§ 52. Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
asked the Minister of Labour if he will make arrangements so that information can be obtained by means of questions in this House as to the administration of the commissioners appointed to administer the means test in the county of Durham?
The responsibility for decisions rests entirely with the commissioners in the same way that it rests with local authorities carrying out corresponding duties in other areas. My right hon. Friend does not consider, therefore, that arrangements could properly be made for dealing with this administration by means of question and answer.
§ Mr. BATEY
The Parliamentary Secretary has not answered the question on the Order Paper as to whether the Minister is going to answer questions put by Members from the county of Durham. Are we to understand that the Minister of Labour has gone on strike and will not answer any questions from the county of Durham?
I said that my right hon. Friend does not consider that arrangements can properly be made to deal with these matters of administration by means of question and answer in the House.
§ Mr. DICKIE
Are we to understand that the only method whereby hon. Members can obtain information is by direct appeal to the commissioners themselves?
As I said the other day, the commissioners are in precisely the same position as the public assistance authorities. No questions are addressed to my right hon. Friend with respect to the administration by public assistance authorities in individual cases, and the same thing applies to the commissioners. It is open to hon. Members, if they wish to do so, to write to the commissioners and to ask for information. If the commissioners can give it, I have no doubt that they will do so.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
On a point of Order. Is it not a well-known rule that a Minister in charge is under an obligation to answer to this House in respect of any person employed by his Department, whose salary is partly provided by this House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I dealt with that question the other day. A similar question was put to me on that point. Really, it is not for me to decide.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is it not a fact that these commissioners are responsible to the Minister, and that if they fail in their duty the only person we can hold responsible is the Minister, whereas the public assistance committee can itself control its officers? If this House has no power, and the Minister has no power, I should like to know who has?
I understand that this question is going to be raised on the Adjournment, possibly to-morrow. It would be more convenient to discuss the matter in detail in Debate than to deal with it by question and answer.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is it not a fact that the position taken up by the Minister violates the constitution? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Certainly. Here is a public official, whose salary is partly paid by this House, and is responsible to the Minister, and we cannot call in question his conduct. It is an extraordinary doctrine to lay down, and I protest against it.
The action taken by my right hon. Friend in appointing the commissioners was taken under an Order-in-Council issued in accordance with an Act passed by this House, and it must be assumed that when the House of Commons passed that Act it intended the consequences of that Act.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is the Minister aware that there is nothing in the Act laying down the terms and conditions under which these commissioners should be appointed, which removes them from the jurisdiction of this House—nothing at all?
§ Mr. MABANE
Would not this question be avoided if Socialist public assistance committees did their job?
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
From the question put by the Leader of the Opposition, and the answer given by the Minister, is it not a fact that the action taken under the Order-in-Council in no way affects the constitutional position, and that all officers who are appointed by Ministers must be regarded as having responsibility to the Minister, who can be questioned in this House?