§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins) rose—
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would not presume to criticise your decision as to who catches your eye, but might the House have an assurance that since the object of the Bill is to "comprehensivise" education in Greater London we shall have the Secretary of State for Education and Science here at least to try to catch your eye?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order, and I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that it is not.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a simple and, I would have hoped, relatively non-controversial Bill. That hope, I must confess, having heard who the Opposition speakers are to be, looks unlikely to be fulfilled. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Mary-lebone (Mr. Hogg)—who has explained to me that he may not be here at the beginning of the debate, because he is appearing in court—is, as I know well from experience, capable of playing things extremely well either way. No one would for a moment doubt his capacity for controversy. But his presence, except at election time, at any rate, is no necessary guarantee that party passions are to be stirred and issues judged not on their merits.
About the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), who, I understand, is to speak after me, I am not quite so sure. It may be, of course, that he has merely come to give us his blessing as one of the Members for Enfield—a borough which is on record as being in favour of the changes we are proposing. But it may equally be that his purposes are less benign—and less representative of his borough. In any event, I hope that, as an old lady said when she saw Mr. Gladstone at a funeral, he has not come here merely to cause a disturbance.
233 Whether or not this Bill is uncontroversial, it is undoubtedly true that it is a simple Bill, and one which I believe I can explain and commend to the House quite briefly. It is a short Bill of only three Clauses. Its first purpose is to deal with difficulties which the returning officers in London are convinced would arise if certain of the arrangements envisaged in the London Government Act, 1963, were put into effect, and to deal with them by postponing the London borough elections for one year. The House will recall that under the 1963 Act, in particular, Schedule 3, paragraph 15, elections to the Greater London Council and to the London borough councils would eventually take place on the same day, and that this procedure would come into effect once Greater London had been divided—for the purpose of Greater London Council elections—into single-member electoral areas base on new Parliamentary constituencies.
The provision for combined elections followed a recommendation made by the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London. The matter was dealt with very briefly in paragraph 856 of the Report of the Royal Commission. The Commission said:We believe it would be possible, and, if so, we think it very desirable, that elections for the Council.that is to say, the Greater London Council,and elections for the Greater London Borough Councils should be held simultaneously, so that at one and the same polling booth at one and the same time an elector votes on a Parliamentary constituency basis for one member of the Council for Greater London, and on a ward basis for his own borough councillors as at present ".We have not yet had any combined elections under the 1963 Act, but—as I have endeavoured to explain—unless there is amending legislation we are bound to have them in due course. With this prospect in view, a working party of town clerks of London boroughs has been considering the question of the practicability of combined elections. As hon. Members well know, the town clerks are returning officers for both borough council elections and the Greater London Council elections, and as such are I think uniquely qualified to advise on the practical problems involved. In the light of its study of these problems, the working 234 party reported unanimously its conclusions to the London Boroughs Association, which, in turn, wrote to my Department in April of this year.
The working party drew attention to a number of difficulties, including the provision of equipment and staff, complications in postal voting and the greater risk that mistakes would be made, and concluded that, while these difficulties might not be insuperable, the burden that would be placed on returning officers would be very heavy and the resulting procedure might not be very satisfactory, either to candidates or to the electorate.
In the light of this Report, to which I am sure that the House will agree that considerable weight should be attached, the Government had to decide whether the difficulties to which the returning officers had drawn attention were so important that the idea of combined elections, as envisaged in the 1963 Act, should be abandoned. My own view, leaving the practical difficulties out of account for the moment, though they cannot, of course, be wholly excluded, is that the arguments for and against combined elections are fairly evenly balanced. On the one hand, there is the point made by the Royal Commission that combined elections would help Londoners to understand better the types of council for which they are voting, and the functions of the councils to which the candidates are seeking election; on the other hand there is great force in the argument—which has been put forward for example by the Greater London Council—that it might well be difficult for the elector, approached by a political party in what would often be a single election address, to distinguish his preference for one party for borough purposes from his possible different preference for another party for Greater London purposes.
We have to recognise that electors, in practice, already find it difficult to distinguish between the large number of candidates listed on the local election ballot papers, and it is important not to increase this difficulty by presenting each elector, on the same occasion, with not one but two ballot papers, one of them involving a multiple choice and the other involving a choice between several candidates for a single seat.
235 I do not claim that the arguments either way on this point are overwhelming. A reasonable case could be made out each way. When the London Government Bill was going through Parliament in 1963, vigorous efforts were made in another place to persuade the Government of the day to change their mind and to provide for the two sets of elections to be held in different years. The then Government spokesman in the other place gave an assurance in Committee that the matter would be considered further before the Report stage. In the event, although it was conceded by the Conservative Government that the arguments were evenly balanced, no change was made.
As I have said, this Government accept the view of our predecessors that the general case for and against combined elections is evenly balanced. This being so, we feel that the views of those who have to operate the system should be of decisive importance. As the House will recall, the Royal Commission said no more than that it believed that it would be "possible" to hold combined elections. No doubt, it would be possible. But the town clerks, on whom the main burden falls of putting into effect the administrative arrangements for the procedure decided upon here, having spontaneously examined the problems which would arise, have set out in convincing terms the reasons why they think that combined elections would be, if not entirely impracticable, then certainly full of major difficulties.
In addition, the views of the overwhelming majority of the local authorities concerned are now against combined elections. This is the view of the Greater London Council. It is also the view of 27 out of the 32 Greater London Boroughs. I think that it would be wrong to reject this clear view of those most intimately concerned. Indeed, it appears also to be the view of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). In a statement on 24th October, not otherwise very friendly to this Bill, I admit, he said:There may be something to be said for the view that the London Borough and Greater London Council elections should be in different years.So far, therefore, we can legitimately say that there is great and widespread support for a change. I deliberately say 236 a change, for I shall come to the change in a moment.
Once we had decided against combined elections, we had to decide what alternative arrangments should be made. One possibility would be to make permanent the present temporary arrangements under which elections to the G.L.C. and the London boroughs take place in the same year but in different months. None of the 32 London boroughs has suggested that this should be done. It seems to me that it would be the worst of both worlds. Holding elections in succeeding months of the same year is hardly a course calculated to increase public interest and so to secure reasonable polls.
In 1964, all the boroughs within the Greater London area secured a poll of 35.7 per cent. That was when they were polling a month after the elections for the G.L.C., and it was a poll lower than that achieved by any other group of authorities throughout the country. For county councils the figure was 40.9 per cent., for county boroughs 40.5 per cent., and for municipal boroughs and urban district councils 42 per cent.
Furthermore, in 1964, when the elections occurred within a month of the G.L.C. elections, the percentage voting figures for the inner London boroughs, that is, those which were previously within the London County Council area and on which one can most directly make comparisons between that year and the previous year when elections were not held in successive months, were the lowest for over a decade.
In those boroughs only a 27.6 per cent. poll was secured as against 32.3 per cent. in 1962; 32.1 per cent. in 1959; 30.9 per cent. in 1956; and 39.9 per cent. in 1953. In addition, the drop between the G.L.C. polling figure and those for the London boroughs as a whole, not the inner London boroughs, of 8 per cent., was greater than it had been for a very long time past. There is a greater threat to effective democracy in so arranging elections as to encourage an extremely low poll than there is, in a short extension in the life of councils.
If we accept, as I hope the House will, that the case against having elections in successive months of the same year is a very strong one, it remains to be decided whether the change to hold them in successive years should be made now, that 237 is, before the elections otherwise due to be held for Greater London in April, 1967, and for the boroughs in May, 1967, or whether we should wait until 1970 when the next set of elections would fall due.
The Opposition, if I understand their position correctly, say that if the change is to be made at all—I do not understand them to say that the change should not be made—it should be delayed until 1970. It is not clear why, at least on constitutional grounds, they think this. It is not unprecedented for bodies normally elected for three years to be given a four-year term. In 1948, for example, it was decided to change the time of borough council elections generally, including metropolitan borough council elections, from November to May.
This meant that, following the London County Council elections of April, 1949, the metropolitan borough council elections took place a month later. Provision was made, however, in the Representation of the People Act, 1948, for metropolitan borough councillors elected in 1949 to serve for four years instead of three, an arrangement which accordingly effected in the early 1950s the separation into different years of L.C.C. and metropolitan borough council elections. That provision was not opposed by the party opposite, then in opposition as it is today.
There is an even closer parallel. When in office, the party opposite was responsible for a provision in the London Government Act, 1963 under which the ordinary triennial county council elections in Kent, Surrey and Essex due to be held in 1964 were postponed till 1965. I may say that there were Conservative majorities in all those three county councils the term of office of which was extended.
Nothing would have been easier than for us, when in opposition, to oppose this postponement and to make easy political points, perhaps similar to those which we may hear today. We chose not to do so. I hope that, on reflection, right hon. Members opposite will feel that they also ought to adopt a responsible attitude to what is no more than a sensible administrative rearrangement which we are now proposing.
238 It cannot, therefore, be reasonable to argue that there is anything either unprecedented or undemocratic in the Bill. What was right for the electors of Kent, Surrey and Essex in 1964 cannot suddenly have become a constitutional monstrosity for the electors of the London boroughs in 1967. Indeed, the case for extending the terms of office for borough councillors elected in 1964 becomes all the stronger when one takes into account that, although elected in that year, they did not fully take over their functions until 1965. They will, therefore, by April next year, have been fully in office for only two years instead of the normal three.
Moreover, if a change is to be made, there are obvious advantages in making it at once so that the disadvantages of the present procedure, which I have already explained to the House, can be put right as soon as possible.
The position is wrong—why wait to put it right? In recommending the Bill to the House the Government are following the course suggested by no fewer than 20 of the 27 London boroughs which are in favour of making a change, although Sutton, I believe, has changed its mind since it put its representations to me. Perhaps it was brought under a little pressure, but in any event it changed its mind too late and long after it received and considered the representations and the Government announced proposals for this legislation.
It is certainly true, as we shall no doubt hear, that most of the London boroughs—most, but not all—have Labour majorities. That follows inevitably from the failure of the party opposite to gain the electorally advantageous position which it thought would follow from the Act of 1963. Three of the 20 boroughs have Conservative majorities, although one is Sutton, which I have mentioned. Of the seven London boroughs which want the change, but not until 1970, three have Labour majorities. Therefore, there is quite an element of cross-voting in this position.
I hope, therefore, that we shall have no more accusations that the Government are proposing anything which is remotely improper. Wild words such as "gerrymandering", which is certainly not the meaning of the word "gerrymandering".
239 have been used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bexley, in his statement. The Government have decided that it would be right to do now what should have been done in the principal Statute and what was the position prior to 1964; that is, to put a year between the two sets of elections and to make a start with the next set of elections, those occurring in the spring of 1967.
The Bill makes provisions required for that and for related purposes. The Bill itself is a short one and, I think, it requires little explanation. Its main provision is in subsection (1) of Clause 1, which postpones until 1968 and every third year thereafter the London borough council elections otherwise due to be held in 1967 and each third year after that. The remainder of Clause I contains consequential provisions in conection with the election of aldermen to London boroughs and the filling of council vacancies on London borough councils.
The years in which elections to the Greater London Council are to be held are not affected by the Bill, but if the two sets of elections are not eventually to be combined as contemplated in the 1963 Act, it is necessary to make provision as to the date of the Greater London Council elections. Clause 2 provides accordingly. The date for the 1967 elections, 13th April, has already been announced. Thereafter, the Greater London Council will have power like the former London County Council to fix its own date for ordinary elections within a specified week in April.
Why the Opposition are—if they are—trying to import political passion into this matter I am not quite sure, unless they now feel that they should approach every question before the House in this way. The London boroughs themselves, including the Tory ones, are far calmer about the matter. Westminster, with an overwhelming Conservative majority, and including the constituency of St. Maryle-bone, approached the matter in a very matter-of-fact way. The Conservative chairman of the general purposes committee, asked by a Labour member why he had not reported the matter to the full council, said that no member of the general purposes committee—with an overwhelming Conservative majority—had suggested this.
240 Now, perhaps, the Opposition think that they might do better than they did in 1964—why, I am not clear. Apparently, they think so, but the Gallup Poll does not support this view. My view is that if the change is right and desirable in itself, it cannot wait to suit the electoral convenience of the Conservative Party. We might have to wait for a very long time for such an event to occur. I believe that the case is made and supported by a great majority of those most intimately concerned, whether returning officers or elected representatives. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)
When the present Government have to introduce a Measure which they know very well is an affront to Parliament, they adopt the "soft sell" method. For example, in Washington, the Prime Minister, doing a "hard sell" job, said of the Prices and Incomes Bill that it contained powers which had not been taken by any Government in peace and war. That was true, but they were presented in due course by the First Secretary of State to this House as if they were an agenda for a pleasant Sunday afternoon. The Home Secretary has followed this technique today.
We are invited to make this change as a matter of the balance of administrative advantage—as a convenience for returning officers and some councillors. We are not here to protect the comfort of town clerks and councillors, but to protect the interests of the electorate. The Bill denies for a year to the electorate of the London boroughs the right to approve or disapprove of policies and to accept or reject local councillors. That is what it does. Above all—for we know very well the true origins of the Bill—it denies to every parent in the outer London area the right, if they wish, to cast their votes against schemes for comprehensive education which they find obnoxious. Not a word of this came from the Home Secretary this afternoon.
We know that 1967 will be the decisive year so far as plans for comprehensive education are concerned, and, to some extent housing. We know that with their new powers it is the boroughs and not the G.L.C. which are now the key. The Government know this very well. They 241 know that if they can cheat the electorate for one year of their votes, particularly in the outer London areas, they can advance their plans. That is the parentage of this Bill and it will be opposed wholeheartedly at every stage by the Tory Party.
My constituency of Enfield, West is part of the Greater London Borough of Enfield. I am speaking, first, for the Opposition because this is the most marginal of all the London boroughs. It is the only one which went differently between the G.L.C. and the boroughs. It is held on the G.L.C. by the Tories and on the borough by the Socialists, and it is also the only illustration of a borough that is held on a minority of votes.
Therefore, the borough which I have the honour in part to represent in this House is more affected than any other by the provisions of the Bill. The story is this. As I have said, the Conservatives won the borough on the G.L.C. In the local elections, apparently owing to split voting—but I make no complaint; it happens for one and against one—the Socialists won by 31 to 29, but with a substantial minority of votes. They then proceeded to take all 10 aldermen's seats to buttress their majority. Going through the list of the boroughs which did this, I find that on 11 occasions out of 32 London boroughs the majority party took all 10 aldermen. Every single one had a Socialist majority.
They include Enfield, Brent and Ealing, the most marginal of all the boroughs, in an attempt to buttress their vote by the use of the aldermanic vacancies. Not even in the most marginal Tory-held seat was this attempted. When these sort of actions are taken, one-sided as I have shown them to be, they call into question the very future of aldermanic vacanies to be put to such a purpose.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not recall that in Committee on the London Government Bill, in 1963, I moved an Amendment to remove aldermen from the Greater London Council and the boroughs, but I did not get the support of his party nor of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Macleod
Perfectly true. I have read all the documents in relation to that Bill. I will come in a few minutes 242 to the very misleading account the Home Secretary gave us. In view of what happened in 1964, I think that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) will find more sympathy from the Conservatives now.
I shall return later to the question of comprehensive schools. I will simply say that at every stage—this is natural enough—we were defeated in Enfield. We were defeated on the sub-committee of the education committee and defeated on the full committee. We were defeated in the local grammar school, of which I have the honour to be one of the foundation governors. All the time we gave one answer, and one answer only. We said, "In the end the people will decide, because the election is coming. In the spring of 1967 the people will decide. If they decide for the Conservatives, then we will upset the scheme of comprehensive education planned to come in in September, 1967".
What has the Home Secretary done? He has taken away—he has done this deliberately—from the people of Enfield the right to decide in this matter. He himself as Home Secretary has given the Labour-controlled council one year more power.
Why has he done so? I should like to examine his case, because I think that it will be seen that it crumbles to dust at a touch. I did not interrupt him, but I was puzzled to know whether he believed the case he was making. He had a brief. I wonder how much trouble he has been to to find out whether what he has been told is in fact an accurate representation of what has happened, as to whether he knew or whether he cared.
Let us take the Home Secretary's story. All his speech today was based on the convenience of the returning officers. He mentioned this point over and over and over again. Three times he has already been before the House, but never once did he mention the returning officers or the town clerks. He based his case on entirely different premises then from that which he has come to the House with this afternoon. On 28th April, when the Home Secretary was replying, first, to the hon. Member for Orpington he said:The Committee"—243 that is, the London Boroughs Committee—has recently informed me…I would like to know how recently, perhaps from the right hon. Lady the Minister of State when she winds up the debate. I can show the House that the Home Secretary knew of this many months before that, and I can show that on the clearest possible evidence. Yet the right hon. Gentleman told the House:The Committee has recently informed me…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 28th April, 1966; Vol. 727, c. 926.]and that was on 28th April.
The Home Secretary makes great claim that the meeting which was held on 28th January, and which was an all-party meeting, was unanimous. This claim was also made by Mr. Norman Prichard, the Chairman of the London Boroughs Association, in a letter to The Times on 26th October. I shall show that Mr. Prichard knew very well that that meeting was not unanimous, and that the Home Secretary either knew, or could have found out, that that was the case.
Again, we know that on 4th August, when the Home Secretary was questioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), he twice—no doubt inadvertently; of course inadvertently—misled the House, in one case by claiming 27 out of 32 for the change that he was proposing, and in another case, in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), when he said:seven Conservative Boroughs requested this change with equal enthusiasm.Both of those statements, as the Home Secretary will admit—I think that he should have told the House so this afternoon—were entirely inaccurate.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
With respect, I put the position completely clearly this afternoon. It is quite true that on—was it 8th August?—I did say "the change" when I should have said "a change". I wrote and apologised to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I think that, on reflection, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West will agree that that was a fairly easy slip of the tongue to make and that I put the 244 position absolutely clearly this afternoon. Indeed, to draw attention, as it were, to this slip of the tongue, I specifically said, "I am now talking about a change. I will come to the change in a moment". I do not think that I could have gone further to make more clearly exactly what the distinction was.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Home Secretary did not write to me to draw attention to his error until I had taken the liberty of writing to him? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that I asked the Home Secretary to make the position clear?
§ Mr. Macleod
Yes; I was aware of that, and I think that the Home Secretary will find that he comes rather badly out of this exchange. He made no reference to the second slip of the tongue, was it, that he made in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone. Did he write to my right hon. and learned Friend and apologise for that? I think not. Did he apologise to the House? I think not.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I spoke to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) almost immediately afterwards, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Member will confirm. He agreed what the position was, and there was no difference between us as to the fact that I had made a mistake.
§ Mr. Macleod
I see. So there were two slips of the tongue, for neither of which the right hon. Gentleman apologised to the House this afternoon. The answer the Home Secretary gave—I am quoting from what he said at column 667—was this:Because of the low polls which would be likely to result from two local government elections being held in successive months in 1967; and because of the administrative difficulties and the risk of confusion to the electors…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 667.]The Home Secretary knows that this argument has nothing to do with 1967; that is, the question of their being held on the same day in later years, which indeed he said, because for the next year the G.L.C. elections would be on 13th April and those of the boroughs on 11th May. The Home Secretary's remark about the low poll seems to me to be quite 245 unsupported by any evidence, because he must be aware that the Royal Commission said that the low polls in the London boroughs were largely due to the narrow powers that the old metropolitan boroughs have had. This is not an argument that now applies to the London boroughs, with their vastly increased powers, and I think that we can therefore look forward to a considerable increase of interest in the elections.
In 1949, when the elections were in the same year, the borough poll was 38.2 per cent. At the next four elections, when they were in different years, it was 39.9 per cent., which is slightly higher. The next four—30.9 per cent., 32.1 per cent., 32.3 per cent., and 36 per cent.—are all substantially lower. In so far as those figures prove anything, they tell against and not for the case the Home Secretary made to the House.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows that now that we have bigger boroughs there is less interest for the citizen and less likelihood that he will vote?
§ Mr. Macleod
That is a matter of opinion. I do not think so, particularly because of the additional powers; and, after all, I pointed out that the Royal Commission's view was that it was the lack of powers that resulted in these low polls.
I want to give the House fairly quickly what I think is the more accurate picture of what really happened. It will show, amongst other things—I commend this to the Home Secretary—that the intelligence of the Conservative Central Office is a good deal more lively than that of the Home Office. I said that the Home Secretary told the House on 28th April that recently he had been informed by the London Boroughs Committee, etc. In fact, the first we heard of this matter was on 2nd December, 1965, very many months beforehand, when the Chairman of Ealing Education Committee, Councillor Tom Newson, at a comprehensive education meeting, at Selborne School, Perivale, announced that this would happen.
We were rather surprised at this. We asked for clarification from County Hall. County Hall said that it was news to it, but that it would ring up the Home 246 Office and also ring up the Labour Party Co-ordinating Committee. It did both these things. The Home Office said that it knew nothing about it; and, of course, I accept that. But the Labour Party Co-ordinating Committee said that this measure had been passed by the Coordinating Committee and at that time was in the hands of the Minister responsible.
§ Mr. Macleod
I hope that the Home Secretary will have an investigation made into this matter. This is, after all, five or six months before the date which we have been given this, according to the Home Secretary. Perhaps he will tell us—or the Minister of State will later tonight—what is the real position in relation to this matter.
I am very ready to lay this document before the House, or to make it fully available to the Press. On 14th December the following went out from the Conservative Central Office to the constituency chairmen, constituency agents and borough leaders:It has been brought to my notice that the London Labour Party has approached the Home Secretary with proposals to change the date of the Borough Elections from 1967 to 1968.and then:I have not been notified formally of this proposal, but I understand the Labour Party are confident that this measure will be presented and passed in this session of Parliament.The date of that was 14th December. I will make it available to the right hon. Lady the Minister of State before she speaks tonight. There is no secrecy about this document. What I want to know is: when did this matter first come to the notice of the Home Secretary, because it seems quite clear that the account which he gave to the House this afternoon is not one which can be squared with the facts?
I turn now to the claim that this meeting on 28th January was unanimous, according to the claim made by the Home Secretary, and according to the claim made by its chairman in The Times. It would be very odd if it were unanimous, because among the members present were Conservative representatives from Bromley and Merton, both of which boroughs were among the small number 247 of those who were totally opposed to the change.
I can prove that the meeting was not unanimous. The London Boroughs Association met on 28th January. A notice went out and—I have it here, and, again, I will make it available—a letter dated 10th February from the Conservative Central Office which says:I have been asked by Alderman C. Jordan, the Conservative Minority Leader on the London Boroughs Committee, to write to you with reference to a decision published in Minutes with regard to the proposed change of the borough election date from 1967 to 1968.He says that he would like to make it clear on behalf of the Minority Party that while there was an expression of opinion at the Sub-Committee Meeting that the staggering of the election date was very desirable"—and I will come to this in a moment—it was made perfectly clear by Conservative members present that the question of any alteration was a matter entirely for each individual London borough to decide.The matter was subsequently raised at the next meeting of the association by Alderman Jordan, our leader on that committee, by Alderman Parkin, of Bromley, and by Councillor Mrs. Derriman, of Merton, all of whom objected to the inference that the decision was unanimous.
Even so, the minutes were not changed and the Home Secretary and Mr. Prichard proceeded on the assumption that the decision was an all-party one. It may well be that the Home Secretary has been misled—
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I have not been misled. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman seems to have prepared his speech before listening to mine. The only mention I made of the word "unanimous" was in reference to the working party of town clerks.
§ Mr. Macleod
Certainly, if the Home Secretary wishes; but he based his earlier case on the recommendations of the London Boroughs Association. It is to that I referred, and he will find that what 248 I have said is entirely accurate, as he would have found had he bothered to check these matters himself; but it is quite clear that he did not.
The position is that ever since December of last year every Member of Parliament—
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)
This is becoming rather confusing. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to which particular committee he is referring. Is it the full committee of the London Boroughs Association, or what is called the special committee of the London Boroughs Association?
§ Mr. Macleod
The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that the full committee had the full report of the subcommittee before it. I am referring to exactly what Mr. Norman Prichard referred to in The Times. He said:The suggestion that the borough elections fixed for 1967 should be postponed was considered by the Association special committee which is composed of members of both parties, and agreed unanimously,…".I have shown to the House that this is not true.
The position is that ever since December every Member of Parliament—I take it, on both sides of the House—has known that the London Labour Party has approached the Home Secretary on this particular proposal; that he was, I assume, brooding over it; and that the London Labour Party was confident that it would be carried during this Session of Parliament. In the list which we have, of the boroughs which wholly supported the proposition originally made by Greenwich, that the borough elections next year should be put off, the London Labour-held marginal boroughs are included in that support. Enfield supports it. Brent supports it. Ealing supports it. Camden supports it, and Hillingdon supports it. Those are the five boroughs the Conservatives would have to gain to get control of the Greater London Council.
Does not this unanimity suggest anything to the Home Secretary's innocent mind? Does it not occur to him that it is extremely convenient to those boroughs to have another year of power? Has he not noticed that the next tranche, 249 such as Bexley, Lambeth and Hounslow, are equally enthusiastic for this particular change? Does this suggest nothing to the Home Secretary? Does he realise that no marginal borough seat has asked for this protection? Does he realise that there is no shown agreement, no overwhelming agreement, amongst boroughs, and that this Bill is his decision? Does he realise the position the Labour majority in those boroughs will be in in succeeding years if, at the next G.L.C. elections—we cannot peer into the future and say definitely—those five seats were to fall to the Tories and the G.L.C.? They will be in by sufferance of the Home Secretary, who has bought for them an extra year of power.
The Home Secretary dealt with two precedents, and I will refer to them both. He seems quite unconscious that both of them tell against and not for the arguments which he sought to put to the House. In 1963, the L.C.C. was coming to an end, and it was to be submerged in the greater entity of the G.L.C. There were no further elections for the L.C.C., but there were elections at the earliest possible moment, which was the spring of 1964, for both the G.L.C. and the London boroughs and there was a year while this vast change was worked out.
My right hon. Friend the then Minister for Housing and Local Government, the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), put this forward on the Second Reading of the London Government Bill. It was not challenged or referred to throughout the whole of that debate, nor, with the exception of an Amendment on aldermen and the question of delaying the election, was it referred to in Committee. Nor was it referred to in all the long proceedings which we had—of which some were under the Guillotine, so that, perhaps, discussion could not be as full as Members wished.
What happened then was done by agreement. What is to happen today is not by agreement—and that is what matters. What was done then was wholly sensible and the Opposition of the day did not criticise it, because it was sensible. It is not a question of making a party point. The Opposition agreed with what was being done at that particular time. The elections in 1963 were held at the earliest possible moment, and there was 250 no question of seeking to defer them, which is the position which we have before the House now.
The other precedent, which the Home Secretary skipped over much more quickly, is the 1948 one. Mr. Chuter Ede, as he then was, when speaking in the Second Reading debate on 10th February, 1948, said:We propose that after the election of these two bodies the years shall not be synchronised and the Metropolitan Councils to be elected in 1949 will stay until 1953. They will be elected for four years and thereafter the London County Council elections will take place in one year, and the Metropolitan Borough Council elections will take place 13 months afterwards.The important precedent was Mr. Chuter Ede's declared objective of having L.C.C. elections separate from the metropolitan borough elections, and that is precisely the objective which the Home Secretary has put before the House of Commons.
The right way to do it is not to abandon the election, but to do as Mr. Chuter Ede, as he then was, proposed and carried in this House in 1948; that in the next election, if one wished to choose, the borough councillors should be elected for either two years or four years and that thereafter the elections should be triennial. This is exactly the point which was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he said that the separation… could simply and properly be done by altering the term for which borough councillors are elected in 1967 from three years to either two years or four years. The electors' rights would then be fully safeguarded.So the precedent of 1948 tells against the action that the Home Secretary is contemplating and for the alternatives that we will move in Committee—that either two years or four years, if a change has to be made, is the appropriate period for the borough council elections.
I said earlier that I would say something about the comprehensive proposals in relation to my own Borough of Enfield. There is violent controversy in that borough over the plan for one-tier comprehensive schools in widely separated buildings. In the Spectator this week—and I have now nothing to do with this periodical, but I am sure that the Home Secretary still reads it—there is an article by Ralph Harris entitled, "How not to go comprehensive". It deals entirely 251 with the Enfield plan. Ralph Harris is a constituent of mine, and he is the Director of the Instiute of Economic Affairs.
The point here is that this matter can, inevitably, only be decided at a political level. There is no question about that. Whatever may be the arguments, in the end the question of the future of children—and, of course, I take my example from my own constituency—in Enfield will depend on which party has the majority on the local council. But for this Bill, that matter would have been decided, certainly for these critical years, in the spring of 1967.
I am quite certain that the Labour councillors are content with the Bill. I am quite certain that the two members of the Government—neither of whom is here at present, although the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. John Mackie) was here for the Home Secretary's speech—are content with this Bill, but what we ask is that the people should have the right to decide this, and that the Government should not take this right from them.
Perhaps I may here quote from the Enfield Gazette of Friday, 28th October:It now seems a virtual certainty that the London Government Bill, which will disenfranchise local voters for a year by putting off the borough elections until 1968, will become law. And once more the law will have been made to look an ass by this Labour Government.When the Home Secretary was responding on 28th April to the hon. Member for Orpington he said, at the end of their exchange:However, to make the change requires legislation, which confronts us with considerable difficulties from the point of view of time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1966; Vol. 727, c. 927.]The right hon. Gentleman knows very well how short Parliamentary time is, and that there are a score of matters of the highest importance in the files and pigeonholes of the Home Office which the whole House would like to see brought forward. He knows very well that by taking the time of the House on a Measure of this nature he is pushing them further back; is, perhaps, making it impossible for some Measures which he and I would 252 like to see, to reach the Statute Book at an early date.
The Home Secretary gave a list some time ago—or a list was worked out from his various comments. There is the question of maintenance orders and of fire legislation. We have no time for those matters, but we have time for this Bill. There is the question of finding time for ratifying the United Nations Genocide Convention—we cannot find time for that, but we can find time to upset the timing of the borough council elections next year.
There is the question of the control of drugs. The first letter in The Times this morning is from Dr. Hawes, and is called "A Year After the Drugs Report". It is a passionate and angry plea for action by the Home Office in this field. Dr. Hawes has been given a fairly swift reply, has he not? What the Home Secretary has now said is, "The Government have no time to deal with the control of drugs until we have finished fiddling the date of the London borough elections".
The Home Secretary, if I may say so, is justly admired for many Parliamentary qualities. I have been glad to share with him a number of non-political and non-parliamentary causes. Nevertheless, I think that he will live to regret this day's work—indeed, I suspect that he regrets it already, because he has proved himself to be sadly innocent.
The right hon. Gentleman did not know anything like the story of what really happened in all those months before he came to the House and made this announcement. Almost any Labour—or Tory—Member of Parliament with a constituency anywhere near London could have told him. We know who the author of this Bill is. It is not the Home Secretary. It is not the Leader of the House. It is not the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It is the Chairman of the London Labour Party, who is the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not here this afternoon. This is his victory—we know that perfectly well. This is what the London Labour Party wishes to achieve.
The Home Secretary has shown the House this afternoon that he knows nothing of what really happened. He has 253 allowed himself to become a front man for a very disreputable piece of backstairs manæuvring, and he knows that to be true. He has proceeded without agreement and against the particular precedents which he took pleasure in citing. He has given precious Parliamentary time to this very unhappy Bill to take people's rights away from them, rather than to the many important matters of social reform which are crowding in on his head at the Home Office. We will oppose this sordid Bill with all our strength.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
I cannot help feeling that a lot of the indignation we have heard expressed from the other side today has been very synthetic. The arguments put forward have not been at all convincing. The fact is that there is at present a great deal of confusion about local government in Greater London. When the Greater London Council elections took place in 1946 they were proceeded by a great deal of ballyhoo and publicity, and the electors got used to the idea that the council they were being called upon to elect—the Greater London Council—would probably be one of the largest and most powerful local authorities in the world.
Since those elections in April, 1964, the Greater London Council, probably because it is so vast, has gradually and inevitably become not so close to the electors as are the borough councils. It has tended to recede. To the ordinary person living in Greater London—and certainly to the person living in any of the outer London boroughs—"the council" is the borough council, and not the Greater London Council.
We have a situation, also, in which not many people in our constituencies would be able to name their London borough councillors, but even fewer could name their Greater London councillors—and we would have to go a long way before we could find people who could outline the rational division of functions and services between the Greater London Council and the new London boroughs.
Surely there can be no doubt in this situation that there will be much less confusion if these two sets of elections take place, at the earliest opportunity, in different years, exactly as the Bill proposes.
254 This will be much better not only for the public, but also for the politicians engaged in the elections. The public will have a much better chance to bring their attention on one set of arguments in a given year. In 1967, they will be able to concentrate on the big and exciting plans of the G.L.C. for Greater London development, the control of traffic and motorways. In 1968, in the borough council elections, they will be able to concentrate on the vital local proposals for badly needed housing developments or the personal health services provided by the London boroughs.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, I am sure that there is ample evidence that people are "fed up" with one set of elections coming on top of another. Rightly, I think, voters dislike being called upon to vote more frequently than they feel necessary. If they are to have local elections in April, they do not see why they should be called upon to turn out again in May. If the two elections are held on the same day, which was the original proposition, confusion is created because one is doing nothing to separate the two sets of arguments being put before the electors. One does nothing to get concentration of argument on the borough councils on the one hand, and on the G.L.C., on the other.
Every hon. Member will agree that it is hard enough to raise resources and mount an effective campaign in local government and to get enough interest among the electors in one election, let alone for another immediately afterwards, and, even less, for two elections taking place on the same day. I do not know whether hon. Members have talked to their agents about this matter. I cannot believe that their party agents are as wildly enthusiastic about their arguments as they themselves seem to be. It is surely in the interests of good local government that the political parties should be able to mobilise as effective campaigns in local elections as possible. The great problem of local government is apathy. The figures of London elections are not as bad as those in the rest of the country, but are bad enough.
In 1964, the average percentage poll for the new London boroughs was 35.7—not nearly as good as the 44.2 per cent. cast in the G.L.C. election that year. 255 Nevertheless, both figures were still very low and surely these local authorities are so large and so important that we should be doing all we can to create more interest in these elections and to raise the number of electors casting their votes.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I do not think that there will be the slightest risk of there being apathy on 13th April, 1967, because my discussions with constituents and others leads me to the conclusion that the majority of Londoners are determined this time to get the Labour Party out of London government, which it has held for 33 wasted years.
§ Mr. Barnes
I do not know about the question of creating more interest, but everything that the Labour Party puts forward here and elsewhere designed to create more interest in elections of this kind seems to be opposed by hon. Members opposite and their friends outside. Perhaps they base their opposition at the moment on the theory that the best way to get back on their feet is to oppose practically everything that is put forward.
For example, surely everyone will agree that there is serious ignorance in London about the functions and services carried out by the G.L.C. and the boroughs. But when the G.L.C. put forward big proposals for an expanded information service, this was promptly opposed by the Conservative opposition on the G.L.C.—why, I am not sure because it is surely reasonable that the voters of London should have as much information as possible about the way that the considerable sums of money they pay in rates are being spent.
Today, when we have before us the proposal to separate these two sets of elections, which is again something that will make it easier for the electors to concentrate on the essential interests before them, we have another Opposition attack. I cannot help thinking that this is all part of the same sort of clumsy strategy which the Opposition and their friends think will impress the voters of Greater London in time for the elections next April.
The same sort of strategy has gone into the preparation of a booklet with the hoary old slogan, "Time for a change in Greater London". The only reason I mention it is that, if we are really serious 256 about trying to interest the electorate much more than they are interested at the moment in local affairs, and getting them to vote in larger numbers, there is a classic example in this booklet of how not to do it. The booklet contains a message from Mr. Desmond Plummer, leader of the Conservative opposition on the G.L.C., to the electors of London and a serious libel against education in the London area. It is, I believe, an insult to the very electors for whom hon. Members opposite are so anxious to preserve their democratic rights.
At one moment, hon. Members opposite want to preserve democratic rights and in the next throw about insults like this. It is on page 13. Some statistics are quoted about the levels of education in schools and then there is a misleading piece under the phrase "school leavers" which, to practically everyone, means secondary school leavers but is used by Mr. Plummer in the sense of primary school leavers. This is compared with the statistics he quotes to give a totally misleading example of the standard of education provided in Greater London.
We have not heard from the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) today charges of gerrymandering, although they have been mentioned in the Press in the last few days and elsewhere outside the House. The Opposition would do better to stop their friends outside from making the sort of statement that Mr. Plummer makes in his booklet rather than making charges of gerrymandering which do not stand up. If there has been any gerrymandering, it was done in the reorganisation of local government in London itself, although "gerrymandering" is perhaps too strong a word even for that.
The reorganisation inherited from the last Government is not ideal. The outer London boroughs certainly tend to be too small for many of the services previously administered by counties and too big for many of the necessary local services which were previously administered so well by the old boroughs. But we are stuck with this reorganisation and now have to make it work. The Bill to separate the two sets of elections represents an entirely logical step in the direction of making the whole system work better.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) achieved the considerable Parliamentary feat of making an election speech in support of the proposition that there should not be an election. His main contribution otherwise to the debate appeared to be that, at any rate in Brentford and Chiswick, there was some ignorance among the populace of the nature and appearance of their councillors.
If the hon. Member be right, and I have no doubt that he is if he says it, I suggest to him that one of the best ways in which to get these councillors known to their fellow citizens is to have an election at which they can stand and put forward their cases and perhaps even show their faces. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has taken the argument very far, and I therefore turn to the Home Secretary.
The Home Secretary rightly has the reputation of being, with the arguable exception of the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister would argue it, anyhow—the best debater on the Government Front Bench. In the light of that reputation, one must view his very unhappy speech this afternoon with very special significance. After the revelations by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) of what really happened, I think that the House will look rather strangely at the right hon. Gentleman's speech about this careful analysis and examination of the administrative problems of town clerks and his powerful weighing-up of the advantages and disadvantages of having elections on the same day.
All this was very agreeably done, but, as I think the House now realises, it was wholly unreal. What the right hon. Gentleman has to answer is how he justifies a proposal to continue for a further year the election of those who were elected to borough councils in 1964 and whose term of office is now not far from expiring. He can justify what is obviously a diminution of the rights of the electors only either by showing that there is general party agreement, or that there are such changes of area and reorganisation as to make it inevitable from a practical point of view. He did not attempt to establish either of those.
258 Nor did the right hon. Gentleman address himself, except for a passing reference, to the fact that if it were desired in future years to separate the G.L.C. from the borough council elections, it would be perfectly simple to do it by going forward with the elections for the boroughs this May and by enacting that those then elected should be elected for two years or, if he prefers, for four. In the case of the four-year alternative, that would follow precisely the precedent in a very similar situation set by Mr. Chuter Ede, Lord Chuter-Ede as he became, in the Representation of the People Act, 1948, a Measure which did not show an entirely meticulous disregard in other matters for the interests of the Labour Party.
The right hon. Gentleman has done none of those things. All this argument about the disadvantages of combining elections on the same day is utterly irrelevant to what under the present law will happen next April and next May. The elections will be separated in any event by four weeks. It is only when we come to 1970, under the London Government Act, that they come together. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman does not this spring have to deal with the problems, of which he gave an admirable analysis, of combined elections, for they do not arise this spring.
The practical issue which he must answer is why in the circumstances of the day he has come forward not with a proposal after, I would have thought, the inter-party discussion which is normal in these matters, for two or four-year terms for those to be elected, but quite unilaterally with this proposal to continue the elected life of these councillors for another year.
The right hon. Gentleman's doing so involves sacrificing various social measures in the files of his Department. He must know that a Measure of this kind will be bitterly controversial and, quite properly, will take a certain amount of Parliamentary time. He is sacrificing those social Measures which he said at the Dispatch Box one afternoon last summer, as he may remember, included a variety of measures, which, he said with a charming smile, he fully favoured, but for which, he regretted, Parliamentary time could not be found. He has found Parliamentary time for this Measure.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
This is an interesting but "phoney" argument, because the Conservative Party, when making arrangements to destroy the L.C.C., gave that priority over the appalling problems of housing in London and of Rachmanism.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
This is an interesting diversion and I hope that I shall be allowed to follow it up. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) took the most energetic measures to deal with the lack of housing in London, as is well known. The answer to the somewhat prejudiced remarks about my right hon. Friend's actions in respect of the old L.C.C., is that those measures followed upon an independent Royal Commission which exhaustively examined the whole of the issues of local government in the Greater London area and proposed radical reforms. So far from not dealing with the housing problem, bringing the machinery of local government in Greater London up to date from its 1884 model must have been helpful rather than a hindrance.
However, I shall not be diverted from the Home Secretary, who gave his own reasons for this Measure in the famous Answer to my Parliamentary Question of 4th August. Perhaps I may first take up a matter to which I referred in an intervention. There is no question but that the right hon. Gentleman misled the House on 4th August. There is equally no question but that he did so inadvertently. I think that he will recall the correspondence which I had with him, that I wrote to him on 8th August, and that it was in reply to that letter and not on his own initiative that he took any steps to put the matter right, by writing to me with a copy to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) to explain that on this matter I was right and he was wrong.
I remind him that I ended my letter with this short paragraph:If I am right about this then I think you will agree that your supplementary answer, particularly in the light of the terms of my original question, is misleading and should be cleared up.So far as I know, with the exception of a most courteous letter to me, the right hon. Gentleman has taken no steps to 260 explain to the House that he misled it on 4th August and even when he gave the accurate facts this afternoon, as he did, he did not apologise as he might have taken the opportunity to do for having given wrong information on 4th August.
I come to the right hon. Gentleman's own reasons for the Bill. Asked the reason for these proposals, he said:Because of the low polls which would be likely to result from two local government elections being held in successive months in 1967; and because of the administrative difficulties and the risk of confusion to the electors likely to result from elections for both tier authorities being held on the same day in later years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1966; Vol. 733, c. 667.]The latter point is wholly irrelevant to this issue, as I have already said. The first is not sustained by the facts. My right hon. Friend has given the figures for percentages of polls when elections have been held together and when they have been separated, and they do not sustain the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I do not know on what he bases it. The only possible support is to be found in the recent falling-off of Labour support, but perhaps that is not a matter for which my right hon. Friends are responsible, except in so far as their advocacy has been so effective.
Let us dissect this issue. There is no physical or practical necessity for doing it this way. There is no party agreement. What the right hon. Gentleman is doing in these circumstances is simply to keep in office and authority, by the use of the Government's majority in the House of Commons, councillors whose mandate would expire on 11th May, next year.
This is something wrong in principle. The right hon. Gentleman referred to precedents, both of which have been blown out of the water. I can provide him with a precedent, although I have to go back 250 years for it. The right hon. Gentleman is an eminent historian and he will appreciate that the only germane precedent is the debates of 1716 on the Septennial Act. Professor Grant Robinson in Selected Statutes, Cases and Documents, comments thatthere can be little doubt that the Ministry, in passing the Act, were influenced primarily by the political situation and not by the theoretical or practical constitutional benefits urged on behalf of a change in the law.This shows how little things change in this country of ours. I would like to 261 read an extract from the splendid protest put forward by 31 peers at the time, including names which are familiar, I am delighted, to say, in our political life of today. The protest said:Because it is agreed, that the House of Commons must be chosen by the people, and when so chosen, they are truly the representatives of the people, which they cannot be so properly said to be, when continued for a longer time than that for which they were chosen; for after that time they are chosen by the Parliament, and not the people, who are thereby deprived of the only remedy which they have against those, who either do not understand, or through corruption, do wilfully betray the trust deposed in them; which remedy is to choose better men in their places.That is exactly appropriate, 250 years later, to the state of affairs in London.
There is the crucial issue of secondary education and its organisation. The House agrees that this is crucial, and with this agreement, surely this issue should not be decided by one single body whose political complexion is determined not by free elections, but by the intervention of external legislation? Whatever view one takes, and I am not a fanatic one way or the other on the difficult question of comprehensive education, the local will should be ascertained properly at elections in the boroughs where these decisions will have to be taken in the coming year.
It is no coincidence that this action by the Home Secretary is being taken in respect of the year 1967–68, which will be; decisive in the sphere of secondary education reorganisation. I cannot believe that hon. Members opposite who feel, and I acknowledge it, a passionate enthusiasm for comprehensive education, would like to think that it had been introduced in a borough as the result of a political trick. They would like to feel that it had been introduced, if it be introduced, upon the basis of fair and open elections at normal times, with a free vote for those whose interests are at issue.
In 1966, it was not a major issue, but it would be in 1967 if the right hon. Gentleman allows people to vote on it. This is not just a question of education. There are London boroughs in which it is essential to determine the will of the people as quickly as possible. Take Camden, on the management of whose housing the district auditor has recently 262 reported, and drawn the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the fact that the ratepayers are contributing by way of a subsidy in respect of dwellings more than council tenants are contributing by way of rent.
It may be that Camden wants to run its affairs this way. It may be that it does not. Should not the electors have their normal opportunity to decide this? Take Camden again, where the dominant Labour Party has set up a committee, served by the officers of the council, confined solely to members of the Labour Party, and with every member of the minority party excluded. It seems to me that to use officials, employed at the cost of the ratepayers, for this purpose is an abuse. Again, Camden may take a different view, and all that I am saying is that the people of the borough should be given the opportunity to express their views.
A further example is Havering, where, as the House knows, there has been every sort of difficulty on the council, where the leader of the Labour Party and another councillor had to be ejected by the police on the instructions of the mayor because of their efforts to bring local government to a standstill. Surely the people of Havering are entitled to pronounce on the way that they want matters conducted in their name?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman, and it is the more surprising in view of his background and intellectual gifts, has appreciated what a serious thing it is, save by agreement, or under the stress of compelling practical necessity, to extend by legislation, the term for which people were originally elected. The right hon. Gentleman seemed not to understand that distinction when he referred to what Mr. Chuter Ede did in 1949, when he said that there he had provided that people should be elected for four years. Of course, but people knew at the time that they were electing them that they were electing them for four years and not for three. That is the distinction, and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, should not appreciate that distinction, with the acute-ness of mind which we all admire in him, is one of the most surprising features of this debate.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that there is necessarily any party political advantage in the postponement of these elections? Surely, in these mercurial times, the opposite might well turn out to be the truth?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is very easy to answer the hon. Lady. If she has any doubts about this let her hold the elections. If she wants evidence as to what has actuated her right hon. Friend let me remind her of what has been happening in council by-elections these last few weeks. In Croydon, on 3rd November, the Labour vote fell from 1,273 to 358, in Greenwich the Labour vote fell from 1,446 to 881, in Redbridge it fell from 2,685 to 1,402.
If the hon. Lady, after those figures, has any doubts as to the wisdom of her friends in the London Labour Party seeking to postpone the election, then—and I am sorry that she should entertain such undisciplined thoughts—let her go to them and say that in view of the way in which the situation has developed, in the face of the breakdown of the Home Secretary's argument this afternoon, they should withdraw their request, and ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill. If she will do that and hold the elections in May, then the dispute between us can be resolved in the proper democratic way, by the votes of the people.
§ Mrs. Jeger
The trend which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, in reading out those figures, would lead one to suppose that the Labour Party was seriously disadvantaging itself by allowing a further postponement of the elections.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It suggests that the Labour Party has every reason to seek to avoid an election next May, because it knows that it will lose a lot of boroughs then. Equally it knows, for the reasons I have given, how important, in the broadest sense, power in these boroughs will be in the year in issue. That is why this is happening and the hon. Lady knows this perfectly well.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West said about the Home Secretary's part in this. It is unhappy to see him involved in a squalid compact with the bosses of the London Labour Party, over a measure whose 264 main political purpose is now perfectly apparent for all to see. The right hon. Gentleman is not, as he knows, at the moment the blue-eyed boy of the boys in blue, but the right hon. Gentleman will be the mascot of the London Labour Party junta. That is a poor consolation for a Home Secretary; it is a poor compensation for the holder of one of the greatest and most honourable of the offices held under the Crown, and I hope that even now the right hon. Gentleman will see that his own personal dignity, the standing of the Government and the standing of Parliament will be best served if he would take the courageous step of withdrawing the Bill.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I listened with great interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It was a very good, well-argued speech.
§ Mr. Iain Madeod indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) shakes his head. Somebody described my right hon. Friend's speech as unhappy. I saw no signs of unhappiness on my right hon. Friend's face. He made a well-reasoned speech, deserving of examination in detail by the Opposition.
What have we had from the Opposition? I listened very carefully trying to keep as open a mind as I could—it is very difficult when listening to hon. Members opposite—and to find a logical argument put forward by the Opposition. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West has a suspicious mind. He is always looking for something suspicious. Why cannot he see the logic of this Bill and the arguments in favour of it? He used such words as "a backstairs manoeuvre". He tried to work himself up into a state of indignation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) said, it was obviously synthetic indignation.
It ill becomes hon. Members opposite to use words about this Measure like "a backstairs manoeuvre" or "gerrymandering". I had the pleasure of being present—sometimes I do not know whether it was a pleasure—when the London Government Bill was debated on Second Reading. I served on the Committee which considered the Bill. 265 The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) made a mistake when he referred to an Amendment about aldermen. I think that I supported him on that. At any rate, he gave me a good deal of support in the opposition which we voiced against the then Government. If ever there was gerrymandering and backstairs manoeuvring, it was the London Government Bill, 1963. If ever there was a waste of time instead of attention being paid to housing and matters which really counted, it was that Bill.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) talked about his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and the wonderful work which he did in housing. What a statement to make when one remembers the Rent Act, 1957, when the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and what happened afterwards.
All that we have had from the Opposition is accusation, suspicion and the suggestion that there was something behind the Bill, not reasoned arguments.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman should explain whether the strictures which he is passing on my right hon. Friends concerning the London Government Act, 1963, extend to the Royal Commission's Report, in whose precise terms the Act was framed.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The House has heard what I said in criticising what was said by the two Opposition speakers. I think that that criticism was well justified. I suggest to the hon. Member that if he carefully reads HANSARD, analyses their speeches and looks for a logical argument on the Bill, he will see that my criticism was well justified.
I wish to deal with the Bill on the basis of reasoned argument. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West wondered whether the London Labour Party went behind the scenes and made representations. I have not the faintest idea what the London Labour Party did, but I am sure that if it made representations they were not of the kind put forward by the right hon. Gentleman but were reasoned, logical arguments. It is no good hon. Members opposite smiling. We 266 are here to discuss the matter logically, not with suspicion. I wish to put forward a logical argument on why the Bill should be supported.
I do not know how much experience the right hon. Members for Enfield, West and Kingston-upon-Thames have concerning London County Council elections, Greater London Council elections or borough council elections. I have experienced a good many of them. I have seen how the machinery of them works. Is it genuinely suggested that if we have G.L.C. and borough council elections on the same day we shall have a satisfactory result? Let us think of the matter seriously. After all, we are trying to give a real opportunity to the G.L.C. and the borough councils to hold elections on a proper basis, and we want to ensure that as many citizens as possible vote.
If the elections are held on the same day, think of what it means, first, from the point of view of voting.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
If that be a problem—and it may be—does not the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that it does not arise until 1970 and that it is quite irrelevant to the proposal before us today?
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am sorry, but I propose to deal with both possibilities—a combined election and elections with a month or so in between—and to show how stupid it is to suggest that it could be done from a practical point of view.
A combined election would obviously be completely unworkable. There would be a list of candidates for the G.L.C. and a long list of candidates for the county borough elections. The poor electors would not know where they were. There would be difficulty about the administrative machinery. There would be a poor poll and the electors would be very mixed up.
Suppose that there is a month or so between the G.L.C. election and the borough council elections. I hope that hon. Members opposite realise what a toll it is on the patience, industry and energy of electors when they have to face elections held with an interval of a month or so in between them. They do not like it. They will not go to the polls. There is every ground for apathy. It is bad enough when a General Election is 267 followed by a by-election in a constituency. One knows how electors feel about that situation. That again is unworkable.
What does the Bill propose? It simply puts the matter on a sound administrative basis. One need not be suspicious about it. One can recognise that the machinery will work. It sets out the dates and the intervals at which elections will take place and it gives the electors a proper opportunity of dealing with the matter. We should remember that electors must have the opportunity of discussing things and of recording their votes.
I beg the Opposition to look at the matter dispassionately. Let them try to rid their minds of suspicion. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) raised a very important point which should appeal to hon. Members opposite. Why does it follow that if we postpone the election for a year hon. Members opposite will not get what they want? Are they absolutely certain that they will be defeated then? I expect that they are. But surely they should put a good face on it. Let them try to appear to be optimistic. They know that they will be beaten next year. Are they optimistic enough to think that they may be beaten the year after? They may not be. Who knows? They live in hope. Let them have another year in which they can put forward their case about suspicion and criticism of the Government and in which they can attack the Government. There is hope for them, is there not?
Why, therefore, this criticism of one year's delay? Perhaps the reason is that it is opposition for opposition's sake and that the only reason for the suspicion of hon. Members opposite is that they themselves have been so guilty of gerrymandering that they cannot believe that we are giving them an honest deal.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I join issue at once with the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and with his hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes), both of whom said that they consider the speech of their right hon. 268 Friend the Home Secretary a good one. I presume to think mat it was a very poor speech. The Home Secretary's case was not justified at all. Whatever has been said in defence or otherwise, the fact remains that at the end of the day—to quote the Prime Minister's favourite expression—this postponement is for political party ends.
The Home Secretary—I am sorry that he it not in his place; I recognise that he must have his tea break—is the head of a great Department administering justice and fair-mindedness. People look to that Department. The right hon. Gentleman is a member of a Government with a huge majority. Should he not bend backwards to appear fair rather than lend himself to this squalid manoeuvre? The Home Secretary bases his case on the advice that has been given to him by his administrative experts, and yet, when it suits him, as in the case of the Wembley re-warding, he ignores the advice of his experts. That argument, therefore, falls to the ground.
The Government and hon. Members opposite know in their hearts that this postponement will advantage the Labour Government and the Labour Party. There is no question of the advisability of having elections in alternate years. Of course, a case can be made for that, but not for postponement when these councils were elected for three years.
During the few minutes that I intend to speak, I propose to deploy similar arguments to those used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) but in relation to my part of the country. I hope to show how a postponement of these elections would give tremendous political advantage to the Labour-controlled council of the London Borough of Brent. In revealing this, I will also show something of what Socialism and a Socialist Government have meant to Wembley. Before Wembley was merged, unhappily—[HON. MEMBERS: "By the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own Government."] I agree. I voted 18 times against my own Government. I fought the merger tooth and nail, with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell). The hon. Members who represented Willesden did not want it either, but it took place.
269 Before the merger, Wembley had the lowest rate in the country. Wembley's municipal housing was in balance. It had a differential rent scheme. It was a very desirable place. It is very different today. The Labour-dominated Brent Council wanted to be the first in the Greater London area to have comprehensive education. It put forward the most hotchpotch scheme, as the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, will agree. He had to reject it.
Wembley was a preponderantly Tory area. We were merged with an area half as big again which was solidly Labour. We did not have a chance at the election. We fought and we did very well. The Socialists took all the aldermanic seats. I do not complain. They have taken them; they have set a precedent. They may be taken away at a future date. It is very hard to win seats, but we are winning them at by-elections. Therefore, the London Borough of Brent desired to postpone the elections. It has a hotchpotch comprehensive scheme. The delay will give it a further year to get it settled.
Even before the merger, the council had written to householders in my constituency asking whether they were prepared to sell their houses. The Council bought a few, probably at exorbitant prices. When Brent Council was formed, it slapped compulsory purchase orders on all the other houses and destroyed existing schemes for political ends. There is bitterness in Wembley. There has been an inquiry, but even before its result is known a second phase of compulsory purchase has been announced.
The Labour-controlled Brent Council decided to re-ward, and it has re-warded the whole of Brent. The Tories naturally objected because this scheme suits the Socialist majority. The Home Secretary appointed a commission. Strangely enough, the commissioner was the same one who was appointed at Northampton. He recommended that the Council should do nothing and that the status quo should be maintained. Then, unfortunately, no doubt because of Northampton, he added that if there had to be a change, he preferred the Socialist scheme to the Tory scheme.
The Home Secretary now rejects the advice of his administrative expert because it suits him and the Labour Party. He 270 has decided to do away with the status quo and to have the Labour scheme. If the elections are postponed for 12 months, the Brent Borough Council can re-ward the area with the new wards. Without postponement, there would not be time to do it. One therefore sees the advantage for the Labour-controlled Borough of Brent; and so I could go on.
The Home Secretary is a respected man. It is rather tragic that he is to be associated with this squalid deal, for it is a squalid deal. He may not have known it. He ought to have known. There is only one thing he can do, and that is to withdraw the Bill or resign.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)
I rise to give some support to the Bill. We have had a great deal of attempts, both inside the Chamber this afternoon and outside on previous occasions, to import a certain amount of political heat into the discussion, but for the life of me I cannot understand why. I support the Bill as a party worker in the Greenwich constituency for a number of years, as a councillor of the London Borough of Greenwich until September this year and from my general experience which I have achieved as a result.
The Bill is a rational, moderate alteration in the system of government which we have in London, the effects of which will be very short-lived. After the alteration has been made, the system will settle down to a steady pattern over the years and in a very short time people who look back to HANSARD will wonder what was the reason for the storm, heat, fury and emotion of this afternoon and for the speech of the Leader of the Opposition on 24th October.
It is a good thing to have differing views on these subjects, but let us have a little temperate language about them when we express them, particularly on an issue which is extremely modest. I always try to be fair to my opponents. For that reason, I was disappointed, but not really surprised, when the Leader of the Opposition, speaking elsewhere on 24th October, came out with a passionate denunciation of this modest little Bill of two or three Clauses and called it a squalid Measure. "Gerrymandering" was another word used by the right hon. 271 Gentleman. He really went to town on it.
If it is not too presumptuous on the part of a new Member to comment, the thing about the right hon. Gentleman is that, although he has integrity and ability, his political antennae often quiver in a small black technocratic box where the writ of the ordinary man in the street does not run. In other words, he lacks judgment, and he has gone wrong once again. He has no appreciation of what goes on at the grass roots of politics. If he ever had any activities in that sphere, he forgot about it a long time ago. He has gone wrong on this issue, as he has on many other issues, solely for that reason.
It is an issue which is not one of principle between hon. Gentlemen opposite and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) were both agreed that there is a lot to be said for staggering county elections and borough elections. It is purely a question of machinery, therefore, how we are to achieve the staggering. In London we have always been used to a pattern of having our borough elections in one year, our county council elections in the following year, and having a year off in the year after that. That has been the pattern for a great many years in London, and it is one to which I should like to see us return. The question is how we are to do it.
I am prompted to say that there is a thought here upon which we might ponder. Many countries have no difficulty at all in producing any number of professional politicians that one cares to mention at the drop of a hat. What is not exactly unique in this country but one of its major characteristics is that we can produce a tremendous number of people who, without seeking any reward for themselves, are willing to turn out and work in the democratic process of local government in Parliamentary and county council elections. We all know them. They are the people who man committee rooms, lick stamps, address envelopes, deliver literature and go round knocking on doors. When polling day comes, they bring the electors to the poll 272 in their cars and encourage them to come forth. They are Conservatives, Liberals and members of the Labour Party. They are Communists, even. They come from all walks of life, and they are very important people because they are the links between the elected representatives who sit on councils and in Parliament and the mass of the electorate.
I would go so far as saying that the chief experience of the average voter of a party political machine is not necessarily a personal call by the candidate during a Parliamentary, county or borough election. It is a call by one of these voluntary party workers. Those are the people whom we should cherish and look after. We should not try to break their backs by overworking them.
That is the main reason why I advocate a return to the old pattern of elections in the Greater London Council area, which was upset by the introduction of the London Government Act that started to operate in the spring of 1964. During that year, I was president of the Greenwich Labour Party, and I sometimes think that my nerves have not yet recovered from the fact that we had the Greater London Council elections in April, the borough council elections in May and, on top of those, a General Election in the October of that year. That is something which may happen again, and it means that the ordinary voluntary party worker has to give up about a month of his spare evenings to go out and help his side on each occasion. In 1964, a very large number of voluntary party workers in constituencies all over London must have given up nearly three months of spare evenings in order to support their local candidates. I submit that that is a burden which we ought not to put upon our voluntary workers.
I do not say that the voluntary worker should govern the system by which we consult the people of this country, but they are a very important factor to take into consideration. They have not received any mention from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and only my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) was good enough to mention them as a factor to be taken into consideration.
Having established that, the fact remains that the right hon. Member for 273 Bexley (Mr. Heath) produced a scheme which he thought would be preferable to the one which my right hon. Friend has put forward in this Bill. It was that the councillors retiring in 1967 should be elected either for two years or four years. He saw no difference between those two proposals. I should have thought, particularly as he was putting forward these proposals as a way of safeguarding the interests of the electorate, according to The Times of 25th October, that there was quite a considerable difference in principle between the two points. I should have been prepared to see, if it were possible, that the borough councillors elected in 1964 retired in 1966 and were elected for three-year periods thereafter. But that was asking much too much of the councils.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are largely responsible, above all, for the London Government Act. We on this side opposed it. Do not let us go over old arguments again, but it caused a colossal upheaval in the system of government in London. On top of the introduction of the new system of government and the difficult period of the reorganisation in 1966, to ask local borough councils to accept the extra burden of London borough elections would have set back the reorganisation by another six or twelve months. It would have compounded confusion with chaos, and I suggest that that was not a practicable situation.
Therefore, we are faced with some other alternative, and the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that would safeguard the interests of the electorate by ensuring that, from 1967 onwards, councillors for London boroughs would be elected only once every four years instead of once every three, does not show that fine regard for consulting the electorate which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have endeavoured to put forward this afternoon.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West has left the Chamber. If he is trying to get us to believe that we must postpone these elections from 1966 to 1967 in order to ensure that comprehensive education is accepted in London, he will have to think a lot harder. The obvious fact is that the majority of the electorate in the Greater 274 London area want comprehensive education, and postponing the elections from 1966 to 1967 will not save the right hon. Gentleman having to answer that point.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
No doubt inadvertently, the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) has twice referred to a postponement from 1966 to 1967. I am sure that he means the postponement which is proposed, from 1967 to 1968.
§ Mr. Moyle
I thank the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) for drawing my attention to that slip of the tongue. He is quite right. The postponement to which I am referring is that from 1967 to 1968.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was endeavouring to summon up some courage and optimism about the prospects of elections in the future by quoting some election figures which apparently he has got hold of. I endeavoured to intervene to ask him about them, so that I could point out the error of his ways. One of the constituencies which he mentioned was the ward which I repesented on the London Borough of Greenwich until September of this year. It is quite obvious that there are two reasons why the Labour vote fell on that occasion. Modesty forbids my mentioning the first reason, but the second reason is that the people in that are are not at all interested in by-elections. I can assure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that, when it comes to the general borough elections, whether they are in 1967 or 1968, that ward will turn out, and the Labour councillor who represents it will be top of the poll in the Greenwich borough elections, just as I was in 1964.
§ Mr. Moyle
It is still not good enough. I am talking about one particular ward in the London Borough of Greenwich on which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was pinning his hopes of a major election victory for the Conservatives, and I am telling the 275 right hon. Gentleman—and I am speaking from my knowledge and experience—that if that is all that he can rely on, there is not much hope for him, and that what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be doing this afternoon is suggesting that we postpone elections in London for all time.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West suggested that what he regarded as this sinister Measure originated from the Grenwich Labour Party, or at least from the London Borough of Greenwich. I was serving on the Greenwich Council when this supposedly sinister Measure was put forward. Our reasons for putting it forward were purely and simply in the interests of staggering the overlap between the G.L.C. elections and the London borough elections. As we come under the inner London education authority, we were not in the slightest interested in the pros and cons of comprehensive education. We have it in our part of London, and we are not interested in electoral advantage, because Greenwich is highly unlikely to go the way of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Gentleman said that he was not interested in electoral advantage because Greenwich was not likely to go against his party. Is that the only reason?
§ Mr. Moyle
I was thinking that, for practical purposes, it was patently obvious that Greenwich was not the sort of London borough which would be concerned with electoral advantage, because the proportional representation on the council is about 10 to 12 Conservatives to about 50 Labour councillors. In view of the hon. Gentleman's interruption, I should like to take the opportunity of saying in all matters of this sort I never think of electoral advantage. I think that it is proof prositive in view of the figures that I have given that the London Borough of Greenwich is unlikely to be concerned with considerations of electoral advantages.
Perhaps I might sum up my comments. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are making an awful lot of fuss about nothing in particular. I am sure that this is being done to keep crusty Con- 276 servative Party local association chairmen happy with the thought that their London representatives are carrying on a desperate battle on their behalf, and I think that that is the kind of spirit with which we should greet the remarks of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
As a new Member in the House, I am always grateful to those who have been here longer than I have for any lessons which they may give in the practices and techniques of the House. Today I am indeed grateful to the Home Secretary—and I am sorry that he is not here to hear me say this—for the lesson which he has given us in how to construct a case and an argument where no case and argument really exist, and to do so when, quite plainly, he has no intellectual confidence in the argument which he is seeking to put forward.
The right hon. Gentleman started very well by saying that he hoped that this would be a non-controversial Measure, and that there was no need for party politics to rear its ugly head. Having said that, he proceeded to inject party politics into the discussion by referring to the position in Kent, Essex, and Sussex in 1964, and then commenting on the presence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), and the part which they were likely to play in this debate.
What really caused me to think a great deal was the interchange between the two Front Benches about whether, on earlier occasions, the Home Secretary really meant a change, or the change. We were entering into realms of great sophistry, of which the Home Secretary is really a past master in this Chamber, and this type of sophistry, the blurring of this distinction between "a change" and "the change", was the fabric of his argument today for this Measure, because he put forward as his main contention for bringing it forward the great confusion which was likely to arise if the G.L.C. elections and the borough elections were held on the same day.
The right hon. Gentleman brought in aid the reports of returning officers, in which they said that there would be 277 great administrative confusion, there would be great difficulties over postal votes, there would be great difficulties about voting lists, and the poor electors would be in a complete whirl not knowing whether they were voting for borough councillors or G.L.C. councillors, if the elections took place on the same day.
Having posited that argument, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say, very generously, that of course there are other arguments the other way, which he did not specify, and the two lines of argument are very evenly balanced, either for having elections on the same day or for not having them on the same day.
Having disposed of that, the right hon. Gentleman then introduced this Bill, under which the elections are to be held in separate years. He then dealt with the argument about whether the elections should be held in different months in the same year. He put forward for saying that they should not be held in different months in the same year his case against having them on the same day. He did this so brilliantly that by the time he had finished speaking everyone accepted his argument for not having elections on the same day as an argument for not having them in the same year, and on this I compliment the right hon. Gentleman.
We must, however, clear our minds on this matter, and understand and appreciate what we are talking about. We are talking about whether we should have G.L.C. and borough elections in different months in 1967 or not. This is what we are talking about, and nothing else. We are; not talking about confusing the electors by having all the names on one list. We are not talking about the difficulties over postal votes because the elections are on the same day. We are talking about whether or not these elections should be in the same year.
The moment we appreciate that that is the point at issue, all the arguments which have been constructed or put forward from the other side, with the exception of one, and I shall come to that in a moment, fall to the ground. The one argument which stands is the argument of sympathy towards our party workers. This is the only argument which remains, that it is imposing on 278 party workers the great burden of having to fight two different elections within the short space of one month.
I am the first to acknowledge how much I owe to party workers. I should like to see their burden made as light as possible. But we are not here to consider the willingness or unwillingness of voluntary workers; we are considering the rights of the electorate, and this should be our prime consideration. What we have to decide is whether it is right to disfranchise the people of London for a further year in the circumstances that will obtain in that year. I invite the House to consider the question whether it is right to disfranchise the people of London for one year—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Rossi
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) for bringing a greater audience to listen to me. I am amazed to see the rapidity with which it is now disappearing, however. This shows the great interest of hon. Members opposite—or perhaps I ought to say the shame of hon. Members opposite—in this measure.
I was about to embark upon the question of the importance of 1967 as an election year vis-à-vis the newly constituted London boroughs. We all know that in 1963–64, as a result of the London Government Act, a great change took place in the structure of local government in the Greater London area, when the two-tier system as we knew it was dismantled and larger, all-purpose borough authorities were created.
That had two important effects. First, for the ratepayers it meant that a new type of organisation was dealing with their affairs and, secondly, for councillors it meant a most important change, because many of them had to deal with a type of organisation to which they were not completely accustomed, and an area far larger than they had been dealing with in the past. They found themselves dealing with districts unfamiliar to them. There was an increase in the amount of paper work with which they had to deal, and a great increase in the number of committees on which they had to serve and the powers that they had to exercise.
279 I have found among councillors of both political parties disappointment in the work that they are having to do. For years they have been accustomed to a certain type of work in which they have been able to have an intimate concern in matters of great detail affecting their immediate localities. They are no longer able to do this, and some of them do not like the change. They do not want to do this type of work. They want to pull out. Many Greater London councillors of both parties do not have the same interest that they had in their previous work.
These men and women are being compelled to remain in office, working in a lukewarm fashion. They do not want to force their authorities into by-elections, so they continue to serve. This is the first consideration that we should have in mind. I see the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) shaking his head. I ask him to talk to his local councillors and ask them to speak frankly about this matter. He will find that what I am saying is correct. I am speaking from personal knowledge, being a councillor myself.
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
I am also a local councillor, and I have no such experience. I am not aware of the feeling to which the hon. Member refers.
§ Mr. Rossi
I can only say that in the part of London that I know the situation is as I have explained. There is a reluctance among councillors of both parties to bring about a by-election, and that is compelling some of them to continue to serve in this new type of authority and this experiment in local government, about which they are not happy. This is not to say that the experiment itself is not worth while. But the people to whom I have referred, who would like to pull out quickly, are being denied the opportunity to do so by the Bill.
The next question concerns the ratepayers. They have seen tremendous changes in their localities—changes in the way in which some services have developed from a county council to a borough council; changes in the administrative system that has been built up in their town halls in different ways in different areas—some wastefully and some less 280 wastefully. In some cases they have seen a change in the political future. They have seen changes on which, after three years, they would like an opportunity to express their opinion. This opportunity, again, is being denied them—or is being postponed.
I speak feelingly of my own constituency, where many dramatic changes have taken place, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West has spoken of the position concerning aldermanic seats in his borough, where there is a delicate balance between the parties. There is no such delicate balance in Haringey; the ratio between the political parties is 2 to 1, and there can be no question of packing the aldermanic bench in order to see that local government is kept going forward smoothly without the risk, if people are ill, or absent for other reasons, of the vote going the wrong way in committee and the decision having to be reversed in the council.
Despite this, 10 aldermanic seats were taken away and given to Labour. This process has been carried through not only in my council—where there is no excuse for the situation because there is already a vast majority—but in voluntary organisations. These are being packed out by councillors of the party opposite, and, where they cannot find councillors to do the job, by local Labour Party members who have had no local authority experience at all. The other voluntary workers in my constituency resent this and want an opportunity to vote upon this state of affairs quickly. They also want an opportunity to comment upon the library services, which have been all but ruined by the new administration. They want the opportunity to comment upon their rates, which, since the Conservative administration went out in 1964, have risen from 7s. 9d. in the £ to 12s. 6d. in the £ today as the result of the putting forward of Labour Party policies—the dismantling of the differential rent schemes and the building up of a tremendous bureaucratic empire in the way in which the national Government is building up the Civil Service in Whitehall and about which we have put Question after Question in the House.
On all these matters, people in my constituency want to exercise their vote without delay. They do not want to be 281 put in the hopeless and frustrating position of seeing this state of affairs continue without an opportunity of having a say in the matter. They do not want this to happen. I know that I am speaking on their behalf when I say that they wish to go to the polls in May or April next year to vote upon the way in which their local affairs have been administered in the past three years and not to post pone it for another year—
§ Mr. Molloy
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's incredible argument. I do not wish to comment on the ghastly slur which he cast on people—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—oh, yes: The hen. Member can read it in HANSARD. The argument which he was submitting to the House was that councillors do not wish to carry on for another year, but, at the same time, he says, other people are complaining that they cannot get on committees to carry out so much work. The hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways.
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman obviously misunderstood the argument or was not listening attentively enough. I was trying to say that a number of councillors, used to one kind of service in the past, have, in a sense of public spirit, continued on the new council, but have found the work by no means the same. They wish to give it up, but are being obliged to carry on for another year. As this was so much an innovation, a novelty, an experiment, they should be given an opportunity of doing so as early as possible. This was my argument and I put it no higher.
I invite the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) to speak to councillors in local authorities throughout the Greater London area. If he does so, he will find considerable support for my contention.
But this is not the whole argument by any means; it is only one aspect of it. The denial of electoral rights is something to which I attach much greater importance. I have tried to give some reasons why, certainly in my constituency, it is highly desirable—and wanted—that they should be able to exercise these rights early next spring and not have them postponed for another year.
This brings me to another aspect of the matter, which has already been mentioned 282 and canvassed this afternoon—education and the question of comprehensive schools. Again, I have no strong feelings either way on this subject. I recognise the value of purpose-built comprehensive schools in certain localities. I feel that they would have a useful function within our educational system.
However, throughout the Greater London area, schemes are being prepared upsetting the arrangements of existing schools. One recognises that a school is not merely an organisation but a living organism and that anyone who tampers with it does so at his peril. One sees proposals throughout the area for linking schools some distance apart and sticking a label on them. One sees all the turmoil or reorganisation taking place in our educational system which, for the past three years, has been taking place throughout local government in the Greater London area.
We all know the great unhappiness that a great deal of the reorganisation in local government has caused and the great teething troubles there are. This will happen now in education. Many parents are unhappy about it. Without saying whether it is right or wrong for a particular scheme to be put into effect, what I do say is right is that the parents of the children affected by that scheme should be given the opportunity to state in the polling booths whether or not they are in favour of that scheme for their children.
It may be decided that this is the scheme they want. If so, all well and good. Let them say so. They may not like it. Equally, let them say so. But we should not deliberately put off elections for a whole year so that the scheme is a fait accompli before the parents have a right to any say whatever.
This is completely untenable and this is the sole purpose of the Bill—[Interruption.] I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, both grinning widely. They agree with what I have said and they are grinning in sympathy. They know, and we know, that this is precisely why this Measure has been brought forward. We have heard that it is not really the decision of the Home Secretary but the decision of the London Co-ordinating Committee of the Labour 283 Party, a committee constituted quite properly to further its party's best interests.
No doubt this committee does its work extremely efficiently and well, but an organisation there to further its own party's interests is not the best organisation to bring forward electoral reform and electoral Measures to this House. We have seen this afternoon the chain of connection between the decision of that body, in November, 1965, to the appearance of the Bill here today. We are told that we must not become emotional on this subject or use such terms as "gerrymandering". But there are no doubt other terms which describe the situation equally graphically. One may take one's pick and use any of them which one wishes.
The fact remains that this is a most iniquitous Measure, designed to deny to the electorate of London their right to pronounce, in a crucial year, their decision on a number of vital matters affecting the administration of their local government and the future education of their children. As such, I deplore this Measure and I feel it a great shame that a man such as the Home Secretary is said to be—I do not know him personally—should bring forward a Measure of this kind.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
I must confess that I can summon up no enthusiasm for the kind of huffing and puffing to which we are treated in the House when we discuss matters of local government and democracy. I do not refer only to this debate, but to previous discussions on this theme in connection with the London Government Bill some years ago and on other occasions.
I may come back to this question, but I would start by saying that I had no intention of coming into the debate but came along at first only to act as a kind of "watchdog" on the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus), suspecting that he might have a few things to say about his borough, part of which I also represent. I notice that our other colleagues on both sides of the House are with us today to listen to the debate.
284 My suspicion was well founded and, before making some general comments about the debate so far, I wish to deal with some of the arguments adduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North, particularly what he described as his grounds for objecting to the Bill. Those grounds were related entirely to the situation, as he described it, in the Borough of Brent, which is comprised of the old boroughs of Wembley and Willesden, about which he rightly said that there were strong objections by both parties and by both councils in relation to the proposed merger which finally took place.
I do not wish to go over old ground. The Borough of Brent exists, as does the Greater London Council, and it is our task, both here and in local government, to make the system work effectively and to get the policies and social measures applied for the benefit of the communities concerned. I speak with long experience of local government in the district of Willesden and with a continuing experience of local government as a member of the Borough of Brent Council.
While there are serious matters for concern in regard to local government, I do not have the same experience as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) in finding many people in London who do not wish to continue to represent their wards on their local councils. I have had no such experience in my borough, although I concede that the hon. Member for Hornsey may have had that experience in his area.
I come to the question of the Borough of Brent and the objections put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North to the Bill. As one would expect, he described the Borough of Wembley as being almost like a paradise before the reorganisation took place. I will comment on that during my speech, although I wish to dwell on the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks about what has been happening in the Borough Council of Brent since it came into existence under the reorganisation Act.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman did not put the picture accurately. That may be because he does not know the picture accurately. It is not the first time that I have noticed that hon. Gentlemen opposite and local members of the Conservative Party have not done their 285 homework sufficiently well on the subject of local government. Let us consider the comprehensive scheme of education which we are told by the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North, has been rejected by the Minister of State.
§ Mr. Freeson
There was not a first one. No scheme was rejected.
I happen to have been one of the chief architects of the proposals which were put to the Minister and I am on the education committee. No proposals were rejected. There was a report outlining certain proposals for the reorganisation of secondary schools in Brent, on the basis of the school building programme as it was known at that time.
Because, on that basis, there were certain unsatisfactory features which both the council—the initiators of the scheme—and other people, including the Department concerned, accepted as being unsatisfactory, certain changes were proposed in the building programme so that the scheme for reorganisation could be improved—and that has been approved. The scheme is going ahead. Despite this, the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North referred at the conclusion of his remarks to what he described as the same hotch-potch as we had started out with. That is not the case.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I said that the proposals had been put forward and that the Minister of State would not accept them. That was true. They were then amended and accepted.
§ Mr. Freeson
I have been listening to a lot of local stuff being adduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite and I am entitled to speak in this debate, whether or not they like it. I intend to do so, no matter how many interruptions there are.
A scheme was put forward and it is basically that scheme which is still being put forward and which will become operative. Certain improvements were required and the council itself wanted to make them. They were made and the 286 Minister of State agreed to the scheme. Let us have no more of this nonsense about a scheme being rejected and another one being put forward, because that is not the case.
I come to the question of housing in the Chalk Hill area of Wembley, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North referred as another reason why, by a peculiar piece of alchemy, the Bill should not go forward. I will not weary the House by going into the details of this case. I merely assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that, whether or not the Bill was before the House, the housing schemes to which he referred would be going forward, anyway. That is all that need be said. It is totally irrelevant to raise the matter of the housing proposals in the part of Brent which he represents.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I put forward a case to show the reason why Brent wanted the election to be postponed. The hon. Gentleman and other Socialists are very unpopular in the area. If the election took place next year the Tories would be back in Brent.
§ Mr. Freeson
Those remarks compel me to weary the House by going into greater detail on this matter. The area referred to is almost depopulated as a result of the policy of the previous Wembley Council. There are no people there to vote. I do not see the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North querying that remark. The houses were being bought up by speculators and that is why the council moved in to buy up the land. It is why a large council housing scheme will be put forward to speed up the development of slum clearance in the locality.
How the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that we could be unpopular in an area in which people are not living, I do not understand. I suggest that the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) explains the position to his hon. and gallant Friend. People have been moving out of the neighbourhood for several years.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North then referred to the question of re-warding. The scheme for re-warding, which, according to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, was for the whole 287 Borough of Brent, in fact relates to only one-half of the borough, and that is the old Borough of Wembley. Even more significant, it has the majority of support in that borough. The only people objecting to it happen to be the members of the Conservative Party. Responsible organisations—Labour Party organisations, residents' associations, Liberal Party organisations and individuals—have all expressed their opinion in favour of the re-warding scheme, which has now been approved by the Minister.
Only one group objected, the local Conservatives, and even in the Commissioner's report it was stated that if there was to be a change it should not be the change recommended by the Conservative Party but preferably the change recommended by the local Labour Party, and that has been agreed by the Minister.
I will not go further into the history of what went on in that part of the borough prior to the reorganisation. That matter has already been effectively disposed of and it is obvious that the reasons which brought the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North to his feet to take part in the debate had nothing to do with the issue of the Bill. He made a lot of general remarks about a squalid campaign and the intentions of the Measure, as we have heard on many previous occasions from the hon. and gallant Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen opposite.
That brings me to some points related not specifically to Brent, but to local government generally. As an outsider—in local government at the time when the London Government Bill was passing through Parliament, two or three years ago, and on other occasions when I have studied debates on local democracy in Parliament—I became more and more aware of the irrelevance of some of the things said. I am not making a party point here, because this has applied to hon. Members of both parties. If we were to give a great deal more thought to the necessity to build up local democracy in regard to public services, the money spent on those services, and so on, we would be spending our time more constructively.
It would not have mattered a great deal to me whether or not this Bill was 288 brought before Parliament. I cannot get excited about it one way or another. I believe that there is a case for avoiding a succession of elections in one year. Like other hon. Members, I have had experience of running election campaigns or participating in them. I cannot get excited about this issue. Had it been decided to have all the elections on one day I could have appreciated the case of those who objected to that being done in the London area, bearing in mind the history of local government from the electioneering point of view. However, this procedure has been pursued throughout the country outside London for many years and to my knowledge no difficulty has arisen.
In county and urban district council elections outside London in the past, candidates' names have all been on single ballot papers, and people have been voting for one or another at the same time. I cannot get very excited about the great debate as to whether we should have separate elections. There is no question of principle, gerrymandering, or anything else on either side. It is a lot of nonsense. Many of the things said during a debate of this kind are quite beside the real issues involved.
It has been pointed out many times that far too low a percentage of people is involved in local government and interested in it, and that far too low a percentage votes at local government elections. This is the one single fact which comes out time and again and about which we may all agree. Instead of the kind of debate we are having today, which is very largely a waste of time, even though I am participating, a good deal of fresh thought should be given to different kinds of techniques which might involve people in their education services, their social services and local government generally. We should be studying ways in which we can involve people other than by the traditional methods, although not replacing them.
I am all in favour of strengthening the present set-up in local government, but it needs to be strengthened by other, supplementary methods. I should probably be out of order if I spoke of other techniques and procedures which would require legislation, and I do not intend to do so. But I make the point as strongly as I can that it is time that all people, 289 both at Parliamentary level and in local government, began to devote a good deal of their mental energy to other methods of involving citizens in the running of their communities.
We may well be on the verge of what has been described as a consumer revolution, and that does not relate only to the things one can buy in shops. It will increasingly relate, as time goes on, to the kind of services that are provided generally in the community, and the consumers' point of view cannot be adequately represented only by the traditional methods of local government, by just one-third of the people voting at election time and far too small a number involving themselves as candidates and in other ways in local politics. We must devote our time to this, and I hope that in due course this will be done by Members of Parliament and others so that we may bring forward Measures to increase participation in local government and to support the consumer revolution in the public services.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I find myself broadly in agreement with much of what the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) said in his concluding observations. How much simpler it would have been not to have the Bill before the House but to be having a debate on the lines he mentioned. It would have been profitable to all of us, and it is another reason for opposing the Bill. The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech that he would not do any "huffing and puffing", but I began to feel that he was getting near to that with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus). He and the whole House will forgive me if I do not follow him in that slightly domestic argument.
However, I take great exception to one remark by the hon. Gentleman. How can he follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and say that some hon. Members on this side of the House have not done their homework on local government? If ever there was a moving speech by someone who knows a great deal about local government that was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey.
The Bill seems to me to be a return to the tradition of the 1945 Labour 290 Government. I sense very much again the feeling of, "We are the masters now", even though the Minister who made that statement is no longer quite so often quoted by hon. Members opposite, or at least, not in his praise. Nevertheless, his influence in that regard lingers on.
As part of my preparation for this speech I once again looked through the Labour Party manifesto. In it I found references to nationalisation of industry and mention of the Land Commission, changes in the company law and so on. I do not intend to discuss those subjects today. I do not agree with them, but at least they were in the manifesto and therefore the Government have the right to bring them up for discussion and possible legislation here. But I searched in vain for any reference to the Bill which we are now discussing.
The Prime Minister has recently been very free in handing out copies of the manifesto; the Leader of the Liberal Party was offered one only a few days ago. If the Prime Minister should be running short and be bringing out a second edition, I have thought of one or two phrases he might insert to cover up this rather serious omission, and also to cover up for my Labour opponent in Southgate at the General Election, who made no suggestion to the electorate that such a Bill would be introduced. He made one reference to the fact that a Labour Government at Westminster would work with a local Labour council in Enfield, and the local Labour council in Enfield will have that pleasure for another year if the Bill is passed.
The Prime Minister could have put the following phrase in the manifesto:If elected, we will ask Parliament to approve a Bill to deprive the voters of London of the right to choose their local borough representatives for a further year.But perhaps that would not have appealed. He could also have said:If elected, we will take steps to ensure that we do not risk losing control of the Labour-controlled boroughs in London for another year.Or he might have said:Knowing that local elections tend to go against the party in power nationally, if a Labour Government is elected we will postpone local borough elections in London for a further year.291 He might have added:If by any chance a Conservative Government should be elected, knowing as we do that local elections tend to go against the party in power nationally, we will fight against any attempt by the Tory majority in Parliament to postpone local elections in London.Perhaps the fairest thing of all for him to have said would have been:Next year we will assist the electorate by making their task less confusing. Let us, in the latter half of the 20th century, as we enter the technological age, adapt the phrase on which our democratic system is based. No longer will it be, 'One man, one vote.' In the future it will be, 'One man, one vote per year.That brings me to the question of confusion—the confusion of the electorate if it has two elections within a month. Coupled with that there is the Labour Party's suggestion that when elections follow closely on top of one another the electorate tend not to vote so much. The investigations I have made do not bear out that theory. In my constituency, the percentage vote in the last General Election was 75.1 per cent. In 1964 it was 77.1; in 1959, 77.1; and in 1955, at the General Election which followed two local elections, it was 77.5. In other words, it was higher in the General Election which followed the local elections than in subsequent ones which did not. In 1961, the total poll in the Southgate local council election was only 27.5 per cent. In 1964, three years later, when the local election followed the G.L.C. elections by one month, the poll was up to 46.7 per cent., almost three-quarters as much again. That completely negates the argument that people vote less when they have to vote more often. The interest which is aroused has an effect exactly the reverse of that suggested by the Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) referred to the borough for part of which he is the Member, and I know that I shall be forgiven for referring to it also because it is a vital area in London and, as he said, it is the only borough in which the Greater London Council elections were won by one party and the borough elections went the other way.
I come now to some of the local issues. My right hon. Friend mentioned the question of comprehensive schools, and 292 I can only repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey said, that we are in no way as a party—I certainly am not myself—biased against the comprehensive system as such. There are parts of the country to which it is suited. Nevertheless, there cannot be anywhere in the United Kingdom to which such a system is less suited than the Borough of Southgate. The schools there which will be fitted into one comprehensive school are half a mile or more apart and they are completely unsuited to the system. Yet it is to be imposed in September next year unless the electors have a chance to express their view in local elections between now and then.
There are other serious local issues. Multi-storey blocks of flats are planned, some of them even in the green belt. I have very strong views about any building on green belt land, and I regard this also as an issue on which the electors ought to have a chance to express their view. There is the question of the housing account. Land has been purchased in the borough at inflated cost by the redevelopment committee out of rates and handed to the housing committee. The electors should have their say on whether the ratepayers at large should have to pay those large sums of money. There is a large tower block called Lavender Hill planned, and this is strongly opposed in many quarters. The Leader of the House, when Minister of Housing and Local Government, refused a public inquiry. Now, public elections also are to be refused.
There is one development scheme in Southgate views on which cut right across party lines. I have had letters from members of all parties who feel strongly that this development should not take place. It has already been modified, but it remains quite definitely something on which the electors should have their say. Yet they are likely to be deprived of the opportunity. Two of the Members of Parliament for the borough are members of the Government and, understandably perhaps, they are not here this evening; but I should like to know what they think about these issues in their capacity as Members of Parliament as opposed to Ministers.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
My hon. Friend says that these hon. Gentlemen are understandably not present this 293 evening. Does he know something which might be explained to the House?
§ Mr. Berry
I was speaking only from experience. I find that in debates of this kind there are very seldom many Ministers on the Front Bench opposite. I meant nothing stronger than that, though I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making the point.
At the weekend after the Bill was first announced, I made a statement to the local Press suggesting that it was only fair to the electors that any really controversial schemes should be postponed until after elections which would eventually be held; in other words, if the elections were postponed till May, 1968, any genuinely controversial scheme which cut across party lines should be postponed also. I have particularly in mind the schools question because I know that opinion on it is extremely mixed as between the parties. I hope shortly to have the honour of presenting a Petition on the subject signed by more than 10,000 parents of children in the borough. I have in mind also the development scheme to which I have referred. There are hundreds or thousands of my constituents belonging to the Labour Party and to the Liberal Party who abhor the scheme just as strongly as do the Conservatives.
The old Southgate Council was peculiar in one respect. It was one of the last in the country which had a genuinely independent majority, that is to say, the independents had a majority over a Conservative minority. At the last elections, however, they all appeared in their true light and one saw that they belonged to different parties. In fact, the independent councillors varied from the man who is now the Conservative minority leader on our local council to the man who is my chief heckler at all my election meetings. Both were independents previously.
I make this point because the fact that candidates stood at the last election in the names of their parties and not as independents meant that a lot of new candidates were elected and, therefore, the electors did not know them in the way they have known the old ones. This is a further reason for councillors and candidates offering themselves for election at the right time and not a year later. Moreover, now that the borough is much larger than before, the interests covered are very 294 much wider. This is another reason why the electors should have a chance to give their views on their councillors, many of whom were new to them.
What about councillors who want to retire? They were elected for three years. Local government councillors do a great deal of work, and I do not see why those who did not intend to serve for more than three years should be forced to stay on for another year. I cannot see any of the Labour councillors in Enfield being allowed to retire during the next few months. A by-election there might have grave consequences for their majority.
Understandably, there have been many references to the past, but I am not myself concerned with that. I am concerned with the Bill before us and with the public view about it. I do not believe that any hon. Member can genuinely regard this as a truly democratic Bill. Various reasons of a most peculiar kind have been put forward in its support. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) gave us some very interesting talks about cherishing our supporters. I certainly cherish my supporters, and I am most grateful to them for their support, but I cannot see why having local elections next May should do anything either to upset them or to make them feel that they are less cherished than they should be. Neither do I have a crusty chairman. My chairman is as keen to fight the local elections next May as I am.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the Bill as a modest Measure of three or four Clauses. I do not know why one should measure modesty by size in that way. We live in the age of the mini-skirt—and very nice, too; why not?—but we do not say that the shorter the mini-skirt the more modest it becomes. The essence of the Bill is contained in the vital few words,shall each be postponed for one year".The shortness of that phrase in no way reduces its importance.
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) diverted us, as others have tried to do, by talk about having elections on the same day. We are not talking about having elections on the same day. We are talking about having elections for the local boroughs next May, a month 295 after the Greater London Council elections. After that, if the House decides that local councillors shall be elected for four years or two years rather than three, the electors will know where they are. They will know that they will in future have to elect representatives for two, three or four years.
What I deprecate and find quite disgraceful is the proposal that people elected for three years should now, suddenly, find themselves, by decision of this House and without the electors having a chance to have their say, staying another year in office.
If the Bill is carried, it will be a sad day because we shall be putting the clock back. I would rather we looked forward, not backward. If we do carry the Bill in due course, I think the electors of London will remember it for a long time. In particular, they will think of it when they vote for the next parliament in our great city—which many call a nation rather than a city—and they will show decidedly what they think of the party which behaved so disgracefully.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. W. O. J. Robinson (Walthamstow, East)
When I last spoke in the House I was chided by hon. Members opposite for being naïve. I hope I will not be accused of that attribute again, or of some worse characteristic, when I say that in my approach to the Bill I am endeavouring to judge the situation purely by what is good for local government.
Like many hon. Members, I have an affection for local government and an even greater love for local democracy. Perhaps my attitude is prompted by the fact that for 25 years I had the privilege of serving as a local government officer and for 13 years as an elected representative.
Bringing the subject down to a more mundane basis, I represent a constituency in an area which is unlikely to change its political complexion if the election is held in 1967 or 1968. Even more, I live in an area where the same result is likely to be achieved; so I cannot be accused of endeavouring to sharpen a political axe.
296 I was impressed by the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, and the evidence adduced by him of the support for this Measure by the returning officers. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) stressed—and rightly so—that the views of the electors should be taken into account.
However, I suggest that in taking into account the views of electors one should not exclude entirely the views of returning officers, who are men of vast experience in the conduct of elections and who know very well the reactions of electors. They would be able to judge accurately the truth of the statement that two succeeding elections bring a low poll. Is it assumed that returning officers, in putting forward their view, have been influenced only by their own particular mechanics and administrative problems? Surely a returning officer, or public officer of that calibre, would undoubtedly have taken into consideration what he thought was right for the benefit of the constituents or the electors in the locality?
I am sure that all hon. Members are appalled, disappointed and very often frustrated by extremely low polls at local government elections. It is a sad reflection, not on the electorate, but on political parties, which are unable to whip up more enthusiasm at the polls and persuade local people that the issues before the public are of such importance that they should turn out in vaster numbers. It is our bounden duty to overcome in every possible way the apathy of voters at local elections.
I am not one of those who subscribe to the view that political parties and local government are factors which should not be joined together. In this day and age, without the existence and the work of political parties, local government would fade into the background even more than it does at the moment.
I want to deal with two points that were stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) in referring to the reaction of electors at local elections. The suggestion was made by an hon. Gentleman opposite that confusion does not exist in the minds of electors when two successive elections are held with an interval 297 of only a few weeks. I do not know of the experience which the hon. Member has had when campaigning at local elections, but from my own experience as a local government officer, I know that electors are hopelessly confused when asked to vote twice within a very short period. Many of us have been met on the doorstep with the question, "What, again? I only voted two weeks ago." And one spends half an hour explaining that this is a different local authority performing different functions.
However persuasive one may be—and one learns to become persuasive in local government—one cannot get over the fact that if the message is not brought home it is reflected in the figures of percentage polls. In order to fortify my own experience I consulted the registration officer of my district, and it is undoubtedly a fact that in any year in which there has been a county council and a borough council election, the borough council percentage of votes has been far less than when only one election was held. I think that hon. Members generally, from their own experience, will support that view. I believe it is right that we should have a year's breathing space between the two elections so that political parties can concentrate, as is their duty, on explaining to the electorate what the election is about, and on impressing upon them how vital it is that they should go to the polls to decide which party they wish to maintain the affairs of their borough in the following period. That is the job of political parties.
It is not wrong to talk of party workers, but to call upon party workers to put forward further effort within a week or two of having one election is asking too much. I think that we would be fostering local democracy if local political parties were able to work in better gear than they can when one election follows shortly upon another.
I gathered from the arguments put forward by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that they were not opposed to the alteration so that elections for the Greater London Council and the London Borough Councils should take place in different years. If I am wrong in that, I apologise, but I think that some hon. Members made that point.
298 Apparently, the argument of the Opposition is that they do not think this alteration shall take place in 1967. They are not opposed, for example, to members being elected for only two years or four years. They do not regard three years as being sacrosanct. Their view is that it is wrong that we should alter the election date to 1968 just on those grounds. I gather that the impression is that there are great and important matters to be discussed and decided and that it is essential that the electorate in each locality should have the opportunity to express a mandate on particular matters before a borough council.
Is it being suggested that the only occasion in which there are important matters of principle or great points at issue, on which the electorate should be asked to express its views, occurs at three-year intervals? In 1968 there will be important points of principle. In 1969 there will again be important points of principle.
Here I chide the Opposition for one provision in the Local Government Act, 1963. In my borough the electorate had the opportunity of expressing its view on the success or otherwise of the administration every year. Every year they had the opportunity of saying, "We do not like your policy, and so we will change." The Conservative Administration saw no reason why the electorate should not be denied for two out of those three years the right of expressing its views on current affairs. Why are they now saying that one year makes an enormous difference.
§ Mr. Robinson
I had not overlooked the argument, because I had suffered the same experience. I should have retired from local government in 1964, but the Conservative Administration said, "No, you will continue until 1965." If the Conservative Administration can extend the period for a year, why is it wrong for this side of the House to do so? I am sorry if I am naïve and I am sorry if I 299 cannot argue my case with the ability of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am endeavouring to do my best with the material at my disposal.
§ Mr. Iremonger
There was a totally different situation, because a new authority had been elected and the extension was not for that authority to remain in sole power but to remain in power in harness with the party which had taken over after the elections.
§ Mr. Robinson
It is impossible to argue the reasons for doing this or the other thing. The hon. Gentleman said it was wrong for the period of a borough councillor to be extended by Statute, and, with temerity and great respect, I was drawing his attention to the fact that there are precedents for it.
I gather from the heat that has been engendered on the benches opposite that the principal objection is to comprehensive education; that the argument is that the electorate must be given the opportunity next May to say whether or not they agree with the principle behind comprehensive education. I am very delighted to know that hon. Members opposite are now wedded to the principle that it is the people who will give the mandate whether or not comprehensive education should be introduced. I would remind them that at the last General Election the people gave this Government a mandate to introduce comprehensive education, so their argument is out of court.
Suppose that my right hon. Friend's decision is deferred until August or September, 1967, do hon. Members think that a borough council election should be held the following year to test the position? In my view, they are trying to produce an argument that a perfectly good administrative arrangement, designed in the best interests of the local government electorate should not be made.
A most amazing argument was put by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi)—and I am sorry that he is not now present. I gathered from him that unless a borough council election is held in 1967, vast numbers of borough councillors will sink exhausted to the ground, unable or unwilling to carry on.
300 Most of us connected with local government know that to be nonsense. I shudder to think of what would have happened if borough candidates had said in their election addresses, "We are prepared to serve for three years only. If you want to extend the period, we are not prepared to play." I hope that the hon. Member for Hornsey will advise his friends to put in their election addresses the limited period for which they are prepared to serve.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the party of which he is a Member has a habit of extending the period of office of councillors?
§ Mr. Robinson
Elections take place at three-year intervals, and it is certainly not unusual for members of my party to volunteer for a further period of service. That is what I had in mind.
My experience is that serving members of borough councils are very anxious to continue to serve the electorate for as long as the electorate is prepared to have them, and the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Hornsey was specious in the extreme.
This is a Bill designed to ensure, if such insurance is possible, that, with the aid of the political parties, the people of Greater London will have an opportunity, and a better opportunity, of knowing what the elections are about, and of being persuaded to go to the ballot box.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)
Until today I have always counted myself among the Parliamentary admirers of the Home Secretary—and I say that sincerely. I have not always shared his views, but I have always applauded his courage and ability, and the strength of his convictions. I therefore feel very sad indeed to see him, in this instance—in what my right hon. friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) rightly said was a very unhappy speech—falling far short of his own high standards, and yielding, as we believe he has done, to the squalid political pressures of the London Labour Party and the Labour Party's co-ordinating committee.
Let us make no mistake about it—when the Labour Party machine resorts to a shabby manoeuvre like this it is clear 301 evidence that the managers at Transport House are worried men. They realise, even if the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger)—who has now left the Chamber—does not, that the Conservative hopes of victory at next year's G.L.C. elections are very well founded, so all the Labour Party can now do to avert a substantial swing to the Conservatives throughout London next year is to seek to cling to power at least in the boroughs for an additional year in the forlorn hope that, in the meantime, the general political situation will have improved.
There is certainly a case to be made out for holding the G.L.C. elections and the borough council elections in different years. This was underlined in the report from the returning officers, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, which has been referred to a number of times today. Hon. Members opposite seem to refuse to acknowledge—and this applies particularly to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. W. O. J. Robinson)—that this separation can be done by altering the term for which borough councillors are elected next time, rather than tampering now with the existing law.
I beg hon. Members opposite to realise that a vital principle is at stake here. Having elected a council for a fixed period of three years, it is immoral and indefensible to extend the term of office in this arbitrary way without any reference to the electors concerned. The honest and democratic solution is for the Government to withdraw the Bill, to allow the 1967 borough elections to take place as planned, and to lay down in advance that the councillors then elected will serve for four years—or preferably, in my view, for a two-year term.
What is the Government's objection to that arrangement? It would mean that the electors voting at that election would know in advance where they stood, and so would those elected to the councils concerned. We would then have none of the allegations we have heard today of fiddling and sharp practice—allegations that must inevitably arise when the Government bring forward such proposals as these.
302 Admittedly, it would mean that, just once more, the G.L.C. and the local borough elections would be held in the same year, but is that really such a frightful prospect as to justify the inclusion in a Parliamentary time-table which is already vastly cramped and overcrowded, of this Bill, which we have already heard has prevented other very much needed legislation from being introduced?
As has been asked already: why was this clash of election dates not mentioned by hon. Members opposite at any time during the protracted debates on the London Government Bill? The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) spoke today at great length in drawing attention to the difficulties that are arising as a result of this clash, but, as far as I know, he is not on record as saying anything about it three years ago.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that, very largely, it is the experience of the elections in 1964 that has led the Government to the conclusion that they should introduce this Bill?
§ Mr. Hunt
That may or may not be so. In any case, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) will no doubt make his own speech later if he gets the opportunity.
What has suddenly happened to draw the Government's attention to the close proximity of the elections? I venture to suggest that the birth of the Bill was induced by freeze and squeeze; by the accumulating evidence of the gross mismanagement of the country's economy which the Labour Party managers know will adversely effect their chances in any election held next year.
Not only does the London Labour Party want to cling to power in the boroughs; it also wants to ensure that controversial measures, like comprehensive education plans in the highly marginal Boroughs of Enfield and Ealing, or the disgraceful policy of compulsory acquisition of owner-occupied houses in Brent, reach the point when it would be very difficult for them to be unscrambled or reversed by an in-coming Conservative majority. That is the real motive behind the Bill.
This nastly little Bill is symptomatic of the growing arrogance which appears 303 to be sweeping through the Labour Party, from the Paymaster-General downwards, or, should one say, upwards? Not only is it a case of, "We are the masters now", but the masters are now proceeding to change the rules to suit their own purposes.
The need for local borough elections in London next year has become even more imperative following a number of sinister and unsavoury developments in local government in recent weeks. First, there was the decision by the Labour-controlled Camden Borough Council, which was quickly followed by Lewisham Borough Council, to set up a policy committee specifically excluding the Conservative minority group from membership. I was Parliamentary candidate in Lewisham for eight years so I know the area fairly well. I know that the overwhelming majority of the people there, irrespective of political affiliations, would roundly condemn this deplorable and totally undemocratic decision by the Labour majority at Lewisham Town Hall. I am sure that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) will agree with me.
§ Mr. Moyle
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the overwhelming majority of people in Lewisham have voted for a Labour council? Would he not also agree that a totally new system of government was introduced for London and that, in the nature of things, a number of experiments should take place? Would it not be fair to allow this new venture of Lewisham Borough Council a run in order to see how it works? When the Conservative Party wins a majority on the borough council—if ever it does—it can adopt the same sort of procedure.
§ Mr. Hunt
The overwhelming majority of people in Lewisham should be given an opportunity next year of presenting their verdict on this proposal which, as far as I am aware, was not mentioned in any of the election addresses of the Labour councillors standing three years ago. The Bill is denying them that opportunity. That is the gravamen of our charge. The electors are to be denied the opportunity of condemning this sort of development in local government in 304 the most effective way they can in May next year.
The electors will be unable to give their condemnation of the extraordinary statement, which was made by the leader of Lewisham council, that meetings of the new committee would be embarrassed by the presence of opposition members, and of the extraordinary decision that Conservative councillors are even to be prevented from receiving copies of its agenda. Who do these little local dictators think they are? The only way to cut them down to size is through the democratic process of the ballot box.
I am sure that the people of Lewisham and elsewhere were greatly looking forward to an opportunity to do just that next year. Now, the Labour councillors in Lewisham, Camden and elsewhere are to be permitted to flout the principles of democracy for another year. This is a major scandal for which we rightly and roundly condemn the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary.
Then there is the case of my own Borough of Bromley. Two weeks ago, the local council was informed of the dictatorial decision of the G.L.C. to take powers of compulsory purchase in the borough in spite of the fact that negotiations were still proceeding on the basis of Bromley's offer to give up 5 per cent. of the net gain from its housing output to families from the inner London area.
§ Mr. Moyle
Is it not true that Bromley was the last outer London borough to give way on this matter? Every other London borough had agreed that it would make available a proportion of its housing of between 17½ and 20 per cent. Bromley's offer to provide 5 per cent. is extremely modest in the circumstances and I do not think that it should be allowed to get away with less than 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Hunt
I do not know what right the hon. Gentleman thinks he has to dictate to Bromley. Although he describes Bromley's offer as extremely modest, he should bear in mind, as the local councillors have done, that we have more than 3,000 families on our own waiting list. What right has the hon. Gentleman or the G.L.C. to dictate what we should do? The local electors of Bromley would have loved to have the opportunity next year 305 of giving a resounding vote of confidence to their local councillors for their refusal to be intimidated by the Big Brothers or even the Big Sisters at County Hall in their determination to ensure that the first priority is given to the 3,000 applicants on Bromley's own list before Bromley is expected to take families from other areas.
The Bill consists of only two pages, but they will establish a very dangerous and highly undesirable precedent in local government elections. It is a thin little Bill, but it is a thinly disguised attempt at political chicanery for which the London Labour Party will pay dearly in the Greater London elections next year and, I hope, in the subsequent local and general elections in the area.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the details of local borough council matters, for I do not believe that the House is really considering borough councils in this debate. The Bill's primary purpose is to postpone the borough council elections for a year but listening to the debate one would not think so.
The issue before the House is the G.L.C. election to take place next April—not the borough council elections. The Bill is only making the field clear to ensure that the G.L.C. election can be held in the best circumstances. We all know that what we are really concerned with is the G.L.C. election next year. The control of the G.L.C. is second only to control of this House in terms of political considerations. It will be a most important election. The Greater London Council represents an experiment in regional government and it may set the example for regional government throughout the country. It will be a vital election and we all know it and that is what we are talking about this afternoon. We are concerned not with whether the borough council elections should be deferred for a year, but with the outcome of the Greater London Council elections next spring.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has rightly introduced the Bill in order to make as sure as he can that next spring the field will be clear so that 306 the Greater London Council elections can be held in the most favourable circumstances.
§ Mr. Evans
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear", and agrees with me. We want a fair fight and a clear fight and a fight which is not encumbered by other elections shortly to come. We do not want to confuse the electors so that votes are lost at that vital Greater London Council election. That is the purpose of the Bill, although it deals with the borough council elections. It is to clear the field so that the Greater London Council elections will be held in circumstances free of the complications of the borough council elections a month later.
However, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and his hon. Friends could not allow the opportunity to pass without making some effort to prepare the ground for this vital election. The whole of the debate is pre-electioneering for the G.L.C. elections next spring. The Home Secretary made it clear that this was a practical Bill to deal with practical electioneering considerations. We know that anything which detracts from a high poll at those elections will be regrettable.
We have heard that the returning officers have carefully considered this matter and we ought to give due regard to what they say, for they are specialists who have a difficult task to perform. It would be a great strain, as we know from experience, on the machinery of returning officers to have elections in successive months. A returning officer has to be very careful. He has a complicated job and there must be no slip-up. Everything is done in sealed order. Votes have to be brought from polling stations and he has to have personnel to man the polling stations, and we know from experience that a returning officer is often at his wit's end to find necessary personnel to do the work efficiently. We must heed the advice which the Home Secretary has received from returning officers who know so much about this matter.
We have to consider the political parties. To ask the local Conservative organisation in my area to grapple with two elections in successive months would 307 be to ask it more than it could possibly undertake. In my own area and in other Labour strongholds in London Conservative organisations might collapse if too much were put upon them.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, they would. The right hon. Gentleman ought to take this to heart, for it is quite true. His own people in Labour strongholds face a bleak prospect and cannot hope to win and they know it, but time after time they gallantly come forward, even though they have a great struggle to find candidates. We want them to contest elections. We do not want to be returned unopposed and the only people who can put up any show are the Conservatives. We encourage them to do their best. I am talking now about areas where Toryism has not been able to get a look in over the last 20 years, and, so far as I can judge, will not get a look in for the next 10 years.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in his own constituency the local Conservative Party has just opened a magnificent new headquarters, raised the money for it and is now preparing to get rid of him at the next election?
§ Mr. Scott rose—
§ Mr. Evans
I was saying that if too much electioneering is placed on local parties, the result will be something which none of us wants. If the local Tory organisations in my own and other areas of London have to have elections in successive months, it may be more than they can manage, and we do not want that to happen. We want the Conservative Party to be able to come up time after time, to find candidates and to fight elections. I am certain that if they are overloaded, there will be a breakdown and no Conservative candidates, so that Labour candidates are returned unopposed. We do not want that. We want 308 to keep up the education of the electorate. We want a system of two or more parties.
The right hon. Gentleman has a problem here and if, through his speeches here or in other ways, he burdens too much his local organisations in some parts of London, he will do harm to our democratic process.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind first that the local Conservative associations, about which he is so solicitous, are anxious to have the burden of frequent elections put upon them and, secondly, that if his argument has any meaning at all, it must be an argument against having any elections at any time?
§ Mr. Evans
I do not think that that follows. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have said that. With all respect to him, he does not know of the circumstances of which I am thinking. It is with the utmost difficulty that local Conservative organisations find candidates for the inner London borough council elections. Such candidates have no hope of getting back. They put up a hopeless fight. I admire them for it and I want them to continue, but it would be imposing too much of a burden to ask them to fight one election after another.
We have heard a lot of statements this afternoon about the gerrymandering of election arrangements and of deep plots in the London Labour Party and about how these proposals are outrageous and how great principles are involved and so on. But surely we all know that the Home Secretary's purpose in introducing the Bill is practical and that he simply wants to ensure that the vital G.L.C. elections of next spring are held in the best possible circumstances and that to follow them with borough council elections in a month would disrupt their smooth flow.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North West)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. Albert Evans) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he has been saying, because he has been talking the most utter nonsense and "flannel". He has been absent for the last few hours, and has not heard what has been going on. Those of us who have listened to the debate appreciate that it has been very serious. I 309 can assure the hon. Gentleman that he need have no anxieties about the Conservative organisations. Our organisations are ready to tackle any election at any time. He may need to worry about his own organisations, but his concern for ours is misplaced.
The issues involved today have been very short and sharp. The Home Secretary described the Bill, as some of my hon. Friends have, as being short and simple. With respect to the Home Secretary, and I agree with what has been said about him personally, he has had to move a very artful Bill.
The Bill disguises the real intentions of the Government, which is a refusal to face up, in the elections at an early date, to the steamrollering of the comprehensive educational system, which they wish to see forced through in Greater London. My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) spoke of this in detail. The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, knows only too well of the speech he made in my own town a short while ago, at a public meeting of the Labour Party, when, prompted by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), he made the comment that, if necessary—this is as he was reported in the national Press—compulsory powers would be used to force through comprehensive education.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Edward Redhead)
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to refer to the Answer of the Secretary of State for Education and Science to a Question in the House last Thursday, when a correction of this misrepresentation by the Press was given?
§ Mr. Harris
I will not go into the argument at this time—[An HON. MEMBER: "Withdraw."] I am not going to withdraw, because the statement was made several weeks ago and was headlined in the Daily Express. No correction was made then. I have met people who attended the meeting and who have confirmed the statement.
The Bill before us has been described as a very squalid Measure. It is an unfortunate phrase, but it has been repeated several times and I cannot think of a better one. This is an electoral move and no one on this side of the House has any doubts about it. 310 I share the concern of my party that these borough elections should have been postponed for a year. Through the Home Secretary the Government have said that it is a question of avoiding a clash with the Greater London Council elections, to be held on 13th April next. This is surely a very innocent suggestion to put forward. I have not found anyone, in Croydon at any rate, who thinks that there would be any difficulty in carrying out a double amount of election work
As a young man, I felt that people should, in some respects, be made to live up to their responsibilities at elections and I always hoped that a system would be introduced, similar to that in Australia, to encourage people to go to the polls. As I grew older, and, I trust, a little wiser, I realised that one cannot lightly force people to go to the polls and to do something in which, regrettably, for the time being, they may not be interested.
The Thursday before last we had two local borough by-elections in Croydon. These were two ward elections. I am sorry to say that we had an appalling outcome to these elections, when only 21 per cent. of the electorate voted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was quite right to say that if the Labour Party was interested in winning these elections it did not show it, because it virtually did not turn out. It was not ready to support its Government, or its Measures, particularly comprehensive education, which the Government are so keen to put before the country.
The outcome of these two ward elections was an overwhelming victory for the anti-Labour vote. On Thursday of this week we have another similar by-election in a very strong Labour part of the borough, and it will be interesting to see the outcome of this. I rather imagine that it will be a reversal for the Labour Party.
The poor turn-out in these two by-elections is the lowest vote that I can recall during 24 years of public service in Croydon. In the past, we had polls of up to 60 per cent., even at ward by-elections. This indicates that the Labour Party in Croydon is not very keen to get on with more elections. It is a very strong indication that the purpose of this Bill is exactly as has been described by 311 this side of the House. Such a procedure makes a complete mockery of democracy, if even the smallest voting minority, such as we had in Croydon, is denied the ability to vote when it is expecting to do so.
People will be denied the opportunity to express themselves in forcible terms—they will have to wait for another year. This is very wrong, and I am glad that my party has taken such a stand against this. The real reason why the Labour Party, and the Government, have brought forward the Bill, is to postpone the next elections.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
I should begin by declaring an interest. because I am a member of one of the councils which will be affected if the Bill becomes law. In such circumstances, I do not suppose that I would normally have spoken. However, I have a more particular interest in this because the council of which I am a member, the London Borough of Bromley, was referred to by the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt). I am sorry that he has left the Chamber now. His constituency, like mine, is within the borough. He found it necessary, in his remarks, to refer to the dispute which now exists between the Greater London Council and the London Borough of Bromley.
Although my views on that dispute are probably rather different from the hon. Member's, I do not intend to make any criticism of the Borough of Bromley. If I wanted to do so, there is a place for me in the Bromley town hall. The place for me to criticise my own council is there. I very much regret that the hon. Member saw fit to refer to this dispute. I notice that he has set down an early day Motion and I am sorry that he has found it necessary to do this. I am equally sorry that some of my hon. Friends have seen fit to put down an Amendment to that Motion.
While it is true that the dispute exists between the borough council and the Greater London Council, it must be a matter for those two authorities. It is not surprising that disputes do arise because we are dealing with an entirely new system of local government. This 312 is not a two-tier system, but deals with separate authorities, whose functions, to some extent, overlap. It is rather to the credit of the Greater London Council and the London borough as a whole that there have not been more disputes. No doubt credit should be given to the London Boroughs Association in that respect.
As I say, I should have thought that this was a matter for the two authorities to sort out between them. Whipping up political spirit by tabling Motions on the subject and referring to it in this Chamber can only make a settlement of the dispute more difficult. I think that I can say that there is a weighty body of opinion on Bromley Council, not confined to one party, which still considers it possible that a settlement of this dispute may be reached and that it may well be wise for the council to find some method of cooperating with G.L.C. I am very sorry that these partisan matters have been introduced in this way.
I turn to one or two facts relating to the dispute. It is a fact that in the London Borough of Bromley there are more private houses under construction than in any other two London boroughs put together. Therefore, I do not see why the G.L.C. should not at least have a share in the building going on. Furthermore, it appears that there is land available, because only last night there was a meeting of the town planning committee of the borough of which I am a member—I was not present, but I get the agendas—and the first item for consideration was a planning application to build 87 more houses. Therefore, evidently there is land available in the London Borough of Bromley.
§ Mr. Macdonald
No; I do not suggest any such thing. The answer, which must be very obvious, is an improvement in the rate of council house building in the borough. I have the figures before me—as I say, I do not wish to appear to 313 criticise my council—showing the number of council houses currently being built there.
On the general principle of the Bill, surely those Members are right who say that we should treat this as a matter of principle, and the principle is to ensure that elections are properly and truly representative. I well remember what happened when the original elections took place in the London Borough of Bromley. I am thinking of one particular ward. We started with the G.L.C. elections, where the turn out was about 40 per cent. Shortly afterwards came the borough council elections, and the turn out fell to under 30 per cent. Then, because on the Bromley Council we select our aldermen from the elected councillors, there had to be a number of by-elections. There was a by-election in this ward the following month and the turn out fell to 10 per cent.
Although I hope that we shall all be ready to submit ourselves to the decision of the electorate, we must do what we can to ensure that an election, when it takes place, is proper and well representative and that the people will be eager to turn out for it. When elections follow closely after one another—and, although I regret it, this is a fact—there is a diminution of interest and it is very difficult to say that the result is representative.
It is admirable that these elections shall be well spread so that when there is an election it is clear cut and the electorate are interested and turn out in the substantial numbers which everybody wants to see. This is an excellent reason for the proposals put forward.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Like the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald), I think that it would have been much wiser if the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) had not put his Motion on the Order Paper and had not seen fit to refer to the unfortunate dispute which has arisen between the London Borough of Bromley and the G.L.C. on the allocation of housing. However, since he has done so, I shall refer to the matter later.
May I first refer back to a remark made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle). He asked why the 314 Opposition were working up a temperature on the Bill. He said that he could not understand the reason for it. A number of reasons have been suggested, but I think that the obvious one is the Conservative Party conference at Brighton. I am surprised that this has not occurred to anybody. It was stated there that on every possible occasion votes had to be cast against the Government, even on trumped-up issues of very little importance. I think that here we have a very good example of the attitude which the Conservative Party decided to adopt at that Conference. It is not the postponement of the borough council elections which is motivated by party politics but the vote which the Conservative Party is to cast in the Lobby this evening.
Taking the background to the Bill, I say at once—and this has not been referred to since the opening remarks of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod)—that the Labour Party in Greater London has every right to make representations if it thinks that it is in the interests of the electorate for certain steps to be taken to postpone the London borough elections. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West may be interested to know that the London Liberal Party has also made representations on this subject, and I am glad to say that its efforts have been successful. I do not see why the London Labour Party should have all the credit for the Bill.
I have asked the Home Secretary a number of Questions about the postponement of the elections, going back to January, 1966. In April, 1966, I put certain reasons to him why the postponement should be effected by means of legislation. I am glad to note that the right hon. Gentleman, in his opening remarks, agreed with many of the points which I made then, having said that he would take them fully into consideration. On 18th July I asked him what decision had been made. He said that he had decided that legislation on this subject ought to be introduced.
To show the right hon. Member for Enfield, West that this matter has been in the mind of the London Liberal Party for some time, I should like to quote a remark made by Mr. Peter Billeness.
315 Chairman of the London Liberal Party Local Government Committee, who had already stressed the view of London Liberalsthat there should be a year between these two elections''.He went on to complain thatthe Labour Party has had 18 months to put right the mistakes of the 1963 Conservative Actand to point out thatthere is still time to postpone the borough elections to 1968.We do not see anything wrong with this. We in the London Liberal Party consider that in the interests of the electors in Greater London these borough elections should be postponed. We made representations to the Secretary of State in public and I think that there is no secret in the fact that the London Labour Party has also made such representations. We have argued about the precedents. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. W. O. J. Robinson) was interrupted by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) on this point. He said that he was a councillor in a local authority when the Conservatives introduced the 1963 Act and his retirement was postponed by a year. I agree that it is not an exact parallel to say that because the retirement of a councillor is postponed the elections for the whole borough should be postponed. But it is a small enough difference for the Conservative Party to have made much less noise about it than it has done this evening, considering that it was by its action in introducing the London Government Bill that a substantial number of councillors served for a greater term.
The reasons for the Bill seem to be very good. We have the experience of 1964. The hon. Member for Bromley did not seem to think that this was very important. I asked him whether he did not think that that was one of the main reasons for introducing the Bill. He said that he would leave it to me to develop that theme when I made my speech and would not express an opinion on it. The Home Secretary in his opening words gave us the figures—they were very striking—to show how electoral interest diminishes when two important sets of elections are held so close together.
There is, however, something even more important than that. When this 316 happens, the electoral issues tend to become blurred in the minds of the electorate because they have to think, on the one hand, of the Greater London Council with its responsibilities, which are somewhat remote from their daily lives, and, on the other hand, of the London borough councils, which have the service which affect them most as individuals, and they have to try to keep these two sets of responsibilities separate in their minds when they vote.
As one hon. Member has said, when one one goes round to people on their doorstep they say, "But we have only just voted in elections the other day. Now, you are asking us to vote again." One has to begin right from the beginning and explain to them the different responsibilities of the Greater London Council and the London boroughs. How much better it would be from the viewpoint of the electorate if we could have one set of elections in one year and another set the next year. Then, we could explain exactly the issues which divide us in the boroughs and the G.L.C. As, I am sure, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone would be the first to admit, they are completely different sets of issues because of the different nature of the responsibilities of the two types of authority.
The next point is that great administrative difficulties would be caused to local authorities if we went ahead and had a second round of elections in the same year. The Conservatives have tended to underestimate this factor. I do not know what advice they have taken from the town clerks, but local authority officials to whom I have spoken certainly say that the difficulties are extremely serious. They are almost unanimously delighted that the Government have decided to take this step even though, as the right hon. Member for Enfield, West has said, not all members of local authorities are pleased at the Government decision. When talking to the officers, however, one finds that practically nobody is against the idea behind the Bill.
One more point which is worth mentioning, because it has not been raised in the debate, is that I have not received one letter from electors in my constituency objecting to the Bill. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I should have thought that if there was such 317 strong feeling in electors' minds that the two sets of elections should be held together in 1967 or a month apart, we should have heard something about it from our constituents and that if we had, at least one hon. Member who had spoken from the Conservative benches today would have mentioned the fact.
One has only to think of the flood of postcards that we have all received about the export of animals for vivisection purposes. I counted the number which I had received, and it was about 87 during the last two weeks. This shows that people feel strongly about the issue. It cost me a lot in postage too. The same thing is beginning to happen on the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. People feel strongly enough about it to write to an hon. Member to ask him to vote for or against it. Today's Bill, however, has been published and is available for everybody to study, yet not one letter has reached me from any of my constituents either objecting to the Bill or supporting it.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It is because the electors in my constituency are slightly more sensible than those in St. Marylebone.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Anybody from Orpington who writes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman must want his head examined.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I cannot attach much importance to the evidence which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has now produced, and I do not think that he can either, or it would have appeared in some of the speeches made by his hon. Friends.
Having said that—and it will be understood that I support the Bill in principle—I want to point out a few disadvantages which we should bear in mind. First, postponement of the borough elections will give a reprieve to the Tory-controlled Bromley Council. This is a serious consequence which we must bear in mind in allowing the Bill to go through. 318 But the Tory-controlled Bromley Council are rapidly digging their own graves and we in the Liberal Party in the London Borough of Bromley will be prepared to wait a year before we give them the coup de grâce which they are courting by such activities as the hon. Member for Bromley mentioned: that is to say, the way in which they have behaved over the housing issue.
I did not intend to raise this matter, but as the hon. Member for Bromley has done so and has cast all the blame on the G.L.C., it should be said that Bromley is the only borough in the whole of Greater London with which such a dispute has arisen. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, that is a significant fact. As the hon. Member for Chislehurst has told the House, the offer which has been made by the London Borough of Bromley is smaller than that of any other outer London borough with land available. It is smaller than that of Croydon, for example, and even smaller than that of the London Borough of Enfield.
It has been extremely harmful to try to make this into a national issue. It has also been extremely harmful for it to be pretended that the right is all on one side. The hon. Member for Bromley is not doing any of our constituents a service by trying to add fuel to the flames. The point is that in solving the housing problem of London as a whole, we simply must have the best possible relations between our own London boroughs and the Greater London Council.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Chislehurst that it is not too late for good relations to be restored. I am prepared to do everything in my power to see that a sensible compromise is reached between the borough and the G.L.C. I have written to the chairman of the housing committee of each authority asking whether they would be willing to meet me and discuss the question in a spirit of compromise so that we can try to reach agreement on it.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Certainly not, because I am not taking sides. I am neither a 319 member of the party which controls the Greater London Council nor a member of the party which controls the London Borough of Bromley. Therefore, I hope that my services can be of value in reaching a compromise between the two authorities. I have expressed that point of view to both Mrs. Denington and Councillor Foster and I very much hope that they will take me up on it.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
The hon. Member can hardly claim to be an independent arbiter, since he has already expressed a thoroughly biased view on the dispute in this debate.
§ Mr. Lubbock
No, I have not. I have said that it was inevitable that this conflict would arise when the London Borough of Bromley had made an offer which was much smaller than that of any other outer London borough. If we are to reach a satisfactory solution to the problem, the London Borough of Bromley must begin by making a concession which will be acceptable to Mrs. Denington and to her committee. I am certainly not saying that the offer which has been made so far by the London Borough of Bromley is satisfactory, but there may be a happy medium between what the Greater London Council would like and what we can persuade the London Borough of Bromley to offer. I sincerely hope that we shall arrive at that position.
If hon. Members criticise various local authorities and say that the electors should have an opportunity of passing a verdict upon them, I might well say this about some aspects of the conduct of the London Borough of Bromley. There is secrecy on the committees. People in the whole area are debarred from knowing what is happening, including this particular issue, in which I notice that the Conservatives gave information to the hon. Member for Bromley and to his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) even though it had only been discussed by the housing committee and had not yet reached the full council.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Of course, I accept the hon. Gentleman's denial. What I am saying is that the letter from Mrs. Denington to Councillor Foster had only been discussed in the housing committee and not yet reported to the full council. Therefore, until there was an item on the television, the hon. Gentleman was interviewed and some statement was given to the evening papers, I was not aware of the dispute. I am pointing out to the hon. Gentleman that there is a complete veil of secrecy which surrounds the activities of committees in the London Borough of Bromley, and when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about policy committees with no opposition members in other local authorities, I hope that they will bear in mind some of the undemocratic practices of the London Borough of Bromley.
There was a time when the redevelopment committee of the London Borough of Bromley was involved in considering the future of the town centre at Orpington and had not a single Liberal on it, in spite of the fact that the Liberal-controlled Orpington Council had evolved an extremely important scheme for the redevelopment of the town centre. I call that anti-democratic.
However, these practices are not confined to Labour-controlled authorities, although no doubt they occur on them as well. In his introductory remarks, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West spoke about the exploitation of the aldermanic system, and here again we have a defect of the present local government set-up in Greater London. Perhaps he would be prepared to co-operate with me in putting down an Amendment to this Bill which would abolish aldermen on the G.L.C.
§ Mr. Iremonger
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you tell us whether the Short Title or Long Title—
§ Mr. Iremonger
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My first misgivings were quite right. The Long Title of the Bill says that the Bill is toAmend the provisions as to the election and retirement of councillors and aldermen of London borough councils and councillors of the Greater London Council; and for connected purposes.There is no question of the abolition of the office of aldermen and the amendment of the London Government Act. Surely it is out of order to discuss the whole principle of the existence of aldermen within the London government system?
§ Mr. Lubbock
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since we were quite in order in discussing the abolition of aldermen under the London Government Bill and since the Long Title of the Bill says that it is toAmend the provisions as to the election and retirement of councillors and aldermen",I submit that I am perfectly in order in discussing this. Furthermore, it was the right hon. Member for Enfield, West himself who first raised this question, and he was not called to order by Mr. Speaker who was in the Chair at the time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In answer to this point of order, my view is that on Second Reading it is perfectly permissible to refer to the position of aldermen. As to whether any particular Amendment about aldermen would be in order in Committee, I must reserve that until I see the terms of an Amendment on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I wanted to remind the House of what the then Minister of Housing and Local Government said in reply to me when we were discussing the London Government Bill in Standing Committee F in 1963. I had put down an Amendment for the abolition of aldermen on the Greater London Council. The right hon. Gentleman for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said: 322It is true that the hon. Member for Orpington referred to the occasional abuse of the position of aldermen, and I cannot deny that this happens. But there is good hope that these incidents will become fewer and fewer, and if they do not then there are means of so reforming the system of electing aldermen that abuses cannot occur."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F. 5th February, 1963; c. 8.]I refused to accept that explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. I refused to withdraw my Amendment and pressed it to a Division. However, not one hon. Gentleman opposite voted with me. I was the only Member who supported it. Now the right hon. Member for Enfield, West complains that, as a result of the Tory London Government Act, 1963, the position of alderman is being abused. He cannot say that I did not warn him that that would happen and continue to happen, as it has done in practically every authority where aldermen exist since this system has been in operation.
The practice is not confined entirely to Labour-controlled authorities in Greater London, though I admit that some of the worst examples occur in Labour-controlled boroughs.
In the London Borough of Enfield, in which the right hon Gentleman's constituency is situated, the Labour Party secured 31 seats on the council to the Conservatives' 29. They appointed all 10 aldermen and gave the Conservatives none, making the final figures 41 and 29.
Another example is the Borough of Brent, where there were 34 Labour councillors elected and 26 Conservatives. There again, the Labour Party appointed all 10 aldermen and gave the Conservatives none. That is a shocking abuse of the aldermanic system.
Then let me take the Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, in which the constituency of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is situated. I find that there were 40 Conservatives on the council and 20 Labour Party councillors. The Conservatives appointed nine Tory aldermen and only one Labour alderman. I think that that is almost as bad.
The fault is in the aldermanic system itself, which encourages the controlling party to manipulate it to suit its own convenience. We have enough evidence from 323 the figures given to show that the alder-manic system in London boroughs and in the Greater London Council should now be abolished.
One final point of great importance about the Bill is this. Originally, it was provided that elections to the Greater London Council should take place on a whole borough basis until after the Boundary Commissions reported on the new boundaries for Parliamentary constituencies, and that, after that, the G.L.C. electoral areas and the Parliamentary constituencies would be made to coincide. That is quite sensible, because then one has the same register applying to both, and people know exactly where they stand.
However, the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions have reported only recently and it will be a considerable time before their recommendations are embodied in a House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act. That may not be until 1969 or even 1970, by which time we shall be into a further set of Greater London Council elections.
I must point out to the House that, if what we are concerned about in the Bill is democracy, we have a system in the Greater London Council elections which is an absolute travesty of democracy. It is far worse than anything about which the right hon. Member for Enfield, West complained this afternoon.
If we take his own borough, we find that the Conservatives won all three seats, although they secured 42.7 per cent. of the vote, the Labour Party secured only 1 per cent. less, 41.7 per cent., and the Liberals secured 12.8 per cent. In the G.L.C. elections, the Conservatives have swept the board, although they got much less than half the voles and although the Labour Party got only 1 per cent. fewer votes. Thus we have the situation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, where the borough is controlled by the Labour Party and the Conservatives have all the G.L.C. seats.
To take an example where Labour won all three seats and we have exactly the same situation in reverse, in Hillingdon the Labour Party secured 42.2 per cent. of votes in the borough, the Conservatives got 39 per cent. and the 324 Liberals got 8.8 per cent. The Conservatives were only 3.2 per cent. behind Labour but, because of the system of whole borough elections, the Labour Party swept the board.
I appeal to the House to agree with me that this is highly undemocratic. In one borough, it will benefit one party. In another borough, it will benefit another party. But in any case in all the 32 London boroughs in no instance was there other than a clean sweep by the party that won it, and the minorities in all these boroughs are totally unrepresented in the Greater London Council.
I suggest to the right hon. Lady that she should agree with me that some Amendment is required to the Bill to divide the boroughs into single-member constituencies for G.L.C. election purposes in 1967. That is, of course, as far as I expect her to go. A much more satisfactory method of coping with this problem would be to have multi-member constituencies covering one borough, or, in cases where there are only two G.L.C. members, to lump them in with their neighbouring boroughs, and to elect members to the G.L.C. on the basis of a single transferable vote. This would give a fair representation to minorities in every case, whereas at present, as I have explained, there is no representation of the minority.
Those are some of the disadvantages of the Bill, but my party is convinced that they are outweighed by the disadvantages of having London borough elections and G.L.C. elections coming as close as one month to each other. For this reason we think that the Government have done well to come forward with this Bill, which will postpone borough elections until 1968, and we intend to support it.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I did not come into the Chamber this afternoon with any intention of making a speech on this Measure. With my customary diligence I had studied the Bill, and had reached a conclusion identical to that reached by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), that there was very little of a disputable nature in it, and I hope to make this plain in fewer words than those employed by the hon. Gentleman. 325 The blame for my intervention rests firmly with those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have used such violent and unjustified language in an effort to condemn this workmanlike and necessary little Bill. Their words were far stronger than their arguments, and I dismiss with contempt the poisonous nonsense which was hissed into the ears of the House by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) about the origins of the Bill. I am sure that it will be dismissed with equal, if not more, vigour outside the House.
I listened with particular attention to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). So far as I could judge, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill had been introduced to prevent the voters of Camden from ejecting the Labour councillors for their alleged misdeeds. I do not know the precise details of the local government situation in the Borough of Camden. I have enough to do looking after affairs in my own borough, without having the impudence constantly to interfere in the affairs of another, a practice which has been demonstrated so often in this House by the right hon. Gentleman, whose presence we so very much regret at this time. Speaking of my borough, if an election were held as soon as the Opposition wish one to be held, their friends the Conservatives would be sent packing very quickly in short, sharp fashion.
The Conservatives in Harrow have arrogantly refused to introduce a system of comprehensive education, and we are told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the purpose of the Bill is to do some sort of a deal over comprehensive education. The teachers in the London Borough of Harrow, and other educational bodies, have said quite clearly that comprehensive education ought to be introduced, but the; Conservatives—
§ Mr. Roebuck
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I shall come to that point, which is an interesting one. The difference between the hon. Gentleman and myself is that 326 I approach this matter on a non-party basis, as all legislation of this sort must be approached.
The interest of the hon. Gentleman and his Conservative friends in comprehensive education is to ensure that one school remains comprehensive, namely, Harrow School, but most of my constituents cannot afford to pay for their children to receive this sort of comprehensive education.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I would willingly accept that invitation if it were not for the fact that it would bore the House. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, or he ought to know, that the Conservatives in the Borough of Harrow procrastinated for more than a year, and eventually produced a scheme which they knew had no hope of being accepted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science because it retains selection at the age of transfer from primary to secondary school. This is one reason why, if an election were held in Harrow in the near future, the Conservatives would go down to a big defeat.
§ Mr. Grant rose—
§ Mr. Roebuck
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. He had the Floor of the House the other Friday, and he refused to give way to me. I think that, having given way to him twice, that is enough.
There is another reason why the Conservatives would be defeated if there were an election in the London Borough of Harrow. They have recently decided to increase the rents of council house tenants by 50 per cent., an act of cynical irresponsibility verging on an act of sabotage against the Government's prices and incomes policy. Notwithstanding this, I believe, for the reasons which have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with his customary lucidity, that it is right that the Bill should go forward, and that the elections should be postponed until the following year.
327 From my experience—and I am sure that this is the experience of most hon. Members who have taken part in elections which have come close together—I believe that a great deal of confusion will arise if these two elections are held within a short period of weeks. I therefore support the Bill, and in doing so I condemn the phoney indignation which has been so manifest on the benches opposite. It has been most instructive to watch the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) nursing his anger to keep it warm. During this debate the Opposition have once more demonstrated that they are nothing more than a party of niggle and nark.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I would not dream of trying to compete with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about being nonpartisan and neutral. I think that it was Disraeli who, when he sat on these benches, looked at the Conservative Front Bench and spied there a row of extinct volcanoes. If he were here today, and were to look at the Opposition Front Bench, he would see, not a row of extinct volcanoes, but a row of professional belly-achers.
§ Mr. Roebuck
The right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to get his history right. On that occasion the Liberals were the Conservatives. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can sort that one out.
I think that the Government have made out an admirable case for the Bill, and that they should be given every support by the House. As a result of passing this Bill we can look forward to some vigorous and good local elections in the Greater London area.
§ 8.8. p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) said, very modestly, that he 328 had not intended to intervene in this debate. Having heard him, I must say that it seemed to me that his modesty was very well founded, and that the best reason he could possibly have had for having formed the intention not to intervene in the debate was that he had nothing to say.
We know what happened. So few hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite had the face to come forward in defence of the Bill that they had to be drummed up by the Whips, and the Whips' views of the young eagles—
§ Mr. Roebuck rose—
§ Mr. Iremonger
I shall give way in a moment. I was about to say that having had a sample—and this is my first sample—of the young eagles, I can see why the Labour Party is sticking to the old hens with so much enthusiasm. If the hon. Gentleman now wants to intervene, he is welcome to do so.
§ Mr. Iremonger
In that case, it is obvious that the hon. Gentleman does not want to pursue his intervention.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald), who I think has left the Chamber, criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) for put ting down a Motion criticising the G.L.C. for its proposal to buy land compulsorily in Bromley—a land grab. Since I put down an Amendment which reinforced and supported that Motion, I want to say one thing in defence of the idea that the Motion should be put down. On the whole I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Chislehurst. There is a great deal in the doctrine that it ill becomes hon. Members to indulge in the sort of Prodnose officiousness that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) was suggesting, and acting as though we were super councillors and had some standing in respect of matters which Parliament has seen fit to give into the exclusive jurisdiction of local authorities—
§ Mr. Lubbock rose—329
§ Mr. Iremonger
I shall be glad to give way in due course, but I am anxious to put this matter in its proper perspective, which is that it is absolutely wrong—I see that the hon. Member is leaving the Chamber; we all thought that he had a little more good temper and patience than that. He will disappoint his constituents, who have always thought that he behaved in the House in a way that hon. Members usually behave. I would have been glad to give way to him, but I wanted first to say that it seemed to me that the early-day Motion with which I associated myself, criticising the Greater London Council, was well conceived because it was directing attention to the intention of this House that the Greater London Council, under the London Government Act, should carry on this housing function for only a limited interim period, after which it should get out of the housing business as quickly as possible. It seemed to me that the action of the Greater London Council was going beyond what a local authority should do, as expressed by the intention of the House in that Act.
There is a great difference between the initiative taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and that of the hon. Member for Orpington, who, if I may say this with great respect to him, was doing exactly what many hon. Members are continually being asked to do but what I think we should refuse to do—namely, behaving as though we were elected to deal with specific matters when we have been elected, in fact, to keep out of those matters and to give our attention to other matters.
Although interesting, this is a mere footnote matter, and a triviality compared with the matters on which hon. Members on the Opposition side today have almost exclusively concentrated their attention.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has called housing a trivial matter. Does he appreciate that there 330 is a housing waiting list of 13,000 families in Lambeth, as compared with only 3,000 in Bromley, although Bromley has much more land available? Surely it is right that the Greater London Council should redress the balance.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The triviality to which I was referring consisted in the marginal relevance of Members of Parliament to local authorities performing their duties. I was not presuming to comment on the importance of Bromley or any other authority building houses in Bromley or any other place. If the hon. Member will bear with me he may in the end agree that even the important matter of public authority housing, which I believe has had its day anyway—[Laughter.] Yes. Most certainly.
§ Mr. Roebuck
The hon. Gentleman has made a statement of some significance. He thinks that public authority housing has had its day. Has he any figures concerning the number of private houses built for letting?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I know that far too few are built for letting. Were it in order, this is a theme upon which I should be only too glad to enlarge. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) would make some very helpful contributions from that side of the House. But that is not what we are discussing at the moment. We are discussing the question whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading. In the context of the principles raised by the Bill, without denigrating the importance of housing, I say that all such questions are comparatively trivial because the Bill raises a fundamental constitutional issue, and it is that which the House ought to consider.
Hon. Members opposite have been concerned throughout the debate to emphasise that the Bill is a very modest little Bill. They take comfort in its being so short, as though shortness were in some way equated with innocuousness. I am fortified to know that they regard its shortness as being in its favour because I shall soon ask leave to introduce a very short Bill to stop the scandal of contracting in instead of contracting out from the political levy of trade unions. I hope that I shall be able to add this new argument. If it is acceptable to hon. Members opposite, I shall pray it in aid of my 331 own short Bill as being a harmless one. It is possible to have a fairly short snifter of cyanide, but that does not mean that it is harmless.
The Government have been anxious throughout the debate to sidetrack the argument into matters of detail. It would therefore be as well to get matters absolutely clear. I want to reiterate what, in my view, the Bill is about. It is not about staggering the pattern of local government elections. It is not about the election of councillors for two years or four years, so as to ensure that the elections to London borough councils and the Greater London Council are held in the same year, or in different years. It is not about how many names should appear on the ballot paper. The Bill is about breaking faith with the electorate, and about breaking faith with democracy itself. It is a Bill of a fundamental constitutional nature for which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, there has been no precedent for over 200 years.
It is for that reason that any transient matter concerned with housing here or there is trivial. The fundamental questions for the electorate, however it is housed, are the organisation of our society and of our political system. In carrying on to 1968 the councils which were elected in 1964, with the understanding that they would be responsible for three years, the Government are saying to the electorate, "We are breaking faith with you. You can do absolutely nothing about it. We can alter the electoral law by an Act of Parliament and we give due notice that you can place no confidence in the electoral arrangements which are made in future."
It would require only a very short Bill to prolong the life of this Parliament for another year or another 10 years. I thought that it was less than worthy of his position and responsibilities that the Home Secretary did not turn his mind to this principle. He is not a foolish man. He is not a man of light mind or a man of limited and fuddled intellect who is incapable of perceiving and discerning the constitutional implications of the Bill. If he had been in Opposition, he would have spotted them fast enough.
For him, with the responsibilities of Home Secretary, to stand at the Box and 332 say—I thought this was so charming—"This is a short Bill and it requires little explanation", was an exercise in disingenuousness which, if it did not do credit to the Home Secretary, did even less credit to us in imagining that we would swallow it.
He said that it was a short Bill. He might have said that it was "nasty, brutish and short". With his literary propensities, I am surprised that he resisted the temptation to pop that one in. But when he said that it required little explanation, I thought, "Here is a semantic exercise of the first order, of real Balliol quality".
"Little explanation"! Of course, in a beautiful way, it does require little explanation, in the sense of exposition or expounding, and certainly we have had it expounded very shortly. But there is another kind of explanation which is needed—as to how it came to be put forward, how the Home Secretary came to accept it and present it to the House without facing the constitutional implications, and how he could possibly have taken it from the tainted source it came from without throwing it back with the contempt which party "fixers" ought to receive from senior Ministers who have responsibilities to the nation as well as to their party.
So, we were given an explanation, but not an explanation of what we ought to have had an explanation about. It reminds me of the professor of philology who was discovered by his wife embracing the housemaid. When she said, "Really, Alfred! I am surprised", he said, "No, my dear, it is I who am surprised: you are astonished." It seems to me that there is a distinction to be made here between the kind of explanation which the Home Secretary ought to make to the House about a Bill of this kind and the sort of explanation which he gave to us about the difficulties and the practicability and the report of the town clerks' difficulties, which were, I see he said, "not insuperable".
If the difficulties were not insuperable, incidentally, I would have thought that there would have been a very strong argument for saying to the town clerks, "If there are difficulties, they are difficulties which must be overcome." There are greater difficulties surely in saying to the electorate who went to the polls in 333 1964, "You are electing this council for two years," and then, at the end of the two years, telling them that they had elected the council for four years.
That is the difficulty which the Home Secretary ought to overcome, not the difficulty of carrying ballot boxes, which the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. W. O. J. Robinson) said was such a great difficulty. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not."] Perhaps it was some other hon. Member, but there was some talk about carrying ballot boxes, how it had to be done so carefully so as not to drop the ballot papers out, or something.
I would not argue about that difficulty for a moment, but these are the kind of difficulties which town clerks, with their great abilities and organisational talents, exist to overcome. No such difficulties that can possibly be put forward are any justification for this Bill. The justification that we were given by the Home Secretary was absolutely derisory, ludicrous and utterly irrelevant. It was a mockery of the argument which we ought to have had. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be spelling "democracy" as "demockracy".
I hope that, when the Minister of State winds up the debate, she will answer this question—does she or does she not think that it matters, extending the life of a council and denying the electorate the right to pass judgment on it, a right which they were promised they would have, in an Act of Parliament, when they went to the polls two years ago? I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State will, with his usual efficiency and courtesy, convey to his right hon. Friend the Minister of State that, if the Home Secretary did not see that this point needed dealing with, we as a House of Commons require her, as a Minister of the Crown, answerable to us, to pay us the courtesy and the nation the tribute that we deserve, in view of the seriousness of this matter, by answering the question about what her view is on the constitutional implications of the Bill.
I feel that the political reputation of the Home Secretary and the whole Government is implicated in the Bill. Their reputation has been irreparably tarnished. I would not be able to vote for this Bill if it were introduced by a Home Secretary 334 in a Government which I supported. I would have thought that this was a matter in which the whole House of Commons should have regard to the principles underlying the Bill. After all, this is not something on which the fate of the Government need hang. I should like to feel that hon. Members on the back benches opposite would say that this was simply "not on", that Parliament itself and the House of Commons will not accept the Bill.
We should ask the Home Secretary to withdraw it and, in recognition of the insult which he has paid to the House and the constitution, that he should resign his office—[Laughter.] This is perfectly right. A Home Secretary who can present a Bill and submit it to the House in the terms used by the right hon. Gentleman is insulting the House of Commons in a manner which no Home Secretary should be allowed to do. I hope that it will not be a shock to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or to the House, if I reveal that I shall vote against the Bill tonight. I hope that hon. Members will be fortified against any shock by the preparation that I have given them. The plea I make is that hon. Gentlemen opposite should seriously look at the implications. They will be in Opposition one day
§ Mr. Iremonger
If they were to be in Government for 50 years and only then came back into Opposition, the principle underlying the Bill which we on these benches are upholding would still be absolutely fundamental and sacred to them then. It ill becomes them now, sitting in their new-found triumph and their ancient arrogance on those benches, to say that this is a little Bill—
§ Mr. Iremonger
"Ancient" arrogance—they have always had the arrogance. It is the power which they have for a short time only, every 50 years—and that is too often. It ill becomes them to treat this as a short Bill, a little Bill, and a harmless Bill. I hope that some at least—the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), for instance, a man of great intelligence and integrity—will 335 treat this as a serious matter—[Laughter.] This is not a matter for giggling and sniggering and for young eagles to cluck about
§ Mr. Roebuck
Is the hon. Gentleman familiar with the proverb, Aquila non capit muscas? If not, will he acquaint himself with it, as I shall not rise again?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I understood the Latin but not the English part of that intervention.
A great event has occurred. The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has come into the Chamber—presumably because he does not at the moment have a Parliamentary Question down for Oral Answer, so I would not like to spoil the atmosphere by further presuming on your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely say again that I will vote against the Bill and hope that at least that some hon. Gentlemen opposite have the courage and integrity to do the same.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I was intrigued by the great flurry of language with which the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) spoke about the constitutional position. He said that the Government were breaking faith with the electorate and that we were debating a grave constitutional matter. Indeed, he said at one point that if legislation of this sort had been introduced by a Conservative Government he would have voted against it.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman has not been alone in expressing this constitutional point of view and, if I have the argument aright, it is that even had a Conservative Home Secretary introduced legislation breaching this fundamental constitutional position of delaying elections, denying people the vote, so to speak, he would vote against it. If that is the case adduced by the hon. Member for Ilford, North, I would like to know whether he voted against or put up strong opposition to the London Government Act, 1963.
If one examines that Measure one finds that some of its terms are similar to the Bill before the House, for Schedule 3(6) states: 336No election of councillors of the county of London or of Middlesex or of any existing county borough, metropolitan borough, non-county borough or urban district situated wholly within Greater London shall be held after the date of the passing of this Act"—and it goes on, in paragraph 7:As respects the counties of Essex, Kent and Surrey the ordinary election of county councillors due …to take place in April, 1964, shall be postponed until such date in 1965 as the Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to the county in question…".Further provisions of that Act provide for certain county councillors in Kent, Surrey and Essex to continue in office for a further year. Is this not an even more fundamental breach of the constitutional position? Paragraph (9) of Schedule 3 goes on to state:At the ordinary elections of councillors …of the urban district of Chigwell due to take place in 1964, no councillors shall be elected … and any such councillor elected …and holding office immediately before the passing of this Act shall …continue to hold office …without an election.
Since the hon. Member for Ilford, North made such play with this issue and has now discovered that his own Home Secretary introduced such a fundamental breach of the constitutional position, does he intend to follow the example of one of his hon. Friends and resign the Conservative Whip?
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Gentleman must not have been in the House on any one of the two or three occasions when this matter was raised and that precise point dealt with. I do not know, in those circumstances, whether the answer which I gave should be repeated, although I will repeat it—except that the Chigwell position does not apply, because different arrangements were made, as the hon. Gentleman may not be aware. The difference is that when the elections were post poned—
§ Mr. Iremonger
When the elections were postponed other elections were held which gave representation to the people 337 concerned through members on the new councils which the Act set up.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman was talking about the fundamental principle involved. Anyone who has experience of London government knows that this principle, if it is a principle, was breached by the 1963 Act. It was breached for sensible and practical reasons, because it would have been extremely difficult to hold a series of elections. The provisions covering Kent, Essex and Surrey did not apply solely to the Greater London Council area, but to other councils as well and it is illusory to try to pretend that there is any constitutional issue involved here. In fact, there is none.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
There was no opposition to the proposal in 1963, but there is opposition now.
§ Mr. Fraser
That is the precise point I am making—that there was no opposition in 1963 and that the real motive for opposing this Bill—and I have tried hard to find a motive—is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are obviously worried about the amount of money that will have to be provided to fight future elections.
They are extremely anxious to have borough and Greater London Council elections this year because they realise that certain legislation is being introduced which, if passed, may cut down the flow of funds from companies and firms, and reduce the amount of money which will be available to fight the elections if they are postponed for a year. That must be the only motive. It is the only reasonable motive I can find for their very long and illusory arguments.
I now come to a point on which I oppose the Bill. I shall vote for it, but I think that it is a very timid way of getting over the difficulties which would face the town clerks in holding borough and G.L.C. elections at the same time. It would be very difficult for people to vote for a list of councillors for one ward and also a list of G.L.C. candidates; this difficulty exists even if only Greater London councillors are being elected. In my own Borough of Lambeth, at the last Greater London Council elections, there were 14 or 16 candidates. I was at the count. We have all been to these occasions, and we realise that it is very difficult for old people, for people with bad memories, to look at a list of 16 338 names on a ballot paper and try to remember when they get inside the polling booth which are the Labour, Conservative, Liberal or Communist candidates—and, as in Lambeth, Independent Monarchists.
One sees all sorts of things on ballot papers. If one's name is high up the alphabet, beginning with A, B, C or D, for example, one's chances of being returned are higher than if it is at the end of the ballot paper. There is the possibility that sometimes ballot papers could say, "Perm any four from eight". [Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter, because people are faced with very real difficulties. It is clear from seeing the ballot papers that there are people who vote for three Conservative candidates and one Communist, or three Labour candidates and one Conservative.
With these long ballot papers, which we shall have again next May, democracy is not properly served when people go into a polling booth and cannot remember the names of those for which they really want to vote. It is even more difficult if there are two or three candidates with the same name.
The Bill is timid because it could have amalgamated the borough council and G.L.C. elections, involving one very long ballot paper, and for the first time allowed as an experiment in London the use of the names of the parties on the ballot paper, instead of merely the names of candidates. This was an opportunity for an experiment in electoral law that the Government have overlooked. It is a great pity that they did not choose it as the way out of their difficulty, rather than carrying on the ancient and revered system of electing candidates without the elector knowing their political persuasion from the ballot paper.
Anybody who recognises reality knows that generally the elector intends to vote for candidates of a particular party, and does not pay too much attention to the character of those whom he is electing. This is not altogether to say that character is not important in a candidate in a council election; it is important, but if people see the names of the candidates and their political parties they need not vote for a particular member of a particular party if they do not want to. I am very sorry that this opportunity was not taken to have some experimental reform 339 of electoral law, and that, instead, the method in the Bill has been chosen.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. Albert Evans) seemed to have as his major reason for supporting the Bill the desire to be kind to Conservative Party workers in various parts of London. He will forgive me if I give little weight to that argument.
I find it almost equally difficult to give any weight to the Home Secretary's argument that the Bill's real purpose is to make life slightly easier for the returning officers and their staffs in local elections in London next year. I should be the last to put unreasonable burdens upon returning officers and their staffs. Certainly, their convenience should weigh in the balance when one is making up one's mind on how elections should be arranged. But when, as has been amply proved here, a question of principle is involved, that argument should not be decisive.
The Home Secretary holds that it would be, if not impossible, at least intolerably difficult to have the two elections on different days next year. True, he bolstered this argument with another one about low polls, but I find this also very difficult to accept. In 1949, when the elections were held together, the poll was not below average. In 1964, when the elections were held together, the borough council poll was considerably higher than the average for borough council elections under the old system. I hope that the right hon. Lady, when she winds up the debate, will look again at the argument about the low poll which would result. Past experience does not support it at all.
We are left with the argument based on administrative convenience. Set against the arguments already deployed the other way, this argument cannot carry weight, particularly when one bears in mind that it would be for one year only and it is quite acceptable to the majority of people that elections next year should elect borough councillors for a period of four years.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) seemed to think that this was just a quibble. It is not. The difference 340 here is as great as the difference between doing the thing straight and subordinating justice to the dictates of party advantage. Simple political reasons have dictated the Government's decision. One might be surprised, on the surface, that the Labour Party in marginally held Tory boroughs is not urging the case against the Bill, being anxious to do battle next May against the Conservatives and to have the chance of putting forward its ideas on housing and education. In fact, the London Labour Party is not taking this line, but its attitude stems not from any non-partisan approach but from its clear understanding of what the trend of results in the local elections next spring will be.
Labour-controlled local authorities which have put ideology before the interests of the ratepayers and electors, whether in education, housing or anything else, know that their "come-uppance" would come next spring. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I shall be surprised if they laugh after the Greater London Council elections next April. In fact, local Labour Parties welcome this rather miraculous intervention at the last minute by the Home Secretary to save their bacon. I say "miraculous", though the origins of this Bill are more earthly or more grubby—that is the appropriate adjective—than the word "miraculous" might, perhaps, imply.
No one will accuse the London Labour Party of being insensitive to party political advantage. Its whole approach to the London Government Act of 1963 was dictated by these considerations and these alone. The Labour Party in the boroughs does not now argue that the 1963 Act was bad. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, we do."] The London Boroughs Association does not argue that powers should go back to the G.L.C. Do the Labour-controlled boroughs say that their powers should go back to the G.L.C., as the London Labour Party did when the Bill was going through? No. They now realise that it is a good Act which has improved the administration of London government and that their attitude then was governed solely by considerations of party political advantage.
The same forces are at work behind this Bill. It is inspired not by a desire to achieve good government in London, not by a desire to improve the working 341 of democracy, and not by solicitude for the returning officers of London. I recall the concern shown by the Government Front Bench for the officers of the Ministry of Labour who now have to administer the Selective Employment Tax. They got very different treatment and far less consideration when that matter came forward. The Bill is inspired solely by the desire of the party opposite to have another 12 months in which to press on with the development of comprehensive education and to rescue the least efficient of the local authorities controlled by that side, for at least 12 months, from the return that will be due to them in due course from the electorate.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
The debate today has been in many respects, somewhat hard hitting. I thought that the most remarkable speech which we have heard, or which we have had to endure, was that delivered by the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr. Iremonger)—and I am sorry that he is not in his place. With the exception of the sleazy and offensive parts, his speech was a remarkable exhibition of synthetic indignation. That has been the attitude of Members opposite throughout the dsbate.
I am tempted to call the debate an unnecessary one. However, I have to amend my own thinking on it because hon. Gentlemen opposite have elicited so much useful information from this side of the House that I think that, after all, it has been a very necessary debate.
The hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) submitted for the serious consideration of the House that the Labour Party had been in power for almost 50 years. I do not know which part of the country he is talking about, unless he was talking about that part of the country where I was born—in the Swansea valley. It is true in that area, but I do not think that it is general for the rest of the country. In any case, it must not be considered an offence to seek power and want to keep it, and it must not be considered an offence to try to obtain power when one has not got it.
The hon. Member for Bromley gave examples of where he thought that 342 Labour in power in certain boroughs was not being co-operative in sharing authority. I know of a specific incident. When I was leader of the Fulham Borough Council I submitted to a Conservative colleague that, should he wish to have the chair, we would consider supporting him for the chairmanship, but I naturally considered that he would carry out our Socialist policies. He was not prepared to accept this. We have now had this banal argument submitted by the hon. Member for Bromley.
All hon. Members will strongly disagree with the submission of the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) that there is a form of myxomatosis creeping all over London and that councillors, whether they be Tory, Socialist or Liberal, if any exist, no longer want to carry on with the work they are doing. I do not believe that for one moment. It should perhaps be said at this time that all hon. Members rightly acknowledge the hard work which is put into local government in London by councillors of all political complexions. It is because of this hard work that local government in London has reached a standard which is the envy of the world. On that basis I found that some of the phrases and arguments submitted by hon. Members opposite have not merely been debating points, but that one did not know exactly how London government had been functioning over the past 25 years, and one might have thought that it was nothing but a corrupt body.
When the right hon. Member for King-ston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) submitted evidence of what had been said 200 years ago, and tried to relate it in the context of modern democracy, I must say that I was aghast. That was a time when the overwhelming majority of ordinary people, particularly working-class people, had no vote, no voice, no say in anything that concerned them. He talked about a period which we all know as being the period of the rotten boroughs, when corruption was shared between Liberals and Tories.
The remarkable thing which has come out of the debate is that the growth of democracy and decency has been linked with the growth of the Labour Party, which is one reason why I am proud to belong to it.
343 When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his remarkable speech, hon. Members opposite seemed to be surprised and paid him high compliments. Having given that "phoney" praise, they then referred to it as an awful speech. In very recent days my right hon. Friend made a most devastating speech, but I did not hear any hon. Member opposite compliment him on it the next day. I therefore hope that he will not take too hard what has been said of his speech today.
My right hon. Friend balanced the arguments. He did not claim that the objectives of the Bill constituted a massive argument. He admitted freely and honestly, as I think the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) will acknowledge, that, on balance, the Bill represented the better thing to do. He told us that he had obtained the observations and views of very many people. Had he not done so, hon. Members opposite would have blamed him for it. These people have no concern at all with politics, and though it was fair and right for him to consult them he has been criticised for that as well.
I had hoped that following my right hon. Friend's deep analysis of the reasons for this Bill, we would have had a similar type of speech in response from the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). I thought when the right hon. Gentleman started that he would maintain that very high level but, regrettably, he slipped down the slope into the cheaper form of party politics, in which he does not usually indulge, and so ruined what could have been a very wholesome contribution.
There are two right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Chamber to whom I enjoy listening and from whom I can learn. One is the right hon. Member for Enfield, West and the other is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone—who, I understand is to wind up for the Opposition this evening. I hope that he will grasp this opportunity of raising the level of this debate, which is something he can do, and will not sink into the deep partisanship that his right hon. Friend showed earlier.
344 In two General Elections comprehensive schools have been the burning issue in Ealing, and I am glad to say that the louder the opposition has been to them in my division the greater has been the size of my majority. I therefore hope that hon. Members opposite will maintain their hostile attitude toward comprehensive education because, to use one of their own terms, it pays Labour candidates very handsome dividends.
To say that people will be deprived of the opportunity to express their views about comprehensive education or about any aspect or attitude of local government is going too far. At one time, I really thought that hon. Members opposite had got things mixed up and that this Bill's purpose was to ban elections for ever more. When one examines the animosity of hon. Members opposite, one is forced to remember that not very many years ago they produced a Measure which stained the good name of London government and of national government.
That Bill was introduced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and it destroyed the L.C.C.—an authority that was the envy of the world. They did that for the one reason that the overwhelming mass of Londoners had for 25 years consistently elected Labour to run the affairs of this city. That was the crime, and that was the reason for that Measure. There was manipulation.
At the time, I was annoyed, because it seemed to me that it had been done so skilfully in the Tory interest that it would be impossible for the Labour Party to win Greater London. Nevertheless, it did not come off. The machinations of right hon. and hon. Members opposite were seen through by Londoners and they were rejected. Some of the smarting and aggravation of that squalid manœuvre has overflowed into this debate and is responsible for the reactions of many right hon. and hon. Members opposite. It would be a good thing if they were to drop that attitude.
As I have said, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, who is quite capable of dealing with the issue on a factual level, has an opportunity now to leave aside the cheap and squalid arguments that we have heard today and restore the debate to the level at which it was set by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Scott
The London Government Act has made London the only world city with an administrative structure that corresponds to reality. It is that which is the envy of the world.
§ Mr. Molloy
That is only the hon. Member's oponion.
Many people with great knowledge of the operation of London government would totally disagree with him. People who have not only made a study of the subject, but who have worked in London government, have been concerned about change. Many Labour councillors believed that some form of change was required. What disgusted us was that the Conservative Party was not concerned with change or with improvement, but only with capturing London for itself. It was not concerned with efficient administration and that attitude has spread over into this debate.
I support what was said by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) about aldermen. We do have such experiences in local government. Sometimes they occur because both parties are compelled to do such a thing although, according to strict mathematical interpretation, the aldermanic seats should be shared. But sharing is not done either by Labour or Tory councillors. The time has come for us seriously to look at the problem of aldermanic seats. The situation puts our colleagues on local councils—members of both parties—in a difficulty. The time has come for us to find some other form of making use of the aldermanic bench, since the present method is out dated and should be done away with.
I want to pay tribute to all those who work in local government as officers and staff, and also to those in the Conservative and Labour Parties who give so much of their time to it. We in this House have a great responsibility because, since it is tempting to make partisan points, we can refuse to acknowledge their work and perhaps thereby damage the good name of voluntary administration that goes into London government and is contributed to by councillors of the Conservative Party just as much as by those of the Labour Party.
When the dust of the debate settles, I am sure that anyone with knowledge of local government in London—and I believe 346 that hon. Members opposite, in their hearts, believe this to be true—will appreciate that the ideals of the Bill are to provide for better administration and to help in the structure of democracy in Greater London. It will do two things—help to enhance interest in local government in London and contribute to making it an even better democracy.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
There is nothing which gives the lie to the image of the Labour Party as a reforming and progressive party more than the tenacity with which it holds to the idea that the L.C.C., formed at a time when London was infinitely smaller than it is today, was the beau idéal of everything required. The backward attitude of hon. Members opposite is identified by that more than anything else, and we have heard it over and over again from hon. Members opposite today.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) used an extremely unfortunate analogy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), with his historical knowledge, has sought back for a precedent and found one in the beginning of the 18th century. The hon. Gentleman completed the analogy by pointing out that that was the time of the rotten boroughs. I remind him that rotten boroughs were those in which elections did not take place when they should.
Throughout the debate hon. Members opposite have denied the simple principle which is involved—that if a body of councillors is elected for three years then it is not up to the House of Commons for any reason to alter that decision, if that can be avoided. It is as simple as that. There is no precedent, other than that mentioned by my right hon. Friend, for the Government's action. The precedent of 1948, when the time of the election was changed, was a precedent the other way round. The danger is that from now on this action will be quoted as precedent. That is what worries me. With each of these decisions, precedents are constantly changed.
I draw the attention of the House to something not yet mentioned. In another Bill before the House is a provision to remove the review of the I.L.E.A. That provision should be in this and not in 347 that Bill, for it is related to London and London Members should have a chance on the Floor of the House to debate a change in the 1963 legislation. But that change has been tied to a Bill which is not relevant to it and that is deplorable, especially as the Local Government Commissions particularly excluded London from their operations.
In other words, this particular London provision has been tacked on to a Bill which specifically has nothing to do with London. This is an important principle. This is fundamentally an education Bill—we all know that and it has been shown many times during the discussion today. We should have the chance to debate this change on the Floor of the House and it is deplorable that the Government should put before us the proposition that the review of the I.L.E.A. should not take place.
It is deplorable because the working of education in outer London has clearly shown that there is a strong case for smaller education authorities in the centre of London as well as outside. I do not say that it should necessarily be for the whole range of education, but there might be some breakdown of responsibility between central and local authorities. It is wrong for the Government to say that there should be no review, without the House having a chance to consider the matter, and I strongly deplore their decision not to include that provision in this Bill, which is where it should be.
I ask the Government to make certain, by one means or another, that that provision is discussed, either by taking it out of its present Bill and putting it in this, or in some other way. This proposed change matters desperately to the parents and children of Central London and London Members should have the chance to discuss it in the House.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) paid me two very delicate compliments during the course of his speech and it is, perhaps, to return evil for good if I say to him that I shared the amazement of my hon. Friend that he should have retained the religious veneration with which he still apparently regards the 348 built-up area of 1888, which was at once the origin and, alas, by the latter part of the 20th century, the limitation of the old London County Council. I will not therefore follow the hon. Gentleman into that part of the debate.
It must necessarily fall to anyone who winds up a debate of this kind to return at length to the speech of the Minister who introduced the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope to deal with almost every speech made from the Government benches during the course of my remarks. Some of them, like that of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes), seemed to be impossibly naive, some of them like that of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) seemed to be impossibly disingenuous, for he began by saying that he approached the matter from a non-party point of view. Other speeches like that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who gave us a rollicking example of Old Bailey common jury advocacy, seemed to be totally irrelevant.
It seemed that the Home Secretary, if he will forgive me for saying so, was at one and the same time, the most naïve, the most disingenuous, and the most irrelevant of all those who spoke from the benches opposite. This has caused me a very great deal of distress and bewilderment, because I have never regarded the right hon. Gentleman as a naïve man. Indeed, it would be very difficult to write such a good book about Sir Charles Dilke and retain one's virgin innocence for long. I thought that he was a shining example of ingenuousness in a Government whose Leader and whose principal Members are hardly renowned for their candour.
He has far too formidable an intellectual armament for me ever to regard him as intentionally irrelevant. The right hon. Gentleman affected not to realise—and in this he was surely being naïve—that the case against the Bill is that he is in the position of a man playing cards who has been found with the ace up his sleeve.
When Mr. Gladstone was discovered in this unenviable situation, he always pretended that God had put the ace there—or so we are led to believe by our forebears. But the right hon. Gentleman, 349 instead of attributing to divine providence the possession of this valuable card in his cuff appeared instead—and here he was surely being disingenuous—to attribute it to the omniscient wisdom of a committee of town clerks, who put it there for purely administrative reasons.
This is where we thought that he was being disingenuous. He then went on to spend the greater part of his speech explaining why the committee of town clerks had thought that on a nicely balanced arrangement of arguments, some for and some against, the principle of staggering elections was marginally the best of two possible alternatives in the ideal democratic world in which we all wish to live. He did not go to the length of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, in saying that the other system was unworkable. He was far too subtle, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North reminded us; he said that the arguments were very nicely balanced.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if all that he had done in the Bill was to stagger the elections between the G.L.C. and the London boroughs he would not have met the opposition which he is meeting tonight, because no issue of principle would be involved. I happen to agree with him that the arguments for and against this course are probably very nicely balanced, but for this reason there would be no dfference of principle between us if he had simply proposed a Bill saying that the elections should in future be staggered.
But the Home Secretary knows as well as I do—and this is where he was being disingenuous—that what is objectionable to us—and in the context of this Bill and of political reality in London it is, as he well knows, objectonable to us in principle—is the prolongation of the life of an elective body beyond the point for which it is elected. It was this point with which he never dealt in his speech, and it was there that he was being irrelevant. As he well knows, this is a vital year in the history of London. The genesis of the Bill has been attacked as disreputable on grounds which I shall advert to and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) explained in detail.
350 I am not saying that there can never be circumstances in which the life of an elective body can be prolonged beyond the period for which it was elected. How could I? I was a member of a war-time Parliament which did it year by year. But what I am saying, and what the right hon. Gentleman has never tried to grapple with, is that the burden of proof rests very heavily on those who propose to do an act of this kind. It is not, at any rate in our view, a burden of proof very easily to be discharged. The right hon. Gentleman has utterly failed to discharge it.
If we are to do a thing like that, if we are to take away from electors the right to vote for a new council at a point at which they have a vested right to exercise that vote, we must point to three main arguments. The first is necessity; the second is consultation between the parties; and the third is that it is done in the interests of the electors and not in the interests of a committee of town clerks or other officials, or even of the elected representatives of the borough, or even, pace the Member for Lewisham, North, the party workers on whom we all depend for our seats either in Parliament or on local councils. Let me tell the hon. Member for Lewisham, North that the party workers of the Conservative Party in London are raring to go. They do not mind having two elections this year. They are only too anixous to be "up and at 'em".
But none of these conditions is satisfied in the present case. There has been no consultation between the parties. Apart from the desirability of staggering the elections, the interests of the electors have hardly been mentioned by the Home Secretary. Nor did the right hon. Gentleman even try to pretend that what he was doing was necessary. He even had the audacity—and here he was being very naïve—to suggest that one precedent was afforded by Mr. Chuter Ede in 1948. Mr. Chuter Ede did exactly what we are asking the right hon. Gentleman to do now. He did not prolong the life of an existing elected body; he provided that the future elections should be over four years instead of three and that thereafter they should revert to the triennial period.
If, as the Home Secretary pretends, the precedent of 1948 is relevant—and of course it is—he should be voting in the "No" Lobby this evening, because it is 351 Mr. Chuter Ede's precedent on which we rely. Then, however, the right hon. Gentleman relied on the precedent of 1963. Here he was being disingenuous, because he knows perfectly well that the precedent of 1963 has nothing whatever to do with the present case. On that occasion, a number of councils—the London County Council and the old Metropolitan boroughs—were being wound down and it was thought that, by agreement between the parties, there should be a period of parallel councils in office. Quite obviously, it was neither in the interests of the electors nor possible to secure new elections for the council which was handing over its dying functions to the new council which had been elected to take them over. The whole essence of the scheme was that the old council should hand over to the new and the purpose was to get the new councils, after new elections, into office at the earliest possible moment. The right hon. Gentleman knew, I suggest, that this was not a true analogy and in that, I suggest, he was being extremely disingenuous in seeking to pray it in aid.
The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say, as he had said to us earlier, that the reason why he had to have a postponement this year to prolong the life of the predominantly Labour London boroughs was that he was afraid of a low poll. But on what evidence? My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West explained what the figures were.
We have the two years 1949 and 1964. In 1949 the poll, although low—38.2 per cent.—for the then boroughs was considerably above the average for 1953, 1959 and 1962. It was slightly above the average in 1953 at 39.9 per cent., considerably below in 1959 at 32.9 per cent. and in 1962 considerably below again at 32.3 per cent. The 1964 figures, however, upon which the right hon. Gentleman purported to rely, showed a borough average of 36 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman only succeeded in making his figure even plausible—and here, I suggest, he was being extremely disingenuous—by limiting his figure to the inner London area. He knows as well as I do that that figure was vitiated by the extremely low average poll of 17 per cent. in the three strongly Labour-held boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Islington and Hackney, otherwise 352 the figure would have been even higher than the general figure which I have quoted.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
If one is making comparisons, one should make comparisons of like with like. If one compares the poll in 1964 for the boroughs which were previously metropolitan boroughs, the figure of 28.7 per cent. is the lowest figure which there ever had been for the years preceding. It is a well-known fact, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept, that in all cities—it is true in my own City of Birmingham—polls in inner areas tend to be lower than polls in outer areas. Therefore, unless one is comparing like with like, which is precisely what I did but what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not doing, one gets a false comparison.
§ Mr. Hogg
Let us compare like with like. The right hon. Gentleman is not being just to himself. He is saying that he is postponing the elections this year for the boroughs in the Greater London area on the basis that he expects a low poll. The figures which I quoted are for the Greater London area. The right hon. Gentleman's figures are for the inner London area only and they are vitiated by three special cases. Who is comparing like with like?
§ Mr. Jenkins
In 1964, the figures for the London area as a whole, for all the London boroughs, were lower than for any other category of authority. They were lower than for county councils, for county boroughs, for municipal boroughs and for urban district councils.
§ Mr. Jenkins rose—
§ Mr. Jenkins rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Too many people want to join in this debate. If the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) does not give way, the right hon. Gentleman must keep his seat.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, I am not giving way. The right hon. Gentleman did not refer to education and, there again, he was being both disingenuous and irrelevant, because he knows as well as I do that this is a critical year in the future of London education.
The point is not, as hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think, whether one is broadly in favour of comprehensive education or not. This is not a subject which we can canvass in this debate, and, on quite different grounds, we must agree to differ this evening. However, hon. Gentlemen opposite know as well as I do that there are probably 45 different ways of going comprehensive, and that there are critical and bitter differences between each way.
In the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, they are seeking to invent sham comprehensive schools divided between different locations. Parents have the right to vote about that, whether they are in favour of comprehension or not.
In the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), they are adopting three inconsistent systems of comprehension within a single borough. The local 354 teachers are against it, and the parents are against it, but the teachers and parents are being deprived of their votes. The right hon. Gentleman does not mention education.
There is the question of housing. The Camden area, with its £1¾ million deficit on its account, which sends the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) to Parliament. Are ratepayers not to be entitled to vote about that deficit?
There is the Havering area, where there is chaos and no party group in power. Are the electors not entitled to put a party group in power in Havering? Is the right hon. Gentleman, who does not mention these things, who does not think that they are important and who talks about his committee of town clerks, really depriving the electors of Havering of the opportunity of putting an end to the deadlock? What right has he to do so? The Havering council was elected to terminate this year.
Then there is the Borough of Brent, with owner-occupiers threatened with eviction to make way for council housing. What right has the right hon. Gentleman to prevent them from recording their vote?
Hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "We, the invincible Labour Party, would win if there was an election." Why do they not have one?
§ Mr. Roebuck rose—
§ Mr. Hogg
No, I am not giving way. The only polls which have been held in recent months, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames pointed out, have shown a startlingly different series of results. In Croydon, a Labour vote of 1,273 went down to 358. In Greenwich, a Labour vote of 1,446 went down to 881. In Redbridge, a Labour vote of 2,685 went down to 1,402. In Wandsworth, a Labour vote of 1,617 went down to 827. In every case except Wandsworth, where it was practically static, the Conservative vote went up.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really pretend that there is not an ace up his sleeve which he has deliberately played to cheat people out of the result of a coming election? We know the genesis of these proposals, and no one on the 355 benches opposite, although they have squealed beyond endurance, has dared to deny the facts. This proposal, which the right hon. Gentleman said recently had been put before him in April, 1966, was first leaked by the Leader of the Labour Council at a public meeting on 2nd December, 1965. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it had been made at a secret meeting, behind closed doors, of the Labour Party Co-ordinating Committee.
The Home Office knew nothing about it because it was rung up and told. The Greater London Council, Dr. Holmes, knew nothing about it because he was rung up and asked. The Labour Party Co-ordinating Committee had already decided to gerrymander the election of 1967, and if the right hon. Gentleman is too much of a pedant to enjoy the word "gerrymander", because that word is more appropriate to what his right hon. and learned Friend did in Northampton two years ago, let me say, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), that he is doing exactly what the corrupt Sir Robert Walpole did when he passed the Septennial Act.
The House has been misled. The right hon. Gentleman said, as my right hon. Friend reminded him, that seven Conservative boroughs supported the change. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman wrote my right hon. Friend a courteous letter saying that it was a slip of the tongue. I accept that, but why did the right hon. Gentleman not correct his mistake in the House? He told me that seven Conservative boroughs had supported the change. Then he told me courteously and properly that he had made a slip of the tongue. I accepted that it was a slip of the tongue, but I asked him to correct his error, and that he has never done in public.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
If any apology is required, I gladly give it. By a slip of the tongue I said on 4th August what was not true. I told the right hon. Gentleman the position. As I understood it, he accepted it and said that we would return to this. He has returned to it, and I told him this afternoon, and I told the House, exactly what the position was as clearly as I could. Reverting to the position about my slip of the tongue, I 356 said that so many were in favour of a change, but not the change.
§ Mr. Hogg
The right hon. Gentleman repeated his slip in another form and although I accepted, and I accept now, that he did not deceive the House deliberately—I have never disputed that—it is the greatest pity that he did not issue a correcting statement in the House the next day.
In fact, the right hon. Gentleman relied, even in his speech today, on three dissident Conservative boroughs, Westminster, Harrow and Sutton. Westminster is not concerned with educational problems at all, but is a member of the I.L.E.A. All three of them are strong, safe seats in which the error of principle, however wrong, yields no difference in practice as to what the result would be.
These are precisely boroughs like the Borough of Tower Hamlets, like the strongly held boroughs on the other side, where administrative considerations may well preponderate. But in matters of electoral advantage—and here the right hon. Gentleman is being both naïve and disingenuous if he does not accept it—it is the marginal boroughs which count, and here the marginal boroughs are 100 per cent. Labour held in favour of postponing elections and 100 per cent. Conservative held in favour of holding the elections when the law as it stands today, and at this moment, says that they should be held.
It is the right hon. Gentleman who has a whole stack of social legislation which needs urgent consideration, some of which could have been passed today. The Genocide Bill could have been passed today. It would have received a Second Reading. The Maintenance Bill could have been passed today. The Bills dealing with fire, drues, and clubs could have been passed without party controversy if only the right hon. Gentleman had done the thing which we accept he is entitled to do, stagger the elections in the way in which Mr. Chuter Ede chose to do it in 1948. Instead of that the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to give effect to the decision taken at the secret meeting of the Labour Party Co-ordinating Committee, leaked on 2nd December, 1965, by the leader of the Ealing Borough Council, which is at war with its parents even in the Law Courts.
§ Mr. Molloy
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a very grave accusation against the leader of the Ealing Borough Council. It might have been a slip of the tongue, because he is wrong. When my right hon. Friend made a slip of the tongue, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked him, "Why did you not come to the House the next day to make your correction?" I expect the right hon. and learned Gentleman to come here tomorrow to correct the allegation which he has just made against the leader of the Ealing Borough Council.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)
This debate has been full of heat generated by some hon. Members opposite. We all enjoy the exuberant speeches made by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Maryle-bone (Mr. Hogg) almost as much as he enjoys them himself. Before I come to the main argument put forward tonight and deal with the points made in the speeches of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, I want to refer to two other speeches.
The first was the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), which was full of realism. He said that the only party political issue was the vote that the Tories would force tonight on the Bill. He admitted that the Liberal Party had made representations about this matter and that, like any other political party, it had a perfect right to do so.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of single-member electoral areas. He knows that under the London Government Act, 1963, there can be single-member electoral areas only when the new Parliamentary boundaries are in operation; otherwise, there will be a terrific amount of overlapping and it will be an almost impossible position. We noted with interest his views about aldermen. They were very interesting views, and I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will agree with them.
The second speech was that of the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus). He made some smears 358 and accusations against my right hon. Friend for the way in which he dealt with the inquiry that took place into the warding of the Borough of Brent. Since he has been asking Questions about this in Parliament, and since we have not had any opportunity of replying to his allegations, it is only right that I should answer them now.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend threw on one side the recommendations of the Commissioner who was given the task of conducting the inquiry in the Borough of Brent. He referred, in passing, to the fact that the report of the Commissioner—Mr. Verney—was a rather unusual one, in that he did not suggest one solution but two. He said, "This is the scheme that I would prefer, but there is another scheme, if the scheme that I would prefer is not accepted." He put forward two alternatives, and my right hon. Friend accepted the second.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I made the situation quite clear. I said that the Commissioner recommended the maintenance of the status quo, but said that if that was not accepted the alternative should be the Socialist scheme rather than the Conserative scheme. I made that very clear.
§ Miss Bacon
Yes, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been alleging for some time in Questions in the House that my right hon. Friend has not paid heed to the views of the Commissioner. I was rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman tonight said, of the distinguished barrister who conducted the inquiry, "Of course, it is significant that it is the same one who conducted the inquiry into Northampon." That is an unjustifiable slur on the good name of that distinguished barrister—
§ Sir E. Bullus
I cast no reflection on the Commissioner. All I said was, incidentally, that it was the same Commissioner. No doubt, because of the Northampton case, he put in an alternative.
§ Miss Bacon
I took it, and I am sure that all hon. Members who heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman took it, to be a slur.
I come now to the point about Brent. The recommendation of the Commissioner, which my right hon. Friend accepted, was to merge together the two parts, that is, Wembley and Willesden, in 359 a much better way than the alternative scheme would have done—
§ Miss Bacon
The hon. and gallant Gentleman keeps referring to "the Socialist scheme". He knows perfectly well that, in his report, Mr. Verney said that he absolved everybody from any political motives whatsoever in the inquiry.
The alternative scheme, which my right hon. Friend accepted, means that we shall have wards with equal representation rather than, in future, a differentiation in the wards between those which belonged to the former borough of Wembley and those which belonged to the former borough of Willesden. It was right that this alternative scheme should have been accepted to weld the two together much better than would have been the case.
I now come to the allegations made about my right hon. Friend both by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. I want to refute them absolutely. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West trotted out a series of allegations about speeches and meetings and deputations and secret conclaves, and did so in such a hurried way that we could hardly take them in. He then said that he would let me have all the particulars and documents during the debate so that I could look at them, but, up to now, I have not received them.
However, I say quite categorically that my right hon. Friend had no representations from any source whatever until the official representations from local authorities.
We were told about a speech by a councillor at Ealing. All kinds of councillors from every political party make speeches of one kind or another at some time or another, and I had never heard about this speech. I am sure that there are occasions when the right hon. Member does not hear about speeches made by councillors of his party.
Let me go through carefully—this is important—the sequence of events, and what happened leading up to the Bill. The first letter which we had about this was from the hon. and gallant Member 360 for Wembley, North, who wrote on 10th January, 1966, to my right hon. Friend:I understand that the London Labour Party has approached you with proposals to change the date of the borough elections from 1967 to 1968. If this is so, may I lodge my complaint and that of my divisional Conservative Association. I would be grateful for a comment.This was answered by my hon. Friend who was then the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and is now Minister of State, Welsh Office:You wrote to the Home Secretary on 10th January about the suggested change in the year of the London borough elections from 1967 to 1968. The Home Office has received no proposals from the London Labour Party. I note that you would object to such a change.The only letter which went from the Home Office to the Clerk of the Greater London Council—and this was before that letter from the hon. and gallant Gentleman—went out on 31st December, 1965. It was concerned with consulting the Greater London Council about the date of the elections next year because, as hon. Members know, it is stated in the 1963 Act that until the elections are on one day, the date shall be fixed by my right hon. Friend.
The letter went from the Home Office about consulting the members of the Greater London Council in regard to the precise date for the Greater London Council elections next April. Accordingly, the letter having gone to the Clerk of the Greater London Council, the G.L.C. considered the matter and evidently also considered the date of its elections in relation to the date of the London borough elections.
The result was that the G.L.C., on 8th February of this year, passed a resolution—I will not read the whole of it, only the relevant part—which stated:…we also took the view that a separate year as well as a separate day should be provided for the elections in order to keep alive a sense of civic awareness in an otherwise long interval without an opportunity to vote. In 1967 elections to the London Borough Councils will take place in the week beginning 7th May. Any proposal to change the year of the Borough Council elections will need legislation and therefore we propose that the Council should inform the Home Secretary now that in its view such a change should be made. We recommend—That the Home Secretary be informed—(1) that the Council prefers 13th April, 1967 as the date of the next election of 361 councillors to the Greater London Council; and,(2) that in the Council's view the election of London borough councillors should as soon as possible be held in a different year from that in which the election of Greater London Councillors are held.As far as I am aware, no voice was raised against that resolution and no vote was taken at the G.L.C. meeting.
On 5th April, a reply went from the Home Office to the G.L.C. stating:Note has been taken of the suggestion that after 1967 the election of London borough councils should be held not only on a separate day but in a different year from that on which the elections of Greater London Councils are held. A further communication will be sent to you in due course. Copies of this letter and enclosure have been sent to the Association of Municipal Corporations and the London Boroughs Committee.It was as a result of that letter, which was merely noting the views of the G.L.C., that the London Boroughs Committee set up a special committee to consider the matter. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West must have been misinformed, because he said that the special committee—I believe it was that committee to which he was referring—of the London Boroughs Committee was not unanimous. My information is that this special committee was unanimous that the elections should be held in different years.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod indicated dissent.
§ Miss Bacon
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head in disagreement. I have done my best, in the absence of the information he was going to give me, to check on this matter and I have found that this is the position.
As I say, we sent a copy of the letter to the London Boroughs Committee and this special committee was set up by that body. On 12th April a letter from the London Boroughs Committee was received saying that the majority of the boroughs in London supported changing the years. The majority not only supported changing the years and having the elections in a different year but also favoured the postponing the 1967 London borough elections to 1968. The figures quoted by my right hon. Friend in his speech were that 27 of the 32 boroughs expressed the view that the elections for Greater London councillors and London 362 borough councillors should be held in different years, and 20 of these considered that the change should be made by postponing the 1967 borough elections. The remainder believe that this could be done by postponing the 1970 borough elections. Only five thought that nothing should be done at all, and the majority thought that the 1967 election should be postponed to 1968.
It is true, as my right hon. Friend said, a report was enclosed from the town clerks of the London boroughs and, after all, the town clerks are those who must do the work in this. I do not think that they would be very pleased at the statement by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West that we are not here to protect the comfort of town clerks and councillors. That may be so, but the town clerks pointed to the breakdown that would occur if they had to have the two elections on one day. They pointed out the difficulty of doing so, and this is relevant because the 1963 Act not only says that the elections shall be held in one year, but that eventually they shall be held on one day.
Returning to the question of the subcommittee of the London Boroughs Committee, I am informed that the Borough of Enfield agreed with the setting up of the sub-committee of six established by the London boroughs to recommend action on this subject, and when the report was submitted to the Enfield Borough Council's General Purposes Committee it was accepted with no comment from the Conservative members. It was only when it went before the full council that the Conservatives had second thoughts, no doubt prompted from other sources, and voted against it.
The sequence of events and the letters I have quoted shows that there is no justification whatever for the accusations that have been levelled against my right hon. Friend today. It has been said by several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that my right hon. Friend was pressurised by party political pressures. He had no—[Interruption.] I want to give the categorical assurance that the letters I have quoted were the first that my right hon. Friend received, and they were from the properly appointed local government authority in London.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I wish 363 to say, first, that I am sorry if I misunderstood the question of the documentation, which I have sent for from HANSARD. I thought that I said that if she asked for the documents I would send them to her. My second point is this: does the right hon. Lady realise what she is saying? This was in the public Press last December. Dr. Holmes rang up the Home Office last December. Even Ministers of this Government, like the Minister of Defence, were in print on this last December. Is the right hon. Lady really saying that the Home Secretary is the only person who knew nothing about it until April?
§ Miss Bacon
I do not know what the Minister of Defence has to do with this. What I am saying is that these were the representations made to my right hon. Friend and no other, and I want to state that quite categorically.
We did not move Amendments on the subject we are now discussing when the London Government Bill was before the House of Commons, but they were moved in the House of Lords. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said today that there was no issue of principle between us and that, if we had considered a different year, he would have been with us. His Government did not take that view when the Amendments were moved in the other place during the passage of the 1963 Bill.
Hon. and right hon. Members have referred today to the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in London. They have said that this was not all in the 1963 Act, but what they want is what the Royal Commission recommended. I remind the House that, when they were in office in 1963, they adopted in their London Government Bill those parts of the Royal Commission's Report which they liked and they conveniently put on one side those parts which they did not like. For example, the Royal Commission proposed 54 boroughs, but the Bill put the number at 32.
What about the changes in Surrey? Right hon. and hon. Members have said that there have been party political pressures put upon us. What about the backstairs manoeuvring in 1963 in which they were involved to bring certain parts of the County of Surrey out of Greater London?
364 A great deal of the debate has been concerned with education, particularly education in London. I do not know how the Opposition can talk about education in London now when they tried to break up the whole of the London County Council's education system at the time of the 1963 Bill. I was astonished to hear the right hon. Member for Enfield, West say that our proposal in this Bill is an exercise to further schemes of comprehensive education, a suggestion which was then taken up by other hon. and right hon. Members. I thank them for it. I have always been an ardent supporter of comprehensive education. I take pride in the fact that I have done as much as anyone to persuade my party to adopt it as national policy, but I never thought that I should have the opportunity to stand at this Box as a Home Office Minister and talk about comprehensive education.
I believe in comprehensive education, and I have always approached the question not as a political but as an educational question. I have seen what has happened in the past, wasting the talents of children at the age of 11. I have seen the wide variations as between one local education authority and another. In the past, it has not been ability which counted towards a child's future, but geography, in that where the child happened to live.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said that the Opposition would not like to feel that comprehensive education would be introduced as the result of a political trick, and he added, "We know that the Labour Party would lose in 1967". That is what he and his hon. Friends thought in 1964, but it did not happen.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter rose—
§ Miss Bacon
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West said that, if the elections were held in 1967 and the Tories won they would upset the schemes for comprehensive education. He said that 365 it is the people who must be allowed to decide these matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Comprehensive education was a great feature of the last General Election and the people decided then in favour of it. The Tories, throughout the whole of this debate, have, in effect, said that if in their particular boroughs there happened to be a change, they would destroy any plans for comprehensive education. That is the threat which they have been issuing tonight.
During the passing of the London Government Bill, in 1963, the party opposite did a great deal to break up the whole of the child care service in London. When we came to office we could have dismantled all that, but we did nothing of the kind. We have built up the child care service in the boroughs of London, and we have not issued any threats about breaking up the whole of it.
As I have said, there have been a lot of backstairs manæuvres by the party opposite. I am sorry that the Opposition have treated the Bill as they have, with smears and accusations. It comes ill from hon. Members opposite who destroyed the London County Council because they disliked it so much, and from a party which split vital services on that council.
We have tried to make the 1963 Act work, and we have done everything we can to make it work. What is it that fills the party opposite with such indignation and anger tonight? It is this: hon. Members did all they could to destroy the London County Council and to destroy the hold of the Labour Party in London.
§ It produced the Greater London Council, thinking it would be a Tory Council, but it was not—it was a Labour council. The people of the Greater London area elected a Labour council, and that is what has made hon. Members opposite so angry ever since. That is why they are accusing us of gerrymandering and I hope that their accusations will come to nothing. I am quite sure that at the elections in 1967 or 1968 the people of London will do what they did in 1964.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
In this most jiggery-pokery manoeuvre there is one obvious thing sticking out a mile, which is that the Labour Party is afraid of facing the election next year—[Interruption.] It has chosen well the date, 13th April, 1967, for the Greater London Council elections, because 13th April will be the unluckiest day for Labour in the last 34 years. They have been 34 wasted years of Labour rule, and they will be ended next April.
The housing programme, which has been so heavily subsidised—
§ Mr. George Lawson (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 330, Noes 219.369
|Division No. 200.]||AYES||[10.4 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Blackburn, F.||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara|
|Albu, Austen||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Chapman, Donald|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Boardman, H.||Coe, Denis|
|Alldritt, walter||Booth, Albert||Coleman, Donald|
|Anderson, Donald||Boston, Terence||Concannon, J. D.|
|Archer, Peter||Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Conlan, Bernard|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Corbet, Mrs. Freda|
|Ashley, Jack||Boyden, James||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Peston, N.)||Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Cronin, John|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Bradley, Tom||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Cullen, Mrs, Alice|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Brooks, Edwin||Dalyell, Tarn|
|Barnes, Michael||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Darling, Rt. Hn. George|
|Barnim, Joel||Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)|
|Baxter, William||Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)|
|Beaney, Alan||Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Buchan, Norman||Davies, Edynfed Hudson (Conway)|
|Bence, Cyril||Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Davies, Robert (Cambridge)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Binns, John||Cant, R. B.||Dell, Edmund|
|Bishop, E. S.||Carmichael, Neil||Dewar, Donald|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Dickens, James||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Dobson, Ray||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Doig, Peter||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Driberg, Tom||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Pentland, Norman|
|Dunnett, Jack||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Judd, Frank||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Kelley, Richard||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Eadie, Alex||Kenyon, Clifford||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Edeiman, Maurice||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Leadbitter, Ted||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Ledger, Ron||Probert, Arthur|
|Ellis, John||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|English, Michael||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Randall, Harry|
|Ennals, David||Lee, John (Reading)||Rankin, John|
|Ensor, David||Lester, Miss Joan||Redhead, Edward|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Rsynolds, G. W.|
|Faulds, Andrew||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Richard, Ivor|
|Finch, Harold||Upton, Marcus||Robert, Albert (Normanton)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lomas, Kenneth||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||Loughlin, Charles||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Luard, Evan||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lubbock, Eric||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)|
|Floud, Bernard||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Robinson, W.O.J. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Ford, Ben||McBride, Neil||Rose, Paul|
|Forrester, John||McCann, John||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Fowler, Gerry||MacColl, James||Rowland, Chirstopher (Meriden)|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||MacDermot, Niall||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Macdonald, A. H.||Ryan, John|
|Freeson, Reginald||McGuire, Michael||Shaw, Arnold (llford, S.)|
|Calpern, Sir Myer||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Sheldon, Robert|
|Gardner, Tony||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Garrow, Alex||Mackie, John||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Ginsburg, David||Mackintosh, John P.||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tte-u-Tyne)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Maclennan, Robert||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Gourlay, Harry||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||McNamara, J. Kevin||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Gregory, Arnold||MacPherson, Malcoln||Slater, Joseph|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Small, William|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Snow, Julian|
|Griffiths. Will (Exchange)||Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Manuel, Archie||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mapp, Charles||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Marquand, David||Stonehouse, John|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Hamling, William||Mason, Roy||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Hannan, William||Mayhew, Christopher||Swain, Thomas|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mendelson, J. J.||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mikardo, Ian||Taverne, Dick|
|Haseldine, Norman||Millan, Bruce||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hattersley, Roy||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Hazell, Bert||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Molloy, William||Tomney, Frank|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Moonman, Eric||Tuck, Raphael|
|Henig, Stanley||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Hilton, W. S.||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Wallace, George|
|Hooley, Frank||Moyle, Roland||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Horner, John||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Murray, Albert||Weitzman, David|
|Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Neal, Harold||Wellbeloved, James|
|Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Newens, Stan||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Whitaker, Ben|
|Howie, W.||Norwood, Christopher||White, Mrs, Eirene|
|Hoy, James||Oakes, Gordon||Whitlock, William|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Ogden, Eric||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, s.)||O'Malley, Brian||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Orbach, Maurice||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Orme, Stanley||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Hunter, Adam||Oswald, Thomas||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Hynd, John||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Owen, Will (Morpeth)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Padley, Walter||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Paget, R. T.||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Palmer, Arthur||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.)||Pardoe, John||Winnick, David|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Park, Trevor||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Winterbottom, R. E.||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.||Yates, Victor||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Woof, Robert||Zilliacus, K.||Mr. Lawson and Mr. Grey.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Mott-Radolyffe, Sir Charles|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Gower, Raymond||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Astor, John||Grant, Anthony||Murton, Oscar|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Grant-Ferris, R.||Nabarro. Sir Gerald|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gresham Cooke, R.||Neave, Airey|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Balniel, Lord||Gurden, Harold||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nott, John|
|Batsford, Brian||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Biffen, John||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Percival, Ian|
|Blank, Sir Cyril||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Peyton, John|
|Blaker, Peter||Hastings, Stephen||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hawkins, Paul||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Pounder, Rafton|
|Boyden, James||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Braine, Bernard||Higgins, Terence L.||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Brewis, John||Hiley, Joseph||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hill, J. E. B.||Quennell, Mies J. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. Sir Walter||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Holland, Philip||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bryan, Paul||Hordern, Peter||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M)||Hornby, Richard||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hunt, John||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Burdon, F. A.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rossl, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Campbell, Gordon||Iremonger, T. L.||Royle, Anthony|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Sharples, Richard|
|Clark, Henry||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Clegg, Walter||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Cooke, Robert||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Smith, John|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Kimball, Marcus||Stainton, Keith|
|Corfield, F. V.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Stodart, Anthony|
|Costain, A. P.||Kirk, Peter||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Kitson, Timothy||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Talbot, John E.|
|Crouch, David||Lambton, Viscount||Tapsell, Peter|
|Crowder, F. P.||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Currre, G. B. H.||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstene)||Teeling, Sir William|
|Dance, James||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Longden, Gilbert||Tilney, John|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Loveys, W. H.||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McAdden, Sir Stephen||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||MacArthur, Iain||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Doughty, Charles||McMaster, Stanley||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Drayson, G. B.||Maddan, Martin||Walters, Dernnis|
|Eden, Sir John||Maginnls, John||Webster, David|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Marten, Neil||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mathew, Robert||Whitelaw, William|
|Farr, John||Maude, Angus||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mawby, Ray||Wolridge-Gordon, Patrick|
|Forrest, George||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Fortescue, Tim||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdn. S. L. C.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Foster, Sir John||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Miscampbell, Norman||Wylie, N. R.|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Monro, Hector|
|Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan||More, Jasper||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gilmour, lan (Norfolk, C.)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Mr. Pym and Mr. R. W. Elliott.|
|Glyn, Sir Richard||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. McBride.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.