HC Deb 12 March 1936 vol 309 cc2341-5
The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

I beg to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider His Majesty's Most Gracious Message of the 11th March relating to the Civil List and other matters connected therewith. In moving this Motion I think the House might, perhaps, like to know what has been the previous practice on similar occasions. It has been customary at the commencement of each reign to set up a Select Committee to consider what provision should be made for the maintenance of the dignity of the Crown. The Government of the day have then put before that Committee their own proposals for the purpose, and after the Committee has made a thorough examination of the proposals it has prepared a report which has been submitted to the House. When that has been done the House has been given an opportunity for full discussion of the proposals on the report of the Committee. I hope that the House will be ready to follow that procedure now. It will be seen that the Select Committee proposed includes many right hon. and hon. Members of long experience and great authority in the House. I hope the House, therefore, will be willing to defer discussion of this matter until they have the report of the Select Committee before them. Without more words I move the Motion.


I would like to move an Amendment in the following terms: "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records."


The best thing would he to dispose of the first four paragraphs of the Motion and then for the right hon. Member to move his Amendment.


I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question. I do not propose to oppose the appointment of the Select Committee, nor to question its personnel. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman said that the House will have an opportunity of discussing the proposals. I want to ask whether the proposals will come before the House in form that will admit of full freedom of discussion and amendment, as in the case of other Measures brought before the House?


Yes, certainly.

Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider His Majesty's Most Gracious Message of the 11th March relating to the Civil List and other matters connected therewith:

Ordered, That the several Papers presented this day relating to the Civil List be referred to the Committee:

Ordered, That the Committee do consist of Twenty-one Members:

Committee accordingly nominated of—The Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, Sir Ernest Bennett, Mr. Benson, Sir George Bowyer, Sir Henry Cautley, Lord Hugh Cecil, Sir Austen Chamberlain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Churchill, Sir George Courthope, Mr. Lloyd George, Sir John Gilmour, Mr. Greenwood, Sir Robert Horne, Mr. Lambert, Sir Hugh O'Neill, Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, Mr. Simpson, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Earl Winterton nominated members of the Committee.— [Mr. Chamberlain.]


I beg to move as an Amendment, to add: That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records. I move this Amendment for the purpose of putting before the House certain considerations which arose out of the previous consideration of the Civil List after the death of His Majesty King Edward VII. On that occasion there was a considerable amount of complaint as to the procedure of the Select Committee. I think it is desirable for the House to be clear on the procedure of this Select Committee and the adequacy of its powers before the Committee is finally parted with by this House. The task of the Select Committee is one of importance and delicacy, and obviously the Committee cannot discharge its responsibilities to the House unless it has before it all proper and relevant information which will make it possible for it to come to its conclusions. The procedure of the House in determining the Civil List and the format of the Civil List itself are of considerable antiquity. I understand that there have been only three occasions in 100 years on which it has been necessary to make this provision, and that the form of the Civil List is still that of the year 1833. There has been very little change, except that the Master of the Buckhounds was abolished in 1901.

When the Select Committee on the Civil List reported to the House and a Debate took place on 22nd July, 1910, there was a very long discussion, and indeed more than once when the Select Committee has reported there has been a fairly acrimonious and not always pleasant discussion on what is obviously a matter of some delicacy between this House and the Crown. There was such feeling at that time that there were actually Divisions in the House, and in one case there was an Amendment moved to reduce the moneys to be placed at the disposal of the Crown. A Division took place in the House, and in fact, among the minority that sought the reduction were the present Lord President of the Council and the present Secretary of State for the Colonies. We are very anxious that such a disturbing situation shall not arise again. Obviously it would be a source of embarrassment to those two right hon. Gentlemen, not to mention others.

The leader of the Labour party in this House at that time was Mr. George Barnes, who will be remembered by Members as certainly a very moderate leader of the Labour party at all times and a responsible spokesman of it. He, with Mr. David Shackleton, who was another moderate leader of Labour, represented the Labour party on the Select Committee. Mr. Barnes had some severe things to say about the procedure of the Select Committee and the impossibility almost of Members properly to discharge their functions thereon. In the course of a speech to the House on 22nd July, 1910, he said: The Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech made last month, on 15th June, stated he proposed that the same course should be followed as had been followed on previous occasions of this sort, and that a Committee should be appointed. Full information was to be given to that Committee in order that it might come to a decision upon all the facts of the situation. I have to say that, so far as I am concerned, I did not get that full information, and I want to make it perfectly plain that the House would not be justified in shielding itself behind the assumption that full information was given to the Committee, because as a matter Of fact that information was not given. Mr. Barnes went on to say: The Member for Clitheroe and myself moved for a Return at the first meeting. I got a fragment of that Return on the morning of the fourth meeting. My colleague was not there, and was amazed some days afterwards, on his return, to find the proceedings were all over. The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) also moved for Return at the first meeting. I can only just remember Mr. Gibson Bowles by reputation. We shall readily agree that that was precisely what the late Mr. Bowles would have done at the first meeting. Mr. Barnes went on to say: I do not know whether he got it or not, but at all events I never saw it, and, as I say, up to the fourth meeting we had not got that information for which we had applied. On the occasion of the fourth meeting the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought down a Memorandum, and as soon as I saw it was to be put through that day I submitted an alternative Memorandum. It so happened I had a rough draft of it in my pocket. I had not the slightest notion it would be required that day, but I put it in, with all its imperfections and blemishes, and to that Memorandum I adhere in every respect, excepting that in the light of some information which leaked out on the occasion of our fourth meeting, together with what I have gathered myself since, I should now propose one on a less generous scale of expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1910; cols. 1626–27, Vol. 19.] What we are anxious about is that the powers of this Select Committee shall be adequate to enable it to discharge its functions. It is, of course, customary, I think with the exception of a Motion of this character, to include in the appointment of Select Committees the necessary power to send for persons, papers and records. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer can give us some information as to why that is omitted on this occasion. The House will, of course, appreciate that we have no desire whatever to introduce into the discussion of this matter, which is of some delicacy, any unpleasantness or any difficulty, but we do feel that the Committee has a task which is imposed upon it by this House and that it should, if necessary, have power to secure all the relevant information required. At any rate we ought to be assured that the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself will take every step to see that the procedure of the Committee is such and the information before the Committee is such that the Committee is in a position with perfect confidence to discharge a task imposed upon it by the House of Commons.


The whole House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is very desirable to avoid divisions or unpleasantness of any kind in a matter of such delicacy as that before us. I have not myself investigated the proceedings on the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and I do not know what it was that Mr. Barnes sought in the way of information which he afterwards reported that he was unable to obtain from the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I entirely agree that it is proper that the Select Committee should have all the information which it may reasonably require, and I shall have no hesitation in giving the right hon. Gentleman the most unqualified assurance that all such evidence and such documents as the Committee may require will certainly be made available to it. The right hon. Gentleman asked why it was that the words of his Amendment had not been added to the Motion on the Paper. They are words which are commonly added when a Select Committee is set up. The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that in the case of this particular kind of Motion relating to the Civil List it has not been customary in the past to insert these words. I hope that in the light of the undertaking I have given the right hon. Gentleman will not think it necessary to press the Amendment.


After the very firm assurance given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That Five be the quorum."— [Mr. Chamberlain.]