§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. CLAYTON
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to remove the necessity for the re-election of Members to the House of Commons on acceptance of office. It does so by restoring the provisions of the Bill introduced by Mr. Bonar Law and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, in February, 1919. The value of our Constitution lies in the fact that it can be modified to meet existing needs. This Bill, like the Bill introduced by Mr. Bonar Law, is to modify a Statute which was passed in the reign of Queen Anne. At that time that statute had a value, because the Crown and Parliament were contending as to the division of power in the land. That situation has now passed, and we feel that this is the right time to bring in this Bill. The Bill introduced by Mr. Bonar Law was amended by an Amendment proposed by Mr. Bottomley. The original Bill introduced by Mr. Bonar Law is identical with the present Bill. Mr. Bottomley's Amendment confined the freedom of Ministers from the necessity for seeking re-election to the first nine months of the new Parliament. Mr. Bonar Law, in accepting the Amendment—which he did because it was the early days of the Coalition, and he was not anxious to divide his party—made use of this remark:Perhaps it is preferable to take two bites at a cherry. We will take the first bite now, and the second later.We have now seen the effect of the first bite, and the prognostications of the opponents of the Bill have not proved correct, and I think we are entitled now to take the second bite.
The advantages claimed for this Bill are that it enables the Prime Minister to select the very best man available for office, without considering what was his majority at the last General Election. It seems absurd that in these days we should not have the most efficient Cabinet possible. If a man has to be passed over because his seat is not safe, and a second choice has to be elected Minister, that is absurd. There is also 1418 the unfairness to the Minister himself. Because he has shown promise, and the Prime Minister is anxious to make full use of his time, it is hardly fair that he should be fined the expenses of a by-election, and that the constituency which has selected this Member as its representative should have its trade upset because it has selected somebody who is qualified to hold a high position in the State. There is a further objection, and that is that at the time when the Minister, newly elected ought to be given full opportunity to study the problems of his new Department, he has to fight an election in his constituency.
It is possible—in fact, it has happened on more than one occasion—that a new Minister, without any great experience of his Department, is pressed to commit himself as to how he is going to conduct his Department. Very often the question on which he is asked to commit himself is of purely local interest; but as a Minister of the Crown he has to look at matters from a broad national standpoint; and it is very unfair that a candidate for re-election should be put in the awkward position in which we put these newly-selected Ministers when we send them back to their constituency for re-election. We have had, fortunately. Ministers who were sufficiently strong to resist this pressure, and they deserve great credit, bur I do not think they ought to be asked to submit to such an ordeal.
This Bill is in no way a party Measure. It is of much more value to a Government with a small majority, and therefore it is fitting that it should be introduced to this House when we have a Government which has a large majority and which is consistently successful at by-elections. This Bill also has to be introduced by a Member of one party or another, and as an unaspiring backbencher I think I am very suitable to introduce it. I feel the House will acquit me of any ulterior motive. In making my appeal to the House to support this Bill I appeal to Members in all parts of the House, because it is of advantage to every party and will conduce to greater efficiency and economy.
§ Mr. HUGH O'NEILL
I rise to second the Motion for this Second Reading of this Bill with much pleasure.
1419 I have a vivid recollection of the occasion when the Bill of 1919 was passing through this House, and I spoke in favour of the full Bill upon that occasion. The circumstances were that the Coalition Government had just come in with its enormous majority, and that majority were at that time determined to exercise what is the greatest Parliamentary virtue of the supporters of a Government, namely, the virtue of silence. There was a small independent section of the Members of this House which sat on the Bench below the Gangway, and they led a movement to limit the operation of this Bill to nine months. Nearly all those hon. Members who sought to limit the Bill on that occasion have since attained Ministerial office. One of them was the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for Air, and another was the Noble Lord the present Under-Secretary of State for India. The same section also included the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the present Minister of Agriculture. That was the section of this House on the Government side which moved to limit the operation of this Bill to nine months after a General Election. I think the Mover was not strictly accurate in what he said as to who moved this Amendment. My recollection is that the rejection of the Bill on its Second Reading was moved by Mr. Bottomley and seconded by Mr. Pemberton Billing, but in Committee the subsequent Amendment which limited the operation of the Bill to nine months from the election was moved by one of the hon. Members to whom I have referred.
My hon. Friend referred to the fact that this custom by which Ministers have to seek re-election originated in the reign of Queen Anne, and it was due to the fact that in those days there was a real danger of the Crown bringing undue influence to bear upon the House of Commons through its paid servants in the House of Commons, and consequently the Act of Settlement provided that no person holding office of profit under the Crown could sit in the House of Commons at all. Had that remained law, it would have created an intolerable state of things, because it would have been impossible for any member of the Executive Govern 1420 ment to hold a seat in the House of Commons, but fortunately for our subsequent constitutional development, that Act was repealed two years later, and the Statute was passed which forms the groundwork of the existing law to-day, and that Statute enacted that no holder of any new office created after 1705 should be capable of sitting in the House of Commons. Consequently, ever since 1705, whenever any new office has been created which requires a seat in the House of Commons, it has been necessary specifically to exempt it by Statute from this complete disqualification and to make it only partially disqualified; that is to say, disqualified, but subject to the removal of that disqualification by a by election. In those days the influence of the Crown in the House of Commons was a real thing. The other day I was reading Sir William Anson's "Law and Custom of the Constitution," and it may interest hon. Members to hear what he says about the influence of the Crown in those days:It is not difficult to see the use to which offices were put when the reform of the King's Household was thwarted, because the turnspit in the King's kitchen was a Member of Parliament, and when the Board of Trade could be described as a sort of temperate bed of influence, a sort of gently ripening hothouse, where eight Members of Parliament received salaries of £1,000 a year for a certain given time, in order to mature at a proper season a claim for £2,000 granted for doing less, and on the credit of having toiled so long in that inferior, laborious department.That is was a contemporary writer said of the Board of Trade, and it is a little interesting in view of that to recall that the amendment in 1919, which limited the operation of this Act, was in fact moved by the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Trade (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister).
§ Mr. O'NEILL
That is a detail. He moved the amendment to limit the full operation of the Act. Coming back to the constitution, made originally a complete exclusion in regard to certain offices of the Crown. That was perfectly right and proper. It exists, of course, to-day, because it is absolutely necessary to exclude permanently from the House of Commons the holders of many offices of profit under the Crown. For instance, 1421 all Civil Servants and numerous people holding official positions are quite properly excluded to-day from membership of this House, and that was the real origin of the law which we are seeking to amend to-day.
The only argument in favour of the system which at present obtains is that it is a good way of keeping touch with the electorate by means of by-elections during the course of Parliament. I should like to examine that argument for a few moments. First of all, in an Assembly of over 600 Members such as this House, numerous by-elections are bound to occur during the course of every year through the natural operation of death and resignation. When Mr. Bonar Law was moving this Bill in 1919, he gave the figures of by-elections for the years 1904 and 1905. In the year 1904, 24 by-elections took place, and not one of those 24 elections was due to any member having accepted an office of profit under the Crown. In 1905, 22 by-elections took place and only two of them were due to the acceptance of offices of profit under the Crown. I have not had time to obtain the figures for the subsequent years, but I should think that is a pretty average state of affairs as regards by-elections. So far as this Parliament is concerned, I cannot recall exactly how many by-elections there have been. There have certainly been three in Scotland quite recently, and I daresay there have been about a dozen in all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ten."] At any rate, of those 10 only one—
§ Mr. O'NEILL
I thought the Minister of Agriculture was the only one. Two out of 10 is rather a higher average than existed in 1904 and 1905, but it does not in the least destroy my contention that, quite apart from these elections, due to the promotion of members to the Ministry, there are bound to be in a great assembly like this ample opportunities through the ordinary course of death and resignation. I should like to look at some of the other constitutions in the Empire, and see what the state of affairs is there. I have looked at the constitution of most of the Dominions and of many of the State Parliaments in different portions of the Empire. It has not been an easy form of statistics to get, and 1422 it has entailed looking into the various constitutions, but I think that which I am going to give to the House is substantially correct. In the Commonwealth of Australia and in all the State Parliaments of Australia, it is not necessary for a Minister of the Crown to seek re-election on his appointment. The same is the case with the Union of South Africa and in the more recent constitutions of the Irish Free State, Southern Rhodesia, Malta, and Northern Ireland. In all of those constitutions, which, of course, in most cases were enacted by this House, it is laid down that any person who holds an office of profit under the Crown shall not be capable of sitting in the House of Commons. Then it goes on in every case to exempt Ministers who must sit in the House of Commons. Consequently, you have the state of affairs in those Dominions which we now desire to bring about here. Surely, if it be necessary for the present law to continue in this House, it is far more necessary for it to rule in those assemblies which are infinitely smaller, which have a far smaller number of members, and in which consequently the number of by-elections due to deaths and resignations cannot be anything like so numerous as they are in an assembly like this. Yet the modern constitutional development of the Empire has laid it down that even in those smaller assemblies it shall not be necessary for a Minister to seek re-election on his appointment to office.
I do not know whether there is going to be a division without the party whips. I suppose it is possible that the Government may put on the party whips, either in favour of or against this Bill, but I assume that it is probably a question which will be left to the free determination of the House of Commons, and in some respects that perhaps would be the best, because I really think this is a type of reform which should come rather from the House of Commons as a whole than from any particular Government. Therefore, I think my hon. Friend who has introduced this Bill to-day is probably more likely to secure success for it for the very reason which he gave, that it would have obtained success had it not been put forward by the Government of the day. In conclusion, I am going to quote from Sir William Anson's Law and Custom of the Constitution. Referring to the general 1423 question and to the old influence of the Crown in the House, he says:These reasons which make it desirable to exclude permanent members of the Civil Service from the House of Commons do not apply to the Act of Anne which requires the re-election of Parliamentary heads of departments on their acceptance of office. The operation of this rule creates needless and vexatious delay in the conduct of public business when a new Minister takes office or a new Member is introduced into a Ministry.Therefore, you have in favour of this change the support of one of the greatest experts in constitutional law whom I could possibly have quoted, and I do hope that this House will show itself abreast of modern constitutional development by making this necessary change and rapidly passing this Bill into law.
§ Mr. DUNNICO
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
I have listened with a very great deal of interest to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of this Bill. Both of those speeches, if not convincing, were most plausible, but I have been sufficiently long in public life to realise that most plausible speeches are often given in support of the most pernicious proposals. There are many objections to this Bill, some of them dealing with constitutional law and constitutional precedents, but I am going to leave that particular phase of the subject to more competent hands than my own. I want to approach this proposal rather from the practical than the academic point of view, and I wish to group my objections round just one or two fundamental principles. May I remind hon. Members that on several occasions this House has been asked, under various forms and in varying guises, to alter this particular part of our Constitution. So far as I am aware, except for an emergency Act passed during the War, the first Parliament that ever had the temerity or the audacity to tamper with this part of our Constitution was the Parliament elected at the Khaki Election of 1918, and I am very much surprised that the hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Bill should have taken a Parliament like that as au example for making further infringements upon Constitutional rights in this country.
1424 May I also point out that even the Parliament of 1918 recognised that there were limits to the extent to which it might tamper with a very vital part of our Constitution, because I think every fair-minded man mast admit that there is a great and vital distinction between exempting a Member of Parliament who is made a Minister from being compelled to appeal to the electors immediately after a General Election, and exempting him from making that appeal at any time during the life of the Parliament, which may range over a period of five years. If I may just group my objections under one or two heads, I will put them in this form: This Bill proposes two serious, fundamental changes in our constitution. In the first place, it proposes to restrict the general power of the House of Commons, and, in the second place, it proposes to restrict the general powers of the electors outside this House. In a sentence or two I will try to make this clear.
If this Bill became law, it would, in my opinion, seriously restrict the powers and the rights of the Members of this House. Everyone knows that, when a General Election takes place, Bills are never placed before the country; the Prime Minister and the "Shadow Cabinet" deal in broad general outlines with certain outstanding questions. It is only when those questions come to be developed into Bills that friction arises, and it might easily happen that, while a general election might be fought on one or two outstanding questions, the moment those principles came to be embodied in Bills some particular Minister might find himself in such strong disagreement with his chief that he would resign his position as a Minister or the Prime Minister might even feel compelled to relieve that Minister of his portfolio. For instance, I am hoping that some day a Minister of Education, or a Minister of Health, in this House will develop the same amount of courage that the First Lord of the Admiralty has developed, and when some Chancellor or the Exchequer comes along and tries to impose upon him an economy which is fatal to efficiency in his Department, that he will then have the courage to stand out and refuse to allow that to be done. I should very much like to see the Noble Lord the President of the Board of 1425 Education, who raised great hopes when he began, but who has since fallen from grace—I should like to see him and the Noble Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board stand out and, if need be, resign their position rather than allow economies to be put into operation which would be fatal to the efficiency of their Department. Would it be right—and I put this in a very simple sort of way—that the Prime Minister of this country should be allowed to substitute other Ministers in their places without giving the country an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon that issue?
I submit, therefore, that this is a great and serious infringement upon the rights of the Members of this House. May I go a step further? There are, roughly speaking, four causes whereby a by-election may be occasioned in this country. There is the incidence of death, there is a declaration of bankruptcy, there is the case of insanity, and there is the appointment of a Member of this House to become a Minister of the Crown. Happily, insanity and bankruptcy do not often beset the Members of this House, and, consequently, the two causes of by-elections are, on the one hand, the incidence of death, and, on the other hand, the promotion of a Member of Parliament to an office under the Crown. I contend that there is a vital and fundamental distinction between a by-election caused by the death of a Member and a by-election caused by the promotion of a Member of the House to a Government office, and for this reason. Every self-respecting constituency enjoys a certain amount of independnece in its Member, and every constituency, I think, on occasion, is rather proud of a Member who declines to be tied too narrowly by party ties, but is prepared on occasion to vote according to his convictions, even though he may come into conflict with the policy of his party at the moment. The result is that a Member of Parliament representing a constituency has a certain measure of freedom and a certain measure of independence, and very often a by-election, in a case like that, expresses nothing but confidence in the particular Member himself. I have taken part in by-elections now for the last 18 years, and I cannot recall a single by-election in which the candidate representing the Government has not dissociated himself 1426 from some phase of a question which was rather unpopular in the country at the time.
Therefore, I say that a by-election, where a private member of Parliament is concerned, is not a real index of the views of the country concerning the Government of the day. The very moment, however, that a man becomes a Minister, he ceases to be a member of Parliament in the narrow sense of that term. He no longer represents his constituency; he represents the Government; and, if the interests of the Government clash with the interests of his constituency, a Member of the Government owes allegiance first to the Government policy, and only secondarily to the constituency he represents. I submit to the House, with all respect, that no man ought to be allowed to accept an office under the Crown, to become a Minister, to become responsible for the policy of the Government and to place the Government's policy before the interests of his constituency, without that constituency being allowed the right to express its approval or its disapproval of that change.
I submit that, on broad general grounds, the passing of this Bill is, in the first place, an infringement upon the rights of the Members of this House, and, secondly, an infringement upon the rights of the electorate. Of course, I am quite willing to admit that a by-election under such conditions causes personal inconvenience to the 'Member, and that it may cause some temporary disturbance of Parliamentary efficiency; but the convenience of the Member, and even the temporary disturbance of Parliamentary efficiency, are of secondary importance when you come into conflict with great constitutional rights and great constitutional laws. Personally, I should not object if elections were abolished altogether; they are always a nuisance; but the personal point of view must take second place to the welfare and good of the country. I appeal to hon. Members to reject this Bill. I believe there are qualities of heart and mind common to all citizens, irrespective of political outlook and what those qualities of heart and mind in the long run count most in the evolutionary processes. I believe with all its faults, all its mistakes, all its defects and all its shortcomings, democracy is going to triumph, and that whatever may be 1427 said against democratic rights, the progress of the race depends upon the perfecting of democratic institutions. This House is a very ancient institution—the mother of Parliaments. Some of its procedure may be somewhat out of date, but it has a very warm place in the hearts of the great mass of the people of this Empire. I believe also that everything that tends to bring this House into closer and more personal contact with the people strengthens the House: and that every step that is taken to remove it more from contact with the people and to create a vested interest weakens the House, and the House suffers in consequence. You and I, the Members of this House sitting here this morning have inherited great traditions, we are the custodians of those traditions, and I believe it is our duty to hand down the great traditions of this House not only unimpaired but strengthened and improved. Because I believe the passing of this Bill would seriously damage the prestige, the power, the standing and the status of this House in the mind of the people, I appeal to all members, irrespective of polities, to defeat this Bill.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I beg to second the Amendment.
The fact that I rise to second the rejection of the Bill is a striking illustration of the topsy-turvydom of politics and parties in this House, but I do not think that in the many years since I have been a Member of the House I have listened to more admirable Conservative sentiments than those that have just fallen from the hon. Member. Therefore I have not the slightest hesitation on this occasion in warmly associating myself with almost everything he has said. I should not have been altogether surprised if this Bill had been moved from the Benches opposite, and I cannot help wondering, if that had been the case, what reception it would have met with from this side of the House. At any rate, I do not want to enter on relatively unimportant questions of party preoccupations; I wish to get to the merits of the Bill. Like the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico), I am perfectly prepared to admit, in the fullest and frankest manner possible, that almost all the obvious, the surface, the 1428 superficial arguments are in favour of this Bill. Both my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Motion made full and very skillful use of all the ordinary superficial arguments. It is plainly very inconvenient, both for existing Ministers and for their newly appointed colleague, and it is not very convenient for party organisations, that by-elections should take place under the circumstances contemplated by this Bill. I am also perfectly free to admit that there is a real inconvenience and a real disadvantage in the fact that our existing practice does virtually restrict the choice of a Prime Minister to those of his colleagues who have reasonably safe seats. I think that is a very strong argument in favour of the Bill, and I desire to give all possible weight to the reasons that may be urged in its favour.
But it seems to me that the removal of these obvious inconveniences is really overbalanced by considerations of much deeper and more permanent import, and the point I would desire to press on the attention of all parties is this. I want to suggest whether at this particular moment in the evolution of our constitution—and now, as always, our constitution is changing with very great rapidity—it is really wise to do anything that will further disturb the equilibrium of the constitution in favour of the Executive and against the Legislature on the one side and the electorate on the other. We all remember that about 150 years ago a very famous Resolution was brought forward in this House. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says he does not remember it. His memory is a short one. May I recall it to him? It was in these terms:The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought it to be diminished.No one is going to suggest to-day that the personal power of the Crown has increased lately or is increasing, and certainly no one or these benches, or, I think, on any benches, would suggest that it ought in any way at all to be diminished. But that Resolution may serve to remind hon. Members as to the origin of this restriction which we are here being asked to remove. It originated in a certain jealousy and mistrust on the part of this House against the Ministers of the Crown. Of course, the time was when even the temporary intrusion of the Ring's servants was resented by our 1429 more sturdy predecessors. Then there followed a long struggle to enforce what is technically known as the responsibility of Ministers. That struggle eventuated in the curiously fortuitous evolution of the Cabinet system. I think it remains to this day an open question whether we should ever have had the Cabinet system, at any rate as it is now understood, if it had not been for two accidents. The first was that there came to the throne of this country a German King, who, unlike almost every other German I ever knew, could speak no language of his own. It also happened that there was at that time a first Minister of the Crown, who, like a good many other Englishmen, could also speak no language but his own.
However, whatever the reasons, the Cabinet has arrived, and it is the essential feature of our Cabinet system, that there should be maintained the very closest and most continuous connection between the executive, on the one hand, and the Legislature on the other. Nowadays indeed, so far from resenting the intrusion of the servants of the Crown into this assembly, we resent it very much if Ministers of the Crown are not in continuous attendance on our Debates. That would be an impossible system but for one thing, that this country possesses what, I believe, with one possible exception, is the very finest permanent Civil Service in the world. It is the excellent permanent servants of the Crown who render possible the occasional attendance of Ministers in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the exception mentioned?"] The possible exception? I forbore to mention that, but I have always thought that the Prussian Civil Service is perhaps the finest in the world. Hon. Members have extorted that admission with considerable reluctance on my part, but I am bound to bear testimony to the truth. Although it is true that the Ministers of the Crown are expected to be of Parliament and in Parliament, I am not at all sure that there does not still survive a certain very slight amount of the old traditional jealousy to which I have referred.
My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion in his very closely reasoned speech spoke of the Act of Settlement and told us that but for subsequent Amendments, the Act of Settlement would have created what I think he 1430 described as an intolerable situation. I think those were his words. May I remind my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that there is one great country in the world which supposed that it was imitating the English Constitution and which from the day of the inception of its Constitution down to the present hour has excluded from the Legislature the members of the Executive. That is an English-speaking country. I am not at all suggesting that the United States of America was wise in the course it took with regard to the exclusion of the Executive from the Legislature, but it may be that the Federal system is not easily compatible with the system of Cabinet Government. It is true that they are attempting to reconcile the two principles in the Commonwealth of Australia, to which my hon. Friend referred, but I do not think it is yet conclusively established that the two principles are compatible or that they will work smoothly together.
There was another argument from my hon. Friend, of which I expect we shall hear a good deal in this Debate, to the effect that quite apart from the re-election of Ministers, the by-elections which occur in any year are sufficiently numerous without recourse to this archaic survival. One of my hon. Friends has reminded me that over a long period of years the by-elections in this country have numbered about 20 per annum. That has been the average. I agree entirely on this point with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico). It is one thing for a person who desires to become a member of the Legislature to appeal to the electorate, on the occasion of a vacancy created in one of the ways already specified, but it is a totally different thing for a recently appointed Minister to appeal for re-election. The touch between the electorate and the Legislature is necessarily close; the touch between the electorate and the Executive is indirect. It is true that at a moment of great national excitement, in 1918 for example, nobody could doubt that the electorate was primarily voting for the continuance in office of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The General Election of 1880 was another obvious case in point. In 1880 the electorate really only decided one question, namely, that it desired Mr. Gladstone again to 1431 become Prime Minister of this country. From time to time that happens. But speaking generally, it is true to say that the electorate has only a very indirect control over the appointment of the Executive. I am not at all prepared to sever the only direct link between the Executive and the electorate which the re-election of Ministers practically secures to us.
We were told by the hon. Member who moved the Motion that the re-election of Ministers is unfair to the constituency. Surely, that is a matter in the hands of the constituency. If the constituency does not want to oppose the re-election of a Minister there is no earthly reason why they should do so; it is entirely in their hands. Therefore the argument as to the unfairness to the constituency seems to me to fall to the ground. May I urge a point which I desire very seriously to impress upon the attention of the House and that is, that if we pass the Bill now proposed for Second Reading, we really do remove the only effective check which is possessed by the electorate over the Executive. Even if we allow that from time to time the electorate has the power of virtually nominating the Prime. Minister, I do not think it is wise at a moment when the Constitution of this country is very rapidly changing, when the balance and equilibrium between the Executive, the Legislature and the electorate is tending rather to be impaired, to make the change now proposed. Therefore, without hesitation, I second the Amendment.
I desire to put forward a few arguments in support of the Bill. I thought the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) rather gave away the whole case against the Bill when in his opening sentences he admitted that the present operation of the law does undoubtedly stop Members who, having got what is commonly known as an unsafe seat, from having the offer of a Government position in the late period of a Parliament. The hon. Member for York was rather brave to begin by giving us what is perhaps our strongest point. Then the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico), and I think the hon. Member for York, mentioned another point: they both said that a by-election which a Minister was fighting was a far better 1432 guide to the ideas of the constituencies than a by-election caused by death or resignation or a peerage. I am not at all certain that any by-election is always a mirror of what the electorate is thinking. All of us who are members of this House know that in our elections local things occur, and there are in the minds of the electors very often personal matters or purely local matters, and sometimes the result of a by-election has nothing whatever to do with the general policy of the Government. Again, why should one constituency have the right of saying whether a Government is popular or unpopular?
Arguments which have been directed by the hon. Member for York to the proposition that a closer connection should be kept between the constituencies and the executive would surely be more to the point if, when a Minister was re-elected, the entire electorate voted. Then you would get a complete mirror of what the electorate thought of the Government. But no one suggests that that innovation should be made in our constitution. Therefore, I think that the arguments which have been put by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, are really met by the great advantages which can be claimed for the Bill. We ought to regard this Measure as not a party measure at all. There is agreement in all quarters of the House that it is not a party Measure, and a Government which is very strong in the country and the House can well support a Bill of this sort.
I would like to draw attention to the present state of the law on this subject. Not all Ministerial offices are offices of profit under the Crown; very few of them are. The Parliamentary Secretaryships are not offices of profit, nor are the Under-Secretaryships of State. The Chief Whip, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, does not hold an office of profit under the Crown, and if anyone is appointed to that office he does not stand for re-election. But if someone is appointed as an unpaid junior Lord of the Treasury, he is presumed to hold an office of profit and has to stand for re-election. Take the case of the Paymaster-General. Be not only gets no salary, but because he is a Minister he loses his £400 a year, and he also has to stand for re-election. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I thought the Paymaster- 1433 General was included. As a matter of fact in seeking to find out what are offices of profit and what are not, it is very difficult for the most expert occasionally to discover whether a man should stand for re-election or not. When some of the Ministers must stand for re-election and some must not, we get the sort of constitutional position which might have been outlined by a political Mad Hatter to Alice at a tea-party in a political Wonderland.
Let me state some of the advantages of the proposed change. First, there is the one that has been mentioned, that it leaves any future Prime Minister an absolute choice as to the people he may wish to occupy office. It has been said, and truly, that in times of danger and trouble and tumult it may be even dangerous to the Constitution to have a Minister out of the House for some period, standing at a by-election. I think I am correct in saying that when Lord Oxford, then Mr. Asquith, was Prime Minister, at the time of the Irish troubles and of General Seely's resignation of the Secretaryship for War over the trouble at the Curragh, and the Prime Minister took on the Secretaryship for War, he was advised that by doing so he had vacated his seat and had to stand at a by-election. Surely it was most essential, when the whole politics of the country were in turmoil, and a dangerous situation had been created, that the Prime Minister should be in the House, and should not, by the operation of this archaic law, be forced to go to Scotland for a fortnight or three weeks and stand for re-election. It is not as if this was the only method of making by-elections. Members may resign, and they may even be made Peers. There are in every party, perhaps, certain people who would like to exchange the late sittings and rather tumultous proceedings of this Assembly for a more soporific position at the other end of the corridor. Also there are those who in any circumstances would rather stay here.
I think that this Bill will effect a long-wanted change in our constitution. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Consett come out as a strong Tory as he did. He wanted no constitutional innovation. I am not as strong a Tory as all that. If I think that certain parts of the constitution should be improved I am perfectly ready to improve 1434 them. So are other hon. Members on this side of the House. I believe that this Bill will remove something which should have gone long ago, which should have gone in 1919. We have now five-year Parliaments. That means that we are here for only 4½ years at the longest. Surely the Prime Minister, who is elected, say, in 1930, should be able to say what Ministers he desires to have up to 1935. I believe that the Bill will ensure that the nation gets at the head of the Executive Government the best people that can be got, quite apart from the question whether they hold safe or doubtful seats. In the full national interest I think that this change is desirable.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In a very few words I wish to range myself on the side of the supporters of the Bill. I am sorry it has not been made a really non-party Measure, by the inclusion among its backers of Members belonging to other parties than the Conservative party. That may have given a false impression among some of my friends. The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Clayton), who introduced the Bill, and others of its supporters, are so obviously fitted for office that, while no one can suspect them of ulterior motives, I hope that the Bill will pass, and that they will be repaid by being saved the expense of an Election. There are many arguments for the Bill. The whole position is anomalous. As has been said, there are certain offices that are looked upon as offices of profit, and there are others which carry greater remuneration and less responsibility and are not offices of profit. The Minister of Transport, on appointment, has not to go to his constituents, but a Junior Whip has to do so, although he has less important duties.
It is often said that it is necessary for Ministers to be in touch with their constituents. Why have Peers as Ministers? I do not blame the Labour party for appointing Noble Lords as Ministers in their Government, or for creating some of their supporters Noble Lords in order that those gentlemen should hold office and sit in the other House, but if this argument hold good, there should be no Peers holding offices of profit under the Crown because they cannot be in touch 1435 with any constituency. I do not propose to argue here as to the hereditary principle in the Second Chamber, but while you have a Second Chamber, if the arguments adduced against this Bill are sound they are equally sound against the Peers.
§ Mr. DUNNICO
My argument was that, when a private Member becomes a Minister, he ceases to represent his constituency, and becomes the representative of the Government policy, and his constituency ought to have the right to say whether they approve or disapprove.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I know the force of the hon. Member's argument, and felt it when he was speaking. At the same time I put it to him that he ought to propose that all Ministers appointed to office should be compelled to seek re-election, instead of only a few, as is the case owing to the archaic state of the constitutional law of this country. I come to the third argument for the Bill, which is of some importance. After nine months in office a Prime Minister may find that certain Ministers are misfits. There may be other Members of his party eminently suited to those offices, but ender the present system, a Prime Minister must hesitate to make transfers because of the risk of losing a valuable Member through a by-election defeat. The fact that it would be easier to change Ministers about and replace those who proved comparative failures is one of the strongest arguments for the Bill. If one or two of the present Ministers could be sent up to another place and replaced by any one of 300 Members on the other side of the House I do not believe the country would suffer. [How. MEMBERS: "Name!"] I do not propose to specify anyone, I would prefer to specify some of the 300. Then, let us look ahead. Supposing the three party system survives, as it shows every sign of doing—I am speaking not of numbers in this House but of votes in the country—it may well be that in future we shall have a very close balancing of parties.
Look at the last Parliament. In that case it might have been better for the country if we had had a change of Government without an election—it is arguable at any rate. In future, if you should 1436 have a close balancing of parties, after a period of nine months you cannot change your Government without a General Election, unless you have a miniature General Election with the Prime Minister and most of the principal officers of State fighting by-elections in their various constituencies. You may have a series of General Elections and in that way injure the confidence of the people in the Parliamentary system. It might be advisable in this country to be able to have a change of Government without an appeal to the country and I mention that as one reason in favour of the Bill. I am sorry that the Government if they support this Bill did not bring it forward themselves and that is the only objection to it which I can find. As to the question of the desirability of keeping close touch between constituencies and Ministers, perhaps the passage of this Bill will make constituencies more careful in their choice of Members and drive home to them the mistakes which they make in moments of excitement—as in the General Election of 1918 mentioned by the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott). I quite agree with him that the conditions there were quite abnormal just as they were in the recent election of 1924, when the people allowed themselves to be bamboozled and hoodwinked. There is a strong case to be made for this Bill and I cannot honestly do other than support it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I do not like to intervene in the discussion of a private Member's Bill, but on a subject of this kind I do not think the Leader of the House ought to give a silent vote. I shall not keep the House for more than a few minutes, because the points at issue are not many, and they have already I think all been enumerated. I may, however, mention one or two points which specially strike me. After all, the Bill itself is a consideration of the balance of advantages with disadvantages, and I think on the whole the balance is in favour of the Bill, which I propose to support. The actual voting will be left to an entirely free vote of the House. I listened with great interest to the two speeches made in opposition to the Bill, and I think the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico) and the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) put every argument that could be put, and put them very clearly and 1437 very well. I feel, however, that the hon. Member for Consett was not quite familiar, as subsequent speakers have shown, with what is the existing practice under the Act of Queen Anne and subsequent Acts. I agree it is always interesting when you find a body of opinion in this House concurring in a Statute dating from a reign whose Sovereign has survived principally as the one permanent type and emblem of something that is effectually dead and buried.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The fact is that the present practice under these Acts is partial and arbitrary. Were it the fact that every Minister, in the circumstances of his appointment, after Parliament had begun its Session, were subject to re-election, then everything which the hon. Members said would have great force; but, of course, that is not the case. Indeed, in some offices, it is quite impossible for anyone to answer whether a Member appointed to that office is subject to re-election or not. It would puzzle even the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) to advise on that question. This fact alone shows that the system is not a perfect one. If it is to be amended in one direction, I wonder the supporters of the old Act do not wish to amend it in another, and bring everyone within the scope of that Act and subsequent Acts.
I am entirely in sympathy with what the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico) said at the close of his speech about the perfecting of democratic institutions. I think that is a most important subject, but I cannot feel that such a partial practice has any influence one way or the other on democratic institutions. Much has been said about the inconvenience caused to Ministers who have to fight their seats, but not a word has been said, even by the most fervent lovers of democracy, of the inconvenience which is caused to the democracy itself In East Renfrew they have had four elections in 3¼ years, and I understand the election was most unpopular in that district. It has been said, in the course of the Debate, "Why, then, if it is unpopular should a constituency be troubled? Let there be no 1438 opposition." It is asking too much of human nature. Even—if I may allude to a constituency which perhaps few here know—even in the constituency of West Worcestershire there was an Occasion, when I left the Board of Trade, and had to fight for my seat. I think the mere fact, with people of our British temperament, that a fight is possible makes a fight inevitable. My Noble Friend who spoke just now, the Member for Westonsuper-Mare (Lord Erskine), made quite a good point, I thought, when he reminded the House that, after all, though we have an Act like the Act of Queen Anne—an Act devised under entirely different circumstances and applied in the present day to a condition which was not thinkable when the original Act was passed—even there the circumstances have changed considerably, in that the period of the life of a Parliament has been reduced by two years. It means, appeals to the country being so much more frequent to that extent, that the necessity for interim appeals is by that much diminished.
There is another point. It is perfectly possible for a Prime Minister in making appointments to avoid an election, should he wish to. It is perfectly possible, by changing Ministers about, by sending Ministers to another place, to evade an election if an election be at the moment embarrassing or one to be avoided. But what I have an objection to all through is, as I said at the beginning, a partial application of this Measure. The inconveniences—the word has been used in the course of the Debate—are real. I think that at a time like this, when we are more and more trying to draw our Members from men of every degree of wealth and poverty, in the hope that they will be able to help us in the work of the country, it becomes peculiarly hard, when a man is chosen for one of the offices referred to in the Act that has been vacated, that the first result of his being chosen as a Member of a Government should be that he should spend probably as much as his first year's salary will amount to, if he be an Under-Secretary, and in any case a much larger sum than any but a rich man can afford, in having to fight for his seat. There is, I know, the alternative that he should get the money from his own party, but that is not wholly a desirable thing, and I think we ought, in weighing the merits and de-merits of this proposal, to have that in mind.
1439 Of course, it is a great inconvenience too, just when a man desires to acquaint himself with the work of his office, that he should have to go away for a few weeks and take part in a contest, though that is, perhaps, a minor discomfort with which we are all familiar. Then, of course, the point has been made—and here I speak as one who has had to form a Government—that there is no doubt that, although it be possible, as I said, to juggle in this matter and to evade an election, in the past—and I am quite sure that every party leader, or everyone who has had to form a Government will agree—there may have been times when men admirably qualified for office, and who might have rendered great service to the State, have been passed over because of the fear of losing a by-election. I think Chat is a very real blot on the present practice; and also—this is no party question, but equally true in regard to anyone who leads the Labour party or the Liberal party—very often, owing to the circumstance of a man being one of unusual ability and force of character, such a man fights a political seat and succeeds in just winning it. Yet, owing to the action of the law as it stands now, such a man must be one who is practically barred, unless his leader is a man willing to take risks, from getting the chance that he ought to have. Of course, these are simple points: they are obvious points; everybody knows them and can understand them. And it really is, I think, for the House to decide, by balancing the advantages and disadvantages, whether the obvious advantages outweigh the points that have been raised, outweigh the chance which the electorate might have perhaps once a year, perhaps not so often, of pronouncing on the appointment of a Minister.
In my view, and in the view of my colleagues, we feel that the change is one that ought to be made. There are one or two other changes which I think ought to be made, such as the equalisation of Cabinet Ministers' salaries. These are questions that every Government leaves alone, because no Government likes to support anything out of which the House can say that the Government will get some advantage to itself. The result is that these little things never get done. The subject I have just mentioned is one which I should like to see done very much, and there are one or two other things of 1440 this kind that have been passed over time and time again just because of the feeling which I have mentioned. But in spite of that, I think it is right for me to speak now, and give the House my view on this matter. I have often thought about it and tried to weigh the merits of the case. I admit that, if one allows any party feeling to come into one's mind, one is possibly bound to take rather a different view according to whether one happens to be in a Government or in Opposition. You are looking at the same problem from a slightly different angle, and see it in a slightly different perspective. I apologise to the House for having troubled them on a Friday, and I shall myself support this Bill.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I rise to advance one or two reasons why we, on these benches, cannot support the Second Reading of this Bill. In the speech of the Prime Minister, to which we have just listened, on two occasions he told us that he thought the balance was in favour of rather than against the change contemplated by the Bill. This question was discussed at very great length in 1919, when, I think, every argument that has been advanced to-day was advanced, and—to my mind, this is more important—the Coalition Government, which made itself responsible for introducing the Bill under the direction of the then Leader of the House, Mr. Bonar Law, introduced the Bill with the direct intention of making the change that this Bill seeks to make to-day. Despite all the arguments which were advanced, Mr. Bonar Law himself agreed to accept what was a compromise approved by the whole of the House, in the acceptance of that compromise limiting the period when Ministers needed to seek re-election to nine months. The law has remained in that state since. There is one question arising out of the speech of the Prime Minister upon which I should like to put a question. If this Bill gets a Second Reading and goes to Committee, is it the intention of the Government to make it of immediate application?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will answer that question now. When the Government sees the trend of opinion in the House on this subject, they will consider what their action will be. At the moment I have 1441 decided nothing beyond the fact that I would give my views to the House, and we should leave the matter to the open vote of the House.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I ask that question because I consider it of the greatest importance, before the Second Reading of this Bill is taken, that we should be informed whether it is going to be applied immediately. Very strong arguments could be advanced, if such a change should be considered desirable, that that change should not commence at once. This is one of those questions that certainly ought not to be considered in the light of any political advantage, but from a desire to treat equitably all par-ties in the House. The only time, I think, a Measure of this kind should be put through is towards the end of a Parliament and before the whole of the parties in the House have gone to the country. They go to the country knowing what is the law of the land. They know that the party returned with a majority will be called upon to form a Government, and that this will be the position.
I think I shall be able to show that whatever argument there may be in favour of making a change there are very strong reasons why, if the change is made, it should not apply to the present Parliament. After the official blessing that has been given to the Bill by the Prime Minister I can better understand the speech of one of his colleagues delivered in the country a few weeks ago. He told his audiencethat the governing tests of the Conservative party were free democracy and true liberty.He said they stood for a policy of self-help. After the Ministerial blessing which has been given it seems to me that the policy of the right hon. Gentleman ministerially is to keep free from democracy, and to turn the policy of self-help into a policy of ministerial self-preservation.
There is another point arising out of the statement of the Prime Minister. I have been wondering why it is that one of the posts now vacant, the unpaid post of a Junior Lord of the Treasury, has not been filled? I am not, I think, stretching my imagination too far if I say that I see some slight connection between the desire to get this Bill passed, and probably some 1442 of the junior Members on the Second Bench who are due to their promotion, because, though an unpaid post, this is an office where the occupant is compelled to offer himself for re-election. I shall wait if this Bill passes with very much interest to see whether the unpaid office that has been vacant now for some weeks is filled. The argument of the Mover of the Bill, the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Clayton), was that we have had experience of the present law, and that that experience was of such a character that justified us changing the law as it was made in 1919. Yes, so far as one or two Governments are concerned, it was rather an unfortunate experience. I have one or two cases in my mind where, when the Minister representing the policy of the Government went back to his constituency and appealed to them, the constituency was so emphatically against that policy that he was drastically defeated. These cases are familiar to those of us who have been in this House for some years. Another point the Mover made, and to which the Prime Minister referred, was as to it being desirable to have compassion upon the newly-appointed Minister. There is a good deal to be said for that. New Ministers ought to give their attention to their duties at the earliest possible moment, and ought not to be called upon immediately following a General Election to fight a by-election.
Again I have to go back. I wonder why this does not apply in the same way when politicians are out of office as when they are in office? I think I know a case where the whole weight of the Conservative machine was put against the occupant of the office now held by my right hon. Friend opposite, the Home Secretary. And he had not the fortune even of having a seat! He was unfortunately called upon to occupy an office, and the whole weight of the machine was brought against him to keep him out of the Home Office until he had finished his election. I am not going too far to say that they were so anxious to keep him out that right hon. Gentlemen from the Front Bench went to Burnley to assist in giving me a majority of 7,000! Moreover as to this hardship of some individual Minister having to fight elections. The Prime Minister, I think, talked about fighting so many elections in so many years. I had fought five elections in 22 months. In spite of that I had to go and 1443 fight another, as I have just said, on my appointment to the position of Home Secretary.
These arguments, I am afraid, do not carry us very far. I again repeat: we always look at them much more sympathetically when we are in office than when we are in opposition. Another argument advanced—and this was specially advanced by the Mover of the Bill—was that the Prime Minister ought always to be free to select the best men. But I am afraid the Mover did not pay a very great compliment to the best man, because the next argument he went on to advance was that, in the event of the best man having to seek re-election, he might be faced with some very difficult questions. I should have thought that if he were selected because he was the best man, that was one of the reasons why he ought to have been capable of dealing with any question that was submitted to him.
We have also been told that the change is in the public interest, because it is not desirable that men should be compelled to seek re-election. This argument was very strongly pressed upon Mr. Bonar Law in 1919, and yet he admitted that there were some advantages in representatives of a Government getting into contact with electors as representing a Ministerial policy. He also said that there was the great inconvenience of taking the men away from their offices. He admitted the argument that it might limit the selection of men. He also put up the question that it was really a handicap upon the poorer members of the party in having to pay their election expenses. Everyone of the arguments we have heard to-day were practically and fully stated in 1919, and yet Mr. Bonar Law, who was responsible for the Bill for the removal of the necessity of seeking re-election throughout a whole Parliament, himself accepted the compromise that was arranged, and which has been the law since that time. But I want to remind the House that there were some Members, now in the present Government, Who were not satisfied even with nine months. The present President of the Board of Trade moved an Amendment in these words:Provided that such acceptance has taken place less than six months from the declaration of the polls at a General Election.1444 I should like to quote one or two sentences used by the present President of the Board of Trade on that occasion. He said:I think it is very convenient to get the thing settled once and for all, and to fix that time limit, and let it apply continually whenever the question comes up.He further said:The time limit of six months is convenient, because I do not think that the limit we put upon this ought to be too long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1919; col. 793, Vol. 112.]Here we have Members of the present Government supporting this Bill who, I believe, were more influential in inducing Mr. Bonar Law to change his mind than any other section of this House in 1919, and though Mr. Bonar Law, as I have already said, was responsible for bringing in the Bill, he was so convinced, or, at any rate, was so influenced by what was said, that he was prepared to associate himself with the compromise that was then agreed upon.
The next point I want to make is this. However desirable it may be to make this change—and there is a good deal of argument that has been used in its favour with which I agree—I think there are special reasons why it should not be made at this moment, more particularly if it is to apply to the present Parliament, first, because of the exceptional circumstances of the last General Election, and, secondly, the anomalous condition in Parliament as the result of the last General Election. [Laughter.] I know this is a subject that whenever it is mentioned always creates a tremendous amount of hilarity on the other side, but I am going to mention it once more, because I think the other side cannot be too often reminded of the position as the result of the last General Election. I am going to remind them of figures given in this House which do not seem to have impressed them very much. The votes cast at the General Election were: Conservative, 7,285,139; Labour, 5,487,620; Liberal, 2,982,563. That is a combined Opposition vote of 8,470,183 against the total vote of 7,385,139 supporting the present Government. I have to admit that, despite these startling figures, there is a majority on the other side of, I think, somewhere about 209. I think that was the last figure I saw.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
Are the Oppositions combined?
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Yes, up to a point. I am afraid my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has deserted me to-day. But I think it must be agreed that this is an anomalous position. I believe on one occasion I read a speech of the Prime Minister in which he said he admitted that a considerable number of voters who went to increase the Conservative poll at the last election had come from the Liberal party. The Prime Minister accepts that position. That only makes the anomaly the greater. If the Prime Minister is correct, these seven millions ought probably to be six millions, and I say it increases the anomaly to which I am calling attention. And yet what do we find? In spite of this anomaly, the Prime Minister comes down on a Friday morning and gives a benediction to a Bill which is going to deprive the electors of this country of the opportunity of exercising their judgment for, it may be, three years, or it may be four years, and on this point I want to remind some of the right hon. Gentlemen of what they have been saying in recent months. The Prime Minister told his constituents at Worcester on the 26th April, 1925, that he saw no reason why this Parliament should not run its statutory limit. He also said there were certain things they must carry out before they left office in some four or five years. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking much more recently, talked about "the full Parliament," that is, the fall five years, and the Home Secretary talked about having been put here for five years and that they were not going to throw up their trust to please Mr. Cook or anyone else. Now the point I am trying to make is, this. Is this the proper time to prevent Ministers elected under such conditions, and who have declared their intention of holding on to the full statutory limit of their position, from going to the country? If they are going to push this Bill through and thus prevent Ministers, say a Junior Lord of the Treasury, seeking election, I hope they will cease to talk about free democracy and liberty.
The last point I want to make is this, and I want to appeal specially to the 1446 Prime Minister. I think the Opposition should have some slight consideration in a matter of this kind. I am going back to the argument I used at the beginning of my speech. If it is to be done at all, and I am rather doubtful as to that, I think the case made by the Mover of the Amendment and the constitutional case made by the Seconder of the Amendment are almost unanswerable; but if it is to be made at all, both sections of the Opposition in this House should be considered to this extent, that the change ought not to be made so early in a Parliament like this, and that it should be made at the end of a Parliament, when everybody would go to the country knowing exactly what the position in the future would be.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The proposal which this Bill contains is one which naturally commends itself to Ministers on the Treasury Bench and to those of their supporters behind them who, perhaps, in the lifetime of this Parliament may hope to get on the Treasury Bench, but equally naturally it would be opposed by people who sit on the Opposition side of the House. I do not think that is the reason why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) has opposed the Bill, because he has put forward some very serious considerations. I have thought for a long time that in principle a change of this sort should be made, though I think there is much force in the appeal just made by the right hon. Gentleman that the change should be so made as to be brought into force at the beginning of a new Parliament. It is natural that a Member who himself has experienced the inconvenience of having to go through a by-election just when he is appointed Minister of the Crown should speak feelingly on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as though he was one of that class at the election at Burnley; but really he was not so. The position of the right hon. Gentleman was that he was not a Member of the House of Commons at that time.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Let us make that plain. The right hon. Gentleman's position was that he was not a Member of the House of Commons at the time, and as he was appointed Home Secretary and given a seat in the House of Commons it was essential that somebody should elect him. 1447 Consequently the experience at Burnley is not in the least to the point. There is, however, one aspect of that by-election at Burnley which is important. Though I am all for giving democracy its opportunity at by-elections of pronouncing their views on the policy proposed by a Government, I doubt very much whether the best opportunity is afforded at the moment when a man stands before a constituency in the effort to secure that he shall justify the Government appointment and get himself elected. The late Home Secretary will no doubt remember what happened at Burnley. He went down to Burnley holding the office of Home Secretary, and made some declarations about the policy of the Labour Government in relation to the Treaty of Versailles which made it necessary for his own Prime Minister to repudiate him in the House. The Leader of the Opposition had to get up in this House and say:I saw a statement in the Press. That statement, if made, was not a statement that has been passed by the Cabinet. The statements I have made in the House and the action I have taken are the statements and action for which the Government are responsible.When the matter was raised again, after the Prime Minister had had time to ascertain whether the statement had been made, this was the language he used:Mr. Henderson, in fighting at Burnley, was apparently under the impression that, as a Minister of the Crown, he could speak as a private person. Of course he was wrong. Ministers of the Crown, members of Administrations, must speak with the seriousness and with the reserve of their position.1.0 P.M.
The late Home Secretary must have a very short memory if on this question he really argues from the by-election at Burnley. But I seriously doubt whether it is a desirable thing that a man—I am net speaking now of the right hon. Gentleman—any Member of the House, who has hitherto not had any actual experience of the responsibilities and reserve of office, should, at the moment he is appointed to responsible office, have to stand the fire for two or three weeks of constituents who want to know all about Government policy. Naturally, he is driven or badgered into making a series of statements which may be embarrassing and which may be unfair. May I re-count my own experience? I was a comparatively young man, in age and 1448 Parliamentary experience, when I was made a Minister of the Crown. I had fought two elections that year and been returned by large majorities. Within a month of the General Election I had to go down for a third time to my own constituency in order to be re-elected. I as opposed—I do not resent that at all—but I perfectly well remember that, at the moment when I was called upon as a junior to share great responsibilities, many of them necessarily for the moment matters of grave concern, I felt, myself, the grave embarrassment it caused if you are to deal fairly and frankly with people who, naturally, treat the most recent recruit to the Treasury Bench as though he knew all the secrets of the Prime Minister, whereas, in point of fact, he does not know them 'at all. Consequently, it puts them and himself in a false position.
As a matter of the fair working of the Constitution, I do not think it is a desirable thing that you should put a recently appointed Minister through that, form of cross-examination at that moment. A great deal more is to be said for making him face a by-election after he has been a Minister for 12 months, but there is very little to be said for making him face that particular inquiry under those circumstances. There is another question I should like to deal with, and it goes to the heart of the matter. If you go back and consider the reason for this provision you will find that it was a provision which Parliament in the time of Queen Anne passed in order to protect itself against the possibly corrupt and perverting influence of the Crown. It was carried because a man who had been returned to Parliament as a Parliament man ought not to allow himself to become a King's man or a Queen's man. That was the real reason why in those days it was absolutely essential, but in modern times that consideration has completely and absolutely disappeared. If you are going to justify the retention of this practice, you must justify it on grounds which have nothing in the world to do with the reason why it was first introduced.
There is another consideration. Anyone who is a keen observer of its working knows that it works in a spasmodic and ridiculous a way. I recall the very first incident that ever happened in any Parlia 1449 ment of which I was a Member, the first meeting of the Parliament of 1906. Mr. Balfour, as he then was, had been defeated; the Leader of the Opposition for the moment was the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. The very first thing that happened in that Parliament was a dispute as to whether or not Mr. Speaker should issue his Writ to the Clerk of the Crown for a by-election in which the candidate would be a gentleman who had just been appointed a Lord of the Treasury, or whether the proper course was not a Writ in respect of another gentleman who was an unpaid Lord of the Treasury before the election, and since the election had been moved up one step, so that he now drew a salary. Well, really, it seems a ridiculous thing that whether a man has to stand a by-election or not should depend on an intricacy of that sort.
Let me give another instance. The House will remember that at a very critical moment in our history Mr. Asquith, who was then Prime Minister, determined himself to undertake for the time being the post of Secretary of State for War. I very well remember—I was Attorney-General at the time—that there was a very grave and difficult question, of a purely technical sort, namely, since he is taking the office of Secretary of State for War without any break, and the holder of the proposed new office is already Prime Minister, must he go through a by-election? I think the correct advice was given, that on the proper reading of the Statutes he must, though it was a very fine point; but does anybody really say that on any principle at all it was right to make a Prime Minister go through a by-election, occupying two or three weeks, when his responsibilities and his duty called for every moment of his time in the office he was filling?
The two points are, first that the object which this Statute originally aimed at has completely disappeared, and secondly that as things are the Statute works in the most, ridiculously half-hearted and uncertain way. I cannot subscribe to one observation made by the present Prime Minister in his speech. He said, I think by a slip, that we must remember that Parliaments nowadays only last for five years, whereas at the time of the Act of 1450 Anne Parliaments were of longer duration. I think that is a historical "howler."
If I am not mistaken, the Triennial Act was passed in the time of William and Mary, and was the first Act which limited the duration of a Parliament. A Parliament could not last for more than three years in the time of Anne. The period was extended to seven years by the Septennial Act, 1715, in the time of George I. So that particular argument of the Prime Minister's is historically unfounded, I think. But the broad consideration remains, and the real question for the House is, Are these very serious objections to the present situation overset and defeated by the undoubted truth that we do not want unduly to limit the opportunity of constituencies to pronounce judgment, in the course of the life of a Parliament, upon the policy and practice of the Government? It is not a matter of principle. The opportunity arises when a Member dies, it arises whenever a man who is a Member of this House takes some new duty which involves his withdrawal from the House, the opportunity arises whenever a Member resigns, the opportunity arises whenever a Member passes from this House to the other House, and I doubt very much, in the circumstances under which modern politics are conducted, whether the addition of this single case calling upon the newly-appointed Minister to fight an election just at the moment when he ought to be familiarising himself with the work of his office, is an addition which on broad public policy is required.
Therefore, and I am expressing a view I have held for a long time, I think this particular restriction is one which might well go; but I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) that it is in a high degree invidious, and in the circumstances unfair, for a change of this sort to be brought into operation very soon after a General Election when an immense majority sits on the Government side, when the Prime Minister's suggested embarrassment of choice is really an embarrassment of riches, and when the Opposition are fairly entitled to all the occasions which the present Constitution gives for raising in the constituencies the challenge which they wish to raise against the Government of the day. The position here is not as 1451 it is at the moment in Canada, where a Ministry is poised on so narrow a ledge that considerations which are not necessarily considerations of the first order may have to determine exactly how to choose this colleague or how to refuse that. We have a Prime Minister here who, for the moment, has everything well within his own range of choice. I do not believe he is embarrassed, and I do not believe the working of the Constitution is embarrassed at the moment, by one or other of his supporters being appointed to the Treasury Bench; but I do urge that we should take this opportunity of giving this Bill a Second Reading, for the purpose of removing from the Constitution this, as I think, archaic and worn-out principle; and I would urge the Prime Minister and his colleagues to consider whether, as a matter of grace, if not as a matter of strict right, they do not think they themselves ought to be foremost in urging that the change should not come into operation until after the next General Election.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
I want, in the first place, to say a word as to the position taken up by Mr. Bonar Law when this matter was last raised in this House. It was stated, and stated correctly, that Mr. Bonar Law agreed to a considerable modification of this Bill on account of pressure from his own Benches. I think that bears out exactly what the Prime Minister said, that this is a question with which it is very difficult for a Government to deal, and is eminently a question that ought to be left to the House itself to decide. We know that the Bill introduced by Mr. Bonar Law embodied what he thought was the best course to adopt, and that the only reason why he acceded to the proposals made from the back benches was that he did not think it was a course which the Government itself ought to press upon the House.
To come to the merits of the Bill. I think the best test of the utility of an old Act of Parliament like that to which this Bill refers is to put the question, "If that Act did not exist would you invent it"? I want to read the Section which governs this question. The Section is:If any Member shall accept any office of profit of the Crown during such time as he shall continue a Member, his election shall be and is hereby declared to be void, and a new writ shall issue for a new elec 1452 tion as if such person so accepting were naturally dead, provided nevertheless that such person shall be capable of being again elected.If anyone were to introduce legislation of this sort now, I am sure he would not go through the formality of assuming the death and the speedy resurrection of the now applicant for office, and I am sure that he would also make his measure watertight. Either it is right that new 'holders of office should have to fight a by-election or it is wrong. If it be right it ought to apply to all, if it be wrong it ought to apply to none. It is absurd that the Chancellor of the Duchy should have to vacate his seat, that the Chief Whip or the Financial Secretary should not and the Junior Whip—the junior Member of the whole Government—should have to vacate his seat. I do not think anyone wishes to defend all this; and on the mere merits of the case it is hard on the new holder of an office that the first thing to happen to him should be that he should be fined £1,000 and sentenced to a month's hard labour, because that is what it really comes to.
In the second place, it does cause inconvenience to the public service. It lessens the choice of the Prima Minister, and also causes inconvenience by compelling a man, at the very time when he ought to be learning the rudiments of his job and making the acquaintance of his staff, to be fighting a by-election in his constituency as well. I never believed that the best side of human nature is brought out at any election, because there is a tendency both on the part of the speaker and on the part of those publications which are misnamed by the name of literature to over-emphasise particular aspects of politics, and under-estimate the objections to other aspects of politics. At a by-election all these things are at their very worst.
I remember a good many by-elections, some having been caused by the Minister having to fight for his seat, and, time after time, something occurs at a by-election which there is reason to regret afterwards. I remember a by-election at Yeovil at a time when the Insurance Bill was before the House of Commons, and I admit that our party, through its speakers, exaggerated the defects of the Insurance Act. I also remember the by-election at Dudley when Sir Arthur Boscawen was defeated. I think that 1453 that election all those who were advocating the embargo upon Canadian cattle will agree that they put in a little too high a claim upon the prospects of the immense reduction that was going to take place in the price of beef. The same applies to the election which took place the other day when the Minister of Agriculture was fighting for his seat. These by-elections do not raise the tone of political life. The Mover of the rejection of this Bill was enthusiastic in his praise of democratic government, but I think these sort of things are a very bad advertisement for democracy. There is another argument which may appeal to hon. Members, and it is that the recurrence of by-elections is an unmitigated nuisance to Members of this House. As a rule, the party managers are very anxious to have a sufficiency of speakers, and some of them have to travel as much as 200 miles from London, only to find when they get to the scene of operations that they do not get any sort of a show. These vacancies occurring in this way increase the number of by-elections, and in that respect they add to the inconvenience of the Members of this House. Various arguments have been put forward in favour of this Bill, and one is that the present state of things is unfair to the new holders of office, and that it causes inconvenience and does harm to the public service. Another is that, by increasing the number of by-elections, it does not tend to make our politics any cleaner, and for these reasons I shall vote in favour of this Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
When I first saw the Title of this Bill I thought we were at last going to get something that would clear away some of our ancient customs that still hang around the procedure of this House. If there is any institution in this country which requires to be reformed and brought up to date it certainly is the House of Commons, because we have so many drags upon Members of this House that the really active Member becomes disgusted with its procedure. I was expecting that this Bill would have given us a real basis for reform. The Prime Minister has spoken about perfecting our democratic institutions, but he knows very well that democracy does not exist and ceases at the door of the Cabinet. It is all very well to talk about British democracy, but 1454 you do not get any of it after you pass the door of the Cabinet. If a Member of this House were chosen for promotion by his party, I might vote for such a proposal, but he is never the choice of a party, and not even the choice of his constituents; he is the choice of one man who claims this power, and yet the Prime Minister stands at that box and talks to us about democracy. To say one thing and then to vote in the opposite direction is simply political hypocrisy.
When hon. Members get on the Front Bench do they promote democratic principles? Not a bit of it! Gentlemen whom I have had as visitors to this House were very interested in the runs between the dovecot at the back of the Speaker's Chair and hon. Members of this House, and when I explained what was happening, they simply exploded with laughter. To-day we have had a statement made about the superiority of our permanent officials, and without doubt the men who are trained up in these things are bound to become the most efficient part of the Government, but is it not something to make those who talk about democracy laugh themselves to death almost when you see the man with the knowledge running with information to the megaphones who sit on the Front Bench? Why do you keep the men with the knowledge muzzled? Why do you not bring them straight on to the Front Bench? They need not be men who are going to give opinions, but surely they could answer questions about the technical part of any subject with which we have to deal. That would save much valuable time in this House. How often have the proceedings of this House been delayed until the Minister has been able to find out information about the subject of which he has charge? There is nothing more stupid than a man being driven through sheer economic necessity to taking up a job about which he knows nothing.
Why is it that men stoop so low as to go into something which they cannot handle and do not know? It is because they are not democratic, and that is my reason for opposing this Bill. The argument that has been used to-day is that by passing this Bill we are coming nearer to democracy. We are not. We are going further from it. If you take the Cabinet system, they can sack the Prime 1455 Minister. We know the rows that take place in Cabinets that upset the calculations even of Prime Ministers. Where is the democracy there? Who is deciding there? If the hon. Member who brought in this Bill had been thinking about some real reorganisation of our methods of working this House, I would have been the first to stand up and support him. But you cannot go far towards democracy by putting a thing like this on paper, and I have nothing but contempt for it and those who put it forward. It only shows their lack of courage.
If the Bill had been one to establish anything at all different from existing things, I could have understood it, but it is not. Supposing you do postpone an election, what difference does that make? It does not make any difference. The whole principle underlying the Cabinet system has got to be changed before you can get what hon. Members have asked for to-day, but that the Bill does not ask for. You talk about having democracy, but anyone who comes here and listens for an hour or two is inclined to ask what you mean by the word "democracy." You have a whole party supposed to be brought into this House by the democratic vote of the whole of the electors, but when hey get here they cease to be a democratic party. They do not determine what takes place in the Cabinet. Not a bit of it. They are not allowed to know what takes place. If you want to have that democratic Government that so many people talk about you have got to get rid of the old customs and your present system of Cabinet Government, which destroys everything in the name of democracy.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. RENTOUL
Listening to the disquisition of the hon. Member opposite on the shortcomings of our democracy, I was somewhat puzzled to understand what was his real argument. Apparently, the suggestion is that we should take no steps whatever to remedy any anomalies that may exist to-day in our present system until we can change the whole system of democratic Government from top to bottom. What does this Bill do? All that it attempts to do is to remove what everyone must admit is a serious in 1456 convenience and anomaly to-day. It is one of those short, innocuous-looking Measures on which at first glance one is tempted to say that nothing should be said, certainly against it, or about it. That, of course, is an unsafe assumption to make with regard to any Measure that may come before this House, and undoubtedly in one or two speeches to-day there have been criticisms of principle and indeed of detail urged which are of some importance, and which it is only right to consider. But, on the broad view, I submit to the House that the Prime Minister summed up the matter perfectly accurately when he said this is essentially a Bill with regard to which we have to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, and, if we do that, I think it is very difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that the advantages of making a change in the present system immensely outweigh any criticisms or disadvantages that may be urged.
I was extremely glad to hear the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) to the effect that in his view—and naturally his opinion is one to which every lawyer would pay great respect—there is no longer any constitutional justification for the retention of the present system. As we have been reminded in the course of this discussion, the present law dates back to the reign of Queen Anne, and was no doubt necessary at that time in order to form an additional protection to the House of Commons against any undue interference by the Crown. Than necessity has long since disappeared, as everyone admits, but the supporters no change attempt to introduce a fresh constitutional principle namely, that some definite protection is needed for the House of Commons against the executive Government, or, alternatively, that a check is needed on behalf of the nation against the actions of the House of Commons. I suggest that that is introducing a new principle altogether into our constitution.
The Executive Government is dependent absolutely on the retention of its majority in the House of Commons. If it has the confidence and support of that majority, then the gain or loss of a few by-elections here and there is a matter of no account whatsoever. If, on the other hand, it has lost or is losing the support of its 1457 majority in the House of Commons, then we know from experience that there are occasions when a defeat at a by-election may be taken as an excuse for the Government resigning or radically modifying its policy. In any event, whatever principle may have been at stake in the past, that principle has been abandoned, not only through the change in the circumstances, but also by the deliberate act of this House in 1919. It is certainly extremely difficult to understand the suggestion that a principle which is wrong is made right by the imposition of a period of six, nine or 12 months. If a principle is wrong, the mere fact that it is delayed cannot affect its validity at all.
With regard to the Act of 1919, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) reminded us that that. Act was passed as the result of compromise, but I, for one, should like to protest against the suggestion that the actions of this House are in any way fettered, or ought to be in any way hampered, by the idea of a compromise that has taken place in some other House of Commons, since which time there have been three General Elections. No doubt it was a compromise at that time, but there were very peculiar circumstances existing at the moment. Mr. Bonar Law, as we know, brought forward a full proposal to get rid of the old Act altogether, but during the course of the discussion it was urged with a great deal of force that, in view of the fact that at that moment four Ministers were seeking reelection, it was undesirable and inexpedient that this matter should then be pressed through, because it might be suggested with some show of reason that the Government were merely seeking their own self-interest at the moment, without really desiring to make any change in the law. It was because of that that Mr. Bonar Law made it perfectly clear that his own opinion was unchanged, and he went so far as to state that, although he accepted the compromise at the moment, a time would undoubtedly come in some future Parliament, where such criticisms could not be raised, when this matter would have to be dealt with on a much broader basis.
That is, indeed, the situation that exists to-day. No such charge of self-interest can be brought against the present Gov 1458 ernment. This Bill is brought forward as a private Member's Bill, it is left to the free vote of the House, and I can hardly conceive any more admirable moment for making a change of this kind in the law, if, indeed, the House of Commons considers such a change desirable. On that point I cannot quite follow the suggestion that, if this change be made by the will of the present House of Commons, it ought not to be put into force during the lifetime of the present Government. That seems to me to be an altogether unreasonable suggestion, because, if the principle is wrong, if the present practice is wrong, if it causes inconvenience and detriment to the public service, surely, the sooner we get rid of it the better, and why the change should be delayed for a period of three or four years, until a new Parliament is elected, is to my mind impossible to understand.
Looking at the matter from the point of view of the public interest, which is the real test to apply to any Measure coming before this House, we have heard it stated, and, indeed, we have it on the authority of the Prime Minister himself, that there are times when the head of a Government is hampered in his choice of the best man by reason of the particular circumstances that may exist in the constituency concerned, and he may not be able to choose the best man. I leave that on one side. But a far graver point, to my mind, looking at the matter from the point of view of the public interest, is the standpoint of the new Minister himself.
At one of the most critical periods in his career, when his whole energies ought to be centred on making good in his new office, on familiarising himself with all the complexities and problems which are bound to arise, on consulting with his expert advisers, and so forth—at that particular time his energies and resources, both physical and financial, have to be dissipated in fighting, it may be, an arduous by-election. It may also happen, as we saw only recently in the by-election at Bury St. Edmunds, in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture was directly concerned, that an organised attempt may be made, as was done in that case, to try to induce him during the course of the election to commit himself with regard to important questions 1459 of policy. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend was able to resist the temptation to do that; but the pressure that was put upon him, as I know well, was extremely strong, in regard to questions about which he probably had not been able to consult his expert advisers, and possibly had not even been able to discuss them with his colleagues in the Cabinet. Surely, that is a very serious detriment to the public interest.
Then we are told that, in spite of that, these by-elections are a safeguard to the nation against the actions of whatever Government may be in power. That is a thing which every party suggests. We all of us say, when a by-election comes, that the eyes of the whole nation are directed to that particular constituency, and what that constituency thinks today the whole country is going to think to-morrow; but we know perfectly well that in ordinary practice, in nine cases out of 10, a by-election is fought on more or less local issues, is determined and decided by local considerations, and is not really any safe indication of the opinion of the country as a whole with regard to the policy of the Government. In any event, as we have also been reminded several times to-day, other opportunities of by-elections do occur, and occur with almost startling regularity every year, from ordinary causes, so that there are plenty of opportunities for the country to express its opinion without the disadvantages which I have endeavoured to point out. For all these reasons, and remembering that this is essentially a question in regard to which one has to balance the advantages against the disadvantages, I believe that this Bill is a most desirable one, which is needed to remedy a serious inconvenience and anomaly that exists at the present time, and I sincerely trust that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ Captain BOURNE
I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading today, and thereby sweep away an anomaly which has survived in our Constitution beyond the time when it was really needed. I think we ought to consider both what this Bill intends to do and what the conditions were when the Act of 1707 was passed, because we really cannot understand this anomaly in our Constitution unless we look back some 1460 200 years. I would venture to remind the House that the Act of 1707 was passed at a time when the direct heir to the Throne had recently died, when the Protestant Succession was in danger, when religious feeling ran high, and when the Government, which was largely a Whig Government, though it was a Coalition, was feeling insecure and was very much afraid that the power of the Crown might be used to pack the House of Commons, and thereby bring back the Stuart dynasty to this country. That was the condition of affairs when this Act was passed, and a Section was put into the Act, which has already been quoted to-day, preventing any person who acquired a new office under the Crown from sitting in this House.
We have been told that a great constitutional principle is here at stake. How has this House and how has the country treated this constitutional principle in the past? The first thing that has been done has been to pass, every time a new office has been created, a special Clause in the Act creating that office, conferring exemption from the obligation under Section 25 of the Act of 1707; so that it does not look as though even this principle has been treated with great respect in the past. In an Act of 1742, the next step that the House took was to permit Under-Secretaries, Secretaries to the Treasury, and various other Ministerial officials, to sit in this House without the necessity for seeking re-election.
If a great constitutional principle is at stake, if, when a Member ceases to be a back-bencher and becomes a member of the Government, he ought to offer himself to his constituents for re-election, why one earth should not that apply to Under-Secretaries as well as to other Ministers? Why should a Junior Lord of the Treasury, merely because he happens to be a Commissioner executing the office of the Lord High Treasurer, have to seek re-election though he does not get one penny piece in salary, while an Under-Secretary, who may draw a certain amount of salary, and who certainly occupies a far more important Ministerial office in so far as the direction of the affairs of the country is concerned, is exempt from the necessity of a by-election? It also seems a very curious anomaly that, where a Chancellor of the Exchequer accepts the office of 1461 Prime Minister in addition, he is not required to seek the approval of his constituency, but should the Prime Minister accept the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer in addition to that of First Lord of the Treasury, he has to go and offer himself at a by-election.
I cannot see that there is any sense or reason in the laws that exist to-day. The present distribution of offices is governed by Schedule H of the Reform Act, 1867, and it was believed at that time that the Schedule covered all the Parliamentary offices whose holders were likely to sit in this House. The thing has been altered several times since, but in time of emergency it has nearly always acted to the detriment of the public interest, and in the War, at a critical time, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) left the Exchequer in order to accept the Ministry of Munitions, it was necessary to rush a special Act through the House preventing him having to seek re-election at a time when his services were urgently needed in London. I think this Act has grown completely out of date. I cannot see that your constituents want unnecessary elections, and I speak there with some feeling, as I have fought three elections in one constituency in the space of 11 months. I am aware how weary one's constituency and its Member become when after a very few months' interval another election takes place, and the same old dreary round is gone through again. I am certain if you took a referendum of any constituency where an election was imminent because of a ministerial change, you would find the electors as a whole would be only too willing to waive any constitutional rights they may have. They do not want it. There is no real control over the Ministry by this Act, and I am certain if it is wiped away it will make for better and more efficient government and will get rid of one of the most useless anomalies, which has long survived its usefulness in our Constitution.
Lieut.-Colonel DALRYMPLE WHITE
The ground in this Debate has been so Well covered that it is rather difficult to find anything new to say. We have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. I had a good deal of sympathy with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member 1462 for York (Sir J. Marriott) when he said he did not wish to add unnecessarily to the powers of the Executive, and at one period of the Coalition, many of us thought the powers of the Executive were getting rather overstrained. By-elections of this sort do not prove much. They are not an exact mirror of the feeling of the Electorate at the time. Five or six years ago we remember a certain rather notable election at Dudley. It was fought mainly on the question of the Canadian embargo—the admission of Canadian cattle. First of all, that was a matter which had not been definitely decided for or against. It was under the consideration of the Government. How can anyone say the defeat of the Minister at that election was a true reflex of the national opinion? In fact I go further and say what on earth really did the electors of Dudley care about the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle, except so far as they were told that if they did not secure its removal, their beef would run up to 5s. or 10s. a lb. That is all they thought of.
I think the speeches of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) must have convinced everyone on which side the balance lies in this matter. They and others have proved that it is not in the public interest, in the first place, that the Prime Minister, supposing he has a narrow majority, which the present Prime Minister has not, should be afraid of appointing the best man to a Government office because they do not happen to have a safe seat. It is also very unfair indeed on the individual. Very often the best men are men who have won what may seem hopeless seats, certainly difficult seats, because they were good men. For that very reason they are barred if the Government is afraid of losing a by-election. A third matter that influences me is that, when a Minister is defeated at a by-election, it often leads to what I might call a very unpleasant bargain afterwards, when a certain Member will resign his seat in order to give it to a defeated Minister. From all these points of view, but principally on the ground of the interest of the State and public policy, I hope this arrangement, brought in, apparently, originally at the time of Queen Anne, will, now that Queen is dead, die also.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
One of the qualities that endear Members of the Labour party to me is their innate and persistent conservatism. Whenever a question arises which does not directly or indirectly affect the standard of living of the working classes, you will always find the Labour party supporting Conservative principles. I approach this question with a good deal of difficulty. Personally, I have a great liking for the reign of Queen Anne and the things that happened in it. The fact that the Act we are proposing to amend was passed in the reign of Queen Anne gives it a certain halo of dignity and romance which belongs to the things of that period. The furniture, for instance, of the reign of Queen Anne was of a very fine character. Therefore any legislation which concerns seats of the reign of Queen Anne prima facie attracts my sympathy. Another difficulty I have to surmount in supporting this Bill is that it proposes to remove certain anomalies. I am always in favour of anomalies. I like anomalies. One of the saving graces of this country is that we are not logical. We have quantities of anomalies, and if we have not any we enact new ones. There is nothing so healthy in the national life as the total lack of logic. The fact that we are a non-logical country enables us to run democratic institutions. All the logical countries in the world, all the Latin races and people like that, who are controlled by logic, fail to run democratic institutions successfully. The whole secret of successful democracy is illogical anomalies.
The arguments in favour of this Bill and the trifling arguments against it have been put forward at great length by preceding speakers, some of whom I have heard and some of whom I have not heard. The right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) who gave details of his electoral adventures for 12 or 14 months in which he indulged in what I should say was an orgy of elections and by-elections, seemed to think that the more of them people had the better. That is a very natural point of view and I was inclined to sympathise with him very strongly when he was speaking of his own experience. Nobody wants by-elections except perhaps certain people in this House. The House of Commons does not mind by-elections, because they are rather amusing. The con 1464 stituencies hate them, the candidates hate them and those who have to stand for re-election hate them. By-elections give no pleasure to anybody, whereas they cause a great deal of expense and trouble and the only people who profit are the newspaper proprietors. Supposing instead of being in a deliberative Assembly, we were managers of some commercial company, and we had lost the services of some valuable branch manager or other official and had to appoint a new one. No reasonably managed concern after appointing a man would immediately send him away for three weeks to get busy with some other job from that to which he had been appointed.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir M. CONWAY
Not if I can help it. I am simply citing an analogy for the purpose of drawing my right hon Friend. I had written a note or two on the piece of paper which I hold in my hand, but in the process of the excitement caused by the right hon. Gentleman's interruption. I have rubbed them out. The thesis which I desire to support is, however, so simple and the arguments in its favour so conclusive that I refrain from laying them before this assembly at any length. We have been told and it is a, most important point, that the original Act which set up the present arrangement was passed for a certain purpose, namely, to limit the power of the Crown. We all know perfectly well that the object which was then sought to be attained has passed out of existence, and there is no reason for continuing the Act. What purpose does it serve? It serves no good purpose. The re-election of certain Ministers on their appointment to office serves no purpose at all. Sometimes it may chance to be of use. There is a chance that now and again a by-election comes and enables the country to express its opinion on some matter of passing and momentary importance, but how often has that happened in the last 20 or 30 years? I cannot recollect a single instance where a by-election caused by the appointment of a Minister has really been of any value to the country in enabling it to express its opinion on a matter of passing importance. Nine times out of 10 or 99 times out of a 1465 hundred nothing is at stake except what is already known and what has already been decided.
After a General Election, when a majority of a particular party has been returned to this House, and when that majority is led by a Prime Minister who, obviously, possesses the confidence of the country, what purpose is served by causing a by-election when at a later period the Prime Minister appoints a new Minister? What is the meaning of confidence being expressed in favour of a party and of the leader of a party? Surely it means that the right to choose his Ministers as he desires is included in the general confidence of the country which has been reposed in him. The fact that a Minister at a particular moment, for artificial reasons, has to seek re-election is of no importance in the general stream of political movements and political thought. It is like a rock sticking up out of a stream which is rushing down hill. The rock causes a splash but it does not for a moment retard the general progress of the water. For these reasons and for others which have been stated far more conclusively by others, I have no hesitation whatever in giving my support to the Second Reading of the Bill.
I am frankly opposed to this Bill. Nobody would accuse the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) or myself of political flirtations with the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson). This is a far more important matter than some of the speeches have indicated. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said that the beauty of our Constitution was that it could be modified to meet existing needs. That is a very good platitude, and I could subscribe to it if there was any indication anywhere that this modification of the Constitution is required. I challenge any hon. Member to say that he mentioned it on his election platform or that it figured prominently in his last election address. It may be said that it deals with a small point which only affects Members of this House. Historically it is nothing of the kind. The Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading told us that originally the Act dealt with the danger by which this House was threatened by the Crown. We are not threatened by the Crown to-day and no one would be so foolish as to suggest 1466 that. There are, however, other potentates who roam about the country from whom the threat is great. There is the potentate Press, there is the potentate trade unionist—
I think there is an Emperor. I am supporting the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will be the first to recognise that outside influence might easily be brought to bear upon an unscrupulous Prime Minister—assuming there was such a person—by an unscrupulous person, and if such influence were brought to bear it would be worse than the original abuse which occurred in the time of the King's friends. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his very interesting speech made a slight historical error. Hr did make two slight logical mistakes, First of all, he said how difficult it was for a newly-elected Cabinet Minister to go through the expense of a by-election. Surely that applies to all by-elections. The by-election of a Minister promoted to Cabinet rank is not more expensive than any other by-election. The second argument that my right hon. Friend used was that it was only logical that all Ministers should be included in exemption from by-elections. At present there are some Ministers who have to submit to re-election and others who have not. Mr. Speaker did not call my right hon. Friend to Order, though I think he was there wandering outside the Title of the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) made a point more forcibly than any who had spoken before him, about the fact that we must have by-elections in this country. Promotions to the Peerage, the crossing of the floor of the House by an hon. Member, and other reasons, cause by-elections. The point about these by-elections and the difference between them and the by-election which arises when an hon. Member is promoted to Cabinet rank, is that when he is promoted to Cabinet rank and seeks re-election the constituency has before it the same candidate as in the previous election, but when there is a by-election caused by death or a promotion to the Peerage there is a different candidate. Therefore, to that extent it is not a vote of confidence in the particular individual who is presenting himself to the electorate. That is important, be 1467 cause we are asked during the by-election for a new Minister not only to give confidence to the Government of the day, but also a vote of confidence in—there was the case of the Minister of Agriculture the other day—the particular person who represents a constituency.
The point about the best man for office not being available if he had a small majority, that the Prime Minister of the day would pass him over, is not even a debating point, because it is perfectly easy for the particular Member to be shifted to another place, where he can give his services to the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "And lose his position."] He does not lose his position. He becomes a Cabinet Minister and he can function in the other place just as well. There are a few exceptions of course; there is no rule ever laid down that has not exceptions. Generally speaking, there is no reason why in the case of three-quarters of the offices concerned a Minister should not be promoted to another place. Equally fantastic is the argument that when forced to face a by-election a promoted Minister has not the full opportunity of studying the problems of his new office. It seems very unnecessary to stress that as a point worth making, considering that only two or three weeks are occupied by a by-election.
There is another aspect of the case which has not been raised at all. That is the case of the hypothetical, unscrupulous Prime Minister, because we are presuming that the Prime Minister concerned is an unscrupulous man. In such a case, just at the close of his administration, when he begins to see the clouds rising over the electorate, he might take it into his head to change entirely the composition of his Ministry. He might enlarge it by the inclusion of a great number of Members of this House, who would all receive salaries for their offices, and would be entitled to admission to the Privy Council, and, what is more important—again I am presuming that the man is unscrupulous—there would be Cabinet pensions dangling in the background. Certain people would become automatically eligible for these sweets of office, and if there were no necessity for a by-election the number of people affected might be largely increased.
1468 It has been said that by-elections are unpopular with the constituencies concerned, but it is quite easy to imagine a constituency which was entirely unknown, which had been represented for years and years by a modest and demure Member, suddenly being brought forward into a prominent position, and the advertisement, the general publicity which would be shed upon that constituency, would not be at all unpopular in a large number of cases; it might even do a great deal of good to the local shopping week or the local chamber of trade. I cannot at all agree that in all cases you can take it as an immutable law that a by election is undesirable from the point of view of the constituency. These are some of the arguments which have arisen in this Debate. As the Prime Minister said, it is a very near thing whether the weight of argument is more one way than the other. Though I cannot subscribe to anything like all that the right hon. Member for Burnley said, particularly his lightning analysis of the stare of the electorate, and how many who voted Conservative were not Conservative—he left out the whole question of by-elections, which is rather telling upon this particular kind of analysis—yet for the constitutional reasons so clearly expressed by the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), and because of the comparatively poor arguments used by supporters of the Bill, I shall have much pleasure on this occasion in supporting the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico).
Mr. ROY WILSON
I wish to give my support to the Bill. I confess that I find it very difficult to understand why any political party in the House should not be in favour of such a simple Measure. It is admitted that the law as it stands, and as it stood before the 1919 Act, operated with great harshness to all political parties. It is clear that this cannot be regarded as a party matter. It should be looked at as far as possible from the point of view of what is in the best interests of the State and what is the general feeling of the community. During the War, before the 1919 Act came into operation, I believe that Ministers were not obliged to seek re-election when they were appointed to new posts. That was due to the fact that Ministers were very seriously engaged in those years in matters of great importance to the 1469 country. Since then a great deal of water has passed under the political bridges, but it is not unfair to say that the duties and responsibilities of His Majesty's Ministers to-day are just as serious—I put it no higher than that—and just as responsible and arduous as they have ever been in the history of this country. That seems to be an added reason why the House should give its assent to this non-party Measure.
My own reasons for supporting the Bill are, in general effect, those which have been advocated so fully from these benches. But one point in particular which strikes me as being peculiar in the present law is the time limit of nine months. Why that limit should be imposed I fail to appreciate. If it is right for Ministers not to seek re-election after their appointment to office, then there should be no time limit save that which is set by the life of the Parliament. It has been argued that a Member should seek the approval of his constituents when he is appointed to office in order that, he may obtain their approval of the new responsibilities which he is about to undertake. That seems to be an illogical and unsound argument, because at a General Election, when we are all facing our constituents, no man knows whether he is going to be appointed a Minister or not.
The principal reason, however, which prompts me to support the Bill is a business reason. I do not approach these nonparty matters from a political standpoint. I prefer to look at them through the eyes of the business man, and satisfy myself as to what is the best thing in the interests of all concerned. We must remember the intolerable strain of a contested election. Most of us, and especially those who represent large county constituencies, will agree that an election is a great strain, particularly on a man who is past the prime of life, and it seems to be the accepted rule that men are appointed Ministers—I will not say when they have fallen into the sere and yellow leaf, but certainly when they are past the prime of life. An election is an intolerable mental, physical and pecuniary strain upon those people, and is not an experience calculated to fit them for the important duties which they are called upon to perform. It is no use arguing that the expenses involved in an election of this 1470 sort are negligible, or that they can be recouped. Most of the Members of this House, probably, are not rich men, and election expenses are a very serious drain upon private resources. In a county constituency, you cannot conduct a strenuous election campaign for much less than £1,000, and it seems to me there is a, strong business argument that Members who are appointed as Ministers should not have to undergo that serious expense.
To-day Ministers are faced with most complex and difficult problems. There never was a time in the history of the country when Ministers had so many and so difficult questions to solve—questions which arise in new aspects almost from day to day. It is reasonable to expect that the duties and responsibilities of Ministers are not going to be lightened during the years which lie ahead. Probably those responsibilities will be greatly added to, and for all these reasons, the arguments in favour of the Bill seem unanswerable. I am sure some of my hon. Friends opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)—who, I am sorry is not in his place—will agree with me in favouring this Bill if we can imagine the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley as the representative of a large county constituency instead of being the representative of a nice, compact borough; and if in the near future he were to be offered a responsible position such as that of Secretary of State for Scotland, he would I am sure prefer to sit down and study the duties and responsibilities of his new office, and those Blue Books and Command Papers which in the Debate of last night he found so difficult to understand, rather than face the ordeal and the strain and the turmoil of an election. I should like to read a short passage from the speech of Mr. Bonar Law when the 1919 Bill was first before the House. He summed up in a few sentences all the arguments in favour of the Bill then presented, and I do not think his statement of them could be improved upon by any Member in the House to-day. He said:You have to take, in the first place, the inconvenience to the public service of taking men away from their work; in the second place, that it does tend to limit the choice of men to fill offices; and, in the third place, that this system is a handicap on men engaged in political life who have no private means. I believe I have put this case as I see it as fairly as I can, and if 1471 Members of the House do what has never been done before, that is, put away from their minds the idea that a particular course will damage the Government or help it, and will look at the question simply from the point of view of what, in the long run, will be in the public interest, I have really little doubt that they will come to the conclusion that the course the Government suggest is the right one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1919; col. 621, Vol. 112.]For those reasons, as well as reasons which I have imperfectly attempted to outline to the House myself, I propose to give the Bill my support.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
Although the Bill is not a long one, I think it right that we should recognise that it will make, if passed into law, a definite constitutional change. Therefore we are under an obligation to consider very carefully the constitutional point involved before we come to a decision. I have heard nearly all the Debate, and I have not, so far, heard many arguments of substance against the Bill, except the one point that in all forms of government you have to be careful to avoid tyranny. Whereas in some days and in some countries it may have been the monarch who represented the tyranny, and in other countries an oligarchy, in our country and in all democratic countries it is the Executive Government of the day which may become the tyranny if its powers are not adequately checked by the elected Assembly. When we come to examine the matter fully, I do not think the question of the powers of the Executive really arise. I listened to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crook-shank), who suggested a hypothetical corrupt Prime Minister who might exploit the new powers which this Bill would give him by appointing a large number of people to new offices. I think my hon. and gallant Friend has overlooked the fact that you cannot appoint people to new offices until, first of all, Parliament has created those offices. You cannot cheerfully appoint new Secretaries of State and new Ministers and new Parliamentary Secretaries until authority has been created for those appointments; therefore, that danger which he has conjured up is, I think, entirely imaginary, but he pushed the point rather further.
1472 He suggested that this power might be used for the purpose of conferring Cabinet Ministers' pensions on a large number of people. At the present time there is no one in this country holding a Cabinet Minister's pension, partly because many of the ex-Cabinet Ministers have been of short service and others are sufficiently well-to-do not to need to claim it, and partly because, unfortunately in my opinion, political parties have rather campaigned against the idea that a person who has been a member of a Cabinet should ever afterwards draw a pension. He, however, overlooks the fact that these pensions, which are in two classes, are limited in number and I think the period of qualification is four years' service as a Cabinet Minister, and, lastly, they can only obtain them if they can substantiate, I think to the Treasury, the fact that their means are inadequate to maintain the position which they occupy as a result that they once held office as a Cabinet Minister.
The hon and gallant Member for Gainsborough suggested that the Prime Minister was not limited in his choice of those whom he might promote, owing to the fact that any individual Member of this House might occupy a shaky seat, because he could recommend to His Majesty that a man, might be created a Peer, but many people would prefer to be in this House rather than in the other place. I, for one, have no desire, little as my chances are, to go to another place, because I find myself much too comfortable in this one.
In dealing with this question, of course, we are all open to a little personal attack. It may be that the eloquent speeches in support of this Bill have been made by what might be called members of the alternative Government, and that we are all thinking of what might happen in our own individual cases when adequate notice has been taken of our abilities. I want to say that it is not that which is influencing me. The fidelity of my constituents is so great that my re-election would be assured in any event, and so great is the fidelity of my constituents that no fewer than 16 Members of the party opposite have in despair visited my constituency within quite a short period 1473 of time. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman who interrupts was the first of the gang.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Quite apart from that, we have established in fact a good tradition, because when the gentleman who is now the Viceroy of India was first appointed to an office of profit under the Crown, in spite of the pressure that was brought to bear on the Conservative organisation at Reading by outside influences, they decided to let him have a walk-over, and, that tradition having once been established, I feel no personal interest in this issue. But I can think of members of both the party to which I belong and other parties whose careers have really been spoiled by the operation of the existing law. I do not want to mention names, but I can think of one or two in the last 15 years whose careers really have been spoiled, and one whose career was nearly spoiled, but his resilience was so great that he recovered. I remember that the present Home Secretary first entered this House through the operation of turning the present Chancellor of the Exchequer out of a seat in Manchester. I quite agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can recover from a little thing like that.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
But there are others who do not possess the same measure of resilience, although they may possess all the qualities necessary to serve their country faithfully in some Ministerial office. I think all of us appreciated the point made by the Prime Minister, that it is a serious thing for many men who have obtained an office of profit that they have to seek re-election, having regard to the great expense involved. It is true that all parties, to some extent and in different ways, may help those of their members who are not well endowed in the matter of election expenses, but it would be very much better if in every case that assistance were unnecessary. It is essential that every man in this House should be as free as it is possible for him to be. It is not desirable that he should 1474 have obligations or be tied to interests or even to a party caucus.
There is no getting away from the tact that the high cost of elections, coupled with the fact that to-day many men of very moderate means seek and succeed in obtaining election, means a tendency for people to be tied to a caucus in a manner that is very undesirable, but there is, after all, what I call the blackmailing of a Minister on seeking reelection, the concentration of opposition, not very often primarily from his own constituency, but the invading of that constituency by the representatives of all kinds of interested organisations. It is true that the Representation of the People Act, 1918, did restrict the power of these organisations to interfere in elections, but I am afraid it is true to say that at every by-election money is spent by outside organisations working independently of the candidate which in fact influence the elections, and the law is to a certain extent a dead letter.
These organisations will always concentrate on a, Minister at the time of a by-election, because they think it is an opportunity to blackmail him. We all remember the recent example, when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture was seeking re-election, but, to his credit, he entirely ignored the pressure that was brought to bear on him, and I think the electors realised that attempts were being made to force him unfavourably to come to decisions before he had had adequate opportunity to consider them in their whole bearing. Every person, however, who seeks reelection may not be seeking re-election for a constituency where the prospects are so favourable in any event, and every Minister may not possess quite the same degree of moral courage as that possessed by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture.
The point has been frequently urged of the interruption of work due to the necessity for seeking re-election, and it is not only a question of the time lost during the actual election. I do not know how it, strikes other hon. Members, but I think an election is about the hardest work you can go through. It is an immense physical and mental strain, and a man who has had an election ought to have a few days' holiday before he starts 1475 any other work, but it is very frequently the case that a Minister has to return from a by-election and at once plunge into a heavier burden of work than he will normally have been carrying, and that is undesirable from the point of view of the public interest. Then we have the inconsistency of the present position. I have tried to find out exactly what offices are technically offices of profit in this connection, and what are not. There appear to be 44 Ministerial offices at the moment which are technically offices of profit, and, I think, 23 which are not. It seems to me wholly inconsistent to force an hon. Member who may have become a Civil Lord of the Admiralty to seek re-election because he will be paid £1,000, and yet to allow the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who, I think, is paid £2,000, to be appointed without the necessity of seeking re-election. There is no logic about the scheme from beginning to end.
Originally, as has been carefully and fully pointed out, the law was established to deal with a pressing danger of the time. Those who advocate a change in everything that is unlikely to come about, and resist a change in everything that seems to be sensible—the members of the Socialist party—are willing to allow the present law to continue, though it ought to be altered. Yet none of them seem to realise what is a much more more pressing danger, not covered by this, and which ought to be covered. It is within the gift of the Executive of the day, for example, to appoint certain people to directorships of the Suez Canal. It also lies within their gift, I think, to appoint certain people directors of the Dyestuffs Corporation. The same applies in the case of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. There are only three such companies at the moment. I can visualise a reactionary advocacy of individualism, and a reactionary advocacy of Socialism which which might lead to the creation, in this country, of a large number of public companies in which a predominant part of the shareholding was in the hands of the State and the remainder in the hands of private enterprise, with certain directors appointed by the State.
I realise the system may grow up in this country. If it does so to any material extent the Government of the day 1476 would have immense patronage, and probably very profitable patronage to those who benefited by it. That patronage would be granted to people who in respect of it were not subject to the observation and criticism of their colleagues in this House, whereas a Minister, once appointed, his daily work is carried out under our observation and supervision, and we are well able to judge whether the man is able of doing his job or incapable of doing it. Men might be appointed to these directorships by a semi-State corporation who might be quite incompetent of doing their jobs. We should not know, and that kind of patronage might develop until the Prime Minister might hold a majority of his party literally in pawn by virtue of the offices he has conferred upon them.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government members of the Suez Canal directorate are unable to sit in this House?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) is a director of the Suez Canal and is a Member of this House.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I think it is perfectly true that the practice has been that when a Member of this House is appointed a director of the. Suez Canal, he shall, in fact, resign his Membership of this House, but I very much doubt if there is any statute to that effect. I have been trying to find out to-day whether there was any statutory requirement to that effect. So far as I am aware there is not. I think that is also true—though I am not certain—of the Dyestuffs Corporation, and also true of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. In any event if there is a restriction in the case of these three companies, it is not a general restriction, but a restriction limited to the particular company, because these restrictions are incorporated in every Act of Parliament which brings into being a new company. Many of the companies, as a matter of fact, were brought into existence without any special Act of Parliament at all. Therefore the kind of thing to which I am referring might come into being. I should like if someone on the Front Bench would clear up the doubt in the minds of some of us.
1477 When the Prime Minister was speaking he said it was possible for a Prime Minister to move his Ministers about. I think there are limitations. He pointed out that when Lord Oxford took on himself the office of Secretary of State for War at the time of Major-General Seely's resignation in 1914 he had to seek reelection, and, in fact, was re-elected on 8th April, 1914. Also, it has been pointed out in debate that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was appointed Minister of Munitions in 1915 it was necessary for him to seek re-election. On the other hand, I think it is the case that a Secretary of State can be transferred to another Secretaryship of State without the necessity of a by-election because Secretaries of State are deemed to have equal powers and can perform the duties of each other.
I should like to know what are the limitations of the Prime Minister's powers to move around people who already possess offices of profit? As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister, as Prime Minister, would not need to seek re-election. When the Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury it is in that capacity he is paid. That is the office of profit which he holds, for the Prime Ministership is not in itself an office of profit, and it, is a little open to doubt whether the office exists at all. At least, it did not exist in any real sense before 1906, when the late King conferred definite precedence on the then Prime Minister, the late Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, and, I presume, by that, gave the office a definite and a real existence. The point was raised by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico), who moved the rejection of the Bill, that when a man was elected he was elected as a Member of Parliament, and if he became a Minister, and, therefore, tied to the Government policy, it was right that his constituents should have the opportunity of saying whether they still wished him to act as their Member of Parliament or as, what I call, a "tied Member," because a Member of the Government is supposed to share in the views of the Government as a whole. That argument, if it is true, also applies to subsidiary Ministers. Again, if there was a change of Government and somebody became Prime Minister who had not 1478 sufficient wealth and became Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister and Leader of the House, he could not do so without the necessity of seeking re-election.
What surprises me in the attitude of the Opposition to this Bill is the inconsistency of the action of hon. Members opposite. We were told by the Seconder of the Bill that in the early days this House was really full of what might be called creatures of the Court. The hon. Member pointed out that in the old days a turnspit in the King's kitchen was a Member of this House. I would like to say in passing that I wish he were so still, because I think he would be an acquisition to the Kitchen Committee. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), who seconded the rejection of this Bill, pointed out that we were not entitled to draw conclusions from what prevailed in Australia and the United States of America on the ground that these countries were Federal countries. I do not quite see what difference that makes. I am sorry that the hon. Member for York is not now present. The relationship between these Ministers and their Parliaments seem to me not to depend upon the precise powers of the Parliament. In this Parliament we have complete powers of legislation in regard to all matters. The United States can only legislate in respect of those matters which are reserved to Congress, and are not reserved to the State legislatures in the various States.
It is true that the United States Minister is debarred from being a member of Congress, but, if I may say so, this is an outstanding defect of the American Constitution. The fact that no member of the American Government is in a position to pledge his Parliament has been a cause of great distress to our world. I suppose the action of the States subsequent to the Treaty of Versailles has been the cause of more trouble in Europe than anything else. It rests entirely on the fact that the Executive of the American Government is entirely dependent on the legislative power, and therefore no American Minister signing a Treaty can give any undertaking that he can, in fact, get his Parliament to ratify that Treaty, for the ratifying power lies with the elected Assembly. I must apologise for occupying the time of the House. The problem, however, is one of real constitutional importance. I think the 1479 time has come for a change, and if one votes in favour of a profound constitutional change, it is only right that one should state the reasons which animate him.
§ Mr. DUFF COOPER
Unlike most Members I have heard every speech delivered during this Debate, and I have only heard five speeches delivered against the Bill, which is an extraordinarily small proportion if, as I understand, the whole of one party is going to vote against it. Of those five speeches one, by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), was really not an attack on the Bill at all, but an attack on the whole Constitution as it exists to-day, and the argument, so far as I could follow it, was that Parliamentary Cabinet Government is so hopelessly undemocratic as it exists that it is not worth reforming at all and you have got to get rid of it entirely. Obviously, it is not up to any Member of this House to reply to that kind of charge. But I would only say, in passing, that when hon. Members on this side are led away by speeches in the country to say their opponents do not wish to reform, do not wish to better existing conditions but merely wish to abolish everything, a speech like that of the hon. Member for Springburn entirely justifies them, because it is an argument we believe held by a great many on the other side that you had better make the conditions of the working class worse in order that you may have that complete reform and real revolution to which some of them look forward. That leaves the opposition of the Bill to only four speeches, two of which came from these benches.
The first two speeches setting out the whole slender case to its best advantage against the Bill were made by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dunnico) and the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott). I cannot agree with the Noble Lord who on these benches welcomed the hon. Member for Consett as a Tory. The hon. Member for Consett is a reactionary, and Tories are not reactionary. On the other hand, I very much suspect the hon. Member for York of being a Whig. The origin of this difficulty we have come up against this afternoon, the origin of this section in the Act of Settlement, was a pure trick of the 1480 Whigs to limit the power of the Crown, and it is futile for the hon. Member for York to try to pretend it did secure the country against corruption or undue influence of the Crown or the Executive. He knows as well as I do, that in the 100 years which followed the Act, above all the first 20 or 30 years, under a Whig Minister, and the very Minister to whom he himself referred, more was done in the way of corruption of this House and country under the protection of that Act of Settlement than was ever done before or since. Therefore, the very object for which the section in the Act of Settlement was first designed never succeeded in carrying it out at all, and why should we perpetuate it to-day? Incidentally, I should like to correct another historical error when the hon. Gentleman said that the Minister to whom he referred, that bad Whig Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, could speak no language but his own. He had one saving grace. Sir Robert Walpole could speak Latin and we have reason to know that the present holder of the high office he filled is a true upholder of that classical tradition.
The most important speech delivered against the Bill, owing to the position held by the right hon. Gentleman, was the speech of the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson), and I must say his speech tended to change the character of the Debate, because he introduced a party complexion to the issue. He tried to make it a party question, but has not succeeded because only one Member of his party has dared to get up since and support the line he took. However, I understood him to say that they on those benches could not vote for this Bill, and, occupying the position he does, I suppose that means that the Members on those benches have received instructions not to vote for it. It came as a remarkable commentary on the speech of the Prime Minister, who gave his, reasons with great logic and eloquence why he would support the Bill, leaving it absolutely free to his supporters to do as they liked, to be followed immediately by the right hon. Gentleman, who gave no reason for voting against the Bill, but said no one on those benches was going to vote for it. What were the reasons? That the last General Election was an abnormal election. I should like him to remind me of any election in his 1481 memory or in the memory of man which has not been abnormal. Does he look forward to the day when he will be sitting on those benches, or any benches here, and would hear the defeated party come down and say, "This has been an absolutely normal election"?
Every successful Government has always been told after a General Election that they have really been defeated. We have at the present moment the largest majority any Government has had for years. Does the right hon. Gentleman think in the height of his optimism, that when he and his Friends occupy the Government Bench, they will have a larger majority than we have to-day? He may certainly hope to hold that position, but he can hardly hope on the first occasion to be in a stronger position than the present Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) also suggested that this was not the moment for the Government to take this action, because we were so strong and powerful we could do without it. That is the one reason why we of all Governments have the right to introduce this change. If you had a weak Government fighting for its existence, not daring to chance a by-election, how could a Government of that kind bring in such a Bill? They would have no justification.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. I do not in the least complain of this Bill being introduced at this time. I think it quite right to be introduced and carried at this time, but Parliament, having been elected on this basis, ought to make the change for the future.
§ Mr. COOPER
I quite see the right hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not see why we should not alter the Bill between now and the Third Reading in such a way as to make it operative only after the next General Election, although by doing so all the advantages which are accruing, and which the right hon. Gentleman himself pointed out so eloquently, would be put off for four years through a rather unnecessary quibble. Surely hon. Members opposite are very short sighted in opposing this Bill. It is much more to their advantage than to the advantage of any other party. In the first place, they are not likely to hold office with a large majority and are not likely to be in a 1482 position to snap their fingers at by-elections. We are always told that theirs is the poor party, and that we are the rich party. I do not know how true that statement is, but if there is any truth in it then surely this Bill is to their advantage as it reduces the number of elections, reduces the reasons for fighting by-elections, and in that way it surely does confer more benefit on a poor party than upon a rich party. For all these reasons I cannot understand why hon. Members apposite should oppose this Bill and I wish that some independent Member of the party would give us the reasons. We have only had those given by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill in an admirable and moderate speech, but it was the speech of an old reactionary, a Conservative and obscurantist speech.
Apart from the party question, only two arguments have been advanced against the Bill; that is, two substantial arguments. One is that you lessen the opportunity of the electorate to express its opinion. That is true to a certain extent, but only to a very slight extent. That argument, I think, has been completely dealt with by the proof that out of 24 by-elections a year only one or two are due to this cause. The other argument heard originally from the hon. Member for York (Sir J. A. Marriott), is that you are increasing the power of the Executive, a very dangerous and unwise thing to do. This is the really important part of the question raised by this Bill, but as one who looks- forward to the future and from the point of view of Parliamentary and Cabinet Government, not from any party point of view, is this argument true? Is there any danger to-day that the powers of the Executive are becoming too strong? At the present moment you have the most powerful Government you have had for many years, but there is no complaint of this nature. Hon. Members opposite are very industrious in raising causes of complaint and they are held back by no kind of modesty in drawing attention to anything that is wrong, but they have never raised any complaint of this kind at all. They do not pretend that they have been tyrannised in any way or that the Government is taking an arbitrary and unfair advantage of its strength, and if that were really the case surely they would have found it out.
1483 3.0 P.M.
Let us look at other countries. Is that what has happened in other countries? On the contrary I believe the very opposite. I believe there are signs that Parliamentary Government is breaking down in many countries in Europe at the present time simply because under the Parliamentary system you cannot get a sufficiently strong executive. It has broken down in Italy and in Spain, and there are signs that it is on its last legs in France—and it is simply because you cannot get a sufficiently strong executive Government. God forbid that I should prophesy as to the future of Parliamentary parties in this country, but there is an opinion in this country that we are progressing towards the group system, that there may be a division in the Party of hon. Members opposite and that the present position of the Liberal party will be improved. That is not a popular view but it is one which I hold, and in the days to come we are not going to have a large majority on one side of the House or the other but a group system, which is deplorable really from the point of view of Parliamentary Government. The chief danger of it is that it undermines the strength of the executive.
Take the position in France. I do not know how many Governments there have been within the last few years in France, but I do know that in France they are afraid of a coup d'Etat which will put an end to the operations of Parliamentary government altogether. If they had had to face this additional difficulty that in every Government on taking office, every little Government which comes to an end in a fortnight, every Minister had had to go to the country, leave Paris in the middle of a crisis and fight a by-election, then you would have had the system rendered absolutely impossible. Looking at it from the point of view of one who believes in the system of Parliamentary government, who believes in the system under which we live in this country, I would rather see a strong Socialist Government in power here than a weak Socialist Government. I would rather see a Socialist Government in a position really to put into practice the theories they preach and which need not make the excuse that they had not a majority and were unable to fulfil the plans which they bad so often proposed. 1484 Speaking from that point of view I maintain that this Bill is a move in the right direction, and removes an anomaly which ought no longer to exist. I hope there is some independence in the Labour party yet. We were given a striking proof of it yesterday and I hope we shall have another proof of it to-day. Surely it would be deplorable if the whole party that stands for progress and reform meekly follows its leaders into the lobby to vote for no change in the Constitution and for leaving everything exactly as it was in the days of Queen Anne.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have listened with great pleasure to the last two speeches. I am in favour of this change, because it removes an absurd anachronism—and what is the use of any of us troubling about a law which was suitable for the time of Queen Anne and which ought to be as dead as She is commonly reputed to be. There is no substance in it. It will have this benefit, although I do not know that this will commend itself entirely to the Treasury Bench. If the party is not satisfied, it will always be possible for it to change its Government without putting the country to the trouble and harrass of a General Election. You will be able to change your whole Cabinet, and that is possibly desirable, because nothing irritates the mass of the electorate more than a constant series of elections. After all, the electors know that whatever party is in power the working of the constitution is bound to go on. It has taken hundreds of years to build up. An eminent writer once said, "There is a lot of ruin in the nation," and it would be very difficult for any particular party to seriously impinge upon the national strength, even if it was encouraged by foreign interference or by a letter similar to that which did so much damage to the party opposite in the last Election.
I think it is desirable that the Prime Minister of the day should be able to have a selection for suitable Members of his Cabinet over the whole range of his party. It is perfectly absurd that the Cabinet, in making selections, should be limited to those gentlemen who happen to enjoy "cushy" seats, very often solely because of their financial status. I am sure, as the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) has said, that it has ham-struck and spoiled the opportunities 1485 of many Members of Parliament. But I am not speaking from the point of view of Members themselves. It is in the interests of the country and of the Government that the Prime Minister should have the opportunity of selecting his colleagues from the widest possible area. He ought not to have at the back of his head the thought, "Will this fellow manage to hold his seat or not?" The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) pointed out, though I think he was wrong in the number of his kings—I think he said George III, though he assured me it was George I—that the Septennial Act was passed in 1715. It was passed because the Whig Oligarchy, a very evil oligarchy, knew that the country was so enthusiastically in favour of the restoration of the Stuart monarchy that if they went to a General Election the Stuarts would be restored: so they hocussed the Constitution and the people, as the Whigs always do. It was a great disaster for this country that they did so, because if that election had taken place, we would never have had George III as King, we would never have lost the American Colonies, and never have had the War. That is the price we paid.
That is the reason why I support this Bill. It will allow the Prime Minister better opportunities of selection amongst his colleagues. There is a good deal in what one hon. Member said about putting a Member of Parliament to the trouble of a by-election just after, possibly, he has fought a General Election. He made the remark that no man knew at the time of a General Election whether he was to be a Minister or not. That is not quite correct because, if I recollect aright, the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman selected his
§ Cabinet in 1905 and they all stood for election in the General Election of 1906. All knew they were going to have their jobs if they got back again, and all did, with one exception. I think they had been appointed three months before the General Election. It must be an intolerable hardship that a man who has stood at a General Election should run the risk, after the first nine months, of having to face the music again. It is far too great a strain both upon the man's purse and upon his energy. A General Election is an enormous strain, and if a candidate has to go over moor and plain and across lochs in getting about his constituency, it makes very great demands upon him.
§ For these reasons I support this Bill, and I urge Members opposite not to take the petty, narrow view that because they do not happen to be in office at this time they can oppose it. A day may come. It is always possible that an issue may grow up on which they can display more discretion in their speeches than they showed in the past Election, that certain communications from foreign sources may be forgotten by the general public, and that ultimately they may get a majority. The change embodied in this Bill is in the general interest of the Constitution, and to stick to the present mediaeval state of affairs reflects no credit upon the reforming spirit of the Labour party. I trust to see the majority of them go into the Lobby with us.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the word 'now stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 143; Noes, 74.1487
|Division No. 15.]||AYES.||[3.10 p.m.|
|Albery, Irving James||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s. M.)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Fairfax, Captain J. G.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Fermoy, Lord|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Finburgh, S.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Cooper, A. Duff||Forrest, W.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Cope, Major William||Foster, Sir Harry S.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Crawfurd, H. E.||Gates, Percy|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham|
|Brass, Captain W.||Cunliffe, Sir Joseph Herbert||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Goff, Sir Park|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Dalziel, Sir Davison||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Davidson, J. (Hertl'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Grant, J. A.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Elveden, Viscount||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Macquisten, F. A.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Harris, Percy A.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Harrison, G. J. C.||Margesson, Captain D.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Spender Clay, Colonel H.|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Murchison, C. K.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Nuttail, Ellis||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||Pennefather, Sir John||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Huntingfield, Lord||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Tasker, Major R. I.|
|Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Philipson, Mabel||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. F. S.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Price, Major C. W. M.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Raine, W.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Rees, Sir Beddoe||Wells, S. R.|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Remnant, Sir James||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Rentoul, G. S.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Looker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Locker-Lampoon, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Looker, Herbert William||Ropner, Major L.||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W. R., Sowerby)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|MacIntyre, Ian||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mr. Clayton and Mr. O'Neill.|
|Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Skelton, A. N.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Scurr, John|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hurd, Percy A.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Baker, Walter||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Barnes, A.||Lansbury, George||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Batey, Joseph||Lee, F.||Snell, Harry|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Lunn, William||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Briscoe, Richard George||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Broad, F. A.||MacLaren, Andrew||Stephen, Campbell|
|Bromley, J.||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Bullock, Captain M.||March, S.||Thurtle, E.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Maxton, James||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Naylor, T. E.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Paling, W.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Duncan, C.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Dunnico, H.||Potts, John S.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Gosling, Harry||Remer, J. R.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Riley, Ben||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Groves, T.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Hardle, George D.||Saklatvala, Shapurji||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. T.|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Scrymgeour, E.||Henderson.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.