HC Deb 29 March 1927 vol 204 cc1058-61

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to render vacant the representation of any constituency which has not been represented? in the House of Commons for a period of twelve months unless special leave of absence has been granted by the House of Commons. My reasons for bringing this Bill forward are that within very recent times the influence of the House of Commons in this direction has fallen very greatly. Until quite recent Parliamentary times, according to page 180 of "Erskine May," the House of Commons was asked to give leave of absence to any Member who desired to absent himself from our sittings for any prolonged period of time If the House will allow me to read the paragraph to which I refer, Erskine May says: In the absence of any specific orders to that effect, Members are presumed to be in attendance upon their service in Parliament. When they desire to remain in the country, they should apply to the House for 'leave of absence'; for which sufficient reasons must be given, such as urgent business, ill-health, illness in their families, or domestic affliction. Upon these and other grounds leave of absence is given, though it has been refused. As far as I can gather from the history of this House, that Rule began to be slackened about the year 1880, and in 1891 a distinguished predecessor of yours, Mr. Speaker Gully, ruled, when the question was raised in this manner by a question in the House, that that law had now fallen into desuetude. I would like to submit to the House that the method by which Members now disfranchise their constituencies for a very long period is very much less preferable than the old and historic method or the House. As I understand it, a Member of Parliament who finds for some reason, good, bad, or indifferent, that he is unable to represent his constituents gets into touch either with the Chief Whip of the Opposition or with the Patronage Secretary and leaves to them the decision as to whether the reasons for disfranchising his constituents are good or bad. I should like to make it clear to the House that, in asking permission to introduce this Bill, I am not in any way reflecting on hon. Members of all parties in the House who occasionally, through illness, which we all regret, are obliged to absent themselves from our deliberations, but it is, I submit, under this present system of leaving the matter entirely for a party arrangement with the Chief Whip, a question which sometimes may be influenced by other reasons, such as electoral reasons, rather than by the interests of constituency representation in this House.

Not long ago we had the unfortunate case of an hon. and gallant Member, whom we all would have liked to have continued with us, who suddenly went away, and who, according to popular rumour which was never dispersed, was never going to return. It was a long time before his own Whips were able to say where he was domiciled and what his unfortunate constituents were to do during his absence. In that case, of course, in due time—I believe about 14 months after his departure—he applied for a post under the Crown and a by-election took place last year. Now we have a similar case of an hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bosworth (Captain Gee), who commanded the respect of all of us, and whom we should like to be here still, but who unfortunately for reasons which I have no doubt were the best and were most proper reasons was obliged to leave us and go to the other side of the world, and there take up his residence. Under this system of a private arrangement with the Patronage Secretary or the Chief Whip of the Opposition, the House of Commons has no information in the matter at all. We do not know, and the Patronage Secretary has been extremely coy in his attitude towards the Press in the matter. So far he has not told us whether the rumour that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has left us for good is true or not. But we do know that there are 200 square miles of England and 35,000 electors who are not represented, and we have the highly improper circumstance of a party candidate making statements to the public Press in the constituency that when you have Conservative Ministers in power I Conservative candidate dealing with them is as good as a Member of Parliament I do not associate myself with that statement. I do not think it is true or correct. I do not think that Ministers in the discharge of their duties consider from which party the application comes. But I do suggest that is an improper kind of suggestion to which the House has laid itself open, and I ask the House to consider this Bill. There is no hardship in the Bill. I know that the House is always ready to extend sympathetic consideration to illness or bereavement or to reasons of that kind for absence, but when no information is given and when nothing is done, though all kinds of suggestions are made against the Government and against the unfortunate gentleman, who through no fault of his own is subjected to this criticism, I do suggest that the House should allow my Bill to be printed in order that we may consider it and restore to the House the powers which it formerly enjoyed and of which it ought not to be robbed by the Whips or any Government or any party.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Beckett, Mr. MacLaren, Mr. Ritson, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Kirkwood, Mr. Shepherd, and Mr. Lunn.