§ 2.52 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Stonham)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Suspension of redistributions till next general reports of Boundary Commissions, and acceleration of those reports]:
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES
Before I call Amendment No. 1 I think I should point out to the Committee that if this Amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 2.
Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 5, leave out from beginning to ("no") in line 6.
The noble Lord said
I beg to move the first Amendment which stands in the names of the Leader of the Conservative Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Opposition and two noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches. In fact all the Amendments in their joint names on the Marshalled List are linked together and it may be to your Lordships' convenience if they are all considered together. It may seem a far cry from the magnificent achievement of the American people in landing men on the Moon to the discussion of these constitutional matters here this afternoon, but what the Americans have done on the Moon is no more important to American history than the creation and maintenance of a fair and just democratic system of Parliamentary elections is to British history, and it is that which the outcome of our deliberations to-day is going to affect.
It became clearer and clearer as the Second Reading debate on this Bill went on that so far as your Lordships' House was concerned there was only one issue 658 at stake: that is whether the rules relating to the holding of fair Parliamentary elections, which have been agreed to by all Parties, may be broken unilaterally by one Party. In last Thursday's debate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge put his finger right on this spot, whereupon the noble Lord the Leader of the House rose and challenged him. It is the point at issue, even if members of the governing Party fail to see the significance of what they have done. These linked Amendments are designed to give the Government another opportunity to comply with the rules.
It. may be asked whether the simplest way of doing that would not have been to move Amendments writing into the Bill all the detailed recommendations of the four independent and impartial Boundary Commissions. The reason against attempting that is that it would involve eliminating every part of the present Bill and writing an entirely fresh one, and that might indeed have been described as destroying the Bill. The effect of the Amendments now before the Committee is not to destroy the Bill but to give it a flexibility where it is at present inflexible; to afford time to the Government to consider their policy further in the light of the almost universal criticism of that policy, and thus to bring it into accord again with the rules for holding the next General Election on a fair and just basis. And, last but not least, to indemnify the Home Secretary meanwhile, where at present he is thought by many people to be in breach of the law.
Amendments 1 and 3 and the first part of Amendment 4 restore flexibility to Clause 1 in the following way. The Bill as introduced suspends action completely and for all time on the recommendations which the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales have recently submitted for restoring fairness to Parliamentary constituencies where population movements over the last 15 years have made Parliamentary boundaries unfair and unsatisfactory, as they now are. The Amendments make this suspension last only to the end of the present Session of Parliament. From the beginning of next Session up to the end of March, 1970, they give the Home Secretary a renewed opportunity to do his duty under the 1949 Act and to lay draft Orders in Council before both Houses of Parliament, giving 659 effect to the recommendations of the impartial Boundary Commissions, with such modifications, if he wishes, as the law allows. The date of March 31, 1970, is chosen because that is the date already inserted by the Government in Clause 1 of the Bill as the date by which the Secretaries of State must lay draft Orders in Council to implement the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions for Scotland and for Northern Ireland.
In other words, whereas the Bill gives the Secretaries of State authority up to March 31 to lay draft Orders before both Houses, reorganising constituencies in Scotland and Northern Ireland on a fair and just basis in line with what the Boundary Commissions for those countries have recommended as fair and just, the Amendments will authorise and require the Secretaries of State to do this for England and Wales as well as for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. This makes the Bill comprehensive whereas at present it is selective.
The first two subsections of Clause 1 as amended will then read as follows:No proceedings shall be taken under the Redistribution of Seats Act in the present Session of Parliament in consequence of the Reports submitted by the Boundary Commissions under section 2 (1) of that Act in the year 1969.Subject to subsection (1) above the Secretary of State, on or before 31st March 1970, shall, in respect of each report of a Boundary Commission submitted under section 2 (1) of the Redistribution of Seats Act in the year 1969, lay before Parliament the draft Order in Council required by section 2 (5) of that Act.But the Amendments go further than the Bill, in that they also indemnify the Home Secretary against being found to be in breach of the law meanwhile. That seems fair. The Bill as introduced gives him no protection. I suppose the Home Secretary thought it might be rather odd if he introduced a Bill that included a provision indemnifying himself against any penalties he might have incurred through being in breach of the law. The remaining subsections of Amendment No. 4 fill up this gap and protect him against actions at law, provided that by the end of March he complies with the law.
The remaining Amendments are consequential. If Clause 1 is amended as is suggested here, Clause 2 and Schedule 1 will no longer be needed. Clause 2 660 appears in the Bill only because Clause 1 as originally drafted would destroy the power to carry out by Order in Council the reorganisation of Greater London constituencies in accord with the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions. Clause 1, as amended, restores that power, so Clause 2 becomes superfluous. I may add, in passing, that the next Greater London Council Elections ! are not due until April, 1970, so action can be taken under Clause 1, as amended, to bring the new Greater London constituency system into being in good time for that.
Clause 3 and Schedule 2 likewise become superfluous. That really calls for consequential Amendment to subsection (3) of Clause 4 to leave out a reference to Clause 3 there. But as that subsection is concerned with money, even a drafting change in it might be taken as a breach of Commons privilege, so it seems best to leave the necessary consequential Amendment to Clause 4 to be made in another place. Clause 3 and Schedule 2 become superfluous because they deal with nine selected constituencies, but the Boundary Commission for England made its recommendations not only for those nine constituencies but for a great many other excessively large constituencies also.
The Amendments to Clause 1 will render it possible for the Home Secretary to deal with the whole problem on the lines of the Commission's Report, instead of with only a little bit of it, as Clause 3 would do. I would remind the Committee that under the Bill as it stands—that is, as the Government propose—Wokingham with 99, 000 electors will return one Member to the next Parliament, and the Exchange Division of Manchester with 18, 000 electors will likewise return one Member. This exemplifies the unfairness which the Boundary Commission said ought to be corrected and which acceptance of these Amendments will correct. They still preserve power to the Government to do for England and Wales what the Government are already taking power to do for Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also will preserve the statutory right of the Government to modify the Boundary Commission's recommendations in some respects provided they give effect to those recommendations generally.
661 As I said, the one issue on this Bill, so far as your Lordships are concerned, is the matter of upholding the rules which have been agreed to by all Parties for securing that Parliamentary elections are fair. The law sets up independent and impartial Boundary Commissions which must report comprehensively at least every 15 years. And the law goes on to say this—I quote subsection (5) of Section 2 of the 1949 Act:As soon as may be after a Boundary Commission have submitted a report to 'the Secretary of State under this Act, he shall lay the report before Parliament together … with the draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report.In this case the Secretaries of State presented the Boundary Commissions' Reports to Parliament but did not lay them together with draft Orders in Council to give effect to them, as the 1949 Act, which I have just read out, requires. The Attorney General has sought to argue that the law has not been broken because the Secretaries of State, he says, have not yet laid the Reports before Parliament under the 1949 Act. He explains that they have simply presented to Parliament Blue Books recording verbatim what the Boundary Commissions have reported. He says these are not the Reports referred to in the 1949 Act and therefore he argues that the Secretaries of State are not in breach of their statutory duty through not having laid them together with draft Orders in Council to give effect to them.
I do not know what your Lordships will, each of you, think of that argument, but even if it is valid it does not dispose of the requirement under the 1949 Act which I read out: that the Reports of the Boundary Commissioners, together with the Government's draft Orders in Council giving effect to them must be laid as soon as may be. Those are the words in the Act—"as soon as may be". I find it extraordinarily hard to give the words "as soon as may be" such a stretched out interpretation as to condone the Government's having taken no action yet to comply with that section of the 1949 Act.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House may still maintain that there has been no breach and that the Home Secretary has to be treated as not in breach 662 of the Act unless and until a court finds otherwise. Many of your Lordships probably feel, in a great constitutional matter such as this, that it is no less important to comply with the spirit of the law than with the letter of it. It is the all-Party understanding which has lasted for 25 years now, ever since the all-Party Speakers' Conference of 1944, that the Government has now unilaterally breached, saying, as the Government do, that the next General Election is to be conducted on a constituency system which the impartial Boundary Commissions have found to be full of anomalies and unfairness. I do not think the British public approves of one side breaking the rules that have been agreed by all sides, and if your Lordships, by passing these Amendments, restore the rules, I believe the British public will say the House of Lords is right. I beg to move.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for a lucid explanation of the Amendments which are before your Lordships, and I do not propose to speak at any length on them, but I have taken the unusual step of adding my name to the Amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the two noble Lords on the Cross Benches, Lord Tangley, and Lord Robertson of Oakridge, because I want to make it clear publicly that we on this Bench regard this not as a Party matter but as one which affects the Upper Chamber as a whole. And I want to appeal to the Government to think again. I am quite sure, if they do give it the serious thought which this matter of principle requires, that they will see the strength of the case and the strength of the feeling on this side of the House and among many Cross Benchers, and I believe among many Members behind the Government, who, although they may go into the Lobby in support, will do so with very uneasy consciences.
There is, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, an obligation on the Home Secretary to lay before Parliament the relevant draft Orders in Council as soon as may be to implement the findings of an independent Boundary Commission, and it must surely be—and I have always understood it to be—a convention of Parliament that the findings of such 663 an independent Commission, by which a fair representation of the electorate is to be achieved, are accepted, or at least are not varied unilaterally without an allParty discussion. Whatever the Government may feel about the propriety of bringing forward this Bill, no matter how strongly they may protest that they are not seeking Party advantage, there is a strong feeling in the country that the Labour Party stands to gain by pursuing this Bill and would stand to lose if the proposals were implemented in full. This is largely due to the built-in bias in country districts in favour of the Conservative Party. The one way to get over that, as I said on Second Reading, is to have a fairer method of representation. Nevertheless, this has come out of the Boundary Commissions from four years' effort, sticking to the rules that have been agreed. These are the proposals they make, and they are not, in my view, lightly to be put aside unilaterally by any one Party because it happens to be the Government of the day.
Certainly the argument put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that this is the sort of thing which the Tories would do if they were in Government reduces the argument from one of principle to one of Party advantage. I will not, unless I am challenged, quote the phrases used by the noble Earl and the noble Lord; nevertheless I think that that is the implication of what they say.
If the Government could show that the new local government boundaries would be implemented and the new authorities would be working by, say, 1972, there might be some strength in the argument that a short delay was justified. That might be the sort of thing which in an all-Party discussion one could agree to; but, again, that would be a variation of the principle of accepting the findings of an independent tribunal or varying them unilaterally, and in the light of the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the chance of having new local government authorities by 1972 seems to me totally impossible. I do not know what the Government are going to say about the possibility which was alluded to by the Leader of the House, of fixing a time limit for the Boundary Commission to start work, but the more I have thought about it the more I think it will be re- 664 garded as an empty gesture, because the Boundary Commission cannot complete their work until several years after the local authorities have been set up, no matter when they start. Therefore, I should like to hear what the Government have to say on this point.
Finally, it will be said once again that this House must not use the in-built Tory majority to thwart the will of the democratically elected Chamber. I subscribe to that view. I was one of those who helped to devise the means to rid this House of the in-built Tory hereditary vote. But what happened? The Prime Minister would not let us do it. He preferred to leave things as they were so that he would have sufficient time to explain to the Commons his reasons for not introducing the Industrial Relations Bill. The Government cannot blame me if they are defeated by the votes of Conservative, Liberal and Cross-Bench Peers, of whom some will inevitably be just as hereditary as the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I am not responsible. We who are sitting on these Benches are not responsible for the reactionary decision to abandon Lords Reform. Moreover, if we were not talking in a reformed House, I would plead with the Cross-Bench voting Peers to amend this Bill, or to delay this Bill or to throw it out as a warning to any Government not to tamper with the conventions of Parliament and not to appear to be seeking Party advantage.
Even if this Government are convinced that they are taking unitateral action from the most saintly motives, it would be right for us to point out that that is not the universal feeling in the country and that this is the only House which can prevent action of this sort which, to the public, looks like a lowering of the standards of political life. Like justice, fair play in politics must be seen to be done.
I want to add only one thing in regard to my own Amendment. I do not propose to move this on the Committee stage, but I wanted to get it on the Marshalled List because, if we get no satisfaction from these Amendments in Committee, then I propose to move it on Report. It will then be for the Commons to accept or to reject it. If they reject my Amendment, which I will move on the Report stage if these Amendments are rejected, then I shall invite the House to insist upon my Amendment to impose 665 the delay which, under the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, was regarded as being reasonable and fair. I give my support to these Amendments.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Lord TANGLEY
For the first time in my life I have added my name to an Amendment tabled by the Tory Party. I doubt whether this is ever likely to happen again. I have done it under a sense of necessity, and I believe that I can best help your Lordships by saying why I felt I had to do it. I need hardly say that I speak only for myself. I am not acting in concert with any of the other noble Lords who sit on these Benches, nor with either of the Opposition Parties. But I have a strong intuition that what I am about to say may accord with the secret thoughts of many noble Lords whatever Benches they may occupy.
Let me at once clear up one point. I do not believe that the origin of this Bill is an attempt by the Labour Party to gain or to retain some electoral advantage. Had that been so, there must surely have been some less controversial way of doing it. Nor do I believe that one can predict with any certainty the political consequences of some change of boundaries. Your Lordships may remember that I was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London. The subsequent Bill was based on our Report. Many of your Lordships will recall the prolonged debate on that Bill. I suppose I must accept responsibility for more loss of your Lordships' sleep than any one man in living memory, I expect that record to stand until it is broken by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud.
During those debates some Labour Peers pilloried me and my colleagues as "Tory stooges". It was said that we had recommended the abolition of the London County Council and the creation of the Greater London Council in order to secure control of London government for the Tories. What happened? Labour won the first election. That was nice for me, because many of my critics seemed to think from then on that I was not such a bad chap after all. So much for. the fallibility of political soothsayers. No, my Lords: my guess is that the origin of this Bill was a bit of administrative tidy-mindedness. What is so sad is that 666 out of it has developed the present situation in which we find ourselves That situation is something that no one wants, that no one likes. If I may respectfully say so, the Government speakers in the Second Reading debate did their duty, if not with active dislike at least with a noticeable lack of relish. I should have been most surprised had it been otherwise.
The trouble is that the consequences of this Bill, unless it is amended, transcend any question of administrative convenience. They are something alien to the Constitution. They are something alien to the whole spirit of our national life. They run contrary to our history. They are a denial of the true basis of our political life. If we accept them we shall be untrue to ourselves. We shall be untrue to the genius of our people. That genius has made us a great and powerful nation, which we still are. It has made us also a self-governing nation, capable of withstanding the grievous stresses, internal and external, that have come upon us during the centuries without breaking our fundamental unity.
Let us not forget that this precious heritage is not the work of a moment, though it could be irreparably damaged in a moment. It is the work of many generations of our people of high estate and low. We have had the incomparable privilege of over 900 years freedom from invasion in which to work out our ways of living together in unity and in peace. We have had over 900 years in which to develop those laws and political institutions which are the outward and visible framework of our inward unity. The process has never stopped. It has rarely degenerated into violence; it is alive and it is at work to-day. This; continuing society is in the very fibre of our beings; it has made us what we are. Ought we not also to remember that our law and our political institutions are not something imposed on our life from above or from without? They are, on the contrary, reflections of our life in common. They grow out of it.
Most of our relationships are still governed by the common law, never written down, never finished and complete, always developing to meet new situations. What does the common law require of us? That we should act in a responsible, reasonable and neighbourly fashion. These tests are not imposed upon society.
667 They presume, they presuppose an existing society which is mature and selfreliant.
Is not the same thing true of our political institutions, and particularly of Parliaments? Long before Parliaments became a living force our people had learnt the essential arts, and the necessary procedures of public life in the world of local government. I suppose that it was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that Parliament first began to be a real force and to organise themselves accordingly. The fascination, for me, of Sir John Neal's books on those Elizabethan Parliaments is the way he shows how our Parliamentary procedures were shaped by men who had learned public life already, in their parishes, their counties and their boroughs. So equipped, the Stuart Parliaments entered on their great struggle with the Crown. Which is the supreme power, Crown or Parliament? The revolution of 1688 settled the question in favour of Parliament.
But almost immediately, and certainly inevitably, another great question arose: to whom are Ministers—the Executive—responsible, the Crown or Parliament; and, in consequence, who should effectively appoint them? This was the great argument of Queen Anne's day; the day of Godolphin and Marlborough, of Harley and St. John; the day of the great pamphleteers, Swift and Defoe. The great trouble in people's minds was: if Ministers were responsible to, and in effect appointed by, Parliament, was the country not being delivered into the hands of factions?
§ Lord MITCHISON
I wonder if the noble Lord would allow me to ask him one question. Does he or does he not think that a Parliament can bind a succeeding Parliament as to matters for its consideration?
§ Lord TANGLEY
I am not considering what Parliament can do; I am leading to what it ought to do. This was the great argument, of course, and it was the theme of Bolingbroke's Patriot King.
In true English fashion, the question has never been formally answered. But from the days of George I and Walpole a practical working arrangement has evolved. The Crown can only appoint Ministers who can command a majority 668 in the House of Commons. Party Government has arrived. The next Ministers will be those of the Party winning the next General Election. Power ultimately resides with the electorate, which now means virtually the whole population. There are the sources of power. The sources of power must be kept open and clean. How is that to be done? These sources would be choked or contaminated if any Party carried measures prolonging the life of a Parliament, or restricting the franchise, or altering electoral boundaries with intent to gain a Party political advantage—or even if they gave the impression of doing any such thing. Your Lordships' House, not having to rely on suffrage, has a particular duty to watch over the interests of the electorate; to keep the sources of power open and clean.
Conventions on these matters have grown up. Without them the Party system, which is the life-blood of politics, could not continue. Push Party too far and the whole system would break down. What we should put in its place, I do not know. While constituencies remained stable, while the franchise was limited, while the population was not very mobile, the conventions worked without too much stress. But these conditions have all disappeared, and the appointments of the Boundary Commissions were a necessary safeguard in these changed conditions and circumstances. They partially filled the constitutional gap that has existed ever since Walpole's day. They have removed from Parties temptations which in these times might prove too great. But the conventions remain. Even after a Boundary Commission has reported, inter-Party consultations should go on. The Boundary Commissions have reported; changes are needed. But for reasons of administrative convenience the Government, by this Bill, seek to alter the law. The great question in my mind is, "Have the Government, in this Bill unamended, crossed a line that no Party ought to cross?". My answer is, "Yes, they have". And the Bill, therefore, must be amended.
I have been at pains to show why, in my judgment, the Bill must be amended. It is vital to our political institutions that this particular line should never be crossed by any Party. I support the Amendment 669 because it gives time and opportunity for the Parties to return to their traditional ways of moderation and consultation. I ask no more than that. I would support any other Amendment, or any revision of these Amendments, that would reach the same end. May I end by appealing to the Government to accept this Amendment, or something like it. It offers them an honourable way out of an intolerable situation. It offers your Lordships' House a constructive way of doing its duty towards the electorate. Above all, it offers a chance to show to a growingly cynical population that their Parliamentary institutions can, and do. rise above the interests of faction.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord STONHAM
I hope it will meet your Lordships' convenience if I speak fairly early in the debate to present the Government's point of view, leaving my noble friend Lord Shackleton to speak towards the close of the debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his interesting discourse on our political institutions and our traditional ways. I am bound to say, however, that I found his remarks rather strange in this Chamber, because it must be within the recollection of almost everyone that for some 70 years since 1867 all the political liberties and freedoms of the people of this country were won by Liberal and Labour Governments in the very teeth of the Opposition of the overwhelming non-elected Conservative majorities in this House. This, in part, is what the discussion is about to-day.
§ Lord STONHAM
If it is not in part, how is it that a noble Lord who is one of the fathers of the Amendments that we are considering has devoted so much of his time to it? Essentially it is so. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, for saying that the Labour Government did not do what we have done with any idea of Party advantage. That is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, said that he does not regard this as a Party matter; and I welcome that statement, too. But noble Lords will concede that until this Bill came to your Lordships' House last Thursday the Government had been attacked on the most vicious Party basis, and the most in- 670 famous accusations of political fraud and skulduggery had been thrown at them. It was not until this matter came to your Lordships' House that the accusations of fraud were dropped, and the matter was discussed and debated in a manner which is worthy of a British House of Parliament.
I am very glad that this important question is to be considered by such a very full Committee. We do not often, in Committees of your Lordships' House, see noble Lords sitting in the gangways or congregated at the Mar, and it is nice to see so many new faces opposite This is particularly encouraging, because there is a legend that the Conservatives once sent down a three-line Whip and many noble Lords hurried from their fastnesses, listened carefully to the arguments and, misunderstanding what they had been sent for, voted against their Part>. Of course, I am hoping that history will repeat itself, because, despite the very careful manner of its presentation, the customary lucidity of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, his obvious and permanent sincerity and the respectable fatherhood of the proposal, I am bound to say that the totality of what has been put before us by the noble Lord is not an Amendment but a Parliamentary abortion which no noble Lord conscious of his public duty, can support.
Your Lordships will observe that although the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that it was not the intention to destroy the Bill, if these Amendments are carried there will be nothing left of the Bill which you approved last Thursday, only two Parliamentary days ago, except three lines of Clause 1, Clause 4 and part of the Title of the Bill. Your Lordships could hardly have more complete destruction than that. As to adding flexibility, what flexibility would be left in the shreds with which noble Lords propose to leave us? In fact, we are being asked to approve to-day a completely new Bill, entirely different in principle from the Bill which we approved in principle only two Parliamentary days ago.
This, so far as I know, is entirely without precedent and it creates a serious situation. This House has a long history and has, I hope and believe, a long life ahead of it. But of what worth would our future discussions be if we committed such utterly irresponsible acts as this? It 671 is true that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, whom I regret I cannot see in his accustomed place today, was characteristically frank in his speech last Thursday.
he said—as it is understood that it still remains our unalterable purpose to prevent this Bill passing into law, I do not personally care very much what method is used for that purpose."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 500.]I do care. If your Lordships' House totally disagrees with the principle of a Bill, the Committee stage is not the place to express that total disagreement.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, is one of the sponsors of these Amendments, and on Second Reading, with a soldier's bluntness, he said:If there were to be a vote on the Second Reading of this Bill, I would walk into the Lobby against the Government on it; and, as to the consequences—be damned to them!"—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 495.]Your Lordships did not follow that honest advice. You lacked the courage to do the straight thing, and are now trying the back door. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, the maintenance of a fair and democratic representation is at stake, then why did the noble Lord and other noble Lords opposite stay silent when the Question was put? That is a very important matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said on Second Reading that he was concerned to protect the public image of Parliament. But back-door tactics will do the exact opposite. They are a device, and one that we may rue in the years ahead. I ask noble Lords in this House: do they, or do they not, consider themselves bound by the decision which they took last Thursday, that the Bill should, in principle, be accepted? These are not Amendments. They constitute a new Bill—a Bill which an unelected majority is being asked to force on this Parliament, without time or opportunity for proper consideration.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, was of course a very interesting Second Reading speech. But we are supposed to be in a Committee stage, where we look at the details of Amendments, and the principles which we are to consider should be dealt with on 672 Second Reading. I regard this as the fundamental question which noble Lords must answer to-day. Now for some consideration of the clauses in what I regard as this new Bill.
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
Will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? I effectively refuted the whole of the last five minutes of his speech, in my Second Reading speech explaining why it would be a mistake to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Lord STONHAM
I have, of course, not only heard the noble Lord's speech but have read it with the utmost care. I intend to refer to it. But the noble Lord did not refute what I said. He uttered sentiments which he thought might be an answer to what I said, which is not the same thing.
To deal with the clauses, the new Bill leaves the position unsatisfactory on a major point. If your Lordships amend the Bill in the way suggested, Clause 1 will read like this:No proceedings shall be taken under the Redistribution of Seats Act in the present Session of Parliament in consequence of the reports submitted by the Boundary Commissions under section 2 (1) of that Act in the year 1969".That is all that would be left of Clause 1. That means that the Secretary of State cannot lay draft Orders this Session. He cannot lay draft Orders till next November at the earliest, after the new Session starts. But he must lay them before March 31, 1970. Under the proposals which we are considering, the Orders have to be laid some time between mid-November and March 31 following. Amendment No. 4 then goes on to provide a form of indemnity or relief for the Secretary of State in respect of the breach of his statutory duty that he is supposed to have committed. This whole proposition relating to breach and indemnity cannot be sustained, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will deal with this when he comes to speak later in the debate. It cannot be sustained because it is misconceived in principle, for reasons which I shall outline in a moment.
At this stage, I am bound to say that even if the Government conceded—which we do not—that there has been any breach, the Amendments could not possibly be accepted in their present form.
673 As I understand it, the proposition is that the Secretary of State should be afforded relief from penalties in respect of a breach that has already occurred, rather than a breach of his duty under this Bill as it would be amended. But it is a curiosity, which I am astonished did not occur to noble Lords when they drafted this Amendment, that although under these proposals the Secretary of State is given until March 31, 1970, in which to lay the draft Orders and is prohibited from laying them until next Session, he is apparently precluded from relief until he lays the draft Orders, if that is what the word "compliance" in subsection (1B) is intended to mean.
Perhaps one of the sponsors of these Amendments will confirm this, and will also say whether the sponsors are content with an Amendment which creates such an unsatisfactory position. It seemed to me, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, that he had some doubts, because towards the end of his speech he advised the House to accept these Amendments, or something like them. It is getting rather late in the day for "something like them", and, in my experience, it is not customary in this House to accept Amendments if they are in themselves unsatisfactory or unclear or unviable.
It is not my object to go into the detail of the drafting and construction of these Amendments, because, in my view, they are misconceived in principle and should therefore be unacceptable to your Lordships. As I said, the question turns on whether or not there has been any breach of a statutory duty. Subsection (1B) rests on the assumption that a breach of duty has already occurred, because, having presented the Boundary Commissions' Reports to Parliament, the Home Secretary did not accompany them with draft Orders. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, the Attorney General dealt with this very fully in another place.
The noble Lord did not quote the speech exactly, but made references to some of the points which my right honourable friend the Attorney General made. I think, however, it would be much better if I quoted the relevant parts. The Attorney General said this:… I intervene only to deal with accusations that what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has done in relation to his 674 duties under the 1949 Act has been in breach of those duties. In my view, that accusation is unfounded".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/69, col. 507.]After quoting from Section 2 (5) of the 1949 Act, the Attorney General continued:It is true that the Reports of the Boundary Commissions have been laid before Parliament but, as my right honourable friend has said, they have not been laid before Parliament in pursuance of Section 2 (5) of the 1949 Act. They have been laid before Parliament as ordinary Command Papers so that the House will be in a position to judge whether the reasons for which the Bill proposes to suspend the large and radical changes proposed in the Reports are or are not well founded. They have merely the quality of a White Paper".The Attorney General concluded:There is no breach of statutory duty. There has been here a proper exercise of constitutional power by the Home Secretary. What he has done is not in breach of duty".Noble Lords in any part of the Committee are free to disagree with the Attorney General if they feel it right to do so, but the Attorney General is a Law Officer. He has given this advice on the basis of the Acts of Parliament, and I rely on that advice.
Although I do not want to comment in detail on so many things the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said, I must point out that he was guilty of a number of inaccuracies. One, for example, was that he said that "the Bill"—that is, the existing Bill—"suspends the Boundary Commission for all time". That is not so. The Secretary of State is obliged under Clause 1 (3) of the existing Bill to lay a draft Order resuscitating the Commissioners as soon as it appears to him that, for local government boundaries, it would not be premature.
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
I must correct this. If the noble Lord will read Hansard to-morrow, he will sec that what I said was that the Bill as introduced suspends action on the 1969 Reports of the Boundary Commission for all time. That is correct.
§ Lord STONHAM
The noble Lord says, "suspends action", but I have just said that that is not correct because subsection (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill gives the Home Secretary power to order the Boundary Commissions to accelerate 675 action, to speed up action. It is astonishing to me that the noble Lord should have put that in his speech because I deat with this matter on Second Reading; and really this is not the kind of debate that I am accustomed to having with the noble Lord.
§ Lord BYERS
Is the Minister saying that there is no statutory obligation laid upon the Home Secretary under the 1949 Act? If not, what is the obligation?
§ Lord STONHAM
We have already dealt with the statutory obligation. The point I am dealing with at the moment is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, made; and he has just repeated what he says were the exact words he uttered. I say that those words are wrong because subsection (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill lays on the Home Secretary a duty to reactivate, if you like, or to speed up (that is the real expression) the work of the Boundary Commissions.
§ Lord BYERS
Will the noble Lord explain to the Committee why his Bill contains an indemnity to the Home Secretary if there is no statutory obligation to do anything?
§ Lord STONHAM
I propose to deal with that point, and I shall deal with it in a logical way. I know it is all good fun to interrupt and try to put someone off the point, but I do not mind. I am coming to that. I notice the laughter of noble Lords, and looking at the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I remember an occasion in this very Chamber when the same thing happened. We were discussing the Boundary Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, was sitting there and I was sitting over there and the Leader of the then Opposition said: "I always notice"—
§ Lord STONHAM
Yes. The Speaker's Chair was at that end, and the noble Lord sat there. I gazed at it every year.
§ Lord STONHAM
I want to remind noble Lords about history repeating itself, because on February 16, 1948, in a debate on the same subject, the Representation of the People Bill, when the 676 speaker from this side was getting the same treatment as I have been getting, he looked across the Chamber with his glasses down his nose and said:I always notice that the party opposite indulge in laughter which resembles the crackling of thorns under a pot whenever they are confronted with any mental proposition which their intelligence forces them to resent or to reject".—[Official Report, Commons, col. 863.]That was Mr. Winston Churchill, standing here at this same Box. I do not propose to be put off.
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
The noble Lord may say that this is all good fun, but I do not take it as good fun when he misquotes what I have just said in Committee, and I propose to read out what I said. I said: "The Bill as introduced suspends action completely and for all time on the recommendations which the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales have recently submitted for restoring fairness to Parliamentary constituencies." The noble Lord says that that is untrue. I challenge him to say in what respect that is untrue.
§ Lord STONHAM
It is untrue, because if the noble Lord will read subsection (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill before the Committee—not the new Bill he introduced but the Bill before the Committee—he will find in paragraph (a) of subsection (3):… the Secretary of State … shall lay before Parliament a draft of such an Order in Council for any part of the United Kingdom as soon as it appears to him that it would not, by reason of the prospect of local government reorganisation there, be premature to do so; …That is not suspending work for all time. It is the case that it is the Government's intention to reactivate the work of the Boundary Commission, and indeed to urge them on, as soon as the local government situation has been cleared up under the Redcliffe-Maud Report.
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
I am very sorry, but I am afraid the noble Lord who is expounding this Bill does not understand his own Bill. He is saying that subsection (3) empowers the Boundary Commission to be reactivated by Order in Council. Of course that is so. Nobody would ever deny it. But what subsection (1) does is to say that… no proceedings shall be taken … in consequence of the reports submitted by the 677 Boundary Commissions … in the year 1969 …That is what I repeated when I said that the Bill suspends action completely and for all time on the recommendations which the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales—
§ Lord STONHAM
The only point between us—and I would not dispute with the noble Lord about his knowledge of the Bill and mine—are the words "for all time". What I am saying—and I ask the noble Lord to accept this—is that it is the Government's intention, and this subsection provides for the fulfilment of that intention, that when these local government boundary questions are settled the Boundary Commission, having already made their recommendations on the basis of existing local authority boundaries, will be asked to speed up their work to relate those recommendations—the same recommendations they have made—to the new local authority boundaries. That is the entire situation, and I cannot credit that the noble Lord does not understand this.
At the time I was interrupted, very properly, I was quoting the Attorney General, and I had reached the end of that quotation, when he said:There is no breach of statutory duty. There has been here a proper exercise of constitutional power by the Home Secretary. What he has done is not in breach of duty.I say to your Lordships that the Home Secretary is not in breach of his statutory duty. He neither needs nor wants your indemnity, which is just as well because he would not get much protection from the Amendment. In fact in my view, despite the faith expressed in them by very distinguished noble Lords, these so-called Amendments are a "mishmash" which I find it surprising the sponsors should call upon your Lordships to swallow. If the Amendments were applied, the practical consequences would be even more regrettable.
I intend to refer to something said by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor—I noted his words, and perhaps he will tell me if I am misrepresenting him now. It is only a paraphrase. I took him to say that "action can be taken to bring the new Greater London constituencies into being in good time for the elections 678 in April next near". Is that a fair representation? I am astonished that such a suggestion should be made. Noble Lords opposite opposed the original Bill on the grounds that it was imperative to implement the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions without delay. Now they are asking us to agree that there should be No implementation during this Session of Parliament. That means that no action will be possible until after the new Session begins in November. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, with hi; vast experience as Home Secretary, knows that the last qualifying date for the new register, the register to be produced in February, is October 10 this year. That means that no action could be taken until the new Session begins in November.
In our view, that would effectively prevent the holding of the G.L.C. elections in April, 1970, on the single-Member constituency basis for which the G.L.C. have been pressing and for which the original Bill provides. This is because (and I hope that noble Lords will follow me in this) if these Amendments were to be accepted no Order in Council could be laid before Parliament until after Prorogation; and that Order would have to deal not only with the Greater London constituencies but also with all the other constituencies. That is what noble Lords want.
Then there would have to be Aflirmative Orders in both houses; and that as any noble Lord who was a Member of another place—as I was—in 1948 and 1954 knows, would involve detailed and lengthy debates over a considerable period. By the time all this had been done it would be too late for the G.L.C. elections next April—because, as we all know, one does not do the job just by ordaining shortly before the elections what the new constituencies are to be. The constituency organisations must be given time to do all the preparatory work. At the moment, the position is that there are G.L.C. constituencies represented by three members. The proposals in this Bill propose 92 new constituencies each with one member. I assure your Lordships that the constituency organisations are asking about this now. They have a great deal of preparatory work to do. Candidates must be selected. The Parties must know whether the constituencies are to have one candidate or three. The organisations are already saying that if 679 this Bill is drastically amended or delayed the elections will have to be held on the basis of the old constituencies, with three members to each. Noble Lords who say that they want to hurry the implementation of the Boundary Commissions' recommendations will achieve exactly the opposite: they will prevent implementation in the 92 constituencies in Greater London.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has said that the purpose of the Amendments is to give the Government time to think again. But under the proposals now before us the only direction in which the Government are asked to apply their minds is to the implementation of the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions by March 31, 1970. So far as England and Wales are concerned, the circumstances will be no different by March, 1970, from what they are now. The Government, as was their duty, have already given very careful consideration to the special circumstances which exist.
On Second Reading I explained very fully why we had reached the conclusion that changes in constituency boundaries in England and Wales should not be made while unprecedented local government changes are imminent. I added that the only issue between us is this: Do we have a radical alteration of constituency boundaries now, and a further major alteration in a few years' time, when the new local government boundaries have been settled, or do we keep to the existing boundaries for the time being and have one major change of the political map when the new boundaries have been settled? The Government are convinced that it is the latter course which is the right one; and their conclusion accords with the view hitherto taken by noble Lords in all parts of the House, that frequent changes of constituency boundaries should be avoided.
So far as England and Wales are concerned, the Government cannot accept that for constituencies outside Greater London the recommendations of the Commission should be accepted either now or before March 31 next. We know all the facts now. We have assessed the implications of the proposals for local government reorganisa- 680 tion on the recommendations of the Boundary Commissions and we have come firmly to the view that it would be wrong to promulgate now new constituencies based on local government boundaries that are soon to be altered. In Scotland and in Northern Ireland the present Bill makes it possible to make these changes by March 31 next, which is what the Amendment proposes. Therefore the Amendment is not necessary. All we are waiting for is the Wheatley Commission Report, in the case of Scotland, and consideration of the White Paper of the Northern Ireland Government issued on July 2. The effect of the noble Lord's proposals would be to require the Secretary of State to lay a draft Order in Council implementing the recommendations for constituencies in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, no matter what conclusions were reached about the proposed local government changes. No one can argue that this is a rational or proper way to use the permanent majority in this House to force Parliament to proceed; and the Government cannot accept that they should be deprived of the right to determine the proper course of action following an examination of all the known facts.
I think that I have shown that these Amendments are in large measure misconceived. In my view, they cannot honourably be supported. Moreover, they seek not merely to wreck a Bill which your Lordships have already approved in principle but to introduce by the back door a new Bill to which your Lordships cannot give proper consideration, for you will not have the opportunity to do so. In these circumstances I call upon your Lordships to take the only course open to you, and to reject the Amendments.
§ 3.58 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
I intervene shortly, and with some diffidence, partly because I feel that most of the things that can be said have already been said, and partly because I feel that at the end of my short intervention I shall probably have few friends left in the House. I think that there is a danger in discussions of this sort for many of us to adopt a "holier than thou" attitude.
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
Noble Lords behind me are saying "Hear, hear!"—but let them wait until I finish my speech. I do not think that there will be many "Hear, hears!" then.
I can well remember, when I was serving as a young man on a city council, getting into trouble with my Party—as I should do now, if I were not sitting as an independent on the Bishops' Benches—because I voted against my Party when it "pinched", as I thought, places from the aldermanic bench and the mayor's place in order to get a working majority. I got into severe trouble on that occasion when, on a matter of conscience, I felt that I had to vote against my own Party. It was difficult for me about three years later when the Party on the other side did precisely the same thing for the same reason. I remember that not very long ago I may have made myself unpopular with noble Lords opposite when I said that I thought we were failing in our respect for democracy by not speaking out on behalf of the people in Rhodesia. If we were to apply something similar to the present Boundaries Bill to the constituencies in Rhodesia, many of us would not support it as we would say that it helped the Smith régime.
I spoke against Rhodesia because I believed that people ought to have the right to express their views and to be democratically represented in their Parliament. Having said that on that occasion, I say to noble Lords on this side of the House that my views to-day have not altered: what I felt then I still feel to-day. Just as I felt then that people ought to have the opportunity in Rhodesia to express their views, and to have people elected to represent them in Parliament, so we in this country should do so on as fair a basis as we can. And unless there is anything fairer than the proposals of the Boundary Commission—there may be—and until something better has been found, let us abide by the Boundary Commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said at the beginning of his speech that he was glad he had come to this House, because, apparently, in other Houses people had behaved in an irresponsible way and had said unkind and vitriolic things. The noble Lord is glad that he has come here. But why is he glad, when 682 he goes on to say, so far as I can make out, that, having come here, we all ought to have lockjaw and say nothing at all? Apparently, the reason why we should say nothing at all is that we are a non-elected House; to which I would say to the noble Lord, "Whose fault is that?" As noble Lords on this side of the Committee will know, I have no wish to perpetuate a non-elected Chamber, but still, here it is; we are a non-elected Chamber because the present Government refused to go ahead with reform. We come to this matter before us as a curious mixture of Life Peers, non-Life Peers, Bishops and Judges, though that is not our fault. We just have to deal with the matter as it is before us. No matter what our political colour may be, or the colour of the Government, we have to make up our minds on the matter before us.
I would say that there are two things, so far as I am concerned, that will govern my vote. They are, first, respect for politics. May I ask noble Lords on this side of the Committee: suppose the Tories had been in power and brought in this sort of Bill, what would they have said? I know very well what they would have said because I have been with them in their Party meetings on occasions when this sort of thing has arisen, and when I was in local politics. They would have been as distressed by is as are noble Lords opposite, and as I am myself distressed, by what the Government are doing to-day. I believe that far more important than respect for any one particular colour is respect for politics as a whole. Let us to-day uphold our Western democratic way of doing things.
The second thing that will govern my vote (if I may speak to my noble friends on this side of the Committee who may not agree; I only hope that they will take this kindly) is that although I sit on the Bishops' Bench and take no Whip but vote as an independent, as members of this House will know, I have never tried to disguise my political allegiance. I am a Socialist. What distresses me is that in the speeches that have been made on this matter, so many of the values, so many of the standards, seem to me—I may be wrong—quite incompatible with everything that I understand by the word "Socialism". I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham will 683 believe me when I say that I regard him as a friend more than in the sense in which the word is used in this House, and that I respect him very much and value him as a personal friend. But I do not think that I have ever heard a weaker speech from him, or from practically anybody in this Committee—
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
Noble Lords may say "Shame!", but I believe it. I can understand the noble Lord having to put up a defence for a weak case. I have often been in the same position—
§ Lord STONHAM
May I make quite dear to the right reverend Prelate that whatever he thinks of me and the defence I made—I thought it was an attack—I believe every word I said. I was not under compulsion from anybody to say anything and, apart from advice, I wrote every word of it myself.
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
I do not question that for a moment. I know very well that when I have tried to speak up for a rather frail clergyman people have come to me and said, "Your clergyman gets drunk." I have tried to say my best for him, knowing my weak position. I have said, "Well, look, but you know he was just in an alcoholic haze"—
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
Yes, my Lords, you can say "Oh" and "Yes", but if the Party opposite had been in power and had done what noble Lords on this side of the Committee have done, and I had said against them what I have said against (if I may so put it) my own side to-day, there would have been whoops of delight and cries of "Hear, hear".—
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
I do speak for myself, but I nevertheless make this point. I believe that here is involved not only one's respect for politics but also for the very integrity of Socialism. I know—this is my last point—that here in your Lordships' House we feel deeply involved in these particular matters. I hope to go further outside, where people are not so politically committed. I can think of various 684 groups in South London with which I have been in the past week or ten days, composed of older people and younger people. There one has come across a cynicism and a questioning, a feeling that when it comes to the last resort people care not for the wellbeing of their country so much as for the interest of their particular Party. I may be wrong, and I am sorry if, by what I have said, I have made bad friends with people on this side of the Committee; but I can only say to them that it is because I believe passionately in the wellbeing of our country and the integrity of British politics that I intend to support the Amendment and vote against the Government.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
After what the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Southwark, has just said, may I quote from an article by David Butler, who is an expert on electoral practices in Parliament and who has read every word that has been written on this matter in the last century? This is the comment I wish to quote:Both parties have acted unilaterally and for partisan advantage, yet mercifully both Parties have shown moderation in doing so. Because Labour's current proposals fall within this tradition of moderation in the pursuit of self-interest I cannot feel deep indignation about them. I do not see them as justifying the excessive rhetoric they have evoked.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord HELSBY
Perhaps I may be forgiven if I do not follow the line of thought of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark or of other noble Lords who have recently spoken. It seems to me that there may be some advantage in going back, as it were, to the beginning of this problem. One point on which I think there is general agreement is that there is advantage in linking local government and constituency boundaries. I feel that the coincidence in time of the Boundary Commission Report and the Report on Local Government produced a real problem for the Government. It would be idle to suggest that there was no problem and that the right thing to do would be to ignore this coincidence in time and go straight ahead as though it had not happened. It did happen and it did produce a real problem. But it is a problem limited in time, and I suggest that we should do well to concentrate our minds on the time factor.
685 Nobody would believe it wise to make two major reorganisations of constituency boundaries in a very short time, by which I mean, say, 18 months or two years. But when it becomes a bit longer than that, the argument begins to lose force. The argument has quite a lot of force up to the end of a period of three or four years, and then the force would begin to dwindle. After five years there would be practically none. This means that the vital point on which to fix our minds is how long is it going to take to settle local government in the light of the Redcliffe-Maud Report and thereafter to reactivate the Boundary Commission? The Government have said in effect, "Not so long as some people think". They have also said that they intend that the job shall be done pretty quickly.
I suggest that they were right in their attitude to this, because as a country we simply cannot afford to allow a prolonged argument about our local government situation, bearing in mind that while the argument goes on, and particularly if it is allowed to drag on for a very long time, local government will suffer grievously. Continuity of local government makes it highly desirable that the job should be done as quickly as possible. We were told the other day by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that this could be done in five or six years. I have a great respect for her judgment, but I know from experience in administration that there are many administrative jobs which could be done a great deal more quickly than anybody thinks. The Greater London Council was set up a great deal more quickly than people expected, and I think that, looking back, we would all agree that it was well that the job was done quickly, because government in London would have suffered grievously if it had been dragged out.
It may be that the job of reorganisation of local government can be done more quickly than seems likely now. I believe that it certainly could be done well within the longer time period that has been suggested. On the other hand, while expressing their firm intention to do the job quickly and their belief that they can do it quickly, and while arguing that therefore it is right to suspend the consideration of the Boundary Commission Report until the reorganisation has been 686 carried out, the Government have asked for a blank cheque. They have not put any time on it. They have not told us in terms that the time will be thus short. They have asked that everything should be suspended until the Home Secretary judges it is right to go ahead in the light of what happens about local government—a complete blank cheque.
This seems to me to be the weakness of the Government's position. If they would put a reasonably short time on this I, for one, would support them, but so far they have consistently refused to do that. I think it is illogical. I think it is also unwise, because it has laid them open to grave suspicions which may not otherwise have arisen. I plead with the Government even now to put a time on this. If they do not, I shall feel obliged to vote for the Amendment, simply because it does put a time on it—maybe not a very long time but at any rate a time within which something has to be done, if it is only a review of progress, and produced to Parliament.
§ Lord STONHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend. I am grateful to him for what he has said. But we are not considering an Amendment which fixes the time, and there will be no opportunity for the Government to do what he proposes.
§ Lord HELSBY
My Lords, I should have thought that even on Report stage it would be possible to introduce a time-table. I suggest that it is simply not right to ask for a blank cheque. To ask for a suspension, yes: I think that is far. I would support the Government on that line, but I think that they ought to tell us how long they think it will be, because otherwise we have no means of knowing that the time will be short enough to be covered by the argument that we must not have two constituency boundary devisions within a ridiculously short period of time.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, if I may say so, the last speech largely answers itself. If the noble Lord, with all his experience and judgment, wants to put in a time limit and have it discussed, I think he is at full liberty to do so on Report stage. I can see no reason whatever for voting against the Government on that ground. So far as the right reverend Prelate is concerned, I think that 687 when he looks again at his speech, he will find that it, too, largely answers itself. I did not notice a single right reverend Prelate in the Chamber on Thursday, and I do not think any of them voted or abstained from voting. They were too occupied in a fratricidal conflict about the Methodists.
The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK
My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord that I was not engaged in that particular conflict on that day. In any case, I was here for that debate.
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, I apologise at once to the right reverend Prelate. I did not see him, although he is usually a fairly conspicuous person. If he reads his own speech I think he will find that it answers itself, even if he was here on Thursday.
This is not a Second Reading discussion; your Lordships passed this Bill on Second Reading on Thursday. In one of the newspapers we were called "Heath's poodle", and on Thursday "Heath's poodle" did not bite, did not even bark. The most it emitted was an unctuous growl, of which we have heard some repetitions to-day. It is nonsense to come here and talk about the principles of democracy, the principles of this, that or the other, what we fought and bled for and all the rest of it, when the Bill was given a Second Reading on Thursday. If all noble Lords who are sitting here now thought that way on Thursday, why did they not vote against it? Had your Lordships perhaps not the courage to do so? Or, as I think more likely, did not your Lordships think that there was some tactical, procedural advantage to be gained by waiting for an Amendment today, just as on the Iron and Steel Bill many years ago the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, waited for an Amendment, also about the timing, before wrecking the Bill?
There is not the least doubt that these are wrecking Amendments and that to vote for them is exactly the same as doing what your Lordships were unwilling to do the other day, in spite of all these high principles; that is, to vote against the Bill. I can hardly stand hearing one noble Lord after another getting up and saying that some high principle is involved, when in fact nothing whatever is 688 involved but a rather minor bit of Party tactics as to whether it is better to vote on an Amendment or on the Bill itself.
§ Lord MOYNE
My Lords, as a Back Bench Member who has considered this matter personally and quite independently of Party considerations, I thought that it would be highly illogical that we should oppose what we want to happen in Scotland and in London by refusing a Second Reading to a Bill which would make these changes. Therefore I think we adopted the logical course.
§ Lord MITCHISON
My Lords, I am afraid that I did not hear the noble Lord very distinctly, but if I understood him aright he said that he has some conscientious feeling which prevented him from opposing the Bill but allows him to support wrecking Amendments to it. What that conscientious principle can be, I am afraid I fail to understand. I stand here and say honestly that if any question of gerrymandering is raised, I have been told by my old friends, the present Home Secretary and Mr. George Thomson, who have also spoken on this matter that their motives were entirely honest, and if the Tory Liar or the Tory Party tell me the opposite, it is the former I believe and not the latter. I think your Lordships will understand that quite well.
I do not believe there has been any gerrymandering whatsoever about this Bill. I think, as the last speaker quite rightly said, that the Government were placed in a difficult position. They were placed in a difficult position which they had to try to solve by agreement with the Party opposite two or three years ago. The Party opposite refused to agree, because they wanted to exploit the difficulties of the Government for every Party purpose which they possibly could: and they are trying to do it now. I think they are making a mistake. I think this House cannot last for ever—cannot, indeed, last for very long. What emerges from it will, I think, depend on the way it has conducted itself.
When this matter was last discussed in this House I thought that the only serious difference between the Front Benches on both sides was that the Front Bench opposite wanted to choose the last ditch. They had one shot at choosing the last ditch on the Southern Rhodesian Order, but that was a bit too much for them.
689 and now they are trying to choose this as the last ditch. I think it is a very poor one. This is a difficult and doubtful matter. They are trying to add to the elections which the electorate will have to suffer, if I may put it that way, within a comparatively short period of years.
I quite see the difficulties, and I am not going back on them, but they seem to me to be typical of the kind of difficulties that the Government of the day have to face and have to answer, and that a responsible Opposition ought really to co-operate in dealing with. They ought not to try to make a Party advantage out of it. When it comes to this unrepresentative Chamber dealing with the constituencies of the House of Commons, then I say they have chosen the worst possible ground for fighting. I remember Bruce Bairnfather's cartoon:If you knows of a better 'ole, go to it!"I say to the Conservative Peers opposite that almost any hole would be a better one for them than this one. It does not matter how noble Lords here vote; of course these Amendments will be carried, the Bill will be wrecked, and the consequences, which I notice the Prime Minister has been explaining to the Durham miners, will certainly follow sooner or later.
That is about all I have to say to the Tory Party. However, I want to say a word or two to the Liberals. Nobody ever says "Boo" to the Liberal Party nowadays; and I do not think they really mind. I see the noble Lord, Lord Byers (I hope that we are good friends), nodding agreement. I wonder whether he remembers the old Limehouse Liberal slogan:In good Lloyd George's palmy days,When Peers were ten a penny,David knew how to check their ways.And see there weren't too many.And it goes on:And nowadays and nowadays"—and I leave your Lordships to finish the rest of that little Party song. They seem to have forgotten that it was their Party which passed the Parliament Act, including its Preamble.
Where are they getting to now? They are behaving like the B.O.A.C. line. They put up a large notice to say: "The Liberal Party takes care of you"; and they get to the remote parts of the 690 countryside, where people are not very good at political principles—indeed they themselves have only one solid one, and that is proportional representation—and persuade those people that that notice is what matters. It is not the old Liberal Party as I knew and respected it, and I hope that they will have a look at themselves in the looking glass and think again about what they are going to do. The whole business to-day, after passing the Bill on Second Reading, after passing the Bill on Second Reading, and I repeat for the third time, after passing the Bill on Second Reading, is rather cheap and rather humbug.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord CONESFORD
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is sincere when he says that he cannot understand it. That was made amply clear in the course of his speech. I know that he finds it almost inconceivable that anybody sitting on these Benches can possibly be sincere if he takes a different view from that which the noble Lord takes. Therefore I will mainly not devote myself to his speech, but I propose to say something about points mace in other speeches.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made the point that these Amendments, taken together, made this measure virtually a new Bill, and that if this was the intention, the right method—and, indeed, he almost implied the only method—would have been to vote against the Second Reading. I think he is wrong for these reasons. In my view there would be something in what he said, if my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor and my noble Leader had not made absolutely clear in the Second Reading debate the nature of the Amendments that they were proposing to put down. That seems to me to change the proprieties. Had we thrown out the Bill on Second Reading—and I agree with the noble Lord that there would be ample constitutional justification for such a proceeding—then there would have been no chance whatever of the Government's remedying what many of us believe to be a constitutional outrage, which we genuinely hope they will remedy.
The noble Lord said that this Amendment, if we pass it, will make it impossible for the Government to lay these recommendations, together with the 691 Orders, in the present Session. But that is already in his Bill, so he can scarcely complain of its being the effect of the Amendment. I think I am the first lawyer to speak in this debate.
§ Lord CONESFORD
I really was not apologising. I apologise as little for that, as the noble Lord who interrupted me apologises for being a journalist. Apologies are not necessary from either of us; our professions are well known to the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, quoted the intervention of the Attorney General in another place, and I think I should say a word or two about that. The Attorney General, as I understood his intervention, which the noble Lord repeated, said that there had been no breach of the duty to lay the draft Orders because the Home Secretary had not even, under the Act, laid the recommendations. There is a dual obligation under the Statute of 1949 to lay the recommendation together with the draft of an Order. He said that there is no breach of duty because the Home Secretary had not complied with either part of the obligation. I think that was his argument. The Attorney General, as I understand it, went on to imply that the failure to do both these things, to lay the recommendations before Parliament under the Act and to lay the draft Orders, was not a breach of duty because the Government had instead brought in the present Bill. The Attorney General's view on that matter is obviously entitled to great respect, but it does not seem to answer the point that is being made against 692 the Government, because it says that this is a tolerable way of excusing the Home Secretary from complying with either half of his obligation. If that is the best that can be said for the Home Secretary, it does not get us very far.
§ Lord STONHAM
I wonder whether the noble Lord will deal with the point that my right honourable friend the Attorney General made: that it is true the reports of the Boundary Commission have been laid before Parliament, but they have not been laid in pursuance of subsection (5) of Section 2 of the 1949 Act.
§ Lord CONESFORD
I understood that to mean he had not laid them within the meaning of, and as required by, that Act. That is the point I am making. He gets out of the dual obligation by saying that the Home Secretary has not complied with the first part. I rather hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, and conceivably even the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, might agree with that.
I am sorry if I repeat an argument which I made on Second Reading, but this is the whole core of the argument as I see it and constitutes the necessity for these Amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Helsby, in his interesting speech this afternoon, said that although as now advised he supported the Amendment, his view might be changed if he thought, on the assurance of the Government, that the Redcliffe-Maud reforms might be carried into law at a very early date. I hope I can convince him that that is really not a proper ground for not voting for these Amendments. The whole question we have to consider is fairness to the electorate at the next General Election. The next General Election will elect a Parliament part of whose duties will be to decide whether to bring the Redcliffe-Maud reforms into law at all, and, if so, to what extent. There is no possible excuse for preventing the electorate at the next General Election from returning the most representative Parliament that can be returned.
Noble Lords in every quarter of the House are entitled to be as enthusiastic as they like in favour of the Redcliffe-Maud reforms. But, as I reminded the House last week, there are three facts about the proposed reforms which cannot 693 be disputed. The first—which is alleged by the Government in every speech they make—is that the reforms are probably the most important reform of local government that has been made for a hundred years. The second fact is that the reforms are highly controversial, and the third fact, which alone is sufficient for my purpose, is that the decision whether to give legal effect to those suggested reforms must be made by the next Parliament. The more important we think the Redcliffe-Maud reforms to be, the more we are bound to do our duty to the electors by enabling them to elect as representative a Parliament as they can.
I ventured to remind the House on Second Reading, as I now remind the Committee, that nobody disputes that the legal sovereign is the Queen in Parliament. In legislation, the sovereignty of Parliament does not mean the wish of the Government; it does not mean a Resolution of the House of Commons: it means a law carried by both Houses, and given the Royal Assent. That is what the sovereignty of Parliament means. In enacting laws, the House of Commons must always be the predominant partner. It is for all purposes very much more important, and carries more weight, than this House. Nevertheless, the Constitution says that we have limited powers of delay; and there must be a limited occasion when those powers can be exercised. Can any of your Lordships conceive a more proper occasion for the exercise of those powers than when this House is compelled to intervene to prevent the rights of electors from being diminished? That is the perfectly simple issue as I see it. Whatever else you think about these proposals, can you doubt that, if the recommendations of the Boundary Commission were carried out, a more representative House of Commons would result than if there were this wholesale disregard of the considered recommendations of this impartial Commission?
I reminded the House, as I remind the Committee, of what Dicey says. Members of another place, when they are addressing their constituents, or public meetings in the country, always treat the electors with the greatest verbal respect. They say that what the electors want matters overwhelmingly; and so it does. As Dicey says, while the legal sovereign is the Queen in Parliament, the political 694 sovereign is the electors. But, in the words of Dicey, this all-powerful body, the electors, have one legal right under our Constitution, and one legal right only. Let me quote the sentence again:The sole legal right of electors under the English Constitution is to elect Members of Parliament.That is the reason why all these provisions about Parliamentary elections are so important. That is the reason why there has been all this concern always to seek the maximum agreement between the Parties; and always to try to see that, so far as possible, constitutional changes are made by agreement and not otherwise.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, in his speech, used as a defence of the Government something that was brought in, I think, by the noble Lord the Leader of the House in his speech last week, saying that the Government had actually approached the Opposition a few years ago to ask them whether they would agree to postpone this whole business of the investigation of the boundary reports, and the answer was, "No".
§ Lord MITCHISON
It was not quite what I said. What was discussed at the time was the difficulty that was inevitably going to be caused for this Government, or any Government, by the timing of the Boundary Commission Report and the main Report, too. That was what was discussed. As I understand it, the discussion was quite general. We were told this in public on Thursday. It was an attempt to get a real difficulty solved.
§ Lord CONESFORD
I am sorry if I misrepresented the noble Lord's speech. I have no doubt that my Party would have said, "No" to that proposal. I have no doubt whatever that the Liberal Party would have said, "No" to that proposal. Why should we, for any purpose whatsoever, give up the right of the electors to be represented as well as could be after the next General Election? But if the Government thought otherwise, if the Government thought that this was a rotten answer by the Tory Part I, that was the time to bring in legislation; not to let the Boundary Commissioners go on, at the public expense, doing all this work, if all the time they intended to throw the Report into the wastepaper 695 basket. That was not the right action at all.
§ Lord PARGITER
Surely it was impossible for the Government to anticipate what the Maud Report would say until the Report had been published?
§ Lord CONESFORD
That may well be the case. And when they saw what it said, how far-reaching, how controversial and how impossible it would be to put the recommendations into force before the General Election, I should have thought they would have come to the conclusion that it was a reason for accelerating the carrying out of the Boundary Commission's recommendations so that the next Parliament should be as representative as possible.
We should not treat lightly the traditions and the conventions of our Constitution. This Bill diminishes the rights of the electors. It may be said, of course, that this is not the ideal House for deciding that issue. People may take that view. People often think that a jury is not the ideal body to decide questions of fact in the courts. But what we are really doing to-day is dealing with admitted facts. So far as I have heard, nobody, either in the other House or in this House, disputes that as a consequence of this Bill, if it is carried through in its present form, the electors will not be able to elect so representative House of Commons as will be possible if the Government do their duty, as these Amendments would enable them to do.
§ Lord PLATT
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that although I may be the only one in the Committee to do so, I dispute this contention. We have heard so much righteousness that I began to get a little suspicious from time to time, especially about the rights of the electorate. There are, surely, two ways in which the distribution of seats can go wrong. One is the one of which the Boundary Commission has obviously taken great notice: there are some constituencies with up to 100, 000 voters while others have 20, 000. But there is another way in which it can go wrong, and that is in the general distribution of seats between those who are likely to put in a Conservative representative and those likely to put in a Socialist repre- 696 sentative. The distribution has surely gone wrong in this respect.
I am not in any way blaming anybody for this, but we know that more than one Conservative Government have had a quite significant majority on a minority vote of the whole country. We are told—and all this argument to-day would not be going on if it had not some substance—that the Report of the Boundary Commission is likely to give the Conservatives a further majority, which has been said to be perhaps between 15 and 20 seats. Therefore, I suggest to noble Lords that either the Boundary Commission has not taken notice of both these points, or else perhaps its terms of reference require revision. For that reason, I shall support the Government on this Bill.
§ Lord CONESFORD
May I put just one point to the noble Lord? It is perfectly true that it is theoretically possible, if all these recommendations are carried out, for one Party to have more votes in the country and for the other to form a Government. But the bias of which the noble Lord complains, if it exists, is the direct result of the Boundary Commissioners working to certain rules. The Bill before us does not propose to alter any of those rules.
§ Lord PLATT
I agree. I think that if some nonsense comes out of a report the course to take is to alter the rules.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord CHAMPION
I have a tremen dous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, but I am bound to say that when he was arguing for the Amendments and against the Bill, it seemed to me that his arguments were wholly tortuous. The fact is that this is a series of wrecking Amendments, and I hope that the Government, and certainly the other House, will treat them as such. This is an attempt to use the overwhelming Tory majority in this House for a purely Party political purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Tangley, mentioned the Greater London Government Bill, and was rather proud of it. I took a considerable part during the proceedings in the House on the Greater London Government Bill in 1963. I honestly do not think that during the whole of the proceedings on that Bill and its passage here I ever used I the word "gerrymandering", for I recognised that something had to be done 697 about London local government. The local government of this great area had outgrown the L.C.C. and the county borough structure. No one could have pretended that anything disastrous would happen to London if the proposals were postponed for 10 or so years. Although I did not use the word "gerrymander", or make speeches opposing the Bill on that ground, I was not so naive as to think that the Bill had been discussed in Cabinet and among Tory Ministers of the day without someone using words to the effect, "It will also help to break Labour's hold on London government", with the rest who were present at that meeting at least nodding their heads and accepting it as a very worthwhile, possible by-product of a reasonable scheme. And it was a reasonable scheme. But I would have accepted, had they told me so, that they would look upon it only as a byproduct.
or am I so naive as not to think that somewhere along the line someone might have said about this Bill, "Of course, it is impossible to forecast the results accurately, but it might be that additionally there is some political advantage to us". We are dealing with human beings in a political situation and these are the things that happen. Even if that were said, the fact remains, as I see it, that the postponement of constituency boundary changes until the local government boundaries are changed to fit with what might be done about the Redcliffe-Maud Report, appears to me to be wholly justified.
During my period in the other House I experienced two boundary changes. Both happened to be against me. I started with a nearly 23, 000 majority in 1945 and ended up in 1959 with a majority of 12 against me. I know something about boundary changes. I certainly had no complaint at all to make about the first, for in 1945 the constituency was numerically one of the largest in the country, just escaping the division of the 100, 000-elector constituencies in 1944.
The second boundary change was made in 1954, and I managed to live with it until 1959. Throughout the whole of that period of six years that boundary change appeared to me to be a quite stupid one, although it brought about a little move towards "one vote, one value" as between the voters residing in 698 the two Derby County Borough constituencies and the voters in the surroundingrural district council area. What happened in 1954 was that both the county borough constituencies spilled out over the borough boundary into the rural district council constituency area. There were then three Members of Parliament representing one rural district council area. The two other Members, with myself, who were involved were actually members of my own Party; and fortunately we were on good terms—which is not always the case, even in a brotherly Party. So we never clashed. But I am positive that all three recognised the wholly unsatisfactory nature of the arrangement. This is bound to happen in large towns—it is inevitable--but it ought not to happen any more often than we can possibly avoid.
The other aspect of those two boundary alterations was the major upsets inevitably brought about in the constituency organisations of the three major political Parties. Difficulties were involved in all three of them. There was a complete reorganisation in 1949, which meant for my constituency party cutting off a large part of the constituency party membership and a consequent loss of income and personnel. Then, after a short period of six years, there was another major upset affecting nine political Party oganisations in three constituencies, and this meant that nine political Party organisations representing three constituency parties were interested in the election of councillors for the rural district council that I have mentioned. For the sake of the working of our Party system—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, that we know of no better; the party system works in this country and I believe we always have to remember this—a reasonable degree of continuity of structure and historical association in the constituencies and with local government is something which, in my opinion, justifies some sacrifice of numerical perfection.
The situation that I have described is something which I am sure ought to be avoided if at all possible, and had I still been a member of the Government at the time I would, arising from my personal experience, unhesitatingly have urged the action contained in this Bill, despite the inevitability of the sort of charge that is now being levelled. As indeed, had I been 699 a member of the Tory Government faced with the proposal to do something about London Government, at the time, despite the inevitability of charges of gerrymandering, I would have said "Go ahead" if I thought it was the right thing to do.
This afternoon I have listened to all the speeches. I was particularly struck by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Helsby. It seemed to me that he got to the heart of the matter. I, too, would urge upon my noble friend that he should try, before the end of the passage of this Bill through this House, to give us a firm date. I believe that it would be right for this House to ask for that—to pass the Bill but to ask before the end of the proceedings that a firm date should be given by the Government for the implementation of the Redcliffe-Maud proposals, or some part of them.
I appeal to this Committee not to let this reasonable Bill become a source of conflict between the two Houses. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill, which was dropped, was designed to reform this House in a comparatively painless way. That is why I supported it. It was about as far as I should wish to go in the direction of reform. That Bill was dropped eventually, mainly because of the opposition of those on the Labour Benches who wanted something more drastic to be done about this House than that Bill proposed. I do not want to see that happen. I read yesterday an article by David Butler in the Sunday Times. He ended by saying:The Lords are not popular"—hateful thought, my Lords, but there it is—Mr. Wilson must rejoice that they are making their own position an issue. In 1909 Mr. Lloyd George snared the Conservative Peers into an impossible position. In 1969 Mr. Callaghan may have snared them into what is at least an impolitic one.I do not know whether David Butler is right about Mr. Wilson's feelings or Mr. Callaghan's wiles. All I do feel is that to pass these Amendments—particularly following on the heels of the circumstances of the dropping of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill—would be for your Lordships a very unwise action, and I sincerely hope that this House will not take it.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord DENHAM
I was hoping, as I am sure were most of your Lordships, that Her Majesty's Government and noble Lords opposite would not try to obscure this important issue by suggesting that your Lordships would be acting improperly if you used your constitutional powers of delay, and by uttering threats of reprisal, even if done with as much charm as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has used. There have been suggestions—or at least implications—from the other side to-day, that noble Lords on this side of the House, especially hereditary ones, have no social conscience on a matter of this sort but will tramp through the Lobbies at the behest of their Whips. I have been a Tory Whip in this House for the last eight years, and I can assure your Lordships that this simply is not true. Members of this House will not vote against their consciences. Very few of your Lordships have not, on occasion, voted against your Party Whip, and I hope that nothing I say as a Whip, either inside this Chamber or outside, will ever persuade your Lordships to vote in a way in which you think it is wrong to vote.
On Second Reading the noble Lord the Leader of the House said:I am bound again to question whether this is a matter in which the House of Lords ought to hold up the decision of the House of Commons."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 548.]He went on to refer tothe fourth or fifth year—the fatal years which they always use for this purpose".—(col. 549.)In parenthesis I would ask the noble Lord to give one example of when your Lordships have ever used the fourth or fifth year for this purpose. The fourth or fifth year argument applied before the passing of the 1949 Act, when your Lordships had the power of two years' delay. Now, only the fifth year applies.
When the Party of noble Lords opposite forced through the 1949 Parliament Act by invoking the 1911 Parliament Act, they assured your Lordships that it would not be improper for you to throw out a Bill in the fifth year. In his speech on the Second Reading of the 1949 Act the late Lord Jowitt said:In the fifth year, by common consent, the consent of this House to any legislation is necessary."—[Official Report; 8/6/1948, col. 451-1701 I have taken these words out of their context, but not, I think, unfairly so. If it is proper for your Lordships to hold up a Bill until the end of a Parliament, how much less questionable is it for you to delay a Bill only for the statutory year?
The 1949 Act was represented to your Lordships, and through your Lordships to the country, as an instrument to cut this House's powers of delay from two years to one, and it was never suggested that these powers should be done away with altogether. Indeed, when my noble friend Lord Swinton suspected that the intention behind the Bill was to achieve what would in effect be single-Chamber government, this was hotly denied by Lord Jowitt. In his winding-up speech for the Government on the Second Reading in your Lordships' House after the Bill had come to your Lordships' House under the Parliament Act—the last official pronouncement upon the Bill before it was forced into law—the noble and learned Earl answered my noble friend in these terms:I will tell your Lordships why I, at any rate, am in favour of a Second Chamber, why I believe and hope that for many years to come we shall have a Second Chamber, and what, in my view, its functions should be."—[Official Report, Vol. 165, col. 1036.]The noble Earl gave two preliminary reasons, which will be well known to your Lordships but are not germane to this particular issue; and he went on (col. 1037):Thirdly, its functions should be the interposition of so much delay (and no more) in the passing of a Bill into law as may be needed to enable the opinion of the nation to be adequately expressed upon it. This would be specially needed as regards Bills which affect the fundamentals of the Constitution or introduce new principles of legislation.It is clear that your Lordships have not only a constitutional but also a moral right, and indeed a duty, to hold up this Bill, should you so think fit. What is more—and let not this be forgotten—should you do so, Her Majesty's Government and another place will have a constitutional duty to consider the Bill and their attitude to it again. If they do nothing but question your Lordships' rights and threaten your Lordships' future they will clearly not be carrying out this duty. Who then will be behaving unconstitutionally? I hope your Lordships' consideration of this important 702 issue will not again during its various stages be distracted by such side arguments, which are irrelevant, unconstitutional and improper.
§ 5.2 p.m.
The Earl of ARRAN
My Lords, may I get in a short word sideways? I found myself first of all in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, when he said that if we were going to oppose this Bill we should have done so on Second Reading. I think my noble cousin, Lord Salisbury, felt the same. In fact, I absented myself on that occasion because I felt that I should have to try to divide the House. However, I am here 10-day, and if it is, apparently, the general wish to amend, and if need be, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested, to destroy by the death of a thousand cuts, I leave it to my political friends to choose the field of battle.
We are taking the Amendments in toto rather than seriatim, and of course the result has necessarily been a detailed discussion, a general debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has played a prominent part. That being so, I shall be excused if I concentrate on what I think to be the general intention of the opponents of the Bill; namely, to change it from its present form, as unconstitutional and drafted in the interests of the Socialist Party, into an instrument we can all accept.
The constitutional arguments have been ably put forward by my noble friend Lord Byers and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and, if I may say so, somewhat apologetically by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I do not need to make use of them again. I simply repeat what was to me the most cogent statement in the course of both debates, that made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who said:That is the constitutional issue here, and it is a grave issue. For if independent and impartial bodies charged with keeping the electoral system fair are ignored, what safeguards for the public interest are left? None, except your Lordships' House, which, however it may be composed, is specifically armed with the most important constitutional power of all, power under the law to stop a majority in the elected Chamber from changing the law so as to prolong the life of a Parliament."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 482.]703 There is a constitutional issue here. I will not put it, naturally, on the level of Magna Carta, but if the proposals of the Government are put into effect we shall indeed have a new Runnymede, a "Power Carta" directed by Barons—we will not specify who they are—aimed not at restricting the power of the King but at strengthening the power of a Government, a Socialist Government.
What right have the Government to tell us, the other House, to "toe the line or else"? As the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said:The sovereignty of Parliament … is not the whim of the House of Commons; it is what Parliament expresses in legislation. An Act of Parliament does express the sovereignty of Parliament. A Resolution of the House of Commons does not; a Resolution of the House of Lords does not."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 515.]Do the Government really regard us as a pack of whipped curs to be put through our paces at their behest? Are we going to allow ourselves to be browbeaten? We face a grave constitutional issue and there comes a moment when I think we must cry "enough". I did not think we should fight over the Rhodesian issue because it was perhaps not a matter of prime concern to the electorate, but as the noble Lord, Lord Strange, said in a very remarkable speech: this is it; it is now or never. Either we buckle under—I am using my own words now—and admit that we are toadies and lick-spittles or we stand firm and fast and obey our only constituents which are our own consciences.
To-day we declare our independence and our integrity or we go down with no band playing and no colours flying except the White Flag. To-day, either we stand for our principles or we abjure once and for all our tradition and our inheritance. If the Government should wish to appeal to the country on the issue of Lords versus Commons, which I profoundly hope they will not do, I believe that they will be soundly thrashed, for it is not a question of the Lords versus Commons, it is a question of the Government versus the people.
I have the right to say this, from my experience throughout Britain, especially among the youth. I think I have told your Lordships I have debated this subject in almost every university in the 704 country. I am reluctantly convinced that the electors are so fed up not only with this Government, which is not tragic, but with the other place, which is sad and wrong and tragic, that they would prefer an institution like the House of Lords, which at least stands for integrity and for the common man. I am politically a centrist; I have no axe to grind, but I will wager your Lordships that we the Queen's Peers will find ourselves in our seats long after Mr. Wilson and Mr. Callaghan have been forcibly evicted from their seats in the other House by the people.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, if I may intervene briefly, I have always thought that we have two types of law in this country: the ordinary law enacted by Parliament, ordinary Acts of Parliament, and our constitutional law. I was always of the opinion that the constitutional law is the law under which the statutory rights of the Boundary Commissions surely come. The constitutional law is entrenched in very definite clauses, and I was always of the opinion that before the constitutional law could be changed there had to be a majority in both Houses of Parliament and the approval of the other Estates of the Realm.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, appears to think that we have no rights at all in this question. He calls it a minor Party squabble. If we have any rights at all we have rights here, because as this country has no written Constitution an unscrupulous Government, with a large majority in the House of Commons, could—I am not suggesting of course that the present Government are unscrupulous; far from it—by enabling Acts through ordinary legislation eventually destroy the whole Constitution of this country and turn the people of this country into complete serfs. Therefore, this Committee has a definite duty to legislate in this matter. I just wanted to make that point plain. Having done so, I will now sit down.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
May I say half a dozen sentences in expressing the position of an individual Back-Bencher on this side of the Committee? I shall oppose this Amendment because it amounts to a 705 direct negative, and I am opposed to this House in its unreformed state reversing major decisions of the other place. This does not mean that I am at all happy about the Bill itself. I find myself in close agreement with the forthright suggestion, most courageously put forward in another place by my honourable friend Mr. Ben Whitaker, that matters of boundaries should be taken out of political dispute and should be settled with an automatic seven-year review. But this is hardly the moment to bring up that suggestion.
My worries are that I find it intensely disheartening that we on our side should have allowed the real problems—which I do not underestimate—of the Redcliffe-Maud Report to persuade us to throw over the precious quality of visible impartiality; and I think our argument has been slightly weakened by the rather impressive timetable put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which to my intellect was on the whole more plausible than the one my side has been adopting. Nevertheless, these are questions of judgment over which honest men can differ without rancour.
This is not the position here. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been assailed in the most violent and crude way. His honour and the honour of the Government have been attacked quite openly—not I am glad to say in this House; but they have been attacked in a way that no supporter of the Government could possibly fail to go into the Lobby and vote on their side in this matter. In order to endorse the propriety, if not perhaps entirely the wisdom, of my Government's proposals, I shall support them.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord ROBERTSON of OAKRIDGE
I have already made my speech on this matter; I made it on Second Reading debate. I have really nothing more to say, but I just want to stand up and say two or three words in case noble Lords think that I am afraid of the Amendments to which I have put my name, which I certainly am not. During the debate on the Second Reading I made a quite simple speech—I am rather a simple person. In it I said,that as I see it this Bill breaks the rules."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 494.]706 I was immediately sharply taken to task by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and asked to explain how the Government were breaking the rules. A bit flustered, I said:I understand the law to say that the recommendations of the Boundary Commission must be laid before Parliament within a reasonable period"—whereas the Bill seems to me to make itan indefinite period; and that, I consider, is wrong.The noble Lord the Leader of the House later said that I should read the Report of the Boundary Commission and the Act of Parliament which requires Reports and the necessary Statutory Instruments to be laid. Well,: [have done what I have been told to do; I have done a lot of reading. I have also read Hansard, and in Hansard I note that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said:No one disputes or can dispute the undoubted fact that the Home Secretary is under a statutory obligation to lay drafs: Orders in Council before Parliament, with such modifications as he may think necessary, to implement the Boundary Commission's proposals, and to do it ' as soon as may be'". [col. 538.]Well, nobody did contradict that statement, although I am bound to say that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, seems to have said what I said, only more tidily. But I can well understand: hat he is a more formidable person to attack because I have seen him retaliate pretty sharply when he has been attacked.
Said the noble Lord the Leader of the House:I find it hard to see that the Government having broken the rules in this matter"—[col. 546.]I hope he will forgive me if I say that I find it hard to see that "as soon as may be" can properly be interpreted by a Bill which in fact, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Helmsby, "asks for a blank cheque".
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord HANKEY
I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, has said. I, too, have read the Report of the Boundary Commission, and there is the fact, which I think has not been brought out in the debate, that there are major changes on every single page except one of Appendix C, and on many pages there are a number 707 of major changes recorded by the Commission. It is quite clear that the speed of change in our country is increasing. I believe that it is basically wrong to let our Parliamentary system get out of date. A strong point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, when he said that the next Parliament will have to decide the question of local government reform and it ought to be brought up to date for that purpose. I do not think it ought to be beyond the wit of man to administer the next election, or, for that matter, the next election beyond that, on the new boundaries now proposed. I have spent most of my life in administration, admittedly largely overseas; but I have derived a great respect for our administrators and I do not think it is beyond their capability to arrange an election in this way. In any case, it is done mostly by the entirely local authorities.
I have been shocked by the way in which this question has been handled. I do not think it ought to have been a Party matter. I personally have been greatly shocked by the use of the guillotine to force this matter through the Commons in a way which has made it difficult for Party agreement to be obtained. You have only to look at the Report of the Boundary Commission to see with what infinite care it has been formed, with Mr. Speaker in the Chair and most eminent people, at whom it would be quite impossible to cast any sort of aspersion, in order to ensure its total impartiality. I believe this is a most important point of our Constitution and that it should not be allowed to go by default.
Therefore I think that the Government ought to have handled this matter like Caesar's wife and be totally above suspicion. I am sorry to say, speaking from these Cross-Benches, that I do not feel that the way in which this matter has been handled has given us much assurance in this case. I am sorry to say this, but I really feel that to be the case. Therefore I shall vote for the Amendment, in order to give the Government time to think again and preferably to bring forward a Bill before next March which will enable agreement to be cerned. I earnestly appeal to the achieved between all the Parties con- 708 Government to handle the matter in this way.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I think it would probably be the wish of the Committee that we should now bring this matter to a conclusion—
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne (who probably does not know what a guillotine is) that this has been one of the oddest Committee stages I have ever known in this House. With that I am sure noble Lords will agree. But we have all been resigned to the fact that we were to have the equivalent of another Second Reading debate. Without precisely echoing the words of my noble friend Lord Stonham about the welcome we give to those whom we do not see so often, it is noticeable that at least on this occasion there are not so many Bishops as we had on the Rhodesia Order, and I confess I could have done without the speech of the one who did speak. That is no personal reflection, but I think he was misguided. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, started off at a tremendously high level—indeed, he started on the Moon—and he almost likened the importance of our discussions here on Earth to what is going on on the Moon. I agree that what we are discussing is important, and our decision is important; but what has been said is rather characteristic of the way in which the whole issue has been blown up and exaggerated out of all proportion.
I say to noble Lords that the Government have a very clear-cut case. It may not be open and shut, and many noble Lords may not agree with that case, but I ask your Lordships once again to listen briefly to the basic arguments and consider the matter not in terms of the extraordinarily high-flown language of the noble Earl, Lord Arran—who waited so patiently and spoke such stirring words that I almost felt that at any moment the shot and shell would rain down from another place and that the noble Earl would be there to ward it off. He does, of course, move with enormous rapidity from one Party to another. I am not quite sure whether he is a Liberal—in fact, I do not believe the Liberals really identify him as one. May I also just say 709 very briefly to the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, that a short talk with his noble friend Lord Conesford would help clear his mind a great deal on some of the points he raised.
The real issue is—and before the Opposition cheer, may I say that there will only be counter cheers—whether the Government are committing a constitutional enormity in what they propose in the Bill. There has been such a welter of indignation that it has been difficult to get the arguments into perspective—notwithstanding, if I may say so, the characteristically excellent behaviour of your Lordships in this matter. But it has been difficult for nice and honest noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, to say, "A plague o' both your Houses. I suspect the Government are doing something they should not. I wish they were not going to and it is my duty to stop them."
I say to the noble Lord that I slightly resent his suggestion that I interrupted him because I was frightened to interrupt the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps he did not mean that. I did not pick him because he was an easy target; I picked him as somebody who was capable of redemption, and this is something I can never hope for the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. What the noble Lord. Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said is," We have rules, and this Bill, it seems to me, is a breach of the rules." I think even the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, would say that that must be a nonsense, and that is why I asked him to read the Boundary rules. I do not want to be offensive to him, and I hope that he will read them once again.
There is just a little bit of common sense coming through. A number of noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches thought that perhaps, after all, there might be something in the Government case. They thought that even if it was something they did not entirely like, there was something reasonable in what the Government were doing, and I think they began to realise that the high sounding phrases about "One man, one vote" did not come with great conviction from noble Lords opposite. The noble Lord. Lord Brooke of Cumnor, even referred to the former Chief Justice, Earl Warren, and talked about "The votes of the 710 electorate being fair and equal". Yet he knows perfectly well that the Conservative Party—and I have to repeat this again—supported the continuation of the City of London and the university votes. That was entirely in contradiction of the views that have been expressed to-day.
§ Lord CONESFORD
Would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? The noble Lord mentioned the university votes; would he also say that their continuance was the unanimous recommendation of the Speaker's Conference?
§ Lord SHACKLETON
Luckily Parliament decided to reverse that decision, and no attempt has been made by the Party opposite, despite a pledge that they gave, to restore the university seats. We also had the business vote, and that was in direct conflict with those highminded phrases that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, gave to us the other day.… the weight of a citizen's vote cannot depend on where he lives'. That bask principle of representative government this Bill violates."—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 483.]and so on. I would only say that it is all the more surprising, coming from—not the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor—certain noble Lords who, on that side of the House, were prepared to deny "one man one vote" in Rhodesia unless his colour was right. I really think that there has been—and I certainly do not include the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in this criticism—a great deal of sententiousness on the matter.
§ Lord BROOKE of CUMNOR
I wonder whether the noble Lord wishes to include me in his criticism about the City of London and university votes? These were debated in the 1945 Parliament, when I was not a Member in either House, and I cannot recollect ever having expressed the slightest view on either subject.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I am only too well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was not in the House of Commons when I first entered it, but I should also like to know whether he made any protests on the subject at his Party meetings. I very much doubt it, because it was of course official Conservative Party policy. But it may well be that he can stand alone in a white sheet 711 as somebody who was opposed to the business vote for the City of London and the university votes. I know the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was in fact a very distinguished Member for a university seat and that he subsequently re turned to the hustings, which not all the university representatives did.
It has also been suggested—and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said it was unfair—that to have constituencies with such a wide range in the number of votes affected their value. He said that 90, 000 to 20, 000 was about five to one, and that this was intolerable. However, he is prepared to tolerate four to one, because the Boundary Commission proposed ratios of this sort. In the English Boundary Commission the range is from 83, 000 to about 30, 000, and we know that in Scotland the constituencies drop to 20, 000. This is a difference in degree, and I do not believe that this great cry, this principle, is one that need affect our discussions to-day.
The crucial issue is the relationship between the Boundary Commission and the Maud Report. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, who also seems to be showing a certain amount of Liberal instability at the moment—I shall come to him in more detail—said on Second Reading:Incidentally, it raises the question, which ought to be aired at some date, why we need to keep to local government boundaries when drawing up new Parliamentary constituencies. It is because we are slavishly keeping to these boundaries that we are getting into situations where we have constituencies"—[Official Report, 17/7/69, col. 489.]of such and such a size. When I suggested on the Second Reading that he was critical of this relation between the two, he nodded his head in a negative way; but it may be that even then I have misunderstood him. But I think it is quite clear—and I think your Lordships must now accept this—that there is a close relationship between Parliamentary boundaries and local government boundaries, and this was confirmed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. It was confirmed to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, and my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy; and others all pointed clearly to this, and I think we must accept it.
712 The question then is: Is there, in fact, to be any correlation in time between the implementation of the Maud Report and the Boundary Commission Report? It is the Government's intention to publish a White Paper this year and to proceed to legislation as soon afterwards as possible. I have already said that this cannot be done—and we accept that it cannot be done—without a great deal of consultation. But I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, that this is something with which we ought to press on as quickly as possible.
I was asked both by my noble friend Lord Champion and by the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, to enlarge on the possibility of putting a term to the time for which boundary changes are postponed. The Amendments that are in front of us this afternoon do not bear directly on this, nor has there been any reaction from the main Opposition Party to this suggestion. I can understand why—they are not interested in it at the moment. But we were thinking of a possible fresh Report, rather than the implementation of the current Report. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary gave an indication of interest, and said that we might well be able to expect new provisional recommendations from the Boundary Commission in 1973. I shall certainly convey to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the strength of the arguments which have been used on this point. But it would be wrong for me to give any undertaking, beyond saying that I will certainly see that these arguments are considered very carefully, because I realise that they can be crucial.
§ Lord BYERS
Is the noble Lord really saying that we could get the new Maud boundaries in 1972, and that with in one year the Boundary Commission could have reported on new Parliamentary boundaries? That cannot be true, surely.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
It would be possible, of course, for the Boundary Commission—and perhaps we shall have another opportunity to discuss this—to start work early. But I think on this—
§ Lord SHACKLETON
That is precisely where the noble Lord is wrong. They will know what the local government arrangements are. Indeed, there may well be already in existence the new "shadow authorities". This is not an impossibility at all; indeed, it is very much part and parcel of the Government's thinking. Our thinking on this matter has been entirely consistent. We made clear right back in 1966, when we discussed this matter with the Opposition, that difficulties would arise if we went on with the Boundary Commission when the Maud Commission were beginning to examine local government. The Opposition refused to consider the problem and now, confronted by a really difficult problem which would have a most disruptive effect, the Government have come forward with proposals which have been attacked on the grounds that they are breaking the rules.
We have had a lot of Dicey quoted at us. Indeed, I think we have had the same passage quoted three times, twice by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and once by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. But I must say that to attempt to call Dicey in aid of the discussion which we are having is really stretching the argument too far. In some way, I would almost prefer to rely on the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, at the moment, rather than on Dicey, writing long ago in a different context in a very different political situation. Indeed, if we applied the principles of Dicey, that the House of Lords is entitled to, and indeed should, hold up legislation moved in another place for which there is no mandate from the electorate, then all I can say is that the House of Lords has been notably failing in its duty, and I express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the matter.
§ Lord CONESFORD
The noble Lord said that I quoted one passage twice. The only thing I quoted was what is still the law; that the sole right of the electors under our Constitution is to elect a Member of Parliament. I used that merely to show how extraordinarily important elections were, and why we should be very careful not to take away the rights of electors.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. This Govern- 714 ment have No intenttion of taking away the rights of electors. I am only sorry that we cannot at the present moment enfranchise the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and other Members of your Lordship's House.
We have also had talk of an indemnity. My noble friend Lord Stonham has made clear—and noble Lords may or may not accept this—that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is not in breach of his statutory duty. If in due course this Bill is rejected, we shall have to think again and I do not doubt, depending on the measures which the Government may take on this Bill—whether or not they be the use of the Parliament Bill—that my right honourable friend will carry out any constitutional duty that he has. But in relation to the rules, the truth of the matter is that they are very much capable of amendment. They were amended notably in 1954. At that time, the Government of the day—and the Opposition co-operated—altered the period at which major comprehensive reports should be made from five to seven years to fifteen years. Later on, the Opposition did not wish to be as co-operative as the Labour Party were in those days, for some reason—
The noble Lord cannot blame the Conservatives for that. He claimed that he was overtaken by a difficult situation, because the Opposition Chief Whip refused to co-operate with the Lord President of the Council. I think the Conservative Party may well have been wrong in this respect, but the Government could perfectly well have introduced a Bill long before what the Boundary Commission were going to report was known at all. They could even have left such a Bill to a free vote.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
It may well be that the Government ought to have introduced a Bill. The fact is they did not at that moment. But now they are confronted with a very difficult situation, and they have made proposals which, provided that the relationship between the Boundary Commission and local government boundaries is accepted, are entirely relevant. The rules have had to be altered time and time again, and now the Opposition have put down Amendments which have the effect of destroying the Bill. They are really pretty "mad" Amendments. They are skilful, but there is a 715 good deal of lunacy behind them. They will make it extraordinarily difficult to carry out the next G.L.C. elections under the new arrangements, and for this reason will be equally unpopular with the Conservative, the Liberal and the Labour Parties in London.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that it is quite right to act in this way, because the object of what I should call this crude manœuvre is to make it easier for Liberals and Cross-Benchers to vote for it. The Opposition know that even if the Government were disposed to accept this Amendment they could not accept it because of its defects.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, listened to my noble friend Lord Stonham, but if he reads the report of his speech to-morrow he will see that this Amendment is unacceptable, anyway.
Let me now turn to the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I find it very difficult to understand his attitude. We have worked together and, on the whole, he is a constructive and helpful Member of this House. But he has succeeded in putting his name to two contradictory Amendments. I hope that he has the support of his Liberal colleagues on them. I am sure that, out of loyalty and affection for him, they will help him on this. But this is an act of the wildest schizophrenia. We are not going to be able to discuss his second Amendment to-day. I think that is rather fortunate, because he is really saying to the Government, if I may find an analogy, "You owe me £5. You must jolly well pay it, but if you do not pay it by the end of six months I shall let you off it". That is the meaning of his Amendment.
§ Lord BYERS
Surely, the noble Lord did me the courtesy of listening to my speeches, both on Second Reading and to-day, when I pointed out quite clearly that this was a Parliamentary device to make a protest on constitutional grounds.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
It is a device, but it is a pretty odd one. One would like to have some relation to reality. I will not press it, but he has exposed himself, and I think I must be entitled just to make these few mild remarks.
716 Now we come, at any moment, to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The trumpets have sounded the call to duty. We even had Kipling from Lord Ferrier. We had that splendid call from that unlikely martial figure, Lord Arran. At last, after years of frustration, and after an awful "botched" shot over the Rhodesia Order, the Conservative Party are called to strike a blow for constitutional freedom. No longer the soft days when the Duke of Wellington persuaded the House of Lords to acquiesce in the Reform Bill of 1882! My advice to the Conservative Party on this matter is that they keep clear of it entirely. It is too late now; they have not taken the advice. They are very good at picking up the wrong issue. They are almost unerring in their skill, whether it is Rhodesia or this Bill. They know that their action in this matter will be futile; that they cannot in fact compel the Government to carry this out. They have talked about threats of reprisals. There have not been any threats of reprisals. There is nothing for them to resist—very disappointing for the noble Lord, Lord Denham. He was all ready and waited until at last one noble Lord said something, and then he came up and delivered his particular clarion call to duty.
§ Lord DENHAM
I gather that the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Prime Minister said something over the weekend about this.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I do not know what he said. Oh!—this was on the Housing Bill, and the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Silsoe. That was on another matter, but not on this; and once again the noble Lord, Lord Denham—
§ Lord SHACKLETON
I think that if the noble Lord will wait he will hear my analysis of the situation.
I am bound to say that we on these Benches totally reject the right of this House to reject this particular measure. If they wish they have the power to make the Commons think again. The attitude of the Labour Party is perfectly clear: we do not share the views of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that somehow the House of Lords is an emanation of 717 the electorate. As to my own attitude, I am bound to say that despite my belief that it was possible to make sense out of your Lordships (we had the proposals which went so far; I will not attach blame, but it was a tragedy, I think, that we were not able to carry them through), I think the prospects of coming to a sensible solution in the future get less and less.
The only effect of Conservatives' insistence on this Amendment is that they will almost certainly delay the carrying out of the reforms with regard to the Greater London area, and the elections there will be fought on the basis that the necessary adjustments which could have been made were frustrated. I ask noble Lords to think very carefully indeed, and I particularly ask noble Lords who perhaps have been rather inclined to be dragged away by these great cries of "Constitutional issue!" where no constitutional issue is at all that they will in fact think very carefully on this. All I will say is that if to-day this Committee passes these Amendments, as I suspect it will, it will be a bad day for the House of Lords. And when I look at the serried ranks opposite—and, my goodness!, how much more serried have they become, excluding those Members of another place beyond the Bar—I really wonder whether I should advise my noble friends to go into the Lobby at all. Once again the Leader of the Opposition shows that he controls your Lordships' House. However, we shall go into the Division on the first Amendment only, and treat the rest, as at present drafted, with contempt.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
I agree with the noble Lord the Leader of the House, in his good-humoured, rather condescending and largely irrelevant speech, that it is now time we came to a decision. I too, from this side of the Committee, should like to welcome some pretty strange faces on that side, and particularly I should like to welcome if I may the noble Lord, Lord Caradon. I only hope he will not feel at the end of these proceedings that his journey was not really necessary.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
May I interrupt the noble Lord? I should like to stress that the presence here of my noble friend Lord Caradon is purely coincidental.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
As a taxpayer I am very glad to hear that. I only hope that as we go into the Lobby his name, as so often happens, will not be confused with mine on this occasion.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor has explained with great clarity the purpose of the series of Amendments to which we are seeking your Loidships' agreement. We have had a very long debate upon them, and I do not propose to take up much of your Lordships' time. The Amendments—and I ask noble Lords opposite to believe this—are put forward for the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and it is a matter of great regret to us that the Government, if we are to believe the noble Lord the Leader of the House, find themselves unable to accept them. The object of the Amendments is to enable the Home Secretary and the Government to reconsider their action, and to have time to reflect upon the debates and discussions which have taken place about this Bill, without fear of anyone taking legal action against them for their failure to implement the Boundary Commission Report.
We have chosen the date of March 31 next year by which we suggest that the Home Secretary should either implement the Boundary Commission proposals or make other proposals for the consideration of Parliament. It is a date which coincides with that chosen by the Government themselves for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I submit that these are reasonable suggestions and are, in the words of the Daily Telegraph this morning, "a mannerly course". If Amendments are needed to my Amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested, because they are not properly drafted, then on the Report stage we shall be only too happy to pay attention to anything which the noble Lord or the Government say about the drafting of these Amendments.
But I want to return to the central issue which is before your Lordships. No doubt we shall all have reread the debate we had last Thursday. I have done so. I have read with great care the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and that of Lord Shackleton, and I hope that they have read what we had to say. At no time during that debate did we impugn the motives of the Government, 719 and at no time have we brought any Party matter into our argument. Indeed, it is noticeable, if I may say so, that the only speeches which have contained Party political matter have been those from the other side, and notably the closing passages of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on Second Reading, about which I shall have something more to say a little later.
We have devoted ourselves solely to the argument that the Government themselves have advanced for the introduction of this Bill; that is to say, that it is necessary because of the Maud Commission Report and the likelihood that its proposals will be put into effect in the fairly near future. For that reason, we are told, the Boundary Commission recommendations, with one or two selected exceptions, should be postponed for an unspecified period of years ahead. No one who listened to the debate on Second Reading or this afternoon can have come away other than convinced that this argument does not hold water. The Home Secretary has suggested that the Boundary Commission proposals and Maud will all be done and finished with by 1973.
§ Lord STONHAM
My right honourable friend has never said that. I made it quite clear on Second Reading, and my noble Leader has made it clear again to-day. The utmost my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said is that it is possible that provisional recommendations by the Boundary Commission will be ready by 1973.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
The Government do not think it possible that any of these things can be done by 1973? Am I right? And that, because of this—
§ Lord STONHAM
If the noble Lord is bringing the discussion to this level, I must say again that I made it clear on Second Reading; it was made clear by my noble friend the Leader of the House and I made it clear again in my intervention that we do think provisional recommendations can be produced by the Boundary Commission in 1974.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
I do not know to which of my two statements the noble Lord is objecting. Perhaps he can 720 let me know later. The argument is that because of this date two changes of boundaries in so short a time would be undesirable. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, whose experience in these matters is unrivalled in this House (and, I should think, outside it) made it plain that in her view no such time table is possible, and that a more realistic assessment of when both Maud and the Boundary Commission would together be completed is 1978 or 1979, a date I would ask your Lordships to note—not after the next Election but after the next Election but one, leaving a gap of some thirty years between any remedy for the grossly swollen constituencies and those whose electorate has been more than halved. I do not believe, and I have not met anybody outside the Labour Party who believes, that Maud can be implemented in a short time. Even if the present Government were re-elected I do not believe it would be possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton (and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, did so early this afternoon) suggested during the Second Reading that they would be prepared to consider—and Lord Champion would like to see—a date in legislation by which the Boundary Commission proposals would be implemented. If, by 1972, or 1973, or 1974, the argument goes—and this is the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Helsby—the Maud Commission proposals have not become effective, the Boundary Commission alterations would be made. This seems to be attractive to some noble Lords opposite. But the very fact that the Government are prepared to consider such a proposal invalidates their argument for introducing the Bill at all; for by then, by whatever date in the early 1970s that would be, we would be very much nearer the implementation of Maud; and if a change of boundaries were made in 1972 or 1973, it would be much nearer the Maud arrangement than it would be if it were made now. It would make things much worse and not much better. Certainly I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, in what he has to suggest. I must say that the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has made that suggestion indicates to me that there is a doubt in his mind about the date on which all these proposals may see the light of day.
721 I have listened to both these debates. I have heard no other arguments advanced for the Government proposals except that one—except (and I say this with due deference to one or two noble Lords opposite who spoke on Second Reading) the rather extraordinary one of the convenience of Members of Parliament. I am sorry about that. I do not think that any of us would want to put M.Ps. to any avoidable inconvenience; but the fairness of our electoral system really should weigh with us more than the difficulties, however serious they may be, of those who represent the electors.
I want to make this clear. So far as I am concerned, even if the Government were right and the changes could be implemented by 1973 or 1974, I could not support this Bill. It does not seem to me right that the next Election should be fought on boundaries which are 17 or 18 years out of date. Fifteen years was chosen by Parliament as the interval at which these changes should be made. It was felt, and agreed by all Parties, that this was a suitable period since there would be in that time significant shifts of population in many constituencies. So it has proved. I believe that the next Election should be fought on the new boundaries as Parliament laid down in the Statute with the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
If this Bill goes through unamended or under the provisions of the Parliament Act we shall in my view have debased our standards of political behaviour; for noble Lords opposite should be under No illusion that they have any support outside their own Party for the course that they are following. There is evidence that some of those in the Labour Party are very troubled at what is proposed. It would be a matter of great surprise to me if, when we go into the Division Lobbies in a few minutes' time there are more than a handful, perhaps not even that, of Members of this House in the Lobby with the noble Lords opposite who do not take the Labour Whip.
If this Bill goes through, a precedent will have been created and one, I think, greatly to be regretted and deplored. No longer could it be said that the proposals from the Boundary Commission, independent proposals from independent people, are something which Governments put into operation at the first opportunity; 722 no longer could it be said that Governments are, with minor modifications, in honour bound to do that and rot to make major alterations and not to postpone their coming into force. There would be the precedent of 1969. And there would, alas—and I am sorry to have to say this—be the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House who when he wound up the debate on Second Reading, said this:The simple fact is that if the Conservative Party had introduced this Bill—and they might just as well have done so because they have never been behindhand in pursuing their own interests—."—[Official Report, co. 548, 17/7/69.]All of us in this House know the noble Lord very well indeed and have great affection and admiration for him. It may be that that was a slip of the tongue; but it was a significant slip of the tongue because behind the implications of that remark lie the misgivings which many people feel about the Government's proposals.
Surely no Government should ever put itself, or be thought to be putting itself, in the position where people w: ll say that it is altering the law and altering the rules to suit its own purposes. For, if it does, it does not only discredit itself but discredits the whole system of government in this country. The consequences of such an action are taking place here this afternoon, a possible clash between the two Houses; and much more serious than that, a tendency for the average man in the street to believe that this sort of thing is inevitable in politics and in our political system. If the Government have eyes to see and ears to hear they must have seen and heard the warning signs that are up wherever they look or listen.
Lastly, I must for one moment deal with the suggestion that was made last time and to-day by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that this House is not entitled to concern itself in this matter. I reject that absolutely. I reject the argument that because this House is unelected and because some of its composition is hereditary it should not concern itself in an Act of Parliament which affects every man and woman of this country. I agree with the right reverend Prelate; and whether one docs or not, one must admire the courage it takes to speak 723 against one's own Party. I reject the suggestion that because the Labour Party have a temporary majority in the House of Commons, a majority which if they put it to the test at a General Election to-day would evaporate, they have the right without opposition from this House to change the rules of electoral representation.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
May I interrupt the noble Lord? What on earth does he mean by a "temporary majority" in another place? Is he contrasting it with the permanent Conservative majority in this House?
§ Lord CARRINGTON
I leave the House to judge upon that exchange.
I reject the implication in the Prime Minister's remark yesterday that such a course would be either arrogant or a misuse of privilege. It does not lie in the mouth of the Prime Minister of the Government introducing this measure to talk of arrogance. There are some who say, "Why should the House of Lords with its hereditary composition set itself up as the defenders of the votes of the people?" I should not have thought that the average person who understands the implication of what the Government are doing and believes that they are acting unfairly, unconstitutionally and improperly, will mind if it is a hereditary Peer who says so and is prepared to vote against it. I think rather that he will be
§ glad that there is a Second Chamber which has some powers left to delay the improprieties of the Government.
§ We have had this afternoon no threats about what will happen if we pass these Amendments, or at any rate, in the last few days only a few veiled threats. That, to me, is a matter of some significance. On every other occasion when it seemed likely that your Lordships intended to oppose Government proposals dire threats have been issued by all Members of the Government, from the Prime Minister downwards. They have never been slow in seeking to intimidate this House from using its powers. They have been silent on this occasion because they themselves know that the position they have taken up is contrary to the conventions and decencies of politics. But threats or no, I imagine most of your Lordships will be in no difficulty about the course that you should follow this evening. I hope that you will pass these Amendments; pass them because they are a fair and honourable way out for the Government, and pass them because they are just and right. In doing so I believe not only should we be doing the right thing but we should be upholding the standards of our political life.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 270; Not-Contents, 96.725
|Aberdare, L.||Beauchamp, E.||Camoys, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Beeching, L.||Carrington, L.|
|Abergavenny, M.||Belstead, L.||Chandos, V.|
|Abinger, L.||Berkeley, Bs.||Chelmer, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Bessborough, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Birdwood, L.||Clinton, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Blackford, L.||Clitheroe, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Blakenham, V.||Clwyd, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Bledisloe, V.||Cole, L.|
|Amory, V.||Bolton, L.||Coleraine, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Boston, L.||Colville of Culross, V.|
|Amulree, L.||Boyd of Merton, V.||Colyton, L.|
|Arran, E.||Brabazon of Tara, L.||Conesford, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Bradford, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Atholl, D.||Braye, L.||Cornwallis, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Brecon, L.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Audley, Bs.||Brentford, V.||Craigavon, V.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Bridgeman, V.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Cranbrook, E.|
|Barnard, L.||Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Crathorne, L.|
|Barnby, L.||Buchan, E.||Croft, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Buckton, L.||Cromartie, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Burton, L.||Cromer, E.|
|Bearsted, V.||Byers, L.||Crowther, L.|
|Beatty, E.||Caccia, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Howe, E.||Redmayne, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Remnant, L.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Ilford, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Denham, L.||Inchyra, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Deramore, L.||Inglewood, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Jackson of Burnley, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Digby, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Downe, V.||Jessel, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Drogheda, E.||Kemsley, V.||Rootes, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Killearn, L.||Rosslyn, E.|
|Dulverton, L.||Kilmany, L.||Rothermere, V.|
|Dundee, E.||Kilmarnock, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Kindersley, L.||Rothes, E.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Kinnoull, E.||Rowallan, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Lambert, V.||Runciman of Doxford, V.|
|Effingham, E.||Lansdowne, M.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Egremont, L.||Latymer, L.||Rutland, D.|
|Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Lauderdale, E.||Sackville, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Lonsdale, E.||St. Helens, L.|
|Enniskillen, E.||Lothian, M.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Loudoun, C.||Salisbury, M.|
|Exeter, L. Bp.||Lovat, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Lucan, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Luke, L.||Savile, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Fisher, L.||MacAndrew, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Foley, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Shawcross, L.|
|Foot, L.||McFadzean, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Forbes, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Silsoe, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Mancroft, L.||Simonds, V.|
|Franks, L.||Manton, L.||Sinclair of Cleeve, L.|
|Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.||Southwark, L. Bp.|
|Gage, V.||Margadale, L.||Spens, L.|
|Garner, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Geddes, L.||Merrivale, L.||Strang, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Mersey, V.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Middleton, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Glandevon, L.||Milverton, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Glendyne, L.||Molson, L.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Goschen, V.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Suffield, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Monk Bretton, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Monson, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Gray, L.||Morrison, L.||Tangley, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Mountevans, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Moyne, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Nctherthorpe, L.||Todd, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Newton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Trevelyan, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Nunburnholme, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Hankey, L.||Pender, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Harcourt, V.||Penney, L.||Wade, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Perth, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Harris, L.||Plowden, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Poltimore, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Hawke, L.||Polwarth, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Hayter, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wellington, D.|
|Headfort, M.||Poole, L.||Westwood, L.|
|Helsby, L.||Powis, E.||Windlesham, L.|
|Henley, L. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.||Wise, L.|
|Holford, L.||Rathcavan, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Hood, V.||Redesdale, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Addison, V.||Blyton, L.||Burton of Coventry, Bs.|
|Archibald, L.||Bowden, L.||Campbell of Eskan, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Caradon, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Brockway, L.||Chalfont, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Brown, L.||Champion, L.|
|Birk, Bs.||Buckinghamshire, E.||Chorley, L.|
|Blackett, L.||Burden, L.||Citrine, L.|
|Collison, L.||Jacques, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Crook, L.||Kennet, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Royle, L.|
|Dinevor, L.||Kirkwood, L.||Rusholme, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Latham, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Leatherland, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Energlyn, L.||Lindgren, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.]||Segal, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Serota, Bs.|
|Fiske, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Francis-Williams, L.||Longford, E.||Shepherd, L.|
|Gaitskell, Bs.||McLeavy, L.||Snow, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Maelor, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Garnsworthy, L.||Mais, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Geddes of Epsom, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Mitchison, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Granville of Eye, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Granville-West, L.||Moyle, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hall, V.||Noel-Buxton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Pargiter, L.||Walston, L.|
|Heycock, L.||Peddie, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Hill of Wivenhoe, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Williamson, L.|
|Hilton of Upton, L.||Platt, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Plummer, Bs.||Wootton of Abinger, Bs.|
|Hughes, L.||Popplewell, L.||Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
Page 1, line 7, after ("Act") insert ("in the present session of Parliament'').—(Lord Carrington.)
§ Amendment moved—
Page 1, line 9, leave out from ("1969") to end of line 2 on page 3 and insert—
("(1A) Subject to subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State, on or before 31st March 1970, shall, in respect of each report of a Boundary Commission submitted under section 2 (1) of the Redistribution of Seats Act in the year 1969, lay before Parliament the draft Order in Council required by section 2 (5) of that Act.
(1B) On compliance with subsection (1A) above in relation to any report of a Boundary Commission the Secretary of State shall be relieved of any penalties imposed on him in respect of his breach, in respect of that report, of the duty imposed by section 2 (5) of that Act to lay a draft Order in Council before Parliament at the same time as he laid the report, and to do so as soon as may be after the report was submitted to him.
(1C) Where subsection (1B) above has effect in relation to a report, any proceedings pending against the Secretary of State in the Supreme Court of Judicature, the Court of Session, the High Court in Northern Ireland or the House of Lords shall, so far as they relate to breaches of duty by the Secretary of
State in respect of that report, be treated as stayed.
(1D) Nothing in this section shall affect any order for costs made against the Secretary of State at any previous time, or the power to make any order for costs at any future time.")—(Lord Carrington.)
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Alteration of constituencies in Greater London and certain contiguous areas]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Resolved in the negative, and Clause 2 disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 3 [Immediate division of constituencies with abnormally large electorates]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Resolved in the negative, and Clause 3 disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [Altered Constituencies in Greater London and Adjoining Counties]:
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Resolved in the negative, and Schedule 1 disagreed to accordingly.729
§ Schedule 2 [Constituencies to be divided under S. 3]:
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Resolved in the negative, and Schedule disagreed to accordingly.
In the Title, line 4, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 10 and insert ("not later than 31 st March 1970; to indemnify the Secretary of State against penalties for breach of statutory duty").—(Lord Carrington.)
§ Title, as amended, agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported, with the Amendments.