HC Deb 15 December 1916 vol 88 cc1013-32

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

In proposing this measure we are following the precedent of an Act which was passed by the late Government in the year 1915. As the House knows, by a Statute of the Reign of Queen Anne, a Member of Parliament on accepting an office of profit under the Crown vacates his seat. There are certain exceptions, including the exception created by the Representation of the People Act of 1867, under which a Member of Parliament holding one of the principal offices which are mentioned in the Schedule of that Act may be transferred to another of those offices without vacating his seat. The result under present conditions is somewhat capricious. The effect is that about half of the new Government are able to retain their seats without re-election, and about half will vacate their seats unless Parliament intervenes. Among those who will vacate their seats if this Bill is not passed are Ministers who are closely connected with the carrying on of the War, including the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Minister of Munitions, the President of the Board of Agriculture, the proposed Pensions Minister, and the proposed Minister of Labour. The mere fact that they would have to submit themselves for re-election would mean a loss of valuable time. The Ministers seeking re-election would be kept away from the House, and what is perhaps more important is that there would be some interference with the performance of their duties. The result would be a loss to the House, because the Ministers could not be present and could not be fully criticised in their absence, but the loss to the country no doubt would be greater, because the country is entitled to the undivided services of those Ministers at the present time. On the other hand, if the Bill is passed, the electors in the constituencies will be deprived of an opportunity of expressing their opinion whether the Ministers are to be again returned to Parliament; but I am sure, under present conditions, that they will be very willing indeed to waive their rights, and it seems to me that we may very well, at the present time, propose such a measure as this.


Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us what method it is proposed to adopt under the Bill?


I was just going on to mention the method we propose to adopt. We do not propose to raise the general question as to the policy of the Statute of Queen Anne. It is a matter on which different opinions are held in the House, and although I myself have a very definite opinion indeed whether that Statute should be retained and whether Ministers on their appointment ought to be re-elected, it is perhaps too controversial a matter to be determined at the present time. Moreover, we do not ask the House to pass a measure which will have effect throughout the present War, although there is a great deal to be said for that course. We merely ask the House to pass exactly the same measure which they gave to the late Government on the creation of the Coalition Government in the early part of 1915. The effect of the operative Section of the Bill is this: Notwithstanding anything in any Act, a Member of the House of Commons shall not vacate his seat by reason only of his acceptance at any time during the months of December, 1916, and January, 1917, of an office of profit if that office is an office the holder of which is by law capable of being elected to, or sitting or voting in, that House. The months taken in 1915 were May and June, and we take December and January as covering the period of the formation of the new Minnistry. We propose to add to this Bill a Clause which was omitted from the Bill of 1915, but which was added to it towards the end of 1916. That Clause will be Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill. I trust with that explanation the House will be willing to accept the Bill. If it is to be passed there is every reason why it should be passed rapidly through all its stages There is surely no reason at the present time, now that the form of the Bill is familiar to the House, and seeing that the principle has been adopted previously, why we should go through the process of passing on different days the Second Reading, the Committee and the other stages of the Bill. It is really a pressing matter, and I beg to ask the House, if it should be satisfied with the principle of the Bill, to pass it through all its stages to-day.


Why does the right hon. Gentleman say nothing about the Schedule of the Bill?


The scheduled offices are the stewardship of the Manors of East Hendred, Northstead, or Hempholme, and the (Chiltern Hundreds. I did not mention them because Members who accept those offices will still vacate their seats.


I hope the House will make no objection either to giving this Bill a Second Reading now, or to the request to allow it to pass through all its remaining stages to-day There is no doubt that it is most desirable that the new Ministers should be in their places in the House as speedily as possible, and I feel confident that both the House and the country would desire that they should not be required to divert any of their energies to electioneering at this moment, but should be able to concentrate themselves on the urgent and difficult tasks that await their attention. But I should like to say this: If this Bill had not been proposed, and if any contest had been forced upon any of the new Ministers, the late Prime Minister, and those who act with him, would have given in the constituencies whole-hearted support to the Ministers seeking re-election.

The Home Secretary is, no doubt, wise not to arouse now the questions and controversies which, I think, might have been created if it had been proposed to make this a permanent measure. I have no doubt there are many members of this House who look forward to the old Statute of Queen Anne being repealed. It is notorious, of course, that when a Prime Minister has to fill any vacancy in his Government he is not able, in normal times, to consider solely what ought to be the sole consideration, namely, the selection of the man who by his personal qualities is most fitted to occupy the vacant post. He has to take into account also the security, from a party point of view, of the possible Minister's seat; he has to find, indeed, a combination of a man of ability and suitability, and a man with a safe seat. It does not conduce to the formation of the best possible Executive for the country if you have to take these considerations into account.

The working of the existing law is also full of anomalies. I myself do not claim to speak with impartiality on the matter, as I have been twice a sufferer from the operation of this law, having had to fight a keen contest at an election in 1909, when I entered the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy, and a year ago having again to fight a contested election, when I, holding the office of Postmaster-General, at the request of the then Prime Minister, accepted the additional office of Chancellor of the Duchy, without any-additional emolument. The law required that I should present myself to my constituents, and, as a consequence, an election was forced in the interests of the liquor opposition to the measures of the Central Control Board. Although my appointment secured only one-sixth of the votes that were cast, a good deal of money which might have been much better employed by being invested in War Stock was expended on electioneering, and a good deal of time and energy was wasted.

I remember that in 1912, when the hon. and gallant Member for East Dorsetshire, who was then a Junior Lord of the Treasury, was made Controller of the Household, and for the first time received a salary, it was not necessary for him to receive re-election, and yet at the same time another hon. Member (Sir Henry Haworth), who was appointed to the vacant office of Junior Lord of the Treasury without a salary had to seek re-election. While the Minister who received the salary retained his seat without re-election, the hon. Member who for the first time took office without salary, had to seek re-election, and, as a matter of fact, lost his seat. At the same time it is the fact that the existing law gives additional opportunities to electorates to express their opinions with regard to the Government of the day, and, for that reason, I do not think that the initiative in this matter should be assumed by Ministers or ex-Ministers. It should be for the House of Commons itself to express an opinion finally as to the course to be pursued. However, the right hon. Gentleman is not raising these questions, which might possibly give rise to controversy, at the present time. I am confident that the House will, with unanimity in all probability, accept his suggestion that the Bill be passed to-day. Perhaps the House will allow me to express to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary my very cordial congratulations on his accession to office. His appointment has been, I think, universally welcomed. I, myself, served three and a half years as Under-Secretary at the Home Office, and for one year as Secretary of State, and I take the keenest interest in its work and welfare. I, for my part rejoice, as we all rejoice, that its fortunes are in his most able hands, and that its administration will be subject to his wise judgment.


I do not propose to follow my right hon. Friend opposite in his arguments regarding the alleged inconveniences of the practice whereby certain Ministers are required to offer themselves for re-election on appointment to office. It is an argument that cuts two ways, and the example the right hon. Gentleman quoted, although it might be an anomaly, affords proof that it was not a bad thing for the electors of South Manchester to have had an opportunity of expressing their views. My right hon. Friend also suggested that the existing system has disadvantages in limiting the choice of any Prime Minister of those whom he may select as his assistants in the Government. It is rather strange that such an argument should be advanced, because many people have long regarded it as a purely constitutional fiction that the suitability of any candidate for an office was one of the factors in deciding the choice. Personally, I wish to say, in relation to this Bill, I am quite willing to support it and to accept the suggestion of the Government that it should be passed through all its stages to-day. The right hon. Gentleman—and I wish to join with the right hon. Gentleman opposite in congratulating the new Home Secretary on his appointment—has indicated that the Clauses of this Bill are reproduced from two existing measures passed during this Session. The first Clause was contained in an Act passed in June, and the second Clause in an Act which, I think, was passed in the month of October, a remedy for a defect in the June Act.

The present Government had two alternatives offered to them, either that the new Ministers should submit themselves for re-election to a moribund electorate or that they should be re-elected by this House, which is almost as moribund as the electorate. I am glad to observe that the new Ministers have thought they would have a better title by election by this House than by election by the electorates upon the existing register. But from that decision there is one conclusion, which I think the House should draw, and that is this: that the present Government would regard a General Election on the existing register as unsatisfactory, as the late Government regarded it, and we may, therefore, hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reinforced by the new First Lord of the Admiralty, whose views on this question have on many occasions been laid before the House, will insist on the formation of a fresh register before there is an appeal to the country.


I confess to a great sense of admiration for the capacity both of Ministers and of ex-Ministers to support proposals which are certainly revolutionary in an innocent and mild-mannered way. Obviously the proposal which is so quietly placed before the House to-day is one of very great importance so far as the constitutional privileges of the electors of this country are concerned. I am perfectly prepared, as I believe the House as a whole is prepared, to acknowledge that exceptional proceedings must be taken in exceptional times and under exceptional conditions, but I greatly doubt whether an Administration, formed as this and the previous Administration was formed, in a quite irregular way, does dispense with the necessity, but indeed might not rather increase the necessity, for the literal observation of all the constitutional procedure and practices of our national life. This proposal has been commended to the House on the ground that it is a matter of national importance that the new Ministers should take their places in this House at the earliest possible moment. I confess to a personal scepticism as to the great validity or force of that argument. The Leader of the House suggested to us yesterday, when giving notice of the introduction of this Bill, that it was desirable that the newly-appointed Ministers should have an opportunity of hearing the Prime Minister's statement, of policy on Tuesday next. When he made that allusion I wondered whether that was to be taken as an indication of the new relation that is to obtain between heads of the Departments and important Ministers of State and the Inner Cabinet of the Executive. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest to this House that henceforward the heads of important State Departments, including the head of the Foreign Office, the head of the War Office and the head of the Admiralty, are to have as their link with the policy of the Government the opportunity of hearing the speeches of the head of the Government in this House? As a matter of fact, there is no real validity in the view that the efficient waging of the War will be in any way hindered or delayed if the House were to decline to adopt a proposal of this kind. There is nothing whatever in the present political conditions of this country to prevent every one of the Gentlemen represented in the New Ministry from attending day by day and hour by hour to their departmental duties.

I would remind the House that, under the great innovations adopted by the Prime Minister in the formation of the present Government, it is as Departmental heads that these men henceforward are to have their great value to the State and to this Parliament. My right hon. Friend below me (Mr. Herbert Samuel) has already made clear what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Gulland) had previously made clear, that so far as the Liberal party is concerned there will be no opposition offered to the re-election of these Gentlemen. Therefore it is really a matter of form that this House should be asked to pass a measure of certainly far-reaching importance and which only touches the very fringe of a very great and real problem—that is, the necessity for all Ministers to seek re-election upon their appointment as Ministers. This Bill only touches the very fringe of the problem and it, like the previous measure, was introduced solely because the two Front Benches had come together and because we have now a Coalition Government. It is extraordinary that the real importance of this should not have been realised until the first formation of a Coalition Government. There is one point to which I would ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention. It is not quite accurate to say that this measure is substantially and essentially a measure similar to or identical with that passed by the House last, year. It is true that last year's Bill did pro- pose to exempt from the necessity of reelection Ministers appointed during the period of two months. I would remind the Home Secretary that when that Bill was introduced it covered the months of May and June, but the Bill itself was not introduced until the 3rd of June; therefore there were only twenty-seven effective days left. The present Bill proposes to extend the operation of its provisions over the months of December and January. I would ask the Home Secretary why is January included? This is only the 15th December and the Ministry is practically completed to-day, there remaining only one or two minor offices to be filled. Why does the right hon. Gentleman require powers extending over the whole month of January when it is extremely improbable that fresh Ministerial appointments may be made? I suggest to him that the purpose of the Government would be fully met if he limited the provisions of this Bill to the month of December and thereby avoided suggesting possibilities which are present to the minds of some hon. Members of this House as a result of certain incautious references made by over-eager supporters of the new Prime Minister. I put it to him that so far as the purpose of the Government is concerned, his case would be fully met by restricting the provisions of this Bill to the month of December and leaving the month of January entirely out. There is no real reason suggested in the circumstances of the case why the Government should ask for larger powers from the House.


I desire, in a few sentences, to protest against the passing of this measure at the present time, and I regret that my hon. Friend who preceded me did not move its rejection. This is a measure for the advantage of the two Front Benches; it suits their convenience, and therefore it has been brought in. No notice has been taken of the important fact that this measure filches from the people of the country one of their rights and privileges. For many years this right and privilege was fought for, namely, the privilege of the people saying "Aye!" or "No!" to the King's appointment of his Ministers, and it has been retained through the centuries.


I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Member, but, on a point of Order, I would point out to you, Sir, that he has introduced the King's name. I believe you have laid down that the King's-name should not be introduced in Debate If it is allowable for the King's name to be introduced in Debate by one Member, is it allowable for another Member following on to traverse the whole extent of the King's authority?


The latter does not follow from the former. The rule is that the King's name should not be introduced in Debate for the purpose of influencing the views of hon. Members. I do not think the reference made by the hon. Member (Mr. Watt) would have the slightest influence on any hon. Member.


I beg to thank you, Sir, for your ruling. I was not referring to any particular king, but to the Sovereign of the country. I was indicating that the right which had been established was that of the people of the country, by means of an election, to express their assent to or dissent from an appointment made by the Sovereign. Now this Coalition Government, with a strong Radical element in it, starts its official life by filching from the people the right of assenting to or dissenting from these appointments. It is not the first time that this has been done. A bad example was set by the late Coalition Government, which feared consulting the people on their appointment, and which, therefore, brought in a measure similar to this. But I did not think that bad example would have been followed by this Government, and much regret that it has been. Several of the men who have been appointed to positions of profit under the Crown would not, if they went to their constituencies, get the assent of the people. Take a colleague of mine who represents one of the Divisions of Glasgow, the Pensions Minister. I know there is a very large feeling in his constituency against him. There is a large peace movement in his constituency, with which I have not the slightest sympathy, but at the same time I think the people who hold these views and are kept under by the Defence of the Realm Act ought to have this opportunity of expressing their sanction or otherwise of their Member's conduct. Another Member who has been appointed to the Front Bench, and who is to hold office as Solicitor-General, represents the City of Leicester, where a strong peace feeling also exists. The feeling in that city as to the carrying on or the stopping of the War is profound, well marked and distinct. Is it not right that these constituencies should be consulted at present, so as to indicate what are the views of the public, be they right or be they wrong? My position is that this measure is simply brought in to accommodate Front Bench men and filches from the people of this country one of their long-established rights, and I object to it.


My hon. Friend has put up a strong case against this Bill, and there is a good deal to be said for the point of view which he has expressed. It must be somewhat confusing to observe from which side of the House opposition to the Government's-measures come. The strongest support which I have heard expressed of the Bill has come from this side of the House. I have myself some doubts about the advisability of a measure of this kind, but I am prepared, as I have been in the past, to support the Government of the day in any measure which they think necessary for strengthening their hands in the conduct of the War. My right hon. Friend before me to some extent opened up the general question of the desirability of this provision, which requires Ministers on accepting office to-present themselves to the country. I am afraid I could not express agreement with his views. I think in this matter we cannot at once sweep aside the wisdom of our ancestors in devising constitutional checks in this country and it may be very desirable in normal times, not such as these, that a Government nearing the end of its term of office, a Government which is unpopular with the country, a Government which does not represent the country, should by some means or other be pulled up by the constituencies and have some check placed upon its legislation or its carrying on. I think this is, on the whole, a wise constituitonal check, and it-keeps the Government more in touch with the country. It secures an earlier election once that Government has lost the confidence of the country. But now, in these times, when so many of our constitutional checks have been suspended, I think this small measure is really the corollary of the much greater thing that has been done in-suspending altogether General Elections. My hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) was quite right in connecting these two. This is merely the corollary of the former. I am not convinced of the wisdom of either of them, but in this matter I am willing to accept the view of the Government of the day. I think the Government has acted wisely in restricting this measure to the present persons who have accepted office at the present time. They have prevented its general application throughout the whole country. They have retained the matter in the hands of the House as regards the future. This House is not committed in any way as regards the future, and I think that is a wise provision. I think this provision again we owe to my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle), because when the Bill was originally introduced a year ago it applied to the whole period of the War. As a result of representations made very strongly by him and by some of his Friends it was then restricted to a particular emergency, and this Bill follows the same precedent. It is now, I think, in the least dangerous form and makes the least possible commitment with regard to the future, and in that form, I think, may be safely accepted.


I am sorry there is any attempt to frustrate the object of this Bill. I think under normal conditions a good deal might be said as to the objection that has been taken to it, but we have to remember that these are not normal times. These are war times, and we have a new Government which is pledged to prosecute successfully this dreadful War. That, we understand, is their sole policy, and in that I should like to help them in every way. It must be obvious to everyone that the sooner these Ministers, who otherwise will have to go to the country, can get to work, both inside and outside the House, the better it will be for carrying out the great object we have in view. I hope, therefore, we shall all do all we can to assist the Government in successfully carrying out their pledges to the country, and I trust there will be no further objection to passing all stages of the Bill to-day. I hope, as I was willing myself, and have been during the last two or three years, to support any Government in carrying out these great duties, that the new Government may be able in a very short period to show us that it can do something to get us out of our present rut. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is unwell at the present time. We all trust that he will be able to get to work soon. Our great object is to assist the Government in any way possible in the successful prosecution of this dreadful War.


I hope and trust that this Bill will be carried through al its stages to-day. It is born of great necessity. Of course, we are all heart and soul in winning the War. Although. I am very strongly for the War, I likewise am more or less a constitutional student, and I hope and trust and pray that Bills of this kind will not hereafter be brought into precedent. These are things done for exceptional purposes, transgressing every principle of the Constitution, but which must be done under the circumstances. The Bill was passed formerly to control the direct personal influence of the Crown which has now, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. We must understand this likewise, that for some years past it has been the constant purpose of one party in the State to repeal the Place Bill altogether. So far back as 1904, in a speech from the Throne, the repeal of the Place Bill was promised, but the opposition to it was such that it was not carried through. It may be said, "Why should not Ministers immediately take their seats. Why should not Ministers be elected at once if the Government thinks fit to place them in office?" There is no fear of the influence of the Crown. There is one fear and only one fear in reference to that, and that fear, curiously enough, was stated in regard to what appears to be an exact parallel of the present circumstances, only that the present circumstances are really necessitous and exceptional circumstances. The Gentleman who showed the great defect which might result in our constitutional principles and practice, if the Place Bill was repealed was no less a person than Sir William Harcourt. I was going through his speeches the other day. and by accident I found this reference, which I should like to read to the House: There were cases in which a section of a party might sever itself from its own political connections on a great question of policy and might join the opposite party in Parliament. Now that section might, on a change of Government, take office, or it might not. Probably the latter alternative might be the more prudent one. But supposing that persons who had severed themselves in action from their own party were to take office by what was ordinarily called a coalition with a party that was opposed to them—lie wanted to know whether their constituents were not entitled to express their opinion on the course they had pursued. And if the Statute of Anne had operated before and might operate again to prevent such combinations as these, it seemed to him that it was a useless Statute, and one with which they could not afford to dispense"—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 23rd February, 1869, col. 216, Vol. CXCIV.] That is an exact parallel to an ordinary case which would arise. This case is the great exception that proves the rule. I want this Bill to go through quickly, but I want what the Home Secretary would call a saving clause in the Bill, and I should like to make a personal appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I am very glad to see him in his present position. If he will give me an assurance that he means to have this saving clause, he will be acting on the hereditary principle, because I find that one of the greatest sticklers and advocates for the maintenance of the Place Bill was a right hon. Gentleman named Stephen Cave, who I think was a near relative of the Home Secretary.


I offer no opposition to this Bill. The times are exceptional. The Bill is limited in scope, and I listened with pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman when he said that he would not challenge the general principle of the existing law. The principle of the existing law, as I understand it, seems to me a just and right one. A Member on entering this House is the servant of his constituents. When he accepts an office of profit under the Crown he confers his allegiance to another master, and at that moment it seems to me that those who return him to this House ought to have an opportunity of saying whether they renew or withdraw their allegiance.


I hope that without further opposition this Bill will be allowed to go through. We need the attention not only of every Minister, but of every Member of this House in these days of grave crisis, and I do trust that this Bill will go through speedily. My hon. Friend the Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) said that he thought the constituents in the Divisions to which he referred, the constituency of the right hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes), and the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester (Mr. Gordon Hewart), held certain views. I do not see what right the hon. Member has for saying, or what authority he has for judging or prejudging, what might be the views of those constituencies.


made an observation which was hot audible in the Reporters' Gallery.


That may be, but I think that if these Gentlemen were opposed it would be an unfortunate waste of time in this grave crisis. We ought not to waste time, especially after the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Kilmarnock (Lieutenant Shaw) yesterday, when he made such a memorable appeal to us to put aside all our trivialities. Elections in these days, on such trivial points, are a waste of time. They waste the time of the constituency and the time of the country. If the hon. Member (Mr. Watt), who is a man of weight, went down to the constituencies and there raised the same arguments he has raised to-day I think he Would help the majority of the hon. Members. [Mr. WATT: "Question !"] He spoke about supporting the Bill because it was centuries old. Of late years much of the dust of centuries has been stirred up and brushed away, and the hon. Member has had a hand in it. The present Prime Minister has done a great deal to remove the dust, and will do so again I dare say. I hope we shall not waste the time of the House and the time of the people of this country in forcing by-elections now.


I rise to oppose this Bill on principle, and because it is one of the least defensible of the many indefensible measures presented to and passed by this House since the War began. I trust that the Home Secretary appreciates and enjoys the kind of help which he received from his predecessor. I trust that he notices what a curious sort of help it is. While the Home Secretary in introducing the Bill based his request to the House to pass it urgently on the desirability of enabling Ministers to perform their duties, not in this House, but, as he said explicitly, in their respective Departments, his predecessor pointed out that in all probability, amounting almost to certainty, there will be no contest, and that, therefore, there was nothing whatever to prevent the new Ministers attending to their duties while being re-elected in their various Constituencies. The Home Secretary and the House also noticed the argument used by the ex-Home Secretary—a strange one, proceeding from the mouth of a nominal Liberal—that one of the reasons why this Bill was necessary was that a certain Member of the House appointed to office a couple of years ago failed to get re-elected. What has Liberalism in this country come to when an ex-Liberal Minister can support a Bill on the ground that it will deprive a Member's Constituents of the opportunity and the right of reelecting him or rejecting him on his appointment to office? It was bad enough for Members a few years ago to vote themselves salaries, thus relieving themselves from any responsibility to the people they represent. If salaries were to be paid at all they should be paid to the constituencies, who would then have the power to keep their Members straight by withholding the money unless it was duly earned. No one can deny that a distinct degradation of Parliament in every respect, a distinct diminution of its true representative character, has directly and immediately resulted from the payment of salaries.


That is not relevant to the subject which we are discussing.


I will pass from that, if it is not relevant, with this observation, that I have heard during the last hour a great many things that were less relevant. In defence of the payment of salaries, when first introduced—


I have told the hon. Member, and he has admitted, that that topic is not relevant. I must ask him not to discuss it any further.


I do not want to discuss it any further than to draw a comparison.


The hon. Member must not discuss it any further. It is not relevant. I have pointed that out to him twice.

1.0 P.M.


Excepting a few Members elected to this House since last January, no Member of this House can constitutionally claim to represent anybody but himself, yet here is a proposal of a far worse character than that of the payment of Members, being one to legalise a form of corruption and traffic at the same time in the rights and in the money of the people, and it is presented to us time-expired and unelected, and, therefore, unconstitutional. We in this House can make no pretence to represent the people whose rights and whose money we are asked to traffic with. The period of not more than five years for which we were elected has long since expired. Some months ago the servile Press of this country told as many as wanted to believe it that the Act of Anne requiring a Minister on accepting an office of profit to seek re-election was designed to counteract a species of corruption which had long since passed away, and that, therefore, the reason for that law had become obsolete. That plea was false and false to the knowledge of the servile Press. The particular type of corruption against which that law was first enacted may have passed away, but it is quite capable of revival at any time, and, without waiting for its revival, it is being succeeded by Party corruption more far-reaching, and of more depraved efficiency, and more detrimental to the public interest than the earlier form of corruption could ever have become, and, in producing this depraved efficient and detrimental corruption, the Press of this country has been one of the basest tools. On occasions of this kind it lends itself according to Party and factionist interests to this process. The belief that men are appointed to Government positions for any fitness to administer, or for ability, character, and utility to the country, is an impudent claim and a false pretence.


May I draw attention to the fact that the hon. Member appears to be reading his speech?


On the present occasion any claim that the new men will or can conduct the War more efficiently than their predecessors or more efficiently than any selection of men brought in off the streets for the same purpose—


That is not the topic which we are now discussing. The hon. Member must not take this opportunity of making an attack on the Government on those grounds. He must confine himself to the Bill.


Under your ruling, Sir, am I not to be allowed on this occasion— and on the presentation of a Bill to enable certain men who are not now Members of the House to become Members—to say anything with reference to the character of those particular men?


Certainly not. The character of those particular men is not involved at all. They were Members of the House quite recently, and the question is whether they have to go down to their constituents to be re-elected. That is the only point.


With all respect, Sir, it seems to me an extraordinary ruling— that if a man, who has been but is not now a Member of this House, is made, let me say, First Lord of the Admiralty, that I am not to be allowed to say that he knows about as much about Admiralty business ——


The hon. Member has now repeatedly violated my ruling. I have called his attention, certainly more than three times, to the irrelevance of his remarks, and I must ask him to resume his seat.


I have only risen to offer one or two observations to the House. I think my hon. Friend beside me has been very unfairly interrupted by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Currie); and on this point I might submit to the House an aphorism—when a man is unable to win favour by merit, he tries to curry favour by servility. There are one or two points in connection with this Bill which have not been touched upon—one an important point. What would happen to any one of these Members if he were not elected? We have already in the Government members who have not only not been elected, but have not been Members of this House at all—as, for instance, the Minister of Education. I say, in addition, that the Bill might be made more complete if an opportunity were afforded to men, selected entirely on their merits and having no constituency, of sitting in this House, of answering questions and of expressing their views.


That does not arise on this Bill, which does not have in view any change of constitution of that kind.


I will make one little reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He began with what I thought was a very bad sign of the attitude of this Government, by sheltering himself under a precedent of the former Government. This Government of action, this Government which is to mark a new era, this Government which is to do away with all the inefficiency and futility from which we have suffered during two years, begins by sheltering itself behind the precedent of the previous Government. Another point which the right hon. Gentleman made, as something of a favour, was that this Bill is not to extend over the entire period of the War. If the Bill has any real meaning, if it has any real validity and honesty, then the right hon. Gentleman should rather have claimed as his chief argument that it should be for the whole period of the War. It is a straw which shows which way the wind blows, and it is this sort of attitude which comes to me as a most unfavourable indication. I had hopes of this new Government, and I really believed in many of their promises, but, in connection with this Bill, I find them ready to shelter behind precedents, and that their conduct is not marked by a desire to obtain the best men in the places for which they are best fitted, but bears in every feature the marks of intrigue and of party politics. Let me say, before I sit down, that it will augur badly for the conduct of this War, and for the future of all the Condo-minions, if the attitude of the present Government is to be dictated by that same sort of consideration, by the same desire to off-shoulder responsibility, by the same cowardice, and by the same sort of hypocrisy as has already brought the nation to the verge of ruin.


I emphatically dissent from the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, but the point I wish to bring before the House is. an entirely different one. Several Members have emphasised the importance of this proposal to the constitutional working of the country. I support the right of a constituency to pass sentence or judgment on its Member of Parliament; it is a valuable provision and one which should not be abandoned. The hon. Member for South Donegal appealed to my right hon. Friend to put some Clause into the Bill to preserve the principle of the Statute of Queen Anne. I myself am a very doubtful believer in that principle at the present day, more especially as recent events show that quite a different principle is the one which should prevail. I think the moment, if there be such a moment, when the constituency ought to have the right to pass judgment on the Member is not at the time when he accepts office, but rather at the time he relinquishes it. It is when he leaves office that his constituents might reasonably say, "This is the time for you to render an account of your stewardship." It is extremely rare for a constituency not to send back a Member who has accepted office. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am perfectly aware it is not without precedent, but I say that it is extremely rare, and the very fact that that one particular case is immediately cited shows that hon. Members have only that precedent in their minds.


I would point out to the hon. Member that his observations would not be relevent as an Amendment to the Bill, and I do not see that the point is at all one to discuss at present.


I bow entirely to your ruling, and I was only dealing with the argument brought forward in several speeches in the course of this Debate, namely, that the principle of the Statute of Anne should be preserved, and I was endeavouring to point out that if any such principle were preserved it should be in a different direction, but I will not pursue the point further. So far as the Bill now before the House is concerned I very cordially support it, and although I welcome the present Government and hope that it will be very much more vigorous than the last one, I do not share the apprehension of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway that the mere fact of taking a precedent from the preceding Government is at all ominous of the course the Government are likely to run.


I think the House will now desire to take a decision, but I trust I may be allowed to say, in the first place, that I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Herbert Samuel) for his very generous reference to me, and I am very glad indeed to have his good wishes and those of other Members who have spoken in the same sense. I hope I shall be as successful in escaping criticism in my term of office as he was himself or as little deserving of it as he was himself. I think he went on the basis that there would be no contests. I acknowledge very fully the fair way in which the right hon. Gentleman and those who act with him have said, as far as they are concerned, they would not desire any contests if reelection had been necessary. But, after all, there are such people as independent candidates, as nobody knows better than my right hon. Friend himself, and a contest provoked by such a candidate gives as much trouble and takes as much time as a contest desired by a party. You cannot avoid that possibility, and it is one that must be taken into account. There is one other point. It is said why have months in the Bill? I think the answer is pretty clear. Nearly all the appointments no doubt have been made or will be made very shortly, but the House will remember that some of the Ministers are to be appointed under Bills which have not yet become law. We cannot make quite sure that the Bill constituting a Ministry of Labour or the Bills for other offices will be passed this week or as soon as we desire them to pass. There is always the risk that the House may have to be adjourned or that the actual appointments may run into next month. That being so, of course we do not desire to run the risk of bringing in a second Bill. I do not propose to go into the wide questions raised by the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) and by the hon. Member for South Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill). I think on that we all have the same feeling to express that, necessary as the Place Bill may have been at the time when it was passed, things have changed since then, and the fact that this House has established its right to pronounce on the appointment of Ministers in the way familiar to all of us, and that the opinion of this House when pronounced has immediate effect on the office and the Minister, is a new element which must be taken into account. I only add, with sincerity, so far as I am concerned, that I do recognise that this is a Bill for the purpose of this War only and for the purpose of the present occasion, and I do not wish to treat it in any way as a precedent.


I should not have intervened at all were it not for the right hon. Gentleman's very remarkable reference to independent candidates, and I am very glad to see that he is very much afraid of them. We have one independent candidate in the Chamber at the present time. I am sorry not to be able to congratulate him on his presence here. I should like to point out that a man who is an independent candidate one day and unable to get in next day becomes an official candidate, and in that way the official party are very greatly strengthened by having a really strong independent man added to their ranks.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Resolved, "That this House do immediately resolve itself into Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. James Hope]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]