HC Deb 12 February 1941 vol 368 cc1462-9
Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, in page 52, line 8, at the end, to insert: 2. A vice-chairman may be appointed to preside over that part of the Commission which shall deal with claims arising in Scotland and which shall normally work in Scotland. This procedure is taken from precedent, because in practice it has not been found possible to work a scheme of this kind where the law in Scotland materially differs from that in England by having a Commission sitting in London. Consultations that I have had convince me that the Commission itself will get into endless difficulties by trying to administer it from London. This Commission ought, therefore, to be divided. I move the Amendment in the hope that Scotland will have an administration of its own in this connection and that part of the Commission will have its seat in Scotland and work in conjunction with the other authorities there.

Sir K. Wood

When I dealt with the composition of the Commission I stated that it was my intention to appoint two members from Scotland. I intimated then that they would be able to deal especially with Scottish interests. I want to make it plain that these two members will be members of the Commission; they will not be, as it were, a separate Commission for Scotland, leaving the balance of the other members to be the Commission for this country. In the interests of the general procedure of the Commission, and of seeing that the general principles of the Measure are carried out, the Commission should be regarded as one. The idea is that these two representatives will investigate Scottish questions and cases on behalf of the Commission. After their investigation the matters will be decided by the Commission as a whole. In that way there would be uniformity of practice and an assurance that the general principles of the Bill are being carried out in both countries. I could not accept the conception of a vice-chairman for the particular purposes laid down in the Amendment, but if the Commission like to appoint a vice-chairman they are able to do so under the Bill. Another Amendment of the hon. Member refers to the appointment of a secretary, but the same answer applies there. I can see that there will be a Scottish office with officials and others who will specially concern themselves with Scottish business, but I do not conceive of a permanent secretary, in the sense of a permanent secretary of one of the Departments, operating in Scotland. That is a matter which the Commission will have to decide in the light of their experience of the burden of work which falls on them.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

One recognises the validity of the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman, but may I ask whether it is not the intention that on occasions the Commission shall be in Scotland to deal with Scottish cases?

Sir K. Wood indicated assent.

Mr. Mathers

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is under-estimating the difficulties of the two legal systems. Great ingenuity and great ability have been shown in blending provisions into one Bill so that both Scottish and English practice may be provided for, but I am rather sorry that the Chancellor does not see his way to concede what is asked for in this Amendment. I believe it would add to the effectiveness of the Commission from the Scottish point of view, and I believe it will be found, in practice, that what is asked for in this Amendment will have to be carried out. I am certain that it will be necessary for a chairman who thoroughly understands the position in Scotland and Scottish legal practice to be in charge of any investigation that is made on the other side of the border.

Sir H. Williams

We have heard about having a Scottish vice-chairman. I hope that the rest of the Commission will not be Scottish as well.

Mr. Benson

I realise that the Chancellor, faced with a solid phalanx of Scotsmen, had to do something, but I should like to point out that there are differences in practice, different forms of land tenure and different customs, in different parts of England. Anyone in Lancashire who has had to undertake conveyancing in which a London solicitor is involved just tears his hair. There ought to be someone on the Commission who is conversant with the local practices in the important areas in the North of England.

Mr. Woodburn

It is not necessarily a question of having Scotsmen to look after Scottish affairs, because, although it may be a surprise to the Committee, there are many Englishmen in Scotland who administer Scottish affairs very well. The late Secretary of State for Scotland showed considerable ability in that office and he could be claimed by friends south of the Border to be an Englishman. The point here, however, is that those who administer this Measure in Scotland must be acquainted with Scottish law and able to handle these complicated problems in accordance with the law and customs of Scotland. I urge the Chancellor to reconsider whether what is suggested in my Amendment might not be the best way of accomplishing his object. The Amendment adopts the procedure of the Government in regard to another Commission, the name of which escapes me for the moment. As to the secretary, it is taken for granted that if somebody has to run an office in Scotland for the Commission it will be only fair to appoint a secretary there, but if he assures me that the Commission have powers to do so under the Bill as it stands I will willingly withdraw the Clause.

Sir K. Wood

This is very unusual work which the Commission will have to undertake, and I think it will be better for us to see how things turn out. I think the Commission have full powers already, but if it is found necessary to make some changes, I should act with a desire to see that the Commission had all the necessary powers. I think the business will work out all right.

Mr. Woodburn

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Major Milner

I beg to move, in page 52, line 14, to leave out paragraph 3.

I move this amendment in order to call attention to the increasing tendency in recent Acts of Parliament to debar Members of this House, not to mention Members of another place, from occupying positions on such a Commission as that which we are now setting up. This procedure originated in the days of Queen Anne, in 1707, when the Succession to the Crown Act made acceptance of office under the Crown a disqualification for membership. Latterly, a number of bodies have been set up under Acts of Parliament and are not, in strictness, under the Crown. It has become the practice in Acts of Parliament to debar Members of this House from acceptance of positions on those bodies. That is an extension of the law of 1707 which, in my submission, is out-of-date and is not suitable to the present day.

In 1707, patronage was a very great thing and it was necessary to provide that the Executive should not have too much patronage, and certainly not secret patronage. The position to-day is entirely different. All these appointments are made in the light of day, and there seems to be no special reason for debarring Members of Parliament from acceptance of office, for example, on the proposed War Damage Commission. In these days, all should be able to pull their weight, not only in Parliament, but elsewhere, in any position in which their experience and knowledge would be of use. On the contrary, we see that, little by little, the ordinary Member is being more debarred. Nevetheless, one reads in the newspapers that special provision can be made. One reads that it is proposed to bring before this House a Bill whereby the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) may take the High Commissionership of Canada and yet retain his position in this House. It is possible, in what the Government consider to be appropriate cases, to make provision that acceptance of an office which may last for a long time and be carried on thousands of miles away from here, is not incompatible with membership of this House. On the other hand, one reads, as I did this morning, that another hon. Member has been appointed to be Governor of Burma, and will have to vacate his seat.

The situation is full of inconsistencies, and the Government ought to take it up. Members of this House can serve in the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force and can draw double salaries whereas, if I may say so without offence, the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) is doing extremely useful work in connection with evacuation in London and is not, I think, in receipt of or entitled to take any salary for his work. That applies also, I think, to my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) who is filling a most important position connected with the Ministry of Supply, but is similarly not entitled to draw appropriate remuneration therefor. If those Members had no private means they would not be able to give their effort and time to the service of the State and the existence of these provisions debar those without such means from doing outside work without remuneration. By the War Damage Bill Members will be debarred from sitting on the Commission but on the Forestry Commission, the Bacon Development Board and other Boards they are entitled to sit.

A precedent is therefore being set up, with all these new bodies which, in wartime, are more numerous than ever, that Members of this House should be debarred from appointment to them. That ought not to be the case, particularly in wartime. What a good thing it would be if the great majority of Members of this House were associated with definite work apart from membership of this House, in support of the war effort, and were able to bring their expert knowledge and experience to the service of the country and of the House. The practice of which I complain ought to be discontinued and, indeed, I should be prepared to do away with the Act of 1707. It does not necessarily ensure the right men getting the right position, and in these days it does not seem necessary to debar Members of this House from occupying positions of this sort. Contrary to the old days, all these matters are now dealt with in the light of day. Then again, some Members can occupy some positions while in other cases they cannot do so.

Sir H. Williams

I am going to oppose this Amendment for precisely the same reason as my hon. and gallant Friend moved it. I have with me a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT for the last Sitting Day, containing a list of members of His Majesty's Government. Seventy-one Members of this House are now Ministers of the Crown; if each has a Parliamentary Private Secretary, that makes 142. There are also two Ambassadors and one Commissioner. I am in favour of Queen Anne. We are getting on to dangerous ground when a quarter of this House is in the service of the Crown, and I hope that note will be taken of a situation which is developing unfavourably.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton East)

I hone that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not listen to the advice tendered by my hon. Friend. If he had his way, we should all be not merely Members of Parliament, but members of the Civil Service too, drawing salaries from both sources, and I cannot help thinking that it would create an extremely unfavourable impression among the public in general if we were gradually to go on increasing the number of paid posts which Members of this House may accept. Recently, and notoriously in the last few days, there have been cases, some of which are regrettable, and I think we have gone too far in allowing Members to accept positions. But that is no reason why we should go still further and make that a justification for following the precedent and allowing Members to serve on this Commission. I am sure the public would not like it at all; they would take a very serious view of it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have nothing to do with it.

The Attorney-General

I propose to confine my remarks to a somewhat narrower issue than that which has been covered by the speeches to which we have listened. Quite apart from whether it would be right or wrong in war-time, it is relevant to point out that the activities of this body will certainly last after wartime. Therefore there is no question of what might or might not he justified in war-time. Another point which I hope the Committee, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment, will accept as another reason against the Amendment, is that this Commission will he charged with semi-judicial functions. In cases where judicial or semi-judicial functions arise it is desirable that hon. Members should debar ourselves from serving. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment suggested that there was some recent tendency to treat it as automatic. I do not think that is so. For example, in the Regional Commissioners Bill this House made the exception by which Members of this House were debarred from serving.

Major Milner

Having regard to what has been said, I am prepared to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I think that there should be some consistency in this matter. At present the whole matter is inconsistent, and the situation puts those without private means and who cannot take an office without remuneration in an unsatisfactory position The tendency is for legislation to be directed against those who have not the means to take office unless those means are provided from public funds. Having said that and ventilated the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.