§ There shall be added to the First Schedule to the principal Act, paragraph seven,—
§ Members of either House of Parliament.
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
§ Mr. HOLT
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
I do not think it would be in accordance with the dignity of Parliament that a Member should have to go before the tribunals and argue with them on this ground: that it is expedient in the national interest that he should, instead of being employed for military service, be employed on other work on which he wishes to be engaged. Nobody can contemplate that a local tribunal should have power to say that a Member of Parliament should become a soldier. A Member is responsible to his constitutents and to this House. This cannot possibly affect the number of persons who will be taken into the Army, because not more than ten Members of Parliament can possibly be affected by this Bill. It is, from a constitutional point of view, most improper to suggest that any Member of Parliament's right to attend this House ought to be regulated by a local tribunal.
§ Mr. LONG
I do not think the Committee will expect me to accept this Clause. I do not think we need talk about the dignity of Members of Parliament in connection with a Clause of this kind. The suggestion is that they are to be exempted in a specially reserved class, and are not to be exposed to indignity of going before the tribunal, but for some reason are to be exempted because they happen to be Members of Parliament. In the difficulty which my hon. Friend contemplates they could resign their seats.
§ Mr. KING
I am very sorry we must again complain of the unsympathetic attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. Why he chooses to take up a stiff, unbending, unimaginative point of view to all Amendments I cannot understand. Allow me to point out one or two things which my hon. Friend omitted because he hoped naturally that it would be unnecessary to put them forward. In other countries which have conscripts there is a recognised liberty for Members of the Legislature to attend to their business in Parliament, and I think that ought to exist here. It can only exist by giving some such exemption as this. We have had statements from the Prime Minister at one time or another that he does not recognise, or would not maintain the constitutional right of a Member of Parliament always to attend his place in Parliament when there was a sitting. From an answer he gave the other day he seemed to recognise that if a Member of Parliament was in the Army he could only attend here by leave of his commanding officer. Then there is this further consideration, that it is quite possible for the Government to exercise an unfair preference to one Member of Parliament or one set of Members of Parliament or one party of Members of Parliament over another. We have several Members of Parliament here who are also in the Army. We have the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Amery). We are always very glad to see him here. He brings a freshness and intelligence, and authority and experience, and he knows for the inside of the War Office certain things which I am sure he uses judiciously, but at the same time greatly to our advantage. There are other hon. Members who have staff appointments. I am very glad to see them here, but I can well imagine that other Members of Parliament, who may in future be conscripted, may go to my right hon. Friend opposite and say, "I am conscripted and I have to attend to my 1074 duties in Parliament, I do not want to go into trenches. I can do better work by having a stool at your office and sitting there in the morning and going to the House in the afternoon." The right hon. Gentleman may take a different view of these questions. I trouble my right hon. Friend so frequently with awkward questions that he may say, "King is a great deal better if he is over in France in the trenches." He may be right but at the same time I contend that I have to settle that question, not he. If I am elected a Member of Parliament I say it is within my right to say I shall attend here.
§ Mr. KING
It is really a practical question of some importance, which may in the future—I hope it is not very likely—but I conceive it may be possible, even in the near future—be a matter of real practical difficulty to us and may raise a serious constitutional point whether a member of Parliament who wants to attend to his business in this House is going to be sent away by an administrative act of the Government into the trenches, when his constituents wish him to be here. That is why I look upon it as a very important question. It has been put aside by one or two rather contemptuously and without any sympathetic words by the President of the Local Government Board. I suppose it is hopeless to ask the Government for anything. They have got command of forces in this field which can toe carried to overwhelming victory against any opposition at any moment. I wish they were in the same position on the Continent. They may use their powers like a giant here, but the War cannot last for ever, and if they are unjust and ungenerous, unfair and unconstitutional here to-day, it will be an unhappy day for them hereafter.
§ Captain AMERY
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not accepted this Clause. At the same time it seems to be very necessary in this House that the correct constitutional position of a Member of Parliament in regard to military service should be made clear. I say, in spite of a certain remark made by the Prime Minister in answer to a question a little time ago, that there is no doubt whatever of the constitutional position as made clear in the manual of military law, and as made clear in debates in this House seventy or eighty years ago, that when 1075 Parliament is in Session a Member of Parliament, whether an officer or a private, has the right, not merely to ask for leave but to insist upon attending his duties in Parliament. That being so, it seems to me that there is no object in a Clause which would give a Member of Parliament, apart from the special right, the right of being exempted from the duty and obligation to do what is done by every other citizen of the same military age.
§ Captain AMERY
That is another matter. So long as he attends to his military duties, whether as a private or as an officer when the House is not sitting, and is under the control and command of his superior officer, he has a right when Parliament is sitting to attend to his duties. Therefore, he is able to fulfill both his duties to his Constituents and his military duties as an ordinary citizen.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I am very glad the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Amery) has put that point. There is no one in the country who has the right to stop a Member of Parliament from coming to this House to discharge his duties. No one can interfere with the rights of a constituency to choose their Member, and to send any man to represent them. I think that is recognised. I do not want to make this exemption in set terms, but so long as the House is sitting Members of Parliament must be free to attend to their duties.
§ Mr. TENNANT
It is perfectly clear that any Member of Parliament who is a serving soldier, and who desires to attend to his duties in Parliament, can claim the right to come here, and he can either go on half-pay, or be absent from the service for those duties. But so long as he remains on full pay, being a serving soldier, he must be subject to the orders of his Commander-in-Chief.
§ Mr. HUNT
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he remembers telling me that an officer could not get leave to attend Parliamnt? I can assure him that I could not get leave to attend Parlia- 1076 ment. The military authorities told me distinctly that they did not want me to-attend Parliament.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My hon Friend uses the word "leave." Leave must be subject to the exigencies of the service and to the discretion of the commanding officer.
§ Mr. HOLT
I want to be told explicitly is it the opinion of the Government that if a Member goes to the tribunal and claims exemption on the ground that it was expedient in the national interests that he should, instead of being employed in military service, be engaged in other work as a Member of Parliament, it is proper for a tribunal to say "Not at all; you are a bad Member of Parliament. We think that you should be employed in the trenches?" Does anybody contemplate that a local tribunal ought to be allowed to decide whether a particular constituency should have a Member or not? I am going to put a specific case to this House. I understand that my hon. Friend, the Member for the Attercliffe division (Mr. Anderson), is a man of military age. Suppose he goes to a tribunal, which will not be in his own constituency, and asks for exemption—
§ Mr. HOLT
Because I think that the class of persons who compose these tibunals is not the class of persons who generally vote for Labour Members. I put it as a fair sporting bet—what would the House think if the local tribunal refused a man such exemption, and said, "He has got to go to the front?" I believe that the whole country would be scandalised if a thing of that sort took place. I say that the only proper and dignified thing is for the House of Commons to say straight out that they will not have the right to attend this House interfered with by any local tribunal, and, further, that they will leave it to the conscience of individual Members to say whether or no 1077 it is their duty to serve. If the Government will not accept the Amendment now I certainly intend to raise it again and fight the issue, because I think a considerable constitutional question is involved.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
It appears to me, from what the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has said, that he has an extraordinary, I should have said ignorant view of human nature in the example he took when he said that the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson), if he came before a tribunal composed of his political opponents, would not get exemption.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That is what I say. The hon. Gentleman imagined that if the hon. Member for Attercliffe came before a tribunal composed of his political opponents his exemption would be refused.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That is what I understood. Exactly the contrary would be the result. If the hon. Gentleman came before a tribunal consisting of hon. Members sitting on this side of the House, he would get whatever he asked. If, on the other hand, he came before a tribunal presided over by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), who sits beside him, then he would get very short shrift. The hon. Gentleman would certainly send him into the ranks, whereas, if he came before a tribunal of which I was a member, his exemption would be settled — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why"?]—Obviously, because we should be most anxious, as all men are, to show that we want to give the fullest consideration to the views and the prejudices of hon. Members from whom we differ; whereas the hon. Member for Leicester, who cannot be open to any suggestion of unfairness of that kind, would do his duty as the head of the tribunal, and would send him to the front. Therefore, it seems to me, it is absurd to take the view of the hon. Member. As to the Amendment, surely we ought to do all that we can to minimise—for I cannot help feeling it—the contempt of Parliament that is growing up out of doors at the present time, and to take a broad view of the matter. What would be said throughout the country if at the very moment when we are passing a Bill for compelling men 1078 of all classes to join in the burden of military service we were to take the occasion to say: "The only class we are ready to exempt are Members of Parliament"? Whereas, of course, the great majority of us, unfortunately, are above military age, our constituents are perfectly satisfied, and very much prefer that their representatives should be doing their duty gallantly at the front rather than taking part in debates in this House. I think it would be a scandalous thing if, at such a time as this, we were to exempt Members of Parliament, as such, from the burden of military service.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I think there is some confusion between the exemption of Members of Parliament from military service and securing to them a right to attend the Debates in this House which only applies to a limited part of the year. As I understand it, all Members of Parliament have a constitutional right to attend Debates in this House, and I do not see how we could interfere with it. I do not think we ought to interfere with it, whether they are officers or private soldiers; but it is quite a different thing to say that a Member of Parliament, as such, ought to have a right to total exemption from military service. Personally, I do not think it would be setting the example to the country we ought to set if we claimed exemption for ourselves.
§ Question put, and negatived.