Suspension of Redistributions Till Next General Reports of Boundary Commissions, and Acceleration of Those Reports

Orders of the Day — HOUSE OF COMMONS (REDISTRIBUTION OF SEATS) (No. 2) BILL – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th October 1969.

Alert me about debates like this

Lords Amendment No. 1: In page 1, line 5, leave out from beginning to "no" in line 6.

4.37 p.m.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I have had no word with either Front Bench, but it seems to me that these Amendments are all linked. If there were no opposition to doing so we might take them all together. I do not know what are the views of the two sides of the House.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

I have had a word with the Home Secretary on this point. The first Amendment proposed by the Home Secretary, that the Lords Amendment be agreed with, is acceptable to us without any debate I think that the convenient course then would be to have a long debate on the rest of the Amendments, and perhaps a vote on each separately. I do not know whether that is to the convenience of the House or to the right lion. Gentleman.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is agreed from the Government side, so we will take the first Amendment.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I do so for precisely opposite reasons to those for which their Lordships moved the Amendment, but as I propose to move on rapidly I shall not develop those reasons. I merely propose to agree with the Amendment, for reasons of which their Lordships would thoroughly disapprove.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 2: In page 1, line 7, after "Act" insert "in the present session of Parliament".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The Home Secretary will move disagreement with the Lords Amendment, and on that disagreement we shall debate all the Lords Amendments and the Government disagreements with them. That seems to be the will of the House.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I explain the Government's views on the whole of the Amendments, which merge into one general statement because they are all related to the same general proposition.

The House last debated the Bill on 15th July. Since then it has been to another place. The Bill that we have received back is entirely different from the one passed by the House on 15th July. That being so, and in view of the time that has elapsed, I had better explain afresh the Government's attitude on this matter. The reports of the four Boundary Commissions were submitted between April and June, and they provided for a radical alteration in constituency boundaries based—in accordance with the redistribution rules—on existing local government boundaries.

The Boundary Commissions did the job which Parliament gave them to do. They started work in February, 1965, getting on for five years ago. They started work before the Redcliffe-Maud Report had even been conceived, let alone born. That Committee was set up on 24th May, 1966, and the Boundary Commissions started their work in the absence of any knowledge that there was to be a review of the local government structure of this country. They are required to submit their periodical reports by November, 1969, under the 1944 Act, the 1947 Act, the consolidation Act of 1949, and the Amending Act of 1958. But none of those Acts contemplates the situation which would arise if the reports of the Commissions, which had been considered for nearly four years, were due to be submitted at a time when drastic alterations of local government boundaries were in prospect. There is nothing in the Acts which deals with that situation.

The Government realised in 1966—three and a half years ago—the difficulties which could arise if the Boundary Commissions proceeded on the basis of the old boundaries, and produced their reports accordingly, at a time when we might be faced with yet another report from another Commission based on different boundaries and a different concept of local government, and so in 1966 the Government approached the Opposition and made certain suggestions to them about postponing the work of the Boundary Commission.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) continuously misunderstood me when I said that I was not wanting to bring this matter out, but it was brought out before, and I emphasise it again now because it is in the open. The Government asked the Opposition in 1966, long before anybody knew what were to be the results of these two reports, whether they thought it sensible to defer the work of the Boundary Commissions in the light of the fact that there would be substantial changes proposed by Redcliffe-Maud. That approach met with a negative reply.

I suppose it would have been open to the Government, even at that stage, to have gone ahead and said, "Very well, even though we will get no co-operation from the Opposition in this matter we propose to suspend the work of the Commissions". That is arguable, and perhaps in the light of what has happened the Government might have taken that decision then, but they did not. If the Opposition had been more accommodating in 1966, there could have been an agreed approach to this problem. The consequence of the Opposition's unwillingness to co-operate was that the Boundary Commissions went ahead then, and this was foreseen by the Government at that time.

The Government have had to give very careful consideration to the position which has arisen as a result of the coincidence in time of the publication of the Report of the Boundary Commission and the Redcliffe-Maud Report, because these Reports, for parliamentary and local government boundaries, cut across each other.

The House has been given the facts of the situation in earlier debates, but at this important stage of the Bill it is right to give them again. Of the 630 constituencies in the United Kingdom, the Boundary Commissions have recommended changes in no fewer than 410 constituencies. No one can doubt the disturbance that will be caused by this rearrangement of constituencies. It will entail the severance of many ties, the need for reorganisation by election officials, and the need for fresh organisation by the political parties, and those who are in touch, as I know hon. Gentlemen opposite are with their party in London, just as others on this side of the House are in touch with the Labour Party in London, know the degree of disturbance that can be caused, and the uncertainty in this situation. No one can deny—if the argument is advanced I should not be willing to consider it—that there will be a great deal of disturbance in the reorganisation of 410 constituencies out of 630. There has never been anything like it. We have never had anything like such a big reorganisation as this one.

In accordance with the reorganisation rules, the recommendations of the Commission were based on existing local government boundaries, but what did things look like when the recommendations for constituencies were compared with the recommendations in the Redcliffe-Maud Report and the proposals under discussion for local government boundaries in Wales and England? It was found that 94 of the recommended constituencies would be divided between two or more of the main local authority units proposed by Redcliffe-Maud, and that many more of the constituencies recommended by the Boundary Commission would need consequential adjustment to accommodate the 94 constituencies entirely within the area of a proposed main authority.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, but my attention was diverted as he spoke those last two sentences. I wonder whether he would be good enough to repeat them.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I was saying that of the 410 constituencies in which the Boun- dary Commissioners propose a change, under Redcliffe-Maud 94 of them would be divided between two or more main local authority units, and I went on to say that once we divided those which straddled the main units it would follow that each of the neighbouring constituencies to those 94 would also have to be adjusted. In other words, there cannot be a straight bifurcation, because it does not fall out that way. We are talking about a large number of constituencies which will have to be readjusted if anything like Redcliffe-Maud is to go through.

In Wales, the effect would be that 19 of the 36 proposed constituencies, more than half, would contain a part of more than one proposed new county district, so according to their Lordships we are to do the job twice. As regards Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Bill originally introduced and passed by the House provided a deferred option so that the decision on implementing the 1969 Boundary Commission Reports could be taken by 31st March, 1970 in the light of the recommendations for local government reorganisation. Their Lordships have struck this out, and, therefore, we must again, in terms, suggest that it be put back so that the Bill appears as it was.

The Government have accepted the principle that a major reorganisation of local government is called for. The local government authorities accept that principle, too. They argue about what is right and wrong, and about Redcliffe-Maud. Like everyone else, I read the reports about the form that the major reshaping of local government should take, and as far as I can see there is no dispute that the pattern of local government needs a drastic and an early overhaul, and the word "early" is almost as important as the word "drastic".

I have yet to find a serious local authority representative who does not say to me privately, and I am sure is willing to say publicly, "Local government needs an overhaul, and it needs it quickly. Whatever is to be done, give us a reasonable period in which to make up our minds, but for heaven's sake then get on with it and put an end to the uncertainty". They say this for good local authority reasons, because they know very well that projects which ought to be undertaken are likely to be deferred or held up because of uncertainty about the prospects of reform, who will pay for it, in which area it will be, and so on.

Therefore, there is at least agreement—I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman opposite will take exception to this—that the case is made out for drastic local government reform. The case is made out for an early conclusion on that, and for legislation following the discussions and negotiations which obviously must take place.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

The Secretary of State said that local authorities and individual councillors are saying, "Give us a reasonable period". Does he think that the period which he has proposed in the Bill for the implementation of the changes is adequate in view of the increasing number of representations from local authorities and individual councillors that they are being hurried into making a decision?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I remain convinced that the period proposed is adequate. I will explain to the House later why I think so. I have been absolutely reinforced in my judgment in this matter as a result of what has happened and the representations which have been made during the last two months. When I set out the pattern I hope that I shall carry the Liberal Party with me.

Photo of Mr Roy Roebuck Mr Roy Roebuck , Harrow East

Is my right hon. Friend also reinforced in his view by the knowledge that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) is supporting the Bill since he became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development? Should not we in future perhaps speak, not of the conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus, but of that of Benjamin on the road to No. 10 Downing Street?

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

Save us from our friends.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

My hon. Friend should not show quite so clearly his pain at being excluded from what was clearly his rightful place in the Government. I have no doubt that it will come in due course. He will deserve it, but he will not earn any commendations from me if he goes on making interventions like that: it does not make my job any easier.

Another major review of constituency boundaries will be necessary as soon as the local government boundaries themselves have been fixed. That is why the Government want to avoid a major upheaval of constituency boundaries now. That is the view which was endorsed by the House when it sent this Bill to the Lords on 15th July.

The purpose of the Amendments made by the Lords is to require action to implement the recommendations in the 1969 Report to be taken by 31st March, 1970. No action would be possible until next Session. They want to ensure that the Orders are laid by 31st March next. That is the sort of proposition which was rejected by this House when it previously debated the Bill.

Most of the time has been devoted to considering two different approaches. The point at issue is: do we have a radical alteration of constituency boundaries now and a further radical alteration in quite a short period of time ahead when the shape of the new local government boundaries can be seen, or do we keep to the existing constituency boundaries for the time being and have one major re-drawing of the parliamentary map when the local government reorganisation has been completed? That is the issue between the two Houses.

The Amendments we have received from the Lords adopt the first approach. They say, "Let us have a radical alteration now. Let us have a further alteration a short distance ahead". They are absolutely contrary to the decision of this House that we should keep the existing constituency boundaries outside of London until new local government boundaries have been settled.

It was said in another place that the effect of these Amendments was to afford time to the Government to think again. I have had a lot of time to think. I have done so. The Government's view, seen after the Summer Recess, is that the right course is to avoid an upheaval of constituency boundaries now to be followed by a second upheaval in a few years' time. The House firmly endorsed this view, and I ask it to do so again.

The Amendments made by the Lords would allow only one course of action, as I understand them—that is, that the Orders must be laid before 31st March, 1970. I have endeavoured to go part of the way to meet the other place and, indeed, to meet the views which are expressed here. I say "part of the way" because the view was expressed that it would be possible for the Commission to carry on until, I think, 1979.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

That was the worst case. I do not think that anybody thought that. I think that the main opposition case was 1979. However, I will take 1983. It was suggested that it might be 1983 before we got the next report, because the Boundary Commission might not start until 1979. I resisted an earlier Amendment which was moved on those lines, and I can say that, in view of the allegations of my bad faith, this might be thought to be the line I would follow; so I therefore propose to compromise.

The compromise that I propose is quite simply this. This is why the Government have tabled to Lords Amendment No. 3 modifications of the Bill that was passed by this House. These modifications provide, in effect, for a new Clause 1. That new Clause will be divided into two Clauses. All the main provisions of Clause 1 as passed by the House last time are preserved—that is, first, the power to accelerate the next general review reports; secondly, the suspension of interim reports in respect of constituencies outside London; and, thirdly, the power to implement the Scottish and Northern Ireland Reports by the end of March, 1970.

There was no particular argument on principle about this, I think. Modifications are now proposed in the Amendments I have tabled so as to fix a latest date for reactivating a commission. That latest date is 31st March, 1972—so I have gone some way to meet their Lordships—if by that date the 1969 Report of any of the four Commissions has not been implemented.

The purpose of the Amendments is to meet the point which has been made, perhaps with some justification, that the Bill gave the Secretary of State a blank cheque in deciding when the Boundary Commissions should be reactivated, and there were suggestions that it would be many years before they were reactivated. These Amendments show quite clearly, not only that this was not the Government's intention, but that the Government are binding themselves to reactivate the Commission at the latest by 31st March, 1972. It always has been the Government's intention that another general review of constituencies should be put in hand as soon as it is practicable to do so in the light of local government reorganisation.

The Government Amendments which I have tabled, and which I invite the House to agree to, bind us to do so. So it is not just now a question other than that it is our intention to reactivate the Commission. I am proposing that the Secretary of State should be bound by the Bill when enacted to do this.

One of the arguments that can be used against this is that the effect of inserting a terminal date for implementing the 1969 Reports could bring the alteration of constituencies nearer to the date of the alteration of local government boundaries and that we should end up with two upheavals of constituency boundaries even closer to one another than under their Lordships' Amendments. This is right, because I am binding myself to do one of two things—either to reactivate the Commission or, alternatively, to lay the 1969 Reports.

I do that because I am as confident as it is possible to be that we shall be able to reactivate that Commission before 31st March, 1972 and, therefore, will not get, as I see it, this overlap, or this coming closer together, of the two Reports. I appreciate that it is a possibility, but in view of the urgency with which it is necessary to tackle local government reform it is my very strong expectation that the Boundary Commissions will be able to be reactivated by 31st March, 1972 and, therefore, it would not be necessary to lay the Orders.

We have now had the advantage of the summer months in which to hear some of the views which are being expressed and the difficulties which are being put forward. We are now in the autumn of 1969. A White Paper will be produced within the next few months—it is not for me to say when, because that is a matter still to be decided. The Government are working towards legislation in respect of reorganisation of local government in the Session beginning in October, 1971—that is, during the 1971–72 Session.

So we have a period between now and the introduction of the Maud legislation of two years for the purpose of hearing difficulties, hearing what are the objections, working them out and preparing the legislation. Bless my soul, we half won the 1939–45 war in just over two years.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

We half lost it in two years, too.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I am speaking of the period after Alamein. It is stretching an argument too far to assume that in a period of two years it is impossible to hear what are the main objections to the structure of proposed local government, to formulate proposals, to draft the legislation, and then it has to go through the House.

That is why I am confident that by the winter of 1971 or the early part of 1972 the new shape of local government will be clear for me to be in a position to carry out my undertakings, which will be set out statutorily, to reactivate the Commissions. It will be quite possible to do this, and that is why I am ready to bind myself if we cannot get as far as that, although I am confident that we shall, to lay the Orders. But I am as certain as it is possible to be that the Commissions will be able to start work again by 31st March, 1972.

So this is not a valueless concession; it is very valuable; I am putting in a terminal date which I believe can be kept—and I go further and say that it will be kept—and by 31st March, 1972, I must lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council.

5.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the view, put forward by Lady Sharp, that it would require all of three years to reach decisions on the Redcliffe-Maud Report, that is, for local authorities and the Government to do so, and then to draft the necessary legislation? If he accepts that view, is not his time scale out of phase?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I read those comments by Lady Sharp. I have great respect for Dame Evelyn Sharp. When she was at her Ministry, she would never let the grass grow under her feet like that. She was a Permanent Secretary who really pushed things along. I can understand that, as she is now leading a rather more leisurely life, she may want to take more time; but I do not accept, and I do not think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite would accept, that two and a half years is too short a period for the consideration of legislation for the reform of local government. That is the nub of the question, not what Lady Sharp may think, or what I may think, or what anyone else may think. Every hon. Member should answer this question for himself.

It is not as though local government reform has burst upon us out of the blue, or as though nobody has thought about it before. Local authorities and the Government and other interested bodies have been thinking about it for years. They have put proposals to the Maud Commission which has thought about them for years and we have been discussing it for several years already. We now propose another two and a half years for reflection and for the preparation of our proposals and for bringing them to the House. No one could argue that extensive period is unduly short or curtailed, unless he wants to do nothing.

I can understand the objection if it is purely a delaying action and I can understand it being made by anybody who wants local government reform to drift and local government itself to delay. He could argue that two and a half years is not enough time. But anyone who wants local government to be revived and strengthened and fortified must accept that if we are to do anything, an interval of two and a half years between publication of the Report and proposals for action is a reasonable period. That is why I am proposing to bind myself by 31st March, 1972, to ask Parliament for approval to reactivate the draft of the Order in Council.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about England and Wales, but he is proposing the same action for Scotland, too, if the option is not taken up by March, 1970. Is he aware that the Minister of State for the Scottish Office was reported last Saturday as having made a public statement in Scotland on Friday saying that the proposals of the Wheatley Commission, the Scottish equivalent of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, were not expected to be implemented until about 1974?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

There is a difference between implementation and legislation. The implementation follows. Between when the shadow authorities are elected and when they finally take over their duties there is a difference of some months if not a year or so. Indeed, I would expect the difference in England and Wales between the Royal Assent for the Bill being given and the appointed day to be getting on for two years. The dates are not consonant. The question is not when the Wheatley Commission recommendations will be implemented, but when it will be possible so clearly to see what will be the shape of the Scottish landscape that the Boundary Commission can get on with its new job. The two matters are not quite parallel.

I have just noticed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is here; I hope that he agrees with what I am saying.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The Royal Commission on Scotland wanted two appointed days, one a year after the passing of the legislation.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

No muddle at all. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that it makes it much clearer. I am now fortified by the authority of the Secretary of State for Scotland himself.

I am saying that I would ask Parliament for approval to reactivate the Commissions if it appeared to me that it would not, by reason of the prospect of local government reorganisation, be premature to do so. That is the position. I must lay the Order before 31st March, 1972, and under that Order the Commissions would be required to submit another general review report within four years of the date on which the Report comes into operation. But the Order could provide for a reduction in the period of four years—the Commissions need not take four years—if the Secretary of State were satisfied, after consulting one of the Boundary Commissions, that they could submit their reports within a shorter period from the coming into force of the Order.

I think that the House will agree from what I have said that the Government have gone a long way to meet some of the points that were made—not all—during the course of the Committee stages here and in another place. I have heard that this compromise which I have proposed will not be acceptable to another place. I hope that that is not so. When the Bill was considered in Committee here, the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) moved an Amendment to have a terminal date at 1st May, 1972, for reactivating the Boundary Commissions. My Amendment improves slightly on what he suggested. Do not let us spurn it.

What I have suggested ought to be sufficient at any rate to persuade the right hon. and learned Member to walk into the Lobby with me tonight on this issue. [Interruption.] I am sorry to learn of the way in which the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) is approaching this debate. I thought that he was open to persuasion and conviction in this matter, but now I find that he is not. I think that I have made out an overwhelming case and that is why I invite the House to accept the Amendments which the Government propose to Lords Amendment No. 3.

The other Amendments which the Government have suggested are for drafting purposes, or are consequential on our Amendments to Lords Amendment No. 3. The two main points are the restoration of Clauses 2 and 3 which the Lords Amendments delete. Clause 2 deals with constituencies in Greater London and Clause 3 with a few constituencies which have very large electorates. So far as I know, there is no proposal for a substantial alteration of local government boundaries in Greater London in the for-seeable future. I think that there is no difference between us about the view that constituency boundaries should be altered in Greater London now. I think that this is the view of both major parties. Certainly it was the view of the G.L.C., and I think it is also the view of the Liberal Party.

I have had many representations from party organisers on both sides about this matter—I do not invite them, but I get them. Hon. Members might be interested in some of the letters which I have had, and I have no doubt that they would be interested to read some of the letters which I have had from my hon. Friends on this subject.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

And the letters to me.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

Perhaps we could exchange correspondence.

Clause 2 would provide that, and I therefore propose to put it back, with the consent of the House, and to ask their Lordships to think again about this. It would enable the 1970 G.L.C. elections to be conducted on the basis of single-member electoral areas based on the individual constituencies. This would be a sensible thing to do and it is an arrangement which all sides of the House would like to see. It is, from this point of view, and the point of view of party organisation, most desirable that Clause 2 should become law at an early date so as to remove uncertainty surrounding this question.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Acton

May I put a hypothetical question to the right hon. Gentleman, and I will appreciate if he does not answer it for hypothetical reasons? If this does not become law and the Parliament Act procedure operates and the Bill becomes law on 25th July, 1970, what is the position of the London constituencies if there is an election between 25th July, 1970, and 25th February, 1971? Will they fight on the existing boundaries or the new boundaries, in which case will all the town clerks have to do a scissors and paste job on the new registers?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I understood the hon. Gentleman's question when he began it, but I have become a little confused. I will seek guidance and arrange for it to be answered later. I will indicate a little later what my attitude will be if their Lordships decide that they could not accept this compromise, assuming the House accepts it.

If their Lordships take out this Clause they will he denying London an opportunity that all parties want, and therefore, they should not do this. That means accepting the compromise Amendments in the way in which they have been put forward.

The other main point is Clause 3, making provision for the division of abnormally large constituencies. It has been the view of the Government that it would be right to go some way if possible towards removing under-representation in the very large constituencies remaining outside of Greater London. I must say once again to the House, and through it to the other place, that if the Boundary Commission for England is to get on with the job of reviewing these constituencies then the passage of this Bill should be delayed no longer. We cannot have it hanging around for too long in this state of uncertainty.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

The right hon. Gentleman says that Clause 2 should be kept within the Bill because London was not affected by the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. In Clause 3 some of the constituencies are very much affected by these proposals. What has he got to say about that?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

What I have got to say about that is that it is not a perfect world and we have to do our best to meet objections made about these very large constituencies.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The right hon. Gentleman says that if another place rejects the Bill London will be denied the redistribution which he says is generally acceptable to the parties. If another place were to reject this Bill the right hon. Gentleman's powers under the 1949 Act would surely remain? Is there anything to prevent him from laying an Order in respect of London?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

There is nothing to prevent me laying such an Order. I would be interested to hear what would be the reaction of the Opposition to that proposition and whether they thought they could carry their majority in another place with them if they wanted to see it done in that way. I would be open to this, but whatever has to be done must be done quickly. We must allow these people to get on with their electoral arrangements. I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman says and will be glad to hear further views.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there may be some objection from this side of the House to such a procedure as the right hon. Gentleman has advocated?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I can only repeat that this is not a perfect world. I cannot satisfy every hon. Member in this respect. I am sorry about my hon. Friend. He can no doubt put his point of view through the usual channels.

In putting these Amendments forward we have shown that we are prepared to take account of the apprehensions of hon. Members opposite about the length of time they think may elapse, given bad faith on the part of the Government, before the next review of the Boundary Commissions. The Amendments are realistic. We intend to work towards introducing legislation to reform the structure in 1971–72 and I express the earnest hope that these Amendments will be accepted in another place. The Bill, as it would emerge, would enable the next parliamentary and local government elections in Greater London to be held on the revised constituencies and would attend to the problem of constituencies with abnormally large electorates.

In view of the reports I have heard about the Amendments in the debates held in that bracing seaside resort recently, when views were expressed by one member of another place who holds a distinguished position, I ought to explain now what I propose to do if their Lordships do not accept the common sense of the situation and oppose the Bill.

5.15 p.m.

Let us imagine that they oppose the Bill—they will have the opportunity of passing or rejecting it on Thursday. I shall then lay before Parliament draft Orders relating to the recommendation of the 1969 Reports in the manner provided by Section 2(5) of the 1949 Act. Whether they should be laid next week or when the House resumes would be a matter for parliamentary convenience, which could no doubt be discussed. I should then, to bring the matter to a conclusion and avoid uncertainty, lay those Orders. That is what I propose to do.

I hope that no one will assume that the Government are withdrawing from the position in relation to these Reports which has been established and passed by this House. I should not be able to advise the House to approve the Orders. [An HON. MEMBER: "None of them?"] None of them, because it is the view of the Government that what we are proposing to do in seeking to remedy the London position is right because the boundaries are fixed. We cannot do that unless we can also proceed to some of the other constituences, the larger constituencies. The two go together and that is why I am interested to hear the point put forward by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I do not know whether he was expressing support for that.

If the House were to decide that it did not wish to approve the Orders we are putting forward then we shall be back in the position where we were before the Boundary Commission started work, that is to say, we should be fighting an election on the basis of the 1966 boundaries, on which we were all elected. We should be in exactly the same position again. To try to meet the real position which would arise as to when the Boundary Commission would be reactivated, I would need a little time to consider what legislation to bring forward. I think a proposition very similar to the one I am putting in the Bill, namely, 1972, or something a little earlier should be the latest date on which the Boundary Commission should be reactivated and asked to start again. But if their Lordships are not willing to accept what I am putting forward, then as a matter of convenience, we ought to ask the Boundary Commission to start afresh and to go forward with our electoral arrangements, to the great convenience of all parties, who will know exactly where they stand as from the date on which those orders are laid and rejected. We will all be able to go forward on that basis, with everyone knowing where they are.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I did not know that this would arouse so much interest. What I am hoping is that their Lordships will see the virtues in the proposals I am making and will decide that of the alternatives I am putting forward to them it would be much more sensible to fight the next election by breaking up these large constituencies and reorganising London.

I have now finished. It will be for hon. Gentlemen to make their points during the course of the debate. But I thought that I should make absolutely clear what will be the path of the Government if their Lordships cannot accept the compromise I have put forward. I shall lay the Orders before the House at an early opportunity.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

After the agape, or love-feast, in which the Home Secretary and I indulged, I hope to our mutual pleasure, on a great theme yesterday, we must return to the harsh realities of married life. It is my duty, as his shadow, or, I might claim in this connection, his better half, to read the right hon. Gentleman a curtain lecture of the utmost harshness.

What emerges from the Secretary of State's quite extraordinary speech, in simple terms, is this. Having decided originally to cheat at the next election, and then to take a blank cheque to cheat indefinitely thereafter, he now proposes a compromise which will allow him to cheat at the next election but not to take the blank cheque. This is, in one sense, a substantial advance on his previous position; but we do not want to be cheated at all.

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the right hon. Gentleman's extraordinary speech was the announcement with which he concluded, which was that, having failed in his legal duty up to the present, if he cannot get what he wants today he will try to discharge it by laying a number of Orders which he will then gerrymander this House into rejecting. This is the extreme limit of Alice in Wonderland political dishonesty.

The right hon. Gentleman started his speech with a kind of Second Reading address. I do not complain of that, although I do not propose entirely to follow it. I am bound to say that I do not accept the account of the facts either as substantially correct or as constituting the smallest justification for what is now proposed or what was proposed in the first place. We are now, in 1969, in the possession of constituency boundaries which are hopelessly distorted and out of date and, therefore, quite undemocratic, because for various reasons for which I reproach nobody the Boundary Commission, in leaving its Report until 1969, allowed the maximum time permitted by Statue to elapse before its Report was available. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not quite."] Very nearly the maximum time. There were a few weeks or perhaps months—weeks rather than months, to coin a phrase—which the Commission still had available to it. The result was that 410 changes were proposed in one of the Reports.

The Secretary of State seemed to think that that put him in a white sheet. But all that he does is to establish the extremely undemocratic nature of the present constituencies. We shall not give the details now because we gave them all before. There are some absurdly large and some ridiculously tiny. But that is the constituency upon which the next General Election will be fought unless a change is made. We ventured to point out, rather coyly, that the bulk of informed opinion is that that will give the Labour Party, on the basis of no swing at all, a bonus of 15 seats, plus or minus a few. We say that that is cheating. This is the background to the matter.

The Government then proceeded to steamroller the Bill through this House in such a way as to avoid a Report stage and deliberately to refuse any kind of Amendment in Committee. When they reached the other place they found that they had antagonised almost every part of the spectrum of political opinion except the indoctrinated members of the Labour Party. And even one of them, the Bishop of Southwark, betrayed them in their moment of need. To pair with the Bishop of Southwark they have now recruited the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker), as the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) very unkindly reminded the right hon. Gentleman in his speech.

The Government had against them a galaxy of talent, in addition to the Conservative Party, which would ensure the defeat of any Measure in any second Chamber, however constituted. They had the only two bishops present, the only two scientists, Lords Penney and Todd, the Chairman of their own Commission on the Constitution, Lord Crowther, a member of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission in Baroness Sharpe, the Chairman of the British Travel Association, whom they had appointed, and two lawyers, Lord Shawcross, their former Attorney-General, and Lord Tangley, who has been repeatedly appointed to independent positions, seven heads of Government Departments, civil and foreign affairs, and the entire Liberal Party.

If the Labour Party really thinks that it can get away with that sort of thing——

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this merely illustrates the scandalous generosity with which the Prime Minister has distributed peerages?

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

I am sure that the noble Lords in question will note the view which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) takes of the motives inspiring their appointments.

So far as I know, no respectable strand of public opinion accepted the Bill as originally proposed. We are now faced with a totally new Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, shrouding the real intentions of the matter in an impenetrable fog of special pleading, comes forward, with all the skill and mastery of the parliamentary draftsmen behind him, and, under the guise of putting in Amendments to the Lords' Amendments rather than rejecting them, presents a totally new Bill, which merely goes to illustrate the extreme parliamentary ineptitude—I must not use the word "nincompoop" because it caused so much offence before—with which they forced the first Bill through without Amendment of any kind.

It is not for me, but for the Chair and the Table, to say whether it is an acceptable constitutional device to introduce a totally new Bill under the guise of Amendments to the Lords' Amendments. At any rate, I should have said that, as a matter of policy, it was highly undesirable and, viewed as a compromise imposed upon the parties in this House opposed to the Government, it is wholly unacceptable for the reasons I have given.

The point which emerges from the Secretary of State's speech is that, in its death agony, the Labour Party is determined to cheat at the next election at whatever cost. This is something to which I cannot give my approval.

The Amendments are of such a character that they deserve a certain amount of scrutiny. The original view was that, behind the mask with which the Government tried to pursue their real intentions, it was a matter of extreme administrative inconvenience to put into effect the 1969 proposals because of the Redcliffe-Maud Report and the analogous Commissions on other parts of the United Kingdom. It was so inconvenient that the Government had to defy constitutional convention and antagonise every other strand of political opinion. That was their view. To that they originally adhered.

5.30 p.m.

Let us look at the Home Secretary's new timetable compared with the timetable which would have proceeded had he obeyed the law in the first place. If the right hon. Gentleman had obeyed the law in the first place, he would have laid the Commission Reports in April and they would now, I suppose, with the aid of the Government majority, be on the way to becoming law and we should be fighting the next General Election, which is now rumoured to be as early as the coming November, on the new constituencies. At any rate, that is what we should be fighting either as early as November or whatever is the latest moment in 1971 when the Government can cling on to office.

If the right hon. Gentleman had gone ahead with that timetable, he would, so he says, have come to his decisions, or the Conservative successor to the right hon. Gentleman would have come to his decisions, about Redcliffe-Maud and all that, if we followed the right hon. Gentleman's timetable—which, I think, would be on the optimistic side, but I am giving him the credit for every point I can—by the beginning of the Session of 1971. As the Home Secretary rightly says, however, the decision to legislate, the actual passage of the legislation through Parliament and its subsequent implementation on the ground are very different things.

Supposing that the right hon. Gentleman is right and that the beginning of the Session of 1971 would be the earliest conceivable date at which a. Government, his or ours, would announce their decision, I imagine that it would not become law much before the summer or spring of 1972 and we would then have to reconstitute the structure of local authorities. If our experience of London government, which was a much smaller operation, is any guide, we would then have a period in which the old local authorities were still in office and side by side with them would be the local authorities designate riding in parallel—as was the case in London government, and I expect that that would happen again—before they actually assume their duties.

After that, there is still an indeterminate time before which the next General Election would be held on the basis of the new constituency boundaries. The Home Secretary is saying that that presents such a clash of dates as to be wholly and adminstratively intolerable. One has only to spell it out to see that that is complete rubbish.

That timetable allows a gap between the laying and implementation in 1969 of the 1969 Reports and the actual implementation of the new local government boundaries that is, I calculate, about five years. Let us compare that timetable with what is proposed in the Amendments.

In the proposed Amendments, the Government give themselves three possible options. The first, which relates to Northern Ireland and Scotland alone, is to implement the 1969 boundaries if the proposed changes are not sufficiently serious to make the 1969 Boundary Commissions obsolete or out of date. The second option, which is parallel to that in relation to England and Wales, is to implement the 1969 Boundary Commission's Report if the delay in local government reorganisation and the consequent reactivation of the Boundary Commission renders further delay intolerable.

Both of the first options, therefore, consist in implementing the existing Boundary Commission's Reports, which the Government are refusing to implement as of now—exactly the same without any substantial difference. In other words, instead of getting nice, new, up-to-date boundaries when they are wanted in 1969, we are to have them, under those options, when they are already getting rather long in the tooth.

What is exactly the advantage of that? The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us. He seems to have a sort of passionate love or desire, an erotic obsession with boundaries which are already archaic. He wants them so much that he is prepared to wait until 1970 or thereabouts—1971, I suppose—to get the 1969 boundaries carried through. That is one option.

The other option is even more remarkable because it is, at the latest by 1972, to reactivate the Boundary Commission for a new review. There is a time limit on that, which means that the Boundary Commission, reactivated, must report by 1976; and as the Home Secretary piously hoped, it might report earlier. The Gilbertian situation then is that it will report at precisely the time when the country is convulsed with the very local government changes which, if the right hon. Gentleman's calendar is anything like correct, apparently rendered the whole exercise necessary in the first place. In other words, if the right hon. Gentleman takes his first option, he will be doing two years late what he ought to have done now. If he takes the second option, he will be bringing about the exact situation which the whole exercise was designed to avoid.

At the end of the day we get one fact only, and that is that the Government are determined to cheat at all costs. I hope that the country will realise it and I hope it will realise, if there is a challenge between the two Houses, what has been going on. I say frankly to the right hon. Gentleman that if he wants to carry conviction in the advice which he gives to other parts of the United Kingdom not to gerrymander boundaries, he had better look into his own conscience first.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

The right hon. and learned Member for St. Maryiebone (Mr. Hogg) so much enjoys his speeches that he inspires a similar reaction in those who listen to him. These Lords Amendments, covering the whole of the Bill, have given rise again today to the same debate we had before. We are going over the whole gamut of the argument. It is not my purpose to go over it.

I shall not take long, but I want to call the attention of the House to what must already be apparent to many hon. Members: that is, that according to the rules of this House the Lords Amendments are out of order. Unfortunately we cannot do anything about it. Unfortunately we have no control over the other place, nor can we tell it that it has to pass Amendments which are in order. Nor can we refuse to discuss them merely because they are out of order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave the game away when he said these Lords Amendments produced an entirely new Bill.

Those who study their Erskine May will remember that it contains a section which deals with Amendments which are inadmissible. If hon. Members turn to page 550 of Erskine May they will see that it states that any Amendment which is a negative or is directly contrary to the principle which was accepted on Second Reading is out of order. Every hon. Member will agree with the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone that the Bill which has come back to us from the other place is an entirely new Bill. It does not follow the principle which was agreed to by this House on Second Reading. In fact, it does not even follow the principle accepted by the other place on Second Reading, because they passed it.

I raise this matter for two reasons. First, since this is not the first occasion in the last few years when the House has taken up time discussing Amendments which are out of order according to our rules, the next time that we have a Bill to deal with the relationship between the Commons and the Lords this is something which should be dealt with. My second reason is to say to the Opposition that it will not be very sensible to vote for Amendments which, according to the rules of this House, are out of order.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

It is a remarkable proposition which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has just put to us, that any ruling given by him or by this House as to the regularity of proceedings in another place should be even considered. Indeed, as the hon. Member raised substantially a point of order in another place, I was about, respectfully, to invite your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to what I understand to be the rules of order in this House, that one may not criticise the proceedings in another place, which of course is precisely the point—indeed, the only point—which the hon. Member was making.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

My right hon. Friend will, of course, appreciate that the Lords, far from being out of order in what they did, would have been completely in order in rejecting the Bill altogether, which they decided not to do.

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I think that both right hon. Gentlemen have misunderstood me. I did not criticise the other place. I said that we had no control whatever over the Amendments which they passed there. They are entitled to pass any Amendment they like. All I said was that, according to the rules of this House, when those Amendments come here, they are out of order according to our rules——

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

May I just add that before I made that statement I took advice also on the subject?

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I do not know to what extent the hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful. He accepts that he and this House have no right whatever to interfere in the procedure of another place. Indeed, it is laid down somewhere in Erskine May that each House is the master of its own procedure. Unless he is arguing that we should not discuss the matter at all, because what was done in the Lords would be out of order in the Commons, he has taken up the time of this House on an important occasion with a wholly frivolous and irrelevant intervention.

This is an extremely important occasion, made all the more so by the quite astonishing announcement which the Home Secretary made a few moments go. I have never heard—I do not think that any hon. Member has ever heard—a Minister make from that Box a comparable statement. It was that he was going to go through the form of carrying out what I now understand he admits to be his statutory duty to lay these Orders, but is going to render the whole procedure nugatory and a sharn by arranging with the Patronage Secretary to have voted down the Orders which he himself, in the discharge of his Ministerial duties, has laid before Parliament.

This is not just one of those strange points of quasi-order which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred to. This is a point which goes to the whole substance of the relationship between Ministers and this House and between Ministers and the law of the land. We have a Minister of the Crown, indeed the most senior Secretary of State—indeed, to make it the more deplorable, the Minister above all Ministers who is responsible for securing a punctilious regard for law and order—coming forward with the bland statement—made without any appearance of shame—that he proposes to make a farce of these whole constitutional proceedings and prostitute them in the interests of the Labour Party. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that kind of thing will intimidate another place, I can only say that I know of no second chamber in the world which would allow a statement by a Minister that he was not going to do his duty to cause that second chamber to decide not to do its duty.

I do not want, any more than the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, to go over the arguments which put forward on the last occasion, but I should like to comment on what the Home Secretary described as his "compromise". It is, of course, no compromise. Indeed, it is a proposal which shows up even more clearly the unreality of the arguments originally adduced in support of the Bill, because, if it did anything if it went into law, it would make as near as may be mathematically certain that there would be two redistributions in reasonably swift succession.

It is not a compromise at all. The purpose of this Bill is to make sure that the next General Election is fought on the present distribution of seats. That is the purpose of this Bill, and the fact that, under the guise of a compromise, it also makes it certain that the next one after that would be fought similarly is no doubt an additional precaution. This is the purpose of the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman's so-called compromise does not touch this. He is determined to fight the next Election in a position in which, according to an independent and impartial Boundaries Commission, the majority of constituencies in this country—410 of them, he quoted—are either too big or too small, or in some way not distributed as, in the judgment of the Boundaries Commission, they should be.

That is the purpose of the Bill, that we should fight the next General Election on the basis of a vote in certain constituencies having the same share in voting in a Member of this House as five or six votes have in other constituencies. My right hon. and learned Friend asked who the Home Secretary is to lecture the Government of Northern Ireland about gerrymandering and about the municipal boundaries of Londonderry when he comes forward with special legislation which he knows will have the effect of providing that, in certain constituencies in the United Kingdom, one man's vote would be the equivalent of those of five or six men in another constituency. Where is "One man, one vote" there, when it is "One man, five or six votes" if he happens to be in a constituency likely to return a Labour Member of Parliament?

This is the purpose of this Bill, and this is no compromise which is put forward. The right hon. Gentleman is determined, either by this Bill or, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, by cheating over the Orders which it is his duty to lay, to secure that——

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

It is disgraceful: I agree with the hon. Member. It is indeed disgraceful. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for putting that adjective into my mouth, or I might have used a harsher one.

Photo of Mr Roy Roebuck Mr Roy Roebuck , Harrow East

The right hon. Gentleman was misrepresenting me, as much as he was misrepresenting my right hon. Friend. I used the word "disgraceful" because I regard the right hon. Gentleman's exaggeration as a terminological inexactitude in regard to what is taking place. It was absolutely disgraceful.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I am obliged to the hon. Member. I am always prepared to accept his help, particularly in view of his known highly articulate vocabulary. I am delighted that one who no doubt regards himself as a possible beneficiary of the Home Secretary's action should rise with such loyalty to his right hon. Friend's defence.

The Home Secretary knows perfectly well what he is doing. He knows what was the reaction in the House when the Bill went through the House—that we in this country, the homeland of Parliamentary democracy, are not only throwing overboard all the carefully calculated and impartial machinery of the Boundary Commission, but are being blatantly being faced with legislation designed to change that machinery in the interests of the Government of the day. The second Chamber exists to give protection from that kind of thing to our constituents and to the country.

In his anxiety about the attitude of another place, the Home Secretary tried to suggest that if they decided to reject the Bill—as I personally hope that they will, in their wisdom, do—they would be preventing the citizens of London from having the benefits of the thoughts and plans of the Boundary Commission and of voting on the next occasion after a proper and fairly conceived redistribution. But when I intervened the right hon. Gentleman had to admit that that was a quite unfair attempt to put responsibility on another place because—I see the Minister of State nodding his head, I hope in assent. If this Bill is rejected and the 1949 Act remains, the right hon. Gentleman could lay an Order bringing about the redistribution in London at any moment, and provided that on this occasion he was prepared to ask the Chief Whip to organise votes in support of it, he could carry such an Order.

Whether that would be a sensible thing to do, with the problems which would be created on the periphery of London, is another matter. The Bill as introduced went to extraordinary gymnastics and gyrations to deal with the problems of redistributing in London and not redistributing in the rest of the country. The Bill in its original form created a constituency of under 40,000 electors somewhere on the edge of London and Hertfordshire. These are very serious problems which arise from the Home Secretary's own action.

But the point of my intervention and the point which should be made clear to the people of London is that whatever action is taken by another place, it is open to the Government, if they so wish, under the existing law and under their existing powers, to bring about that redistribution in London as it is in their power to bring it about in any other part of the United Kingdom. It was therefore very unfair of the Home Secretary to try to take advantage of the complexity of these matters to suggest that another place would be taking responsibilities of this kind which are, in fact, the responsibilities of the right hon. Gentleman.

More than once in these debates I have put to the House the view which I hold, if the House will allow me to say so, with passion—the view that a terrible wrong is being done to our Parliamentary democracy. I am very glad indeed that, as a result of perhaps some unexpected support, there still exists at the other end of the corridor another Chamber with teeth. I hope that it will bite.

Photo of Mr Roy Roebuck Mr Roy Roebuck , Harrow East

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is as reckless with his facts as he is with the charges which he slings out. He accused my right lion. Friend of cheating.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

My right hon. Friend was very moderate.

Photo of Mr Roy Roebuck Mr Roy Roebuck , Harrow East

The right hon. Gentleman used the word "cheating". No doubt the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) will add to that. We know his capacity in that regard.

But the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames went on to say that I gave my support of the Bill because I thought that I would benefit from its consequences. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong again. The Boundary Commission have decided to make no changes in my constituency.

Why is that? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. If he had done his homework he would have found that the Boundary Commission decided to make no change in the boundaries of the Harrow, East constituency with South-East Hertfordshire on the ground that the constituency boundaries should not be changed in anticipation of any changes in the local government boundary. What my right hon. Friend is suggesting is that there should be no changes in anticipation of the Redeliffe-Maud Report.

There is, therefore, not much substance in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I hope that on reflection he will want to reconsider these quite outrageous and reckless charges of dishonesty which he has made against my right hon. Friend and myself.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I suggested to the hon. Member that he might be a beneficiary of his right hon. Friend's activities for the most basic of all reasons—that they are intended to keep the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman on that side of the House, and the hon. Member indicated earlier that he thought that that would be an agreeable state of affairs, as if he hoped that he might move a little to his left.

Photo of Mr Roy Roebuck Mr Roy Roebuck , Harrow East

As the debate continues the right hon. Gentleman assumes more and more the shape of a twisted rubber corkscrew. He shifts from one stratagem to another.

There is another reason why I support my right hon. Friend in rejecting the proposal of another place. I consider it singularly inappropriate and an act of gross impertinence by another place to seek to interfere in the arrangements for the representation of the people.

Since when has the other place conceived this passionate desire to see that the people are properly represented? The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames must know from history that the other place nearly drove the nation to revolution twice because it resisted changes in Reform Acts to allow the people to be represented. I consider it to be most inappropriate that the other place should poke their noses into affairs of this nature. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite must be hard up if they believe that the people down the corridor, most of whom I understand wear National Health Service dentures, have very sharp teeth with which they will look after those commoners who have the right to elect Members to this House.

No hon. Member opposite has made out a proper case. The right hon. Gentleman, who is leading counsel on these matters when there is mud slinging to be done, has got hold of totally incorrect information. When this is pointed out he moves on to some other argument.

There is no substance whatever in the charges which the Opposition have levelled against us and they should be ignored or, if not ignored, treated with contempt.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

After the speech of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), I will try to lower the temperature. We have had only two speeches so far in the debate from hon. Members opposite, apart from Front Bench speeches, and, with great respect to both hon. Members, it would have been better if neither had been made, because they did not add to the debate.

This is one of the most important debates that the House has had for a very long time, and it is a great pity that there are not more hon. Members present on both sides of the House. We are debating freedom, whether we like it or not. That is the main issue of the debate.

I will be frank with right hon. and hon. Members opposite: up to the time he introduced the Bill, the Home Secretary is the Minister who gave me the greatest confidence. I had a good deal of regard for the right hon. Gentleman. Even when he introduced this Measure I thought that it was only a question of him being mistaken. However, it has been made clear today that the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps the most squalid member of a squalid Government.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that we are really debating whether it is proper for the electorate to be upheaved twice within a short period of time on the basis of an arrangement which was made in 1949 and which we are perfectly entitled to change, if we so wish, in the interests of the electorate?

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I regret having given way to the hon. Gentleman to enable him to make that point because his remarks have not added to the discussion. I said that this was a squalid business, and so it is.

Let us consider some of the facts which the Home Secretary tried to adduce. First, he objected to the changes taking place because 410 constituencies would be affected. This means that the last redistribution occurred so long ago that two-thirds of the nation's constituencies need major revision now. That must happen now and not in five or six years' time. If we delay now it is probable that the whole 630 constituencies will need revising in five or six years' time.

The right hon. Gentleman has a statutory duty to keep the constituencies in balance and to carry out the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions—not just those recommendations which he wishes to carry out but all of them. To say that a greater number of constituencies would be affected and that that is a reason for inaction is to stand the argument on its head.

Another squalid reason why the Home Secretary's Amendments are wrong is because they are designed to make the public say "What a nice, reasonable, cooperative gentleman he is". Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that even with the Amendments the Home Secretary will obtain his major objective, which is that no boundary changes should occur before the next General Election. The right hon. Gentleman does not care what happens after that. He is ensuring that there will be no boundary change before then because he, the Prime Minister and the Labour Party know that to leave the situation as it is is to their electoral benefit.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

The hon. Gentleman has no authority for saying that.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

We do not live in a vacuum. People have been discussing this matter, particularly in the corridors of Parliament, for months. Hon. Members have been considering what would occur if these changes took place, and what would be the result of no changes being made. This is common knowledge within the walls of the Palace of Westminster, so let us get rid of this business of it being difficult to prove what I am saying. We politicians are good at assessing our electoral chances and it is the general view of Parliament that what is proposed will be to the advantage of the Labour Party. That is the basic reason for the Bill.

The Home Secretary continues to argue that he might introduce these changes in 1972, but what if he is wrong over local government reform? I have said on previous occasions—I will not weary the House by repeating my arguments—that I believe the right hon. Gentleman to be grossly wrong over local government reform. The Government, if they had a majority, could steamroller local government reform through Parliament, but I am sure than that is not the intention of either party.

Some hon. Gentlemen opposite will be aware of the discussion that has been going on over this subject. Some people may be hostile to change at first, but as the discussion of local government reform continues for perhaps 18 months, they realise that some change is necessary. The flint and steel of political argument may persuade people in local government to finally reach a collective view. But that may take a considerable amount of discussion and may not occur in, say, six to 12 months. I therefore do not believe that the Home Secretary will be able to produce a suitable Bill by 1972.

Nobody knows the amount of controversy that local government reform may arouse in the country. At present the subject may seem somewhat dull, but hon. Members know how a matter can suddenly become a great political issue. Without wishing to decry hon. Gentlemen opposite, they must appreciate that, on a controversial issue affecting local government throughout the country, it is not proper to introduce a Measure in the last year of a Parliament. One cannot be certain how long the necessary negotiations on local government may take, and for all one knows—this is a possibility despite the Home Secretary saying that the Bill we are discussing must become law first—we may be dealing with the matter after 1975.

In the meantime, the Home Secretary has a statutory duty to keep the constituencies in order and, therefore, to implement the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. If there is a possibility that we will be arguing this matter at the time of the next election but one, with the result that the constituencies will be 20 years out of date, the Home Secretary must carry out his statutory responsibilities now., because he is lowering the prestige of the House and the character of Parliament by not carrying them out.

The Home Secretary's arguments are only suppositions of what may happen. The facts are that 410 constituencies need reforming now and that the right hon. Gentleman has a statutory duty to implement the proposals of the Boundary Commission now. Those are the facts. The remainder is supposition. The right hon. Gentleman must not pour shame and degradation on the proceedings of Parliament—[Interruption.]—and I am not exaggerating. His remarks were, to me, the worst statement I have heard from the Dispatch Box opposite since I came to this place. The right hon. Gentleman merely made some comments and told us that we could send the Bill to the other place and that the Lords could carry out their constitutional duty.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Is the hon. Gentleman ill?

The other place has delaying powers, given to it by the Labour Party. [Interruption.] After all, a Measure to alter the powers of the Lords was dropped not long ago, and that must mean that the Government considered the delaying powers of another place to represent a proper and justified part of the constitution. The other place would therefore be doing less than its constitutional duty if it felt that something needed doing to the Bill but did not do it.

This is where the disgrace to the House comes in. The Home Secretary says: "You can do all that. Its members may carry out their rôle in the second Chamber with the powers my party gave them, but even if they do I shall circumvent the whole constitutional process. I shall then lay the Orders that I have a statutory duty to lay, but I shall then tell the Patronage Secretary to herd these people into the Lobby in order to vote against them."

This Bill is a negation of all that has been built up for over 700 years. Hon. Members should remember that this House had not much power at the time of Magna Carta. One of the important matters of freedom in our history was organised far more by the barons than by the commoners, and those in another place still have the duty and the responsibility to protect the freedom of these people. But it is the people's freedom that is being eroded by this Bill.

As has been said, one man's vote in one constituency is worth five men's votes in another. Is not this gerrymandering of the worst order, and was not the Boundary Commission set up to avoid that state of things? The Home Secretary has now left the Chamber, I believe because he is ashamed to be amongst us. He says: "When all this process has been gone through I shall circumvent and override the real designs of the parliamentary system". I believe that he should be impeached.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Some years ago the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) wrote an interesting little book called "The Case for Conservatism". I keep a copy of it on my bookshelves lest on any occasion I should wish to reinforce my conviction of the weakness of that case. I have not had occasion to do so recently, but in it and in evaluating the speeches made this afternoon from the benches opposite it is worth while recognising that there breathes through them all a deep conviction, which is widely held in the Conservative Party, that their real place, and their only place, is on this side of the House. This is what they firmly and basically believe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have their approbation. The point is that the Conservative Party believes that the whole process of democracy is designed for the retention of that situation and that anything that does not lead to it is worthy of words such as "cheating" or other epithets that come to their tongues.

The fact is that they are the only party which has ruled in this country against the wishes of the majority of the people—[Interruption.]—in the sense that immediately after the 1951 election, having a minority of the popular vote, they nevertheless assumed Government——

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

What the hon. Gentleman says is perfectly true. In fact, no Government since the war have had a majority of the votes.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I hear the hon. Gentleman, but this is not the case. The hon. Member well knows the point I am making, which is that the majority of the votes were not in favour of the party which assumed Government. This point has not been given sufficient weight in this debate.

It is the case that there is an ingrained advantage to the Conservative Party. If we have a fair seat distribution, the consequence, owing to the distribution of political opinion, is that there is unfairness in the popular vote. This is particularly true of the Liberal Party. That party suffers because to a considerable extent reliance on seat distribution negates the popular vote. This whole debate has ignored this point, and the Boundary Commission has not given it sufficient weight.

What happens under our system is that the consequence of a redistribution is to make the popular vote less important——

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the Boundary Commission was working under rules laid down by the 1949 Act, which was introduced by a Labour Government?

6.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

And what members of the party opposite are saying is that the 1949 Act should be sacred in perpetuity, and that the Boundary Commission's recommendations should be introduced. They also say that if in another place the proposals of this House are overthrown we are not entitled to question it. I do not believe that this proposition can be entertained.

It has been suggested that in carrying out his suggestions my right hon. Friend is acting in some way which is unfair; that he is cheating, and so on. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can sustain that proposition only on the basis that whatever happens in another place and the recommendations of the Boundary Commission are both absolutely sacrosanct. The point that is overlooked is that it is this House, and no other place, which makes the final decision.

That is something that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not accent. The charges that have been levelled and the strength of the language that has been used by hon. Members opposite are tenable only and can be understood only on the basis that they believe that the Conservative Party has a sacred right to rule, and to rule in perpetuity. That we on this side cannot be expected to accept and will not accept.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

The point made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) that the other place should not interfere in any way with matters concerning elections and the disposition of constituency boundaries is not valid. In other respects we have denied the other place the power to intervene in decisions made by this House, particularly financial decisions, and that has been the position for a long time, but I do not think that it has ever been suggested that matters concerning the redistribution of seats should not go through both Houses of Parliament. That, until we decide otherwise, is the position we face. Those in another place have given us a second chance to look at the proposals in the Bill, and have made their own suggestions which we are entitled to consider on their own merits.

The other theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that there are defects in our electoral system, and that, of course, I cannot dispute. I agree entirely with what he said. It is true that in 1951 the Conservatives were returned to power with fewer votes than the Labour Party had, but it is also true to say, as I have already said in an intervention, that ever since the war, and even further back than that, the party that has assumed Government has never once had a majority of the people's votes. Nothing we do with constituency boundaries will put that right, because it is a fundamental defect of our system. As long as we have single-member constituencies, as we do, the minorities will always be under-represented, and we shall have accidental changes in the strength of the parties depending on how a previous Boundary Commission has done its work.

We cannot have arithmetical equality even immediately after a Boundary Commission's recommendations have been implemented. For example, an average constituency in England has 60,000 electors. Suppose we consider what to do about a constituency with 80,000 and one with 40,000. If in one case we split the constituency it is 33⅓ per cent. less than average but if we leave the other alone it is 33⅓ per cent. more than the average. This is an unattainable objective under our present laws. Although it was originally in the rules, someone deleted it, having done the arithmetic, because it was found to be totally impracticable.

Now the Boundary Commission has to have regard to other matters, including the delineation of constituency boundaries in relation to the boundaries of local authorities. Whether they should be more or less the same is a matter of convenience as it has been over the years while these rules have operated. It is very awkward for hon. Members if their constituencies overlap the boundaries of several local authorities. That is the point of having this rule given to the Boundary Commission. The Home Secretary has said all along, and repeated it this afternoon, that if the Redcliffe-Maud proposals or anything like them are to be implemented and there is this unheaval of local authority boundaries, we shall have a similar upheaval in constituency boundaries within a few years.

The right hon. Gentleman has airily suggested that these enormous proposals, covering reorganisation of local government in England, can be pushed through in time for him to meet the undertaking to make changes by 31st March, 1972, and if he is not able to fulfil that undertaking he will carry out the recommendations of the Boundary Commission in their present form. I ask the House to consider whether this is practicable. All local authority organisations and many individual councillors are already beginning to complain that they have been given insufficient time to consider the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. There is a ground swell of hostility building up to certain features in the proposals.

The unitary authorities, 61 of them in England, are so enormous that they will not be worthy of the name. If they cover half a million or a million people outside conurbations, the area will be so enormous that people will have to travel many miles to get to their town halls. Aneurin Bevan once said that local government meant that everyone should be able to walk to his town hall.

If Ministers are to give to the criticisms which are being made the consideration they deserve, coming as they do from people who have served local government for many years, people should be given longer time to put in objections. The Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London reported to this House in 1960 and the Bill was presented by the Conservative Government in 1963 implementing those recommendations with certain variations such as the size of the authorities proposed and other matters. It took the Conserva- tive Government three years after receiving the report to place the Bill before the House. Surely it would take at least as long for alterations to be made in local government as a whole. This is a far larger problem, involving enormous variation in types of local authority covering the whole country. I do not think it can be done within the time scale announced by the Home Secretary.

Even if a Bill were published by 31st March, 1972, but had not reached the Committee stage, the Home Secretary of the day would say, "We are bound by this undertaking and will lay Orders to follow the pattern of the organisation set out in the Bill". Then the Bill would come before the House and, judging by the experience on the London Government Bill, some alterations would be made in Committee and on Report. At that time strong representations were made by authorities on the outer boundaries of Greater London, some of which were considered favourably by the Conservative Government at a later stage. I remember some Amendments which were rejected by the Home Secretary at that time, but when the Government received powerful recommendations from another place they agreed that perhaps those Amendments were sensible. Under the proposed arrangement, the Home Secretary will have laid Orders about the boundaries, and this House, or perhaps another place, with the approval of the Government, will have made alterations and the constituency boundaries will no longer coincide with the local authority boundaries. It seems that the Home Secretary has not thought out the consequences of the undertakings he has given.

It is not necessary to go over the whole argument about the enormous constituencies that there will be if the Bill goes through. The Home Secretary has blackmailed the House; he has held a pistol to our heads. He has said, "If you are not willing to accept my package and the Bill goes to the Lords and they insist on Amendments, you will not have anything at all. You will not have the essential reorganisation of constituencies in London". I speak as a Londoner, and I know how great is the concern in London that these changes should be implemented. Elections with single-member constituencies would be much fairer and more understandable for the electorate. I think the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) would agree that that is the view of his party in Greater London. The Home Secretary has said, "If you do not accept my proposal you will not have anything at all". I wish that he represented a constituency with more than 100,000 electors.

The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) will know what I am talking about. She will agree that it is an appalling burden for an hon. Member to be asked to serve 110,000 or 120,000 constituents and try to do the job properly. I can imagine the volume of her correspondence because I have a constituency with an electorate only half that size and I answered 4,378 letters last year.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

That did not prevent my coming to this House and making speeches. In addition, a Member with a constituency like that has to do all the research work necessary to answer the letters. Is this fair to hon. Members or to the electors they represent? Those electors must be getting a service which is less thorough than if they lived in a constituency with the normal number of 60,000 electors, quite apart from the fact that, as the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said, we have a situation in which one man's vote is worth five times that of another's.

The Home Secretary has placed us in an appalling dilemma by holding this pistol to our heads and saying, "If you do not accept my package, none of the other evils which we tried to remedy in the original Bill can be dealt with. They would then not be dealt with until after the General Election, say in October, 1970", by which time we shall have constituencies not of 110,000 like the hon. Lady's but of 120,000 or 130,000. That would be an impossible position.

I hesitate to know how to advise my hon. Friends. Faced with these Amendments—I say this with great reluctance, because I view with repugnance the way the Home Secretary has behaved—I advise my hon. Friends to accept the restoration of Clauses 2 and 3 but not to go along with the Home Secretary with the blackmail he has presented to us on the timing of the Bill. We should say that we are not prepared to accept that this job could possibly be done by 1972. We know that this is a device by which the Home Secretary hopes to be able to persuade the Lords to go along with his solution. We are not prepared to accept that part of it, but we shall do our best to ensure that Clauses 2 and 3 are implemented.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I had not intended to participate in this debate, because I was unfortunately absent for a period during the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). I apologise to him in advance if some fresh point that he introduced into his speech was made at a time when I was not in the Chamber and if, therefore, I do not take proper account of it in my remarks.

I had also thought that everything that could be said about this Measure had already been said in the previous discussions. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has acknowledged that we have to some extent inevitably been covering the ground that we covered before. However, we have also the fresh proposals which are made by the Government to deal with a fresh situation. We on this side are as much entitled to comment upon that as are hon. Members in other parts of the House.

The hon. Member for Orpington used the severe word "blackmail" to describe what the Home Secretary has proposed. This is an example of the exaggerated language that has been used by hon. Members opposite throughout the whole of these debates. We are dealing with a novel situation as far as I can recall, although there may be precedents that other hon. Members may bring to my attention. It is the novel situation of an attempt by another place to interfere with a Bill which is specifically dealing with the representation of the people.

The spokesman for the Liberal Party does not seem to complain on that score. Some members of his party in former times might have had some very severe words to say about the unelected section of the legislature trying to interfere with the practices to be laid down by the elected representatives of the legislature. I resent it very deeply that the House of Lords should still retain arty power whatsoever to interfere with the system of election which this House may decide to have. It has a constitutional position to do so, but that does not mean that it is right to do so or that it can be justified in doing so.

I can understand such an attitude from the Tories. They have always been in favour of having as much power in the other place as possible. But it is an astonishing development that the Liberals, who at one time led great battles in the other place, should be saying to us in 1969 that we should sit here and tolerate a position in which another place is instructing us on how we are to arrange for the election of people to this House. There must be hundreds of Liberal peers turning in their graves because this should have occurred.

The hon. Member for Orpington used the word "blackmail" to describe the situation. The Home Secretary and the House have to deal with the novel situation of an attempt by the House of Lords to interfere with our practices. It can be said that the Home Secretary is being open with the House and is putting forward what he considers to be a fair proposal. In some respects I think that my right hon. Friend has gone very far. I might be critical of him for going so far and for making such a concession, but he has made a concession.

The Home Secretary says, "If this concession is rejected, if it does not appease them, I have to make clear to the House what will be the responsibilities of the Home Office afterwards and what course of action I shall take". That is not blackmail. That is giving the House an indication of what will be the consequences of its vote and giving to the other place an indication of what will be the consequences of its vote. The Home Secretary, far from being accused of blackmailing in this wild language, should be congratulated on having gone even further than was required of him in indicating to the House and to the country what will be the consequences of the House of Lords persisting in this kind of interference with the affairs of this House, which is utterly intolerable.

The hon. Member for Orpington also referred to when it is likely that the Redcliffe-Maud proposals will be implemented. I agree that this is matter for argument. No one can say for certain that all the proposals will be through by 1972. That is a very good argument. That is one reason why I might be critical of the extent of the concession which has been made by the Government, because I think that it goes very far that they should bind themselves to 1972.

What the hon. Member for Orpington and all the hon. Gentlemen who speak from the other side on this matter have never been prepared to face is the fact that the proposals they are advocating—that is, that there should be a wholesale change of boundaries now and, inevitably, a wholesale change of boundaries after the local government reforms, whatever they may be—involve a drastic change in parliamentary boundaries over a short period.

They say that part of the argument for doing it is that this was contemplated in the 1949 Act. That is true also, but the House and the country, as is revealed by debates in the House, appreciated that a mistake had been made in the 1949 Act—not a mistake in the sense of a mistake in the balance between the parties, but a mistake in thinking that it was desirable from the point of view of good parliamentary government that there should be changes in parliamentary boundaries at frequent intervals. I defy anybody to read the debates which occurred over the previous Boundary Commissions' Reports and reach any other conclusion.

I now forget the exact dates of those debates. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) knows them very well, because he participated in them. He and I have had controversy about the length of those debates. I have discovered that he is marginally correct and that in fact the debates permitted the House on some of those occasions were slightly longer than the debates permitted on this occasion, but there is nothing much in it.

Anybody who reads those debates will see that it was the weight of opinion in the House—not merely on the Labour side, but on both sides—that it is awkward, difficult and inconvenient, not merely from the point of view of Members of Parliament but also from the point of view of constituents, that there should be this chopping and changing of boundaries all the time.

You, Mr. Speaker, I am sure, will appreciate exactly the case I am putting, because many distinguished people contributed to those debates at that time and pressed this view very strongly. As a result there was some alteration in the way in which the Boundary Commission should operate.

I have always stated that my approach to the Bill has been somewhat different from that of the Home Secretary, although the two opinions have at times converged—occasionally in the Division Lobbies, and elsewhere. I have never taken the view about the Boundary Commission which most hon. Members seem to take. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) talks as if the Boundary Commission is a kind of referee whose decision we must accept and implies that we are cheating if we do not accept it. I have never accepted that view. That is a most offensive view for anyone to take towards the House of Commons. I take the view that the boundaries should be decided by the elected House of Commons, not by the House of Lords, not by some Boundary Commission or some outside body. The final authority rests here, and we have the right to exercise our power.

If it is said by some hon. Members, as I think was argued by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), that there is something indecent in the Home Secretary suggesting that we should lay these Orders in order to reject them all, I do not think it is indecent, any more than I think it was indecent when the Government of which he was a member had a Boundary Commission and said to the House of Commons "You must accept the whole lot" and all the proposals went through without any amendment whatsoever.

I think that was absolutely improper. I said so in the debates at that time and I say so now. The House of Commons must exercise its own political judgment about how these Boundary Commission Reports are to be translated into practice, and I say that this elected House of Commons has more right to do that than any other body in the country. Indeed, we have the sole right to do it. I can appreciate the case of hon. Members who have very large constituencies and find the situation inconvenient. I think it is inconvenient, and we should deal with that situation as soon as possible. But hon. Members must also acknowledge the other part of the argument, that the constant chopping and changing of the constituencies is derogation of the principles of Parliament and the successful operation of Parliament.

The association between Members of of Parliament and their individual constituencies is very important. The hon. Member for Orpington is in favour of some proportional representation, and we all know there is a case for it, although I am against it partly because I believe it would destroy the relationship between the individual Member of Parliament and his constituency, which is one of the most valuable, parts of our system of parliamentary representation.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

After the hon. Member—I apologise for not knowing his constituency—has been a Member a little longer, he may come to the view that the association between a Member of this House and his constituency has some value in it. He may form that view, even if his constituents do not share it. I believe, therefore, that those of us who have argued against chopping and changing parliamentary boundaries frequently have a perfectly valid case to make. I know that there are arguments on the other side, but there are no grounds for accusing us of favouring cheating or of constitutional impropriety. Those words should be withdrawn. We have witnessed in these debates not the debasement of Parliament but the debasement of the English language, the use of these wild words to describe something which does not bear any relation whatsoever to those words. I hope that we shall not hear any more of them.

6.45 p.m.

There would be a very strong sense of grievance if the result of what the Government are proposing, either in the original Bill or in these Amendments to the Bill, were to be that the electoral balance were tipped very heavily against the party opposite, or even marginally—that is to say, if the result of the boundary changes taken all together, in London and the country, were a strong list against the Conservative Party in the operation of the electoral machine. They would have a case for making an accusation of cheating. But that is not the situation.

So far as one can judge—and I agree that it is not a matter that anybody can judge for certain—we should take the impartial view of Mr. David Butler, the man who created the science of "pepsology" or however it is pronounced—[An HON. MEMBER: "Psephology."] He is a most distinguished member of a great university. Mr. Butler's view certainly denies everything that has been said from the other side of the House. His view about the way in which these changes or the previous changes would affect the electoral balance is that they would merely restore a situation under which the balance would be about equal between the parties, with no list either way. He indicates that the Tory Party has had the electoral apparatus listed in its favour ever since 1949. In the elections of 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959 and 1964, and almost, I believe, in the election of 1966 there was a list in favour of the Tories.

That is what they are angry about. They say that it does not look as if that is going to continue. They say "That is cheating because we must always have the electoral system twisted in our favour". What they would have to prove in order to substantiate the case of cheating is that the Government had introduced changes in the Boundary Commission's Reports which listed the whole thing in the Labour Party's favour. But that is not the case. According to the experts, it will just about restore the balance. Indeed, if the Government went ahead with the proposals in the original Boundary Commission Report they would have restored the bias in favour of the Tories, which is what the Tories want to keep now. This is no reason for throwing out the Boundary Commission Report. Those are the consequences.

I am saying, "If you want to substantiate the charge of cheating you must show that this twists the electoral system in your favour". There has been no attempt in this House or in another place to prove that proposition. I guarantee that this point will not be discussed again if this Bill goes to another place. The only neutral suggestion we have had has come down on the side which I am presenting. We have put this case before, and no attempt to denounce it has been made by hon. Members opposite.

I hope we shall not hear any more of this wild language. I hope also that the newspapers will study some of these problems, instead of taking their information from the Conservative Central Office—that highly unbiased authority! I hope they will not take their views from the Liberal Party in its latest incarnation as the defender of the right of the second Chamber to interfere with us here. What we should do as a House of Commons is to assert our rights.

It is extremely serious when another place attempts to interfere with the process of election to this House. Many of us on these benches have fought very hard to secure the abolition of the second Chamber, and I hope that some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who were rather dubious about this argument in the past will be reinforced in accepting these views now.

I hope hon. Members will also take note of what would have been the constitutional position if the Bill for the so-called reform of the second Chamber which was presented in the course of this Parliament had been passed through. We should have had this bogus reform of the second Chamber, stuffed with these castrati, as I called them on an earlier occasion. A list of how They voted on this issue was read out by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. They would have been able to interfere with the proposals of the Government and they would have done it in a very high and mighty manner. They would have said, "We are a reconstituted Chamber now. We can pronounce on these matters". They would have done that, and this Government would have had no retort.

Thus, as on so many previous occasions—and, I dare say, on many future occasions—some of us on the back benches have come to the Government's rescue. We have done so on this Bill as well—perhaps they needed some rescuing—and we have assisted them by what we have done. I am glad that they are resisting the pressure from the other place. They have made some concession to the other place; I do not complain of that, for I am a flexible person, but I think that they have gone very far. However, I am glad that the Home Secretary made clear in the debate today that we will not tolerate a situation in which a completely unrepresentative unelected Chamber should interfere with the rights of the elected representatives of this country.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

It is fascinating to have the privilege of following the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), whose speeches are always highly pyrotechnic, and it is particularly pleasant, although we are not, perhaps, in the same state of happy co-operation across the Floor as we were on an earlier constitutional Measure this Session, to hear him claiming with such charm the credit for coming to the rescue of his own Front Bench, especially when the arguments which he so forcibly produces seem to be totally at variance with the arguments led by the Home Secretary on the same subject.

Inevitably, the debate on this series of Amendments must contain a certain admixture of old material, so to speak, with a certain mixture of new, and the new element which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale had made fine play of is the presence of the other place in debates on the redistribution of parliamentary seats. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be highly indignant at the presumption of another place in intervening in this matter. He is a well known and enthusiastic unicameralist, and his speech bore that imprint throughout.

The whole country has good reason to be thankful for the intervention of a second Chamber in a matter of electoral representation, when those who are the guardians of our unwritten Constitution are attempting to distort and twist it in their favour. The temporary occupants of the seats of power are attempting to make permanent their holding of power by twisting the electoral system. Thank God for the other House which has stepped in and stopped it most effectively, as the Home Secretary admitted, though not openly and in so many words, in his deplorable speech opening this debate.

It is understandable, therefore, that a unicameralist and, at the same time, a member of the party now for a short time still in power should be annoyed at the intervention of the other place in this matter, though it will give no surprise even on his own benches, and certainly not on these or in the country outside.

The hon. Gentleman's views have been canvassed a good deal this year. Both Chambers of our Legislature have suffered under the attempts of this Government to twist them in their own favour. First, the idea was that the upper House should be entirely a House of place-men of the Prime Minister now in power. We can be glad that the House of Commons aborted that one. Then, the idea was that the Socialist Party should be permanently established in power in the House of Commons. We can be thankful that the House of Lords abolished that one. There has been an admirable interchange of function, and both manifestations have been highly salutary. The whole country will be glad of them, and, if any attempt should be made, as, no doubt, it may be, to stir up talk of "Lords versus Commons", I have no doubt that the support of the people of this country will be firmly in favour of the Lords as they have discharged their duty to the nation in this Session of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale complained repetitively about the matter of the timing of intervals between changes in our boundaries. This is potentially a serious matter, and there could be serious disruption if the arrangements were foolishly made. I noticed that he always used the same phrases. His wide vocabulary and imagery failed him on this occasion, and he kept talking about "constant chopping and changing".

The last change of real substance in our boundaries was in 1948, 21 years ago. If I recall aright, the legislation of those times demanded that the boundaries be changed at intervals of approximately ten years. It was then laid down—I was not in the House at the time—that, for the sake of convenience, the interval should be lengthened to something like 15 years. As a result, the Boundary Commission, which began to sit, if I am not mistaken, in 1966, produced its Report in the early part of this year, the interval then having reached 20 years.

No one need complain of any fait accompli in constantly chopping and changing our parliamentary boundaries. Twenty-one years so far is a long time—and it is "21 years not out", as this Government intend it to be.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Accepting that it has been beneficial to the electorate that changes should not have occurred save over a fair span of time, is not that everything which can be said in support of our contention that it would be harmful to the electorate if such changes were to take place, perhaps, twice in about two years?

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

I am coming to that. Continuity over what may at its earliest be about 25 years, a quarter of a century, is certainly not what was in the mind of the original legislators who enacted in this House that the interval should be fairly long and rather longer than ten years. Even a once-for-all 25-year gap is, with the present mobility of our population, utterly impracticable and not to be tolerated. It is obvious everywhere in the country how the asymmetry of our electoral system has become more and more intense, until we have the phenomena so frequently referred to in this debate as well as in previous debates—the "One man five votes, if he is a Socialist" line which is so effectively advocated by the present Government.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is an enthusiastic unicameral redistributionist. He does not want the Boundary Commission to do its work. This House should do the redistribution, he says, and this Government, with their present majority—which has dwindled by one-third or so since they began—intend that it shall so be done.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the pseudo-science of—as I think he called it—"pepsology", something to do with one of those American drinks, I suppose, and he thinks that the Boundary Commission is devastatingly pro-Tory. His peroration was a grand exercise in an attempt to right the wrongs of centuries, to amend the permanent built-in bias of the Constitution towards the overrepresentation of Tory votes, which he accused the Boundary Commission of abetting and seeking to perpetuate.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I am not saying that it had that purpose, but that is the result.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

He says that that is what it did, whether it had that purpose or not; being a great Parliamentarian, the hon. Gentleman would never ascribe base motives in that way. But he said that the Boundary Commission was biased pro-Tory, and he went on with his ineffable remark that the present Bill would only rectify the imbalance sought to be inflicted by the Boundary Commission and should, therefore, be welcomed by the House, the definite Socialist slant in the Bill being no more than just. That is a very curious argument, and quite the opposite of what the Home Secretary said. He denied any such slant entirely.

The Boundary Commission was set up to do its job long before the Redcliffe-Maud Commission was set up. This has been mentioned today. I am repeating old stuff, but it is basic stuff. This is the real matter with which we are concerned.

7.0 p.m.

Furthermore, the Boundary Commission's Report has been before Parliament for six months or more, and could very well have been carried into effect by now. The very long period of 21 years without amendment of any substance to constituencies could have been at an end.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), whose interest in the debate seems to have ceased, put forward some arguments very forcefully. Apparently, once the Boundary Commission had reported, we could look forward to a very long period before any likelihood of its work being allowed to proceed if it had to wait until after the Redcliffe-Maud proposals had been translated in part or in whole into legislation. There would in fact be no likelihood of any "constant chopping and changing", such as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale refers to, because the local government associations are only just beginning to come to the boil about Redcliffe-Maud. The Home Office and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will hear a great deal from them, if my constituency is any model, about their dissatisfaction with the whole idea of the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. With the hon. Member for Orpington, I believe that it will be many years before the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations are carried out. All the more reason, then, for our having the present Boundary Commission recommendations set down and approved by Parliament and put into effect.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Did not my hon. Friend hear the Minister say that Redcliffe-Maud would be implemented a couple of years after we wanted this implemented?

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

My point was that it is possible that there would be two upheavals within a few years, and I contrasted this with the pattern of the past, when this had been spaced out over a span of years.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

I am sorry to seem to usurp your position, Mr. Speaker, in presiding over a debate.

I find that forecasts given by Government representatives about the speed at which the Redcliffe-Maud proposals will be implemented vary very much with whether the Government seek to gain by delay or by haste. They do not match. With all respect to the Minister who is now with us, I do not think that his forecasts chime in too accurately with those of some of his colleagues.

What I wish to affirm and deplore is that the provisions of the Boundary Commission, whom everybody but the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale regards as being absolutely straight and without party bias, could already have been in effect, and we could have approached the next Election with an up-to-date register system and an up-to-date electoral distribution, if the Government had not sought to intervene to prevent it. That is crime No. 1 by the Government.

The next thing is the most appalling Bill they have produced, which is now reappearing before the House and which distorts things even worse. It takes a selective bash at the redistribution, doing it in London, where no doubt the Government feel that it will do them some good, and going to one or two places, not including Huyton, where extra-large seats need to be redistributed.

As I said in earlier debates, my constituency is one of those few outside London which are affected by the Bill. My constituency is enormous; it is approaching the six-figure mark. I am not complaining. The Home Secretary himself drew attention to the fact that I was not complaining about this. But it is time something was done about it. However, the Bill's picking on mine and an adjacent constituency to form three constituencies out of two is the most ludi- crous distortion of any function of boundaries. It makes a sort of dog's breakfast from two constituencies, both of which are well-known entities which the Boundary Commission, after its changes, would still have left, with a rather larger number of well-known entities. This Bill would merely add one constituency made up of fragments of Fareham—God knows where that delightful town would be carved up—with a lesser portion of it being handed over to join places as far away as Leigh Park and over towards Havant: and possibly a little bit right down to the island of Portsea. It is incredible that this silliness should take place. That is why I rejoice that the Bill is coming to a bitter end.

I do not regret that my constituency should be divided. It needs dividing, and it does not make any difference to the electoral balance at what point it might be divided. But the way of doing it put forward in the Bill is undoubtedly the worst that has even been suggested. Therefore, the Bill deserves to be turned down, as it has been, even on account of one local set of circumstances.

But one of the enormous falsities that has been brought into our discussions has been the idea that Redcliffe-Maud impedes the redistribution of parliamentary seats. The changes suggested by the Boundary Commission in my part of Hampshire at no point transgress any of the new Redcliffe-Maud boundaries or any boundaries at all likely to be modified because of Redcliffe-Maud. The Redcliffe-Maud proposals for local government would be entirely unchanged whether or not the constituencies were redistributed in my part of the world now, and the constituencies would be unchanged and unaffected whether or not the Redcliffe-Maud changes came for local government in time.

The Government do not have a leg to stand on in claiming that they could not do the one because of the other. This shows the latent dishonesty in their whole attitude on the matter. This is equally applicable to London, and I have no doubt to other parts of the country. So even if the Government arguments were valid, that Redcliffe-Maud precludes the redistribution of seats, London, Southern Hampshire and no doubt many other parts of the country could go ahead now with no inconvenience in the future because of Redcliffe-Maud or anything like that. There is even now a possibility of the redistribution of the constituencies of perhaps half the population of this country without any objection whatever from the Radcliffe-Maud arguments.

We are seeing the most disgraceful omission of duty. On top of this, we had that shameful declaration by the Home Secretary today. I was horrified. I have never heard anything so coldly cynical. With all due deference to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, the Home Secretary is the guardian of equity of the electoral system and political fairness in this country, and he is under particular scrutiny at present in Northern Ireland. But here he says that he has a statutory duty which he knows lies upon him, but that if he is frustrated in getting through this bit of gerrymandering which the Government have given him to do, and which he has shown no apparent reluctance to carry out, he will disobey the spirit of the instructions under which he holds his high office. He will lay the Orders he is required by law to lay, and has not laid, but advise his colleagues to vote them down. This takes the cake for cynical double-facedness in politics. It puts the right hon. Gentleman on a level with his Prime Minister. So we have the betrayal of this very high trust and "Slippery Jim" goes into the shadows thoroughly discredited. I hope that we shall vote solidly against the Government Motion and that the House of Lords will again throw out these proposals.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

There has been a good deal of imputation of base motives against my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and other members of the Government. Usually in this House, certainly in the context of other debates, you do not allow base motives to be attributed by hon. Members to each other, Mr. Speaker. However, my right hon. Friend is big enough to take these jibes and sneers. I want to draw attention to one point, very briefly, which has not been sufficiently considered. It is a perfectly serious point. I suggest that, because of it, if for no other reason, it might be premature now to revise the boundaries.

The Government have announced and are now carrying out an immense exten- sion of the electorate. There are to be six million new young voters, who have never voted before, at the next General Election: that is an average of about 10,000 per constituency—but only an average, and therefore in some constituencies there may be only 2,000 or 5,000 new voters while in others there might well be 15,000 or 20,000. It depends on the nature of the constituency, on the kind of places in it—whether there are any new towns, for instance, where many young married people congregate.

This in itself may be quite a good reason for not immediately implementing all the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions. We might find them out of date as soon as we implemented them if we did them now without regard to the number of new voters in any particular constituency.

Mr. Richard Sharpies:

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. If what he says is so, it is surely one of the arguments for not implementing any of the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions and not an argument for implementing some.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

That is quite a good intervention and I honestly do not know how to answer it. But I was not dealing with that particular question but with the general question of the Commissions' recommendations, and the overwhelming majority of them are, after all, not being implemented. London constituencies are perhaps more stable in their population than others. Those on the fringes of London, the outer suburbs, such as the one I have the honour to represent, are on the whole losing population rather than gaining as people and factories move out into the country and the new towns. This, I think, is perhaps part of the answer to the hon. Gentleman's intervention. [Interruption.] I am told it is a good answer.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

I appreciate the anxiety the hon. Gentleman displays on this matter, but surely the names of those same young people will need to be collected and put on the register in whatever constituency nominally they happen to be, and, therefore, redistribution would only be something of a scissors and paste matter in cutting up the existing registers. The names would still have to be collected just the same.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

I do not quite see the point of that intervention. The new electoral registers will contain the young peoples' names, and will be in operation, I think, from February. There will not be very much time between February and the probable date of the next General Election in which to deal with the matter in the manner the hon. Gentleman suggests.

I said that this would be only a brief intervention and I am determined to make it so unless I am constantly interrupted. All I want to say, therefore, about this immense extension of the electorate is that, apart from the need to avoid premature redistribution which might have to be corrected yet again quite soon, because of these large numbers of young people, the fact that the Government have extended the electorate in this precise way is surely some indication of their good faith in electoral matters—[Laughter.]—since some of the newspaper opinion polls are already saying, rightly or wrongly, that most of these young voters are going to vote Conservative.

I do not think that most of them will vote Conservative when they grasp the follies—I will not put this too strongly—and ineptitudes of the Conservative Party, especially under its present leadership, which is as embarrassing to the Conservatives as it is to the rest of the country.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I hope that we shall not widen the debate too much.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

I appreciate your recalling me, Mr. Speaker. I was diverted by some unseemly laughter on the benches opposite. The main attack today has been on the Government's good faith. There has been a serious imputation of base motives against the Home Secretary. I think that I am entitled to say that one of the reasons why we can have some confidence in the good faith of the Government in electoral matters is precisely this immense extension of the electorate to the young new voters.

7.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

I intend to make a brief intervention on the Scottish aspect of what the Government propose because the Home Secretary admitted that he was dealing with England and Wales and I hope that the Minister who is to reply will deal with the Scottish aspect.

The Amendments which the House of Lords have put forward would delay until six months' time the laying of the Orders and the action which should take place under the Act, and the Government are thus given time to reconsider the attitude they have hitherto adopted. This is an entirely proper exercise of a function of a second Chamber. It means that the second Chamber is checking an action by this Government and allowing it to be reconsidered on a matter of constitutional propriety.

An astonishing proposal was made today by the Home Secretary, that, if the House of Lords stick to their Amendments, he will lay the Orders before this House, which he will be under the duty to do, and will then try to persuade the House to vote them down. This is an extraordinary procedure about which the Government should think again, because many in this House and elsewhere will consider it an outrageous way of behaving.

The Government's proposal would have the effect of delaying action on the Scottish Boundary Commission's Report for three years as well as the other Boundary Commission's Reports, if the option is not taken up before March, 1970. This means that, if that option is not taken up, then, for at least one General Election, and probably two, out-of-date constituency boundaries will still exist. Only within the last three weeks, as the Secretary of State for Scotland announced today, has the Scottish equivalent of the Redcliffe-Maud Report—the Report of the Wheatley Commission—appeared. It has thus appeared since our last debate on this Bill. That Report suggests seven regions and 37 districts in a two-tier structure for local government in Scotland in future.

Previously we were told, in the debates in June and July, that the reason for the option put into the Bill for Scotland—and Northern Ireland—was to enable the Government to look at the Wheatley Commission Report when it came out to decide whether to go ahead with the Scottish Boundary Commission's recommendations now or wait and put the Scottish proposals in the same category as those for England and Wales, excluding London.

The Wheatley Report has been before the Secretary of State for Scotland for at least three weeks, and shows that in the 37 districts proposed there would be greater disparities in population between district and district than in the Boundary Commission's proposals. This is understandable, because the Boundary Commission has no duty to equate population but deals with other matters also, such as geography and communications. In any event, the Wheatley recommendations will be a matter for discussion and consultation for many months ahead in Scotland. It is clear that they are not accepted everywhere in Scotland. There will be considerable arguments about them, and rather different proposals may well eventually emerge and obtain majority support in Scotland. One of the points of controversy, which was the subject of a minority report, and which is certain to be one of the most important matters argued, is whether there should be more than the 37 second-tier authorities.

I should therefore like to ask the Secretary of State whether there is anything in the Wheatley Commission's Report which in any way affects his decision, whether he is any wiser, as a result of having seen that Report, about whether the recommendations of the Scottish Boundary Commission should be put into effect before March 1970, or left over, as the Government suggest.

If the Government decide not to use the option in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the timing will be as follows: the general review by the Scottish Boundary Commission will be started by March, 1972, or shortly thereafter. But the question is whether the Secretary of State expects progress on the Wheatley Report to have allowed alterations in the boundaries of local government to have been passed by Parliament by March, 1972.

As I said earlier in an intervention, in a statement only last Friday the Minister of State at the Scottish Office was reported in the Scottish Press to have said that he did not expect the Wheatley Report to be implemented until about 1974. I know that the question is what "implemented" means. The Home Secretary said that it meant that the new bodies were coming into existence. But does that mean that the Government are satisfied that Scottish legislation will have passed through Parliament by March, 1972, to reorganise local government in Scotland, because until the legislation is passed through Parliament, nobody can say what the boundaries will be? I hope that the Home Secretary will not regard Parliament as a rubber stamp, which is exactly what he did over decimal currency when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Until a Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament, the Government cannot be certain what the future boundaries for the new local government bodies in Scotland will be.

If that legislation is not through Parliament until about 1974, which is what I suspect the Minister of State meant by his remarks, that means in five years' time. That would be the right moment in any case for the Scottish Boundary Commission to be starting its next general review. A general review takes about four years, and that means that in 10 years from now the Scottish Boundary Commission would be in a position to make one of the routine reports which it has to make between 10 and 15 years from the last one.

Therefore, the timing for Scotland would certainly fit in well if the Government were to implement the Boundary Commission's present proposals now and then wait for the new local government boundaries to be decided, which would be in about five years. The next general review could then be started. The Scottish Boundary Commission would be able to report in its normal routine way, if it thought fit, in 1979.

The Secretary of State for Scotland himself spoke about this matter when the 1958 legislation was going through. He expressed himself in terms similar to those which I am now using. He said: I accept the underlying principles of the Bill and the extension from three to seven to ten to fifteen years, but these other problems can be sorted out only if we have an assurance that there will be interim and periodic reviews so we shall not have this continuing, aggravating situation of injustice and unfairness as between one Member of Parliament and another and between one constituency and another."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February. 1958; Vol. 582, c. 282.] That is what the present Secretary of State said when he was in opposition in 1958 and speaking on the last Act in the series, the 1958 Act. He said very clearly that he was prepared to move from periods of three to seven years to 10 to 15 years only provided that there were periodic reviews, because he thought that even a 10 to 15-year period was rather long. But if the Government carry out what they are now proposing, there will be at least 20 years before there is a change in the parliamentary boundaries in Scotland—22 years in fact.

Should not this report, which is the result of four years' hard work by the Boundary Commission, be put into effect? It would mean that the work done in Scotland in the last four years would not be wasted. The Commission's recommendations for Scotland are not to any great extent unsatisfactory to the Labour Party. I am advised that they would call into question the position of only two or three Labour seats in Scotland, which is not a great disadvantage to the Labour Party. Surely the Secretary of State can rise above purely political considerations in this matter, and not make the reorganisation of local government in Scotland a transparent excuse for delay. Is it worth the candle in Scotland simply because two or three Labour seats may be in jeopardy? Is it worth postponing the results of this work so that, in spite of all the Secretary of State himself said in 1958, for more than 20 years the Scottish electorate as a whole will be left without the benefit of up-to-date recommendations for boundaries?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

It may be fair if I intervene at this point and deal with this peculiarly Scottish matter.

When the original Bill was presented, we did not have the Wheatley Commission's report and did not know exactly when it was to come. It was then suggested that there ought to be an extended time during which we could exercise our power to say yea or nay in respect of the Boundary Commission's report. We have just received the Wheatley Report—only a matter of three weeks ago—and for three weeks I have been concerned with the furtherance of the timing of discussions and so on.

We should get this matter into proportion right away. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell) suggested that by not exercising my option in one way I should be using a transparent excuse to get some benefit for the Labour Party. He must know quite well that it is difficult to tell from the proposals of the Boundary Commission whether his party, mine or any other party, would have any advantage. I have been concerned about the practical problems involved.

For the hon. Member it does not matter, as he is placed as a constituency Member, whether we accept the Boundary Commission report. His constituency is not affected whether we stand still or accept the report. But the recommendations of the Wheatley Commission would greatly affect his constituency, which would be cut in two, and I know that lie would not want me to come to a hasty decision about that.

The hon. Gentleman quoted me on unfairness and injustice as between one M.P. and another. That was fair enough. However, the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) is elected on the votes of 32,200 electors, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) takes more than double that number, 66,000. These would hardly be changed by the Boundary Commission's proposals. Let us not get the idea that somehow the Boundary Commission's report means justice and fairness all round, while standing still is entirely different.

7.30 p.m.

The same thing is true of Aberdeenshire, East, with 42,800, after the Boundary Commission position has been dealt with. In Aberdeen, South, the City, there are 63,700. There is already inbuilt injustice. I could give many more examples. So let us not talk about gerrymandering. I regret very much that we have had these issues of blackmail. What was done in the House of Lords robs me of my option. They tell me "You must introduce the Boundary Commission Report, but you can have until a certain extended time in which to do so."

With respect, that is not giving an indication to me that I should exercise the judgment that as a Minister of the Crown I think I should have the right to exercise. This is one of the weaknesses of the case. People think somehow or other that we should hand over the rights of decision by Parliament to an outside body, the Boundary Commission. It has always been the right of Parliament to accept, reject or modify. I hope that people will appreciate that if there are difficulties over the Bill now, it is as a result of what has happened in another place. What we have got back from another place is an entirely different Bill from that which we sent. The Amendments put forward would restore the option which has hitherto been open to me.

The Wheatley Report has been received since the Amendment first appeared on the Order Paper. It has been available for only three weeks, and I am considering it. We do not want a hasty decision on this subject of parliamentary constituency boundaries. I hope that when this goes back and if our Amendments are accepted, reality will be retained in relation to the option and that no hasty decision by the other place will rob me of that option or force me into the position of taking action which speeds up the process.

We shall have to bear in mind exactly what would happen. The Home Secretary has referred to the necessity that would be forced on us of laying orders. That would reduce the amount of time I have for consideration. We should accept this Amendment and retain this option, and I shall be able to make a statement at the appropriate time about the Scottish position.

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn referred to the timing of Wheatley. I do not know where he got his information from about the speech made by the Minister of State.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

It was published in the Scotsman.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I have not seen it. What I said today about timing was that we want to waste no time and yet give adequate time to discuss the proposals that have been put forward by the Commission. The decisions have to be taken. The timetable given by the Home Secretary is one that we can meet in Scotland. The Wheatley Commission says that there should be two appointed days, the first one to be a year after the passing of the Bill by this House, when, of course, the new bodies will come into being.

If the Bill were passed in 1972, this would follow in 1973. The Boundary Commission could make a start and go over the position without the long delays that some people envisaged when they suggested that it would be 1979 before a reactivated Commission could give us a new boundary report. There is an element of pessimism here about the timing. The matter is so important to Scotland that we want to cut down the period of hesitations and doubts. We should get the legislation on the Statute Book as quickly as possible.

The hon. Gentleman also exaggerates the differences that there are in Scotland about this. The fact that the Royal Commission produced principles that were agreed by all hon. Members, the fact that there was an hon. Member of this House from the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and one, when he was appointed, from this side of the House, gives an idea of the extent of the acceptance of the general principles of reorganisation. We should be able to come to considered judgments on these matters much quicker than he was imagining.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

I did point out that there was a minority report on this very question of the number of districts, and that the two hon. Members of this House whom he mentioned were the authors of that minority report.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

We must get things right. It was not a minority report. They accepted with reservations. I have referred to these reservations today. We should be able to resolve this and come to decisions on the structure and functions, including this point, fairly early, so that we can see a way forward to earlier legislation than some people are suggesting. They give the impression that it will be 10 or 12 years before this Parliament deals with it.

It certainly will not be if the Labour Party is in control, because we cannot wait that length of time. If I had taken advice about certain other reorganisation in respect of local authorities we should be in a very much more difficult position this year over water supply, but that is another point. My feeling is that we ought to accept the Amendments moved by the Home Secretary. It would be to the advantage of Scotland to retain this option, although I would like to come to a decision and make a statement long before the spring of next year.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I do not intend to make a long speech or a vicious attack across the Floor of the House upon the Home Secretary, because I was not here when he spoke this afternoon. I was in Committee upstairs. I am concerned that we should have to fight for our rights and the rights of the electors in this way. I am very disturbed that one hon. Member who normally fights so strongly as a great democrat, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), should try to twist things and make us stand on our heads to understand his argument in defence of the Home Secretary's action.

It is wrong that we should have we fight so hard, tonight and last summer, when Parliament should be putting right a change which has occurred and which Parliament recognised would occur, for which it made provision in the 1949 and 1958 Acts. We have waited 15 years for a recommendation from the Boundary Commission and now the Government are asking the House to say that we should not recognise the Commission's recommendations because of some other Bill which may come before this House as a result of a Royal Commission on the reform of local government.

The House has even been asked to accept a suggested figure of time from the Under-Secretary of State that it may mean another change within two years. That is not an accepted figure which the House can recognise. Everyone knows that the question of local government reform as put forward in Redcliffe-Maud will mean something much more than another two years' thought in the country. It is wise that it should be more than another year or two. I would not advocate that we should for ever put the Redcliffe-Maud ideas under the carpet and not give them proper consideration. I recommend that we give consideration to opinions in the country and to the implications of such recommendations as those made in the Redcliffe-Maud Report.

It is not a question of whether a general election is pending in another year. This applies even if a general election were not due for another five years. The Boundary Commission's Report is the report of the referee—the word which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale refuses to accept. Why should he say that we should not accept it? I thought that the Boundary Commission was meant to be a referee. This House has fought for many years to show that it is a great democratic institution and that it wishes to protect itself from any possible accusation of gerrymandering. It therefore set up an impartial body, the Boundary Commission. I am not interested in counting the seats or votes which might result from the Boundary Commission's judgments and recommendations. I am much more concerned with the stability and dignity of this House.

We have heard this afternoon protestations from hon. Members opposite, and particularly from the Front Bench, which are not worthy of them and certainly not of this Chamber. I do not wish to hurl accusations at the Home Secretary because I did not hear his speech this afternoon. But I want the House to consider what we are doing. We are not criticising the other place for giving us another chance to consider the decision which I think this House made wrongly in the summer. We are pausing to consider whether we are upholding this House as a great democratic institution and whether we are giving sufficient consideration to the opportunities of the electorate in returning their Member of Parliament to this place.

I regret that there is a party in the House, the Government party, which is letting down the standards of the House of Commons by this type of behaviour. I am sorry to have to say that. I hope that when the Minister replies she will take account of the serious view which I am not alone in holding but which is held so widely throughout the country. It is, rightly, the House of Commons and not the other place which must make this decision. What the Home Secretary said is perfectly true. He has the power, the Government, the Patronage Secretary and the majority to achieve the will of the Government. But the Government have a duty not only to their own party but to an inheritance of 700 years in the development of the democratic institution of this country.

7.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) started his quietly delivered speech by saying how much importance he thought attached to this occasion while the Opposition were having to fight for the rights of the people. I only wish that the public could see the eight members of the Opposition who have taken the trouble to be in the Chamber to take part in the great fight which they claim to be putting up for their constituents and the people of this country.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the 700 years of parliamentary history. If this is the best that the Opposition can do in the defence of 700 years of parliamentary history—a handful of Members to take part in this type of debate—it is obvious, and it will be obvious to the public, that what we have said on numerous occasions is true, namely, that this gingered-up row over the Boundary Commission's Report and the Government's action is no more than a phoney debate designed to generate a little bit of political heat among their supporters outside. Even the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) is yawning in despair and tiredness at the speeches which he has heard from his hon. Friends. I do not blame him for yawning after such a long, weary series of nonsensical speeches.

We have heard charges of bad faith and charges that the Government were asking for a blank cheque. I would describe this afternoon's debate as a little more than just "phoney"; it is a disgraceful debate. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), speaking with all the authority of an Opposition Front Bench spokesman, ended his speech by referring to the situation in Northern Ireland and trying to link it with what is happening in the House. He said—and I am sure I am reporting him accurately—that before my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary starts lecturing the people of Ulster about democracy he should consider what he was doing in this debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that those words will be seized upon by the extremists in Ulster to discredit the action of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary which only yesterday he supported. It is disgraceful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should give that hostage to the extremists in Ulster and to attack the very policy which he claimed yesterday in all sincerity to support. But we are used to that sort of classic "Hoggwash"——

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

I do not laugh at my jokes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman always does. I am delighted that he can spare at least one "Ha, ha" for somebody else's.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman had the temerity to say that the Bill was a completely new Bill. He even had the temerity to cast a slur upon the judgment of the Chair and of the Table, because if he was serious in his attack on the Bill he must be serious in saying that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and Mr. Speaker have failed in your duty by allowing what the right hon. and learned Gentleman describes as a new Bill to come before the House. We know that he was not even serious in that charge, as he is surely not serious in the many other charges which he has made.

One of the main arguments advanced in previous debates—and it was advanced again today—is that there could be two General Elections, one in the next 18 months and one probably in 1975 or 1976, fought on the existing parliamentary boundaries.

Those hon. Members who were present when we debated these matters earlier will recall the Amendment put down by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) when he attempted to do precisely what the Government have done now—that is, to put on a time limit when the Boundary Commission must be reactivated. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment specified the date of May, 1972, and he described his Amendment in these words: If the Amendment were accepted, we would have a fresh general review by the Boundary Commissions available not, alas, in time for the next General Election, but in time for the General Election after that". And yet we still get today the charge made by hon. Members opposite that if my right hon. Friend's Amendment to insert the date of March, 1972, is accepted, we will still have two General Elections without a Boundary Commission review.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

My Amendment on that occasion was moved in the context of things as they were then. I doubt whether it is in order to discuss it now, but if you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say this, it was moved, quite obviously, without prejudice to our general objection to the Bill.

Also, I say quite candidly, having had more time to reflect upon the matter than was possible then, because the proceedings were very much rushed, but I was wrong in saying that the Amendment which I then moved would not have affected the position as at the General Election after next. In other words, both under the Government's proposals and my Amendment there would be a serious risk that the General Election after next would take place on the basis of the electorate as it was in 1953.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong then he is wrong in this debate today. In that same debate in July, in moving his Amendment, he went on to express the hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would accept the Amendment in the spirit in which it was moved and would give it favourable consideration and not dig his toes in.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has done precisely what the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked him to do and now we have the excuse, given just a few seconds ago, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has had more time to consider the matter, that what he said in July was wrong and was foolish and that he was pushed and hurried in making that contribution to the debate. I do not know what we can do with an Opposition which shifts its ground so rapidly and with such regularity as right hon. and hon. Members opposite do.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is prepared to retract his words and admit his mistake, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) will do the same. Are we to have a recanting by two members of the Opposition Front Bench of what they said on behalf of the Conservative Party on previous occasions?

On 14th July, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said: We look upon the Amendment"— which set out the date of May, 1972— as a test of the good faith of the Government. I do not believe that we can leave to any Government an open-ended option to start the process of a review of boundaries at any date which they may see it in future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 49, 92.] That was what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said.

The Government have come forward today with an Amendment which meets the points that were put 'with such heat and passion on that last occasion when we discussed the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has met the main challenge. He has met the challenge of bad faith and the challenge of the open cheque, because he has adopted and improved upon the very Amendment on which the Opposition laid such great stress on the last occasion. In putting forward my right hon. Friend's Amendment, we hope to write into the Bill the date of March, 1972, for the Boundary Commission. There is no blank cheque there. The date will be in.

In all the contributions to the debate, I have not heard one word in any of the speeches to which I have listened from the Opposition on the real arguments or the substance of the case put by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. No hon. Member has seen fit to challenge him on his estimate of the 410 constituencies that will be affected by the Redcliffe-Maud Report. My right hon. Friend was asked to repeat his figures, but no serious argument has been put forward to dispute them, Sixty-five per cent. of constituencies would be affected by the Redcliffe-Maud proposals if they were to be implemented as at present understood. Surely, it cannot be argued that a responsible Government, faced with that sort of situation, should proceed as is suggested by the Opposition. As my right hon. Friend said, 94 per cent. of the constituencies would be divided by the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations into two or, perhaps, more of the recommended new unitary authorities.

The Opposition have not even tried to deal with those arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend. They have indulged in abuse and in silly jibes about gerrymandering. They have hurled across the accusation of cheats and cheating at hon Members on this side. One hon. Member opposite even described the Home Secretary as a sordid man dealing with a sordid subject.

If that is the level of debate and contribution which the Opposition wish to bring to these great Parliamentary occasions described by the hon. Member for Canterbury when they are fighting for the rights of democracy and for the 700 years of history of parliamentary democracy, they should rise above the level of the gutter, although that level seems very often to suit the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. I would have hoped that some of his hon. Friends could at least have risen above his level in this matter.

I believe that any fairminded, unbiased observer not caught up in the desperate need that the Opposition have to create a "phoney" battle to try to inspire the tottering ranks of their supporters outside, who have been so shocked at the tremendous turn-round already in public opinion polls—an unbiased person not actuated by motives of that sort would at least have considered the case and dealt with the arguments which have been put put forward.

I should like to make a point which is purely personal. As a Member of the House and one who has had reasonable experience in local government—I put it no higher than that—I believe that it is highly desirable that local authority boundaries and the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies should, if humanly possible, bear a close relationship to each other. It is of immense value to a Member of Parliament to be able to deal with only one local authority in handling the many complaints and worries that come to him daily from his constituents concerning local authority activities.

One of the greatest blessings of London government reorganisation is that it gave me in my constituency only one local authority to deal with whereas before one had to deal with two local authorities. Of course, some other hon. Members have to deal with a much greater problem than that. Therefore, with the principle already accepted—it certainly has not been disputed—that local authority reorganisation should lead to a better relationship—if possible, a perfect relationship—between parliamentary constituencies and local authorities, now is obviously not the time to change parliamentary boundaries, in the full knowledge that local authority boundaries are to be dealt with in the immediate future.

8.0 p.m.

Much has been said about the Home Secretary's duty and the exercise of his responsibilities. I want to ask whether Her Majesty's Opposition accept that it is the right of the Government, of whatever political complexion, to present legislation to change existing arrangements and laws. Of course they must agree that that is so. This is just what the Government have done, and what my right hon. Friend has done. He has said that the 1949 Act says that he has to do something now which any reasonable person can see is not sensible. It was not foreseen, when that Act was passed, that in 1969 we would receive the Redcliffe-Maud Report and would face a tremendous local government reorganisation in the next few years. Recognising this, the Home Secretary has laid legislation to improve the law. So there can be no substance in the charge that he has failed in his duty. He has not. He has followed the normal parliamentary process of presenting legislation to alter and amend previous legislation in the light of a current situation.

The Home Secretary has told the House that, if, as is Parliament's right—both this House and the other place—it rejects the Government's Amendments when the Bill goes back to the other place, he will lay the necessary Orders. So there is no failure of duty there. My right hon. Friend has said that as soon as Parliament—not he or the Government—has expressed a final decision in the two Chambers, he will not present another Bill, but will immediately do his duty under the existing law and lay the Orders. So there are no grounds for these base charges of breach of faith or dereliction of duty, cheating or gerrymandering which have been made against my right hon. Friend, the Government or hon. Members on this side.

In my view, and in the view of those who study this matter without bias, the Government have rightly entered upon a parliamentary procedure for amending the law. They are still hoping that this House and the other place will not act detrimentally to the 700 years of parliamentary democracy by rejecting a Bill on the basis of an attack which is supported at this hour, just past eight o'clock, by only seven Members of the Conservative Party sitting opposite, which does not engender all that heat and passion, and which is nothing more than a "phoney" attempt by the Opposition to secure one or two cheap but silly party political points.

I am certain that, when the Division is called, all those hon. Members on this side, believing as I do that my right hon. Friend is justified, is acting honourably and has done his duty, will support the Bill in the Lobby, and that only those who believe that it is their job as an Opposition to misuse and abuse parliamentary time and procedure by engaging in this sort of phoney, stupid, ridiculous and scurrilous type of debate will be in the Lobby against the Government's proposal.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I thought that this debate was a very serious and responsible one until the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), on one of his rare appearances, just managed to get up in time to be called and lowered the tone considerably——

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

Not yet. I have only just started. I will give way in due course——

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

The hon. Member made an attack on me.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I was about to say——

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

I will match my record against the hon. and gallant Gentleman's any day.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

If the hon. Member will contain himself, I will be very glad to give way in due course.

In fact, this debate has been very well attended. It is quite normal that at about half-past seven to a quarter past eight large numbers of hon. Members, from both sides, go out to an evening meal. The hon. Gentleman is not doing a service to the House as a whole by making those absurd accusations about this.

If the hon. Member had been listening to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), he would have heard him say that the Amendments introduced by the Government remove the charge of their taking an open cheque, but as the hon., Member went on to justify this change in the 1949 Act, I must confess it occurred to me that if his argument had substance there was no reason why we should have believed the Home Secretary when he said that he would reactivate the Boundary Commission in 1972. On that argument he may well come forward with another specious excuse for not doing so. Either the hon. Gentleman is very naїve as a politician, which I find difficult to accept—I do not think that any politician is naїve—or else he is as hypocritical as the rest——

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

I am delighted to hear that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's hon. Friends need so long for their dinner. I made a note at various times. At 6.30 there were 16 hon. Members opposite, at 7.30 there were ten, and now, at 8.10, there are seven. They do need a long dinner time, do they not?

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

That is a silly remark and I will not deal with it. However, I will take up one remark which the hon. Gentleman made. He said that the words used by my right hon. and learned Friend in accusing the Home Secretary of gerrymandering and then telling Ulster what it should do would be seized on by the extremists in Northern Ireland. I assure him that it will not be my right hon. and learned Friend's words which will be seized on: it will be the action of the Home Secretary in this House.

Whatever view of this Bill and these Amendments we take on both sides of the House, it will be generally agreed that the Home Secretary is taking a very serious step. The changing of electoral law, in whatever form, is a serious matter. This is not just an ordinary parliamentary Bill. It is a very sensitive subject, and it is fundamental to our democratic system. Therefore, I think that it is agreed that he is taking a very serious step in abdicating his responsibilities under the 1949 Act and safeguarding himself against action in legislation.

I have sat through most of the debate. I found it interesting to listen to the views of hon. Members opposite. Some tried to support their Front Bench by arguing that the parliamentary boundaries should correspond with local government boundaries. Others argued on the ground of the upheaval which might be caused. Others took the view—and whether they know it or not they are supporting gerrymandering—that the present system gives a built-in advantage to the Conservative Party and that, therefore, it is proper for the Government to gerrymander with the Bill to put that right.

Hon. Members have accused us of not taking up any of the arguments which the Home Secretary advanced and of relying on abuse and slanging to support our case. I will take up some of the points which he made. He based his case on two grounds. The first was the vital importance of making sure that the boundary changes for the parliamentary constituencies corresponded with the Redcliffe-Maud Report's recommendations for the local government boundaries. The second was that a great upheaval might occur if we had boundary changes made too close together in time. Those are the two points on which his entire case rests.

May I consider them? First, which is the more important, parliamentary boundaries or local government boundaries? We all know that when reviewing parliamentary boundaries the Boundary Commission is instructed to take account of local government boundaries—but that is only one of the factors, and the Boundary Commission is certainly never instructed that local government boundaries should be the overriding factor. In my view there are more important factors, such as the population and the geographical area.

The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford made play of the difficulties of dealing with more than one local authority. I deal with four—the Sutton Borough Council, the Banstead Urban District Council, the Surrey County Council—because Banstead is in Surrey and Carshalton is in Sutton—and the Greater London Council. I find no difficulty in this at all. The only difference when one takes up the case of a constituent in a different local authority area is that the envelope bears a different address. Indeed, I find it most interesting to deal with these four authorities, from the smallest, which is the urban district council, through Sutton Borough and Surrey County Council to the largest of all, the Greater London Council. I have never had any difficulties in it.

But whether that is so or not, the Boundary Commission is not instructed that the local government boundaries are the overriding factor. Since when has the constitution of the House waited on decisions about local government boundaries? That is an absurd proposition for the Home Secretary to put forward.

8.15 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman's second argument concerned the great upheaval. He said—and the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said—that 410 constituencies would be affected. We know that. Indeed, if the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford had listened to my right hon. and learned Friend opening the debate he would have heard him say that that is precisely why we think that the Parliamentary boundaries should be changed—because 410 boundaries need change. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) pointed out that if we waited several years longer all 630 would need changing. That shows how necessary these Boundary Commission recommendations are.

What is the great upheaval? I do not know why the word "upheaval" was used. Let us describe it as "a considerable change". I admit that to those concerned in the constituencies the change is considerable, but any change which I shall suffer—and I shall suffer if my constituency is cut in half, as is proposed—is not increased in the least if another 409 constituencies are also changed. I have to suffer no more upheaval and no more change irrespective of how many other constituencies are changed. Nor is the business of the country affected or hindered in the slightest by these constituency changes. Party organisations are affected and they have to reorient themselves to the new situation, and there is a lot of work to be done, but it hardly affects the everyday life of the country, and the business of the country goes on just the same.

The constitution of the House should not wait on the local government boundaries. Such change as takes place in sum may be great throughout the country, but it is localised, and each locality is neither more nor less affected, however many other constituencies are changed.

In an issue as important as this in the House we should weigh our words very carefully before making accusations against right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I take that view particularly strongly about the Home Secretary. In the past I have paid him compliments, although I do not suppose that he wanted them; no doubt he could not have cared less. But I have paid him compliments when he was taking a firm line on problems about which I felt deeply.

In addition, if any hon. Member on any side of the House attacks, in particular, the office of the Home Secretary and the Home Secretary himself, in some way that weakens the Home Secretary's authority, which is a bad thing. When dealing with the Home Office and the Home Secretary one must weigh one's words extremely carefully. But the fact is that the supreme upholder of the law in this country, the Home Secretary, is shown up as a squalid political trickster. If the law puts him in the dock, then he changes the law. He is in a position to do so, and he takes advantage of it. To see the row of heads on the Front Bench opposite nodding in agreement with his hypocritical, sanctimonious ascertions I find sickening. What an example to the lawbreakers and the potential lawbreakers! They will salute him as a comrade in arms, and that is just what he deserves.

Photo of Mr Christopher Chataway Mr Christopher Chataway , Chichester

I will not detain the House for long because I do not wish to go over many of the arguments that have been canvassed on this subject.

The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) was one of the few back benchers opposite to advance the Government Front Bench argument that local government reform is the reason for the Bill. A number of other, sometimes ingenious, arguments were advanced by other back benchers opposite, and I particularly liked the one adduced by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who said that it was giving votes to 18-year-olds that justified delaying the implementation of the Boundary Commission's proposals. That was a new and attractive argument which he sought to deploy effectively.

If the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford really believes that the Redcliffe-Maud Report is the reason for the action which the Government has taken, he must recognise that he is in a lonely position, for the Government have not attempted to persuade us or any independent opinion that this has been their motive. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the choice with which the Government would have been faced had they been considering, in the first place, whether or not to implement the Boundary Commission's recommendations, despite the fact that the Redcliffe-Maud Report was coming along at more or less the same time. The Government might have said, "We do not want to have too much upheaval. We do not want to see the boundaries being changed too frequently".

The Home Secretary claims that about 94 constituencies would, if the Redcliffe-Maud proposals were implemented, find themselves in more than one unitary authority. The Government might have argued that it would have been possible 10 years hence to see boundary redistribution in the light of local government reform. That would have meant a period of four years—on the most extreme assumption it would have been five years—in which hon. Members from 90 to 100 constituencies would have found themselves dealing with two unitary authorities, not an ideal situation because it is better to deal with one. But that was the price that would have had to be paid.

Can it really be said that that would have been worse for democracy than what the Government are now doing; that that would have been a less esirable course of action than to maintain a situation through the next election, and probably the one after that, in which there will be a large number of constituencies where one vote will count for the same as five, six or seven votes elsewhere? To believe that is a substantial feat indeed.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

My right hon. Friend was being cautious. He is basing his estimate of 94 constituencies on the number of unitary authorities recommended by the majority report. I do not believe that we shall eventually arrive at that figure. It will probably be higher, with many more than 94 constituencies being involved.

Photo of Mr Christopher Chataway Mr Christopher Chataway , Chichester

The hon. Gentleman's determination to accept the argument of his Front Bench is not convincing.

The vast majority of hon. Members, irrespective of party, know that the Redcliffe-Maud Report has virtually nothing to do with this proposal, and, as a number of journalists have suggested, the Government's likely decision on the Boundary Commission's recommendations was widely leaked before the excuse was thought up.

I congratulate the new Minister of State on her appearance on the Front Bench, though I am sorry to see an hon. Member who was responsible at the Department of Education and Science, and whose work has been widely admired, associated with a Bill of this kind. I am sorry not only because of the Measure itself, but because this action of the Government, once taken, has led the Labour Administration into a number of other undesirable decisions. One has been the decision to make a show of rushing along the Redcliffe-Maud proposals at maximum speed.

Local authorities and local authority associations have been asked to submit their views on the Redcliffe-Maud proposals by October of this year. This has been done solely because the Government want to give the impression that they will get legislation on the Redcliffe-Maud Report at breakneck speed so as to give themselves a chance to make a new reference to the Boundary Commission in the early 70s, and, possibly thereafter, to be able to implement further recommendations of the Boundary Commission before the General Election after next.

However, as Lady Sharp pointed out forcefully in the House of Lords, the cause of local government reform has been done no service by this sort of haste. Few people in Britain can claim the experience of local government and the same enthusiasm for local government reform as Lady Sharp. If anybody wants to get the Redcliffe-Maud proposals implemented quickly, and if anybody really knows about local government, such a person is Lady Sharp. Yet her advice is that if any attempt is made at legislation inside three years—she puts that as the minimum—it is unlikely to be conducive to producing satisfactory local government reform. She goes on to suggest that the earliest year in which one could have reorganised parliamentary boundaries after local government reform is 1976–77. Therefore, as one interested in local government reform, I am sorry that this action by the Government has led them to show a haste on the Redcliffe-Maud proposals which is deeply resented by so many local authorities.

A second consequence of the Government's decision to gerrymander on these seats is the highly unsatisfactory and ill-thought-out proposals for change outside the London area. I will not dwell on this aspect, because I have deployed the case before, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) has described the kind of nonsense that would be created in his area by the Home Secretary's proposals. I therefore again ask the Home Office Ministers to look at the effects of the Home Secretary's proposals for West Sussex.

8.30 p.m.

The Boundary Commission proposes that four West Sussex constituencies should be created out of three. Those four constituencies would be of roughly equal size and their boundaries would respect natural geographical division. The Home Secretary's proposal, and this is one of those proposals very hurriedly dragged up to deal with the worst anomalies outside London, is that one constituency should be left alone and that three constituencies should be created out of two. The net result would be not four constituencies of roughly equal size and so drawn as to respect natural boundaries, but one constituency of over 100,000 electors by the early 'seventies and three constituencies of probably 65,000 electors. I suggest that this nonsense is the result of the Home Secretary's attempting to deal in an ad hoc way like this with individual constituencies outside the London area.

Today, we have had two further revelations from the Home Secretary which are rather breathtaking. The first is the promise that if another place refuses the right hon. Gentleman's present proposals there will be no boundary changes at all. This is an astonishing position for a Minister of the Crown to take up. He has been arguing here that it is right that the Boundary Commission's proposals for London should be implemented. He has not said, "We do not mind doing this because it does not harm the Labour Party too much, so we are prepared to do it if you will let us get away with the rest of our proposals". What he has been saying is that it is right to implement the Boundary Commission's proposals for London, and that he believes that it is good for the electorate and makes sense. But he now says, "unless another place allows me to get away with the rest of my proposals, there will be no change in London". This is an astonishing attitude to be adopted by a Minister who has the responsibility for our electoral arrangements.

I must refer to the other revelation made by the Home Secretary today. He has told us that if another place throws out these proposals he will lay the Orders and then encourage his hon. Friends to vote against them—and, presumably, vote against them himself. This, even he must see, will look to people outside to be a pretty disreputable course of action for a Home Secretary to take. On a number of occasions during the Summer Recess I have watched on television the Home Secretary in Northern Ireland. I recognise that in this country the Home Secretary is concerned with law and order, but he must surely see that the remarks, at which he seemed to take offence, which were made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) have considerable weight. He must surely see that if he is prepared to behave in this way in the House of Commons his reputation outside it must suffer. The persuasive power he might have outside the House is bound to diminish.

We are given to understand that at the next election the Labour Party aims to claim that its intentions have always been pure. The other day I attended an advertising conference at which one of the Labour Party's advisers on publicity was justifying to the assembled gathering of advertising executives the slogan "Life and soul". To some doubting questioners he explained that the slogan had been very thoroughly tested and that it was the most effective. Then, just recently, there was a full page advertisement in The Times, bought, I believe for about £2,000—which showed the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues, with the slogan, "Aren't their ideals the same as yours?". If the Government want to persuade the country that even though in achievement they do not have a great deal to show, their intentions have always been of the best, I cannot think that they are setting about it very effectively with this Bill. So far from demonstrating ideals that the country could share, their actions in this matter have been some of the scruffiest of recent times.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

I join in this debate more in sorrow than in anger. There must inevitably be in our political system an enormous temptation for any party in power to wish and to try if it has the opportunity to perpetuate itself in office. Therefore, it is the more important that our electoral system should be above party, and seen to be above party.

By our electoral system I mean the machinery by which Members arrive here. As a comparatively new Member, I understand that it was for this reason that my parliamentary forebears removed from the party the decision as to Parliamentary boundaries. They provided that instead of the Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Party or whatever party happened to be in power having the opportunity to rig the parliamentary boundaries to its advantage, the temptation would be removed. They provided that by having an independent Boundary Commission. It therefore seems quite clear that the whole feeling, tradition and purpose on which our system is based is that the umpire, the independent Commission, should decide the parliamentary boundaries and that decision should be free from party politicians' opportunities.

It must be right that there should be these changes in parliamentary boundaries at comparatively regular and not too long intervals. Basingstoke is an overspill town. We receive a large number of people from London both in Basingstoke and Andover. They come from London constituencies, which are shrinking, to Basingstoke, where the population is now 83,000 and next year will be in the region of 92,000 and the year after about 100,000. Therefore, it must be statistically true that one vote in Basingstoke will be the equivalent of a number of votes elsewhere. This clearly is not a desirable situation. To correct the situation the Boundary Commission produced proposals which would take Andover Rural District area away from Basingstoke and put it with Winchester.

Many years ago the village of Whit-church in Hampshire used to return two Members of Parliament. It was known in those days as one of the rotten boroughs. I do not think the present Minister of State will feel cheerful at the Dispatch Box tonight defending a situation which would preserve rotten boroughs to the advantage of one party and in which politicians would take the decision rather than the independent umpire.

Two excuses have been advanced for doing this. The first is that of Maud. The suggestion that Members of Parliament are not sufficiently intelligent to discern which local authorities their constituents are covered by is not worthy of consideration. I deal with five local authorities—Basingstoke Borough Council, Andover Borough Council, Basingstoke Rural District Council, Andover Rural District Council and Kingsclere and Whitchurch Rural District Council. I have no difficulty in writing to the correct local authority when a constituent raises a problem with me which is not a parliamentary one but which concerns a local authority. If I found that the unitary authority boundary were to be through the middle of my constituency, it would not end my ability to aid those constituents. The suggestion that somehow local authority boundaries are the most important basis on which Members of Parliament should be elected—the very essence of our parliamentary democracy—is so ludicrous that I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have advanced it.

Apart from that, there is no certainty that the Maud proposals will become law. In my area there is considerable misgivings about whether it is right to apply the Maud proposals to Hampshire and bring that great county to an end. There is doubt as to whether there would be legislation along the lines proposed by Redcliffe-Maud. We are being told that the Government cannot or will not implement the findings of the Boundary Commission because of some possible legis- lation which may or may not go on to the Statute Book in two years' time.

The second argument is that of the supremacy of Parliament. The Secretary of State said that if the House of Lords refused to change its view on his proposed legislation he would lay the Orders and urge his hon. Friends to vote against them. That would be a pitiable position for the Minister responsible for law and order to place himself in. He would lay the Orders, as the law requires him to do, and then with his tongue in his cheek persuade his hon. Friends to vote against them. I do not think that the many people who have watched, as I have, with considerable support, praise and respect the way in which the Secretary of State has behaved on Northern Ireland—the very high standard of ideals that he has accepted and the basis on which he has chosen to stand—will have anything like the respect for the attitude he is adopting in this case. He is seeking deliberately to flout the conventions—to reject the independent umpire and replace him with a party formula. I do not believe that the traditions of the House or of parliamentary democracy are assisted by such a squalid attitude.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

I endorse everything that has been said from these benches. Today the Secretary of State adopted his Mr. Hyde attitude rather than his Dr. Jekyll attitude. On Northern Ireland he is all sweetness and rectitude. I pay my tribute to him for that. I, like other Members, have been to Northern Ireland during the Recess. I pay my tribute to the excellent work the Secretary of State has been doing and is doing to try to calm that troubled Province.

But the right hon. Gentleman is completely undermining his position by persisting with this squalid Bill and these squalid Amendments to the Lords Amendments. As I understood him, he advanced two main arguments for asking the House to resist the Lords Amendments. His first argument was that it is wrong to keep having these changes of constituency, these redistribution problems. His second argument was the imperative and over-riding factor of the Redcliffe-Maud proposals.

8.45 p.m.

On the movement question, what the right hon. Gentleman seems to be incapable of seeing—although, as he is not a stupid man, I suspect that he can see it but is deliberately obscuring the fact from the House—is that we are having these changes because people are moving around the country. This is in direct line with the present Government's policy and the policy of the previous Government. We have a great scheme for a new city of 250,000 people at Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. That is shortly to get off the ground. That means that many people will be moving into Buckinghamshire. Is it suggested that the Buckingham constituency should grow to 350,000 in size before anybody does anything about it? If the Bill in its unamended form goes through, the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Home Office will be lucky because her constituency will be chopped about a bit. More important, her constituents will be lucky because they will be sharing two or three Members of Parliament instead of one. No matter how hard she works, they are under-represented in this House at the moment.

The same is true of many other hon. Members and their constituents who do not happen to have fallen into that bracket. There is not just Milton Keynes. There are such places as Telford, Leyland, Skelmersdale, Runcorn and in my constituency we have overspill developments at Chelmsley Wood, Tamworth, a new town at Redditch and another in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance). All these places will be growing and exploding in the next 10 years.

Does anybody seriously suggest that when we have completed this next redistribution we can close the shutters and do nothing for a further 15 or 20 years? If so, we shall be in the same situation in 10 or 15 years' time as we are now. That is why I believe that Parliament, in its wisdom, in 1958 decided that the period should be a maximum of 15 years and a minimum of 10 years. If we had a period of 10 years, far from having the great upsets that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and others spoke of, we should have the minimum of upset because we could foresee what would happen and we should be engaging in comparatively minor altera- tions instead of this great alteration of 410 constituencies. We have this great alteration because we are now working on 15-year-old boundaries. I hope the Government will address themselves to that point because the impression seems to be going about that whatever happens next time will be a once-for-all operation. I believe that is far from the truth.

The second argument relates to the good old question of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. I have been consulting the local authorities in my constituency, and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell), I have many local authorities in my constituency. I have problems dealing with five counties and county boroughs, two boroughs, some rural districts and 42 parish councils. But I am still here and I keep going.

When I met these local authority representatives during the recess I found—and I am sure that other West Midland Members can bear this out—that in its present form the Redcliffe-Maud Report is unacceptable to many of the local authorities and many constituents as well. My view is that the Report should be seen as a catalyst towards local government reform rather than as a blueprint. The trouble is that the Government are taking it as a blueprint and the local authorities take it as a catalyst. Unless the Government have completely made up their mind, in which case all consultation with local authorities is a waste of time, it seems to me that we cannot call in aid the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations.

Let us look at the question of timing. Suppose we accept the right hon. Gentleman's proposals and let us say that in April, 1972, the Boundary Commission starts to do its work again. Let us assume that it takes up to four years; it must take no more than four years, I understand. We find ourselves, at the beginning of 1976, with a new set of boundary proposals.

We could have an election at any time, but let us say that there is an election in 1970 and then another one in 1975, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that boundary proposals are implemented at the following General Election rather than at intervening by-elections. Let us say that the proposals come forward in 1976. They might not be implemented until a General Election in 1979 or 1980. I believe that to be correct, if I read the Home Secretary's Amendment aright, and, no doubt, I shall be corrected if I am wrong. It may be said that I have taken the longest end of the scale, but I believe what I have said to be correct. The consequences of that course of events will have profound implications.

I do not wish to bore the House with my own constituency affairs, but they will give some idea of the position, and, no doubt, others could provide similar examples. Round about 1978 or 1979, before the General Election, my electorate, excluding votes at 18, will be between 180,000 and 190,000. Does any hon. Member justify such an electorate? If anyone does, he should say so, and he will be entitled to vote for the Government's Amendment. I cannot accept that it can be justified. I have given just one example, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and many others on both sides could give roughly comparable figures.

This situation comes about because of the factors which I have instanced, the great movements of population, the move from the cities to overspill areas, and so on. I am pleased to see here the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Lawler). Many of the people who have been living in his constituency are now coming to my constituency at Chelmsley Wood, which is as it should be, because they are moving into brand new homes out of poor and substandard homes. This is going on all over the country, in the big cities and elsewhere. The Prime Minister himself knows about it, representing as he does the constituency of Huyton, with its great overspill from Liverpool.

It is plain from the figures that the right hon. Gentleman is giving us no compromise at all. Quite the contrary, It may be dressed up as compromise, as half a loaf being better than no bread, but for me and my constituents and for many others there is not one crumb of comfort in that half loaf.

I put one other question to the Minister. Let us take what the right hon. Gentleman said and assume that the other place still rejects the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will then lay the Orders before the House and advise his hon. Friends to vote against them. I shall be interested to see how some of my near neighbours react to that. For example, the constituency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer runs down to the Chelmsley Wood area. There is a strong feeling among people in Chelmsley Wood and my constituency already that they are under-represented. They say that this is no personal reflection upon me, but they feel that, with the constituency as large as it is now, they are entitled to additional Members of Parliament. I shall be interested to see how the consciences of hon. Members opposite can be squared with voting against the Orders.

There is a point of more importance than that. If the Orders are laid—accepting this hypothetical situation as it appears at the moment, though it may become practical—I presume that we go back to square 1 and work under the terms of the 1949 Act. Section 2(3) of the Act provides for interim reports and assessments by the Boundary Commissions on exceptionally large constituencies. That will still hold. Does the right hon. Gentleman then say that if, as it has intimated in its report, the Boundary Commission in such a constituency as mine, because of the quite exceptional circumstances, came forward with an interim report under Section 2(3), he would again resist it and advise his hon. Friends to resist it? This point should be cleared up. It is consequential upon what the right hon. Gentleman said in his opening speech today.

In all I have said on this subject—from time to time I have been consulted by the B.B.C. and others because my constituency is particularly large—I have always taken the line, before the Boundary Commission's Report came out, that the right hon. Gentleman would accept it, no matter what the political consequences might be. I think it regrettable that one should draw in the question of the Bill assisting the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or anyone else, but, whatever the political consequences, I have said that what was important was that the right hon. Gentleman should act on the report because these proposals are basically in the interest of the electorate. They should not be in the interests of one party or another. They should certainly not be in the interests of the officers who have to deal with these matters, because of the administrative set-up. Having spoken to returning officers from different parts of the country, I am clear that they can cope. They and their staff have no problems, though they will meet all sorts of problems with the votes-at-18 register. They make no complaint, and we should make no complaint in Parliament.

It is our constituents who will be affected by the Measure. That is the point that should be drummed home to the country. It is they who in many instances will be under-represented, no matter how hard the Member may work. One could argue that it is not fair on the individual Member, but that is a subordinate argument.

With great knowledge of the problems—and not doubt her own constituents may have made representations to her—the hon. Lady will, I hope, bear these points very much in mind. Even at this late stage it is not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to discard Hyde and return to Jekyll. But if he persists tonight in pressing his Amendments through, he will have demeaned himself, his Government and the great Department he represents.

Photo of Mr Wallace Lawler Mr Wallace Lawler , Birmingham, Ladywood

Many hon. Members opposite have shown some resentment over the base imputations made against the Home Secretary and the Government. Listening throughout this long debate to some hon. Members on this side of the House, I have tried to have the pious hope that all their declarations were motivated by a desire to see the machinery of the electoral system working as it should, and not by an political advantages that might accrue to them if the boundaries were changed in time for the next General Election.

One should always take great care in making imputations. We had an excellent example from the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett), when he said that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) had made a sudden departure from the Chamber after contributing to the debate. My hon. Friend had merely gone to sign the large number of letters he has to send to constituents who have written to him. It will interest my hon. Friend to know that the imputation was made by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham, who himself left the Chamber almost immediately after making his speech. But that is by the way. I merely point out that one should be careful about imputations which may within a few minutes be rightly directed against oneself.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) made imputations against some Liberals. He spoke about our new attitude towards another place. I have very definite conclusions about the other place, and so have my colleagues. We also have very definite conclusions about the present electoral system. But whilst it exists—and this the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale does not seem to understand—we shall respect it. One would wish that he would do so as well. And whilst the other place remains a lawful institution we shall observe its right to apply certain laws. There is nothing there to disturb certain Liberals who have passed on from the rest they are having in their graves, away from this unfortunate political life.

I want to turn to a point that I hope the Home Secretary or the Minister winding up will be able to clear up. I can see no justification for delaying the redistribution of seats because of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. The Bill has been available to the Government since April. The Redcliffe-Maud Report was published on 15th June this year. It is well know that during July, August and September most local authorities and their representatives are substantially inoperative. These are regarded as the holiday periods. Indeed, some local authorities, including the large local authority to which I belong, do not hold their monthly meetings then because most members are not available. It is an accepted fact——

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Wallace Lawler Mr Wallace Lawler , Birmingham, Ladywood

—although the Minister may shake his head. I am most perturbed to note that a Report published on 15th June, 1969, one of tremendous magnitude not only to members of local authorities but to all the electors, should have a time schedule for consideration put upon it. It is obvious that the imputations and complaints made today will continue inside and outside the House if a more satisfactory explanation is not forthcoming from the Government about their real reasons for wanting to delay the implementation of the boundary changes.

Few of us want to see the Redcliffe-Maud proposals bulldozed through the House, yet many people in the country have expressed to me and, I suppose, to other hon. Members their fears that, because of the Government's apparent anxiety to delay the passage of the boundary proposals through Parliament, the Redcliffe-Maud Report may indeed not receive all the consideration it should.

One can point at once to one thing which has almost happened. The electors have not yet been given an opportunity as electors to consider the all-important points of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. It is not sufficient for me merely to accept the Home Secretary's statement today that the need for local government reform has been recognised for many years. I agree with that statement, but it does not alter the fact that the major proposals of a highly controversial character, which seek to reform local government to take away certain basic rights enjoyed by individuals at local level, and which will obviously need a great deal of thought, were published on 15th June, but that the electors have not had a proper opportunity to have meetings with their representatives, both at local and, one would hope, at national level, in order to express their views. Yet these are the people to whom the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale seems to have attached such importance when he talked of the relationship between an M.P. and the electorate.

A little more thought should be given to the dual danger which seems to be arising of not only sabotaging the Redcliffe-Maud Report but also rushing through a Measure that will inflict still more harm on the electors in general. I hope that the Government will give a positive assurance that there will be no attempt of any kind to hurry through for party political reasons these important local government proposals.

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks a little more precisely to the Lords Amendments which the House is discussing.

Photo of Mr Wallace Lawler Mr Wallace Lawler , Birmingham, Ladywood

I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am relating what I have just said to the extensive remarks of the Home Secretary in opening the debate and, indeed, within the terms of which you have just reminded me. The right hon. Gentleman said that the existence of the Redcliffe-Maud Report had a great deal to do with the decisions he conveyed to the House today.

There is a danger that if the present Report of the Boundary Commission is left unimplemented, we shall go as long as 30 years between the last revision and the next. I agree with the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed) that this has grave implications. He spoke about his constituency and its many electors. Mine has perhaps the smallest number. If I wanted to employ political expediency, I might have good reason for supporting much of what the Home Secretary said, but it would be wrong for the electors and for the electoral system. There is obviously a need to relate the gross lack of representation in areas like Meridan—and that is without reflection on the hon. Member—and the over-representation which seems to apply in several numerically small constituencies.

I was more than a little perturbed when I heard the Home Secretary say that if things went a certain way in another place, he would present some draft Orders to the House but take no steps to see that they were implemented. There is a big difference between allowing a free vote and failing to advise the House when an important neutral Commission has made recommendations on which it has spent many years and which are of considerable magnitude and whose implementation throughout the country is long overdue. This is a grave matter which should give deep concern to every hon. Member.

When the Home Secretary was speaking, I was reminded of someone suggesting that he should buy an expensive horse, put a costly saddle and bridle on it, lead it over a long distance to water but, instead of allowing it to drink, chuck it in and drown it. That seems to be the analogy of the Home Secretary's suggestion this afternoon of what would be his final step if everything else failed.

I should like the Home Secretary to put up a much stronger and more genuine case which could be considered by the electors and which would have some definite basic points instead of the extremely weak argument that the Redcliffe-Maud Report is a reason for delaying implementation of the present proposals of the Boundary Commission. It is considerably important that we have an assurance before the debate is concluded that there will be no attempt of any kind to rush through the important proposals for local government reform.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Lawler) has not fully understood what has been happening in his own party over the past few years. He says that the Liberal Party's position over the House of Lords is perfectly clear. I am delighted to hear it, because it is news to me.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

It is not a point of order. The hon. Member will have to learn about debates in this House, as I had to.

Photo of Mr Wallace Lawler Mr Wallace Lawler , Birmingham, Ladywood

I did not say that. I said "Liberals" not "Liberal Party".

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I do not mind. We had the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) supporting the Government and the Opposition Front Bench when they attempted to bring a Bill to the House to which most backbenchers objected; he supported the White Paper and went right down the line on it, while other Liberals in the House opposed it, together with the rest of the backbenchers. So the Liberals are perfectly clear? Apparently they could not agree among themselves. The hon. Member must learn something about his own party.

Earlier today his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) spoke. I always listen with great interest to him because he makes a fine contribution, although I do not always agree with him. He was asking about the rights of the other place. My hon. Friends had to point out to him that nowadays the Liberals were supporting something which in the past they had totally rejected.

The Bill of 1911 was introduced by the Liberal Party, and its Preamble made it clear that it was but a step forward to the ultimate abolition of the House of Lords. I do not want to quarrel with the hon. Member, but I want to point out on this matter that the Liberals are as confused today about this as on any other subject. I am not saying that they are the only party which has differences internally, but I am saying that the hon. Member for Ladywood must not come to this House and suggest that the Liberals have a clear point of view. Most of what he said was totally irrelevant to the disctrision—[Interruption.] The hon. Member must learn that in this House we have the cut and thrust of debate. We are not in the Birmingham City Council, or even the Liverpool City Council.

9.15 p.m.

I have heard phrases bandied round about the unconstitutional measures that the Government are taking. I cannot see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary living up to the pictures being built up of him. He is a pretty law-abiding fellow, on some things a bit too law-abiding, but that is a personal opinion. I sometimes think he does not go far enough. The whole country will recognise that a more law-abiding, sensible and conservative Home Secretary we have never before had. This is well known, and yet he is being built up as a terrible monster who wants to undermine the constitution. I have never heard anything more ridiculous in my life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) referred in his excellent speech to an article by Mr. David Butler in the Sunday Times. I remembered that article and I hastened to get a copy to refresh my memory as to what Mr. Butler had said. He starts his article, in the Sunday Times of 20th July, 1969, in this way: 'Unconstitutional is a term applied in politics to the other fellow who does something that you don't like.' That was Sir Austen Chamberlain's remark in the House of Commons in 1932. Mr. Butler says that this has been brought very much to mind by the current furore over boundaries. He goes on to say: I care very much about decency and public life—but I cannot get very indignant either about the Redistribution of Seats Bill or about the Lords' decision to pursue wrecking tactics. He goes on to say in this interesting article: If today the Conservatives were at a serious disadvantage under the electoral system I would willingly man the constitutional barricades to protest against a Government trying to keep itself in office by refusing to amend an unfair system. But that is not the case. … Throughout the 1950s they"— that is the Conservatives— needed about 2 per cent, fewer of the votes than Labour to win any given number of seats. (In 1951, indeed, Labour won almost 1 per cent. more of the votes than the Conservatives, yet were comfortably beaten in terms of seats.) Mr. Butler concludes: If the Boundary Commission proposals were carried out in full it is quite clear that the Conservatives would be assured of a Parliament majority even if Labour had 1 per cent. more of the popular vote. Plainly we arc not confronted with the situation of a ruthless and cynical government loading the dice in its own favour". He says something rather uncomplimentary about the Government in the next sentence, but it is fair to quote it: At worst what we have is a rather bumbling government finding an excuse not to load the dice in favour of the Opposition". Mr. Butler is a very learned gentleman in these matters. Yet we hear all this nonsense about what the Government are doing being unconstitutional.

9.15 p.m.

The idea that the centres of our cities will remain precisely as they are over the next ten years is utterly ridiculous. Only last week a decision was taken by the Liverpool City Council, practically unanimously—perhaps the Liberals objected—to rebuild the city centre by building flats and houses. The area, depleted over a period of years, will be filled up again. This is a point which must be taken into consideration. Yet hon. Members opposite wish us to rush in and make boundary changes and not wait for the implementation of the Maud Report and then in a few years' time make another change. What a waste of money that would be! It would be utterly ridiculous. The only reason why they say this is that they want to give the people the impression that we are a bunch of bounders trying to change the constitution and ensure a permanent Labour majority. There will be a Labour majority whether we have this Bill or not because the people of the country will return us to office at the next General Election. Despite all their efforts, hon. Members opposite will not get anywhere with their line of argument.

I wish to refer to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), of whom, as I have said before, I think very highly. I am sorry that he has decided not to stand at the next election because he is a very fine Member. I am sorry that he is not in his place. I would have notified him of what I wish to say, but I will not attack him. When the Boundary Commission came to Liverpool, the proposal was that the town of Kirby, which has a very large Labour electorate—and, incidentally, at the moment a majority of Liberal councillors—was to be merged with Ormskirk. The screams of the hon. Member for Ormskirk could be heard throughout Merseyside. He said, "I do not want that in my town". Now, of course, he is leaving the House and I believe that he is standing on what is for him a matter of principle. It is strange how, when people think that they are personally involved, they can have one attitude at one moment but another attitude at another moment. I will draw the lesson, as I think the House will do, that people are very strange indeed.

I hope that hon. Members opposite will not continue with the suggestion that the Home Secretary and the Government are trying to gerrymander and are unconstitutional. Nothing is further from the truth, and I hope that the House will hear no more of that sort of suggestion.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

It is again a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), as I did only last night. The hon. Member will remember that on that occasion we were discussing civil rights, and it must not be forgotten that we have been doing precisely the same again today. The hon. Member said that the party opposite would win the next General Election whether the Bill were passed or not. Those, of course, were the brave sort of words that the party opposite used when we were reorganising London government, but those words were not fulfilled and we won control of the Greater London Council.

I understood that the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Home Office, would be winding up the debate.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

That is also a pleasure. Perhaps we shall have the pleasure of hearing the hon. Lady, whom we congratulate on her appointment, on another occasion.

This debate has ranged round broadly three issues: first, whether the Lords were constitutionally justified in amending the Bill; secondly, whether their Amendments were fair and workable; and thirdly, whether the Government Amendments are fair and workable. I propose to summarise the position on each of those three issues.

First, were the Lords constitutionally justified? Nobody has doubted that they had complete power to do what they did. Although some hon. Members have complained that they used that power, nobody can allege that they abused it. Indeed, the mere fact that the Government themselves have made a major departure from the Bill as a result of the Amendments proposed by the Lords justifies, I suggest, the action which the Lords took.

An overwhelming mass of uncommitted opinion was against the Bill by the time it left this House and went to the Lords, and by the time it left the Lords the Government obviously realised that they had made a mistake in introducing the Bill in its original form. It was not the first time that they had made such a mistake this Session. It is abundantly clear, and we have not had much dispute about it, that the Lords had power to act as they did and were justified in doing so. There is no suggestion of Lords against people. It is more a question of the Government against the Lords and the people.

I come to the question of whether the Lords Amendments were fair and workable. Although the Lords could have rejected the Bill altogether on Second Reading, they did not do that. They gave the Government an opportunity of putting forward different proposals from those in the Bill and of doing so by 31st March next year. That means that the Government have, from now, nearly six months, until All Fools' Day, to make up their mind to act fairly and constitutionally. Meanwhile, of course, under the Lords Amendments, the Secretaries of State would be protected from the consequences of their failure to comply with the law enshrined in the Acts of 1949 and 1958, which the original Bill did not do.

In Committee in the Lords, the then Minister of State, Lord Stonham, said that the Lords Amendments were a Parliamentary abortion. I should have thought that those who favoured abortion would agree that parliamentary abortion would be better than producing a constitutionally unwanted and monstrous child. but of course what the Lords did was not an abortion at all. It was a delicate pre-natal operation so that the Bill would be slimmer and less of a monster. The Lords have given the Government the opportunity to act honourably and fairly, and I believe that most people in the country, outside the Labour Party, would consider the Government very foolish to refuse this opportunity.

The Government Amendments are only a slight improvement on the original Bill. They would mean that we would probably have more up-to-date constituency boundaries by 1976 at the latest, instead of by 1983 at the latest—an improvement of seven years. But, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone Mr. Hogg) has said, that is a licence to cheat at the next General Election—and possibly even thereafter, if by gerrymandering or other political turpitude, the Government were somehow to win the next election.

But let us consider the time scale, because the Home Secretary got it wrong. If one thinks back on his speech, the facts which he put forward to justify the Government's action are, when taken together, facts which condemn the Government's action and which would make it highly desirable that the Boundary Commission proposals introduced this year should be implemented as soon as possible.

The present constituency boundaries—this factor has been forgotten too easily by hon. Members opposite—are based on the electorate as it was in 1953, and it has increased greatly since then. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friends with forcible examples on this and previous occasions, many constituencies are swollen to such an extent that much more should he done about them than is done by Clause 3. But 1953 is the basic year, because that is the year on which the Boundary Commission reporting in 1954 acted and it is its Report which came into effect in time for the 1955 General Election and on which the General Elections of 1959, 1964 and 1966 were also fought—the position as it was in 1953.

The Home Secretary seems quite satisfied that the next General Election should also take place on the basis of the 1953 position, at least 17 years later and possibly, if this Parliament runs its full time, 18 years later. His speech today reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. To fight the next General Election on the 1953 position would be little better than using Domesday Book for guidance.

What about the local government time-scale, on which the Government rely entirely in their attempt to justify what they propose? The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland stated emphatically today that there will be no legislation to reorganise local government in England or in Scotland, following the Redcliffe-Maud and Wheatley Reports, in this Parliament. That is not surprising, because the changes proposed are far-reaching.

But the changes proposed for Wales in a White Paper announced as long ago as 1967—which was before the Boundary Commission and is referred to in paragraph 21 of the Boundary Commission for Wales—are much less far-reaching and could easily be implemented without risk of later upheaval. May I take the case of the Home Secretary's constituency—Cardiff, South-East. At the moment half of it is in the city of Cardiff and half of it is outside the city of Cardiff. If the Boundary Commission's recommendations were accepted it would be entirely within the city. The right hon. Gentleman is so accustomed to being half in and half out that perhaps he prefers the present position.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I hope that the rest of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech is not as inaccurate as that. The whole of my constituency, every single bit of it, is inside the city of Cardiff.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. I take full responsibility for what I said, but it will become clear to him that I have been misinformed [Laughter]. It gives me great pleasure to apologise to him, without in any way altering my argument. Indeed, it may be said that the fact that his constituency is not affected should make us all the more eager to implement the proposals of the Boundary Commission for Wales. As I pointed out just before the right hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber, paragraph 21 of the Report makes it clear that the Boundary Commission for Wales knew the position with regard to Wales and were able to take into account to a considerable extent——

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am afraid that he is still incorrect—[Laughter]. My constituency is very substantially affected by the Report, which I am told would make it even safer than it is now.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

I accept the intervention once more, but I will not be diverted from the very strong case—[Laughter.] which I intend to deploy by a slip which I have made on a matter of relative detail. [Laughter.] I do not——

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. This debate is getting too good-humoured.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

You may rely on me, Mr. Speaker, to do something about that.

Even if all three Bills reorganising local government were introduced early in the next Parliament, in one Session—which is unthinkable—it would take the best part of a Session for them to go through Parliament. Then, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, there would be a time lag between Royal Assent and the time when the new local government boundaries became effective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) relied on the statements made by Lady Sharp, who said that there would be several years between the Royal Assent and the actual coming into force of the now local government boundaries. Thus, combining the Parliamentary Boundary Commission's time-scale and the local government time-scale, we reach certain conclusions. The first is that the Parliamentary boundaries, which are already seriously out of date and, accordingly, distorted, will become even more distorted if the Government Amendments are accepted. The second is that the local government boundaries will not be finally changed until the mid 'seventies. The third is that if the Boundary Commissions are reactivated in 1971 or 1972 or even before then, as the Government propose, the new local government boundaries will still not be in operation by the time the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions are reactivated, with the result that the Boundary Commissions will have to wait a year or two before being able really to get on with their work of considering the effect of local government reorganisation on the Parliamentary boundaries.

This means that they will not be able to report until 1974 or 1976, which is waiting much too long. It also means that between 21 and 23 years will have elapsed between effective general reviews of the parliamentary boundaries; that is, since Parliament, with the agreement of all parties and following the emphatic statements of the present Secretary of State for Scotland in 1958, when he was on the side of the angels, agreed that the time between should be only 15 years. If this is not unconstitutional behaviour, I do not know what is. It most unfairly distorts the position and rights of the voters in the constituencies most affected.

It would be more efficient, more democratic and more fair to bring into operation now, at once, the changes which the Boundary Commission recently recommended, and then have a fresh general review, which could be initiated at the earliest, as required at present, in 1979. That would have the great advantage that by then all the local government boundaries would have been finally settled and might have been settled for a year or two. This is so obviously plainly right and fair that the worse possible assumption must be made about the Government's refusal to do it.

We feel that we would be fully justified in having three Divisions tonight—indeed, several more than that—on the Amendments, both of the Lords and of the Government. We believe that the Government should accept the Lords proposal with gratitude and drop their own. If they do not, then we will vote for the Lords on the second and third Amendments and, if necessary, vote against the Home Secretary's principal Amendment.

The Home Secretary did something quite unprecedented today when he said that if the Lords reject the Bill as amended by the Government Amendments he would lay draft Orders in Council before this House but that he would arrange for those Orders to be rejected.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

That is what it came to. If he did not mean that, he should say so.

It is clear that the Government have a cynical threat to lay Orders in Council and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) pointed out, to get the Patronage Secretary to put on the Whips so that they are rejected, making the work of the Boundary Commissions of no avail.

The House can interpret the right hon. Gentleman's motives either as blackmail, as was said by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), or as a way of saving his skin when the matter comes up, as I understand it will, before the High Court next Monday for his failure so far to comply with the law. Either way, it is a cynical distortion of his constitutional duty, and we are entitled to know more precisely than we have so far been told how the Government propose to conduct themselves in this matter.

Do they propose to lay four Orders, one for each of the four parts of the United Kingdom: in other words, covering each of the four Boundary Commission reports? Or do they intend to give hon. Members an opportunity of voting in detail on these Orders? Of course, either way it could be said that the chaos would be incalculable and that it would be far better to follow the precedents which give hon. Gentlemen an opportunity of considering the position, taking note of it and acting in accordance with what they think is right. In any event, we are entitled to know, the country is entitled to know, and the Lords are entitled to know what kind of cynicism underlies this threat, and exactly how the Government intend to behave.

Today we have been discussing civil rights, but this Bill, even as proposed for amendment by the Home Secretary, is conclusive proof that the Government consider Socialism to be more important than democracy. It is also proof that the Government do not expect to win the next General Election by fair means but are hell bent on winning it somehow. No one outside the Socialist Party approves of the Bill or wants it. Indeed, no one wants it except the frightened men and women on the benches opposite and, most of all, the Prime Minister, who, no doubt, when he saw the Boundary Commission's proposal for Huyton, must have uttered his words of undying resolution. "Over my dead body".

9.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Previously, the House has devoted some 30 hours to dealing with the issues involved in the Bill. Today, during a further five hours, the Opposition have ranted in undiminished fury and have seen fit to level charges and condemnations that we have heard on very many occasions. It could fairly be said of them that they set themselves rather low standards and then failed to maintain them. The only relief in this very repetitive performance was the broad, boyish grin on the face of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) which belied to many of us the extreme gravity of the indictments he laid at the Government's door.

Before turning to the general issues, I want to comment briefly on one or two specific matters raised by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Kenneth Baker) asked what would be the effect of adopting the Parliament Act procedure in the event of the Bill being rejected in another place. If the Bill were to receive Royal Assent under the Parliament Act procedure new constituencies for parliamentary elections would come into being one month after the Royal Assent. However, the Royal Assent would not be in time for the ordinary G.L.C. elections of 1970, but would be in time for those of 1973.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said that it was within the power of the Government to introduce an Order now to deal with constituencies in Greater London. As has been explained in our earlier debates, because seven constituencies straddle the Greater London boundary it would be necessary for the Order to contain departures from the recommendations of the Boundary Com- mission. Otherwise parts of those seven constituencies which lie outside the Greater London boundary would not be contained in any parliamentary constituency. In other words, the minimum modification of the Boundary Commission's recommendations are those which are contained in the Bill. However, as we understand it the Opposition, both here and in another place, are not in favour of these departures from the recommendations, and for an Order setting up new constituencies in Greater London the approval of both Houses would be needed. If they are saying that there would be no difficulty in securing this, we would be very interested to hear their attitude to such a provision.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Would it not also be in the power of the Home Secretary to lay an Order applying both the recommendations of the Boundary Commission in respect of Greater London and the recommendations of the Boundary Commission in respect of areas adjoining Greater London?

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

No, I think that complicated legal issues are involved in this matter turning on Section 2 of the Act of 1949. I am sorry that it is not possible for me to go into great detail on this at the moment.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) said that it was monstrous that in some constituencies it took five times the number of votes to elect a Member of Parliament compared with other constituencies with only a very small electorate. This is something of which we are all aware. It has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that complete arithmetical equality cannot be achieved. I think it proper to remind the House that the proposals of the Boundary Commission for England contain recommendations for constituencies which in some cases are nearly two-and-a-half times the size of smaller constituencies. Of course we all agree that it would be ideal if we were able to achieve complete equality in all the constituencies of the United Kingdom. In so far as it is possible and compatible with the principle of the weighting of representation in rural areas, this is something to strive for, but in striving for such a standard, of course, it is possible to come up against greater evils. That is the heart and kernel of the Government's case tonight.

The charge has been put to us by the Opposition, in the most shrill and emotive terms, of cheating. We are told that we are acting contrary to the most fundamental constitutional principles in order to obtain a clear but unfair constitutional advantage. I quite agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) that cheating is the term the Tories apply to a situation when there is the slightest danger of acting contrary to the deepest canons of Conservative faith; namely, their divine right to exercise power in this place for all time. That is "cheating", and it is on that basis that the accusation has been made against the Government.

I do not doubt the sincerity of their belief in the number of seats that would be affected, but I challenge its accuracy. None of the conjectures which have been made throughout our debates about the number of seats that would be affected rests upon any authoritative data. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) quoted a very distinguished authority to the contrary.

Even if there were such data, even if the very size of a windfall could be calculated, the issue still would not be whether it was right for a Government to accept such a windfall or to abjure it. The issue before the House is whether, irrespective of loss or gain, irrespective of any fortuitous advantage to either party, it is right to allow the machinery which was created in 1949 to run. I agree that, all things being equal, it is fair and proper that that machinery should be allowed to run unhindered. I agree, further, that the onus of showing that the machinery should be interfered with lies very heavily upon the party making such a contention.

It is the Government's case that we are now confronted with a situation of two major upheavals that can completely change Britain's electoral face. We face the certainty of a kaleidoscopic change in its pattern. I do not exaggerate, because the change that is proposed in parliamentary boundaries is the most colossal change that has occurred since 1832. The change in the realm of local government—here I agree with the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party—will be the most substantial that has occurred since 1889. The proposals of the Boundary Commission involve proposals for 410 changes. We are told that the Redcliffe-Maud proposals would involve only 94. The situation is exactly the same as games of blocks that we played as children. To move one block five lines away to a gap might entail moving 30 or 40 blocks. That is the way these changes would affect a far greater number of constituencies than the 94 that have been mentioned.

The issue, therefore, is whether it is necessary, in the face of such facts, to allow this disruption to take place. Those listening to the tirades of the Opposition would think that the whole matter of parliamentary boundaries and their rough coincidence with local government boundaries had been pleaded here merely on an instant, had been introduced on a subterfuge and as a debating point. Those who have carefully studied the 1949 Act know full well what paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 says on this point. I do not think there can be any doubt whatsoever that this is the dominant guide line in the Act of 1949 for the Boundary Commissioners.

The question, therefore, to which I submit the House should direct its mind is whether the magnitude of these changes is so great, whether the situation that I have described constitutes such a massive extraneous factor, whether it is what in the courts would be called a nova causa interveniens, as not only to justify tampering with the machinery of 1949 but to demand that that machinery in this instance should be changed. [Interruption.] It is quite clear that the rules that were drawn up in 1949 are in no way immutable—[Interruption.]

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The debate has been heard in quietness till now. We should end as we began.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

As I was saying, these rules are in no way immutable. This House has the sovereign right to change them wherever it sees fit, and if the House recoiled from such a duty it would be abandoning one of its fundamental responsibilities. Machinery was set up in 1949, machinery that was supposed to be used for the benefit of the electorate. It would be a sheer perversity to pretend that the electorate should now be made the slave of that machinery.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 275, Noes 229.

Division No. 347.]AYES[9.57 p.m.
Abse, LeoFitch, Alan (Wigan)MacDermot, Niall
Albu, AustenFletcher,Rt.Hn.Sir Eric(Islington,E.)Macdonald, A. H.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McGuire, Michael
Alldritt, WalterFoley, MauriceMcKay, Mrs. Margaret
Allen, ScholefieldFoot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich)Mackenzie, Gregor (Ruthergien)
Anderson, DonaldFoot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Mackie, John
Ashley, JackFord, BenMackintosh, John P.
Forrester JohnMaclennan, Robert
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Fowler, GerryMcNamara, J. Kevin
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Fraser, John (Norwood)MacPherson, Malcolm
Bacon, Rt. Hn, AliceFreeson, ReginaldMahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Galpern, Sir MyerMahon, Simon (Bootle)
Barnett, JoelGarrett, W.E.Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Baxter, WilliamGinsburg, DavidMallalieu,J.P.W. (Huddersfield,E.)
Beaney, AlanGray, Dr. Huge (Yarmouth)
Bence, CyrilGreenwood, Rt. Hn, AnthonyGreenwood, Rt. Hn, Anthony
Benn, Rt. Hn, Anthony WedgwoodGregory, ArnoldMapp, Charles
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)Grey, Charles (Durham)Marks, Kenneth
Bidwell, SydneyGriffiths, David (Rother Valley)Marquand, David
Binns, JohnGriffith, Will (Exchange)Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Bishop, E. S.Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.Maxwell, Robert
Blackburn, F.Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mayhew, Christopher
Blenkinsop, ArthurHamilton, William (Fife, W.)Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Hamling, WilliamMendelson, John
Booth, AlbertHannan, WilliamMikardo, Ian
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurHarper, JosephMillan, Bruce
Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Boyden, JamesHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Molloy, William
Bradley, TomHattersley, RoyMoonman, Eric
Bray, Dr. JeremyHazell, BertMorgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Healey, Rt. Hn. DenisMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)Heffer, Eric S.Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Buchan, NormanHenig, StanleyMorris, John (Aberavon)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Hilton, W. S.
Bulter, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Hobden, DennisMoyle, Roland
Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Hooley, FrankMurray, Albert
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesHorner, JohnNeal, Harold
Cant, R. B.Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasNewens, Stan
Carmichael, NeilHowell, Denis (Small Heath)Norwood, Christopher
Carter-Jones, LewisHowie, W.Oakes, Gordon
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraHoy, Rt. Hn. JamesOgden, Eric
Coleman, DonaldHughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)O'Malley, Brian
Coneannon, J. D.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Oram, Albert E.
Conlan, BernardHunter, AdamOrbach, Maurice
Corbet, Mrs. FredaHynd, JohnOrme, Stanley
Crawshaw, RichardIrvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Oswald, Thomas
Cronin, JohnJanner, Sir BarnettOwen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Grossman, Rt. Hn. RichardJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Jenkins Rt. Hn. Roy (Stetchford)
Dalyell, TamPadley, Walter
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhonnda, E.)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Palmer, Arthur
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Park, Trevor
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Jones, T. Alec (Rhondoa, WestParker, John (Dagenham)
Delargy, H. J.Judd, FrankParkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Dell, EdmundKelley, RichardPavitt, Laurence
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Dempsey, JamesPearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Dewar, DonaldKerr, Russell (Feltham)Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Diamond, Rt. Hn. JohnLawson, GeorgePerry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Doig, PeterLeadbitter, TedPerry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Driberg, TomLee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Dunn, James A.Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Lee, John (Reading)Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dunnett, JackLestor, Miss JoanPrice, William (Rugby)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold (Cheetham)Randail, Harry
Eadie, AlexLewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)Rankin, John
Edelman, MauriceRichard, Ivor
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Lipton, MarcusRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Edwards, William (Merioneth)Lomas KennethRoberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Ellis, JohnLoughlin, CharlesRoberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire,S.)
English, MichaelLuard, EvanRobertson, John (Paisley)
Ennals, DavidLyon, Alexander W. (York)Robinson, Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as)
Ensor, DavidLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Roebuck, Roy
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonRogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Evans loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)McBride, Neil
Faulds, AndrewMcCann, JohnRose, Paul
Fernyhough, E.MacColl, JamesRoss, Rt. Hn. William
Rowlands, E.Swain, ThomasWhitlock, William
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)Symonds, J. B.Wilkins, W. A.
Sheldon, RobertTaverne, DickWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.Thomas, Rt. Hn. GeorgeWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)Thornton, Ernest.Wlliams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)Tomney, FrankWilliams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)Tuck, RaphaelWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)Urwin, T. W.Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Silverman, JuliusVarley, Eric G.Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Skeffington, ArthurWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Slater, JosephWalker, Harold (Doncaster)Winnick, David
Small, WilliamWallace, GeorgeWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Snow, JulianWatkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)Wyatt, Woodrow
Spriggs, LeslieWellbeloved, James
Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)Wells, William (Walsall, N.)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.Whitaker, BenMr. Ernest Armstrong and Mr. Ray Dobson.
Summerskill, Hn. Dr. ShirleyWhite, Mrs. Eirene
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)du Cann, Rt. Hn. EdwardLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Eden, Sir JohnLloyd, Rt.Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianElliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)
Astor, JohnEmery, PeterLubbock, Eric
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Errington, Sir EricMcAdden, Sir Stephen
Awdry DanielEwing, Mrs. WinifredMacArthur, Ian
Baker, Kenneth (Acton)Eyre, ReginaldMacleod, Rt. Hn. Iain
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)Farr, JohnMcMaster, Stanley
Balniel, LordFisher, NigelMacmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyFletcher-Cooke, CharlesMcNair-Wilson, Michael
Batsford, BrianFortescue, TimMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonFoster, Sir JohnMaddan, Martin
Bell, RonaldFraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)Maginnis, John E.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)Galbraith, Hn. T. G.Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Berry, Hn. AnthonyGibson-Watt, DavidMarten, Neil
Bessell, PeterGilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Biffen, JohnGlover, Sir DouglasMawby, Ray
Biggs-Davison, JohnGlyn, Sir RichardMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Birch, Rt. Hn. NigelGodber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Black, Sir CyrilGoodhart, PhilipMills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Blaker, PeterGoodhew, VictorMiscampbell, Norman
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Gower, RaymondMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Body, RichardGrant, AnthonyMonro, Hector
Bossom, Sir CliveGrant-Ferris, Sir RobertMontgomery, Fergus
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnGresham Cooke, R.Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardGrieve, PercyMorgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Braine, BernardGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Gurden, HaroldMott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Brinton, Sir TattonHall-Davis, A. G. F.Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Bromley-Davenportr, Lt.-Col. Sir W alterHamilton, Lord (Fermanagh)Murton, Oscar
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)Neave, Airey
Bryan, PaulHarris, Reader (Heston)Noble, Rt. Hn, Michael
Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M)Harvie Anderson, MissNott, John
Buck, Antony (Colchester)Hastings StephenOnslow, Cranley
Bullus, Sir EricHawkins, PaulOrr, Capt. L. P. S.
Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Burden, F. A.Hay, JohnOsborn, John (Hallam)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelPage, Graham (Crosby)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)Higgins, Terence L.Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Carlisle, MarkHill, J. E. B.Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Carr, -Rt. Hn. RobertHogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin
Channon, H. P. G.Holland, PhilipPeel, John
Chataway, ChristopherHordem, PeterPercival, Ian
Chichester-Clark, R.Howell, David (Guildford)Peyton, John
Clark, HenryHunt, JohnPink, R. Bonner
Clegg, WalterHutchison, Michael ClarkPowell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Cooke, RobertIremonger, T. L.Price, David (Eastleigh)
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillJennings, J. C. (Burton)Prior, J. M. L.
Cordle, JohnJohnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Pym, Francis
Corfield, F. V.Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Quennell, Miss J. M.
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Jopling, MichaelRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Crouch, DavidKaberry, Sir DonaldRawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Cunningham, Sir KnoxKerby, Capt. HenryRees-Davies, W. R.
Dalkeith, Earl ofKimball, MarcusRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Dance, JamesKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Davidson James(Aberdeenshire, W.)Kirk, PeterRidley, Hn. Nicholas
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryKitson, TimothyRidsdale, Julian
Knight, Mrs. JillRippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Dean, PaulLambton, ViscountRobson Brown, Sir William
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)Lancaster, Col. C. G.Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Dodds-Parker, DouglasLane, DavidRoyle, Anthony
Doughty, CharlesLawler, WallaceRussell, Sir Ronald
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir AlecLegge-Bourke, Sir HarrySandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Scott, NicholasTaylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Scott-Hopkins, JamesTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Sharples, RichardTemple, John M.Wiggin, A. W.
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)Tilney, JohnWilliams, Donald (Dudley)
Silvester, FrederickTurton, Rt. Hn. R. H.Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Sinclair, Sir Georgevan Straubenzee, W. R.Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Smith, John (London & W'minster)Vickers, Dame JoanWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Speed, KeithWaddington, DavidWoodnutt, Mark
Steel, David (Roxburgh)Walker, Peter (Worcester)Worsley, Marcus
Stodart, AnthonyWalker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir DerekYounger, Hn. George
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.Wall, Patrick
Summers, Sir SpencerWalters, DennisTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Tapsell, PeterWard, Dame IreneMr. R. W. Elliott and Mr. Jasper More.
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)Weatherill, Bernard

It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Lords Amendments stood adjourned.