5) at line 31 on page 3).
As I have indicated, if an Order reactivating a Commission is laid, it must be laid before March 31, 1972, and a Commission will be required to submit another general review within four years of the date on which the Order comes into force. The Order can, however, provide for a reduction in the period of four years if the Secretary of State is satisfied, after consulting a Boundary Commission, that they could submit their Report within a shorter period from the coming into force of the Order, and in this event provision is made for a postponement of the coming into force of the Order by a period no greater than the reduction. For example, if a Commission indicated that they could submit their Report within three years of new local government boundaries being settled, a re-activating order made at the beginning of 1972 could take this into account, but its coming into force could not be postponed for more than one year.
I think, from what I have said, that the House will agree that the Government have gone a long way towards meeting points which were made in this House and in another place. In saying that, I have particularly in mind the speech made in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, when he said the Bill gave the Government a blank cheque on the period of suspension of constituency alterations. My noble friend Lord Champion made the same point. I also have it in mind that the Opposition in another place moved an Amendment to place a 1555 terminal date of May 1, 1972, for reactivating a Boundary Commission if the 1969 Report had not been implemented. It was said during the debate in another place that the Amendment was looked upon as a test of the good faith of the Government. The Amendment now made by another place demonstrates the Government's sincerity, and the date which has been chosen is one which seems the most appropriate having regard to the likely progress on local government reorganisation. Local government reorganisation is a matter to which the Government are giving urgent consideration. The Home Secretary indicated in Committee in the House of Commons on July 14, that he thought it would be possible for the Boundary Commission for England to publish new provisional recommendations in 1973, and before that they would be working out what their provisional recommendations should be.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington indicated in Committee that the effect of inserting a terminal date for implementing the Boundary Commissions' Reports could bring the alteration of constituencies nearer to the implementation of Redcliffe-Maud than would be the case if constituency boundaries were now altered. I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, but the Government—as they were invited to do by your Lordships' House—have considered all that has been said on the debates on this Bill and have reached the conclusion that the pleas for the insertion in the Bill of a terminal date are not unreasonable. Their hope is, however, that the Boundary Commissions would be able to be re-activated by March 31, 1972, to carry out a further general review. The Amendment to divide Clause 1 of the Bill into two clauses is for drafting purposes, and the proposed additional subsection (3) to Clause 4 is consequential on it.
The Commons disagree with your Lordships Amendment to leave out Clause 2 of the Bill dealing with constituencies in London. I think it is accepted on all sides that since there is no prospect of substantial alteration of local government boundaries in Greater London in the foreseeable future, the recommendations of the Boundary Commission should be implemented there. 1556 The difference between the two Houses up to the present time has been that your Lordships consider that the recommendations for Greater London should be implemented along with all the other recommendations for England whereas the Commons have decided that Greater London should be implemented on its own. My Lords, I would earnestly hope that you will take a different view today. To insist upon your Amendment to the Bill as originally introduced will prolong the uncertainty about the basis on which elections to the Greater London Council are to be held next April. As we all appreciate, those are important elections and, as I understand it, there is no difference between us about the desirability of conducting these elections on the basis of single-member electoral areas. The prospect of that happening in 1970 if your Lordships insist on your own Amendments will become more doubtful.
The additional subsection (5) to Clause 2 is consequential on the provision which provides for the 1969 Report to be implemented by March 31, 1972, if the Boundary Commission for England has not been re-activated by then. The new subsection takes account of the fact that Orders in Council made in 1972 implementing the 1969 Report would not need to implement the recommendations of that Report for Greater London because they would have been implemented already by the Bill; but power is taken for the draft Orders in Council to alter the constituencies on the border of Greater London as determined by the Bill—for example, Epping, Chigwell, Sevenoaks and South East Hertfordshire—so as to deal with them in accordance with the 1969 recommendations.
The Commons disagree to the Amendment made by this House to delete Clause 3 of the Bill which makes provision for the division of abnormally large constituencies. Your Lordships deleted this clause because it was unnecessary in the light of the Amendments you made to Clause 1 of the Bill. On Second Reading my noble friend Lord Stonham explained very fully the reason for the inclusion of Clause 3. The Government are anxious to go some way towards removing the unfairness of under-representation in the very large constituencies which would remain outside Greater London, 1557 but it was necessary to keep the number of those constituencies to a minimum so as to avoid, so far as possible, causing a double upheaval within a few years. I invite your Lordships to agree that the clause should be restored to the Bill.
I also invite you to agree to the consequential Amendment to add a new subsection (3) to Clause 3 of the Bill. Its purpose is to enable an Order in Council dividing the abnormally large constituencies to be superseded by an Order in Council which might be made at a later date giving effect to the 1969 Report of the Commission for England under subsection (9) of the Commons Amendment to the Lords Amendment. The Commons Amendments to restore Schedule 1 (which is complementary to Clause 2) and Schedule 2 (which is complementary to Clause 3) are consequential.
My Lords, I apologise for the length of my speech on this occasion but I considered it necessary to go over the whole of the ground again, not only to show that the Government have devoted much time to considering what the right solution should be in the light of the circumstances in which the Boundary Commissions have made their Reports, but also because of the importance of the decision which we must reach in this House to-day. The action of the Government has been compared with the action taken in 1954 when the Commissions submitted their first periodical Reports. My Lords, there can be no disagreement that the sort of circumstances which prevail on the present occasion were never considered in 1954. The Government have done their duty in considering what should be the right solution to bring before Parliament on this occasion.
Earlier in my speech I sought to weigh up the balances, the advantages and disadvantages, of the Government proposals. The Government take a contrary view to that of noble Lords opposite, who seek to change in some way the value of votes from live to one to four to one immediately, yet are prepared to see major changes, very major changes, in some 322 constituencies, and minor changes in some 88—a total of 410—and are then prepared, to get this slight difference between five to one to four to one, to be confronted with yet another major political upheaval in a few years' time.
1558 I do not believe that this is right when one considers the basic fabric of democracy in this country. The basic fabric, in my view, is the activities not of the national Parties but of the local political Parties. The Government and the elected Chamber do not agree with the Opposition. The Government, who have the responsibility, will not be frustrated by this House. We have, as we have always done, given deep consideration to the views of your Lordships' House. We have recognised some of the major fears and have sought to meet them in substantial part. But, my Lords, the Government have a responsibility and have the support of the elected Chamber; and in the end it is for the elected Chamber to decide.
It is for this reason that the Home Secretary explained what would be the position if this House rejected the Commons decision. The Home Secretary will, either at the end of this Session or at the beginning of the next, lay before Parliament Draft Orders relating to the recommendations of the 1969 Reports in the manner provided by Section 2 (5) of the 1949 Act. The Home Secretary has told the Commons, however, that this would not mean that the Government were withdrawing their position in relation to these Reports established by that House, and that he will not be able to advise the House of Commons to approve the Orders. So if the Commons were to accept the Home Secretary's advice the position would then be that no changes could be made in constituencies as a whole, because the Orders had not been given effect, and no changes could be made, even in London and in large constituencies, because your Lordships' House would have rejected the Bill which would have made changes possible. Therefore, the next Election would be fought on the constituencies that now exist, which in my view would be a matter of very great regret.
My Lords, I ask the House to weigh up the circumstances of this Bill; to accept the view which the Government hold, that we should not change boundaries unnecessarily. This Bill gives us an opportunity of dealing with a difficult situation properly, calmly and practically; and for that reason I very much hope that your Lordships' House will not insist upon its Amendments.
1559 Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments and doth not insist on the Lords Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Shepherd.)
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, no, this will not do. Your Lordships made it perfectly clear by an overwhelming majority on July 21 last that the all-Party agreement dating from 1944 must not be set aside unilaterally by one Party. It is not a question of whether Odiham and Hartley Wintney will mind being moved out of the Basingstoke constituency if by 1972 they have, probably against their will, been shifted by Parliament from Hampshire into Surrey. It is a question of whether the British people will approve of rules being broken by one side after they have been agreed by all sides. In this matter it appears that your Lordships' House has to fight the battle for the British people.
The possibility of legislation by 1972 on the Maud Report—the possibility that there might need to be two revisions of Parliamentary boundaries within five or six years—these weigh as nothing against the overriding importance of keeping the electoral system at General Elections fair. Justice must prevail over convenience. The Lords Amendments to this Bill will secure that object. The actions of the Government majority in another place on these Amendments would frustrate it.
Parliamentary constituencies must be revised regularly to take account of population changes. Hitherto that has been unanimously agreed by all Parties. Otherwise, General Elections will become unfair, because the size of constituencies in relation to one another will be unfair and unjust. The present constituencies were fixed 15 years ago on the basis of recommendations of the impartial Boundary Commissions, which had before them the population figures of 1953, 16 years ago. These Commissions presented fresh Reports this year, in 1969, according to their duty; and these Reports prove, whatever the noble Lord may say, that the present arrangement of constituencies has become grossly unfair.
The law says this—and I quote from the 1949 Act:As soon as may be after a Boundary Commission have submitted a report to the Secretary of State under this Act, he shall lay the 1560 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.The Home Secretary has not yet complied with that requirement of the law. He admits it. The Lords Amendments were designed to give him time for fresh consideration. They extended the time until March 31, 1970, for him to comply with the law. This we now learn is unacceptable to the Labour majority in another place.
This Commons Message, if we were to accept it, would render the 1969 Reports of the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales, at any rate, null and void so far as the next General Election is concerned. I am not prepared to connive at that. It would postpone the restoration of fairness to the constituency system until some time between 1972 and 1976. That is not what the people of this country want: they want the next General Election to be on a fair basis—and may the best side win! Your Lordships, each of you, will wish to consider most carefully the position for himself. But for the reasons I have just given we seem to me to have a duty towards the British people to insist on our Amendments.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord, because I must say that the actions of the Government on the Boundary Commission get curiouser and curiouser. They start out by selecting those parts of the Boundary Commission's proposals which definitely appear to us on balance to be more advantageous to them, and to disregard the ones which obviously would give an advantage to the Opposition. This is how it appears to us and to many other people. When we say that this looks like gerrymandering and it is voted down by the House of Lords, they come up with a proposal which they call a "compromise". The compromise is that they set a date for the re-activation of the Boundary Commission, which in effect is a device for making sure that the Boundary Commission's 1969 proposals are not put into effect for the coming General Election.
This is not a Party matter; it is a matter of political principle. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, 1561 said, this is a matter of fair dealing between the Parties. I have no desire to see more Conservatives in any Administration—far from it—but there is a principle at stake here and it seems to me that it is one that this House must uphold.
It occurred to me as the weeks went by that the overriding motivation of the Government is the desire to avoid changing any boundaries before the coming General Election, and it seems to me that it is not only their unwillingness to implement the full proposals, but under the compromise solution it does not look as if there is to be any change whatsoever. This seems to me to be very much in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said in different ways. They are both patently honest people, who gave the game away. On the Second Reading of this Bill the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said: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 … ".—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 548.]I think that was true. It was an honest statement, and I think it was confirmed by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who went into more detail when he said:The real difficulty is that, out of a number of plausible, or defensible, possibilities, the Government of the day, whatever their complexion … left to themselves"—and we are not leaving them to themselves—tend to choose the one that suits their own interests".He then went on to say: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.He went on: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."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 505.]That is what the real argument on political principle is about, and those are statements by two people of the highest possible integrity. I do not like this attitude to electoral problems, and I think the House of Lords, if it is to do its 1562 duty, must reject these various devices by the Government. This is a matter of principle on which a House of Lords, reformed or unreformed, would still be invited by my side of the House to take the same position.
On the merits of the case, I simply do not understand how the Government can be so absolutely certain, in the light of the experienced views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and others, that the Maud proposals for local government can be enacted by 1972. When we had the example of Aldershot, I could only think that the whole of the Maud boundaries must by now have been accepted by the Government. I thought the idea was that we were going to have consultation; that we were going to have a chance of expressing our views on this matter. But no, we are not. Apparently the Government are accepting the Maud proposals without any amendment at all. If that is so, they might just be able to squeeze something in by 1972, but I do not believe that is democratic and I do not believe that any Government would be allowed to get away with it. But even if they got the whole of the local government boundary situation agreed by 1972, it is bound to take about three years at least for the Boundary Commission, reactivated, rested, alert, to get on with the job and complete it, and ii the Government have to lay—as is the alternative in their proposal—the 1969 Orders in 1971-72 because they cannot see the future of the local government boundaries clear by March 31, 1972, there will be an even shorter period between those two great upheavals than there would if we accepted the full arrangement to-day It is much more likely, especially if there is another Government, that this reorganisation will not be in final form until at the very earliest 1974, 1975 or even 1976.
One must remember that the Boundary Commission really cannot start work again until the local government boundaries have been agreed and the local government plan properly drawn up. This could well mean that the next full-scale reorganisation of Parliamentary constituencies would be delayed until 1977 or 1978—that is 22 or 23 years since the last redistribution in 1955. That is a terrible length of time to contemplate for any Parliament.
It seems to me the Government have only one thing in mind. It is to use all 1563 the means they have to secure Party advantages for this coming General Election, and it is our duty to say "enough is enough". In my view, the Government have made the situation worse by the announcement that they will in fact carry out their plan by this ludicrous method of the Home Secretary coming down, laying the Orders, and then saying, "I hope you will not have the temerity to pass these". Apart from anything else, it is a terrible waste of paper and a terrible waste of time. I really think that that is an affront to the dignity of Parliament itself.
I feel that the Government should, at this late stage, think again and introduce the Boundary Commission's proposals in full. I should be very surprised indeed if the next major redistribution is earlier than 1976 or 1977, when the new local government boundaries are properly established. If the Government are not prepared to do this I can only tell them that they remind me of an experience I had in 1937, just before the war. In those days I was running in international athletics matches. I was competing in the 400 metres hurdles in Brussels against five other countries. There was a good deal of international tension in the air and very little one could do if anything went wrong. As we came up to the starter to draw lots for the different lanes, the Italian competitor marched forward, opened the bag, took out all the discs, selected No. 1, which was the inside lane and put the rest back, leaving us to take our choice of the other lanes. I feel very much in the same position to-day with the Government. I should perhaps tell the Government that the Italian fell flat on his face at the eighth hurdle!
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a few minutes. My brevity is due in part to the fact that I should not wish to weary your Lordships by going over again the many arguments with which you are already familiar, and partly to a personal reason to which I shall refer at the close of my slender observations. However, having been unable to take part in the earlier debate on this matter I am anxious to register my own personal and emphatic protest 1564 at what seems to be one of the most distasteful uses of political power which I have seen in nearly forty years during which I have sat in one or other of the Houses of Parliament.
The original Government proposals seemed to be a clear contempt of the Constitution. These new ones, which at the best mean that we may have more up-to-date constituency boundaries by 1976 at the latest, rather than by 1983 at the latest, in no way purge that contempt. Indeed I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his racy and moving speech that the position is, if anything, more disgraceful now than it was before, for we have now had spelt out to us in some detail the unworthy intention of the Government, which is that if this House to-day carries out its constitutional duty the Home Secretary will lay a number of Orders and then command his flock in another place that these Orders shall be defeated. Members of both Houses are rightly indignant at some of the goings-on in certain Parliaments in Africa, where, hypocritically in the name of democracy, Governments have brought democracy into disrepute. Having personally, with a long association, followed these developments with what has become, I fear, a slightly resigned interest, I do not remember a case where even those ingenious people have dreamed up this particular form of outrageous abuse of power.
I am sure that many Government supporters in both Houses must be most unhappy at the dishonourable course into which they have been manœuvred by their leaders. To refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, I am sure that these people would infinitely have preferred to have what he called—and I think he exaggerated greatly—two massive upheavals rather than have to swallow the humiliations which they must find dishonourable and very distasteful. They have been moved into this position by a Government who are constantly reminding us of the need to preserve the highest standards in this the oldest of the great Parliaments of the world, the need, to use the modern jargon, never to damage the public image of Parliament or to add to the public's growing disillusion with it. I would not envy any Minister of the present Government who may be called upon to preside over a 1565 constitutional conference of one of the remaining dependent overseas territories and to urge them, as I have done and they have done, to set up boundary commissions whose reports should be adopted without modification or delay.
Finally, the Amendments which we are considering seem to me to be based on an utter illusion about the likely rate of progress of local government reform. Few, if any, of us can have met people actively engaged in local administration who accept the Government's whimsical speculation about this, devised by people who are living in a dream world—unless, of course, as was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, they have in their own mind already completed their consultation with the local authorities and now intend crudely to curtail further consultation and then to come out with an inevitably ill-thought-out Bill. I hope no Parliament will accept a hastily devised new structure of local government, involving, as one distinguished Liberal member said in another place two days ago, enormous proposals which, if hastily prepared and forced swiftly through, face the certainty of active opposition by thousands of people who will have to work them, including the representatives of many local authorities.
May I end on a personal note?—and for this I must crave the indulgence of the House. I said I had a second reason for being very brief and it is this. I must apologise to the House if after sitting down, or soon after, I leave it. Many months ago I promised to preside this afternoon in the Haberdashers' Hall—and I hope the advertising will be forgiven—at the launching of the 21st birthday appeal of the University of the West Indies. There I must go, and may I express the hope that some members of the House on all sides who are friends of the University and of the West Indies will, after the Commons Amendments have been thoroughly defeated, come and support me there.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, since he will not be here, will not object to replies being given in the same sort of language that he has used.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, not in the least, and if it is pos- 1566 sible to get back from the launching I will come back and hear them with interest, but with dubiety.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, said that there were many Labour members perhaps, in this House and in the other place, who had been persuaded to a dishonourable course into which they had been manœuvred. I was the Minister who introduced the Bill into this House, and I can assure your Lordships that I myself was not manoeuvred. I do not think we are pursuing a dishonourable course, and to those of your Lordships who really want to discuss and consider the issues I propose to say why. First, however, I want to make the point that I am speaking now entirely freely, and your Lordships will find in the months ahead that I shall continue to speak freely and vote exactly as I please. What I am saying now, which I have not prepared at all except as I have been sitting here, I firmly believe to be the case.
May I also say to the noble Viscount, who said that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place would "command his flock", that this is the largest flock I have seen on the Opposition Benches since last we discussed this issue. I will forbear from suggesting that any noble Lord here is at command—I am sure it is quite untrue. Every noble Lord who votes against the Government on the issue will vote according to his conviction or conscience, as I am quite sure Members will do in another place. But it does seem to me that we have an unusually large number of noble Lords on the Opposition Benches, and I can only remember similar numbers when we discussed Rhodesia and when we last discussed this subject. So do not let us worry too much about commanding.
When I moved the Second Reading of this Bill allegations had been made by certain Members in another place. For example, Mr. Heath said that the Government were Party political tricksters and that the Bill was a squalid Parliamentary manœuvre. I dealt with those charges and said that if I felt there was any dishonesty in this Bill I would not move the Second Reading; and that is my position now. I would also say to your Lordships that I was very glad that 1567 in that debate after I had spoken those charges were not made. They were not made in your Lordships' House. I very much regret that, as it were, they have been revived. I noticed, for example, in another place—and I am quoting from The Times in case anyone should think I am out of order—that Mr. Quintin Hogg said that Mr. Callaghan, having decided originallyto cheat at the next election and then to take out a blank cheque on cheating thereafter, … had come forward with a compromise which would allow him to cheat at the next election but not to take out a blank cheque".I stand here, and your Lordships can think of me what you like, but I am not a cheat and my noble friends are not cheats. So I hope that that unworthy suggestion will not be made or even applied again on this Bill in this House. They can say what they like in another place, and they can say what they like outside, but we must have regard to the reputation of your Lordships' House and those who have the privilege of sitting here. I say even to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that I noticed some remarks of his, some rather fruity remarks, I thought, at the Conservative Party Conference. I thought then, "Well, that is a different atmosphere; he is not using the rapier of his wit that he applies in this House, but using a bludgeon". I am not suggesting that the extraordinary large numbers here to-day are going to be used as a blunt instrument, but I want this issue to be settled on its merits.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said that the Lords Amendments—that is, the Opposition Amendments—would secure that the elections would be fair. I submit to you, my Lords, that the Opposition Amendments in practice were designed to wreck the Bill. I am not going back over the old arguments we discussed on Second Reading and in Committee, going back to 1954 and so on, because they do not matter. We have to consider this one issue; namely, whether or not the Government are right in thinking that it would be a national disservice to the people as a whole to apply the Boundary Commission's recommendations now rather than wait until the Redcliffe-Maud Report has been considered. That is the only issue. There is no other issue. It is not a question of calculations of six seats here or 15 seats 1568 there. It is, which is the right process. I said that your Lordships' Amendments were wrecking Amendments, and I would add that our role here in this House is to build and not to destroy. We here are, or should be, engaged on construction and not destruction; and no amount of sophistry, no amount of clever speeches, harking back and quoting figures can alter the fact of what your Lordships' Amendments were designed to do; namely, to wreck the Bill. I said yesterday in another context that a Government must govern, and no one in your Lordships' House could believe that, having taken their decision in principle, the Government would go back on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers, said that the position now was even more complicated or foolish than it was before. I am not surprised that the noble Lord should have said that, because in our previous discussions he and other noble Lords on the Liberal Benches, and a number of Peers on the Cross-Benches, notably Lord Helsby, made a most important point about a terminal date. Now the Government have produced that terminal date, March, 1972; a date by which the Boundary Commission can be reactivated; if not, the 1969 Boundary Commission recommendations have to be put into operation.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, what does the noble Lord say to the point I made that if they do that in 1971-72 we are going to get a shorter gap between two upheavals?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am aware of that point. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the Leader of the Opposition, made that point last time. I felt then that it was most obscure. It was put in the speech again and the obscurity continued, so I asked for an explanation of what precisely it meant—not the noble Lord's speech, but the speech that I would have made but did not. But I do not think there is much in that particular point. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, is here, but certainly he made with great clarity the point that the weakness of the Government's position—and I thought it was a valid point—was that there was no guarantee of a date when, the Redcliffe-Maud proposals having been considered (I gave estimates of the time), the Boundary Commission 1569 could be re-activated. I think that that difficulty has been overcome by the Amendments which we are now considering.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, the noble Lord has overcome the problem of the terminal date, but he has not explained the mathematics. If in fact this has to be put off until 1975 and therefore one has to go in for laying the Orders for the 1969 proposals in 1971, then the period between 1971 and 1975 will be shorter than that between 1969 and 1975.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, what I am saying—and I am still referring to the previous debate—is that we now have a terminal date, for which I was asked and about which a great deal was made in our previous discussion. The noble Lord has continued from that and has made his own assumptions about 1976 which I am not in a position to contradict. I think they are an overestimate, because a great deal of work has been done already.
The position, however, is this: we are asked to say that the Government are wrong not to have this operation twice. My noble friend Lord Shepherd has given just one example of acute difficulties which would occur in a constituency and which, in greater or less degree, will be multiplied 400 times over. That is why I say that if noble Lords persist in their Amendments they are voting for chaos; and I should like to see that point answered. I am suggesting that if the Government's proposals are accepted, while not implementing all the Boundary Commission's proposals they do or would implement some valuable ones, such as those relating to the Greater London Council; all the 100, 000 or 100, 000-plus constituencies would be divided, and large adjoining constituencies would also be rationally redistributed. That, indeed, would be a great gain, and I think it would be wrong to lose that gain, as noble Lords will lose it if they persist.
If your Lordships refuse the request of my noble friend Lord Shepherd, we shall then be in the position, the Government having to pursue their policy, that we shall not in practice get any of the Boundary Commission's recommendations activated or on the Statute Book. That means that we shall fight the next 1570 Election on the present constituency boundaries with the present over-large constituencies, none of them altered. Is that what your Lordships want? Because that is what you will achieve by the course of action which it now appears likely that your Lordships will follow. But if the Opposition do not persist in this course, then we shall at least get some quite substantial advantage, particularly in Greater London.
My Lords, it seemed to me that there were just the two points: first, the allegation of dishonesty, which does not stand up and I think should be rejected; and secondly, that if you vote against the Government on this issue your vote will be a vote for electoral chaos; and, on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, made, I do not think that the people will support the Opposition in that. I believe that the people outside will consider what is common sense. That is what the Government propose, and not merely something that was said at the Conservative Party Conference and which now has to be stood up to.
§ LORD MACPHERSON OF DRUMOCHTER
My Lords, before the noble Lords sits down I wonder whether he can clarify one point for me? I have listened with interest to his argument that two major upheavals would be disastrous to this country. I understand that argument. On one side you have the Boundary Commission Report and on the other side you have the possible changes in local government, if they come into force. How have the Government worked out the priority that the local government changes should come ahead of the Boundary Commission? I can see that to have both is wrong. But why have the Government come to this decision that the Boundary Commission proposals should not come into operation first?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, noble Lords will probably feel that that question answers itself. If we activate the Boundary Commission proposals now we shall have a set of changes which will involve some 400 constituencies. If, fairly shortly after that, we then have the Redcliffe-Maud proposals considered by Parliament, agreed to and acted upon, there will be 400 more changes, affecting in most cases the same constituencies in 1571 very short order; and we had the Boundary Commission Report before we had the Redcliffe-Maud Report.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Order, order!
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD McCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, in nearly forty years in another place and in this House, I do not think—and I speak in all sincerity—that I have ever felt so sad, and even so bewildered, at any action by any Government as at the action this Government have taken over this electoral affair. Only yesterday in this House all speakers from all parts of the House were calling for social justice and true democracy in Ulster. I could not help feeling at the time that we were at risk of the charge of self-righteousness in view of the situation over these electoral boundaries where the action of the Government, whatever else it is, is by no means true democracy.
The Government, after all the debates in this House last summer, when there was almost complete unanimity among those who are not diehard supporters of the Labour Party in condemnation of the steps they wished to take, seemed to continue on almost the same course. They had opportunities honourably to withdraw their proposals and to take the action that the law lays down that they should. But no, they still maintained their position, and some 410 constituencies which, in the view of the independent Boundary Commission urgently required alteration, are left. This should be done now. They refuse to do this before the next General Election, and then they call this democracy.
I do not propose to argue the timetable of the Maud local government reports for England, or the schemes for Wales, or the alternative schemes for Scotland; to me that is not the point at all, but rather some red herring designed to divert attention from the enormity of what they are proposing to do. Many of us in this House will remember the sense of relief when the Electoral Act was passed and the Boundary Commission set up by the Labour Government after the war, and we all agreed in Parliament what a good thing is was that constituency boundary ques- 1572 tions should be removed for good from Party politics. All the Back-Benchers were agreed, and in a powerful letter to The Times to-day the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, makes the point that all the Labour Government were agreed on this fact also.
I have been thinking of the great leaders of the '30s and of war time, with many of whom we were privileged to work closely in the Coalition Government: Arthur Henderson; Anthony Greenwood; Clement Attlee; Ernest Bevin and others; men of the highest integrity. Would they have lent their support to the action the Government are at present taking? Mr. Ernest Bevin, with whom I was privileged to work most intimately, constantly reiterated to me the necessity of the strictest adherence to the honouring of contracts and agreements in the industrial world. What would he have thought about his Party's tactics now?
I have spent the whole of my life in industry and in politics. In the world of industry, in big firms or small firms, this sort of action would not be tolerated, and they would go to the wall; and it is a sad day for Parliamentary democracy when a great Party, forming the Government of the country, descends to such tricks as these. My Lords, I, for one, bitterly regret it.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, as a Cross-Bencher I should like to inject for a few moments one or two completely non-Party points. As the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, said just now, if ever there was a subject that ought to be outside Party politics this is it, and so I do not hesitate to make one or two remarks. The problem in front of us is representation of the people, and as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said in a previous debate in July, it is to the electorate that we are responsible in these debates. So I am thinking about the electorate.
On the question of delay, I was very impressed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said in July, that from a practical point of view—and she has had a very great deal of experience in these matters—she did not expect the aligning of new constituency boundaries to any new local government areas which may be decided upon as a result of the Redcliffe-Maud Report to be implemented until 1976 or 1977. That is a 1573 long way ahead. If, as a result of this recent suggestion, there is no action possible until that date, it will be 22 years, and the constituencies will be even more distorted than they are now 15 years after the last redrawing of boundaries. As the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said—he was quoted in an earlier debate—"The weight of a citizen's vote cannot depend on where he lives". But this is exactly what will happen if we leave it that long, and so I am very much against the delay involved in the present proposals.
On the contrary, I should like to suggest that there is need for speed. We have a General Election in front of us—we do not know the exact date, but I should have thought that the overriding requirement at the present juncture was to get the boundaries redrawn as quickly as possible. If that is not done, the House of Commons will be elected on a false basis, and at a time when they are going to consider for the first time for about a hundred years the rearrangement of local government areas. If it is administratively complicated to do this in two bites, then I am quite sure about my choice in the matter of administrative complexity against fairness, and I think I also know which the great British public will choose. I therefore have no hesitation in voting against the present suggestions.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD RITCH1E-CALDER
My Lords, for the first time, I think, since I came to this House I find myself in a great deal of difficulty, in this sense. Over the few years that I have been here, I have found this House extremely objective, extremely fair, and extraordinarily tolerant. To-day, I think we have seen the limit of sanctimonious humbug. It really is the limit of sanctimonious humbug, because here we are throwing words around which I think we should look at pretty hard, because some of them carry very profound implications against people whom I think we pretend to honour. I honour them; others pretend.
Now this is nonsense. If anyone can dare to suggest that the Government, for a Party reason, are trying to manipulate the boundaries in this instance, just think of what in fact is the case. This is a Government and a Home Secretary who are giving the vote to 2½ million young 1574 people who are absolutely and completely unpredictable as political entities. How on earth can you say about any Government prepared to take that risk that for one moment they are going to manipulate wards or boundaries in order to get political advantage?
In any event, this is the point I want to make. There is no psephologist in this country or any other country, and certainly no Party manager, who can possibly estimate what in fact the next Election is going to produce, because, as I say, we have introduced—because we believe it to be right and proper in terms of the representation of the people—into this complex situation 2½ million young people whose votes neither this side nor that side can possibly measure. Where does the manipulation come in here? It is ridiculous to suggest that there is in fact gerrymandering in any circumstances in this case.
I am very sorry to say so, so very rarely do I disagree with the noble Lord. Lord Byers, but it is not true; it cannot be true. We may argue on many other points, but one thing you cannot argue is that the Government are doing this for Party advantage. It is not true, it cannot be true; and as I have never been redistributed myself, I have no sensitivity about the realignment of boundaries. But I do know that you have here a situation which is an actual situation, to be examined in terms of strict reality between now and the next Election, et cetera, and you will find, if you examine it in those terms, that what is now being proposed is in fact the only common sense thing which can possibly be done.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ LORD HELSBY
My Lords, I think that when this Bill first came before your Lordships' House some of us felt that it carried a taint of constitutional impropriety, in that it asked for a postponement but failed to say how long the postponement was to be. We all knew that it was a matter of principle in this country—unwritten, perhaps, but none the less firm—that when it came to matters of representation of the people Parliament did not give discretion without limit to any Government. It keeps within its own hands the prescribing of the detailed arrangements for representation of the people, including the timing. Some of us, therefore, begged of 1575 the Government, if they wished to pursue the case for a postponement, to say how much postponement they wanted, in order that we might judge on practical grounds whether what they proposed was reasonable. Now they have done that. They have said how much postponement they propose, and I submit that this puts the matter outside the field of constitutional principle and into the realm of practical judgment, and that it is in that light that we should approach the issue.
If that be our line of thought, there are perhaps three factors which we ought to have especially in mind. The first factor is that it is agreed on all hands that too rapid successive changes in constituency boundaries must be harmful to the political fabric of this country. Upheavals of that sort can be damaging if they come too quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said that he would contemplate with equanimity successive changes five or six years apart. I think perhaps he was right. But I suggest—and I shall give my reasons for this in a moment—that what we are here confronted with is the question whether successive changes three or four years apart would be tolerable. I feel that that is very gravely doubtful and would cause a great disturbance in constituencies, which would be undesirable.
Secondly, we have to consider the Redcliffe-Maud Report and how quickly we may contemplate action on it, because this governs the timing and must affect the issue which I have raised. Let us bear in mind that the Redcliffe-Maud Report is not the response to some academic question. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission was not set up to look into theories of local government; it was set up to consider deficiencies, difficulties of working, which, to all of us, have been a cause of anxiety for some years. I submit that we cannot afford to allow those deficiencies and difficulties of working to continue very much longer, if we value our local government system. It is already creaking and groaning in many parts of the country. Moreover, the longer the discussion lasts about the remedies that are to be introduced into our local government system, the more the smaller councils, the very councils about which there is now most cause for anxiety, will be deflected from the work 1576 they ought to be doing; the more they will be preoccupied by the struggle for their own survival, and the worse, I suggest, will be the state of local government in this country. I believe, therefore, that the Government are certainly right in believing that we should not allow discussion and consultation on the Redcliffe-Maud Report to go on too long.
What is a reasonable time? How much consultation should there be? We have only one recent precedent before us; namely, what happened in London. The lapse of time between the production of the Report of the Committee headed by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, and the introduction of a Bill into Parliament giving effect to proposals based on that Report was, I believe, two years and three months. Much of the administrative work that was done then is relevant to what will have to be done now, and the experience will not be wasted. I think it is fair to say, as one who has some experience of these administrative problems, that it should be possible to do the job a little more quickly now than it was then. Even in the drafting of the Bill, some problems were tackled which will make progress more easy now.
I do not think that two and a half years is at all out of the way, or that it would give inadequate time for democratic processes of consultation. I remember—and reference has been made to the point—that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to a somewhat longer timetable in July, but I have quoted the timetable which she practised in London, and I do not think that was unreasonable. The plain fact is that the timetable of administrative processes of this kind is very largely governed by what one wants to happen.
Lastly, let us consider the timetable in relation to the constituency boundaries and the work of the Boundary Commission. It is true that the longest period provided under the Government's Amendments to this Bill could be five years plus. On the other hand, it is quite clear that, with reasonable expedition in the administrative matter of giving effect to Redcliffe-Maud, the Commission should be activated a good deal earlier than the maximum time provides. I personally think it is reasonable 1577 to rely on the good faith of the Government in that matter, and that, on the balance of practical judgment of what is best in practical terms for this country, the Amendments proposed by the Government are reasonable and should be supported.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, may I ask this of the noble Lord, who has unique knowledge in these matters and who is probably about the best administrator we have ever had in the public service? One would quite accept that he could make up his mind in a couple of years on what to do about Redcliffe-Maud. But does he really know—if he has any knowledge of what people are thinking about outside—how long it is going to take to have real consultation with all the local electors throughout the country? If there is to be consultation, and if we are to find out what people want in regard to the enormous reforms which are proposed, then I wonder whether the noble Lord will take it from someone who has also had a pretty long experience of administration and of politics that it will take years and not months.
§ LORD HELSBY
My Lords, I think that what matters here is what the Government of the day wish to happen. I am quite sure that the job can be done in a reasonably short time, given the will to do it. If one is prepared to allow local councils, who are anxious to fight for their own survival, to go on arguing as long as they wish to argue, then it may take a very long time. But I myself would regard that as very sad, from the point of view of government in this country, because our local government is, after all, part of the fabric of our society.
§ 4.50 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, speaking from this Bench, may I first of all try to clear up one point? In another place yesterday a Member spoke of "how the Bishop of Southwark had let the Government down". Although I have never disguised the fact that I am a member of the Labour Party, when I speak from this Bench I speak as a private individual and not as a member of a Party. Never once have the Government brought any pressure to bear on me—invited me to any meeting, written me a letter or done any- 1578 thing whatsoever to get my support. The only occasion on which one might possibly say they tried to influence me was when they very kindly asked me to a party at the beginning of a Session—and that is an invitation which I hope one day will come from the Opposition. I say this as I think it is an important point to make and because I feel, in justice to the Government, that I should make it clear.
Nevertheless, although I speak completely independently, without any sort of Whip, on the last occasion I made it clear that I regretted very much the line that the Government were taking—and I regret that as much to-day as I did then. I regret it for two reasons especially at the present moment. First of all, the Government have put up a very strong case, which has won the approval and, I would have said, the enthusiastic support of all Parties in both Houses, with regard to electoral justice in Northern Ireland. It is conceivable that within a few days when we come to discuss sanctions on Rhodesia the Government will be urging electoral justice there, and I shall be enthusiastic to support them. All the more reason, then, if one wants electoral justice in Ireland and Rhodesia, that we should be careful to demand electoral justice in our own country. It is for that reason that I feel compelled to vote against the Government to day. That is one reason.
The second reason why I regret very much what the Government are doing is that, being a convinced member of the Labour Party (although, as I say, I speak independently to-day) I should like the Government to go to the electorate at the next Election on their own record and on nothing else. I believe—unlike, perhaps, noble Lords opposite—that the Government have a good record of which they can be proud, and I believe they can win the next Election without any sort of gerrymandering. That is why I very much regret what they are seeking to do to-day. Let them stand on their own record, without fear or favour.
I would say this to members of the Government—I know this may hurt Members on this side, and I hasten to add that one of the difficulties of speaking from the Bishops' Bench is that we on this side of the House are always; on the side of the Government, and people 1579 often think we are part of the Government, as though we were just providing the spiritual sanction for the status quo. But I would say this to members of the Government. When they are away from politicians, from Westminster, and from people who are interested in the sort of things in which we are quite rightly interested, I wonder whether they realise what the reactions of people are. Being Bishop of Southwark, a diocese which covers roughly the whole of London South of the Thames, I spend a great deal of my time going to youth groups and other groups of students and answering their questions, and before I came to the House to-day I was looking at one of the questions which I have to answer in Peckham next Sunday. It is a question which has been put to me several times during the past few weeks and is apropros what we are discussing to-day. This is the question:How can you belong to a Party which persists in political duplicity?Noble Lords may say that that is wrong. You may say that it is untrue, and you may be right or you may be wrong. You may say that my interpretation is wrong. All I can say is that the next Election will prove it. I believe that if the Labour Party were to stand on its own record, without resorting to this sort of duplicity, it would do infinitely better than it will do if it persists in this duplicity. Then I am told, "Look, you are really not being fair to us. In 1972 things will be put right". It reminds me of St. Augustine, who said,Lord, make me chaste—but not yet.I would say to the Government, "Look, come clean! Come and put things right now".
My Lords, I said what I had to say on the last occasion, and I would not seek to elaborate my remarks. I hope that my friends on this side will know that it is not easy for me to disagree with them; and even though I disagree on this point, I hope it will not make for bad blood. Nevertheless, I have to disagree because I believe that on this particular point they are grievously wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, had made a "fruity remark". Whether that is true or not I do not know, but fruit is at the bottom of this trouble. Your 1580 Lordships will remember how the serpent told Eve to advise Adam to eat the apple. The apple that the Government seem to me to be seeking is the apple of electoral victory. I say that the Government can very well do that on their own record, without resorting to subterfuges of the sort which are involved in their particular procedure to-day.
My final remark, my Lords, is this. I hope very much that the Government will think again. I believe that at this particular time, especially for the young people—and we are mindful of what has appeared in the Press to-day as regards the universities—with their interests and with their concern to participate in the political life of our country, no matter what our Party may be we must try to show that we are men of integrity. Whatever happens, we must not debase the political currency. I am going to vote against the Government because I believe that what they are asking us to do is to debase the political currency.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, in following the right reverend Prelate, I should like to make a very brief comment. He has made exactly the same speech as he made last time, and I am not quite sure whether it was in seeking the dispensation from his own friends and supporters on this side of the House, or a pat on the back for noble Lords opposite, but we know what he has achieved.
I have never been in love with this Bill, not because I thought it was a crafty way of arranging for a greater number of seats for Labour at the next Election, for no one has given any startling figures to prove it. The case is not a clear one. There was a very intelligent and very honest article in the Financial Times at the time when the Bill was first introduced, and in that analysis it showed clearly that there were things on both sides, both for the Government and against the Government. The article in fact pointed out that the Government had a good case in not wanting two upheavals.
I was against this Bill because I knew that it would release an avalanche of accusations of gerrymandering of such self-righteousness as to be utterly nauseating and that the kind of superficial attacks 1581 about cheating were simply not worth it. It was not worth doing this to get, as I say, an avalanche of self-righteousness. I do not think that the Home Secretary had any intention of gerrymandering, for if he had then, by any analysis, it was very poor gerrymandering indeed.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He knows that I have been trying to speak. I promise to keep it short. I agree with almost everything that was said by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. I have never in my life heard so much hypocritical bunkum as I have heard to-day from the Benches opposite. Just look at this story! In 1966, the Government saw the kind of trouble that was coming and they did the only sensible thing. They went to the Opposition and they said, "Let us talk this over and try to find a workable arrangement." The Opposition refused. How, after that, people can get up and talk about deceit, hypocrisy, fraud, gerrymandering and the rest of it, passes my comprehension.
This is, after all, a Bill about the redistribution of seats in the Commons. It was passed by the Commons; it came up here and was amended; it was sent back to the Commons and it now appears here again. Your Lordships say that you are the last guardians of democracy and that therefore you are again going to turn down the elected Chamber. That is rubbish; and a lot of noble Lords who say it must know that it is rubbish. I simply say this. I resent hearing people whom I know well and whom I have known for many years being accused of cheating and lying without a tittle of evidence to support these accusations—people who were being praised only the other day; as was the Home Secretary, and properly, for his fair and impartial conduct in Ulster.
Your Lordships can reject this Motion: there is no doubt about that. And from one point of view I feel a little glad of it; for you are only bringing your own immolation a little nearer; and you have chosen very bad ground indeed. You started on the Rhodesia Order and then you took the Order about Redistribution of Seats in the Commons—and you are 1582 expecting to get popular support for that! You will not get it. I tell you this: I believe that the people of this country will resent it as much as I do that the standards of political life should be lowered by the flinging about of the accusations that have been flung about in this matter. If that goes on, then I shall be compelled to do the like and, though respecting your Lordships as I do, I shall have to call you all "Heath's hoodlums".
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, as I think that I am the only other noble Lord from North of the Border to have spoken, may I briefly say a very few words? I emphasise "North of the Border", because my understanding is that the Commission's recommendations are going to make very little difference there to the prospects of either political Party in the next General Election. Certainly this is so so far as the Conservative Party is concerned—which I think is a great pity; but there it is. The second point I want to make is that I have heard a great deal about postponing action on these recommendations because of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. I should like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether this also applies to the Report of the Wheatley Commission on Local Government in Scotland—because I suspect that a lot of water will flow under the bridge before the recommendations in that Report are enacted.
I should like very briefly to support my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in urging the House to reject this Motion to-day and also to associate myself with other noble Lords who expressed their dislike of the Government's conduct in this matter. I have listened very carefully to the arguments which the Government speakers have put up, and I must say that I still do not find them convincing. Although I am not a racing man, it seems to me (and I suspect that on this matter the general British public think the same as I do) that the Boundary Commission, when they produced their recommendations, produced them in the same way as a handicapper does for a race, in that they were aiming to produce a final and fair result. The Government Bill, when it was first introduced, seemed to me to savour of trying to change the weights 1583 of certain horses which the Government particularly wished to win. When that was not possible, owing to the action of your Lordships' House, the Bill was amended—and the Amendments to which we are now asked to agree seem to me to want to do away with the handicapper altogether, or at any rate to postpone any form of new handicapping for a considerable time, for ten years or more. I do not really think that the British public will be taken in by that sort of thing. I urge the Government to think again about this, because it is setting a very dangerous precedent and this worries me. I agree with something that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said: that we are asking Parliament, and we are asking the British Constitution, to do something which is going to do grave harm. Therefore I hope that the Government will in this instance have second thoughts. If they do not, I earnestly hope that the Opposition in this House will wholeheartedly reject the Motion.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not know whether your Lordships would agree that perhaps we might begin to end this debate during which we have had a very full discussion; for it was not so long ago that we had two debates on this Bill in fairly quick succession, culminating in an overwhelming defeat for the Government in the Division Lobbies. Conservatives, Liberals and Cross-Benchers united to demonstrate their disapproval of the Bill. Anyone who was here or who read through the Hansard of that last debate will know that it was not only in the Division Lobbies that the Government were defeated. No friends spoke for them except those who take their Party Whip; no arguments were produced which convinced any of your Lordships who needed convincing that the Bill had any merit whatsoever.
The issues are simple. I will remind your Lordships of them very shortly. The Boundary Commission was set up with the agreement of all Parties to make recommendations about changes necessary in constituency boundaries. The Commission was set up, under the chairmanship in England of a High Court Judge, as an impartial body to take out of Party politics the inevitable controversies which must arise as a result of boundary 1584 changes. The Act of 1949 requires the Home Secretary to implement the Boundary Commission's recommendations, with or without amendment, "as soon as may be". This year the Boundary Commission has reported and has made large numbers of far-reaching changes in constituency boundaries. These take account of population changes which have taken place in the last 15 years and restore the average size of constituencies in this country so as to give each elector roughly a vote which is comparable and the Parties a fairness among each other.
Instead of implementing these proposals, as it is their constitutional and their moral and their statutory duty to do, the Government introduced this Bill which, in its original form, postponed indefinitely any changes in electoral boundaries. To introduce so radical and far-reaching a change in the accustomed conventions of our public life would seem to require reasons of great urgency and gravity; and the Government have advanced as their sole reason for introducing this Bill their belief that the publication of the Maud Commission's proposals on local government reform and their acceptance of these proposals together with the consequent boundary changes which would follow their implementation—those things in conjunction—would mean two changes in boundaries in a very short space of time; and that this was undesirable.
Even if in itself this were a sufficient reason—and I do not believe it to be so—all expert opinion in your Lordships' House, with the exception of the speech just made by the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, is on record as saying that it does not believe that the Maud Commission's proposals, if they were to become effective—and I remind your Lordships that whether not they are implemented does not depend on this Parliament or this Government but upon the next Parliament and the next Government; but even if they were implemented—could possibly come into effect until the middle 1970's: in other words, about six years from now. Your Lordships decided, on hearing the debate, that there was no justification for passing a Bill which postponed for the next Election, and probably for the next Election after that, the very necessary changes to alter the boundaries of the 1585 swollen and the shrunken constituencies. Instead, your Lordships passed a series of Amendments which, in effect, though giving the Home Secretary a period of grace, obliged him at an early moment to do his duty and to put into effect the Boundary Commission's proposals.
As a result of that debate, the Government have had second thoughts. We are now faced with a series of Amendments to our Amendments. They alter radically the provisions of the Bill as it was introduced, and in the process they have removed the faintest shred of justification that there might have been for its introduction. For if these Amendments were passed, the Government could do one of two things. When it became clear to them that the introduction of local government reform was going to take longer than the Home Secretary now supposes, the Government could implement the Boundary Commission's proposals of 1969 sometime before March, 1972. That is to say, the Government could do in two or three years what, if they wished to, they could do now. And it may be noted that in two or three years the Boundary Commission's proposals will be that much less up to date than they are now. Or the Home Secretary, if he does not wish to do that—and he must do one or the other—can re-activate the Boundary Commission for a new review.
My Lords, it has taken the last Boundary Commission four years to work out its proposals; so this means that for the Boundary Commission to be reactivated by the Home Secretary, if it was reactivated, in 1972, it would be very unlikely that its proposals would be ready before the next election but one; and that is taking into account the very optimistic timetable of the Home Secretary and of the noble Lord, Lord Helsby. Both the options open to the Government in these Amendments, in my view, make things much worse than in the original Bill. The first option invalidates the only reason the Government have for introducing the Bill in the first place. I do not think that many in your Lordships' House will find these Amendments either defensible or acceptable.
Now, I have said on many occasions that I do not find it possible to accept the Government's reasons for introducing this Bill. I do not find them convinc- 1586 ing, nor did impartial expert opinion support them. Yet I know that then; are many noble Lords opposite who genuinely thought that the Government had a point; and being loyal members of their Party, they no doubt gave them the benefit of the doubt, if they had any doubt. After what happened in another place the day before yesterday and after the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about what the Government intend to do if your Lordships insist on your Amendments, I must confess that I do not envy noble Lords opposite the decision that they have to take this evening, for they are honourable men. I wonder whether those of them who decide to support the Government, when they reflect this evening or tomorrow morning on what has happened daring this afternoon, will be able to say to themselves with conviction and with a quiet conscience that what they have done has upheld the standards of public life which are accepted by all of us and expected of all of us?
My Lords, what are we on this side of the House going to do and what are the consequences of rejecting or of insisting upon our Amendments? The Government, broadly speaking, had three choices. They could drop the Bill. If they dropped it it would not have made much difference. The Boundary Commission proposals would not have been implemented, for we in this House cannot compel the Home Secretary to dc his duty—though I hope that public opinion would denounce him for so flagrantly violating the terms of an Act to which his Party gave voluntary agreement. But if they dropped the Act, it may be that a writ of mandamus could be applied for, and no doubt that is a factor which influences the Government's decision. Or, secondly, they could bring into operation the provisions of the Parliament Act. They can introduce an identical Bill next Session and it can pass through the Commons and become law in July, regardless of what your Lordships may do. But if they introduce it in the Commons it has to be the identical Bill, if the Parliament Act is to apply. Yet here this afternoon we are discussing Amendments which the Government have proposed and which, in their view, are an improvement on the Bill in its original form. Thus they have conceded that their original Bill was 1587 imperfect. To introduce a Bill which they themselves have admitted to being in need of amendment, and which would be incapable of change in either House in the next Session, would be a difficult solution to accept.
But they have a third course and this they have decided to follow. They can drop the Bill, and then lay the Orders of the Boundary Commission before both Houses of Parliament, and then vote them down. My Lords, when the Boundary Commission was set up, was it ever conceived that such a situation could arise? Here is a situation where an impartial Commission makes its recommendations to the Government of the day. and for reasons which are wholly inadequate, and which are made even more so by their own Amendments to their own Bill, the Government reject them; and reject them by laying the Orders before Parliament and then advising their supporters to vote them down. I can think of nothing more calculated to bring Parliament and its procedure and its Members into disrepute.
Consider what will happen. The Home Secretary, standing at the Government Dispatch Box, will move that the Orders which he has laid should be approved. He will then make a speech urging their rejection. There will be a Three-line Whip, of course, and, on the orders of the Executive, the Orders will be rejected. What a spectacle! A Minister carrying out the letter of the law and renouncing its spirit by using his Parliamentary majority. There cannot be many people who will feel, as they watch this grotesque pantomime, that the Home Secretary will add to his stature or the Government to their reputation for integrity.
My Lords, we have been told what the Government are going to do. I have no doubt what we should do. If we accept these Amendments, or if we abstain from voting on them, we shall be countenancing behaviour which no Government ought to be allowed to get away with. The majority in the House of Commons can nowadays always get Bills through on a Party basis just as this Bill has come to us, guillotined, half-discussed and railroaded through their House. In this House, by the accident 1588 of its composition and by the independence of thought and mind of its Members, no such thing is possible.
The main justification for a Second Chamber is to prevent a Government of the day from abusing its power and its temporary majority in the House of Commons. The House of Lords may not have very much power left. We could only delay this Act for one year, if the Government wished to force it through. We can do nothing if they pursue their present course, for we cannot make them do their duty. But one thing we can do this afternoon. We can dissociate ourselves publicly and overwhelmingly from this dishonourable Bill and from the dishonourable course which the Government are now choosing. And whatever may happen to us, and if, as a result of this sort of behaviour, the standards of our public life are brought into disrepute, we in this House at least can say that we tried to stop it, that we had no part in it and that we are ashamed of it.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, this has been one of the oddest debates I have listened to. Very little argument has been used on the other side in reply to my noble friend Lord Shepherd—indeed, practically none until we came to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. But there were some speeches to which I object very strongly. I deeply regret the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, about my right honourable friends. The noble Viscount, above all, with his experience in colonial affairs, ought not to have made that sort of remark. I regret that he is not here now but I did get up at the time, when he told us that he would not be here, and he agreed that I could reply to him.
I am also rather mystified by the speech of the right reverend Prelate. If I understand him correctly, he said that whether the Government were guilty of duplicity would be settled by the result of the next election. I am not sure that he is not confusing the General Election with Judgment Day. I would ask him to listen once again to some of the arguments, because the great difficulty we have been in all along, starting from the speech of high moral fervour of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is that extraordinary little attention has been 1589 paid to the arguments which the Government have put forward. Even the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in my view, has distorted the arguments the Government have put forward on several occasions.
I should have liked to take objection to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, but since he was responsible for one of the best jokes I have heard in your Lordships' House, I think I will waste no further time on him, beyond saying that it will be interesting to see what the Liberals are going to do. In another place they were going to support the Government, and then they went into the Lobby against them. Maybe we shall have the reverse effect to-night, though I rather doubt it.
I would appeal to noble Lords to consider the arguments that my noble friend Lord Shepherd put forward. I should like first to deal briefly with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said. Here we had the advantage of having had a preview of his speech, one no doubt inspired by all those splendid hats that we saw on television at the Conservative Party Conference, in which he talked about cheating. "Cheating" seems to be a favourite word in the Conservative Party to-day. Mr. Heath has spoken about big cheats and little cheats. But this is really not a substitute for argument. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has given us the credit that at least we have arguments and that those who are putting them forward do believe in them. My noble friend Lord Stonham again affirmed his attitude.
There is a real dilemma here, and I urge your Lordships to recognise it. The Boundary Commission recommended the biggest reform of Parliamentary boundaries since the Reform Bill. This was to come about just before, and not after, the implementation of the Maud recommendations for the most important reform of local government in the last eighty years.
A crucial argument in all this is the point that was raised by my noble friend Lord Macpherson of Drumochter, who asked why the reform of the Parliamentary constituencies should not take place before the reform of the local government boundaries. This is a matter on which I believe that this House is not well qualified to express an opinion. It is an area in which there is the vague 1590 feeling among many Peers that all that this is about is the advantage of the present Government, and that the only price of carrying it through is the inconvenience of Members of Parliament. Some of these points have already been answered by my noble friend Lord Stonham. This attitude shows the most astonishing ignorance—an understandable ignorance among those who have never fought in an election or who have never been a Member of Parliament—of the effect of boundary changes. There are noble Lords who have been Members of another place, but it seems to be "Forty years on" for the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, and others, and I suspect that they have, forgotten all this. On a previous occasion, I described my own experience of the effect of boundary changes. I sat in another place on very marginal majorities. I remember, that in 1950, when I was elected by a small majority for Preston, South, I went into a part of my constituency where people still said to me, "You will never win in Fylde." They were not sure whether or not they were still in the Fylde constituency.
My Lords, it is crucial to the health of Parliamentary democracy that there should be the least disturbance in Parliamentary boundaries compatible with good principles of democracy. It is a question not merely of the Member of Parliament but also of his agent, his local Party and the knowledge they accumulate of the particular problems of an area. Admittedly, at election times there is liable to be a change of Party, but there is in these matters a consistency which continues over election after election.
Now we are asked to carry out changes, changes which I would say are really justified, in 400 constituencies immediately before what is bound to come about—namely, a major change in the machinery of local government. What I find so very depressing about the attitude of the Party opposite is their indifference to this question of the reform of local government. Those of us who have been particularly concerned with looking at the proposals with the very best advice we could get, regard the reform of local government, whether in this country on the Maud basis or in Scotland on the Wheatley basis, as the most important step towards improving both the 1591 efficiency and the humanity of the administration of this country. That is why the testimony of the noble Lord, Lord Helsby—and no one could be a better authority on this matter than he—is so important.
I should have liked to know what views the Tories would take if, unhappily, they won the next Election—a risk which I believe is now beginning to diminish somewhat. Is there to be no reform of local government until the Parliament after next, for another ten or fifteen years? What are their plans for this? We have heard nothing. We know that at the Conservative Party Conference, among a number of very odd things, there was a major rejection of the Maud proposals which have not even been discussed in Parliament. But there is a calm assumption that these vital proposals—and I say with all the seriousness at my command that this is one of the most important areas for reform in our national life—do not matter.
I was asked by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, what was the attitude of the Government towards the Wheatley Report and its relationship with the Parliamentary proposals for Scotland. This extremely interesting Report has only just been published. If this Bill is carried, as we still hope that it will be, the Secretary of State for Scotland will retain the option to proceed and to lay Orders specifically related to Scotland. But I think it is too early yet to come to a decision. I would recommend the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, to compare the Wheatley proposals with the Parliamentary Commission's proposals. But it is too early to say what will happen.
There are also the questions of local government reform in Wales and, indeed, in Northern Ireland. The position here is very much in a state of flux: the attack has all been on England. But what is needed is consideration of the facts, rather than the emotion that we have been having on this. Wales and England are comparable because all the facts were known when the Government introduced the Bill. But at that time we did not have the Wheatley Report or the proposals for local government changes in Northern Ireland. That is why this deferred option was put into the Bill.
1592 I think your Lordships would like very soon to come to a decision. I very much regret that it is apparent that the Opposition, in an atmosphere that I can only describe as of very high emotion, are not prepared to consider the arguments for the measure which the Government have put forward. If this House persists in its Amendments it will mean that in fact the limited proposals which could properly be carried out with regard to London (London having had its major reform on local government four years ago: the necessary adjustments on the straddled constituencies; the breaking down of some of the very largest constituencies in the country: a matter which so concerned the noble Lord, Lord Brooke) will not take place. These are all changes which in a Parliamentary sense, I would tell the noble Lord. Lord Byers, are to the disadvantage of the Government. I ask the noble Lord to accept that; I have told it to him once, and perhaps he will accept it the second time. This is, of course, if anybody can judge with any certainty in this difficult area.
I must say that I do not believe the House of Lords in this matter is following a proper course. We are confronted with the quite astonishing doctrine that when a Government, faced with a real dilemma—and one of which they showed they were aware several years ago, when they tried to postpone the operation of the Boundary Commission—take a decision, noble Lords in this House now seek not merely to stop the Government in another place from doing something but actually to compel them to do something else. It is suggested that noble Lords opposite should actually be able to enforce their will and their majority (I think the noble Lord has a bit of overkill again in his supporters on this) and compel the other place to do something which I do not believe this House has ever attempted to do; namely, to force the House of Commons to carry out something which is for that House to decide. It is not a question of breaking the law. The law places on the House of Commons the responsibility to decide how and when to enforce the Boundary Commissions' proposals.
The Government came forward, quite properly, with reasonable proposals which 1593 they have asked Parliament and the country to consider, and the Conservative Party, seeing the gain that was to be obtained by the atmosphere of anger, and indeed imputation, prefer not to consider these arguments. And, of course, the actions of your Lordships' House this evening—actions in an area in which I believe noble Lords should not intervene, because they are not properly
§ competent to judge these matters of constituency boundaries—will in fact achieve nothing but futility.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 78; Not-Contents, 229.1595
|Addison, V.||Granville-West, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Hall, V.||Peddie, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Helsby, L.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]|
|Beswick, L.||Henderson, L.||Plummer, Bs.|
|Birk, Bs.||Heycock, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Hill of Wivenhoe, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Hilton of Upton, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Hughes, L.||Royle, L.|
|Burden, L.||Huntingdon, E.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Inman, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Jacques, L.||Scrota, Bs.|
|Chalfont, L.||Kahn, L.||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Citrine, L.||Kennet, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Collison, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Kirkwood, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith, L.||Leatherland, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Lindgren, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Tayside, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Longford, E.||Walston, L.|
|Fiske, L.||McLeavy, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Francis-Williams, L.||Maelor, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Gaitskell, Bs.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Mitchison, L.||Wise, L.|
|Garnsworthy, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Wootton of Abinger, Bs.|
|Geddes of Epsom, L.||Moyle, L.||Wright of Ashton-under-Lyne, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Bourne, L.||Courtown, E.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Brabazon of Tara, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Abinger, L.||Bradford, E.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Brecon, L.||Cranbrook, E.|
|Airedale, L.||Brentford, V.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Bridgeman, V.||Croft, L.|
|Alport, L.||Bristol, M.||Cromartie, E.|
|Amherst, E.||Brock, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Daventry, V.|
|Amory, V.||Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||De La Warr, E.|
|Amulree, L.||Broughshane, L.||Denham, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Buckton, L.||Deramore, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Byers, L.||Derwent, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Caccia, L.||Digby, L.|
|Audley, Bs.||Camoys, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Carnock, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Barnard, L.||Carrington, L.||Dundonald, E.|
|Barrington, V.||Cawley, L.||Effingham, E.|
|Beatty, E.||Chelmer, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Chesham, L.||Enniskillen, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Clwyd, L.||Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Cole, L.||Exeter, M.|
|Belstead, L.||Coleraine, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Colville of Culross, V.||Falmouth, V.|
|Bethell, L.||Colyton, L.||Ferrier, L.|
|Blackford, L.||Conesford, L.||Fisher, L.|
|Blakenham, V.||Cork and Orrery, E.||Foley, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Cornwallis, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Boston, L.||Cottesloe, L.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.|
|Fraser of North Cape, L.||Loudoun, C.||Sackville, L.|
|Furness, V.||Lucan, E.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Gage, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Garner, L.||Luke, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||MacAndrew, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Gladwyn, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Gore-Booth, L.||Manton, L.||Savile, L.|
|Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Mar and Kellie, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Gowrie, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Grantchester, L.||May, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Gray, L.||Merrivale, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Mersey, V.||Silsoe, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Milverton, L.||Simonds, V.|
|Gridley, L.||Monckton and Brenchley, V.||Sinclair of Cleve, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Somers, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Monson, L.||Southwark, L.Bp.|
|Hampden, V.||Morrison, L.||Spencer, E.|
|Hankey, L.||Mottistone, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Mountevans, L.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Hastings, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Stradbroke, E.|
|Hawke, L.||Moyne, L.||Strang, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Newton, L.||Strange, L.|
|Headfort, M.||Northchurch, Bs.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Henley, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L||Strathcarron, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Oakshott, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hood, V.||Ogmore, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.||Pender, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Howe, E.||Penrhyn, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Plowden, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Rankeillour, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Ilford, L.||Rathcavan, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Inchyra, L.||Ravensworth, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Rea, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Jellicoe, E.||Reading, M.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Jessel, L.||Redesdale, L.||Trevelyan, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Redmayne, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Remnant, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Kilmarnock, L..||Rennell, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Kindersley, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Rochdale V.||Watkinson, V.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Rockley, L.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Latymer, L.||Rootes, L.||Westminster, D.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Rosslyn, E.||Willingdon, M.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Rothermere, V.||Windlesham, L.|
|Lloyd, L.||Rothes, E.||Wolverton, L.|
|Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.||Rutland, D.||Yarborough, E.|
On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ A Committee appointed to prepare a Reason for the Lords insisting on their Amendments; the Committee to meet forthwith.