HC Deb 11 December 1941 vol 376 cc1684-5
Sir P. Harris

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make about the position of Members of Parliament under the National Service Acts?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

Yes, Sir. I am glad to take this opportunity of explaining the position of Members of Parliament under the National Service Acts.

In the view of His Majesty's Government it would not be appropriate to confer on Members of Parliament a statutory exemption from the obligations which they share in common with everyone else. Members of Parliament have, however, also the high duty of service in the Legislature, and they must themselves be the judges of how that duty can best be performed. They are therefore given a free choice by virtue of their position as Members of Parliament and not as a favour. This was the position in the last war, and has always been maintained in the present war. Furthermore, if a Member of Parliament joins the Armed Forces of the Crown, and later decides that he wishes to devote his whole time to Parliamentary duties, arrangements are made for his release from military service for that purpose, provided, of course, that reasonable notice is given to arrange for his relief.

Considering the very large number of Members serving with the Forces, and the many questions that may arise in the combining and reconciling of their duties, it is very satisfactory that there has been so little difficulty in practice.

Mr. Bernays

While I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, which has done so much to clarify the situation, can he say whether, as a result of these National Service Acts, anything has been done to alter the ancient rights and Privileges of Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I think I can safely reassure my hon. Friend on that point.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the favoured position occupied by Members of Parliament in relation to the ordinary citizen, could it not be made a condition that, where Members of Parliament choose Parliament rather than the Forces, they attend Parliament every day and do their duty by their constituents?

The Prime Minister

I do not think the question is one of favour, but rather of the discharge of important duties. Those duties, as I have several times pointed out, are sometimes better discharged by silence than by speech.

Mr. Gallacher

It is not a question of silence or speech, but it is notorious that while there is—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is giving information, not asking for it.

Mr. Gallacher

I will ask for information. I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he is not aware of the feeling of discontent that exists in the country because of the absenteeism in this House in comparison with the lack of absenteeism in the industries of the country. Will he not see to it that Members attend the House and do their duty? It is not necessary for them to make speeches to do their duty.

The Prime Minister

Some people, by their absence, contribute as much to the progress of our affairs as by their presence.