I beg to move, in page 3, line 1, leave out "other than the City of London."
The view of those associated with this Amendment is that the City of London should not have two Members. Our view indeed is that the City of London should not have one Member unless its population justifies it. We know that its population does not justify it, and we submit that the City of London should have no special treatment of any sort or kind; it should take its chance with every other Division in the country. I could maintain at some length that it is the least deserving of Parliamentary representation in the country. It is not necessary for me to do that. The proposition is sufficient that it is no more deserving than any other part of the country. It ought to be easy to discuss such a matter without heat, and I shall try to do so, but I am bound to say that the unparalleled purse-proud insolence of the speech made by the hon. Baronet who is one of the two Members for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge)—who came down here on Tuesday and lectured us on the City of London, and immediately went away again showing, I would suppose, his contempt for this House—does not make it easy to deal with the matter very temperately. Of course, the hon. Member is not here to-day. I suppose he is upholding the City in some other form or place.
It is rather interesting to examine the reasons he gave. Practically all of them were several hundred years old. It is quite natural, for the City of London is, and has been for a long time, the centre of capital, capitalism and finance, and there was a period, when capitalism was raising its head and fighting feudalism, when it was a progresisve force, and most of its battles were progressive ones and could be described as revolutionary. Capitalism was opposing something older than itself. The City of London was not uniformly revolutionary even in those days. There was the murdering of Wat Tyler by methods of treachery which could hardly be equalled in the modern City of London. On the whole, it did have a good record at the time when capitalism was a good thing. But since the hon. Baronet goes into this and tells us that the City has all these virtues, we have to examine just a few of them.
The hon. Baronet, for example, says that it has adventured this and that in order to build our great Empire. One comment is that it has never adventured anything in the last 300 years except money, and this money was usually somebody else's. For another answer to this view go to any orthodox writer on finance and economics. He will tell you, and quite rightly, from his limited point of view that one of the greatest evils of the last 20 years, the cause of a great many slumps, is that capital often would not adventure itself, and stayed in the bank mouldering, because it was afraid that if it went out and adventured it would get lost, a fear which was thoroughly well grounded. But that does not make it very plausible for anyone to say that the City of London is adventurous. Then we were told that it has always championed the cause of freedom and liberty—there is apparently some distinction between freedom and liberty; and it champions the cause of both. It would be rather uninteresting, and the House would not want to listen to me if I did it, to go through the voting record of the City of London in the last 150 years. But if on any occasion the vote of a City of London Member during that period was cast for anything remotely resembling freedom or progress, the man must have got into the wrong Lobby by mistake. It has been the most reactionary record of voting for monopoly capital and finance that anybody could have wished to see.
When the hon. Baronet tells us that if it had not been for the City of London there would never have been any Empire, he selects, with a most unhappy appropriateness, a visit to Botany Bay, as an illustration of what the City of London has done. He forgets that it was only people with average representation in Parliament, at the very best, who went out and did the hard work. Let us look at what the City of London did in what is called the period between the wars—because it was a period of only 26 wars, surrounded by two wars much larger than any of the 26. It bolstered up the Weimar Republic by discounting its bills, not because it loved anything that Weimar introduced, but because it wanted to bolster up Germany against the Soviet Republic. But when the Nazis came into power the City's enthusiasm grew much greater, and the friendship between Mr. Montagu Norman and Hjalmar Schacht was absolutely legendary.
On a point of Order. Might I ask whether the argument with which the hon. and learned Member is belabouring the House is not absolutely out of Order? Would it not be possible to take any other constituency's record in the last 20 years, and make a long speech on it? It is not necessary, in order to show why the City of London should not have two votes, to discuss the whole record of the City of London in the last 20 years.
It is rather difficult, because we are giving the City of London a rather particular place in the Bill; but we cannot go into the history of what City of London firms have done, any more than we could, in the case of an agricultural area, discuss the amount of agricultural produce that came from it. We cannot use this issue for an attack on any particular system. We can only discuss the work of the City of London representatives in the House of Commons.
Is it not the case that the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge) spent a great deal of time, in the Second Reading Debate, giving the history of the City of London, as an argument for these seats being retained; and if that is allowed as a defence, would it not be legitimate to discuss the history of the City of London's financial transactions in reply?
Yes, the history of the City of London in a wider historical sense, but not the history of firms in the sense that they supported this or that financial enterprise. That is where I thought the hon. and learned Gentleman was beginning to get out of Order.
I did not think I had mentioned any firm. I was not intending to mention the name of any firm. Indeed. if I did, I should almost certainly get into the position that I was mentioning the names of my clients.
The actual mentioning of the name of a firm is not necessary. When it is mentioned that a loan has been made, it is obvious that that loan has been made by a certain firm or firms. That is really my point.
I quite agree with your anxiety, Mr. Williams, that I should not mention the name of any of those firms, but I have not done so. I do not think the Bank of England as a firm, although I may be wrong in that.
I would point out that the Bank of England is not the City of London. Although I agree I was wrong in using the word "firm," we cannot use this opportunity, of a discussion on the value of having City of London representatives in the House of Commons, to attack the historical record of firms and companies in the City of London.
I do not think that I was doing that by any unfair reference to any firm or company. If we are told that the City of London is so important that it should have in this House five or six times the representation that it is entitled to on its population, that it has such a splendid, adventurous history, and that it is the centre of finance, am I wrong in criticising the activities of the centre of finance in building up the strength of our enemies on the Continent? But if I proceed I may get away from even the risk of getting out of Order.
I noted the praise given by the hon. Member for the great courage and adventurousness of the City of London. I remember an occasion in 1931—I will not mention either the firm or the individual—when one distinguished Member of another place, who is now no longer with us, was prosecuted for common, ordinary prospectus frauds, and the City of London made the strongest efforts to have the prosecution stopped, on the ground that it would be bad for the reputation of the City of London. That may have been very wise, but it was not very adventurous. I looked up an earlier intervention of the hon. Baronet in this House. He claims that the City champions the cause of freedom and progress. In 1939 he asked the Home Secretary whether he would institute a Press censorship, because the indiscreet headlines and articles in the Press were adversely affecting trade, commerce, and investment. If adventure is such a common characteristic of the whole City of London that it should have six times the normal representation here, has it not even the courage to think that trade and commerce can survive, even if newspapers have indiscreet headlines? If it cannot survive without six people standing around holding it in cotton wool, do not let it claim that it is adventurous.
But suppose that all these claims are true, and suppose that every time one walked into the City of London—and I walk into it many times a day, because I live at one side of the boundary, and my office is at the other side of it—one felt a great glow at the thought, "At last I have come out of the dreary air of the City of Westminster into the glorious air of freedom and Mr. Hatry and Lord Kylsant," such a marvellous body should be able to get on with the normal representation enjoyed by other parts of the country. Of course, if our constitutional arrangements were so peculiar that capital, company directors, company promoters even, finance and adventure, could never get their voices heard at all, and had nobody else in the House interested in them, had never any access to the columns of the "Daily Telegraph" and "The Times," we might say, "Poor blighted City of London, let us try to redress the balance by giving it 10 Members." I could understand that. But, after all, the voice of finance does not get a bad show. When we had the honour of having as our Prime Minister the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, one almost had the idea that finance got more than its fair show in this House—it may have been a prejudiced view, but many people shared it. I do not think that it should have either two Members or one Member. It has an electorate of 23,000. Six thousand people live there. When I belonged to the Labour Party, it was the policy of the party to oppose the plural vote. Judging from the way in which the Home Secretary told us how warmly he welcomed everything that the Speaker's Conference had done, the Labour Party no longer opposes the plural vote.
I certainly hope it is not so, but if the Labour Party opposes the plural vote, it has done it in recent months in the most decorously silent manner I have ever known. The plural vote gives the City 38,000 electors, of whom 32,000 men are business men, who come in daily and have offices, which gives them a vote. Of these 32,000, probably at least 15,000 have spouses, who have votes; and, so far as we can judge, most of those 15,000 will come off the register. So effectively, we are dealing with a register of about 23,000 electors. The Home Secretary, so far as I know, is still a member of the Labour Party. He attacks me from time to time with a cheap malignity which is equalled only by the attacks of the hon. and gallant Member for Peebles and Southern (Captain Ramsay); and the attacks of both of them give me a great deal of comfort. He is pleased with a Bill which, for all he cares, will give 23,000 electors at least one Member in this House, and perhaps two.
The right hon. Gentleman has not shown a great deal of concern about it so far. Suppose we accept the argument that a glorious history entitles an area to special representation, what other constituencies could be so treated? Peterloo is a very glorious name; although I expect many Tory Members do not know it, and think it must be Waterloo. Peterloo Fields, I suppose, lie in the Central Division of Manchester, but nobody suggests that in honour of Peterloo there should be treble or quadruple representation for that section of Manchester. If you say that Peterloo was rather a long time ago, it is not so long ago as the traditions of the City of London. Tolpuddle is next on my notes. I expect the Tory Party would support quadruple representation for that area, because it is in one of those backward places which they represent.
What about Birmingham? Why should there not be special representation at any rate for that part of Birmingham where Mr. Chamberlain had his house? You could make a much better case for special representation for the County of London than for the City of London, because the burgesses—if that is the word—of the County of London, over vast stretches, have displayed a stolid courage in days of great peril, which makes them entitled to honour. But there is no more reason why you should reward them with representation in Parliament than why you should reward them with houses fit to live in. On such grounds, the County of London has a very much better claim than the City of London. You could make out a very much better case if you went into some areas where people have worked particularly hard under distressing conditions, such as in North-Eastern England and South-Western Scotland. You could make out an infinitely better case for the coal miners, because they work in the most abominable conditions, for the worst employers and for the rottenest wages. I suggest that anybody who votes for the maintenance of special consideration of any kind for the City of London is a traitor to democracy.
There are two questions on this Amendment. One is whether the City should be preserved as a constituency, and the other, raised by implication by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), whether they should have one or two Members. If I may say so, I think that both the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge) and the hon. and learned Member have made rather too much heavy weather of this matter. I know that the hon. and learned Member enjoyed himself thoroughly in giving a Marxian interpretation of the City of London and its own materialist conception of history. The hon. and learned Member and I could agree about that at a suitable time if we could forget the materialist conception of the City of London and the political consequences thereof. I am something of a Marxist myself, and I hope that is acceptable to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).
Those are the two questions, and I do not think they quite warrant the heavy weather that has been made about them. On the second question, whether there should be one or two Members, I made it abundantly clear in the House on Tuesday that the Government were not asking the House to commit itself one way or another. Certainly, I am not committed. I was amazed to see two newspapers, in headlines on the speech I made, suggesting that I had defended two Members for the City of London. Their own reports did not bear that out. The trouble is that the Parliamentary reporter writes his report, but another fellow writes the headlines. Often the headlines are in conflict with the report, but people read the headlines and not the report. To tie me up categorically with the continued existence of two Members for the City of London is rather rough.
I said that the Government were not asking the House to commit itself on that point. We have deliberately so shaped the Bill that it would have to be considered when a general redistribution comes forward. That will be the time for this argument. I hope to be there and to make a vigorous speech on one side or the other. As a Member of this Government, I am not empowered to argue the merits of one or two Members, but I did give the House the facts. That argument will come another day, and it is right that it should come, because there will have to be a redistribution in London, and because it is right that the matter should be considered to some extent in relation to redistribution in the County of London.
The only other point is whether the City, as such, should be preserved as a constituency. I admit that one could make a tub-thumping speech tearing the City of London to pieces. It could be done quite well, but, if I may say so, I think the hon. and learned Gentleman has got his City of London somewhat wrong. There are two Cities of London, if not more. There is the city of high finance and there is the city of the Corporation, and they are two very different cities. That has to be taken into account. The members of the Corporation are certainly not all high financiers. They are of a different order, and, indeed, I think that some of them think the high financiers ought to take more interest in the government of the City than they do. The other point is that there is no aristocracy in the City now—no great land-owning element. All these features criss-cross to make up this curiously interesting place, but I, personally, as a Londoner and as a Member of Parliament, but particularly as a Londoner, would feel regret if the political and Parliamentary identity of the ancient City of London was completely abolished.
It may be that in the future the day will come when the question will have to be looked at. But the City of London occupies an extraordinary and unique place in British history and in the history of British local government. It was amongst the earliest municipal corporations, and it was one of the earliest that insisted upon the rights of municipalities against kings and Parliament. I may be sentimental, and perhaps more sentimental than the hon. and learned Member, but there is rich municipal blood in my veins and I cannot forget the history of those early struggles against kings and Parliament. I have taken a part in similar struggles myself. There is a constitutional and historical connection between the City and this House. There is in this House the picture of five Members who escaped to the City from the wrath of the monarch. It is also the case that the City of London has been a champion of Parliamentary institutions, and I do not think it is out of place, in considering the question of one Member of Parliament or two, that we should, with regard to this unique square mile, take into account these historical, and, if you will, sentimental considerations, and say that it is such a special place that, if we can possibly help it, we will not destroy its Parliamentary identity.
That is how the Government feel about the matter. I am pretty sure it is how the average thinking Londoner thinks about it, whatever his politics, and, therefore, taking the arguments on the whole, I think the Bill is right. It does deliberately preserve the existence of this unique and historical square mile. It does not, on the other hand, prejudice the question whether there shall be one or two Members for the City when the general redistribution takes place. I know where my friends of the Labour Party will be on that point, and I know where I will be, but that argument can take place at that time. As for the other issue which arises on this Amendment—the proposal that the City should be abolished as a Parliamentary constituency—I think it is emotionally, historically and Parliamentarily objectionable, and I hope the Committee will not agree to the Amendment which has been moved.
I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee on this point, but I submit that the case which the Minister has just put to the Committee is not a case for special representation for the City of London. It is entirely a case for the preservation of the City of London as a local government area and entity. Nothing that my right hon. Friend said would lead me to the conclusion that this entity should have special representation in this House. The Minister has made out a case for its preservation for local government purposes, and for other reasons. If there is such a strong case for special representation in this House, surely, if this House is setting up a special Boundary Commission presided over by Mr. Speaker, and if this Boundary Commission is to review the electoral position of the whole country, it should be the most competent authority to decide what should be done with the City of London. All that is done by the Amendment which I am supporting is to suggest that the Boundary Commission shall have the authority to decide what is going to happen about the representation of the City of London in this House. The Amendment does not say that there shall not be any representation for the City; it merely extends the authority of the Boundary Commission to this problem.
I think the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) has put up arguments which are unanswerable, and so far, they have not been answered. May I just say a word on the point that financial and business interests in the City of London should have special representation in this House. I submit that, already, in this House, those interests have a very much greater representation than any other occupation, calling or interest in this country. I have not in mind the figures of the exact number of directorships represented by Members of the House of Commons, but I do not think anybody will correct me if I say that they run into several hundreds out of the 615 hon. Members.
My hon. and learned Friend may be right, but I think that several hundred Members each hold one directorship, or some financial position, and that is a very much bigger proportion than exists in the whole country. So that, even if we accept the case that these interests want special representation in this House, the argument that the City of London should have extra representation is quite beside the point. I must also refer to the point made that the City has, in the past, represented adventure, freedom and progress. I entirely agree with the careful analysis which the hon. and learned Member made on that point. When you have a rising capitalist system, it is inevitable that the centre of that system should be represented here, but we have got just the reverse. We have a decaying capitalist system, and therefore it is inevitable that the centre of that system should be represented by reaction.
If you give special representation to that part of the country, I suggest that we should give one Member of Parliament to each 10,000 or 15,000 voters. That would be an exact parallel to the position of the City of London in the 17th or 18th century. Why should there be such a lot of fuss and bother about this matter? Why have some hon. Members of this House said "We are not going to accept the normal and ordinary democratic principle, that a community of 50,000 to 70,000, voters should have one Member in this House"? I can only come to the conclusion that it is, very largely, because the City of London, whatever happens anywhere else, will always return a Conservative Member. There can be no doubt that is the test, and, therefore, since that is one of the objects of democracy, I think "gerrymandering" is the word which one can fairly use about this. I shall vote for the Amendment.
The Home Secretary in his speech on Tuesday said that this was a problem with which we ought not to deal at the moment because there are other constituencies which have very small electorates and it may be the argument would be put that, if we were to start dealing with the City of London, we should at the same time be thinking of other constituencies.
The Home Secretary suggested that we could not tackle this problem of a small number of people returning members of one party to this House, without tackling the problem of other small constituencies which return members of other parties, and I agree. I am not asking that it should be tackled in isolation. The Boundary Commission is to tackle all these constituencies, and if this is not tackled, it will mean when the Boundary Commission makes its report, that the only constituency—except university constituencies which are the subject of another Amendment—which will have more than its share of representation will be the City of London. A very large percentage of the electors of the City of London are persons who already have two votes because they have a residential vote elsewhere. We are very often told, when discussing the question of plural voting, that it does not matter as they do not sway the election. But the one city where they do that is the City of London. Unless the case which the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith put is answered, all real democrats in this Committee should vote for the Amendment.
It is unfortunate that the hon. Baronet, the Senior Member for the City (Sir G. Broadbridge) is unable to be here this afternoon, because I am certain he would have been amused to hear the disparaging remarks and the gibes about the City that have come so characteristically from the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). I feel, however, in spite of the satisfactory statement made by the Minister, who has given us to understand—almost the assurance—that the City will remain a separate constituency, that someone should point out that the claim of the City to two Members is not so wholly fantastic or extravagant as it has been represented to be in the opening speeches to-day. For many years past I have been connected with municipal government in the City, and I feel that the statements made in support of this Amendment should not be allowed to go by default. I think that the Minister's recognition of the City's historic record and the contribution it has made to the building of our democratic institutions throughout the centuries justifies it in claiming some special treatment in the matter of representation.
Apart from sentimental and historical considerations there is a case to be made on the ground that, although there are fewer than 10,000 people sleeping in the City each night, there is that great daily congregation of over 500,000 persons who have their occupations and interests in the City itself. The physical conditions within one square mile make it impossible for it to be a residential area, but to suggest that these 500,000 people should be disregarded as possible electors for the City is very unfair. Rightly or wrongly, the citizens feel that Parliament should be jealous to safeguard the great prestige the City enjoys throughout the civilised world. Wherever one may travel, the City of London is regarded as the example of business integrity and honourable enterprise. It is surprising that any Member of the House should seek to discredit the City by mentioning a few black sheep; such cases unfortunately occur in every community. But except for those few who are perpetually deploring the shortcomings of their fellow countrymen, the City of London has long been regarded as the stronghold of business rectitude—
I am not interested in those figures. Even in the legal profession you have, from time to time, most distressing cases of fraudulent misconduct. I am not asking the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith to give me a list of the legal practitioners who have gone wrong.
My concern is that in the interest of this country this House should recognise the great position occupied by the City as the headquarters of the vast financial and commercial interests of the whole British Empire. It is wrong to disparage the services of the City in the interest of our nation and of the Empire. What satisfaction any Member can find in coming here to cheapen the City and to reduce its dignity, I cannot understand. It seems to me to be such bad business for the hon. and learned Member to get up and tell the Committee by inference that the men of the City of London are not entitled to some credit for their adventurous spirit. Why disparage our own people? Quite rightly, in my opinion, we give 12 seats in this House to the universities, whose Members come here to represent culture, learning and research. That is a very wise provision and I should be very sorry to see it disappear. But I think that if we give 12 seats to the universities it is not unreasonable—
I am very sorry, Mr. Williams, for going astray, but I will put my point this way. Is not the City of London justified, in view of the enormous interests concerned, in asking for the special consideration implied by two representatives in this House? Business is just as deserving of a hearing as research, and we have never been ashamed of being described as a "nation of shopkeepers." If our commercial interests are not entitled to that extra privilege, it is a pity.
The citizens of London have been embarrassed lately by being hailed by the nations of the world as heroes. It had never occurred to them that the City would go out of business because of intimidation by Hitler or anybody else. They did not expect or want to be described as heroes. They expected to carry on and do their job while our fighting men are doing theirs, but they will feel very strongly that this is a curious moment to choose for de-grading the City and reducing its part in the affairs of the nation. I feel assured, therefore, that the Amendment will be rejected by the Committee.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department said something about some paper that published headlines suggesting that he was in support of the two Members for the City of London and then said the report that followed showed that the headlines were wrong. I did not hear his speech on Second Reading but I heard his speech to-day, and I assert that on the speech that he made to-day, and which can be read to-morrow, the headlines of the paper, whichever paper it was, were correct, that he is for the two Members.
I said that I did not hear him on Tuesday but I heard him to-day, and what he said to-day makes it clear that he is for two Members. He said that historically, and all the rest of it, the City of London was entitled to representation by one Member, or at the outside, two Members.
Let us get clear what the Home Secretary really did say to-day. He said this raised two separate issues: one, whether it would be a question of representation and, secondly, whether that representation should be by one Member or two Members. He refused to go into anything beyond that, other than to say that he was prepared, when the time came, to deal with the issue, leaving no doubt in any of our minds where he stood.
That was not the point with which the right hon. Gentleman was dealing at all. When he started he dwelt on that point, but later on he argued about the importance of the Corporation of the City of London. Nobody is suggesting any unfairness to the Corporation of the City of London. The municipality of the City of London, he says, did this and that in the times of the troubles against the kings. Why does he introduce all this sort of thing, if it is not to cover up the fact that he is preparing the way for the City of London to keep its two Members? If he is not in favour of it why do not the Government accept the Amendment?
Is not the Boundary Commission capable of deciding all these questions about the City of London? Why is hot the Amendment accepted? So that they will preserve whatever they can for the City of London. If they can keep the two Members, they will do so; if the feeling is so terrific as to make them hedge, they will have one Member. But the Minister said here that he considered the City of London should have separate representation by one or, at the outside, two Members. That was the phrase he used and, if hon. Members will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow they will see that is correct.
I consider that the City of London should have no separate representation. We have other ancient corporations in this country. Maybe the Home Secretary has not heard of it, but the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has heard of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Renfrew. A terrific case could be put up for that Borough having representation in Parliament, for it is at the centre of the greatest shipbuilding industry of this country, and it has a long history in so far as the development of this country and the Empire is concerned, and has played a much greater part in that development than the City of London. What was the main slogan before the last war of the Home Secretary and this party when the Labour movement was being built up? It was: "Rent is robbery, property is plunder," and not one of them but declared that capitalism and high finance meant the robbery and exploitation of the workers. If the Home Secretary and the Labour Party are correct, the City of London represents the centre of robbery of the masses of the people of this country. Why, therefore, should that centre have special representation? The City of London is an aggregate of financial undertakings. I remember not long before the war the financial undertakings in the City of London handing over £6,000,000 in gold to the Nazis which did not belong to them. The Prime Minister got up at that corner and said these famous and prophetic words:
It is going to Germany in gold, it will come back to this country in bombs.
When the bombs came to the City of London—
I am sorry but I have already ruled that we cannot, on this matter, go into isolated questions of finance. We can only deal with the wider question of the value of representation.
I have just passed that point and I am dealing with the representation of the City of London because in this House we had a discussion on one occasion about the service hon. Members were giving in preparing in their constituencies for the defence of this country. It was pointed out that in some areas hon. Members were very active, but where was it in this country that we had the worst representation and the least care for the people? If you take the whole of the country, North, South, East and West, where did we have no preparations, no care, no concern for the people who lived in the area? The City of London. The hon. Members who represented the City of London were not the least bit interested in the people who lived in the City of London, they were only interested in the financial houses in the City of London. That is why, when masses of fire bombs rained down on the City of London, its representatives and all these people who return them to Parliament were not there, and the unfortunate people who lived in the City of London had to suffer. Not another district in the country, not another constituency, had such bad representation or such pitiful preparation to face the conditions that came upon us. You cannot make out a case for representation for the City of London.
Let the Boundary Commission have responsibility for the City of London as for the rest of the country. It is capable of deciding and, if it works out a boundary that does not give representation to the City of London, all good and well; if it works out an area that gives a representative to the City of London because some other part is brought in, good and well. Why, however, at the start of the Bill have we this special consideration for the City of London? Everybody in the country understands that the City of London represents reaction in its very worst form, taking the City by and large.
This is the important thing for every Member on this side to consider. There has been so much talk, there have been so many protestations, about the big changes which will be made in this country, that the lads who are fighting and the men and women who are working have not been doing it for nothing; that there will be something new, something entirely different in this country. Yet, whenever we come down to a practical question such as we had yesterday, the day before, and to-day, there is the most rigid conservatism.
I have heard so much talk about vast changes. I have heard the hon. Gentleman and his Friends talk about vast changes, but they were not there yesterday or the day before to advocate vast changes, and I do not hear them to-day advocating a small change which, at the same time, is a big change in the sense of breaking down a particular aspect of monopoly. We hear the phrase that there will be no more monopolies dominating this country, that things are going to be different. I have heard such things from the hon. Member and his Friends on the Front Bench and the back benches, but whenever it comes to a practical, simple question, they dodge the issue in order to see whether the old conditions can be brought in by the back door. If anyone believes there is a case for the City of London, he should be content to leave if for the consideration of the Boundary Commission, and if the Boundary Commission is capable and is to be trusted with the situation in other parts of the country, surely it is capable of dealing with the City of London.
Therefore, I say, if we are going to have vast changes, let us have a little practical demonstration of the fact that hon. Members are in earnest. If you go to any part of the country you will find the greatest possible cynicism amongst the people. They say, "We have heard these stories before, and these promisas, but they do not mean a thing and nothing will be done. We want to see some demonstration of their intentions." Let us, on this practical question, have a demonstration from the Members of this Committee of the fact that they are serious when they talk about changes in this country, by showing that in this instance they will put an end to a monopoly which should not exist by leaving it to the decision of the Boundary Commission as to whether the City of London should be represented or not.
I approach this problem of the special representation of the City of London largely as a London Member. Here I would like to pay tribute to the magnificent history of the City. For hundreds of years it was the champion of the common people against the pretensions of the King, against unfair exactions by the privileged classes, and anyone who has studied history knows what a magnificent record the City has. Unfortunately—
My Noble Friend will have his chance to prove the other side—he will be able to try to denounce the City for its bad history, but I am paying tribute to its glorious history. Unfortunately, towards the end of the 18th century, through over-population the people left. The business men who used to live there, and the craftsmen who carried on their craft and lived over their workshops, gradually went outside the City walls. In the 19th century attempts were made by reformers to persuade the City of London to extend its borders, as nearly all the great towns had done, in the North and other parts of England, to include their suburbs—that was done in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and all the great towns. But the City decided it did not want to extend its ancient privileges over the surrounding districts, and the result was a long and bitter battle between the reformers and the City Corporation, after which it was decided to make London into a County to get over the difficulty of the City refusing to extend its borders. So it retained all its ancient privileges, amongst others, the right to send two Members to the House of Commons.
In the controversy during the last war when the other Bill reforming Parliament was going through the House, there were discussions then on the position of the City. If I remember rightly, there were then about 20,000 residents in the City of London; now, as my hon. Friend quite rightly said, they have been reduced to about 10,000 residents or less, mostly charwomen and office cleaners. [An HON. MEMBER: "Caretakers."]I am sorry I did not know how to describe them. The case is made that the City of London still stands for powerful financial interests so it ought to have a voice in the affairs of Parliament by sending here persons representing the interests of the City. The hon. Member who put that case forgot to tell the Committee that most of the powerful corporations which the hon. Member for Fire West (Mr. Gallacher) has just been denouncing—the Bank of England, the insurance companies, the financial interests, the shipping companies—nearly every of them is a limited company having no Parliamentary vote and no opportunity to see that their interests are represented. Those who vote, in addition to the caretakers and office cleaners, are—
I think that is quite clear, Mr. Williams. The only people who have a vote inside the City of London, other than those residing there, are the stockbrokers, solicitors, agents and a certain number—a declining number—of business people who are not limited companies. What has been going on for many years is that professional men have been leaving the City, going to Westminster and Thames House and elsewhere, so that the City of London can no longer claim to represent all business interests. The City of London can only claim special representation on the basis of tradition. It cannot claim it either because of its population or commercial interests, and I say that it would be a reasonable compromise to retain the representation of the City of London because of tradition but to limit its representation to only one Member of Parliament.
I want to say a few words on this matter as one who was a member of the Speakers' Conference. In doing so I want to reinforce what the Home Secretary said about not dealing with this matter in this Bill. I think I am right in saying that in the Speaker's Conference we divided our deliberations into two parts. The first was to deal with an immediate General Election.
I was going to try to be careful not to give away anything which was not in the letter to the Prime Minister from Mr. Speaker. I think it is well known that we divided our recommendations into two parts—one to deal with an immediate General Election, as a result of which the present Bill is before the House. There are many other recommendations, as is known to Members, which will have to come forward in another Bill. What we tried to do was to have some simple system of dividing abnormally large constituencies, so that it could be done quickly and would cause as little disturbance as possible. Naturally the question arose not only of the abnormally large constituencies but the abnormally small constituencies. It was decided not to touch the small constituencies, one of which, of course, is the City of London. I wish to say, here and now, that I do not consider that this is the time to deal with the City of London.
I can say exactly why. In this Bill the Boundary Commissioners had to divide the different constituencies on a quota basis. It was obvious that the City of London, if it was to be preserved, was too small a quota even for one Member, and, therefore, it had to be put into this Bill in order to preserve the question later as to whether the City should have one Member or two. For the immediate next General Election it was never intended by any member of that Conference—I think I am right in saying this—that the City of London should be swept away as being too small a constituency. If it had been, other members of the Conference would have wanted to consider other constituencies which have small populations, and not all of which are represented by Conservatives.
One thing we have to consider is that the L.C.C. depends very largely—in fact, it is almost entirely elected—on the Parliamentary divisions of London, and if we started doing away with constituencies the whole question of the effect on L.C.C. elections would come up. Therefore, we made a flat recommendation to deal only with the large, and not with the small, constituencies. We have heard some talk about how many electors there are now in the City of London, but we must remember that the City is one of the worst destroyed areas in the country. Another reason why we did not want to deal with the small constituencies was that many had been blitzed and we could not tell how many people would come back to them and how many would not. I, personally, feel it would be much better if the Committee agreed with the Home Secretary to leave the matter until we come to the main recommendations for long-term policy. No harm can be done. None of us is pledged to any course of action. Some might think that the City should have one Member, and others might think it should have two, but at any rate I think it is most unfair to deal with the matter now on the basis of recommendations which have no intention of perpetuating or doing away with such an important area as the City of London.
The implication in the hon. Member's statement seems to me that if the Amendment was defeated the Boundary Commission will decide whether or not the City of London shall have separate representation. Under Schedule 3, if the Bill is passed without Amendment the Boundary Commission will be bound to recommend one Member for the City of London.
I would like to say, on behalf of the Labour Party, straight away, that we support the views which have been put forward by the Home Secretary. We believe that it should be left open at the present time as to whether the City of London should have one Member or two, but I would like to make it clear that our views are definitely that the City should have only one Member, and that when the question of redistribution of seats comes forward we shall press in no uncertain terms for a reduction of the City's representation to one. There is also the point about representation on the L.C.C., which follows on the City's representation in this House. At the present time the City has four members on the L.C.C.
The point is one of some importance, Mr. Williams, because for every Parliamentary seat in the County of London there are two representatives on the L.C.C. and, therefore, if the City has two Members, it has four representatives on the L.C.C. If, after general redistribution, there is to be a reduction of the number of members of the L.C.C.
We reserve our views on that point, then, and will press them strongly when the time comes. I was interested in the speech made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) yesterday. When the hon. Member waxed sentimental about the City of London I felt very uncomfortable and went cold all down the backbone. Considering that he of all people is one of the most sceptical and cynical Members in the House, when he gets sentimental about something it makes me feel that there must be something wrong with that about which he is getting sentimental. The hon. Member said that most people would prefer to be entertained by the Lord Mayor of London rather than the Chairman of the L.C.C. Well, we will not quarrel with that statement because, as the Home Secretary said on another occasion, the main job of the City Corporation is to handle the wining and dining functions of London government, and leave the L.C.C. to get on with the real job of government. But we take a strong line against the view that a particular constituency which traditionally returns adherents of one particular party should be treated in an exceptional way, compared to other small constituencies in the London area. When we consider the general redistribution of seats we shall press to ensure that the City of London is not treated differently from Bethnal Green, Shoreditch or any other borough inside the L.C.C. area.
I would like to refer to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who truly said that the City of London does not now represent the interests which the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge) yesterday claimed that it represented. He claimed that it represented the banking, financial and commercial interests of the country, but, as has been said, the big banks, insurance companies and commercial enterprises do not have votes and, therefore, the City does not represent the interests which were claimed for it. The electorate of the City of London—apart from persons like myself, who live in the Temple, and a few people of the caretaker type, in all there were about 6,200 resident electors living in the City in 1939—consists of the hangers-on of big business and not big business itself. They are the jackals of capitalism rather than the big capitalists. There is no reason why that particular group of people should have any particular representation in this House. I think it can be claimed that the City is as rotten a borough as any borough abolished in 1832 in this country. As I have said, we shall definitely press for a reduction of the City representation when the question of general redistribution of seats comes before the House.
I do not think this matter can be disposed of as rapidly as may be supposed, because it raises a question of constitutional importance. The question of representation goes to the root of the most sensitive fibres of the British people, and any suggestion that any particular body of persons has any undue representation in this House not only causes resentment but does great mischief to the party which claims to enjoy that representation. Therefore, I think it is desirable to make one or two answers of a different character to the reasons which have been put forward for retaining the City of London Membership, because I think those reasons were based on a partly fallacious basis. I think the arguments for retention of representation have been most admirably stated by the Home Secretary.
It is unfair to accuse the Home Secretary of having gone back on his ordinary views. He has stated that, for reasons which must be apparent, it would be very difficult to abolish this constituency without affecting the whole question of the representation of the City of London generally. The long descriptions that we have had of the financial position of the City of London, with the counter arguments accusing it of being filled with robbers and raiders, seem to be singularly separated from the question that we are discussing. It is no longer true to say that the whole financial centre of the world is centred in the City. Therefore, I rather deprecate, on the one hand, long descriptions of the financial glories of the City or, on the other, an attack on the capitalist system, which does not seem to arise.
There is another weakness in the point put forward by the representatives of the City. If they were right in the first instance and if it represented the financial centre and genius of the Empire, a visitor from Mars would say, "Of course all these gentlemen enjoy votes." They do nothing of the kind. The voters largely consist of persons of an entirely different class, and therefore on logical grounds I must say, as a Tory, that there is very little to be said for the retention of this particular representation, and it is as well that some Tory should say so. My friends are asking for special representation of what some claim to be a rotten borough. There would be much more to be said for the retention of the seat if the City electors themselves had shown slightly more discrimination in the past than they have done. If we are to have a constituency sui generis, where ordinary electoral conditions do not apply, it should be reserved for men of great reputation outside the House, possibly not in their first youth, not belonging exclusively to one party, for example, Speakers of this House, in other words, people whom the country desires to honour. Lord Mayors who represent the City can hardly be said to come into that category. They seldom take any part in our proceedings. I was very glad when the City elected my right hon. Friend, one of the most important Ministers on that bench. I must protest very strongly, as a Tory, with Tory blood boiling in my veins, against the appalling assumption of the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that the Whigs of the City were always on the side of liberty. I deny it. It was the bourgeoisie who, in the name of liberty, did their best to destroy other interests of great importance to the country. It is not true that the City was always on the side of freedom. It pretended to be, but often it was inimical to the best interests of the country. My blood rises up in rebellion when I think of some of the Whiggish Members they have sent to the House, whose names still stink in the memory of the public.
I prefer not to specify it more definitely. Everyone will know whom I have in mind. I cannot pursue the subject, but the City behaved extremely badly over the Lord George Gordon riots. They refused to allow special magistrates to be sworn in and they were inimical to the Government, which was doing its best to restore law and order. We should treat the matter to some extent as one of historic continuity. We should not be led to suppose that this state of affairs can continue for ever, and it is not in the interest either of Socialism or of capitalism that this question of the representation of the City should be made a kind of jousting ground for the respective points of view.
I am surprised at my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) describing the City as a rotten place and yet wanting to give it representation. The case for tradition and special privilege has been swept away. The purpose of the Bill is to put all citizens on something like equality. If this is allowed to go, it means that the voter in London will occupy a privileged position because of something that has happened in the past. If we give the City of London a specially privileged position how can we ever justify treating in the same way another constituency, which may have done equally good work for the country, which has not enough electorate to return a Member? I have always had the greatest admiration for the Home Secretary because of his sound practical views. He has never allowed sentiment to enter into has being. He comes forward to-day with the plea that he is an old Londoner, with the traditions of London in his bones, and that sentiment must govern him, and he asks Parliament to allow the City of London to occupy this privileged position, not on equity, not on what we call practical knowledge, not because of what it is doing now, but because of sentiment for times past. He has no right to do that on an occasion of this kind. If the building up of the electorate means equality of citizenship, there is no other course than to say that, whatever London has done in the past, it must be treated like any other part of Great Britain. I shall vote for the Amendment. I am not bound by discussions that have taken place within my party. I shall follow my own views and I shall vote for equality for every citizen in the realm.
I want to put a rather different point of view from that put by my colleagues, at the risk of being branded as a reactionary Member of my party, but I speak as an old London man. I should view the Parliamentary extinction of the City of London with the greatest regret. There is something of sentiment in my approach to this question, and I would not give much for anyone who has not something of sentiment in his make-up. I do not agree with the lurid painting of the virtues of the City by the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) nor with the fantastic blackening of the City by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).
Whatever one thinks of the City's past, the City of London is regarded as the centre of the British Empire. All our distinguished foreign visitors naturally gravitate towards it. It occupies a position which no other constituency in London occupies or could occupy. It is a centre which I cannot imagine in any other borough in London. Through its Lord Mayor it has been responsible time after time for raising magnificent sums for most laudable objects. Hundreds of my people in Deptford thank God that the Lord Mayor issued his appeal and raised £1,000,000 for the relief of air raid victims. Thousands in my borough have been saved from distress as the result. I cannot imagine any other mayor in London issuing an appeal as effectively as the Lord Mayor of London. The Labour mayors of London for the last 20 years have worked in the closest friendship with the Lord Mayor of London.
I am sure that the Speaker's Conference were well advised in their conclusions to take into account what the country would really like. There were certain things not done because the Conference felt that at this juncture the country would not welcome them. I am convinced that the Conference felt that the country would not welcome the political extinction of the City of London. I am not so biased as to oppose the representation of the City because my opponents have held it for so long. The time may come when the City will be as enlightened as the Borough of Deptford. I could not allow this occasion to pass without giving the reasons why I shall go into the Lobby in support of the Clause as it stands. I believe that in doing so I shall have behind me the vast majority of the working people. The tradition and unique position of the City of London justify its continued representation in this House.
There have been a good many personal points of view put about the City of London, but, on behalf of my hon. Friends who are likely to support this Bill, I would like to make clear that they are upholding the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference that this matter should not be decided just now but that it ought to be decided when the Bill dealing with complete redistribution comes up. The Speaker's Conference was faced with either a partial redistribution, which would bring great unfairness and cause considerable dislocation in constituencies throughout the country, or with complete redistribution—
The hon. Member is speaking as if this Bill, and the part of it to which I have moved my Amendment, dealt only with a temporary arrangement, but it is a provision for a definitive redistribution. If the Amendment is negatived, it will mean that the definitive redistribution after the General Election will be one in which the City of London is compelled to be left as a separate constituency.
I would suggest that what this Parliament does cannot bind any future Parliament and that, when the Bill comes before a future Parliament. the composition of that Parliament will decide what will happen to it. That Parliament cannot have its hands tied. We have either to deal with the whole question or define the limits under which we are going to deal with redistribution. This Bill has for its immediate purpose the dealing with certain abnormal constituencies and the setting up of Boundary Commissions to deal with the bigger question. When they do that it will come before the House of Commons existing at the time they report. In supporting this Bill, therefore, we support the deferring of this question until the next Parliament which will deal with the whole subject.
I apologise to the Committee for having only just come in and not having had the advantage of listening to the discussion, but I came in soon enough to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). I do not think he is right when he says that this is a matter for the major Measure that will come after the Boundary Commissions have reported. Reference is made in this Bill to exempting the City of London, and it will be an Act of Parliament before the Boundary Commissions report. Therefore, we have a right to give a decision on whether we approve the exemption of the City of London. In advocating the exemption of the City, the Home Secretary drew a picture of its wealth, munificence and history. As one who has spent a good deal of time in the City, I ought to acknowledge the compliment he has paid to that great centre of civilisation. I wonder whether it is within the knowledge of those who advocate this exemption how the City came to have two Members for an electorate which is so much less than that of any other constituency. It is a long time since I went to school, and I have not looked up the historic reference, but I have a recollection that it was one of the Kings of England who gave the City representation in the House of Commons. He was a monarch who, like many of his predecessors and successors, not only wanted revenue but knew how to spend the money when he got it. He was keen on having ships of his own to ride the seas and to bring back merchandise to add to his revenue.
I said it was a long time since I left school, and I am not clear about the actual period. Whether it was one of the Edwards or one of the Charles's, I am not sure. All monarchs of England have in the past been very fond of their revenues. To continue my story, the City merchants were so loyal to the King and his extravagance, that they provided him with the money that he required to carry out his purpose.
As a mark of his appreciation of what the City merchants did for him, the King gave them representation in the House of Commons. The point, I take it, is not so much whether the City of London should have two Members or none. I am willing to concede it representation to the extent of one Member. Our objection is that to give two Members, when the resident population is not much more than 10,000 at the outside, is altogether out of proportion. It is not the prestige possessed by the City that entitles it to extra representation. If that were so, the City is so wealthy and so influential, and has a reputation second to none throughout the world, that, if we measure its representation in that way, it would be entitled to half the representation in this House. We are entitled to take this Amendment to a Division so as to challenge the right of the City to con- tinue to have two Members, who have, it is to be noted, the additional privilege of sitting on the Treasury Bench in all the livery of the City, thus making it clear that these two Members are something additional to and apart from the common Members of the House.
I think the Committee is ready to come to a decision, and I should like, for the sake of hon. Members who have not been here during the whole of the Debate, to state the issue raised by this Amendment, because some of the speeches show that there is a little misunderstanding about it. The Amendment would bring the City of London within the purview of the Boundary Commission at the time when they make their first general redistribution throughout the country. Nothing in the Amendment affects the position as regards the next General Election, because it is contemplated by the Bill that before then, the only step to be taken will be the carving up of 20 abnormally large constituencies. Therefore nobody who votes on this Amendment will have the slightest effect by their votes upon the representation of the City of London at the next General Election. Whatever happens, the City will be represented in this House by two Members after the next General Election. The only issue is therefore rather an academic one. We say that, owing to the historical position of the City, its position as regards Parliamentary representation should be dealt with by Parliament and by Parliament alone. My hon. and learned Friend who moved the Amendment wishes the position of the City to be brought within the purview of the Boundary Commission after the next General Election. That is the simple issue, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear that nobody voting on the Amendment will be expressing any view as to whether there should be one or two Members for the City of London. That question is left open to be dealt with by Parliament after the next General Election. In these circumstances I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment.