§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I beg to move, in page 4, line 27, to leave out:except that payable to the Leader of the Opposition.The purpose of the Amendment is to decide, the Leader of the Opposition with a considerable majority having just voted that he should have a salary, whether that salary should be discussed by the House or not. If you have a Leader of the Opposition who is taking 662 a full part in the affairs of the House of Commons and you are paying him a salary, the first act of the House of Commons should not be to put that Leader in the same position as anyone who is drawing a pension or in the same position as the Chair, beyond discussion. If discussion is good for the Government it is good for the Opposition of the day. It is raised on some sides that the Government might always defeat the Opposition Leader on this matter. I have sufficient confidence in the House of Commons and the way it has managed various affairs for a very long while to realise that if the Leader of the Opposition's salary was open to discussion it 663 would be raised only on such occasions as were in the best interests of the House.
You have innumerable Ministers and you discuss them on different days and you generally find that discussion takes place on a big subject. If you had the Leader of the Opposition down for discussion you would find that you would not discuss him on his merits as a leader, but the discussion on such occasions as might be thought necessary would be on matters dealing with the freedom of the House of Commons itself. I can imagine a Leader of the Opposition whose salary was subject to discussion pointing out various difficulties which were being created by the Government of the day by an intensive use of the Closure, by all-night sittings, or by other methods that can be used by a Government for suppressing the Opposition. The idea of paying the Leader of the Opposition is novel and many of us have not thought it out very long. There is a great difference of opinion in the party above the Gangway upon the subject, but I have supported it because I think it will fit in with the constitution of the House of Commons. I do not see any reason why the Leader of the Opposition should be placed above the Ministers of the Crown and be free from criticism.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
If my hon. Friend will reflect a minute or two, he will see that the position of a Minister of the Crown, whose salary is subject to an annual vote, is very different from that of the Leader of the Opposition. The reason why the Vote of the Minister of the Crown is presented year by year is in order to subject his administration and policy to the criticism of the House. It would be very unfortunate—and I do not see any reason for it, certainly no such reason as is applicable to a Minister—if the salary of the Leader of the Opposition should come before the House year by year.[Interruption.] An hon. Gentleman opposite reminds me that the Leader of the Opposition gets his criticism week by week from his party, while a Minister of the Crown gets his criticism only year by year. I do not think that this is a practical proposition.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Captain Harold Balfour
The explanation of the Minister of Health has not 664 satisfied me on one point. It seems to me as a matter of principle that, whether this Amendment is accepted or whether the salary of the Leader of the Opposition should be a charge upon the Consolidated Fund, it resolves itself into an answer to the question whether the Leader of the Opposition is paid as a Member of the Executive or as a Member of the Legislature. He is not a servant of the House. He interferes—I do not say offensively—whether positively or negatively does not matter, and he is taking some part in the executive administration of the country, even though it be of a negative character. Constitutionally, we have never allowed in our form of Government any member of the Executive to take refuge from being answerable to the Legislature for his actions. As the functions of the Leader of the Opposition are to some extent, I claim, executive, his salary should equally be submitted to the decision and approval of the Legislature. It is only a matter of degree, because although we charge his salary to the Consolidated Fund there is machinery whereby this House, if it so desired, could cut off the Supply granted to him. It would need special procedure and a special resolution but it could be done, because the Legislature is, thank goodness, supreme in this country.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
If such a Motion were carried it would mean that the Opposition here would have to choose a new leader to please the other side.
§ Captain Balfour
No. If such a Motion were put down all it would mean would be that the Leader of the Opposition would have to submit his executive functions and his executive actions to the decision of the Legislature. That is part of our Constitution, because no Member of the Executive is allowed "to get away with it" without being responsible to this House.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Will the hon. and gallant Member tell us what are the executive functions to which he refers?
§ Captain Balfour
The executive functions of the Leader of the Opposition are to see that the positive Executive performs its functions satisfactorily according to the views of the negative Executive. I submit that the Committee ought to consider whether we are not throwing away our control of the executive machinery 665 of the country if we admit that the Leader of the Opposition is in some form part of the executive machinery. If he is not part of the executive machinery he is part of the legislative machinery and not a servant of the House. Before we part from the subject we ought to be told by one of the Law Officers whether the Legislature is in any way abrogating its authority over the Executive.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
This is only the first of many difficulties in which we shall find ourselves as a result of this proposal. The hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) asked whether the Leader the Opposition was being paid as a member of the Executive or as a member of the Legislature. Obviously he is not being paid in either capacity. If he were being paid as a member of the Executive he would need to have the confidence of the House of Commons. The only people who can appoint him to this legislative assembly are his constituents. Therefore, he is not in either of the two classes to which the hon. and gallant Member has referred.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
He is Leader of the Opposition. His duty is to thwart the legislation proposed by the Government. The proposal that his salary should be placed upon the Consolidated Fund means little or nothing. The salary would still be at the mercy of the House of Commons. We should not be making the Leader of the Opposition independent of the majority of the House of Commons by placing his salary upon the Consolidated Fund. True it would then be a little more inconvenient to get the salary of the Leader of the Opposition stopped, but we know that it could be done within a week if he aroused the ire of the majority of a Conservative House of Commons. As time goes on we shall regret the work we have done this day. I therefore say that I have no objection to the proposal that this salary should be placed upon an annual Vote, in order to give us as frequent an opportunity as possible to rectify the blunder which we have committed.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I was wondering, when the last speaker was speaking about the salary of the Leader of the Opposition being on the Consolidated Fund, whether 666 we should be in a position to challenge the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition, and inasmuch as he is elected by the hon. Members above the Gangway, would that mean that in the House of Commons practice in the future there would be an opportunity always, when the Consolidated Fund came before us, to have a general criticism on the question of how Members above the Gangway were performing their duties of election with regard to a Leader? I would like the Government to tell us what is going to be the position with regard to that matter. A Motion for a judge's dismissal can be put down, but what is to be the position with regard to the Leader of the Opposition? Are we only to have an opportunity of opposing the Vote for the Consolidated Fund, or what will the position be? I think we are entitled to a little more information than we have received so far from the Minister of Health. I suppose that members of the Government will have gone into the position fully and should be able to give the Committee more information than we have had as yet. Are we to have an opportunity of dealing with the party above the Gangway either in not electing a Leader properly or in not dealing with him properly for not carrying out his duties better. I am also wondering whether the suggestion might be made that they should also lose their salaries because they were not carrying out their duties properly in this connection.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Williams
There have been four speeches in favour of the Amendment, and it is obvious, from the very short speech of the Minister of Health, that the Government have not yet thought out the position, so that, in order to give them further time to think it out, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.