HC Deb 06 March 1924 vol 170 cc1563-5

For Borough of Westminster (Abbey Division) in the room of Brig.-General JOHN SANCTUARY NICHOLSON, deceased.—[Commander Eyres-Monsell.]


I beg to move, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County of Kent (Dover Division) in the room of Major the honourable John Jacob Astor, who since his election for the said County hath vacated his seat in Parliament by sitting and voting in this House without having taken the Oath or made the Affirmation required by Law.


I wish to take the opportunity on this Motion of getting an assurance from the Government that such an incident shall be rendered impossible in future, by the very simple expedient, which would be of the greatest convenience to all Members of the House, and save valuable days of Parliamentary time, of making provision that the Oath or Affirmation shall be taken before the Returning Officer. That method would make such an incident entirely impossible, and at the beginning of each Parliament would save time which is badly needed for other purposes. Whether it was a Government Measure or a private Member's Bill supported by all parties, such a Measure would command universal approval. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I very much hope that the Government will see their way to express their view that this suggestion will be favourably considered, and that such incidents will be avoided in future.


A new principle of that kind cannot be dealt with on this Motion.


Of course, we all regret the misadventure which has befallen Major Astor. It might have happened to many of us, if we had been able to spend the spring in such delightful quarters as he has recently frequented. But there is an important point in relation to this. Not only is the vacation of the seat a penalty in the circumstances; there is also provided a pecuniary penalty, and in relation to that pecuniary penalty I think it is at least right that the Government should indicate what attitude they take.


We are going to take the money.


As I said last evening, I would have no doubt as to the attitude of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood). I understand that on former occasions—the precedents are somewhat remote—when a mistake of this kind was made, an Indemnity Bill was passed in favour of the hon. Member who had rendered himself liable to the penalties. I would like to know whether, since this incident has been reported to the Government, they have been able to make up their minds as to what attitude they will take in regard to the pecuniary penalty. This is not an occasion on which a common informer can proceed against the offending Member. The rights of the common informer are now limited to cases under what is known as the Contracts Act, but for an occasion of this kind the penalty is one for which proceedings can be taken only by the Crown, and, as the Home Secretary is here, I have no doubt that he will be able to make a statement on the matter. We are all glad to see the right hon. Gentleman back in place, and, I have no doubt that, as a responsible member of the Government, he will be able to make a statement on the subject.


May I ask the Home Secretary whether, in view of the fact that this mistake was one of pure inadvertence—an honest mistake—the Government could see their way to remit the penalty?


May I ask whether the gentleman in default is permitted to stand again in any way as a candidate?



The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

This question has arisen so suddenly and unexpectedly that the Government have had no opportunity of considering the matter. I am rather inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend below the Gangway (Mr. Macpherson) that, as it was a mere accident, that part of the case should be very carefully considered.

Question put, and agreed to.