HC Deb 26 June 1936 vol 313 cc2181-91

2.26 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 50, line 10, to leave out "the Commons," and insert "either."

It is difficult to see why there should be this invidious distinction between the two Houses of Parliament, and that one is no more likely to be unduly influenced than the other. It is no answer to tell us that this provision occurs in other Acts, because we hope we learn a little wisdom as time proceeds. Nor can we accept the point made by the Parliamentary Secretary that we cannot designate members of the other place as politicians, because many of them were familiar to us in this House and have departed to other scenes for various reasons into which it is not our business to inquire. In the other House there is a large representation of persons who are directly interested in this Bill. One need only refer to the position of the Lords Spiritual to realise that they would be in a favourable position to influence any representatives from that House who might be on the Commission.

Another point put against this Amendment in Committee was that Members of Parliament sometimes experience absence from this place, but I imagine that there will be commissioners who are not members of another place, and therefore it would not matter if a Member of Parliament were appointed and were afterwards to suffer defeat and become an ordinary citizen. We accept the Minister's suggestion that it would perhaps be unwise that members of the Commission should be Members of Parliament, but we ask that that restriction should apply to Members of the other House as well. If there is any suggestion of undue influence, it is more likely to arise in a place where there is a large representation of persons directly interested as ecclesiastical tithe-owners in the persons of the Lords Spiritual than there is likely to be in this House.


One of the reasons given in Committee by the Parliamentary Secretary for excluding Members of the House of Commons was that it followed the precedent that had been set in other Acts, as, for example, the Sugar Beet Industry (Re-organisation) Act. It is casting a slight on the House of Commons to insert a provision that Members of the House should not be eligible to sit on the Commission, but that Members of the other place should be eligible. I appreciate some of the arguments of the Minister about interested parties, but Parliament consists of two Chambers, and when hon. Members are translated from this Chamber to the other Chamber they do not relinquish all the interests that they had when they were Members of this Chamber. Therefore, if the argument is that a Member of this House is not eligible because of certain interests that he may have, why should he be eligible when he leaves this House and goes to another place?

2.30 p.m.


We argued this matter to some extent upstairs, and I thought that the arguments then adduced had convinced hon. Members opposite, and that we had gained the assent of the Committee to the proposal in the Schedule. Members in all parts will agree that there is a difference between this House and another place. I address myself particularly to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland), who expressed some sympathy with the Amendment when it was moved in Committee. I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that, after all, the ultimate discretion lies with the appointing Minister. No Minister would appoint somebody who was flagrantly unsuitable for such a post. To appoint one of the Lords Spiritual would clearly be very foolish, but it would be no less foolish to appoint a rural dean. He would quite likely be as vigorous in his opposition to the interests of the tithe-payers as anyone who could be appointed from the bench of bishops. One must allow a certain discretion to the Minister.

My hon. Friends asked why the Minister should fetter himself in his discretion with regard to this honourable House. It is the pride of this House that it does not allow itself to receive patron age of any kind. If the Minister were capable of making appointments from this House, I would ask Opposition Members to consider whether, in fact, it would not be putting the very power of patronage into the hands of Ministers which it is their object to avoid? I do not think they could possibly suggest that all Members of the other place should be disqualified. If it were suggested that both the Members of the Commons and the Lords should be capable of appointment and that we should rely on the discretion of the Minister, there would be a great deal to be said for it, but—


Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to move an Amendment on those lines?


I thought that I had done my best to indicate that to put such a power in the hands of the Minister vis-à-vis Members of this House might be an undesirable reversion to 18th century practices which none of us would like to see reintroduced into our Parliamentary life. With regard to the question whether Members of the other place should be eligible, there is an argument which I have urged before on other Bills and it is one to which one must refer again and again. We have in the other place a reservoir of administrative capacity, access to which it would be a great mistake to waste. There are in the other House such people as we ought to wish to see associated with our public life. There are Members in the other place who are not active politicians. There are ex-Viceroys and great civil servants of one kind and another. Hon. Members say that they sit in a place where the. Lords Spiritual sit and that the Lords Spiritual may exercise, by the rustling of their white lawn sleeves, some subtle influence. I have frequently found, that close association with ecclesiastics does not normally influence one in their favour. Many Members of the other place do not attend there at all except at rare intervals, and they are none the worse for that. Hon. Members of this House, on the other hand, must attend. It is their duty and honour to attend here and take part in our proceedings.

It is well known that an hon. Member who is constantly absent from Debates and Divisions in this House may find himself in a position in which he has to explain those absences, but Noble Lords can be absent from Debates and Divisions in the other House without anybody thinking any the worse of them for it, and, indeed, thinking it more suitable that they should have been absent. I do not think anyone appointed Viceroy of India would be expected to fly back at week-ends to take part in Debates and Divisions in the other House, even on Bills so important as this. The House would be doing ill if it passed this Amendment, and I hope that my hon. Friends will not find it necessary to press it.

2.36 p.m.


I was rather pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to the irresponsibility of peers. He tells us that they are not responsible to anyone in the way that the average Member of Parliament is. The argument used against this Amendment in Committee was that by no stretch of the imagination could we conceive Members of the House of Commons not being politicians, the implication being that Members of the House of Lords are really not politicians. I can testify to quite a few who were in this House, but have gone to another place, who were not very good politicians, but those individuals, political rejects, who are now in the other place could be appointed by the Minister, though Members of this House could not be. The right hon. Gentleman will have had the same experience of the House of Lords as myself. He will have been to the House of Lords when there were, perhaps, not more than a dozen or two dozen peers present; but there is one occasion standing out in my memory when a Bill was before the House of Lords to extend the working hours of coal mines, and then the House of Lords was practically full—indeed, full to overflowing. There were ex-Viceroys there and other Noble Lords who are not seen there for 12 months at a time. When it was thought necessary to keep the workers in their places all those non-politicians turned out to be very active politicians. When the word of command goes out from the Government of the day or when their personal interests are involved, they can become most intense politicians. On the occasion to which I have referred, coal owners by the score were present in the House of Lords, and I am not prepared to say that politicians of that kind, who are so very much interested in their private concerns, are more to be trusted than is the average Member of this House.

But that, really, is not the point I want to submit. Broadly speaking, my point is that there ought to be no discrimination between the Lords and the Commons when these appointments are made. Such discrimination would not be consistent with what we regard as real democracy. I have the utmost confidence in the Minister of Agriculture selecting suitable men or women to discharge the functions of this Commission, but I am not prepared to allow even the right hon. Gentleman such discrimination as is suggested in the Bill, with the implication that a Member of the House of Commons is purely a politician and that a Member of the other place is something either less or more than a politician. There are lots of Members of this House who are not politicians, who never profess to be and never would be, not even if they were in this House for 20 years, and the same remark applies to the, House of Lords, and for that reason I think there ought to be no discrimination between the two Houses. What applies to one House of Parliament ought to apply to another.

2.41 p.m.


In Committee I supported the Amendment. Personally, I cannot see any difference between the two Houses. I have confidence that Members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords would give an equally independent judgment, but I cannot see why a Member of this House should not be capable of administering the Tithe Bill or becoming one of the Commissioners. I think that Members of this House individually or collectively are capable of being quite as independent as Members of the House of Lords, and I shall support the Amendment.

2.43 p.m.


In Committee I appealed to the Minister to stop this nonsense, because I consider it to be nothing else. I am not appealing for Members of the House of Commons to be made Commissioners, but I do not think we ought to make the distinction which the Bill draws between Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in this respect. The arguments used today by the Minister were not up to his usual standard. There was only one touching passage in his speech, that in which he referred to the rustling of the Bishops' lawn sleeves and there I think his reactions revealed in him something of the cold, chill north. In any case I thought his arguments were poor. He said that in the House of Lords there were ex-Viceroys. If anyone has ever known a Viceroy who has come back from India he will agree that he is the last man to be put anywhere, except in a museum, and behind bars at that. He suggested that the Members of the House of Lords are not politically-minded, that there is a passion and a verve among Members of this House which is altogether lacking in that more sober and austere chamber. That would be all very well if it were true, but it does not happen to be true. I recall a Bill in which I was interested and which concerned a question of local rates, on which we spent ten weeks in this House and passed it, but when it got to the other place they killed it in half an hour, they were so dispassionate and so cool and collected. There is no argument here that the other House is not as political and judicial a body as this House. It is not so, and it has never been so.

I have been associated with this House since 1909 and 1910, and I have seen many sights which I will never forget. In the other House I do not want to repeat to the Minister that there were anything but evidences that there were no strong feelings in politics. I have seen them eat the Budget of 1909–10, and I saw them take back the Home Rule Bills. I saw them taking other Bills, not that they wanted to assent to the will of the State; nor was there any feeling that, as they had reached the bench as lawyers, or had become judges that they were assenting to some legal inevitability. In all the time I have known them they have shown themselves just as strong in their political convictions as any body of men in this House, and I have never heard, either in this case or in the case which was advanced under the beet sugar Act, one argument to support us in making this distinction between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

One sentiment has been expressed today, and I hope it will be repeated. We talk a great deal about Democracy in

Division No. 255.] AYES. [2.50 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Dugdale, Major T. L. Mac Donald. Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Duncan, J. A. L. McKie, J. H.
Albery, Sir I. J. Dunne, P. R. R. Maitland, A.
Aske, Sir R. W. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Assheton, R. Ellis, Sir G. Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Errington, E. Maxwell, S. A.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Findlay, Sir E. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Atholl, Duchess of Fox, Sir G. W. G. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Furness, S. N. Mills. Sir F. (Leyton, E.)
Balfour Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J. Mitcheson. Sir G. G.
Baxter, A. Beverley Gluckstein, L. H. Moore. Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Moreing, A. C.
Beaumont. Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J. Munro, P.
Bernays, R. H. Gridley, Sir A. B. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Blindell, Sir J. Grimston, R. V. Palmer, G. E. H.
Bossom, A. C. Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake) Patrick, C. M.
Boulton, W. W. Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Penny, Sir G.
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Hamilton, Sir G. C. Petherick, M.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Hanbury, Sir C. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Bull, B. B. Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Butler, R. A. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Ramsbotham, H.
Cary, R. A. Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.) Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)
Channon, H. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Holmes, J. S. Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Ropner, Colonel L.
Chorlton, A. E. L. Howitt, Dr. A. B. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Hudson, R. S. (Southport) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Hume, Sir G. H. Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)
Courthope, Col. Sir G. L. Hurd, Sir P. A. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Jackson, Sir H. Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham)
Cross, R. H. James, Wing-commander A. W. Samuel. M. R. A. (Putney)
Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C. Joel, D. J. B. Sandeman. Sir N. S.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Sanderson, Sir F. B.
De la Bère, R. Kimball, L. Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Lamb, Sir J. O. Selley, H. R.
Denville, Alfred Latham, Sir P. Shakespeare, G. H.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st),
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)

this country, and I think we have some feelings of remorse that there exists another House where hereditary powers remain. Why should the House of Commons emphasise the distinction between the two Houses. I am not begging that Members of the House of Commons should serve on this Commission, but I say that if there be disclosures because of the status of a person in the public life of this House, there should be no distinction between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I would that the Government had advanced some sort of argument in defence of the action that they are taking. It is no good referring back to previous Acts in which this principle has been embodied. If the Minister cannot meet us on this matter, at least his assistant might give us some more serious reasons why this proposal should remain in the Bill; but if not, I think there should be a Division upon this Amendment.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided, Ayes, 141; Noes, 83.

Smithers, Sir W. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Southby, Comdr. A. R. J. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M, F. Williams, H, G. (Croydon, S.)
Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L. Sutcliffe, H. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H. Touche, G. C. Withers, Sir J. J.
Spens, W. P. Turton, R. H. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Storey, S. Wakefield, W. W.
Strauss, H. G. (Norwich) Ward, Lieut-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Strickland, Captain W. F. Ward, Irene (Wallsend) Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin and
Captain Waterhouse.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Potts, J.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Price, M. P.
Adamson, W. M. Hardie, G. D. Ritson, J.
Ammon, C. G. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Rowson, G.
Banfield, J. W. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Salter, Dr. A.
Barnes, A. J. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Short, A.
Batey, J. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Silkin, L.
Bellenger, F. Jagger, J. Simpson, F. B.
Bevan, A. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Smith, Ben (Rotherhlthe)
Broad, F. A. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Smith, T. (Normanton)
Charleton, H. C. John, W. Sorensen, R. W.
Chater, D. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Cluse, W. S. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cocks, F. S. Kelly, W. T. Thorne, W.
Cove, W. G. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Thurtle, E.
Daggar, G. Lathan, G. Tinker, J. J.
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Leslie, J. R. Viant, S. P.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Macdonald, G. (Ince) Walker, J.
Dobbie, W. McEntee, V. La T. Wayland, Sir W. A.
Ede, J. C. MacLaren, A. Wilkinson, Ellen
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) MacNeill, Weir, L. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Foot, D. M. Markiew, E. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Garro Jones, G. M. Maxton, J. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Naylor, T. E.
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Paling, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Grenfell, D. R. Parker, J. Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.
Groves, T. E. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.

2.57 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 50, line 10, after "Parliament," to insert: and any person who under the provisions of this Act is entitled to any redemption stock or is subject to the payment of a redemption annuity to a greater value than five pounds per annum. This small and reasonable Amendment is very similar to an Amendment which was moved in Committee by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). The only difference is that I have put in the words: to a greater value than five pounds per annum. My reason for inserting these words is that, on the similar Amendment in Committee, the Minister raised the reasonable objection that you might find a perfectly admirable man, in every way fitted to serve on this Commission, and at the last moment might discover that he had bought a house on some building estate which had previously been a tithed farm, and that upon his house there might be a tithe of 2s. 6d. As the Minister said, it would be a tragedy to have to lose from the Commission a man

of that calibre on account of a 2s. 6d. charge. The Minister may ask why the amount should be fixed at £5—why should it not be £6, or £4? In reply, I would ask, why not £5?

I move the Amendment in order to carry out the principle, to which great importance has been attached by no less a personage than the Lord Chief Justice, that it is not only important that justice should be done, but that it should appear to be done—and, I would add, that it should appear that it always will be done, no matter who may succeed the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Agriculture. We know that the Minister is not going to appoint a Bishop to this Commission, or a substantial owner of lay tithe, or one of the gentlemen who led the procession through London a few days ago; but, if he is not going to do that, let us have it laid down in the Bill that he is not going to do it, and that none of his successors is going to do it. The tithe-payer is very sensitive to any possibility of injustice. I know that, when the Royal Commission was appointed, some people were even dissatisfied because its chairman was a King's Counsel, and, as such, was an ex-officio governor of Queen Anne's Bounty. If this Amendment be carried, tithe-payers will feel that one source of possible injustice has been removed.


I beg to second the Amendment.

3.0 p.m.


I am afraid that my right hon. Friend cannot accept this Amendment, but the hon. Member has been so fortunate with his Amendments that I am sure he will not mind losing just one or two. In this case the Amendment would be very much too wide. For one thing, it would exclude trustees, which would be most undesirable and unfair in certain circumstances. Moreover, there must be quite a number of small landowners who would be qualified to serve on this Commission, but, if they happened to be paying more than £5 in tithe, they would be disqualified. I suggest to the House that the definite provisions which the Bill lays down cannot be affected by any member of the Commission, and, therefore, the possibility of injustice is precluded. I think that the Amendment would unduly fetter the choice of members of the Commission, and for these reasons, and in view of the success that the hon. Member has already had, I would ask him not to press the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.