HC Deb 05 March 1934 vol 286 cc1538-46

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £642, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934, for the Salaries of the Office of the Lord Privy Seal.


This Supplementary Estimate is due to the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick (Mr. Eden) as Lord Privy Seal. That change in the holder of the office of Lord Privy Seal would not normally require a Supplementary Estimate but the Leader of the House, who was my hon. Friend's predecessor in this office, drew no salary as Lord Privy Seal, which appointment he held concurrently with his appointment as Lord President of the Council. Hence no estimate for the Lord Privy Seal's office was included in the original Estimates for 1933. The salary of the Lord Privy Seal has of recent years been £5,000 or £2,000 per annum, according to the duties performed. The salary of my hon. Friend will be £2,000 a year less the 15 per cent. deduction which Ministers drawing that salary suffer under the economy cuts.

The Disarmament Conference and other specialised activities of the League of Nations have required the almost constant attendance of a Minister. In fact, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has spent no less than 23½ weeks on duty abroad during the course of the last two years. It is obviously inconvenient that any particular phase of the international work connected with the office of Foreign Secretary should necessitate such frequent and prolonged absences on his part. The most satisfactory course to pursue in these circumstances seemed at first to be to arrange for the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to assist the Secretary of State by taking his place at Geneva from time to time. This has often involved negotiations with the foreign Ministers of other countries, and it has been felt desirable that our representative should have full ministerial status. It was accordingly decided to confer upon my hon. Friend, whom perhaps the Committee will permit me to say was so eminently suited, the appointment of Lord Privy Seal, with the intention that he should continue to assist the Foreign Secretary, particularly so far as the representation of His Majesty's Government at Geneva was concerned.

As Lord Privy Seal, however, he could not continue to discharge all the functions of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, and it became necessary to appoint someone else in his place. This was all the more necessary as both the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal had, on occasion, to be absent at the same time. In response to views widely expressed, it was decided that the new Under-Secretary who was to be appointed to succeed my hon. Friend should have a seat in another place in order that foreign policy might authoritatively be expounded there by a representative of the Foreign Office. In the view of His Majesty's Government, the appointment of my hon. Friend as Lord Privy Seal, and of my Noble Friend Lord Stanhope as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State provided the most convenient arrangement. Therefore, it devolves upon me to ask the Committee to approve this Estimate to meet the salary of my hon. Friend for the remainder of the year, together with the appropriate secretarial assistance.

3.23 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman has given us an interesting account of this additional expenditure. The present holder of the office of Lord Privy Seal is deservedly popular with all Members of the House of Commons and none of us would grudge him an adequate salary, but I am bound to say that the explanation of this change has struck me as a little insufficient. We had some two years in which the Foreign Secretary, we were told, was constantly overseas at Geneva at Disarmament Conferences, at the League of Nations and everything else, and he seems to have managed to carry on for a very long time before it was found necessary to supplement his efforts. We are now told that the present Lord Privy Seal has been appointed to do functions which should not be performed by an Under-Secretary but should be done by someone with full ministerial status. If that is so, I cannot understand why the present holder of the office has not become a member of the Cabinet. After all, that is the great dividing line between Cabinet Ministers and other Ministers. The authoritative status is that derived from taking part in decisions of policy, and we have here a departure from all precedents in the Lord Privy Seal not being a member of the Cabinet. I think that there are probably other reasons as to why we are to have this additional expenditure. It is natural in a coalition Government that there should be a great deal of criticism of holders of office, and you get demands from this section or that section for changes. It seems to me that the policy of this Government is to keep on with the old team, but to add someone else.


I hardly think that this question arises upon this Vote. It should arise, of course, on the Vote for the salary of the Prime Minister.


With great respect, Captain Bourne, we have here an additional Minister appointed, and the question which arises naturally is, why we require an additional salary for an additional Minister?


This is not the case of an additional office, but of an additional salary, and we are limited strictly on this Vote to the necessity of paying for it.


The two offices of Lord President of the Council and Lord Privy Seal were held by one individual. They have now been separated, and, therefore, we have another individual brought in. That necessitates an additional salary. The reason given as to why an additional person is required is extra work. The point I am making is that, if it is extra work, a long time has been allowed to elapse before the extra appointment, and, with great respect, I submit that the Committee are entitled to consider the possible reason for an additional Minister, and whether the practice of appointing additional Ministers is going any further. Hitherto we had two representatives of the Foreign Office, and holders of more or less sinecure offices have sometimes been given work. We have rumours that there may be another new Minister appointed soon to act with one of the other Ministers against whom criticism has been made.


I do not think we can go into the question of the possibility of the appointment of new Ministers on this Vote. The Vote is solely a question of whether the present holder of the office of Lord Privy Seal should or should not receive a salary, and whether he should or should not be provided with a certain staff. The general question of Ministers must arise on the Vote for the Prime Minister's salary.


I submit that we have a Government who are an economy Government, and we have here a step taken in which an additional Minister and an additional salary are brought in, and I am merely criticising it as a matter of tendency. We have to vote on this question. We all agree that the present holder of the office of Lord Privy Seal should be paid, but we are entitled to consider how far it is an expression of a tendency in which we are to have large additions made to the Ministry. I am criticising the reason given by the Financial Secretary of the need for this extra salary, and whether in fact it is caused by increased work at the Foreign Office or by dissensions in the Government.

I hope that I shall be able to get a full reply upon the matter. We should like to hear something more of the exact work which the Lord Privy Seal has to do, and of the demarcation between the work of the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal; how far the Lord Privy Seal is really only a glorified Under-Secretary, and how far he is the representative abroad directly of the Cabinet. It is a very unusual thing. I think that all Members of the Committee will agree that the holder of a great office of State, the Lord Privy Seal, should be entrusted with the duty of taking part with his Cabinet colleagues in decisions of policy. We have it from the Financial Secretary that the purpose of making him Lord Privy Seal was to give him special weight. If, as a matter of fact, he is only an Under-Secretary he can have no more weight as Lord Privy Seal than as Under-Secretary, but if his powers and responsibilities are greater than those of an Under-Secretary then we want to know exactly what they are.

3.30 p.m.


If the House approve of this Vote for the Lord Privy Seal's salary, which I am sure none of us grudge in any way, can we have an assurance that it will not be taken as showing the general approval of the House of Ministers spending so much of their time abroad? There is a very strong feeling in the country that more might have been done if Ministers had spent less time abroad and had attended more to their offices at home. Can we be informed whether it is the opinion of the Government that recent events have shown that practical benefit has been obtained by Ministers spending so much of their time abroad?


The hon. Member is now debating the question of Foreign Policy and not the salary of the Lord Privy Seal.


Before we vote this salary of £2,000, I think the House ought to have an assurance from the Government that it will not be taken as approval by the House of an additional salary being paid because Ministers spend so much of their time abroad. I have said all that I desired to say on the matter.

3.32 p.m.


Is there to be no reply to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee)? We are asked to approve the payment of a salary of £2,000 and we are entitled to know what the work of the Lord Privy Seal is to be. He is not going to get a salary simply for holding the office. He has been specially appointed to do special work and the House and the country are entitled to know what that special work is. No one questions the capabilities of the hon. Member or the great services which he has already rendered to the Foreign Secretary and the Government, but in the special circumstances of his appointment we ought to know what his special work is to be. We question the right of the Government to vote this small sum of money and unless we get a satisfactory answer we shall raise the propriety of it in the country and shall challenge the right to vote money without the consent and knowledge of the House. Seeing that there is a National Government we realise that no one could do the work better than the Lord Privy Seal, but we want to know what is the division of functions between the Lord Privy Seal and the right hon. Gentleman who, we assume, will still be in charge of foreign policy.

3.34 p.m.


I take it that the Lord Privy Seal has been appointed for a special purpose. He has been on the Continent to explain our memorandum in regard to disarmament and to see if certain Governments would accept it. When he has completed that work will his term of office end, or are the Cabinet appointing a "drawer"? That is a term which we use in pit language. When an additional man is required we call him a "drawer." Is it the intention of the Government when any other special piece of work has to be done to appoint a drawer to help them out of the difficulty? Is the appointment for a period only? When the Lord Privy Seal has succeeded in getting the matter settled favourably, or if it is not settled at all, will his term of office expire, or is it to be continued indefinitely until there is a rearrangement of the Cabinet and he can be found a position in the Cabinet?

3.35 p.m.


I am sure that everybody in the House shares the sentiment that has been expressed by two hon. Members opposite, that there could not be any better selection for the work which calls to be done than the selection which has been made of my hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. The question is raised why there should be an additional Minister concerned with the subject of foreign affairs. On that, perhaps I may be allowed, as the responsible head of the office, to say a few words. The Committee will remember that there is a long tradition that there should be three Ministers associated with the War Office and three Ministers associated with the Admiralty. With certain exceptions there have only been two Ministers associated with the work of foreign affairs. I think the Committee will agree with me, if they take a reasonable view of present day circumstances and policies, that, if it is right to have three Ministers associated with the War Office and three associated with the Admiralty, it is not very unreasonable to take the view, which the Government take, that the work of the Foreign Office just now is so multifarious and complex that it does call for this amount of extra help.

The particular functions which the Lord Privy Seal exercises were stated quite plainly from this Box by the Prime Minister when the appointment was notified. The Prime Minister then said: My hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will continue to assist my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, particularly so far as concerns representation of His Majesty's Government at Geneva."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1934; col. 534, Vol. 285.] That is a completely clear and definite statement. This is not the constitution of a separate department of the Government. It is the increase of one Minister in the department of foreign affairs. While the head of the Foreign Office is responsible for all that goes on there, I think it is plain that the work which the Lord Privy Seal is specially going to undertake is work which it is appropriate to separate and put more particularly in his charge. He acts under the general authority of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and what has happened, as for example quite recently, is that it has been possible for the Foreign Secretary to stay in this country, which I think is usually the right place for the Foreign Secretary to be, and at the same time for a very authoritative representation to be made of this country abroad, as in the Lord Privy Seal's recent visit to the Continent or in the discussion of special international affairs at Geneva.

In these circumstances, it is not necessary to attempt to draw a precise boundary. I might point out that in a previous Government, I think Lord Parmoor had special responsibility in connection with Geneva, while the Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Claycross (Mr. A. Henderson) remained in undivided authority at the Foreign Office. As to the question of Cabinet membership, that is a matter entirely for the Prime Minister. Sometimes particular people are members of the Cabinet and sometimes they are not, for example the Postmaster-General has sometimes not been a member of the Cabinet and sometimes is, as at present.

3.39 p.m.


The Foreign Secretary is a past master in argument, but I think his argument about there being three Ministers at the Admiralty and the War Office, and the analogy he sought to make in regard to the Foreign Office, was rather thin. The difficulty has come about through the meetings at Geneva and, as some of us think, the too numerous conferences held on the continent. We have not been told why it is necessary to drag the Lord Privy Seal away from the duties of his office and despatch him on periodical tours as the representative of the Government in connection with the administration of another office? Another point occurs to me. I may be wrong but it seems to me that the visits of foreign statesmen to Geneva are not now so frequent and that therefore the need for a constant representative of this country at Geneva of great authority has declined. It seems to me an inopportune moment to appoint the Lord Privy Seal to represent this country abroad. In fact, the salary which we are asked to vote to-day is only another subscription, in addition to the very large sum already subscribed by this country, to the League of Nations at Geneva, and the explanation given by the Foreign Secretary and also by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury does not put the matter in any other guise. I should like to know also whether this procedure is to be taken as a precedent. The Committee will be well advised to embark on it with great caution. During the War we had a great epidemic of new ministries being set up to do particular jobs. Is this a reversal to that discredited policy?


I must point out to the right hon. and gallant Member that this is not a case of setting up a new ministry; the office of Lord Privy Seal has been in existence for a long time. This is merely a question as to whether the present occupant should take his salary or not.


Are we not entitled to discuss the work which the Lord Privy Seal has to do in connection with his appointment?


It is perfectly obvious that the Committee can discuss the reasons why the Lord Privy Seal requires a salary when the late Lord Privy Seal did not, but it is not in order to discuss whether there should or should not be a new Ministry.


You have said, Captain Bourne, in different words what I desire to say. It is a little difficult to deal with this subject when the Government throw a cloak over their proceed- ings and thus whet our curiosity. I think we ought to have a further explanation, because although a large sum is not involved matters of importance are involved in these Ministerial arrangements.

Question put, and agreed to.

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