§ (1) For the purposes of this Part of this Act there shall be established a Commission consisting of five Commissioners, to be styled the Development Commissioners and to be appointed by the Treasury, of whom one to be appointed by the Treasury shall be chairman. The Treasury may, on the recommendation of the Commissioners, increase the number of the Commissioners to such number as they think fit.
§ (2) Subject to the provisions of this Section, the term of office of a Commissioner shall be 10 years. One Commissioner shall retire every second year, but a retiring Commissioner may be reappointed. The order in which the Commissioners first appointed are to retire shall be determined by the Treasury. On a casual vacancy occurring by reason of the death, resignation, or incapacity of a Commissioner, or otherwise, the person appointed by the Treasury to fill the vacancy shall continue in office until the Commissioner in whose place he was appointed would have retired, and shall then retire.
§ (3) There shall be paid to not more than two of the Commissioners such salaries, not exceeding in the aggregate three thousand pounds in each year, as the Treasury may direct.2380
§ (4) The Commissioners may act by three of their number and notwithstanding a vacancy in their number, and subject to the approval of the Treasury, may regulate their own procedure.
§ (5) The Commissioners may, with the consent of the Treasury, appoint and employ such officers and servants for the purposes of this Part of this Act as they think necessary, and may remove any officer or servant so appointed and employed, and there shall be paid to such officers and servants such salaries or remuneration as the Commissioners, with the consent of the Treasury, may determine.
§ (6) The salaries of the Commissioners and the salaries or remuneration of their officers and servants and any expenses incurred by the Commissioners in the execution of their duties under this Part of this Act to such amount as may be sanctioned by the Treasury shall be defrayed out of the Development Fund.
§ Sir W. ANSON
I beg to move to leave out, in Sub-section (1), the words "there shall be established a Commission consisting of," and to insert instead thereof the words "it shall be lawful for His Majesty and his successors, by warrant under the Sign Manual, to appoint."
I have put down this Amendment really with the intention of ascertaining what are the intentions of the Government as to the relationship of the Commissioners to the Treasury and to this House. What I want to know is whether this is merely an Advisory Committee to help the Treasury in the distribution of a large sum of public money. Is the business of this Committee to discharge the ungrateful task of refusing applications for grants while it cannot make a grant except with the concurrence of the Treasury? Is it to be a body which may say "No" but cannot say "Yes"? On the other hand, is it to be a body with the very great and serious responsibility of handling large sums of money for carrying out the purposes of the Bill? If it is to be in that position, there will be required men of ability and technical knowledge, men who are hard working and with complete devotion to the objects of the Commission, and not merely that, but they must be men free from political bias and above the mere suggestion of political bias. If it is only to be an Advisory Committee, I say that the whole construction of the Commission is wrong. You can get at all the objects you wish to get at with easier and more satisfactory working through the various Departments con- 2381 cerned, if you were to construct an inter-Departmental Committee on which the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Trade, the Board of Education, the Local Government Board, and the Treasury should be represented. In that Committee every Department could be heard, and they would be able to combine their resources of information, and finally advise the Treasury whether or not grants should be made. If it is to be really the great and important body which some of the operations indicated in the Bill suggest, then I think we must take measures to ensure its independence and its importance in the public esteem, and to make it what the public would expect from a body which has to spend money and fulfil the duties which are placed upon it by the Bill. I confess I cannot understand why the business of the road communications of the country should be separated from the other branches of economic development sketched out in the Bill, unless it is that this Government have a passion for creating new offices and new officials and for that purpose are making two bites of this gigantic cherry, and are creating one body for the communications in the country by means of roads and another body for all these purposes which are summed up in the Bill.
Under the Bill the Commissioners are appointed by Treasury minute. I do not in any way slight that method of appointment. Very important and distinguished personages, the Patronage Secretary and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, are appointed in that way. But it makes them servants of the Treasury and capable of sitting in Parliament. It has been the practice with that great body whose functions are either judicial or administrative with a judicial character to appoint them during good behaviour, subject to the right of the Crown to remove them on an Address of the two Houses of Parliament. That is the case with all the judges and the recorders. It is the case with the paid members of the Charity Commission. It was the case with all the members of the Indian Council—I forget whether it is still the case with some members of that Council—and it is the position occupied by the Controller and Auditor-General and the Deputy Controller and Auditor-General. The status of the Commissioners is such that they may sit in the House of Commons; and, lastly, their numbers are capable of increasing in number on their own recommendation at the pleasure of the Treasury. I put it to 2382 the Government: If the functions of the Commission are what the Bill describes, if they are to dispose not merely of this half-million which is to be provided for the next five years, but of the millions which Parliament will have to find if the purposes of the Bill are to be carried out in anything like a comprehensive manner, and if it would probably be a good thing to be able to make orders for the compulsory acquisition of land, as they can do under the Bill, then they must be put in a position not merely of dignity, not merely of comparative independence of the Treasury, so that they cannot be moved in and out of office at the mere personal wish of the Commons and the Treasury for the time being, but they must be put in a position of complete independence of all suggestions of political influence. They must hold their office during good behaviour; they must be incapable of sitting in this House of Parliament, at any rate, and their number must be limited by the terms of the Act. My Amendment seeks to secure these things. The position of the Commissioners as appointed by the Minister is a much more dignified and important thing than if they were appointed by Treasury minute, and it would make them permanent. A man who has devoted ten years of his life to this business surely is capable, and would be prepared to go on.
Then, if you make them independent, you would exclude the paid Members certainly from sitting in the House. If the Government thought it desirable that they should be represented on this council it would be quite easy to make that consistent with my Amendment by providing one additional member appointed by the Treasury, who should hold office during pleasure, and that this one member, like the unpaid Charity Commissioner, might sit in this House. But, as a fact, this body of Commissioners will be so intimately connected with the Treasury that they might as well be, and would be, better represented by the Treasury in this House than the Board of Agriculture is by the hon. Member (Sir Edward Strachey), who represents it so admirably at the present time. I would urge the Government to make this body as independent of political influence as they can be. I would urge them to alter the character of the appointment, the tenure of the officers and their status, so as to exclude paid members, at any rate, from sitting in the House, because, whatever may be the intentions of the Government as to the character of the 2383 Commission, I think it will be impossible, as the Commission is now constituted, to prevent any member of the public from regarding it with suspicion. They cannot fail to surmise that influences are brought to bear upon the Treasury which may be reflected on the Commission which, as the Bill stands, are the mere creatures of the Treasury, and if that is so, and if influences can be brought to bear on the action of the Commission, I do not wish to forecast conclusions which would appear to be exaggerated, or which would shock my hearers, but there is no doubt that, with the money placed at the disposal of this Commission and the work which they have to do, and, it should be recollected, with the work which they are bound to undertake in localities having regard to the amount of the employment that is going on in the locality, it would be very difficult to keep them clear of the suspicion of influences; and it might happen that there would be an amount of political corruption on a scale which we have hardly realised since the days of the Government of Lord North. I regret I have not made provision in my Amendment for the purpose of having one Commissioner sitting in the House, but that, I think, could be done if the Government were prepared to look favourably on all, or even on half of the suggestions which I have made. I assure the Solicitor-General I am not speaking in any spirit of hostility, but with the serious desire that this great and important body should occupy the position in the public mind which, I believe, the Government would desire that it should.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
The right hon. Baronet has introduced very serious words in his Amendment dealing with a very important matter in this Bill. Indeed it goes right down to the root of the usefulness of the measure. In a very lucid speech, such as we have every right to expect from one of his great authority on constitutional law and matters of the kind, he has gone not only into the first Amendment, but into the other Amendments quite properly in order to explain the whole of his scheme. I may be allowed to follow him in respect of dealing with the whole matter on these Amendments. In the first place a short history should be given of the alterations made in the Bill during its progress through Committee.
As we introduced our Bill the Treasury were permitted to deal with these 2384 matters upon the recommendation of an Advisory Committee, to be appointed by them, and the right hon. Baronet asked whether or not the body of Commissioners were to be like the Advisory Committee. It is not to be like the Advisory Committee. A change was made from the Advisory Committee to this body of Development Commissioners on the suggestion of the Noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord R. Cecil). He and his very able colleagues on that Committee put forward their scheme on the very grounds which the right hon. Baronet says he has in view—in the first place, to give greater dignity, a better position, and more complete freedom from any pressure or any political influence than would have been secured by the appointment of an Advisory Committee. The considerations which were placed before the Government upstairs brought the Government to the conclusion that it would be better to alter the status of the body which was to advise the Treasury in making advances for these public purposes from that of an Advisory Committee to that of a body of Commissioners. Having said that much with regard to the history of the matter, I will deal with the questions put by the hon. Baronet in their order. I do not think his suggestion of a Departmental Committee would have done at all. Departmental Committees are only appointed ad hoc, and I do not think the right hon. Baronet would like to hand the powers conferred on the Commissioners to such a body. Several times in the course of his speech he spoke of the Commissioners as people who would have the spending of a great deal of money, the performance of very important duties, and who would have the disposal of many millions. They will not have the spending of any money at all. They only recommend a scheme for adoption by the Treasury. Their position is an administrative one, and it is not a judicial one in the sense in which that word is usually understood. They are to consider the matter coming before them as administrators, although they cannot spend the money, or, indeed, compel anybody else to spend the money granted for the purpose of carrying out the schemes they recommend. They are not judicial in the sense in which we apply that term to judges, or even to the Railway and Canal Commissioners. They are only quasi-judicial in this sense, that they must bring their judgment to bear fairly on all schemes which will come before them, and report 2385 upon them. Their position, therefore, is one of complete independence. The right hon. Baronet said they will be creatures of the Treasury, but they will in no sense be the creatures of that Department, except that their appointment rests with it. In no other sense can they be called the creatures of the Treasury, and the Treasury will have no control whatsoever over the Commissioners. The Treasury cannot take away from the Commissioners any application or scheme which any authority or responsible body may send to the Treasury. All schemes which may be sent in to the Department must go forth to the Commissioners. The Treasury cannot in the first instance prevent any scheme from going before this body of Commissioners for their independent consideration, and for their impartial recommendation. While they are recommending they will have nothing whatsoever to do with the Treasury.
The Treasury must send applications forward to the Government Departments which are concerned with the particular matters comprised in those applications, and the Government Departments have to report to the Commissioners what they think of the schemes. The Commissioners are as independent of the Government Departments, the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, or other Department, as they will be of the Treasury. And they will be entirely independent of Parliament also. I concur with the right hon. Baronet that it would not be advisable that they should have anybody representing those Commissioners in Parliament. I agree with him that responsibility for the schemes to Parliament had better be the responsibility of the Treasury.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
I am not at present dealing with that question. I was dealing with the point whether the Commissioners should be represented by someone in Parliament. I agree with the right hon. Baronet that the discussion of these schemes had better be on the Vote for the Salaries of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman objects to our proposal on three grounds. First of all, he objects to the tenure of the Commissioners, which is what is described as tenure at pleasure, and not tenure during good behaviour. The right hon. Gentleman gave some instances of the last kind of tenure. The tenure we propose is one by which they can continue in their office 2386 for ten years. It was thought better not to give them a tenure for life, or for any longer term than ten years. We have provided, in the event of certain contingencies, for retirement by rotation of one of the five Commissioners every two years, so that there will be reappointment or replacement of one of the Commissioners in that period for good and sufficient reason. I submit to the House of Commons that this is a proper tenure for people who have to do this class of work. They are in no sense in the position of judges. They are much more analogous to the body of Commissioners who are acting, under the Light Railways Act of 1896. That is an exact precedent. The Light Railway Commissioners cannot spend money; they can only recommend. "Recommend" is not quite an accurate term. They hold a public inquiry and give their certificate to the Board of Trade, and that Department may act on their own responsibility, and do act on their own responsibility, in adopting or refusing any schemes which may have been approved by the Light Railway Commissioners.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
The tenure of the Light Railway Commissioners is precisely the tenure of the Commissioners under this Bill, with this exception, that the appointment is made by the Board of Trade and not by the Treasury.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
No, not for ten years, but it is at pleasure, and their tenure is sure. There is another body of Commissioners under the London Government Act in the same position. On the other hand, the Railway and Canal Commissioners have a more stable tenure. They are appointed, I think, during good behaviour under the Sign Manual of the Crown. They, again, are much more nearly analogous to the judges than the Commissioners under this Bill; in fact, one of the members of the Railway and Canal Commission must be a judge of the High Court, and presides always at the meeting. There are two other Commissioners, of course, and their functions are very nearly purely judicial functions They have to decide matters under special Acts of Parliament. Under those circumstances, I think I have shown to the House that we have precedents favourable in this matter. Indeed, suppose we had no precedent, it is better to appoint these 2387 administrators in this way than it would be to place them in a position like that of the judges. I entirely agree with the right hon. Baronet it is a position of dignity, and that it ought to be absolutely independent of political influence. I say quite so, and I should think any one of those Commissioners would say to any Member of this House, or to anybody, "We have nothing to do with the question of politics here at all. If your county council would like to say that this scheme should be considered by us, we will consider it; but pressure from you we will not accept, and you have no right to subject us to that pressure." Fortunately we have in this country a very large number of persons of position and experience who are willing to serve the State in these non-political matters and willing to serve, as we very well know, without any payment at all merely for the honour and dignity of acting as great citizens of a great country. Our local government in this country is pure and free from political corruption. The right hon. Gentleman, in his illustrations, mentioned the time of Lord North, but we have advanced a great deal in these matters from those times, and there is no feeling of corruption abroad now as there was, unfortunately, in those days. In our administration of local government this country is freer from anything like political corruption, or any corruption, than almost any country in the world. The very object, I think, of adopting the proposals of the Noble Lord the Member for Marylebone (Lord R. Cecil) and his Friends by making this a body of Commissioners instead of a mere advisory committee under the Treasury, was to secure still further their absolute independence from any such influences as those which have been described.
In regard to their status, the right hon. Baronet said any of them might sit in the House of Commons. I am quite willing, if he will tell me it is necessary, to adopt one of the Amendments which provides that a member of these Commissioners may not sit. I should have thought myself it was not necessary. I have not looked into it particularly, but I thought it was an office of profit under the Crown. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks it is necessary, I am quite willing to accept his Amendment to provide, that no paid member of this Commission shall be a Member of the House of Commons at all. The only other matter dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman was the increase in 2388 the number. He objects to the increase upon the mere recommendation of the body themselves. This is a matter which requires to be explained a little. The Amendment which was moved to that effect was an Amendment by the Noble Lord the Member for Chorley (Lord Balcarres). It was not debated at any great length. I said there ought to be the possibility of increasing the number of the Commissioners. I have no great objection to accept the Amendment. The Amendment was accepted in that form. I am not enamoured of it myself at all. Upon this matter I am very anxious to ascertain the feelings of the Members of the House, as I have already ascertained the opinions of the right hon. Baronet who has just sat down. If there be any serious objection to the increase in the number of Commissioners upon their own recommendation subject to the sanction of the Treasury, I am quite willing to take up that Amendment. I may, therefore, now that this matter is allowed to remain open, be allowed to give my own opinion. My own opinion is that a body of Commissioners, consisting of five, who would have the right to appoint Advisory Committees, is a much better body than a body of an indeterminate number. And if it should appear that the duties devolving upon them under this Bill are greater and heavier than a body of five can properly perform, I do not think anything would be easier than to have the responsibility of Parliament to add to the number of the Commissioners. Those are my answers to the right hon. Gentleman. I have met him in reference to the position of a paid Member in his capacity to sit in the House of Commons. I rather gather those who are really taking an interest in this Bill will endeavour to revert to the number of five than to have any increase in the number. Under those circumstances I hope the House of Commons will come to the conclusion as the Committee did upstairs unanimously in this matter, that a body of Commissioners appointed, as we are appointing them here, would be a much better body for the purpose of carrying out their duties than an Advisory Committee.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I intervene because the motion of the right hon. Baronet will sweep away several Amendments, of which I have given notice, to the same effect. I am quite ready to admit the reasonableness of the action of the hon. and learned Member (Sir Samuel Evans). He has dealt very fairly with the question. I 2389 admit a very great improvement in the Bill was the substitution of this Commission for the Advisory Committees originally in the Bill, but the question is whether your Commission, even now as constituted, is strong enough for the burden you are about to place on it. I do not believe it is. I am quite certain that the needs of administration that will possibly and actually take place within a few years under this Bill will be vastly larger than most Members of the House at present recognise or realise. I am quite certain that the powers vested in these Commissioners will be of a kind very different from that which they were constituted to exercise. The hon. and learned Gentleman gave us some parallels for other Commissions similarly constituted, and he said that those only bear out the proposals of the present Bill. Amongst those was the question of tenure, and he said that the tenure of the Commissioners under this Bill is exactly the same as the tenure of the Light Railway Commissioners, but the point was admitted that that tenure was not only for ten years, according to the proposals of the present Bill, but for life No doubt all Civil servants and all appointments of the Crown are held during good behaviour. That does not mean that they are not, under all ordinary circumstances, held for the life of the holder. There are few professional men who could accept such a position on the understanding that it might come to an end in ten years. He would have lost his position in his profession, and he would have no other means of livelihood. What independence will he have if he is told that the renewal of his appointment depends on the Treasury, that is, on his acting in accordance with the views of the Minister of the day? The analogy which the Solicitor-General attempted to establish between the Light Railway Commissioners and this body entirely breaks down. We shall not put these Commissioners in a position of absolute independence of the Government of the day and of all political pressure unless we put them upon a similar footing to judges of the High Court, and that is what is involved in the Amendment before us and in subsequent Amendments of which I have given notice. The Solicitor-General says that these are quasi-judicial functions. Either they are judicial or they are not. It is no good telling a man that he is to act as a judge without any political bias, without being subject to the wishes of Ministers or parties, unless you put him in 2390 a position of perfect independence of all political parties by placing him in the same position as a judge of the High Court.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
My hon. Friend recognises that a great safeguard has been introduced by the appointment of these Commissioners as an essential part of the machinery of the Bill. For my part, I think that that change has made a material difference in the danger of the Bill. Although I have great doubts whether the advantages which the Government hope for will really accrue from the Bill, I feel that the dangers of political corruption and so forth have been diminished to such an extent that the Bill has become comparatively innocuous. My hon. Friend expressed a doubt whether the Commissioners as designed in the Bill would be strong enough to resist the pressure of those who are anxious to share in these grants. I do not know that any machinery you could possibly devise would be perfect in that respect, but in my judgment the existence of these Commissioners with their power to refuse grants is an immense improvement on any system of making grants by a Department. In these matters we must consider past history. Too often in the past grants for public purposes have been made by Departments in obedience to political pressure—not on the merits, but to meet claims persistently put forward in the House of Commons. As to tenure, I should prefer to see the Commissioners invested with all the responsibility of judges of the High Court, not only because that would remove them still more from political pressure, but because it is important that you should get the very best men. You must make the position as attractive as possible to men of public spirit and high position in the estimation of their fellow-citizens. One of the great advantages of the position of a judge of the High Court is that he knows he cannot be removed unless he seriously misbehaves himself. For such appointments men are prepared to sacrifice positions of greater emoluments or more attractive to themselves personally, because they are satisfied that they will have an appointment which frees them from party considerations and the necessities of politicians in a different sphere. Although I shall certainly vote for an Amendment in the direction of a more permanent tenure, I think a ten years' appointment is a considerable security, especially as it may be renewed if the Commissioner performs the duties of his office satisfactorily. There have been suggestions that some such limit 2391 even in regard to judicial appointments would not be an unmixed evil. Personally, I should be sorry to see it, because I think that the position of an English judge is one of the finest things ever created by the ingenuity of man. At the same time, there are disadvantages even in that admirable arrangement. Therefore, although on the balance of advantages I think an appointment during good behaviour would be the best kind of tenure for these officials, if the House does not see fit to grant that I believe the appointment of Commissioners as now proposed is a great improvement on the Bill as originally introduced.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I rise to say a word or two in support of a limited appointment. Comparison has been made between these Commissioners and judges. In one essential respect the position is totally different. The judge is a salaried officer of the State. The Commissioners to be appointed, with the exception of one or possibly two, will be unsalaried. Surely that makes a very important difference. If we are to secure the best men for the position a limited appointment will prove a greater attraction than a life appointment. The Noble Lord the hon. Member for Marylebone says that ten years is a considerable slice cut of a man's life; but, judging from what was said by the Solicitor-General, it seems to be in the minds of the Government that the men to be appointed first will not be the men of rash ideas, but men somewhat advanced in years, experienced in public life. I can imagine a man like that advanced in years contemplating with more satisfaction the ten years than he would if he felt on accepting the appointment that he was taking it for the full term of his natural life.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member who has just sat down seems to think that because a man is not to be paid that he would not like to accept an appointment for any length of time. May I point out that he can always resign his appointment. If we want to get independent men to exercise their independent judgment they must know that their tenure of office—long or short—for two years or for life—will not be dependent on the judgments that they may give.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
What does the hon. Baronet mean by two years; the appointment under the Bill is for ten years.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Commissioners are appointed for ten years, but at the end of two years one is to retire The person who is selected to retire is selected by the Treasury—
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Masterman)
The order is selected by the Treasury; not the person.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It is exactly the same thing. The Treasury decides who is to retire. Alluding to my Noble Friend again, what I think was in his mind when the Amendment was drawn up was that there should be, if possible, some body superior to the Advisory Committee in the Bill. First of all my Noble Friend desired the Light Railways Commissioners. An Amendment to that effect was drawn up. But I think the Amendment of my right hon. Friend below me is a better scheme than the original one, and for that reason I shall vote for it.
§ Viscount MORPETH
I think it should be said from this side of the House that we appreciate the Government's open-minded-ness in the matter of the Amendment proposed by the Noble Lord on my right. The Committee certainly were grateful to the Government, and I think the House ought to be grateful to them now. My hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir W. Anson) and others have pointed out that this is ruining athwart the present system of administration by Departments. It is one of the inherent difficulties of the Bill. Whilst the principle of the Bill is accepted, it seems to me that you should crowd all this work that is being done by half a dozen Departments into one, and call it development work, and you must invent some new machinery to deal with it, for it is no longer possible to leave the work parcelled out among different Departments. If it is said that it will reduce some Departments to impotence, or take a great deal of work out of their hands—well, that is due to the Bill itself, and not to any machinery here invented. In criticising those Advisory Committees which have now to disappear, I do not think anybody will deny that this scheme is an enormous Improvement on those Advisory Committees. It has practically removed all that danger of political pressure, and even political corruption, which was most genuinely feared by many Members of this House on both sides. With regard to the independence of the body, I prefer a life 2393 tenure. But with a 10 years' tenure there are very few men who would not feel themselves tolerably secure. There is no doubt that this body of Commissioners in a very short space of time will secure a sort of Departmental tradition of their own, will build up their own rules, their own procedure and policy. And, as a matter of fact, it will be quite impossible for the Treasury—that is, the Government of the day—to materially interfere with what they are doing. If they are the sort of men that we expect will be appointed they would not for a moment tolerate any interference, and would resign rather than submit to it. There is some argument for having some of the Commissioners unpaid, for, without any aspersion upon paid men, a member is more ready if unpaid to resign if he considers himself affronted or slighted than if he has to perhaps think of his salary. I think the least happy part of the scheme is that which deals with rotation, which seems to be entirely unnecessary and cumbersome. It probably will mean nothing, and that the man will be re-appointed at the end of two years; but if it means nothing it is not worth putting in, and if it does mean retirement at the end of the first two years it is mischievous. I think the Government might well drop this part of their scheme without doing any harm.
§ Mr. DILLON
I wish to say a few words as to the position taken up by the Noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone (Lord Robert Cecil). He has constituted himself since he entered this House a champion of political purity; he seems obsessed with the idea that political corruption is inseparable from any popular assembly, and he gave very bitter offence by a letter in "The Times," fearing that we were rapidly drifting in the direction of the corruption that prevailed in America. That was commented upon, and naturally commented upon, with very great bitterness in several American journals. Whilst I do not propose to offer any objection to the alterations introduced into this Bill, and, on the whole, I am rather disposed to think that the alteration that there should be independent Commissioners to distribute this money is for the better in every respect, and a great relief to Members of Parliament, I must protest in the most emphatic manner against the doctrine which appears to be continually championed: That publicity in an assembly like that is calculated to lead to corruption. I hold 2394 a totally different view, and I emphatically protest against this new doctrine that the granting of public money ought to be done in the dark by absolutely independent Commissioners withdrawn from public criticism.
§ Mr. DILLON
The expression "done in the dark" may be a slight exaggeration, but I say withdrawn from public criticism. The Noble Lord and certain other speakers have been comparing, as if it was a fair analogy, the work of the judiciary to this work of the distribution of money. A more dangerous analogy could not be suggested. The judiciary here have nothing to do with the distribution of public money; their duties are of a different order. I join with the Noble Lord in his admiration of the judiciary of this country, which, I think, is one of the highest in the world. But to apply that principle, and to set up a tribunal which is to be as immune from public criticism as the judiciary of this country while doing a totally different class of work, would be doing a most dangerous thing, and one calculated in the highest degree to lend itself to corruption. I am in favour of independent Commissioners, but I am totally opposed to withdrawing the work of those Commissioners from the criticism of this House, because I am deeply convinced there is no better method ever devised by human ingenuity to protect the public against corruption than public criticism in a public representative assembly. Therefore, while I entirely agree with the change which provides that these moneys should be distributed by perfectly independent Commissioners, with powers over which we have no control, I think it would be a great advantage instead of a disadvantage that their conduct in distributing this money should be open to the criticism of every Member of this House.
§ Sir W. ANSON
I recognise fully the fair tone of the Debate, and I welcome the new concession, but I am sorry that in other respects I cannot accept the assurances of the Government. I regret very much the Government cannot see their way to placing the tenure of these Commissioners on the footing suggested in the Amendment. I cannot accept the analogy of the Light Railway Commissioners. The area of work over which these men's jurisdiction will extend is infinitely larger, and the amount of money which will come under their purview is 2395 enormous, and they will have the power of interfering with and overriding various Departments of the Government, which will put them into a very anomalous position as regards these Departments with which they will be brought into contact. I avoid saying they will spend the money, but it is nevertheless the case that these large sums cannot be spent without their
§ concurrence, and although the Treasury may forbid the expenditure it can only take place on the good will and on the report of these men. Under these circumstances I must press my Amendment to a Division.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 148; Noes 32.2397
§ Sir W. ANSON moved, in Sub-section (1), after the word "chairman," to leave out the words "The Treasury may, on the recommendation of the Commissioners, increase the number of the Commissioners to such number as they think fit."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir F. BANBURY moved, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the word "ten" ["the term of office of a Commissioner shall be ten years "] in order to insert "twenty."
§ I think there are plenty of very competent men who will not take these appointments if they understand that it is only going to be for a period of ten years. They might have to go back again to the Bar at the end of ten years, and they would then find that they had lost touch with their old business, and they would not be able to take up their practice as they left it. It is well known that if a barrister retires from his profession for five or six years he finds at the end of that time that his practice has gone in other directions, and it is impossible for him to get it back again. A man cannot give up his business in this way and then go back to it at the end of ten years. It seems absolutely necessary in order to get good men that the chairman and the vice-chairman should be appointed for a longer period.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
There is no question of principle here, but we have decided that the appointment is not to be permanent, and at any rate we can say that 20 years is much nearer a permanency than 10 years. I hope, as we cannot make it permanent, the hon. Baronet will not think it necessary to divide.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir F. BANBURY moved, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the word "second" ["one Commissioner shall retire every second year"], and to insert instead thereof the word "tenth,"
§ Unless this Amendment is carried, one Commissioner will have to retire at the end of every second year. That, I think, would go a long way to destroy the immunity of the Commissioners from pressure which it is the wish of everybody they should have. There is nothing in the Clause to prevent the Treasury so arranging that each particular Commissioner should in turn retire, and that would be a very bad thing. The whole object of the discussion during the Committee stage was to make these people as free from liability of pressure of any sort 2398 being brought upon them as possible. I do not remember any suggestion in Committee that there should be a retirement at the end of two years. If it is desired that there should be the possibility of removing any of these Commissioners should they be of bad behaviour, I have an Amendment providing for their removal upon an address to the Crown from both Houses of Parliament. The Solicitor-General has met us to a very great degree, and I hope he will be able to meet us upon this matter.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL seconded the Amendment. I am afraid the Amendment hardly carries out the wish of my hon. Friend, who, as I understand, desires that the rotation of two years should be abolished, and that the Commissioners should hold office for ten years without retiring at the end of the second year. I should have thought that was an improvement. I never quite understood the advantages of this rotary retirement every two years, and I rather hope the Government will be able to tell us they are not wedded to this particular form of appointment. I altogether disclaim the honour of being responsible for the Amendment in the Bill. I made a suggestion, and the Government adopted it and are responsible for it. I have no desire to pose as an apostle of purity, and I am not sure the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) would desire to occupy the position himself. When I spoke of political corruption, I did not suggest there is any political corruption in this country. I said there is a certain tendency to put pressure upon Ministers of the Crown in order to obtain advantages of sectional interests, and even, sometimes, for constituencies and individuals. I could not put it anything like as high as the Chancellor of the Exchequer put it upstairs. He was extremely frank and forcible in the case he made. I have no desire to set myself up as a standard of purity in politics or anything else.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
I have an open mind upon this matter, though in some respects, I think, the rotation would be useful. We are having a new body to perform new and fresh duties, and I see objections to the Amendment. We cannot, however, make the amendment because we have already passed the words: "One Commissioner shall retire." I will, however, gather the sense of the House upon the matter, if the House will permit it to stand as it is for the present.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the Solicitor-General is prepared to strike out the whole reference to the rotary retirement and the hon. Baronet would withdraw his Amendment, there can be no objection to striking out those words. If the hon. Baronet insists on his Amendment, then, of course, we cannot go back.
§ Mr. J. CULLINAN
I should like to ask whether the hon. Baronet is in order. The Commissioners are being appointed for ten years, so, if his Amendment were carried, there would be no retiring at all.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I am afraid I do not agree with my hon. Friend, and I am bound to say so. If there is any alteration, I think it would be better that the Commissioners should hold office during good behaviour.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
I was about to appeal to the House to allow this matter to be dealt with elsewhere if on consideration we find it necessary. I think under the circumstances, this being experimental, I should personally vote for rotation, but if the words are allowed to stand I will communicate the views expressed to the Cabinet.
§ Mr. DILLON
These Commissioners will have a very novel and difficult task, and I think new men should be brought in by degrees instead of changing the whole personnel at one time. In my opinion, rotation would be much better.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment on the understanding that the point will be seriously considered.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir F. BANBURY moved, in Sub-section (3), to omit the words "not more than two of."
§ The object of this Amendment is to provide that all the Members shall be paid. I feel it would be quite impossible to obtain sufficiently capable men for the purpose unless you pay them. No doubt there are people who, out of the great goodness of their hearts, will come forward to perform these great services for the State. When the London County Council was established and Lord Rosebery became its first chairman there was an article in "The Times" which suggested that for all time the best intellects of the Kingdom would be placed at the service of that body. We know what has since happened, and the same thing, I believe, may happen again in this case. At the first blush two or three 2400 men will come forward and take prominent positions, enjoying the confidence of all parties, but after a short time they will find that the labour entailed is so enormous and so unceasing they will be unable to continue it. Then I do not believe you will find eminent men willing to sacrifice the time required for the work. If you pay a reasonable salary—and I would give the Commissioners £10,000 a year each—you might be certain of obtaining really competent men who would impartially administer the enormously complicated matters that will arise under this Bill, and will do so in a manner creditable to themselves and to the country. We do not want men to come forward with the idea that this is going to be a stepping-stone to something else. We want good trained business men to deal with the enormous number of subjects that will have to be dealt with, and unless you pay them you will not get the proper class: you will only get those who will soon tire of the work.
§ There being no Seconder, the Amendment fell to the ground.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir W. ANSON moved, at the end of Subsection (3), to add the words: "NO Commissioner so paid shall be capable of sitting in the House of Commons during the tenure of his office."
§ I am quite prepared to take the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether the words are necessary.
§ Sir SAMUEL EVANS
I do not think that they are necessary. I will, however, look into the matter, and if requisite steps shall be taken to insert them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.