HC Deb 03 June 1937 vol 324 cc1191-230

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, at the beginning, to insert "After the dissolution of this Parliament."

The object of the Amendment is to bring into operation the payment of the new scale of salaries after the next General Election, and after the electors have had an opportunity of expressly approving of the change. The one thing we desire to avoid is criticism on the grounds that we are taking advantage of our opportunity as controllers of the finance of the country to raise the salaries of some Members of the House. I am sure it was for that reason that the late Prime Minister was reluctant for so long to bring the matter before the House in spite of the fact that resolutions had been passed and recommendations made to that effect. He was naturally and properly diffident about a proposal which might be criticised on those grounds. The subject was not mentioned in any way during the last General Election, and, as a result of the Debates on this Bill, the public are becoming very cynical in the criticisms that they make about the way we are using our opportunities to propose—very properly—an increase of salary for Members of the Government.

Some of the increases, I think, are fully justified, for Ministers of the Crown ought to be paid adequate salaries for the positions they hold. On the other hand, some of the proposals are not so satisfactory, and the opportunity has not been taken to make a reduction of the total sum asked for by the abolition of certain offices which are redundant. There are a certain number of Under-Secretaries with whom we could dispense without the business of government suffering in any way. After the next General Election the situation will be different, because nobody has the faintest idea what Government will be in power. We all have our ideas of the kind of Government we would like to see after the next General Election, but one cannot form any idea who will be sitting on that bench receiving these salaries. It may be that the present National Government will continue to grace that bench and to conduct the affairs of the country for many decades to come. On the other hand, there are those who can see a Labour Government sitting on the other side. It may be that there will be a Liberal Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! "] I am not surprised that that evokes the warmest applause of all. There may be a National Government of the Left or a popular front Government which is in such favour everywhere now. I appreciate that some of the suggestions I have made as to the Government which will be sitting there are more probable than others, but we cannot foresee the future, and it would be wise and a graceful act towards the electors, and in accordance with our best traditions, to accept a provision to make the coming into force of these salaries on a date after the next election of Parliament.

Sir Hugh Seely

I beg to second the Amendment.

3.55 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)

We must discuss this Amendment on the basis that the objects of the Bill are acceptable, and the point raised is whether the Bill should come into operation as soon as the Royal Assent is given to it, or at some future date. We cannot combine the two grounds put forward by the hon. Member, first the ground of propriety and then the ground that some of the increases are not justified. If the House favours the increases, there really cannot be any justification for saying that they should not be put into operation now. It is proposed to move a Resolution under which it will be proper 2nd possible to raise the salaries of hon. Members. If we are going to deal with these nice matters of propriety, would it not be more appropriate to postpone anything of that sort until after the next Election? I do not think that the majority of the House will support that. The same thing applies in the case of Ministers' salaries. I agree that it will be possible for this proposal to be represented as an invidious one, and for a certain number of persons honestly to make a little adverse criticism of it, but if it is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do now.

Amendment negatived.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams

I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, after "Act," to insert: and to four of the Ministers of the Crown to be selected by the Prime Minister from Part II of the said Schedule. This Amendment is one of a series which hang together, and the purpose is to remove a certain number of Ministers from the first part of the First Schedule, and to see that not all the Cabinet Ministers are paid at the rate of £5,000 a year. I do not grudge paying a Minister well. One of the most expensive things is to pay anyone less than his real value. Although I accept that the ordinary Cabinet Minister as such has equal responsibilty with the others, and that he should be paid a particular fee as a Cabinet Minister, yet, when we take the Cabinet Ministers one by one in their different departments, we see that there is an immense difference between their status. One Ministry holds a much greater position in the eyes of the public than another, while there are others, such as the Ministry of Transport, which once were nearly abolished. I am not sure that a certain number of Ministries could not be cut down. Looking at it from the point of view of the House and the country, it is not a sound argument to say that every Cabinet Minister apart from his Cabinet work should be put on the same basis of payment. I support much of the Bill, but I feel that if the salaries of, say, the Minister of Transport or the President of the Board of Education are raised, it will create a tendency to raise the standard of the whole of the Departments and to lead to other rises in those Departments.

At present there is considerable pressure for money, and it would be well for the Government not to do anything that would raise the standard of expenditure in any of the Departments. We were told when discussing this matter before that it is unfair and invidious that one particular Cabinet Minister should be paid at a different rate from another, and that it was very difficult to make a choice. In all the general affairs of life there is the difficulty of making a choice as to which man is best for any position. One position may be rather better paid than another, and one man may need it more than another. That is common to the whole of the affairs of the world. I have never heard of any Prime Minister who would mind facing that difficulty. There are far greater difficulties than that which he has to face. My chief reason for asking the Government to make some concession in this matter is that we are faced with growing taxation, and though the country is bearing that heavy taxation very well indeed I ask, is it really wise or is this the best time to raise the rate of the most highly paid people, however good they may be?

We know that we have to-day, and have had for the last five years, by far the best Government for many years. We know that we have good and efficient men in the Government, but is this the best time to raise the whole of these standards? Someone may reply that there is never such a time. My reply is that the time to raise salaries in this way is when taxation is dropping and not when it is rising. When taxation is rising you should be extremely careful what you do in these matters, but if in the course of a year or so we found that we were reducing expenditure and taxation, that would be the appropriate time to raise these particular salaries. In moving the Amendment I recognise fully that there are many difficulties and many inequities, as far as the payment of Ministers to-day is concerned, but I plead with the Government to make some concession to the feelings of many of us. If the Government look at the Division records and other records they will find that they have not very wholehearted support for the Bill. Even at this late stage I ask them to meet us in some way. If they meet us on this point I am sure it would be a valuable thing and in the best interests of what is essential—that is unity within the party and in the country, and the easier collection of the taxation which the Government have to impose.

4.5 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte

I beg to second the Amendment.

There are points in the Bill to which I do not object very much, but there are other points to which I do object. I am concerned that the Minister of Transport should automatically get £5,000 a year and go into the Cabinet. That is a Ministry which we could very well do without. This Bill is brought in at the wrong time, at a time of rising taxation. The Government have apparently forgotten that there is such a word as economy. It seems that they have money to throw about in every possible direction, and they do not mind to what extent they raise Income Tax or any other taxes.

4.6 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

The last words of my hon. and gallant Friend touched me to the quick. I hope it will be proved that the Government have a very great attachment to the sound principles of economy, but I doubt whether we should begin by making what would be a very curious change in the Bill, for the purpose of demonstrating our attachment to that invaluable rule. This matter is one which is raised with several others on Amendments which my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has on the Paper. I understand he would amend Part I of the First Schedule, which contains a list of 17 Ministers, counting the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the eight Secretaries of State and the First Lord of the Admiralty, and that he would cut that Part down to 10 Ministers by leaving in only the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the eight Secretaries of State and the First Lord. Those, under his scheme, would be £5,000 a year offices. He would move the rest of Part I into Part II, or most of them, and put them into the position of £3,000 a year offices, and then he seems to add a rather curious provision and one difficult to work, providing that the Prime Minister has to select out of the enlarged contents of Part II four Ministers at his discretion, who by the fact of their being so selected will become for the time being the holders of £5,000 a year offices. I do not understand my hon. Friend to connect this with their sitting or not sitting in the Cabinet. Indeed, I gather that he takes the view that it is not a good object to equalise, as far as may be, Cabinet salaries by such a provision as is contained in Clause 3, because Clause 3 he proposes to repeal.

Mr. C. Williams

I did not explain the whole of my Amendment to the First Schedule. My idea was that you would have the four Ministers removed from Part I to Part II, and they would be selected from time to time as they seemed to be the most important positions. It seems to me that the Prime Minister could do it comparatively easily. There could be a readjustment for the public convenience from time to time.

Sir J. Simon

I understand my hon. Friend proposes, also, that we should omit Clause 3. He is not standing for the principle of an overriding levelling of the salaries of those who, in fact, are sitting in the Cabinet. I am afraid we could not accept that view. Our view was given during the Committee stage by the previous Prime Minister. Sir Stanley Baldwin, and very strong practical reasons were given why we should try to secure a level of salaries for those who are in the Cabinet. Those who have experience of the very difficult business of Cabinet making are of one mind that this is a practical matter of real importance in our constitutional system. It offers a freedom of choice, a means of manoeuvring which is of public advantage, ingenious as is the suggestion of my hon. Friend, we could not accept it. We think that the list in Part I of the First Schedule is rightly drawn up. If there is to be an increase from £3,000 in the salaries of those in Part II it should be because they enter the Cabinet.

One curious result would follow from the scheme. The Lord Privy Seal would become a £5,000 a year office. The Lord Privy Seal is usually in the Cabinet; there are very few cases in history where he is not. There are one or two cases where he was outside. There is one living Minister who was outside; the present Foreign Secretary when he was first appointed Lord Privy Seal was not a member of the Cabinet. There was an instance in the eighteenth century, when a gentleman who was anxious to continue a member of the Ministry but not to assume responsibility left it on record, in a letter which he wrote to the Prime Minister, that he insisted on remaining a Minister but refused to take any Cabinet papers, and he asked to remain Lord Privy Seal. We think that our scheme is better as it stands.

Mr. Sandys

Has there ever been a case in which the Lord President of the Council has not been a member of the Cabinet?

Sir J. Simon

I should not like to answer off-hand, as I really do not know. It is quite inconceivable in present circumstances.

Sir Robert Tasker

Will my right hon. Friend say that the increase in Ministers' remuneration does make an improvement in our constitutional system?

Sir J. Simon

Sir Stanley Baldwin pointed out on a previous occasion that it was not a desirable thing, when members of the Cabinet were called together, each appointed to a special post, that for any purposes they should be in different grades, because, amongst other things, if there is a question of adjusting the distribution of offices it is most desirable in the public interest that the Prime Minister should make that adjustment quite freely without causing any heart-burning as between one colleague and another. The former Prime Minister has stated that that has been a difficulty which he has experienced. That is one way in which a constitutional improvement is effected by this scheme.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Lansbury

I do not expect that this Amendment or any other similar Amendment will be carried at this juncture, but I would take this opportunity of saying that I think it is a very great pity indeed, and against the public interest, that before this proposal was made to level up the salaries of Cabinet Ministers and make them all equal, there was not an inquiry as to whether it would not have been possible to have merged some of the Ministries in others and so have reduced the number of Ministries. Since the War the number of Ministries is very much greater than it was previously; Cabinets have grown since the War to a very large extent. I do not agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a Prime Minister, when he is adjusting the personal and other claims of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, is of necessity serving the public interest, because sometimes he is serving other interests about which, for the moment, I do not desire to say anything; but, speaking as one with a very tiny experience of Cabinet office, I am convinced that a considerable amount of public money could be saved by amalgamating offices which are at present held by various Ministers.

I support the statement of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) that creating a Cabinet of 21 or 22 Members, not only involves paying these Cabinet salaries to particular Ministers, but advances the status of their particular Ministries and means that we have to increase the salaries of the men or women who are serving in those Ministries. I hope that if there is a Socialist Government next time those who control it will take this matter in hand again, because I feel that the present number of Ministries causes a grave waste of public money, and if it had been possible, and my hon. Friends would have agreed, I should have liked to have seen the number considerably reduced. It is my own view that a Cabinet of not more than half a dozen members would be much more effective than the Sanhedrim, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) once called the Cabinet, which is at present in existence.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I think that something ought to be said from this side, because if this question is raised in the future we do not want it to be said that we on these benches did not put forward a different point of view from that which has been expressed. I do not want to enter into the merits or demerits of the salaries proposed for members of the Cabinet. People put forward the idea of reducing the numbers in the Cabinet, but I cannot think of any Cabinet position which could be done away with at the present time. Some people say that the Minister of Transport should be done away with, but I know of no greater problem in this country than that of transport and the roads. Further, some of us think there ought to be a Minister who should direct his attention to the economic needs of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has on several occasions called attention to the need for a Minister who would concentrate on the problem of the derelict areas, and of industries that were likely to become derelict, in order to save the people from becoming the victims of changing industrial conditions in the way they are at present. I also have an idea for an addition to the number of Ministries. In France, the working people are to have a full week's holiday with pay, and France has had to appoint an additional Minister to be known as the Minister of Leisure.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is getting far away from this Amendment.

Mr. Smith

I respect that Ruling, but other speakers have urged the need for reducing the numbers in the Cabinet, and I cannot allow that suggestion to pass without expressing the opposite view, because it might be said that we were prepared to acquiesce in a reduction, whereas we think that a case could be made out for an increase in the numbers.

Amendment negatived.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Lees-Smith

I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, at the end, to insert: (2) The annual salaries payable to the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General shall be reduced to four thousand pounds and three thousand pounds, respectively. This Amendment brings forward again one of the most substantial discussions which took place during the Committee stage, and was then in fact left open by the Government with the statement by the Minister of Health that he would consult his colleagues on certain proposals which had been made and let them know the views which had been put forward. After that statement we did not continue with the discussion. I hope that consultation has since taken place.

The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood) indicated assent.

Mr. Lees-Smith

Therefore, this is the time when a reply should be given. In the last Debate many Members raised the question of the immense total income of the Law Officers of the Crown if we put together their official salaries and the fees they obtain for their work as counsel in court. The Attorney-General replied that for their work in the courts they did not receive any more than the ordinary professional rates of payment, such as other counsel would receive in those cases, and that they were entitled to the professional fees. That opened up rather a new issue, raising the whole question of the efficiency of this arrangement as distinct from the point about economy. I think the chief speaker to urge that there should be an inquiry into this issue was the Noble Lord who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whom I am very glad to con- gratulate upon his appointment to the position he now occupies. The Attorney-General said that the Law Officers obtained the ordinary fees of counsel of good standing. At that rate of payment they earn many thousands of pounds a year in the courts. The question arises, if they are spending all this time doing the work of counsel in the courts can they be giving sufficient time to their work as Ministers of the Crown, sitting in this House and responsible for quite considerable departmental duties?

No other Minister is permitted to earn money in that way. If we pay a Minister a salary according to the present scale, we take it that we are entitled to the whole of his time, and we do not allow him to occupy his time with work which could be done equally well by persons outside, and better, and to earn in that way £10,000 or £12,000 a year. We do not allow any other Minister to spend even an hour in writing an article for the newspapers. Therefore, the question arises whether we should maintain what is really an anomaly in our present system. The Law Officers are busy departmental heads. All the other Departments are continually putting to them questions which they have to decide. In the last Debate there was considerable complaint that the Law Officers do not sit in this House and on committees as frequently as they ought to sit, and in my own experience I can recall an occasion when one of the Law Officers, a predecessor the present Attorney-General, who was engaged in very important Parliamentary business, where much depended upon him and he was needed for consultation day by day, disappeared for three days in order to prosecute some murderer at a seaside town, and left the Government in a difficulty. The murderer was so clearly guilty that anybody could have obtained a conviction, and the presence of the Attorney-General was not necessary at all. I cannot understand why these departmental heads should be engaged in the courts, or why, particularly, so many of them like to spend their time in dealing with the more gruesome kind of murder cases.

This is not a clash of duties which is being invented for the purposes of debate. It was referred to by Lord Hailsham in his evidence before the Select Committee. He said the Law Officers were often faced with the choice, "Shall I go to the courts of law, or shall I attend this committee which it is my official duty to do?" Of course, he rather naively said that on those occasions the Law Officer always preferred the duty for which he was not paid. That part of his argument seemed to me rather weaker than the first part. His observations are to be found on page 46 of the evidence. It was also argued in the course of the last Debate that we must obtain the best counsel to conduct these cases in the courts of law, but there is no guarantee that under the present system we do get the best counsel conducting cases, often cases on which many millions of pounds depend. It is only by an accident that "the best counsel for this case" happens to be a man who has taken up politics. The point arises whether we should not get better value for our money if the Law Officers were put in the position of other Ministers and restricted to a confined duty, perhaps conducting a certain range of cases but leaving other work to be undertaken by other counsel.

The Attorney-General replied to the last Debate, and if he replies again to-day I should like him to clear up one point which was raised last time but on which nobody could get a decisive view. The Law Officers, in addition to their salaries of £5,000 or £4,000 a year, and in addition to their fees, really get an indirect reward from another direction, because the House takes it for granted, and every Government takes it for granted, that they have the right to certain high positions in the State regardless whether they happen to be the most suitable persons. It is taken for granted that Law Officers are entitled, if they so wish, to become Master of the Rolls or Lord Chancellor. The two offices referred to by Lord Hailsham were those of the Lord Chancellorship and the Master of the Rolls. Other cases were cited by other witnesses.

It is surely an extraordinary tradition that the Law Officers have managed to lay down. Other Ministers do not do so. The President of the Board of Trade has just retired, but he did not claim that he should be a director of the Suez Canal. I was Postmaster-General, but I did not claim that I should be a director of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Why should a Law Officer claim, and why should it be generally accepted by Governments that they are entitled to, those poscitions? Many thousands of people depend upon them; I should have thought the chief consideration would be to get the men most suitable for the work. Why should we put people into these positions merely because they happen to have a political pull? I shall be very glad to have a statement to-day denying that Law Officers have any claim in future to positions outside this House merely because they have occupied positions here. Such an announcement would have a great effect upon the atittude of Governments in the future. I will not carry the subject further. I hope that we shall get a definite statement as to what tradition the Government expect shall be followed in this respect.

4.33 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

I will endeavour to deal with a few of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. First I would say a word upon the last matter to which he referred. I am afraid he followed a method which consists in asserting that something is a fact, demanding whether is is true or not, and asking whether it can be denied and what is the meaning of it all. The proposition that he stated was that the Law Officers demanded, and were regarded as entitled to, certain high posts in the State. That is not correct. So far as I am aware, the Law Officers of the Crown have never put forward such a proposition. One does not want to go into personalities on a matter of this kind, but I suggest that one has only to consider the present position in respect of the Master of the Rolls and other high officials to see that there is no foundation in the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman. I am able to state, in the presence of the Prime Minister and of the Attorney-General, that no such claim is made.

At the conclusion of the Debate when this point was discussed before, all I could say was that this was obviously a matter that the Government would take into consideration and that I would present to my colleagues a report of what had taken place. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and I did present to our colleagues a resumèof the proceedings of the committee upon this point. The Government have considered the matter, and have taken into account two or three things which, I think, are material to the present proposal. I would first recall that considerable cuts were made in the salaries of the Law Officers, as well as of a large number of others in the State. The Law Officers sustained a cut of some 66 per cent., and when that cut was terminated, the Attorney-General, then Solicitor-General, with the late Attorney-General requested that the recommendations of the 1920 Committee regarding the remuneration of the Law Officers should be put into force. The recommendation of that committee was that the salary of the Law Officers should be reduced by £2,000 per annum, to £5,000 and £4,000 respectively, and that the fees for contentious business should remain. Further, the Government have taken into consideration the recommendation of the 1930 Committee, which reported: Your Committee have given very careful consideration to the question of the Law Officers remuneration, but have decided to make no recommendation in regard to it. Their salaries and fees together reach a high figure, but the evidence given by Lord Hail-sham and the Prime Minister went a long way to in the view that they are excessive in proportion to the value of their services to the State. It should also he noted that the fees received are not wholly paid out of the Exchequer, a considerable percentage being recovered from unsuccessful litigants. The Government have decided, therefore, not to take any action, so far as this Bill is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman rather misconceived the exact position, because he put the Law Officers into a similar category as Ministers, but that is not quite correct. The function of the Law Officers is to advise the Government and respective Ministers, and certainly to take charge of various cases in the courts. Speaking for my own part, it is very valuable to the Ministry of Health that the Law Officers should be conducting our cases. Those are our views. We cannot deal with the Law Officers as though they occupy positions carrying ministerial responsibility similar to that which appertains to ordinary Ministers. I have stated the decision of the Government, and I hope that it will commend itself to the House.

4.39 p.m.

Sir Percy Harris

Some of us have been rather critical of the Bill, largely because it proposes in many cases to increase salaries, and we felt that we should carefully scrutinise a proposal to increase Ministers' salaries at a time like this, however capable those Ministers might be. I would remind hon. Members that the Bill does not propose to add to the scale of fees or to the salaries of the Law Officers of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition, and who is a constitutional lawyer and student—

Mr. Lees-Smith

I am not a lawyer.

Sir P. Harris

Well, a constitutional student. I will rob him of the word "lawyer," if he takes exception to it. I suggest to him that he is actuated in this case too much by theory and too little as a realist, although I have always admired him as a very practical man. We have to face the world as we find it. One of the most profitable occupations in the land is to be a clever and skilful advocate in the courts. That has a monopoly value. Anybody who has been unfortunate enough to be involved in litigation knows that the quality of the advocate is vital to the proper statement of their case. I have been in this House for a number of years, and have served upon a number of committees, and I know the immense difference it has made to our proceedings to have a capable and skilful legal mind to assist us. We must consider this question upon general principles, quite apart from the present occupants of these posts. It is in the best interests of the country that we should have our legislation properly drafted by the most skilful lawyers available in the land and, if l may put it in a way that should appeal to the official Opposition, it is only common sense that you should pay the full trade union rate in order to get the most skilful men available for the work.

I happen to be a member of the profession, but I have never been successful enough to get a brief. I know that lawyer after lawyer has been in this House, and that in many cases they have made great sacrifices when taking office. There is the case of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have been critical of many of his actions, but it is quite certain that if he went back to his court work his income would be enormously increased. There is also the case of the right hon. Gentleman who now occupies the position of Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. He was Attorney-General, and drew all the emoluments and fees attaching to that office. At the call of duty, when the Prime Minister asked him to take on a post at a remuneration very much smaller than his lawyer's salary, he accepted without hesitation, as we should expect. I do not think it can be suggested that the Law Officers are more greedy of gold than any ordinary Member of this House. We should be sure of securing the ablest and most efficient members of the profession, but would it be suggested that they should be paid fees on a lower scale when they represent the Crown than when they represent private interests or the interests of a commercial concern? The arguments of the right hon. Gentleman would inevitably lead to that result. For the good working of Parliament it would be most undesirable, without careful further inquiry, to make an alteration in the arrangements that are now followed with regard to the Law Officers of the Crown.

Another point is that the Law Officers stand in a very special relationship to the House of Commons. We might almost regard them as servants of the House, very much more so than Ministers. On many occasions we have asked for the attendance of the Law Officers of the Crown in this House to advise us, and we have called upon them to give us the legal position. However much we may question the opinion of another Minister, when a Law Officer gives his opinion, the House as a whole, quite apart from party, invariably accepts that opinion upon a matter of law. The House is entitled to be sure that the most capable and competent representative of the legal profession occupies the position of Law Officer of the Crown, but that does not necessarily mean that the Law Officers should always be in this House. We remember the case of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) who for some months was Solicitor-General without being a Member of this House. The Government of that day wanted to be quite sure that they had the services of the most able man available at the time, and one, of course, not hostile to the political opinions of that Government. We have to be realists; this House is a practical Assembly; and for that reason I think it would be unwise, without further inquiry at any rate, to accept this suggestion. There may be a case for further investigation of the whole position and emoluments of the Law Officers, but, on the facts available, I think that this Amendment would be an unwise one to carry.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I do not propose to support the Amendment, and I disagree with many of the remarks of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), but I think that a case for some further inquiry, not immediately but in due course, exists. The remarks of the hon. Member fairly accurately reflect the general attitude of the public towards the position of the Law Officers. His argument was somewhat on these lines: If we wish to have the best legal brains to assist in the work of the House, we must pay a corresponding salary. But it seems to me that that attitude towards the services of a Member of Parliament in this House is somewhat derogatory. The spirit of this whole House, and the spirit which equally animates Ministers—and I do not think we can really get away from the fact that the Law Officers, when they are Members of Parliament and sit on the Treasury Bench, are Ministers of the Crown—is essentially, not the desire for monetary gain, but the spirit of public service. I am sure that no one in this House would suggest that the Law Officers are not also animated by that same spirit of service.

Therefore it seems curious, and perhaps unfortunate, that the payment of the Law Officers and of the other Ministers of the Crown should be on an entirely different basis, and that it should be assumed that we can only get the best legal brains to assist us here in the House of Commons by paying what might be called the market price. Why should not that apply equally to big business brains who assist us in our work? Who is going to suggest that Mr. Runciman, who has just retired from this House, could not have earned far bigger fees as a company director than he did as a Cabinet Minister? I cannot see that it is right to take into consideration, in the case of the Law Officers, circumstances which we do not take into consideration in the case of other Ministers.

Either the Law Officers are Ministers of the Crown or else they are in the nature of salaried officials in the service of the House. If they are Ministers of the Crown—and I think they are generally regarded as such—it seems to me that a case has been made out for a further inquiry as to whether their remuneration should not sooner or later be placed on a different basis, that is to say, whether they should not receive a statutory salary, and perform for that salary all the duties which attach to their office, that is to say, the duties of advising this House and also such duties in the courts as it is thought necessary to assign to them. These remarks are not made in any critical spirit, but merely because I consider it right that the House should be made aware of the widespread feeling which exists in the country in regard to the payment of the Law Officers, and because I feel that it is in the ultimate interests of the Law Officers themselves that their status should be put on a basis of equality with that of other Ministers of the Crown.

4.51 p.m.

Sir Stafford Cripps

I think the difficulty which arises in regard to this perennial problem is the anomalous position which the Law Officers of the Crown really occupy. As you, Mr. Speaker, will remember, in the old days the Law Officers of the Crown were permitted to engage in private practice, and did so very extensively, outside their duties to the Government of the day. Then came the change by which they were forced to give up private practice, and, as a result, were remunerated for the legal work which they undertook for the Crown, and which might be undertaken by any members of the Bar—I do not mean to say by qualification, but there is no regulation that makes it necessary for the Law Officers to do such work. As a result of that remuneration and the salaries which they receive as Law Officers, there is at the present time a feeling, I think I am probably right in saying on, the part of the Law Officers themselves as well as on the part of the general public, that the remuneration which they receive for a year's work is out of proportion to the remuneration which other members of the Ministry receive for an equally hard, or equally light, however one may look upon it, year's work. As my hon. Friend pointed out just now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Attorney-General, both very eminent lawyers and both in the Government, have different jobs, the one being paid quite out of proportion to the other, and nobody would venture to say that either the one or the other was the more brilliant lawyer. It is that disparity which makes people criticise the position of the Law Officers as regards their salaries.

There is a great deal to be said for a complete reconsideration of the position of the Law Officers in the Government. Since the present system came into operation, the legislation in this House has become much greater in volume and much more complex, and, if I may speak from my personal experience, it has become impossible for a Law Officer both to carry out his duties to the House, the Departments and the Government, and to do a very large amount of work in the courts. It is putting an impossible strain upon anybody to expect them to do both of these things. I agree with the Minister of Health that there are departmental cases in which it may be desirable that a Law Officer should appear, but there is a whole multitude of cases in which it is quite unnecessary for a Law Officer to appear, such as Inland Revenue cases and the murder cases which have been mentioned. Why it should be almost a custom that, if there is a murder by poison, a Law Officer should go down to prosecute, when he does not need to go to prosecute in the case of other murders, I really do not know, but it is practically a custom in the Law Officers' Department that, if there is a murder by poisoning, the prosecution should be conducted by one of the Law Officers.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

There may at one time have been such a convention, but it no longer exists. It is perfectly true that a Law Officer did appear in a murder case, and I think it was a poisoning case, but that decision had nothing whatever to do with the fact that it was a case of poisoning, as distinct from any other kind of murder. There are some serious grounds on which in a criminal case I might decide to prosecute.

Sir S. Cripps

I am very glad if my resistance to going on such a case when I was Solicitor-General appears to have broken the custom. I was told at the time that it was the custom, and that I ought to go, but with the consent of the Attorney-General I did not. I am very glad that that has been broken, because it struck me as being the most ridiculous thing imaginable that a Law Officer should have to spend perhaps a week, or three or four days, away from London at a time when his presence in Parliament might be required by committees or for other reasons.

There is another side of the work which seems to me to be of very great importance, and of growing importance, and that is in regard to the drafting of Bills. In my view it is desirable that the Law Officers should be able to say of any Bill, before it comes before this House, that in their opinion the drafting is in a proper form. I am certain that the Law Officers have not time to make any thorough examination of the very voluminous Bills that come before the House now. That is their true function in advising the Government and in advising the House of Commons, and I am sure we should obviate many of the criticisms which are afterwards made in the courts upon Acts which emerge from this House if the Law Officers were able, both before a Bill was presented and as it emerged from the Committee and Report stages, to make a thorough examination of it and so help Parliament to put its legislation in a proper form.

It is only when one really settles upon the function which the Law Officer is to perform that one can approach the question of how the Law Officers' salaries should be dealt with. In my view, the Law Officer's salary should be fixed, on whatever scale may be settled by the House, and no payment should be made outside that scale for any legal work, just as the Lord Advocate now does the legal work for the Government without any payment specifically for that work. It is true that theoretically he is allowed to embark upon private practice, but the Lord Advocate who has to be in London with Parliament has not very much chance to carry on a private practice in Edinburgh, and of course, as a result, the private practice of the Lord Advocate, as a rule, is something which is of very slight value. I believe that the right course is to fix the amount which a person in the position of a Law Officer should have, and to make it inclusive of all the work that he is asked to do for the House or for the Government. I think that that would have the effect of relieving him of a great deal of the court work which he is asked to do at present, that work being done, no more economically except from the point of view of efficiency, by other members of the Bar. Until a decision has been arrived at as to whether a Law Officer is really a Minister, and is to be paid and regarded as a Minister, or whether he is half Minister and half practising lawyer, no satisfactory conclusion will be arrived at as regards his salary.

The major factor that one has to bear in mind is that the figures which from time to time are published or brought out in answer to questions with regard to the payment of the Law Officers certainly make the public think that the Law Officers are very much overpaid. I am certain that that is an extremely uncomfortable position for Law Officers, and they would not desire to retain this large extra remuneration if they felt that some logical method could be devised by which their remuneration could be brought more into comparison with that of their colleagues in the Ministry. I entirely rebut the idea that lawyers are necessarily a greedy crowd, and that the only way in which you can get anyone to serve the State who happens to be a lawyer is by offering him extravagant fees or salaries. Those who serve the State in very important posts, many of whom have been distinguished lawyers earning large incomes at the Bar, do not expect to get, in addition to a salary, a fee for every case in order that they may build up a very large salary. I am certain that anyone would be only too willing to accept the honour of the office of a Law Officer of the Crown for a salary no greater than is paid, for instance, to the Prime Minister.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

The whole House must have been impressed by the very able speech we have just heard on a point which has worried many of us for a very long while. Some of us have said more than once in Debates on this matter that it is monstrous to insinuate that lawyers will not take on Government work just as easily as any other section of the community might do, and do it just as well and with just as fine a spirit of sacrifice. I think it is rather unfair that on an occasion like this we hear rather niggling attacks on lawyers on this point. The hon. and learned Gentleman has made it perfectly clear that it is essential that the practice of Law Officers prosecuting in criminal cases should be cut out. It is also clear that there is a certain amount of their work, such as advising the Government on certain Departmental questions, which they should take for a fixed salary, in the same way, for instance, that you have the great business experience of Mr. Runciman who has put it over and over again at the call of the Government during the last few years with no fee of any sort or kind except his fixed salary.

I do not think there is anything in the Amendment, but I should like the Government to say they will go into the matter on the lines of trying to fix a stationary salary for the Law Officers with no outside fees. We frequently get into difficulties on legal points connected with different Bills. I have been in the House more or less for 18 years. When I first came in there was never a Debate on any subject in which there was not a Law Officer on the Front Bench. Surely, if they took a fuller part in our Parliamentary work and gave the Government the necessary advice on really legal things, they might come into line and be paid, say, on the basis of another Cabinet Minister. I think that would be the solution of a problem which is not in the best interests of the House or of the legal profession, because it is wrong that they should be set up on a pedestal as Aunt Sallies to be shied at. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has made one of those speeches that he can make if he wishes, of a high character, not only very learned but very wise. If only he would give a little time to that kind of speech how much he could help us in our Debates! Surely the Government might snatch at the opportunity to say they will have a proper inquiry into the matter, if for no other purpose than to give us a chance to show how much we appreciate the rectitude of my hon. and learned Friend.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

In my experience as a trade union officer I have learned to respect the knowledge and integrity of gentlemen of the Bar. I have sometimes been inclined to speak unkindly of them because most of my work in connection with the law has come within the range of workmen's compensation and the lawyers have made a very sorry mess of what was intended to be a very decent Act. While I agree that the Law Officers of the Crown and legal gentlemen outside the House are entitled to every kind of respect, I do not think they are entitled to any privileges, and in this Bill we ought to deal with them on the same lines as others who give service to the Crown. I understand that those accepting posts in the Ministry have to give up directorships.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)

There is an Amendment on the Paper dealing with that point. Perhaps the hon. Member had better leave it alone until the Amendment is reached.

Mr. Griffiths

I support the Amendment because it will put the Law Officers in the same position as Cabinet Ministers. I do not think they are entitled to any privileges. It is only because they have a strong trade union that they put forward a claim to privileges at all.

5.10 p.m.

Sir R. Tasker

I was a little astonished at the explanation offered by the Minister of Health when he defended the extra remuneration enjoyed by Law Officers on the ground that they obtained the money from unsuccessful litigants. It is true, as the Mover of the Amendment said, that there is a sort of prescriptive right for Law Officers to succeed to certain higher posts, and that is probably taken into consideration by every lawyer who accepts the office of Attorney or Solicitor-General. While I feel that it would be a little unfair to ask the present Law Officers to accept a remuneration of £5,000 a year and forgo their fees, I think the Government might consider whether in future Law Officers should not be limited to, say, £5,000. I recognise that that entails a sacrifice, but is that not common to most Members of the House? How many Members are there who could not earn very much more if they devoted the time to their own business that they devote to the affairs of the House? That is not a very sound ground on which to argue that certain fees should be enjoyed by Law Officers, or anyone else. We are always talking about economy, and I think we might well exercise it upon that particular section of the Government who enjoy the unique privilege of engaging in private practice and at the same time receiving remuneration from the Government.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot

The hon. Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) repeated what is an obvious misapprehension about the alleged right of Law Officers to receive the office of Lord Chief justice or Master of the Rolls. The Minister of Health has already said that there is no such right. It is obvious that that must be so in a very large number of cases, because clearly it would be possible for a Law Officer to obtain either of those posts only if they were vacant. It must happen in the case of the majority of Law Officers that, when, in the course of time, there is a change in Government, they cease to be Law Officers when these offices are not vacant.

Sir R. Tasker

We know that such appointments follow if in order.

Mr. Foot

If there were some custom that had grown up that a Law Officer was entitled, on application, to one of these particular posts, it would be necessary to have this combination of circumstances. There would have to be a vacancy, and you would have to have a Law Officer who wanted to go to the Bench at the same time. This is the second occasion during the proceedings on this Bill that we have discussed the position of the Law Officers, and it is quite evident, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) pointed out, that we cannot really consider the emoluments of the Law Officers without also considering the position and the duties of the Law Officers. The right hon. Gentleman has on two occasions given the instance of the Law Officer who, I believe, served in a previous Parliament and who went away to prosecute in a murder trial at a time when his services were urgently needed on the Front Bench.

These difficulties, as most people realise, arise from the change which has gradually taken place in the position of the Law Officers themselves. I think that I am right in saying that originally the Law Officers were not in the House of Commons at all, that there was once considerable dispute as to whether they were entitled to sit in the House of Commons, and that the Attorney-General, as a matter of fact, still receives a sum- mons, though he does not obey it, to go and sit in another place. At any rate, he receives a summons to advise another place. There has been, since these apparently early days to which I have been referring, a steady increase in the Parliamentary duties of the Law Officers of the Crown. There are three tasks that they have been accustomed to perform qua lawyers: first, their advocacy in the Courts; secondly, advising the Crown, and Government Departments on points of law; and, thirdly, which is the side we see most here, advising the House of Commons on points of law. They occupy a slightly different position, even when they are taking part in debate, from an ordinary Minister of the Crown. We always expect the Minister, when he gets up, to make something in the nature of a controversial speech, but it frequently happens that we call a Law Officer not in order to defend any particular position the Government have taken up, but simply to enlighten the House and to give an authoritative statement as to how the Law stands on the particular matter we are considering. Those are the duties which Law Officers perform qua lawyers.

In recent years, certainly since the War, the practice seems to have grown up of treating the two Law Officers of the Crown as supernumerary Ministers or supernumerary heads of Departments. I have noticed even in my brief experience that, when a complicated and difficult Bill is brought before this House, and when it happens to be in the hands of one of the weaker brethren on the Treasury bench who, it is thought, would not be capable of dealing with the more controversial or difficult Clauses, immediately the Government send for a Law Officer in order to sit by the Minister and get him out of any difficulties in which he may involve himself. I am not trying to make any distinction between one Party and another, but it frequently happened in the Labour Government, and certainly in the last Parliament. Therefore, we have the difficulty, to which attention has been drawn by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley, as to the clash between the duties which the Law Officer is expected to perform inside this House and the duties he is expected to perform out- side. We are sometimes placed in a difficulty because of this comparatively modern development in the treatment of Law Officers by the Government of the day.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has suggested, and other hon. Members have agreed with him, that there ought to be some further inquiry not simply into the amount of the fees or of the salary of the Law Officers, but also into the position of the Law Officers and the duties that they discharge. Until we have made up our minds about that, it is impossible really to come to a satisfactory decision on the question of their fees or their salaries. I suggest that in these days, when it is desirable on so many occasions that we should have an authoritative legal statement made from time to time on points which arise quite casually in Debate, in addition to having the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, it might be greatly to the advantage of the House if one of the sinecure offices was filled by an eminent member of the legal profession. [Interruption.] The gap between the Law Officers and myself is so great that I am not speaking in a personal sense. If that were done it might be possible to release one of the Law Officers from constant attendance in this House. That is the position which has actually arisen for some months past in Scotland. We have the Lord Advocate who is advising the Scottish Office and taking part in Scottish Debates in this House, and we have the Solicitor-General for Scotland who, though he is now seeking to re-enter this House at Hillhead, has not since the last General Election been a member of the House at all. It is an arrangement which, as far as Scotland is concerned, has worked perfectly well.

I think that the case has been made out, particularly by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol, who speaks from his own experience, that the dual duties which we now cast upon the Law Officers have become exceedingly heavy and probably too heavy for any two men to perform. Although I do not thing that the arguments advanced by the hon. and learned Gentleman are any particular reason for voting for the Amendment, it has been useful that the position of the Law Officers has been raised, discussed and canvassed in this House, and my hon. and right hon. Friends and I would support the suggestion made from so many quarters that there ought to be some further inquiry into the position and the duties of the Law Officers.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Errington

The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment made some reference to the fact that very often Law Officers went forward to high positions in the State elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman ought to realise that the Attorney-General is the head of the Bar in this country, and it would seem to follow that the judgment of the House or the Government in the selection of the particular gentleman for the position of Attorney-General or Solicitor-General had been justified by the position which they subsequently obtained and have ornamented. I do not think that it is a fair ground for criticism to say that they should not merely by reason of the fact that they have been appointed by the Government as Law Officers they should not be appointed to these high positions in the State. There are more duties than the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) thinks that the Law Officers perform. It is true that the first duty, and the most important in some ways, is that of an advocate, and the advising of the Government and of this House, but in addition there is a considerable amount of administrative work which has to be done. In regard to the Public Order Act, which has just passed through this House, there has to be a fiat given by the Attorney-General. There are other acts which require a fiat before criminal prosecutions can be started. That is another facet of the extremely various duties which the Law Officers have to perform,

The question as to whether those duties are capable of being performed efficiently in full by the two Law Officers is perhaps a matter for investigation, but I see one grave difficulty in regard to the suggestion that there should be no fees for Law Officers. As the law stands at present, the successful party in litigation is entitled to costs, and it would raise some difficulty in regard to the enforcement of the law if the Government were successful and were in the position of having paid no fees to their advocates when they happened to be Law Officers. The whole matter is one of considerable difficulty and certainly requires the most careful consideration, but until a decision, upon consideration, has been arrived at, bearing in mind the multifarious work of the Law Officers, there seems no necessity for any change to be made in remuneration.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 104; Noes, 210.

Division No. 203.] AYES. [5.30 p.m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Pritt, D. N.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Ridley, G.
Adamson, W. M. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Ritson, J.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Hollins, A. Rowson, G.
Ammon, C. G. Hopkin, D. Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sanders, W. S.
Banfield, J. W. Kelly, W. T. Sexton. T. M.
Bellenger, F. J. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Shinwell, E.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Kirby, B. V. Silkin, L.
Broad, F. A. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Simpson, F. B.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Lawson, J. J. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire) Leonard, W. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Burke, W. A. Leslie, J. R. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Cluse, W. S. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Smith, T. (Normanton)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. McEntee. V. La T. Sorensen, R. W.
Cocks, F. S. McGhee, H. G. Stephen, C.
Cove, W. G. McGovern, J. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Cripps, Hen. Sir Stafford MacLaren, A. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Daggar, G. MacNeill, Weir, L. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dalton, H. Marshall, F. Thurtle, E.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Mathers, G. Tinker, J. J.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Maxton, J. Viant S. P
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Messer, F. Walkden, A. G.
Day, H. Montague, F. Walker. J.
Dobbie, W. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H (Hackney, S.) Watkins, F. C.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Watson, W. McL.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Muff, G. Welsh, J. C.
Frankel, D.
Gallacher, W. Naylor, T. E. Westwood, J.
Gardner, B. W. Noel-Baker, P. J. Whiteley, W.
Garro Jones, G. M. Oliver, G. H. Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)
Gibbins, J. Paling, W. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Gibson, R. (Greenock) Parker, J. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Parkinson, J. A. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Potts, J.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Price, M. P. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Groves and Mr. Charleton.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Emrys-Evans, P. V.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n) Errington, E.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Channon, H. Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Chorlton, A. E. L. Everard, W. L.
Aske, Sir R. W. Clarry, Sir Reginald Foot, D. M.
Assheton, R. Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Fox, Sir G. W. G
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Colfox, Major W. P. Fremantle, Sir F. E.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Furness, S. N.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.
Beit, Sir A. L. Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs) Goodman, Col. A. W.
Bennett, Sir E. N. Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)
Bernays, R. H. Cox, H. B. T. Granville, E. L.
Birchall, Sir J. D. Crooke, J. S. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.
Blair, Sir R. Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Gratton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.
Bossom, A. C Cross, R. H. Gridley, Sir A. B.
Boulton, W. W. Crossley, A. C. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Crowder, J. F. E. Grigg, Sir E. W. M.
Boyce, H. Leslie De la Bère, R. Guinness, T. L. E. B.
Brass, Sir W. Denville, Alfred Gunston, Capt. D. W.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Doland, G. F. Guy, J. C. M.
Brocklebank, Sir Edmund Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Hamilton, Sir G. C.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Dugdale, Captain T. L. Hannon, Sir P. J. H.
Bull, B. B. Dunglass, Lord Harbord, A.
Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L. Eckersley, P. T. Harris, Sir P. A.
Campbell, Sir E. T. Edmondson, Major Sir J. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.
Cartland, J. R. H. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.
Carver, Major W. H. Ellis, Sir G. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-
Cary, R. A. Elmley, Viscount Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester) Emery, J. F. Herbert, Capt. Sir S. (Abbey)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Emmott, C. E. G. C. Higgs, W. F.
Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) Moreing, A. C. Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Morgan, R. H. Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Holdsworth, H. Munro, P. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Holmes, J. S. Nicholson, G. (Farnham) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Hulbert, N. J. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Storey, S.
Hunter, T. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Hurd, Sir P. A. Petherick, M. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Keeling, E. H. Pilkington, R. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Plugge, Capt. L. F. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Ramsay, Captain A. H. M. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin) Sutcliffe, H.
Latham, Sir P. Rawson, Sir Cooper Tasker, Sir R. I.
Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak) Rayner, Major R. H. Tate, Mavis C.
Leckie, J. A. Reid, Sir D. D. (Down) Thomson, Sir J. D. W,
Lees-Jones, J. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Titchfield, Marquess of
Leighton, Major B. E. P. Remer, J. R. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Levy, T. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Turton, R. H.
Lewis, O. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool) Wakefield, W. W.
Lindsay, K. M. Ropner, Colonel L. Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Lloyd, G. W. Rowlands, G. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Russell, Sir Alexander Watt, G. S. H.
Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury) Wayland, Sir W. A
MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen) White, H. Graham
McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Samuel, M. R. A. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Sandeman, Sir N. S. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Sanderson, Sir F. B. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Mander, G. le M. Sandys, E. D. Wise, A. R.
Manningham-Buller, Sir M Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P. Withers, Sir J. J.
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Savery, Sir Servington Wood, Hon. C. I. C.
Markham, S. F. Seely, Sir H. M. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar) Wright, Squadron Loader J. A. C.
Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Captain Hope and Mr. Munro.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert: (4) "No payment shall be made to any person under this section who is engaged in business as director of a public company or in private practice in a profession. This Amendment involves a matter of high principle, which I am sure the House will desire to consider in an objective spirit. I have no one particularly in mind and I will not mention any names, but it seems to me clear that now that we are raising salaries to a full and adequate scale, Members of the Government, whether in the Cabinet or not, will be expected to make it a full-time job and should not be permitted to hold any directorships, public or private, or continue to practise in any profession in which they may be engaged. Hon. Members may think that that principle is in practice at the present time and always has been. To a considerable extent that is so. It is well known that the Prime Minister on the appointment of Ministers asks for the resignation of directorships. That rule has been established for a considerable period, and I am moving the Amendment mainly for the purpose of getting a definite expression of the Government's view on the matter. It is moved in no hostile spirit, but in the public interest.

My information is—I may be wrong—that this rule has not been applied all-round in every case. I understand that there have been cases—I have more than one in mind—of persons engaged in practice as a solicitor and being either Members of the Cabinet or Ministers outside the Cabinet, being permitted—I have no doubt with the full knowledge and permission of the Prime Minister—to carry on their profession to some extent to see clients and to give advice. That was done, I am sure, with the best intentions, but I hardly think that in the circumstances in which we are considering this Bill it ought to be permitted in the future. I made some inquiries into one particular case. One of my predecessors in the representation of Wolverhampton, Sir Henry Fowler, was a solicitor and a Member of several Cabinets, but it was always his practice, while he remained a partner—there is no objection to that—never to see clients and never to engage in the everyday work of his profession.

There is a feeling, held by a good many people, that what I am describing has been taking place, no doubt on a very limited scale. It may have been thought that it is rather hard on a man to prevent him from seeing a few select clients, but that is not the point. I submit very strongly that it is desirable that the Government, if they cannot see their way to accept the Amendment, and put the matter beyond dispute, should make a specific declaration that as far as this Government is concerned no Member, whether in the Cabinet or outside it, will be allowed to continue any directorship or to continue the practice of the profession in which he is engaged. I desire again to make it clear that I do not wish to bring in the personal element or to say that anybody has done anything wrong. I am merely suggesting that the practice in the future should be on the lines that I have endeavoured to indicate.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith

I beg to second the Amendment.

5.42 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

The hon. Member has raised this question in very reasonable terms and I do not make any complaint of his having brought it forward. The question, manifestly, is not one which would be dealt with by the provisions of this Bill, although it is legitimate for the hon. Member to raise it in this way. If the view were that no Minister in any circumstances should be in any way engaged in one or other of the ways suggested, nobody would wish to say that he could do these things, provided he did not take the particular salary which this Act of Parliament gives him. If doing these things is not consistent with the duty of a Minister, he must not do them. It is not a question of whether he is or is not prepared to sacrifice a particular ministerial salary in order to avail himself of opportunities which otherwise he ought not to enjoy. As a matter of form nobody would seek to deal with this matter by a provision in the present but I am not on that ground seeking to shirk the question, which the hon. Member has raised more as a matter of importance and principle than as anything connected with this Bill.

This question has come up from time to time and has been the subject of pronouncements by the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister is not here at the moment and I am taking his place. I would recall to the House that the proposition, which has been reaffirmed again and again, goes back to the time of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The last time it was raised was in December, 1935, when the then Prime Minister, whom for the moment we must call Sir Stanley Baldwin, said: As regards directorships, the rule was laid down by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in answer to a question on 20th March, 1906, in the following words: 'The condition which was laid down on the formation of the Government was that all directorships must be resigned except in the case of honorary directorships, directorships in connection with philanthropic undertakings, and directorships in private companies. This rule has been observed by all subsequent Governments, and is still in force. As regards the other activities, no necessity has ever arisen to supplement with specific rules the traditional standards of public life in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Ioth December, 1935; col. 731, Vol. 307.] These principles are, I think, fairly easy to explain, and I should certainly include three. In the first place, it is plain that in no circumstances must a man who holds the position of a Minister ever allow himself to be in such a situation that his public duty will conflict with his private interests. That is a principle which we should all affirm, and honestly try to observe, but it is of immense importance in the case of Ministers because they have exceptional means of information. The second principle is that no man should allow himself to occupy any portion of the time which he is bound to devote to his public duties in a disregard of his public duties, and pursue any private interest whatever, whether it is in playing golf or in the nature of business. The third principle is that inasmuch as the secrets of the Government are specially in charge of Cabinet Ministers, no Minister, and particularly no Cabinet Minister, must in any circumstances put himself in a position where he is not able to be the complete guardian of those secrets without any possibility of any private interests being served through a knowledge of those secrets. The hon. Member asked me for a specific assurance on these matters.

Mr. Mander

The right hon. Member is aware that I notified the Prime Minister that I was going to put these points.

Sir J. Simon

I am speaking for the Prime Minister, and I doubt very much whether these matters are really capable of being put into an exact code. The hon. Member mentioned what must obviously be an exception. He was not suggesting that a man who became a Minister and who was in private life a partner in a partnership, should dissolve the partnership. In my own profession a barrister is essentially a single individual interest. I have not and could not have any partner; but there are many professions in which partnership is almost a necessity, and to require a man to dissolve a partnership would be going beyond anything we could reasonably require. It may be that it is a matter which should be carefully considered, having regard to the fact that a man may desire to return to his profession, but if hon. Members will think out the case they will see that it is not a matter for laying down precise rules. I have had a talk with the Prime Minister, and he authorises me to say that the rule laid down by Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, and adopted and applied since that time by various successive Prime Ministers, is the rule to-day and will be accepted by him as such.

I think that, in fact, does meet the case of the hon. Member, and I would deprecate the use of this Debate for the purpose of trying, almost impromptu, to put forward more precise definitions. I do not know whether a man who is mostly associated with the co-operative society ought or ought not to dissociate himself from the company, but I do know that when a man is connected with business enterprises outside before he becomes a Minister of the Crown, when he becomes a Minister he has to put that before all others; that he must not allow any portion of the time which he owes to the discharge of his public duties to be given to the discharge of his private interests; that he must never be in the position where his public and private interests conflict, and must never allow any information which comes his way to be used for the purpose of any private benefit.

Mr. Mander

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the specific point as to whether it would be in order for a Minister to see clients as a solicitor? That is an important point.

Mr. T. Smith

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that a Minister must resign any directorships of public companies but that he can remain on the board of a private company?

Sir J. Simon

I believe there have been such cases. The rule which has always been laid down on the formation of a Government is that: All directorships held by Ministers must be resigned except in the case of honorary directorships, directorships in connection with philanthropic undertakings, and directorships in private companies. … As regards the other activities, no necessity has ever arisen to supplement with specific rules the traditional standards of public life in this country. I do not think that I can give any specific ruling on the point raised by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). I apprehend that in any such possible case the Minister would not hold himself available for the purpose of new business, but, on the other hand, I should be slow to say that a gentleman standing high in my profession who had the guardianship of a child, or was the executor of a trust, is bound to throw aside these duties. I am convinced that these matters are to be determined not by an explicit and precise list of negatives but by saying that all honourable men are to be trusted in the discharge of their public duties. If they act dishonourably there is no country where they will be more certain to be found out than in this country.

5.55 p.m.

Sir P. Harris

My hon. Friend has raised a simple question, to which I think we should have an explicit reply. It has been the tradition that a Cabinet Minister should not engage in a trade or profession. Has it been held that a man can practise as a solicitor? Obviously, if he is the guardian of a child or the executor of a trust he will be allowed to continue that work. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give a ruling on the point. We have had a ruling that Members of the Cabinet must not write articles for newspapers for profit. That principle was laid down some time ago by Sir Stanley Baldwin. But, there again, articles on philosophy or on the Greek poets are articles to which no one would take any objection; articles on politics for profit, I understand, are most undesirable under the ruling of Sir Stanley Baldwin. I hope we shall have a clear ruling on this specific point for the guidance of this and future Parliaments.

5.56 p.m.

Sir John Withers

I would point out that the position of a solicitor is rather different from anything else. You have to take out a practising certificate and in the case of a Minister when leaving office he would have to take out another practising certificate. Even if you do not go near your office for months you are still a practising solicitor. I take out my practising certificate, but I have no interest in my firm at all. I have to take out my practising certificate simply because I am a trustee or the guardian of a child, and if some one comes to the Lobby to see me I am technically practising and, therefore, I must have a practising certificate. It would be a great hardship for a young man entering the Government to have to give up his practising certificate because when he retires he would have to put his name on the roll again and get permission to practise; and that is a troublesome thing to do.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. Pritt

I am a little worried about this. I am ready to accede the point that in proper cases some things are much better done by rules of honour than by rules of law. If that is so, the rules of honour must be fairly clear, and, what is more important, must be observed with the greatest good faith. The hon. Member has asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for guidance on a particular matter in which rules of honour obtain; and we are not to get it. As the matter has been raised it should not be left in doubt. It would be much better that it should be a rule of law. If a barrister is asked by a firm of solicitors to appoint a consultation and when the solicitor comes into the room he finds that he is also a Minister of the Crown, what is he to think? When we ask what the Government think is the right and proper thing to do, they will not tell us—and it worries me very much. As to the practising certificate I understand and sympathise with the hon. Member for the Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), but I hope that no rule of honour or rule of law will be construed to say that a gentleman who is doing a single minute's work as a solicitor whilst Minister of the Crown should not take out a new certificate.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to give any proposition he is maintaining at the moment an air of great plausibility, but on this occasion he has not been successful in convincing the House. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to base his objection to the Amendment on two grounds; first, that it was inappropriate to include it in the present Bill; and, secondly, that if it were appropriate on grounds of relevancy, it would be better not to include it on the ground that it is best left to the honour of the individual concerned. I could understand the validity of the argument that honour should be the test if there were no definition, but If there is to be some definition, I think it ought to be comprehensive.

The Debate has tended to concentrate on the case of solicitors, but there is a number of other cases which have come to the notice of the House in the past. For example, a member of another place, although he resigned his directorship, continued to draw emoluments as a member of the London committee of the board, and was not precluded from discharging those functions or drawing that salary either by a rule of honour or by a more explicit rule. There is the further case where a managing director has in his service agreement a provision that if he should at any time cease to be managing director, he should become general manager of the firm. I think it is not fair to the Ministers concerned to leave these definitions vague and lax, and if we are to have any rules at all, those rules, while it may be impossible to make them completely comprehensive, should be so comprehensive as to include all the more ordinary examples of a breach of the spirit of the custom of the land.

We have, for example, frequently found it necessary to question the Prime Minister on the rights of Ministers to contribute articles to the Press, and the Prime Minister originally—I believe in response to a question which I asked in 1925 with reference to the late Lord Birkenhead—laid down a rule that they should not. That rule appeared to be kept for some years, but then breaches began to be made in it and Ministers began to write books and articles in newspapers on subjects other than politics, until, when a further question was asked, the Prime Minister had to revise his definition as to what articles Ministers were permitted to contribute to the Press, and allow them to contribute on subjects other than politics. There again doubts have arisen.

I notice that the Lord Chief Justice of England who, although he is not a Minister of the Crown, occupies a position which should be subject to similar, if not greater, restrictions, contributes articles which, although prima facie not connected with politics, deal with questions of licensing and quasi-political subjects. Articles on such subjects will present equal difficulties if they are written by Cabinet Ministers. Therefore, I maintain that there can be no more suitable occasion for pressing for a closer definition of what Ministers may do than on the consideration of a Bill which is providing those Ministers with their emoluments. I believe there is a service agreement which always prescribes the terms of appointment, and I think it would be admirable if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take the opportunity, either here or in another place, if not to include a code in this Bill, at any rate to make it more explicit and cause it to be known to Ministers as a whole.

6.5 p.m.

Sir S. Cripps

I do not think the Chancellor has very much assisted in the solution of this problem by the observations which he has made. The difficulties of the problem are clear. With reference to the case of solicitors, which has been cited, I would like to bring to the notice of the House a conversation which I had upon the matter with the late Sir Donald Maclean when he was appointed President of the Board of Education. He then discussed with me at great length the exact position in which he found himself as regards his practice as a solicitor, and he was in great difficulty to know exactly what he ought not to do. There were cases of trusteeship and executorship, there were, I think, cases of guardianship, there were cases where he had for many years advised elderly ladies as regards their estates, and other cases, of course, where he was advising big companies, and so on. From what he told me, he certainly found the greatest difficulty in ascertaining how, where and what line should be drawn. As long as a solicitor is allowed to continue in his practice in any way, that difficulty of drawing a line will inevitably occur. Some people will draw it on the more liberal side and some on the more conservative side.

The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) has pointed out the difficulty as regards the practising certificate. Let me give him an analogous case. He will appreciate that when someone is appointed for a term as official arbitrator under the Acquisition of Land Act, he is almost always a partner in a firm of surveyors, and he has to relinquish his partnership as long as he holds that position. He has completely to give up his practice in order that he may not have even an air of being associated with any firm that might conceivably be concerned in any matter before him. If in a comparatively minor position compared with that of a Cabinet Minister a rule of that nature is imposed, surely there is not any hardship that could not be overcome in imposing a similar rule as regards the practice of a Cabinet Minister. It might be a little difficult to get a practising certificate again, but it is very difficult to become a Cabinet Minister, and I think one can legitimately say that when someone has climbed to the eminence and responsibility of being a Cabinet Minister, it is not a very great hardship if, when he ceases to hold that office, he has to get a practising certificate again.

My own experience has been similar to that of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), and I have had another experience. In a case I have read through correspondence between the solicitors of the parties, a large portion of which was signed by a Minister of the Crown. I am not saying whether that was right or wrong; all I am pointing out is that it is a very difficult and embarrassing situation for an individual to be told that he may carry on his position, but must be careful and must not do anything outside certain limits. He may think he is doing something which is quite all right, but someone else outside may say that it is all wrong and ought not to allowed. He may think that he is doing something merely as an executor or a trustee, but imperceptibly it may merge into some form of contentious action. He may be unable to drop it; it may seem to him to be unfair to the people concerned for him to drop it; he may allow it to go on for a week or two and then quite unconsciously he may overstep some limit.

I suggest that in those conditions there is really only one safe rule, and it is that a person who is a Member of the Cabinet should not be a practising solicitor. I suggest that there is no real hardship in such a case, any more than there is hardship in telling a man who has spent his life as a director of a company, in which he has been solely interested, about which he is highly skilled and has great knowledge and competence, that he must give up that directorship altogether. It may be that he will never get back to that directorship. It depends upon who controls the company after he finishes being a Cabinet Minister as to whether he will get back again. That is the price which is paid in order that it may be absolutely apparent that there can be no conflict of interests. It is not merely a question of whether there is conflict, but whether anybody may think there is a conflict. Although I appreciate that this is not the place in which it could be put, I press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider whether it would not be better to say outright that the Government of the country recognises that people who are Cabinet Ministers cannot also be practising professional men.

6.10 p.m.

Sir R. Tasker

I support the views stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and.the attitude of the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was not logical in his remarks. He said that Members of the Cabinet should not act as solicitors or professional men because they are paid as Cabinet Ministers. If he holds that view, surely it would be logical for him to say that no Member of the House ought to act in his profession as long as he is in receipt of remuneration of £400 a year.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I have no desire to press the Amendment if the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to give an assurance that the matter will be further considered and a statement made by the Prime Minister in due course.

Sir J. Simon

I cannot, of course, give any assurance of what may eventually be done. I think we have had a very reasonably conducted Debate on what is a very difficult matter, and I have no doubt that the observations that have been made by various hon. Members will be most carefully considered.

Mr. Mander

In view of that statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave., withdrawn.