§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I understand that it will not be in order to discuss on this Bill the position of Ministers in respect to duties they may have to perform here-after. The House will be in general agree- 575 ment with what the Prime Minister said yesterday, that it is essential that the Ministers for War and Munitions should return here as soon as possible. Therefore I do not propose, having regard to the conditions of order as I understand them, to deal with any question which one might have liked to have raised in that connection in regard to this Bill. That will have to be done by questions to the Prime Minister at another stage. The case of the Attorney-General stands on an entirely different footing. We are asked to-day to release that right hon. and learned Gentle-man from what the Prime Minister yester-day termedthe ordeal of a by-election.The question is whether the House is justified, having regard to all the facts, in taking that course. I need hardly say that no question of party politics arises in any-thing I say. Party politics are now supposed to be dead. It must, however, be within the recollection of the House that an hon. Member sitting on this side of the House sometime ago was turned out, and claims by common informers were made amounting to £40,000, which that hon. Member had to pay. In 1913 the Government introduced an Indemnity Bill. That was opposed by the Labour party, by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), by a member of the Irish party, and also, I believe, by the present Attorney—General himself. His name does not appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT as taking part in the discussion, but what I gather is that the Noble Lord who put down the Motion for the rejection of that Indemnity Bill was acting with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in that matter. Members of the Opposition, the Irish party, and the Labour party put down Motions for the rejection of that Bill. Why should we, at the present time, give an indemnity for the illegal acts that have been committed by a Law Officer of the Crown, when the House has refused to give that indemnity to a private Member? I cannot for the life of me under-stand why the Government should come down and make such a proposal.
When the Coalition Government was being formed I think the Prime Minister, for the first time I have ever known him to be so, was a little envious. The iron of envy entered for once into his soul when he saw the light-weight galloper belonging to the party opposite. He thought he must also have a light-weight galloper.
576 Therefore the right hon. and learned Gentleman was installed as Solicitor-General in the Coalition Government. But that did not meet the desires and aspirations of the then Solicitor-General, and the Prime Minister therefore took steps by which he reached a higher stage. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who did?"] The galloper. Be that as it may, Sir Frederick Smith—I presume he is not a Member of the House now-aspired to the higher honour, which he eventually acquired, of Attorney-General. The first step he took was to gallop full tilt down to the office of the Attorney-General. As the House knows, at the present time there is a circle of water round Government offices. He jumped right into the pool, much to his disgust, because he did not wish to get into the pool. Then he became installed in the office of Attorney-General. Having got into that office, and fallen into the pool, he wanted to get out of it. He has incurred heavy liabilities, so he sends for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister comes down and says; "What have you been up to?" The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied, "I do not know at all. I have got into this office and into this trouble, and you have got to get me out of it." The Prime Minister says, "I cannot get you out of it." The right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "I do not want to get out of it. I want to remain where I am. If I go out, I am in the un-fortunate position of having to go a month without any salary, and I shall have to go through the ordeal of a by-election." Then the Prime Minister says, "Well, I can deal with the House of Commons. I am quite sure they will fall in with my wishes on this matter." Knowing very well the influence he has with all parties in the House, the Prime Minister comes down here, and, in a very perfunctory manner, says that his right hon. and learned Friend had made a mistake. In fact, his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General was also accused of making a mistake which he ought to have found out.
Why is that a reason why the House of Commons should be asked to take this special step for this right hon. Gentleman? There are a number of reasons why it should not. There is a great opportunity for Liverpool to express an opinion on the policy of the Government—Mesopotamia, the Dardanelles, the Irish policy, and ship-building. There are two schools of 577 thought in Liverpool. There is the school of the senior Member for Liverpool—I believe he is the senior Member for Lancashire-who is root and branch opposed to the policy of the Government, and there is the view of his political godchild, who, I believe, owing to his introduction gained his first mount in political life, Sir Frederick Smith. Who is to be the judge? Are the electors of Liverpool to be the judge as to whether he is a fit and proper person to represent his constituency? On whom are the Government going to rely? Are they going to take the senior Member for Liverpool, to maintain that he has the confidence of his electors as opposed to the policy of the Government, or are they going to take the view of Sir Frederick Smith? It is quite clear to me that the electors of the Division are entitled to express their views on this subject. I can see no good reason whatever why in this present time, or at any other time, Ministers should not go through what the Prime Minister says is their ordeal. Why should they not? Very much to my regret, and to the regret of a good many others, the life of this Parliament has been pro-longed, and, instead of having a General Election, as we ought to have had, we have not had a General Election, and the country has been unable for a long time past to express any opinion as to whether Ministers still retain the confidence of the country or not. The Prime Minister there-fore seeks to remove in this case the opportunity of the electors expressing their opinion on this question.
There is another reason why I think Sir Frederick Smith should not come back here. He never comes to the House. The Solicitor-General is most assiduous in his attendance. He is here till late at night, and no one is more courteous in the House. He furnishes Members with any particulars and any details which they require; but we never see the Attorney-General. I do not know whether, when he received office, the Prime Minister made it a condition that after dinner his learned Friend should learn philosophy and read Epictetus. I expect he did, but I am complaining that we have not had that attention from the Attorney-General to which the House of Commons is en-titled. There is another reason. I do not think the Attorney-General is in favour of the policy of His Majesty's 578 Government as expressed in the Military Service Act, because that Bill was introduced for the purpose of taking all able-bodied men who could possibly be spared. Here we have the right hon. Gentleman going to the War Office and getting ex-emption for his clerk, a person of military age, simply to collect his fees, while a large number of men in the Temple are out of work and would have been very glad to do it.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir G. Cave)
made an observation which was not heard in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I assure the Solicitor-General he is wrong, because the Attorney-General appealed to two tribunals, and both said to the clerk, "You must go." The right hon. Gentleman went to the War Office and got a letter with regard to these fees. They have to be collected, and the clerk is exempted. Where do we stand in regard to this indemnity? I believe the total amount Sir Frederick Smith has become liable for is about £140,000 for fines already incurred. What about the Common Informer? Where does he come in? The House has not given these indemnities before. Here is a man supposed to be learned in the law, the chief Law Officer of the Crown, who made a mistake in a simple matter which I am quite clear any of my hon. Friends around me, if they had taken the trouble to look it up, would have found out in a moment. It may be said the Attorney-General did give the House valuable advice on one occasion. I once asked him a question and the answer he gave me was as pure and unadulterated nonsense as was ever stated on the Treasury Bench. He said a Member of Parliament could go outside the House and make statements which he was not liable for because he spoke under the privilege of the House. Be that as it may, I am going to vote against this Motion, and I hope hon. Members who took the same view as I did before the War will support me in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I do not propose to fol-follow the hon. Baronet into the case of Sir Frederick Edwin Smith, but I wish to say one word with reference to the general subject.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I do not know whether my words were quite clear in the last part of what I said, but I beg to move, if you will give me the opportunity to do so, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Baronet never said anything about moving at all. He said he was going into the Division Lobby. Do I understand him to move the Amendment?
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Yes, but on different grounds. I also wish to bring up one other matter in connection with Mr. Montagu and the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster. That Gentleman is now out of this House, having vacated the office of Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster and become Minister of Munitions. I have no complaint at all to make against him personally, but I have a serious complaint to make against His Majesty's Government with reference to the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Government seems to treat that ancient and very important office as if it does not matter very much how long the occupier is there.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not see the relevance of that to this Bill. We are not discussing the different offices or the holders of them.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I thought the hon. Baronet had had a good deal of latitude to say what he liked. He ranged over the whole political history of Sir Frederick Smith. All I wished to refer to is the last six months of the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is now under discussion in this Bill because Mr. Montagu has resigned it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know exactly the point the hon. Member is going to make. If I understand the point at all, it is that he has some objection to the fact that the Chancellor of the Duchy should combine with it some other office.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
No, Sir. What I say is this: This is a Bill which enables Mr. Montagu to return to this House without an election and without his constituents having any word to say to his conduct of political affairs. I object to the Bill because if there was an election, which this Bill stops, I could go down and put 580 the sins of the Government before the electors. Within the last eight months we have had four Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I will not pursue the subject any further, but on the general principle I wish to second the rejection because, I think, especially at the present moment, it is important that the electors should have an opportunity of passing judgment on His Majesty's Government. We see that the right hon. Gentleman who has lately resigned the office of Under-Secretary of State for War, and has now taken up the office of Secretary for Scot-land, is to go down to meet his electors. He goes like a man. He is going to face the music. I hope and trust be will come back; but if he goes down, I cannot see any reason why we should exempt Mr. Lloyd George or Mr. Montagu. It is idle to tell me that the electors of this country have any more confidence in the Government than they had twelve months ago. The Government themselves have announced that they are going to prolong the life of this Parliament, and we know it will be prolonged till after the end of the War, and the Government is taking away from the electors of the country the few isolated instances where they can pass judgment on the Government and all its works. It looks very much as if, because the one or two by-elections that have occurred within the last few months went unhappily for them, they are taking this opportunity of preventing the electors having their say in this matter. Perhaps the Government knows how unpopular it is in the country. I expect that is the reason. At any rate, if they travel in 'buses, trams, and railway trains, they would not find anyone to speak a good word for them. I mean what I say. It may be unreasonable, but surely it will be far better to allow these by-elections to take place and then members of the Government could explain, not only to the country, but to Members of this House, what their policy is and what they mean to do.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am very glad the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Markham) raised no objection of any kind to the Bill so far as it affects the Minister for War and the Minister of Munitions. No one suggests that they should be relieved from facing the electors for their own sakes. The 581 reasons given by the Prime Minister yesterday were entirely directed to this point, that in the interests of the country and of the House it was desirable that they should not be absent during the time necessary for a by-election. Both of them have very urgent work to do in their new offices, and they ought to be there or here in the House. That is the only reason-that it is desirable that they should not for any pro-longed period be absent from the House. I do not think I need say more about those Ministers. The hon. Member for Mansfield has taken the opportunity of making some observations, more or less humorous, about my right hon. and learned Friend. I think we must all regret that the Attorney-General is not here to reply to what the hon. Baronet had to say. I am sure the Debate would have gained interest by his presence. In his absence may I say a few words in answer to the specific points made by the hon. Baronet? I understood him to say that in the case of an hon. Member of this House who had incurred penalties an indemnity was not given. He says that the present Attorney-General, in some undefined way, was a party to some opposition to that indemnity. My right hon. and learned Friend took no part what-ever in the Debate or in any Division. I do not think anyone can say that he was opposed to the indemnity being given. There is no cause whatever for anyone saying so. The hon. Baronet said something about the Attorney-General not being here as often as he would like to see him. On this point I am put in a position of some difficulty, because certain references were made to myself. The Attorney-General has this special position, that he not only has the work of a Law Officer to perform—which I am sure the House will realise is very heavy at the present time—but he is a member of the Cabinet and has to attend Cabinet meetings and Cabinet Committees day by day, and it is only fair that while he has that double responsibility he should take every chance he has of devolving upon those who are willing to take it certain work that would otherwise fall upon him. It must be remembered that my right hon. and learned Friend took an active part in the Military Service Bill and other Bills, and he is always here when his services are required. I do not under-stand the reference to the Attorney-General's clerk. The Attorney-General's clerk is considerably above military age. There must be some mistake in the reference which my hon. Friend made.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The hon. Baronet seems to have some sort of anxiety in the interests of the common informer. The common informer has really had his chance. Eight months have elapsed, and he has taken no steps of any kind. It is only fair to say after that delay that he has had his run.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think we may say that he has had his opportunity and we are not bound to give him any further opportunity. The other point, which is one of greater substance, is that my hon. Friend seems to think that the error which has occurred is one which he would not have fallen into and which few Members of the House would have fallen into. The point, which was not detected before, was a very fine point indeed, so much so that even my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) said yesterday that he himself might very well have come to the same conclusion, and that it might not have occurred to him to take this particular point, which, I may say, did not occur to anyone during the whole of the eight months until the other day, when, in connection with the appointment of the new Minister for War, these Statutes, which are very complicated, were looked into, and the point immediately arose.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Just as I think occurred in connection with that well-known book "The Origin of Species," the same idea occurred to two people at the same time. Both of them were engaged in looking at these Statutes for another purpose when the point arose. The matter was looked into and was at once brought by the Attorney-General to the notice of the Prime Minister. That being so, I am sure the House will realise that the point might have escaped even the hon. Member for Mansfield. It has escaped a great many other people, and I do not see that any 583 blame whatever can attach to the Attorney-General. The whole matter has been dealt with in an extremely good-humoured way, and I am sure there will be no really serious opposition.
§ Sir E. CARSON
For my own part, my only regret about the Bill is that the Government when they were bringing it in did not make it applicable to any offices falling vacant in the future. I will deal in a moment with the technical part of the matter, because it is a purely technical question that arises in connection with this Bill. The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) really thinks that in the middle of a war, and in the middle of great and serious operations in the War, when every shell is of the utmost importance, and every contract for every shell is of importance, that it would be of advantage to the country that the Minister of Munitions should go down and have a contest at a by-election and have the whole question of Government policy raised. I think that would be an outrage. I think it would be an outrage that the Minister of Munitions should be diverted for one moment from his work, which is a matter of very grave and serious importance. When the Act of 1867 was passed the office of the Minister of Munitions did not exist and, therefore, it was not put in the Schedule and so this Bill has to be brought in to remedy that. That is the whole question as I understand it as regards the Minister of Munitions, and also as regards the Secretary of State for War. If the Secretary of State for War were to go down to Wales and have a contest he would be in exactly the same position as the Minister of Munitions. Apart from that, by-elections of any kind at the present time are utterly futile. There is no register. The Government have taken care there is no register. Everybody is disfranchised.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Half the people in the various constituencies have no votes now. I am not speaking of soldiers and sailors, but of the ordinary people who have moved from one place to another, and who have no votes now. There is no case whatever made out for saying that these Ministers ought to fight these by-elections. As regards the Attorney-General I suppose the point raised about him is the most technical that could possibly be conceived. It "would take a microscope to find it, and as 584 I understand it, it was simply found out when looking into the question as to whether the Minister of Munitions and the Secretary of State for War ought to be re-elected or not. The whole point is, that he would have a perfect right to go from the office of Solicitor-General to that of Attorney-General in the ordinary course under the Act of 1867, were it not that a temporary Emergency Act was passed which said that it was not necessary for him to be re-elected. That is the whole case as regards the Attorney-General. For my own part I do not believe that any law officer could have the slightest degree of blame attached to him for a matter of this kind. The Attorney-General sits in the Cabinet with other great lawyers. There is the Lord Chancellor, who decides a number of these points, and there are several others who are quite competent. When the point was found out, apparently he came and asked the Prime Minister to save him from his own want of knowledge of something that nobody else knew any more than himself, and so the Bill is brought in. If anybody has a grievance in regard to this matter it is myself, because all this time I ought to have been getting the salary. But in the interests of the Coalition, and because of my great admiration for the present Government, which I know is firmly established as an indispensable Government, I can forego, and the common in former will have to forego, any claims arising out of this microscopical point not having been discovered earlier. I think there is no serious reason for opposing; this Bill and putting the House to the trouble of a Division.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman Sir E. Carson is more solicitous in his usual rôle as leader of the Opposition to the Government rather than as a supporter of the Government on the present occasion. During the recent months he has constantly appeared among us with a number of his colleagues on both sides as an advocate of a General Election—a General Election which obviously must take place before the month of September. Now, however, in order to support this Bill, he intimates that it is ludicrous, if not impossible, to have any by-elections in this country at the present time.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken. I do not think I have advocated a General Election without a new register.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
If the conditions of war-fare on the Western front make it impossible and unthinkable to have any elections at all, surely that applies, altogether apart from the fact of a new register, to a General Election far more strongly than to a by-election. We have been having by-elections sporadically throughout the country, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if not personally, at any rate through some of his colleagues, has possibly incited some of those by-elections and has taken ad-vantage of those opportunities on a stale register to test public opinion, such as it is. It seems to me that he is somewhat unfortunate to-day in scouting the possibility of by-elections in relation to the three Ministers who are affected by this Bill. We all know that the late Under-Secretary of State for War is to submit to re-election, and the process is not occasioning him any particular difficulty. Nor do I think it would occasion any difficulty either to the Minister of Munitions or to the Secretary of State for War. The Minister of Munitions has already had to go through the process, and it did not even cost him a visit to his constituency. Therefore, all this nonsense about the time it would occupy and about diverting him from the important business of manufacturing munitions is surely quite irrelevant. The same remarks apply to the Secretary of State for War, who is really in a far stronger position. We know that any conscientious objector who had the hardihood to tilt against the shield of this great Minister would meet with a very sorry fate. The Secretary of State for War has all the Press mobilised on his side, and he has mobilised a new party, in which all the British and Israelitish financiers are engaged. Surely he need fear no by-election. I think there is a somewhat different consideration arising in regard to the Attorney-General. I do not wish to make an attack upon the Attorney-General in regard to this particular oversight, although I think it is a matter which calls for combing that the late Attorney-General, the man who is responsible for every prosecution in this country, is claiming from the House of Commons immunity from penalties amounting to £140,000, on a plea which would be scouted in any Court of law. Everybody knows that if a poor man in some backs wood part of the country fails to screen his lights he may be brought before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, 586 and if he pleads that he did not know the law, that he did not see the notice, the Court will promptly fine him £50, as has been done in some rural areas in Scotland. Here we have the Attorney-General who is to be set free of penalties due to his negligence upon a matter upon which he is paid to have expert knowledge. It is a matter which calls for combing. I think that he should be the last man to ask for this, and I think further that had such a case of negligence and oversight occurred in any commercial undertaking the gentleman guilty of it would probably have received the punishment which is usual in such cases. But, of course, he is a member of an indispensable Government whose continued existence and integrity in its pre-sent form are indispensable to the successful prosecution of the War.
Apart altogether from the matter of indemnity I do not think that the case of the hon. Member for White chapel (Sir S. Samuel) was so glaring. After all it was a highly technical far more technical case than this, because this House will remember that in that case it was necessary to set up a Select Committee of the House of Commons to decide whether the Statute of George III. had been infringed or not. It was only after the Committee had reported that the hon. Gentleman vacated his-seat and submitted himself for re-election. But here is a case when for the first time those in the Law Department of the Government thought it necessary to consult the Statutes bearing on the matter and found it out. One or two underlings of the Government discovered it. It did not require a microscope. I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentle-man (Sir E. Carson), out of a loyalty to his ex-colleague, which I can understand, should have suggested that it was such a microscopic point. It was not such an obscure point as that involved in the case of the hon. Member for White chapel, in which it was necessary to appoint a Select Committee of the House of Commons to determine the matter, and in spite of that this House refused an indemnity to the hon. Gentleman. If in such a difficult case an indemnity was refused to the hon. Member for White chapel, far more should an indemnity be refused to the Attorney—General. Then there is the other point of a new election. We know that there is a very important question engaging public attention at present in which Liverpool is considerably concerned. We know, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that there 587 is a considerable division among the representatives of Liverpool. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about?"] About the Irish settlement. We all know that the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary for War had actually a Lancashire luncheon at the Ritz.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member to come to closer quarters with the question under discussion.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am endeavouring to point out the importance of a by-election in Lancashire, and the reference to this luncheon is merely an argument as to how far Lancashire Members are interested in This question.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that the importance of an election in Lancashire really has any relevance to this Bill. The mere fact that one of the persons affected happened at one time to sit, or does still sit, for a Division of Liverpool is really immaterial.
§ Mr. PRINGLE.
With all respect, may I point out that if this Bill is not passed there will require to be a by-election in the Walton Division of Liverpool, and I submit to the House that it is extremely important that at this juncture, when the Irish question is so much in the public mind, the electors of the Walton Division should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion. If they are not to be treated in the same way as their representatives at least they might have the opportunity of a Lancashire hotchpotch supper. However, I will leave the gastronomic argument and say that it is mainly upon this question that I think this Bill should be dealt with I do not believe that it would be desired to oppose in either of the other two constituencies for the simple reason that there opinion is not so keenly divided, but here we know, from obvious indications which are revealed in the public Press, that Lancashire opinion is keenly interested in this matter. Surely then the opportunity should be offered to the electors of Walton of saying whom they will have, whether the Member for West Toxteth (Mr. Houston) or the Attorney—General.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is dealing with a personal question. I think that the Debate should not be brought down to a personal question. It is very easy to refer to the action of an hon. Member and to make attacks on him, 588 but it would be very desirable to raise the level of the Debate from the personal question to the more serious question.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I wish to ask the Government whether this Bill does affect the purpose which they had in view. The question which I put on the Notice Paper indicates the point in my mind. It is not that Mr. Lloyd George at a particular point took the post of Minister of Munitions. It was rather as to the position in the interval between the resignation of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer and taking the post of Minister of Munitions. May I remind the Prime Minister that the Home Secretary at that time, the late Attorney—General, the present Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) misled the House, and this trouble has arisen because: the House was misled by the then Home Secretary. I think I can convince the House that this question was gone into. When the Home Secretary at that time was asking the House to pass the Ministry of Munitions Bill, he said:I would point out that it is only by the operation of this Bill that the Minister appointed for the purpose becomes qualified to sit in tins House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th June, 1915, col. 93, Vol. LXXII]Now we are told that exactly the opposite was the case, that it was the passing of the Ministry of Munitions Bill and the fact that it was done in error that put him out of the House. I have been examining the Bill very closely, and I do not find any Clause in the Bill which indicates that the Minister of Munitions is not to seek re-election. There is a sort of negative Clause that the post may be held by a man notwithstanding the fact that he is a Member of this House. The then Home Secretary, who was in charge of the Bill, said that until it passed his colleague could not appear in the House. I raised the point on that occasion with Mr. Speaker because one of the Members on the Irish Benches alluded to the hon. Member for Carnarvon by name, because the Reporter says, in the name of Mr. Lynch, at column 139,I should like to see Mr. Lloyd George, as I think we can call him now—and then he linked him on to some French revolutionary, and I drew the attention of Mr. Speaker to the point. I felt sure that the Home Secretary was wrong. I asked Mr. Speaker whether it was in order to refer in that way to the Member for Carnarvon, and whether he was not at that time a Member of the House, and the 589 Home Secretary therefore wrong, and the Speaker, at column 145, said, in answer to my queries:The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon has not, so far as I am aware, accepted any offer of profit under the Crown which would vacate his seat. He is still a Member of this House, and, so far as I know, I do not see how he could have accepted this particular offer if the office has not yet been created.Therefore, the Home Secretary had to retire from the position and to admit that he was conducting the Bill in order to give the Minister of Munitions time to get into harness, which was a much better reason to give the House. Now we find that the advisers of the Government of that day were entirely wrong. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon was a Member of this House when the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he was not, and the Bill which they said would put him right was the Bill which got him into trouble. I have searched the Ministry of Munitions Act. I have taken advice and seen many advisers, and I cannot find that that Munitions Act did put the matter right. In the case of Mr. Lloyd George there was a gap after his resigning the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he was appointed Minister of Munitions when he was a private Member.
§ Mr. BOOTH
The Home Secretary of that day was wrong. The right hon. Gentleman was a private Member, and what is there in the Act constituting the Ministry of Munitions which enables a private Member to take that post without re-election and to pass it on to another? I submit that that is the point which has now been found out to be entirely wrong. I do not say that there is anything in it which is not met by this Bill. My case is this: If there is nothing in my point, then the Home Secretary of that day hopelessly misled the House. Now I want to say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, that on two occasions a huge mistake has been made on a matter of high importance by men who are very highly paid for their legal services. These men are getting some-thing like £20,000 a year, yet we have a big mistake made a year ago and never apologised for or explained away, and now we have another great mistake made by his successor. I re-echo the suggestion that if anything of this kind occurred in the case of a private firm it would be very 590 severely dealt with. Very severe penalties have been enforced on business men for smaller slips than this. Judges of the High Court will never allow a business man to plead that he has not a microscope for looking into some small point, and yet we find a measure like this brought in so late to correct mistakes made by two highly-paid men one after the other. I am not objecting to the measure. There is nothing personal so far as I am concerned against any one of the three, but I do want an assurance that this second Clause will put the matter right. It is worded in a legal form, and I confess candidly that I am not able to understand it. Will the Government take the responsibility of saying now that it is all right? I wish to know that these Ministers are secure, and that we will not have another Amending Bill at a later stage. I want to point out the importance of this question, for if this Bill had been in operation Mr. Master man would have been a member of the Government and still a Member of this House. If Mr. Masterman were still in the House, this Bill would put him right—I think it would. I am not making the point against the Gentleman in question except for the purpose of reminding the House that it was only because Mr. Masterman had to submit to a by-election under the old law that the country was able to manifest how deep was their feeling with regard to the Insurance Act. That was the first intimation which the Government got of the feeling of the country, and, a year or two after, they appointed a Committee in regard to the Act. During the "War we must follow the leader of the Government, but we want to be perfectly sure that this Clause is actually effective and that we shall not have another Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It was interesting to me as an old lawyer to see the House devoting an hour to one of the most purely technical points ever submitted to the House of Commons.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
First of all, as to the point of my hon. Friend (Mr. Booth). There is no substance of any sort or kind in his question, and the whole of this difficulty arises from the fact that the House of Commons restricted the Bill of last year to May and June of that year.
591 If the House had passed the Bill as pro-posed by the Government none of this difficulty would have arisen at all. For some reason or other the House limited the operation of the Bill to the months of May and June, 1915, and from that circumstance the whole of this has arisen.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The Government put it in. The House never asked for the restriction—only a section of the House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It was the act of the House. My hon. Friend who has just sat down is not a lawyer by profession, but he has shown considerable forensic ingenuity. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd George) left the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer on his being appointed Minister of Munitions, but a fort-night elapsed before his appointment to that office, and in that period he became a private Member. What consequences followed? None whatever; because the Re—Election of Ministers Act provided for the case of acceptance in the months of May and June, and my right hon. Friend accepted the office of Minister of Munitions in the month of June, and therefore nothing more can be said about that.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
All other Members are in the same position as my right hon. Friend. With regard to the other point, the only argument which has any 'substance in it is the suggestion that the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney—General is being relieved of penalties which other persons have incurred, not having succeeded in getting rid of them by Parliamentary interference. A common informer is not generally regarded with favour, but if a common in-former chooses to exercise his statutory power he should do so promptly. It is very curious, when we see the acute forensic and juristic activity of my hon. Friends below the Gangway, who are now as hot as hounds on the track of the common informer, and who had at least eight months in which to take advantage of the situation, that they never exer 592 cised their ingenuity and activity until now when we are passing this Bill and when, for the first time, they bring into operation what I regard as a very pernicious form of activity. It is one of the scandals of our law that the common in-former should be allowed to act without the leave of the Attorney-General or any public authority, and to sue any Member of this House for a matter of inadvertency. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield on the chivalrous and public-spirited action he has shown in this matter as regards the Attorney—General. I think the House will agree that it would be an ungenerous thing that we should not give him the indemnity which this Bill pro-vides. As to the general question, that the Secretary of State for War, the Minister of Munitions, and the Attorney-General should be required at this moment to submit themselves to the ordeal of by-elections, on a register which everyone knows is an unreal register, and to with-draw them from the exercise of duties which are urgently and imperiously needed in the interests of the successful prosecution of the War, is a thing, I think everybody will agree, that this House ought not to tolerate. Therefore, I hope that the House will allow the Bill to be read a second time and to pass through all its subsequent stages.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
As to these transactions I would recall one of the pro-verbs, that "The way of transgressors is hard"—very hard. What has occurred in this case is that the very head of the law did not know the circumstances and conditions under which he was appointed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently paid a very eloquent tribute on the retirement of one of the principal judges from the Irish Bench, a tribute which was greatly appreciated by the Irish people. The Chief Baron, to whom that tribute was paid, laid it down that it was the duty of a judge to read a Statute from the beginning to the end before he comes to act upon it. The Solicitor-General did that. He was, perhaps, wiser and perhaps had read the Statute on other points, and my belief is that it was that right hon. Gentleman who discovered this blot, or whatever it was. My right hon. Friend, during his unregenerate days, was only a party man, and not a coalition man, and he fulfilled his part then by reading an Act of Parliament through, whereby he found that he could appoint two judges right off. His services then were very much 593 admired. The House of Commons is not, perhaps, a mutual admiration society, but it is an association of men who are, in the main, good natured, and I am perfectly certain that not one of us would wish to see the Attorney-General mulcted in £150,000. And while we are passing this Bill to afford an indemnity we cannot but contrast what has taken place in the case of official Members and private Members. The Solicitor-General largely, and the Prime Minister in a slighter way, have endeavoured to draw a great distinction between the case of the Member for Whitechapel (Sir Stuart Samuel) and Sir Frederick Smith. Both cases are exactly parallel except that one was a law officer who ought to have known the law, and the other was a gentleman largely engaged in mercantile business and a member of a firm of enormous transactions who had some petty contract with the Government of which he himself knew nothing and which did not in the slightest degree affect his Parliamentary actions. He had been ten months in Parliament when the right ion. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) called attention to the case, and in doing so was actuated, no doubt, by the purest feelings of keeping up the absolute independence of the House of Commons from all association in contract business with the Government. But the Member for the City was himself a director in a large railway company, whereas Sir Stuart Samuel was a member of a private concern, and by this law the Member for the City could be a member of a company having transactions every day with the Government as it was a company, with perfect impunity, whereas in the other case Sir Stuart Samuel rendered himself liable to be mulcted to the tune of £500 for every day he sat in this House under those conditions.
When the case came up it was largely scouted. It was argued very well indeed that the contract was not such as to bring him within the purview of the Contractors Act of 1789. A Select Committee was appointed, and as there was a division of opinion the matter was referred under the Act of 1834 to the Privy Council, which gave the opinion that Sir Stuart Samuel vacated his seat. He was re-elected, but he did not escape the penalties. He is a well-off man, one of the richest in Eng-land, and I think he had to pay to the tune of £20,000. I was a member of the Committee, and when the witnesses were—examined in public a man came forward to 594 do what—to represent the common in former. You were not there, Sir, and I did not address a single word to that fellow. What is the difference between a high commercial gentleman knowing nothing whatever of the business and taking possibly nothing from it and the professional lawyer well paid who does not know his own business or the circumstances under which he is appointed, because he does not take the trouble of looking? It is the greatest illegality perpetrated by an Attorney-General of which I have any knowledge save one. I wish my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University was here to hear me. One Attorney-General, and one only, perpetrated such an act of illegality. There was a Mr. T. B. C. Smith, whom O'Connell called "Alphabet" Smith. He was a Loyalist to the backbone and well paid for it. In State trials against O'Connell and others the late Lord Justice FitzGibbon, who was then Mr. FitzGibbon, said something that "Alphabet" Smith did not like. I am afraid to say it before the Solicitor-General, as it would make him blush. In open Court this head of the law sent a challenge to counsel to meet him in com-bat. The matter was brought before the judges, and they—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Really, really, this has nothing to do with the Bill before the House. The hon. and learned Member can give his anecdotes some other time.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not think that the Attorney-General conducting a State prosecution and sending a challenge to counsel was a greater act of illegality or more scandalous than an Attorney-General sit-ting in this House for eight or nearly ten months when he had no more right to do so than anyone crossing over Westminster Bridge. I am delighted, and it is a very proper thing, that he should be relieved of the penalties of this, and it would be most outrageous if it were otherwise. In the case of the other two Gentlemen, the Bill is most necessary and just, because it is only carrying out in their case what was clearly meant for Ministers when the Act of 1915 was passed. I do say that since this Coalition Government have come in the special Acts that have been made by them for themselves are exceedingly irksome, and lead to comment. I am afraid of anecdotage, even Parliamentary anecdotage, on that subject, but this bears very completely on the case. In 1869 there was a Bill proposed to repeal 595 the Place Act on which Sir William Harcourt made one of his great speeches. He objected to that Bill for this reason, that it might be all very well until a Coalition Government came into power when they could easily make arrangements for them-selves to stay there. That standard case occurred on the 23rd of February, 1869. If advice given in Parliament some forty years ago had been taken, this amending Bill, so far as Sir Frederick Smith is concerned, would not have arisen at all. Mr. York, a lawyer with an eye to the main chance, and that is an exception to the rule, on the 12th of May, 1874, pro-posed that Members of the House who accepted law officer ships should not vacate their seats. The House of Commons, as a common-sense establishment, rejected the Motion, but if it had been adopted Sir Frederick Smith could have simply gal-loped into office. Under all these circum-stances, I am delighted at the Motion before us, and I hope that the Second Reading will pass, and I shall remember the case for the perfect ignorance of the Attorney—General with reference to his own duties.
§ Mr. HOGGE
There is a point which I think ought to be made before this Debate is brought to a conclusion. The Prime Minister, in defending this Bill, said that the. difficulty was due to the position the House of Commons took up in May or June of last year. I think the House will recall that particular incident and why they objected to give the Prime Minister and the Cabinet the powers that they then sought. They asked those powers in order to enable Ministers to avoid going to their constituencies on election to new offices. The House on that occasion had an experience which I do not think they, or at all events those on this side, will ever forget in which the Prime Minister, acting entirely on his own initiative, dismissed all the members of his Liberal Administration and formed the Coalition without at all consulting the members who brought him here into this House, and whose presence in this House made it possible for him to remain on the Front Bench. I think the attention of the House ought to be directed to this point. We are told that we shall shortly have a recess, unless presumably the difficulties of settling the Irish question keep us here until late in the autumn. But there is nothing as you, 596 Sir, know to prevent the Cabinet prolonging that recess for a very considerable period of time and preventing the House of Commons meeting here to discuss its business. Under those circumstances there is nothing also to prevent the Prime Minister making rearrangements in his Cabinet of Ministers to hold other offices, without reference to the constituencies. I think a protest ought to be made on every occasion on which a House of Commons is deprived of some of its rights, and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet made more absolute than they are. If there is-one thing which is more ridiculous than another it is this theory which is growing into a fetish that this War cannot be concluded, and that the Government can-not be conducted unless the present men who hold their offices remain there.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This has really nothing whatever to do with this Bill. The hon. Gentleman is indulging in a general attack on matters which are quite irrelevant to this Bill.
§ Mr. HOGGE
With due respect, I have not got very far with any attack. The real point I am making is that if we agree to this Bill we are depriving our-selves who represent Constituencies of a general reference on every occasion that a Minister goes to another office to the constituency of that Minister.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I know, but these posts are in the hands of the Prime Minister, who moves the present occupants about like pawns on a chessboard, just to suit his purpose and the purpose of those who make up the Coalition. I submit that the Constituencies have the right to have those changes referred to them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University made a great point that, if Mr. Montagu were forced to seek election, there would be a stoppage in munitions. Is there anybody who believes that t There is not a man in his senses believes that if Mr. Montagu had to seek re election there would be a single ounce of munitions less produced. This House knows that there would not be, and it is pure eye-wash for anybody to say anything of that sort on that point. If Mr. Montagu's constituents wish him returned, and I should hope they would, because I 597 should like to see him brought back as I have no complaint against him, there would be no trouble in returning him; and, in fact, he need not go there, so that there is nothing in the argument which has been used. There is nothing also in the point about the Minister for War, that there would be any difference in what is going on if the Minister for War had to go down to Wales to seek re-election, because between the death of Lord Kitchener, whose death this House regretted so much, and the appointment of Mr. Lloyd George to that post, the Minis-try of War got on pretty well by itself. The Prime Minister went across occasion-ally just to keep things going, but there was no Minister in the post.
§ Mr. HOGGE
It may have been a great misfortune-the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee says it was-that there should have been that interval with-out a Minister, but we all know that the Prime Minister was in charge of the War Office, and, as the Prime Minister is the ablest Minister in the Cabinet, I do not think it was so great a misfortune as the right hon. Gentleman thinks it was that no Minister of War was there. That disposes of two Ministers. I have no desire to see Sir Frederick Smith out of this House. He has always been very kind to me, but is anybody going to allege that if he has to go for re-election in his Division in Liverpool any legal interest of the country is going to suffer? The presence of the Solicitor-General this afternoon is evidence that no legal interest would suffer if Sir Frederick Smith goes to a by-election. For the Government to come down and give us as reasons for this Bill such absolutely childish reasons is not to show the House proper respect. Why do they not come down and say, "We ask the House to pass this because we have got into a muddle"? To do as they have done is to try and throw dust in the eyes of people who can see through their procedure. We are told that if you have a by-election or a General Election there is no proper Register. Have the Government forgotten some of the by-elections which have taken place? In East Herts an opponent of the Coalition Government stood at the by-election, and the Register 598 was good enough to defeat the Coalition candidate. There are also the elections; at Mile End and Wimbledon, and the Register was good enough there. As regards Registers, I maintain that they are more or less like this: there is a broad division of opinion on every register-you may call it A and B. It may be diminished by absences from the Register, but people who think as A or B do will be absent more or less in the same proportions, and therefore on that Register you get a fair reflex of what the constituency is thinking. I am going to-divide against this Bill because I am against giving more power to this Cabinet, and, apart from the Cabinet, of putting more power in the hand of the Prime Minister. We have got enough absolutism in this Cabinet as it is.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I think all the aspects of this measure have been fully discussed this afternoon, and I hope the House will now come to a decision on it. I only rise to make one remark in respect of what I think is the general apprehension this, afternoon, that the Attorney-General him-self is responsible for this mistake. I have investigated the matter as far as I can, and, as far as I have learned, the Attorney-General was in no way consulted in the drafting of the Bill.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I am glad to see that the Solicitor-General confirms that view. I think the cause of the mistake was this: that the Re-election of Ministers Bill was not fully considered at the time it was introduced. It was in the faulty drafting of this measure that the mistake arose. When the Government brought in that Bill they ought to have drafted it properly, and then we should not have these periodical discussions and questions of re-election. That ought to be kept in mind at the present time. I hope my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge), and also the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham), will not think it necessary to put the House to the trouble of a Division on this matter. I think their main object to-day was to place their views before the House in regard to what they thought was a mistake and neglect on the part of the Government. That having been done, for my part I hope they will not go to a Division.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question
|Division No. 35.]||AYES.||[5.50 p.m.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Ffrench, Peter||O'Malley, William|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Partington, Oswald|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Fletcher, John Samuel||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Gilbert, J. D.||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Glanville, Harold James||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, London)||Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Goldstone, Frank||Perkins, Walter F.|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Phillips, Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||Prothero, Roland Edmund|
|Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.)||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Bathurst, Capt. C. (Wilts, Wilton)||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Radford, Sir George Heynes|
|Beach, William F. H.||Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Hazleton, Richard||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Herbert, Major-Gen. Sir Ivor (Mon. S.)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Hinds, John||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Bird, Alfred||Hodge, John||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs).|
|Bliss, Joseph||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Boyton, James||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rowlands, James|
|Bridgeman. William Clive||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Illingworth, Albert H.||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Ingleby, Holcombe||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Butcher, John George||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Jessel, Col. Herbert M.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. sir George||John, Edward Thomas||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Sutherland, John E.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Robert(Herts, Hitchin)||Kilbride, Denis||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||King, Joseph||Thomas, J. H.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Lamb, Sir Ernest Henry||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Tickler, T. G.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Wardle, George J.|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Cowan, W. H.||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Whiteley, Herbert J.|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Whittaker. Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Craik, Sir Henry||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Williams, Thomas J. (Swansea)|
|Currie, George W.||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Donald||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Duffy, William J.||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Duncan, c. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Meux, Hon. Sir Hedworth||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Morgan, George Hay||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Morison, Hector||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Falle, Sir Bertram Godfray||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.Gulland and Lord E. Talbot.|
|Fell, Arthur||Newman, John R. P.|
|Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Hogge and Mr. Watt.|
§ Bill accordingly read a second time.
§ Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolved itself into a Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Rea.]
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and (2) reported without Amnedment; read the third time, and passed.600
§ The House divided: Ayes, 158; Noes, none.