HC Deb 13 March 1917 vol 91 cc993-1001

(1) The Minister of National Service may adopt an official seal, and describe himself generally by the style and title of the Director-General of National Service; and the seal of the Minister shall be officially and judicially noticed, and shall be authenticated by the signature of the Minister or of a secretary or some person authorised by the Minister to act in that behalf.

(2) Section ten, Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section eleven, and Sections twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, shall apply to the Minister and Ministry of National Service and to the office of Director-General of National Service and to Orders in Council made for the purposes of this Act and powers and duties transferred by virtue of this Act, as they apply to the Minister and Ministry of Food and the office of Food Controller and to Orders in Council made for the purposes of that Act and powers and duties transferred by virtue of that Act.

(3) 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 within one month after the commencement of this Act of the office of secretary in the Ministry of National Service.


I beg to move, in Subsection (2), to leave out the word "twelve" ["Section eleven, and Sections twelve, thirteen and fourteen"].

This is another illustration of legislation by reference so frequently objected to in this House. I am compelled to read the Section of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, which I propose shall be omitted. That Section deals with the ability of the Minister and Secretary to sit in Parliament. The first Sub-section is as follows:

"The office of a Minister appointed under this Act, or of Secretary in a Ministry established under this Act, shall not render the holder thereof incapable of being elected to, or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament, but not more than one secretary in each Ministry shall sit as a Member of that House at the same time."

Sub-section (2) reads:

"The office of a Minister appointed under this Act shall be deemed to be an office included in Schedule H of the Representation of the People Act, 1867, and Schedule H of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868, and Schedule E of the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1868."

The third Sub-section says:

"A Minister appointed under this Act shall take oath of allegiance and official oath, and shall be deemed to be included in the first part of the Schedule to the Promissory Oaths Act, 1868."

I move this Amendment in order to raise the question of the appointment of a Secretary to this Ministry. Section 12 of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act is really quite irrelevant, so far as the Minister of National Service is concerned, because he has announced that he does not intend to enter the House of Commons, and it is consequently unnecessary to relieve him of the disqualification which would otherwise rest upon him in regard to sitting in this House. The only part of the Section with which we need be concerned is that dealing with the Parliamentary Secretary. I and others on other stages of this Bill, as well as on the Report stage of the Financial Resolution, have taken exception to the appointment of any further office holders by this Government. We have at the present time the largest Administration on record. There are now fifty-five members entitled to sit upon the Front Bench, though, of course, there is not the accommodation for them, and there are a large number who have really no administrative duties to perform. We have a larger number of Whips than any previous Government have had. I think there is a record number of Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. A certain amount of economy was exercised by the last Government, which, I believe, used every Whip for the purpose of representing some Department in the House of Commons. At the present time only one of the Whips represents a Department. It is totally unnecessary to provide for the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary with a salary attached, because it is quite easy for the Government to avail themselves of the services of one of the Whips, who could work in the Department in the morning and reply from that bench to any questions put by Members in this House.

There is the further question whether the Ministers mentioned in Section 12 of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act are to be the only Members of this House who are to hold office in the new Ministry. That is a very important point. Apart from an express statement in this Bill or in the Act to which it refers, no Member in this House is entitled to hold office in the new Ministry. It is common knowledge that in other Departments Members of this House have been appointed to various offices. It is true that these offices are without salary, but I wish to know whether it is the intention of the Government, in addition to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary, to appoint as an official any other Member of this House. I do not attach any importance to the question whether he is paid or not, but I think it well that the Government, before making any such appointment, should have in their mind and before their eyes Sections 25 and 26 of the sixth year of Anne, chapter vii. I have no doubt the Home Secretary has in mind the Sections to which I refer. It is the Place Act. Probably some questions put to the law-officers of the Crown to-day will show that these Sections are not as dead as Queen Anne. The real question is whether, apart from express statutory provision, it is possible for the Government to appoint any Members of this House as office holders in connection with the Ministry, even although they are unpaid. I therefore hope that we shall be able to get an assurance from the Home Secretary on these points: First of all, that the Government have abandoned the intention to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to this Department, but that they will avail themselves of the services of one of the unemployed Whips, and in the second place, that they are going to keep themselves free from any breach of the Place Act and are not going to follow the example of the Minister of Munitions and certain other Departments by appointing as officials Members of this House, thereby committing breaches of the Statute and leading hon. Members unwittingly to incur penalties.

8.0 P.M.


I desire to second the Amendment, which has been so ably proposed by my hon. and learned Friend. This particular Sub-section with which we are dealing re-enacts five Sections of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, and the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend is to leave out the re-enactment of Section 12 of that Act. That Section enables the Minister and his Under-Secretary to sit in this House. We gather From observations made from the Front Bench that the Minister appointed under this Act has no desire and has no intention to sit in this House, but it is intended that a new Under-Secretary shall be appointed and shall sit in the House. This Amendment would make it impossible for the Under-Secretary to sit in this House, but, as my hon. and learned Friend has said one of the whips, who are not overburdened with work at the present time, would be able to do the work and represent Mr. Neville Chamberlain in this House. I think the opinion of the House generally is that we have already sufficient Under-Secretaries, though no doubt they are very talented men. No doubt the House thinks the number is sufficient, and I hope it will see its way, therefore, to accept the Amendment and to make it impossible for the Under-Secretary, as Under-Secretary, to be present in this House.


More than one point has been raised on this Amendment. My hon. Friend who moved it is, I take it, averse to a Secretary being appointed at all but, of course, the appointment is made under another provision altogether, and, therefore, it can be made notwithstanding this Amendment. It is the intention to appoint a Secretary to the Director of National Service. I will not follow the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment in his suggestion as to who the Secretary is to be—


Is he to be paid?


Certainly. The effect of the Amendment would be to disqualify both the Director-General of National Service and the Secretary to the Director-General from sitting in this House, and the result would be that there would be no one connected with this Department in this House. The present Director-General does not for the moment desire to sit in Parliament. Personally, I hope that before long he may reconsider his decision, as I am sure we should all like to see him here. But, at any rate, he may have a successor who may be already a Member, or who may desire to become a Member, and, therefore, I think it would be better that the House should not prevent itself having at any time hereafter the presence of the Director of National Service. In the case of the Secretary the case is equally clear. It is desirable while the Director does not sit in this House we should have someone here to answer questions on his behalf, and I do not think the House would be unwilling that the Department should be so represented. With regard to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle), I am aware that the words of the Statute which he quoted disqualified certain people holding offices or places of profit under the Crown from sitting in this House. Whether by some interpretation those words would apply to one who assists a Minister is a point of importance no doubt, otherwise my hon. Friend would not have raised it. But it is not now my duty to deal with matters of law of that kind; it is the business of the Law Officers of the Crown to answer questions of that nature. I understand that a question has been addressed on the point to the Attorney-General, and therefore I do not propose to deal with it.


I should like to draw the attention of the House of Commons to the significant position in which we find ourselves at this stage of the Bill. On an earlier Amendment we had the Chief Secretary for Ireland announcing that there was to be an official in this new Department to be appointed for Ireland, and he informed the House that it was his intention to endeavour to get a gentleman in Ireland who would do the work voluntarily and without payment. That was a very good principle to go upon; no doubt it was good enough for the Front Bench to propose for Ireland. They would like to get a man to do their work for them in Ireland for nothing. But the moment you come to England and it is proposed to appoint a Secretary to the Director-General of National Service there is no suggestion that that Secretary is to work in the national interests voluntarily, but it is proposed that he shall be paid a salary. I want to tell the Government that they are carrying this thing to very dangerous lengths indeed. There are more than fifty-five of them entitled to sit on that bench, and if this sort of thing goes on we shall soon have so many paid members of this Government that they will be able to out-vote any likely combination of private Members in various parts of this House. When the Division bell rings it is not from the ordinary Lobbies that Members pour into the House to vote; it is from Ministers' rooms that they come, to out-vote the Irish Members in their appeals for justice and satisfaction, and so arrogant are our Ministers becoming that when we have a Debate extending over an hour and a-half, not one of them will get up to reply to the speeches made. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, after a Debate in this House yesterday, had to run off to see the Director-General (Mr. Neville Chamberlain), and consult with him as to what should be done with regard to an Amendment proposed from this side of the House, and then the right hon. Gentleman had to trot back here and tell the House of Commons that Mr. Neville Chamberlain agreed to the appointment of an Advisory Committee. We proposed an Advisory Committee for Ireland—


This has nothing whatever to do with this Amendment. The hon. Member is going over Debates which have taken place at earlier stages.


I am pointing out that if we are to have another Minister with another salary added to the large number who sit on the Front Bench opposite, they might at least have the common decency to get up and reply to speeches made by private Members.


That has nothing to do with the Amendment at all. The hon. Member has already made his protest upon it.


I say that this is a very serious and important matter. I suggest to the House of Commons that if we are to have further additions to the number of paid members of the Government it will be necessary for the House, for its own protection and for the protection of its freedom and independence, to take extra precautions to ensure that paid Ministers shall not be able to override the declared wishes of the House. If I get an opportunity on this stage of the Bill I will draft and put down an Amendment to the effect that no paid Minister sitting on that bench shall be entitled to vote in any Division. You are going to increase the number of Ministers to an unprecedented degree. You are appointing so-many that they will overflow into two or three benches, and I do suggest that the House will have to take some means to protect itself against these paid Gentlemen, and if they will not do their duty and reply to the speeches that are made, prevent them at any rate from sitting therein silence and then out-voting independent Members who have been labouring to do-the best they can in the interests of their country. In all seriousness I consider that this thing has reached a stage when it has become a public scandal. We never have the Prime Minister here. We have the Home Secretary, of course, but the Chief Secretary for Ireland has long since disappeared from that bench—


These matters are irrelevant to the Amendment, and I warn the hon. Member, if he does not keep more closely to the Amendment, I shall have to-put in force the Standing Order.


I do think these Gentlemen might take a leaf out of the book of the Chief Secretary for Ireland when they are asking the House of Commons to make an addition to the extraordinary number of Ministers now sitting on that bench and overflowing into the benches behind. I suggest that they should at least have the decency to-appoint a Minister who will receive no salary. It is not an extraordinary suggestion to make, after all. Is there no patriotic gentleman in England who, at this time of national emergency, when the taxation of this country is at its present high figure, when the War expenditure is reaching six millions a day—is there no-patriotic gentleman who will say, "Here is a small undertaking to be attended to, and I am willing to do it for nothing" The Chief Secretary proposed that in the case of Ireland it should be done for nothing—


This Amendment does not raise the question of salary at all. That is raised by another Amendment. This Amendment proposes to omit Subsection (12) of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1956, which does not deaf with salaries at all.


We have been told by the Home Secretary, in reply to the hon. Member who moved this Amendment, that it is the intention of the Government to appoint another paid Minister, and that is what I want to protest against in the strongest possible manner.


I am disappointed that the Home Secretary did not give more consideration to the Statute of Queen Anne, which, as the House will remember, was passed by Parliament in order to prevent the then Government overcoming the desire and will of the House of Commons. At that time Governments had a habit of adding to the number of those who sat in the House, certain persons holding certain posts, so that by the aid of their votes they could overthrow the will and desire of Members of the House. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, in directing the attention of the Home Secretary to that Statute, no doubt had that in his mind. But he also had another thing in his mind which I think is of great importance to many Members in this House. We all have, heard of the Common Informer; we have had within the past few months examples of what the Common Informer can do to the inconvenience, personal and financial, of Members of this House. It is a point so much in dispute that the Law Officers of the Crown have taken at least a week in order to reply to a question affecting the position of Parliamentary Secretaries and other individuals holding office in these new Departments, and that is whether or not these Members of the House have not incurred very serious penalties by taking part in the Divisions that have occurred since their appointment. When we are considering the very important question whether or not we shall have a Parliamentary Secretary for this new Department, I think we ought to have more guidance that we have yet had from the Home Secretary. It is quite true that the Home Secretary formerly held the post of Solicitor-General under this Government, and it is a fiction—

It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.