§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ the Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is important to emphasise at the outset that this is a war-time Measure. Its effect is limited to the war period, and it deals only with cases where a Member is anxious to give his services to the State for purposes connected with the prosecution of the war. When the House on an early day in the war passed, as it did at the beginning of the last war, the Act dealing with the Armed Forces, it recognised and approved the principle that its Members should be free to serve the State on the active list in the Armed Forces of the Crown. The White Paper shows how many Members of the House are so serving, now, and some, we know, have already laid down their lives in the cause for which we are fighting. The House— and this, too, is relevant—also expressly exempted Regional Commissioners and Deputy Regional Commissioners from the disqualification of sitting and voting which would otherwise have attached to those appointments. It also, when it passed the Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act, removed the statutory limit which previously existed on the appointment of Ministers and their Secretaries to sit in this House.
This Bill deals with the position of those who desire to serve their country and whose services are required for the prosecution of the war in capacities other than those to which I have already referred. Whether they can so serve or not depends at present on old Statutes, the principles of which are archaic, obscure, illogical and in all respects unsatisfactory. Certain service of this kind is allowable and certain other service disqualifies. Even if that corpus of old law were a satisfactory body of law for dealing with conditions in peace-time, the House might well be justified and feel it right, as it has done in the Acts to which I have referred, to adopt a different principle in war-time for the period of the war and in the interests of the efficient prosecution of the war. In approaching this Bill, it is important to 656 understand the present anomalous position in which this question falls to be determined. The main relevant disqualifying provision is contained in the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707. Although it was originally enacted in 1705, it was re-enacted in 1707 as a consequence of the Union with Scotland. That Act has a history which arose in those days from various apprehensions as to the safeguard of the Protestant succession and what might happen if a Member of the House of Hanover succeeded, and also from certain party manoeuvres of the time.
Under the Act of Settlement of 1700, Parliament precluded any person holding office under the Crown from sitting in this House. If that had stood, we should have a position somewhat similar to that which exists in the United States. It was in 1705 that the matter was reconsidered and both Houses made their contribution, with the result which was then arrived at. Under the Act of that year, which distinguished between new and old offices, the holding of an old office was not regarded as a disqualification though, on appointment, there had to be re-election. In looking at the Journals of the House as to what happened on this occasion, I find recorded the reasons given by the Lords for refusing to accept certain Commons Amendments and I think this passage is interesting, having reference to the provision which I have just described in the Act of Settlement.To enact that all persons employed and trusted by the Crown shall for that reason alone become incapable of being trusted by the people, is, in effect, to declare that the interests of the Crown and of the people must be always contrary to each other, which is a notion no good Englishman ought to entertain.
§ The Attorney-General
This was before the Union. That Act of 1705, which was, to some extent, a compromise, dealt with the matter, as I say, by distinguishing between old and new offices. Under it, the holder of an old office was not disqualified from being elected and sitting but there had to be a by-election. The holding of a new office disqualified altogether and there is no doubt that this Section was to prevent the possible apprehended evil of the creation of ad hoc sinecure posts by the Government of the day, in order to put Members into them and 657 get their support or, again to use words to be found in the House of Commons Journals, to prevent future excesses in the multiplying of offices not necessarily in the interests of the country. Looking at the matter as Parliament dealt with it at that time, the position was this. Subject to being re-elected—and that was dealt with in 1919 and 1926—Parliament saw nothing wrong in a Member sitting here and holding office so long as the office had been in existence for a year, but anew office disqualified. Applying that principle to-day, we see how different the position is. Now a Member can only sit and vote here if the office has been in existence, not for one year but for 236 years. Therefore we can say that it is something entirely different from that which was intended at the time.
When considering whether a Member can serve in any capacity other than as a Minister, or as a member of the Armed Forces, or as a Regional Commissioner, one has first to ask, is it an old office and if not, is it an "office" or a "place of profit"? The question of whether it is an old office is not always easy to answer. No doubt, a man who holds a commission in a regiment which was raised before Queen Anne's time is holding an old office, but the question may be raised of whether an officer in the Tank Corps is holding an old office. If you decide that it is an old office, then you have to answer questions like this. Is "a place" the same as "an office," because the words are "office or place"?On the whole, it has been thought "yes," though I do not know that there is any decision of the courts on the matter. These things may all come to the courts, because the industrious common informer may be anxious to pick up £500.
Can one apply the simple test as to whether an office is an office of profit or not, of asking whether the person holding it draws any remuneration from it, or gains any financial advantage from it? The answer is that you can apply no such simple test. An unpaid Lord of the Treasury holds an "office of profit" and a retiring Member of this House in his brief occupation of the office of Steward or Bailiff of His Majesty's Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, resigns that office no richer than when he accepted it, although he has ceased to be a Member of the House 658 because it is an "office of profit" within the Act. That does not end the difficulties which arise in this area. There are other special disqualifying Acts, in particular the Act of 1741. This dealt with various Departments many of which have now ceased to exist, but it still applies to some of our older Departments of State, and disqualifies deputies or secretaries in those offices. This is familiar ground to me because the Law Officers have frequently been asked in war-time and peacetime whether some border-line case comes on one side or the other of this old archaic mosaic of Statutes.
For instance, there have been many occasions when Members of this House have served on Committees or Commissions in the West Indies and other parts of the world. Does that sort of position become a "place of profit," because a Member gets a contribution towards his expenses? Is it a place under the Crown? Many obscure border-line problems arise. May I take one illustration which is relevant in present circumstances, the case of an Ambassador. It will be found stated in Erskine May that becoming an Ambassador does not disqualify from sitting in this House, but the actual precedents to which he refers are cases of Special Envoys, and it may be based on the view that that is not an office. On the other hand, when the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was appointed Ambassador to Moscow, he was not appointed as a Special Envoy. One then had to consider whether that would disqualify him. But it seemed clear to me, whether it was covered by the old precedent or not, that that was an old office. If it was an office, it was an old office because there had been Ambassadors from this country in Russia since before the time of Queen Anne. But suppose Lord Halifax had been a Member of this House when he was sent as Ambassador to the United States, an extremely nice question might have arisen. Could you say that that was an old office, the United States not being in existence, as such, in the reign of Queen Anne? Any person we might have had in that country at that date would have been much more like a High Commissioner than an Ambassador.
That is the position with regard to Ambassadors. A High Commissionership is, clearly, a new office and a new office 659 of profit. What could be more illogical, what could be more unnecessarily hampering to the Government in its choice of the men whom it desires to serve the State, for the purpose of the efficient prosecution of the war, than a position in which a Member can be sent to serve as Ambassador in Moscow, without any legal disqualification, but when it is proposed that a Member should be sent as High Commissioner to one of our Dominions, then this archaic guillotine descends and the appointment is said to be a disqualifying appointment? To sum up the legal side, service in the Armed Forces for the prosecution of the war does not disqualify. There were special Acts which removed the disqualification over a wide area, and included Regional Commissioners. Old offices are legal and do not disqualify even if profit is attached* and there is no need for a by-election. In this area, if you can find some form in which the work can be done without appointing a Member to an office or place previously associated with remuneration, then there is no disqualification. Surely that is an unsatisfactory position, and it is better to do as this Bill does, to come out into the open, to enable the matter to be dealt with on broad grounds of national interest in wartime. That is the purpose of this Bill, the House, I need not say, retaining in this as in all matters its ultimate control over the Executive and the use which the Executive makes of powers conferred upon it.
Let me say a word upon another aspect of the matter.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman passes away to the other aspect, may I ask a question about a point which is rather disturbing the minds of some of us? Would it not be possible to appoint a Viceroy of India and all the Governors in India from among Members of this House without those Members having to resign their seats?
§ The Attorney-General
The Bill is in general terms, and if we are going to consider what a responsible Executive might do under the Ministers (Emergency Appointments) Act, every Member of this House could be created either a Minister or a Secretary.
§ The Attorney-General
In war-time; this is restricted to war-time. I would draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the words of Clause 1 of the Bill, which requires that a certificate must be obtained from the First Lord of the Treasury saying that the appointment is requiredin the public interest for purposes connected with the prosecution of any war.Those words clearly limit the application of the Bill and exclude from it what we call normal appointments.
May I now pass to another aspect of this matter, the constituency aspect? I think it is clear that when the House approved the Bill dealing with the Armed Forces it realised that service in the Armed Forces would interfere drastically, and very possibly for a long period, with the attendance of a Member in this House. Service in the Armed Forces may mean service abroad for long periods; even if the service is in this country, that will make it impossible for the Member to attend our debates save on exceptional occasions. I think it is a little interesting that in old days, when the House insisted, in a way that it does not insist to-day, on the attendance of its Members, when the roll was called and those who were not present were liable to be fined if they had not an adequate excuse, service Of the Crown was always regarded as a legitimate ground of absence.
This question of the attendance of Members has arisen in the past quite irrespective of war purposes and war-time. There have been cases of prolonged illness and cases of prolonged absence. Surely the best of all reasons for absence is the service of the State in times such as those in which we are living, the service being for the prosecution of the war. I would emphasise that this is a war-time Measure in order to enable the Government to retain the services of Members who desire to serve and whose service will assist in the prosecution of the war with out being hampered in a certain limited field by archaic and illogical legal restrictions. The general principle that in the normal times of peace Members other than Ministers should only be able to hold office in carefully restricted areas is one 661 which has been accepted and does, I think, commend itself to the whole House.
There is no doubt about the correctness of that principle, but in the area in which we are discussing its application at the moment that principle is embodied in a very illogical set of rules. The Government are perfectly prepared, if it be the desire of the House, and on the condition that this Bill should be passed as a matter of urgency arising out of the necessities of the war, to agree to the examination by a Select Committee of these archaic rules and how far it may be necessary to tighten them up in one direction or relax them in another. Then we should have the recommendations of such a Committee as to what are the appropriate principles on which to base the permanent constitutional position of Members of this House in regard to holding offices under the Crown. My right hon. Friend would welcome such a decision and such an inquiry if it were the wish of the House that it should be undertaken at the present time, but so far as this Bill is concerned we ask the House to pass it as a war-time Measure.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
The statement which the Attorney-General has just made will affect the voting of a good many Members of the House, certainly of myself. Do we understand that he is making a clear offer, that the Government will give an undertaking that a Select Committee will examine this problem whilst this Bill is in operation?
§ The Attorney-General
Yes, examine the problem of what should be the permanent legislation applicable to peacetime and normal conditions. 1 want to make that quite clear. If it is the wish of the House, the Government are willing to grant, and, indeed, would welcome, an inquiry by a Select Committee now to consider the proper principle on which permanent legislation on this subject, to be operated in peace-time and in normal conditions, should be passed.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
Since this proposal seems to come near to the proposal in an Amendment of my own, and since this Bill is an annual Bill, why should not the Select Committee be asked to report what should be done at the end of this year?
§ The Attorney-General
The Bill is recommended to the House as one which the Government require in order to have their hands free to do their best to make the best use of the services of Members for the efficient prosecution of the war. The scope of the inquiry of the Select Committee would be to determine the proper principles, and to make recommendations thereon, on which to alter, if necessary, the present unsatisfactory and illogical position to a permanent peacetime and normal position. In regard to the working of the Bill, the statement I have just made does not include that within the terms of reference of the Committee. I was just coming to the point of dealing with the Bill itself. As my hon. Friend has just pointed out, the Bill operates for a year. Apart from other opportunities for challenge or Debate, there will necessarily be the fullest opportunity for Debate when it is renewed. Members who think that the Bill has not been working well, or can be improved, or ought to come to an end, will have an opportunity for putting their views forward.
§ The Attorney-General
I hope not. I expect that the Government will have the confidence to recommend to the House what they believe to be in the national interest for the better prosecution of the war.
Coming to the details of the Bill, I think it represents a great improvement and is in many ways a great improvement on the present position, that the House has to be informed of appointments by a certificate of my right hon. Friend, as First Lord of the Treasury. The House will know what use is being made of the powers conferred by virtue of the Bill. Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 validates appointments of various kinds which have been made, and is necessary because there are borderline cases. When the case of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol came up I thought it was clearly covered by the old-office principle, but I do not think that principle has ever been regarded previously as applicable to an Ambassador. Reading these ancient and obscure words, it is difficult in many cases to be certain, and it is therefore right that doubtful cases should be 663 covered by a provision such as is contained in Sub-section (3).
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
In actual practice the First Lord of the Treasury will make the appointments, but I do not think we should expect him subsequently to give a certificate that the appointment was not in the public interest.
§ The Attorney-General
My right hon. Friend does not make appointments unless he thinks they are in the public interest.
§ The Attorney-General
To inform the House. Surely the House would prefer to be informed when appointments are made.
§ The Attorney-General
They are not always in the "Times." You find many appointments in the White Paper, some of them doubtful, which would not be announced. The purpose is that the House should be informed.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Would the information appear on the Order Paper and be subject to discussion?
§ The Attorney-General
Yes, I think that is right. Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 provides:A copy of any certificate issued for the purposes of the foregoing Sub-section shall be laid before the Commons House of Parliament.
§ The Attorney-General
Nobody could be more aware than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as an old House of Commons man, of the importance of an independent House of Commons and of the part that the House of Commons has played, is playing and will play in the conduct of the war, in criticism of the Executive and in co-operation with the Executive. To suggest that the Bill is recommended by the Government in order to dangle artificial inducements before 664 Members and so to gain their support, or that it could be used to undermine the independence of the House of Commons, is a wholly distorted view, and surely is a reflection on Members and on the House itself. There is no kind of intention or desire to use the Bill, either on behalf of the Government or on behalf of Members, in that way. The issue raised by it I can put simply: Should the question whether a Member can serve the State, otherwise than in the Armed Forces and in other accepted channels fall to be decided on archaic obscure and illogical Statutes, or should the Government be free to consider the national interest, the House of Commons being kept fully informed of any use that is made of the powers conferred by the Bill, and retaining, as it does in other matters, power to check that use, if it considers that improper use is being made of the power?
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
Hon. Members on this side of the House take various views about the Bill. Some support it and others do not, and a certain number will be influenced by the course of the Debate. My personal view is that it will be wise to support the Bill, especially now that we have heard the statement of the Attorney-General regarding a Select Committee, about which I wish to say a few words presently. I listened to, and followed as far as I could, the Attorney-General's explanation of the legal tangle into which we seem to have got ourselves in the course of the last 236 years. I have not a legal training and therefore cannot discuss that part of his argument, but I gathered from what he said that the pith of the matter is that an office which was in existence before 1705 can be held without disqualifying a Member from sitting in this House, but if the office was constituted after 1705 the Member may be attacked by a common informer and may be made to vacate his seat. So that it looks to me as if the question whether an hon. Member can take an office with or without disqualification in this House has become a matter of chance. The case of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), to which reference has been made, illustrates the point, but I would put it in a rather different way from that in which the Attorney-General put it. He can be the Ambassador to Moscow, but I take it from what the Attorney-General said that if it had been desired 665 in the public interest to appoint the same hon. and learned Member to be the Ambassador to the United States, he is doubtful whether it could have been done, because the United States did not exist—
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The United States did not exist in 1705. In answer to the interruption by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), I gather that, so far as the procedure of this House is concerned, we see no difference between the Government of Russia under Stalin and the Government of Russia under Peter the Great.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
My opinion has been expressed in Debate in this House. Obviously, the whole question is left to chance, and for that reason it is a situation which ought to be cleaned up. In discussing how it could be cleaned up, I was impressed by a phrase which the Attorney-General used and which seems to me to be the overriding question. He referred to the national interest. The overriding question here seems to be this: Does the present procedure of the House help or not help in our war effort? If it can be shown that the power of the Government is fettered in even a few instances by appointing those whom they think most fit to help us in a life-and-death struggle, that is a procedure which this House ought not to permit to continue. The Attorney-General appears to me to have shown that that can be the case. As a matter of fact, my own opinion on this subject has been a good deal affected by the White Paper which came out yesterday and which seems to me to put this matter in a rather different aspect even from that which the Attorney-General has discussed, because I gather that this confusion arises not only in the case of very high, full-time appointments like those of Ambassadors and High Commissioners, but in the case of those Members of this House who are assisting Departments in all manner of ways not occupying the whole of their time. In that case, 1 take it, no question arises whether they ought or ought not to resign their seats, because they are helping Government Departments by methods which still leave 666 them ample time for the fulfilment of their Parliamentary duties. But I gather from the White Paper and the observations of the Attorney-General that all these Members, in fact, are in the same confused position and that they might very well be liable to penalties if the common informer should choose to act. He quoted a case in which I remember some Member was in difficulty some time ago. Members undertake missions to the Colonies to investigate labour or other conditions. They are not paid, but they are paid their travelling expenses and their subsistence allowance. Is or is not that profit within the meaning of the Act? I do not know, but I understand that a common informer might be able successfully to attack them.
This difficulty which we are getting into as a result of these 150 Members who are doing one sort of Government service or another is a difficulty which the House has created rather against the will of the Government, because I remember that on the very first day of the war hon. Members raised the question whether a Member of Parliament could give assistance in a Government Department, and I remember that the Government discouraged them. The late Mr. Neville Chamberlain gave a very discouraging reply, but I remember that hon. Members insisted. I looked it up. A week later, as a result of a great deal of pressure, he gave a different reply and said that if hon. Members were so anxious, he would make arrangements in individual cases for them to help in Government Departments, but he pointed out the difficulties of this very law which we are now discussing. I think that in insisting in that way the House was right. We can look with a fair amount of pride on the fact that there are 150 Members helping outside the Services in the war effort, and we can justifiably say that the work of these Members should be facilitated, and they certainly should be freed from the general uncertainty in which they are at present placed. Here are some of these Members doing work for which they are not paid but of such a responsible character that I should have thought they would be offices of profit under the Crown, and I understand from the Attorney-General that the mere fact that they are not drawing a salary in no way protects them from being attacked.
667 That is a situation which should be cleared up. Therefore, it seems to me that this Bill should be justified quite apart from the case of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). I think that the Government have done right in the suggestion which they have made. Obviously, the whole position requires an overhaul, and a Select Committee is the appropriate body to do it. Although the Attorney-General referred to the limited scope of a Select Committee, he pointed out that this Bill endures only for one year, and if the Select Committee has laid down some very clear principles in respect of this whole problem, the House at the end of the year will be able to make conditions on which it gives any further renewal to this Bill in view of the Select Committee's report. I believe that it will be found that the Attorney-General's statement has cleared up the doubts existing in the minds of a number of hon. Members.
There is one issue which is raised by this Bill and to which the Attorney-General referred in his closing passages, and that is the fact that constituents are or may be deprived of the services of a Member. I do not think that is so large an issue as it may seem, because, as a matter of fact, the vast majority of cases which will be covered by this Bill are those of the Members mentioned in this White Paper who are doing work which can perfectly easily be combined with service in this House and service to their constituents. The only case in which that point would apply would be in the case of Members appointed to very high positions occupying the whole of their time, and I should say that even after this Bill is passed the number of appointments of that kind is likely to be confined almost to the fingers of one hand or certainly two hands. Therefore, the additional-number of Members giving the whole of their time to this work will be an inappreciable addition to the numbers already serving in the Armed Forces.
I do not think the effect of this Bill on the constituencies is, therefore, going to be very severe, but so far as there are some Members who will be unable to do their constituency work, the House should frankly face the fact that we have before 668 us the choice of two evils. I myself would say that, on the whole, public respect for this House is increased by the fact that a large number of its Members are working towards winning the war, even in directions outside the House. Such Members are, I think, adding to the status of the House, rather than detracting from it. As far as the provision regarding full-time appointments is concerned, the House sometimes stands very high in public esteem, while at other times its position deteriorates, and I believe it could be shown that those periods when it has stood highest in the national estimation have been the periods in which its Members have held very eminent positions, not only ambassadorships, but also the command of armies and fleets. Therefore, I am not afraid of that aspect of the Bill, and it is for that reason, after the assurances given by the Attorney-General in regard to the Select Committee, that this Bill appears to me on the whole to be a reasonable temporary solution of our immediate difficulties.
§ Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
No one in this House could have listened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General without feeling that the wish they have expressed that this Bill should be passed was a perfectly reasonable one which ought to command the respect of the House. I am one of those who are most anxious and indeed determined to give my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister all the support I possibly can in the great task he has before him, and I assured him not very long ago in a letter that that support would be silent— which I am sure he would appreciate far more than hearing my voice in criticism of him or of anything he proposes. But when I saw this Bill I thought it was right and proper that the House should at any rate study it and express its view as to the particular method which is being adopted with regard to this important matter.
What struck me at once was that if a Bill of this kind was considered necessary —and I am not in a position to judge whether it is necessary or not—-it would have been far better to make a clear statement to the effect that Members of Parliament could hold these positions, or any position that was thought fitting, during the course of the war, and that there 669 should be no definite statement in an Act of Parliament that the privilege to serve his country should be given to a Member of Parliament on the certificate of the head of the Executive. In other words, what I object to in this Bill is that it is on the certificate of the head of the Executive that a Member of Parliament is absolved from the possible consequences of taking office. My point is a very simple one; it is that the House itself should, by passing a Bill, remove any disability that might otherwise arise, and I believe that that would be much the best way of framing this Bill. I gather from what I overhear from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the certificate is only to inform Members. I understand that as well as the Chancellor, but the point still remains the same that, as is stated in this Bill, it is on the certificate of the First Lord of the Treasury that the Member should be declared immune from any catastrophes which might arise as a result of accepting an office of this kind.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
Originally it would have been by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. Then it was thought that by putting it upon the First Lord of the Treasury a more direct responsibility to this House could be obtained.
§ Sir C. Headlam
I quite understand my right hon. Friend, but I am not sure that he can produce precedents which arc quite on all fours with the present position, although he may be able to. That does not alter the fact that this House can perfectly well state in an Act of Parliament that such and such a thing should happen without any certificate of the First Lord of the Treasury, whom I should really relieve of the responsibility by the suggestion I am making. I do not object to a Member of this House holding any appointment under the Crown, or any office of profit, which is really going to make for the better prosecution of the war. But I doubt myself—although no doubt the Prime Minister could explain it—if my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) will be rendered any more able by retaining his seat in the House of Commons to win the war in his new position in Canada. 1 doubt whether that is the case. If the Prime Minister has assured himself that that is the fact, 670 of course we must accept it; he is in a position to know.
I listened very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and was much interested in all that he had to say, but what we are face to face with to-day is a position which is entirely different from that which existed in the eighteenth century. The great fear of the House of Commons in the eighteenth century was that place-men would be brought in, in order to expedite the business of the Government and in order also to enable Members of Parliament to rejoice in extra profits obtained as a result of giving their services to the Government. To-day the situation is entirely different. We are not afraid of place-men being brought into this House for that purpose, for one reason, if for no other, and that is that public opinion would never stand for it. That danger is past, and this matter might very well be settled by a simple, clear Act of Parliament, which, after having been examined by a Select Committee of this House, would become the permanent law.
The real disadvantage of the appointment of Members of this House to positions outside this country is that which was touched upon by my right hon. Friend who has just spoken. It is very largely a matter of the representation of the people in Parliament. I am a good deal fresher from the electorate than a good many hon. Members of this House, and what I discovered during the course of a recent by-election in which I took part was that there was a very strongly expressed opinion among all sorts and conditions of men and women that they did not want to be represented by a Member who could not look after their interests in the House of Commons. That feeling is far stronger in my constituency of North Newcastle than I could have believed possible, and it was, I think, very largely that question which settled the election. There would be no objection whatever in nine out of 10 constituencies to their Members' services being employed by the Crown in time of war, provided that those services did not take them out of the country and did not interfere with their attention to their duties in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about serving Members"?] That is one 671 of the reasons which influence people very largely. The idea of being represented by a Member in the Forces made no appeal whatsoever to that constituency.
§ Captain Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
Does my hon. and gallant Friend mean that it did not appeal to the electorate, or that it did not appeal to the executive that selected the candidate?
§ Sir C. Headlam
The executive that selected the candidate, in this case, were certainly strongly influenced by the fact that the candidate they selected was in the Army; but the electorate thought otherwise. The result is that I am now a Member of this House of Commons. I do not say that that is for the good of the House of Commons, or for the good of the nation. What I am trying to do is to emphasise the fact that the electorate at present wishes to have its Members in Parliament. Every hon. Member knows that present-day conditions are such inmost constituencies that there is an enormous amount of work for Members. In the eighteenth century, as the Attorney-General knows perfectly well, there were, to all intents and purposes, no electors: the constituencies, so far as electors were concerned, consisted of a very small number of persons; and this principle did not then occur. I firmly believe that it would be a very great mistake if this House supposed that the electorate of this country wished to see as many Members of the House as possible serving the country in other ways outside the House.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I have just come back from my constituency, and I find that it makes a great difference in people's minds if the Member already has a seat in the House. It is a very different thing when a choice has to be made between a man who can attend here and a man who is in the Army.
§ Sir C. Headlam
I am perfectly aware that Members of this House who were Members when the war began and were called up, have, naturally, no alternative to serving the country in the Forces. But when it is a question of choosing a new Member, I think that the constituencies prefer someone who can serve them here rather than someone who cannot. That is the point. I honestly do not believe that there will be popular support throughout 672 the country for such a Measure as this, to make it easier for Members of the House of Commons to go away from it—on public service, no doubt—and no longer to be able to represent their constituencies in Parliament. After the Prime Minister's statement that this is to be regarded as a vote of confidence in the Government, it would be impossible for the great majority of us to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. All that we can do is to emphasise this very important constitutional principle. In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend is prepared to allow a Select Committee to go into the whole question, we shall have an opportunity of giving definite guidance to future Governments of this country, should we ever be at war again.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
Until the statement of the Attorney-General I had intended to oppose this Bill. As I understood it, he specifically offered the appointment of a Select Committee within the lifetime of this Parliament. I should like to make the position plain to the Prime Minister. On a matter of this vital importance, I should never permit the Prime Minister or anybody else to determine my vote. This touches one of the vital principles of our Parliamentary system. The Attorney-General regaled us with his account of the accumulation of anomalies that presented legal difficulties of an insuperable character for two centuries. But that has not resolved the real problem which we are discussing. Those conditions were laid down over 200 years ago, when Parliament was dealing with the Act of Succession, and when the relationship of the Crown to Parliament was entirely different than what it is to-day. Now, we are considering a problem arising from the fact that the patronage which, in the possession of the Crown, in those old days represented dangers to Parliament, is steadily passing into the personal possession of the Prime Minister of the day.
We know how powerful tradition and precedent are in our Parliamentary life. These anomalies have steadily increased, yet Parliament has never attempted to resolve them or bring the system up to date. We are particularly concerned that, under the stress of war conditions, no precedent shall be established. If at the end of one year this Bill lapses, we shall not have resolved all the anomalies that 673 were put forward by the Attorney-General as arguments for the passing of the Bill. When the Government of the day provide endless possibilities of appointments for Members to positions of profit, that will, in time, undermine the freedom and the virility of Parliament. No one can reasonably argue that the appointment of the Minister of Health to a position in Canada necessitated this fundamental change. I believe that the votes of other Members on the Second Reading of this Bill will be affected, as my own certainly will be, if the Prime Minister can explain satisfactorily how he proposes to give effect to the Attorney-General's indication that in a very short time the Government will take steps to appoint a Select Committee to examine the whole problem, with a view to removing senseless, irritating, absurd anomalies, that no one in his senses would defend and that no one would regard as representing the vital privileges and rights of Members of the House of Commons, and if he will make it clear that the Select Committee will examine a matter which is causing increasing concern, namely, the fact that the patronage which in the past was vested in the Throne, and which caused a serious constitutional issue between the Throne and Parliament, is being transferred to the Prime Minister and the Executive.
In my view, nothing corrupts a modern civilisation more than patronage introduced into your political system, into your legal system, and into your national, or statutory Church. This patronage of the Prime Minister already extends to the Church, to the law, and to the life of the House of Commons, as is reflected by the number of persons appointed to positions at the direction of the Prime Minister. We have a Government already composed of 90 persons, and other persons are extracted from the House of Commons and appointed to positions overseas and in the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister will recognise the importance of this matter, for he has attained his present position essentially because he followed a House of Commons tradition when he sat here as the right hon. Member for Epping. I think he will recognise the danger to himself and his Administration, if the number of Members in this House who might be likely to level free criticism against the Government are steadily re- 674 duced by appointments. Such points are irrelevant to our judgment on this matter. The fact that he wished to make this a vote of confidence, and that subsequently the Attorney-General announced the willingness of the Government to set up a Select Committee, which immediately removed the difficulty in the minds of many of us, shows the danger of patronage either being linked to any representative position or being extended. I therefore ask either the Attorney-General or the Prime Minister to make clear before this Debate proceeds to a Division exactly how they will interpret the Select Committee, what its powers and functions will be, and whether it will have the right of safeguarding the extension of the principle of patronage. As far as I am concerned, if I can obtain satisfactory assurances on that point, I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but if I cannot, I am afraid that I shall have to vote against the Second Reading.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)
The fact that there is a very considerable number of reasoned Amendments put down to this Bill clearly shows that it is a matter in regard to which the House of Commons has a certain amount of anxiety, because it is a matter, after all, which affects the constitutional status of Members of Parliament and also the rights of electors. It is my view that, in the circumstances of to-day and as a piece of temporary war legislation, the House can safely pass this Bill without doing any real or permanent damage to constitutional principles of admittedly great importance. In considering a war emergency Measure of this kind, it is useful to look and see if there are any precedents which govern the proposals, particularly precedents which arose at the time of the last war. In this case we certainly can find a precedent in the last war on a point very closely analogous to the present. The learned Attorney-General mentioned in his opening speech that up to 1919 and 1926 Ministerswho accepted offices of profit under the Crown had to seek re-election to this House. That was the old principle laid down in the Statute of Anne to which the Attorney-General referred, and, as every Member of the House knows, the principle that had to be followed was that any Member of the House of Commons who accepted 675 Ministerial office, namely, an office of profit under the Crown, automatically vacated his seat, and he had to seek re-election in his constituency before he could undertake service in his new office in the House of Commons.
That Statute, as the Attorney-General explained, was passed at a time when Members were apprehensive as regards the power of the Crown. This proved very inconvenient in the time of the last war, particularly after a General Election or when there were changes of Government, when large numbers of new Ministers were appointed and could not sit in the House until they were re-elected. What happened in the last war? Emergency Bills were passed, both in 1915 and in 1916, to make it unnecessary for Ministers to have to go to their constituencies and seek re-election. The House will remember that in 1915, when the first Coalition Government was formed, there were numbers of new Ministers, and because of the intolerable situation which it was felt there would be if they were all to go to be re-elected, a Bill was passed by this House to make that re-election unnecessary. Again in 1916, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) became Prime Minister, another Bill with the same object was passed. The matter was carried further in 1919, after the end of the war, in the Bill to which the learned Attorney-General also referred. My point is that you had two emergency war Bills dealing with this matter, both in 1915 and in 1916, because it was felt to be an intolerable situation, but surely that was a far bigger constitutional point than the one we are considering at the moment, and yet it was agreed to as a war measure in the House of Commons without any serious demur.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
Elections can be held to-day. Perhaps I may take this matter a little further. In 1919, as the Attorney-General has reminded us, Mr. Bonar Law, who was then Leader of the House of 676 Commons, brought in a Bill to make this provision permanent, namely, that Ministers should not have to seek re-election in future. However, at that time the House of Commons was, rightly, I dare say, a little apprehensive about so big a change being made so quickly, and eventually an Amendment was moved and was accepted by the Government to limit the operation of the Bill only to nine months after a general election. The final stages in this matter took place in 1926 when a Private Member's Bill was passed in this House which abolished the nine months' limitation as regards seeking re-election, and made it unnecessary for all time for Ministers to be re-elected after appointment.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
It was made the law as it is to-day. I had rather a special interest in that Bill because I was the Member in this House who seconded that Private Member's Bill and who acted as one of the Tellers in the Division in favour of the Bill, which was carried by an overwhelming majority, and finally did away with the necessity for Ministers to seek re-election.
I would like to say a word or two with regard to the arguments which have been and will be put forward against this Bill, and they are, I think, based upon the reasoned Amendments which appear on the Paper. First of all we are told that the acceptance of offices of this kind by Members of the House of Commons will lead to the disfranchisement of the constituencies. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) proposes that this particular Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. With regard to the disfranchisement of constituencies, it seems to me that that argument is a little farfetched. After all, we know that large numbers of Members of Parliament are serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
Many of them are abroad and cannot be in this House. There was exactly the same situation in the last war, when Members were further a field than they are now because this war has up to now been more confined to the immediate shores of this country. Constituencies are, in effect, disfranchised 677 when Members are serving abroad. During the last war I served in Palestine for over a year, and my constituents certainly were disfranchised. But I do not think they minded that, because constituencies of hon. Members who are of military age I think prefer them to be serving in the Services rather than performing their duties in Parliament. Therefore, this argument about disfranchisement is not carried very much further if you add one, two, three, four or more Members to those who will be away and thereby disfranchise their constituents.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Does the right hon. Baronet intend to move an Amendment to limit the number to four?
§ Sir H. O'Neill
No, I do not think that is necessary. In this matter of urgent war legislation we must believe that the Prime Minister and those who advise him are not fools and that they are to act only in the interests of the nation when such appointments are made. The Attorney-General has stated that it is the intention of the Government, should the House of Commons desire it, to appoint a Select Committe, after this Bill has become law, to examine the whole present unsatisfactory and archaic condition of the law with regard to offices of profit under the Crown. That, of course, is to be ordinary peace-time law, and I, personally, think that that would be a good thing. The law at present is utterly illogical. For instance, at this moment, as the Attorney-General has explained, those who become Ambassadors can remain Members of Parliament and those who become High Commissioners cannot. Those who accept ordinary commissions in the Army or Services can also remain Members of this House, and it would be a good thing— although it would not presumably affect this particular Bill or the emergency with which it deals—if the whole question was examined. Possibly the Select Committee may make suggestions which will improve the situation for the future.
May I say a final word about the general situation? I think that, normally speaking, a Member of Parliament has to choose between what one might call a political life and a life of service to the State outside Parliament. There may be, and there no doubt are, exceptions in war, but I think those exceptions should be few and far between. There may be reasons why it is desirable that a Member holding 678 an important office abroad should remain in Parliament. I can imagine this kind of reason. If the holder of the office of High Commissioner in Canada, or a similar office in time of war, was at the same time a Member of the House of Commons, he might carry very much more prestige and be able to carry out his duties with much greater authority. It might be a good thing for him to remain a Member of the House of Commons, so that if necessary he could come back to the House and report, either in Public or Secret Session, on matters arising out of the office he held. The other day a Member suggested in the House that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), at present the British Ambassador in Moscow, might with advantage come back to the House and report as to the situation in Russia.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
No, I dare say they did not, but I am putting it forward as a possible reason why, in certain circumstances, persons holding such positions might return to the House of Commons and report. The Bill, quite rightly, excludes any appointment to judicial office, and I feel strongly that there are other kinds of appointments which most certainly should not be brought within the purview of this Bill, although it might be legally possible for them to be brought within the Bill. For example, under this Bill I think there is no doubt whatever that the Governor-General of India, Governors of any Indian Province or the Governor of Burma could be, if it was thought desirable in the interests of the nation during the war, appointed to their office and still remain a Member of this House. The same would apply to the Governor-General of Canada or any of the other Great Dominions. That, I think, would be clearly most undesirable, and I 3o not think that anybody, probably least of all the Prime Minister, would dream of carrying the powers given him under this Bill to any such lengths as that. Really, what this Bill is meant to cover and does cover is appointments to certain types of office abroad, or probably mainly abroad, of a character which in war time are of high importance and which in the considered view of the Prime Minister can 679 best be held by a person who is at the time a Member of the House of Commons.
It seems to me that the main safeguard with regard to this Bill is that it is purely temporary and expires after one year. if during that year the powers given under the Bill had been abused, surely Parliament would not renew the Measure. This is not the kind of thing that Parliament would deal with automatically under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It is a matter in which Parliament rightly takes great interest. Hon. Members are very careful about their rights and privileges, and I cannot feel that when the Measure came up for renewal, the House would tamely pass it if hon. Members thought that during the year some appointments had been made which ought not to have been made. I consider that the limit of one year is a real safeguard.
§ Mr. Lipson
What would happen if it were made a Vote of confidence, as the Vote is to-day? The House would have no alternative in war-time.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I take an interest in these constitutional questions, and if I felt that the powers given under the Measure had been abused and that during the year appointments had been made which ought not to have been made, I do not think even a Vote of confidence would prevent me from speaking and voting against the Government if I thought they had done wrong in the appointments which they had made. In my view, the House can safely pass this Bill as a temporary Measure without doing harm to - our Parliamentary institutions, and, on the whole, with advantage to the State in the stress and strain of modern war.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I listened with interest to the Attorney-General's speech. I think that the main point that is made against the Bill and the procedure proposed concerns the disfranchisement of constituencies, and that point the Attorney-General did not in any way attempt to answer. We may take it that this is one of the few hours in Parliamentary life when constituencies are given consideration, for it has been evident to me that, in the main, constituencies play a very small part in the 680 wishes and desires of those who are elected when it comes to making their minds known in regard to Bills that are passing through the House.
I can understand the Government and the Prime Minister saying that in time of war, when there is a grave national emergency, they consider that certain people in Parliamentary or political life are essential to the representation of this country in various countries or Dominions, and that the matter is so pressing that they should enlist the services of those individuals in that way and not take away from them, in the emergency, any rights to continue as Parliamentary representatives. There are people who would argue that in such circumstances it is the duty of the Member concerned to resign his seat and to take up those other duties which the Government consider it to be essential for him to carry out. I must confess that if this were limited to two or three people who were being selected in a grave emergency to perform tasks which the Government considered the' were specially fitted to perform, I should have very little objection to the Government taking these powers and sending those individuals abroad, but I feel that it should be established to the satisfaction of the House that those duties can be performed only by the individuals selected. I may be wrong, I may not have all the information which it is desirable that a Member should have before coming to a decision; but I think the Attorney-General might have told us what special qualifications the right hon. Gentleman the former Minister of Health has which no other Member and no other person in the country has that equip him to carry out a task which no other person could carry out. The Attorney-General has not given us any information. Indeed, it would be very difficult, in my opinion, to establish satisfactory reasons for any of the three appointments which will be regularised if this Bill is passed.
The appointment of Sir Stafford Cripps was made at an hysterical period when people in this country thought that all they had to do was to get a person who was satisfactory to Russia in order to induce Russia to come into the war on Britain's side, or, if not to come in, at least be strictly and truly neutral in regard to the war. I remember that one day I asked the late Prime Minister whether he 681 thought Russia would come into the war to conduct our fight. That was before the war broke out. I asked him whether he was as simple as all that. The idea that Sir Stafford Cripps could go to Russia and accomplish something which some other person could not accomplish was, I think, ridiculous in the extreme. It must be evident, even to the most simple-minded, that he will accomplish nothing in Russia because Russia has made up her own mind about the villainous part she will play in this war, and nothing will change that. In regard to the appointment of Sir Samuel Hoare to be Ambassador in Madrid—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
There is a small point which the hon. Member appears to have forgotten. Both those gentlemen are still Members of the House, and therefore, the hon. Member must not refer to them by name.
§ Mr. McGovern
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I could not remember their constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) was appointed to Madrid because it required a different colour of blood. He has not had the United Front activities which Sir Stafford Cripps has had with the Communists. The person selected had to have associations that were palatable to the dictators. Sir Samuel Hoare was selected—
§ Mr. McGovern
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea was selected to go to Madrid. Now, the former Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald), has been selected to go to Canada. I do not know what special colour he has; it must be a sort of hybrid. He is to go to Canada. Why? Canada is a Dominion. Surely, it does not require any great qualifications to go to Canada and keep Canada in the war. Canada is part of the British Empire. She has carried out her obligations, I understand, to the complete satisfaction of every person concerned. We have selected the right hon. Gentleman to go to that country to represent us as High Commissioner.
The point to which I understand importance is attached is not the fact that one Member is being sent to Moscow, a 682 second Member to Madrid, and a third Member to Canada. That is looked upon as part and parcel of a plan at a time when a large number of Members are serving in the Forces, Members whom every person, whether or not he agrees with the war, agrees should be protected to the utmost limit, because they are doing something of service to the country. The important point is that by selecting these Members for these appointments their constituencies are being completely disfranchised. Do the electors attach great importance to this? I believe they do.
I will give a personal example. Some time ago it was announced that I intended to visit America on a lecturing tour when I had received the necessary permission. The only thing that prevented me from going to America was recognition of the fact that it was the duty of a Member to remain in this country because of the large number of cases which had to be dealt with in his constituency and with Government Departments. The only objection I have had, during by membership of this House, against my leaving the country was because it was thought that my services were needed in the constituency. Electors attach tremendous importance to the fact that a Member should be here and that their constituency should not be disfranchised. It can be argued that a Member might leave his secretary to deal with Government Departments and that that would give complete satisfaction; but constituents believe that the functions of democracy should be performed by their Member. There are, however, greater dangers to democracy than this. Some Members are elected to the House of Commons and scarcely ever attend its meetings. I know of some Members who attend only five or six times in the year; it is a crying scandal. Those Members are not engaged in local work but are elected simply for social position and standing, either in the Conservative or Labour world. Some of them are fairly capable men, but they are treating democracy in a shocking manner. That is as great a menace to democracy as the proposals of this Bill.
I do not agree with the Prime Minister on many of his points of view, but there is no man in this House who is more concerned with the preservation of democracy and independence. No individual has had to depend more on it for his position in 683 this House than the Prime Minister. On many occasions I have seen him meanly treated. One day the right hon. Gentleman came to this House after having made a violent attack on Mr. Stanley Baldwin, as he then was, and Members on the Front Bench refused to give him a seat. He stood in the House at the end of Questions and no one moved to give him a seat because of antagonism towards him. Finally he had to be rescued by the I.L.P. group when I invited him to sit with us. In those days, the Prime Minister fought as a lone figure in this House for a policy which has now been accepted by the overwhelming majority of the people of this country. I say so, although at the moment it goes against me. Therefore, I hope the Prime Minister will not indulge in a policy which will disfranchise constituencies, and that he will not create around him a servile force, making Parliament a paid institution to keep the Government and the Prime Minister in office instead of an institution to pay attention to the desires of the community at large.
Whether the Attorney-General likes it or not, there is a growing feeling in this country that the alleged Parliamentary democracy we possess is gradually being reduced to a servile institution of a few party leaders and the powerful machines of the Tory and Labour parties. One recognises that the most objectionable thing in politics to-day is the Whip who stands at the door and says to Members who have never listened to a Debate, "There is your Lobby." Without question, Members go into the Lobby like sheep into a pen. It is one of the fundamental weaknesses of democracy and it deprives constituents of the opportunity of having their views expressed, because the machine says, "You shall do this, even against the majority of people in your area." Therefore democracy is being undermined in a thousand ways. It has always been my firm conviction that those who shout loudest for democracy against men who have minds of their own and who do not click heels when ordered to go into the Lobby, are those who are more often engaged in destroying it. I do not think dictators destroy democracy as much as does lack of regard, esteem and 684 appreciation on the part of the outside public. Who can say at the end of this war what kind of institution of Government we may have? In this Bill we see an extension of that type of legislation which has created, behind the Government, a body of men who are prepared to pay lip-service to democracy while really serving the Government of the day. Not only is that true of the Front Bench, but it is also true in the case of the Parliamentary private secretaries and others who consider themselves in the running for a post. One can see them, from time to time, getting up at the psychological moment to get their leaders out of difficulties, as if to say, "I am the wee boy who can do the job." I am not sure that that would not apply to myself, if I were in a large party and was catering for the good will of. the Front Bench, just as the Front Bench has to cater for the good will of the Carl-ton Club and the T.U.C. The Carlton Club and the T.U.C. are the real masters of democracy and they are the people who dominate the politics of this country. I cannot say exactly who is responsible for the Liberal party, but there is certainly some force behind them.
This Bill is extending the influence which is undermining democracy and brings the question into the open. The ordinary capitalist Press is beginning to ask questions about this extension, because they are annoyed not about the weakening of democracy, but about its awakening. Hitler and Mussolini have their hacks who assemble and cheer in the Reichstag. They are men who have been local "Gauleiters" and local leaders of their party, slaves to men who would destroy people of independent thought and mind. They come right up to the front because they are dependable, and the same thing is growing up in British politics. If this is to be taken to a vote, I can be counted as one against the Bill in the Lobby, because the Attorney-General, in my estimation, has given no substantial reason for it. He has shown no particular qualities that these individuals suggest, and though one would readily agree that they are all very capable men in the Parliamentary arena and have very keen minds, at the same time there is nothing special that is not possessed by tens of thousands of men who could be had in the Civil Service, in the House or 685 in the country who would be willing to take up Parliamentary life in order to take part in this sphere of activity during the period of the war and after. The disfranchisement of the electors, which is necessary in the case of serving soldiers but unnecessary in the case of men who are being selected from the House who are not in the Fighting Services, ought to be condemned, and we ought to say to the Government, "Thus far and no farther. What is left of democracy we intend to retain, and, instead of going along the road to totalitarian government, we are going back to the road of real democratic government."
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
The hon. Member seemed to base his argument principally on the fact that the Attorney-General has not advanced any reason for the particular appointment which was the immediate reason for this Debate. I hope we are not going to consider this Bill on the question of that or any other personal matter. It does not seem to me that this is an occasion for discussing that. We have a Bill brought before us which is not only to deal with that case but is to deal, to some extent at any rate, and for a limited period, with the very important principle that is involved. I do not regard the Bill as of the great constitutional and historic importance that some hon. Members seem to attach to it. I quite agree that it is an important Bill and has serious practical consequences, but it is a temporary Measure, an expedient, in the main at any rate, to get over certain special difficulties which have arisen out of the war. Of course, there is rather more behind it than that. The Attorney-General gave a somewhat simple account of the history of the matter, dating back to the days of the Hanoverian succession. I am sure he would be the first to agree that there is a vast number of qualifications and modifications and exemptions and so on in the principles that he laid down and those laid down by the various Acts of 1700, 1705, 1707, 1741 and various Acts of Parliament which have been passed of recent years. This question is in a chaotic condition. The position is extremely complicated. It is based on no clear principle, and on that ground alone it ought to be cleared up by the setting-up of a Select Committee such as has been promised.
686 There is also a more practical reason for passing a Measure such as this. It will give exemption in fact to a great number of Members. From the legal point of view, I am inclined to think it is very probable that the greater number of those Members, most of us included among them, are occupying offices in breach of some of the Statutes which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned. If that is so, those of us who are occupying those offices, however small they may be, whether on local food committees or on commissions going overseas or elsewhere, are liable to substantial penalties at the hands of common informers, and therefore clearly it is desirable that action should be taken in the matter, and action is taken in this Bill. The whole position ought to be cleared up. Constitutional authorities for many years have said so. Sir William Anson said so as long ago as 1886, and from time to time the question has been raised. I have been responsible for raising it on at least two occasions in the last year or two.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman really suggesting that membership of an advisory committee which meets perhaps once a month, or of some local committee of the Ministry of Information, should entail the vacation of a Member's seat? It would be interesting to know whether the Attorney-General agrees with that.
§ Major Milner
I am suggesting that the position is not clear. I am not saying that the holding of any particular office renders a Member liable to penalties or to vacation of his seat. The position is chaotic. It may be that in many instances year by year the question has to be submitted to the Law Officers, and I am not at all sure that those who are appointed to offices of profit, whether the profit is taken or not, are not infringing the law.
Two principal objections have been put forward to the Bill. Firstly, there is the substantial one, if it is sustained, that the Bill will give a very considerable increase to the power of the Government, and in particular to the power of the Prime Minister for the time being. The instinct of this House, quite rightly, I think, is to deprecate and to take exception to an increase in those powers. It is wholly 687 contrary to the traditions of the House, at any rate within the last 200 years, to have what were formerly known as place-men in large numbers supporting the Government, right or wrong, and dependent on the Government for their office. We must all agree, above all, that it is essential to maintain the independence of Members of Parliament. Almost the most valuable attribute for any Member of Parliament is that he should be so independent. Is that independence really threatened by the Bill? When you look through the list of appointments in the White Paper published yesterday, you see a great number of Members employed —something like 150. Only three of them are paid, and that is wholly creditable to those employed in these various offices. One hundred and fifty of them are doing work helping the war effort, only three are paid, and these three are occupying particularly responsible positions. That is wholly creditable, and there is no ground for imagining that by passing this Bill as a temporary Measure there is any danger of increasing the power of the executive or doing away with the independence which otherwise would exist as between Members of Parliament and the executive.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does my hon. Friend suggest that offices of profit should not be included in the technical meaning of that term?
§ Major Milner
Yes, and I think that they are, but my argument is that that is one of the matters that ought to be cleared up. So far as existing offices are concerned, it is cleared up by this Bill. I do not admit that the 150 Members whose names are mentioned in the White Paper are by the mere acceptance of their purely honorary offices made dependent upon or necessarily supporters of the Government. I do not think any Member will argue that for it would in effect be a reflection upon ourselves.
The second (objection that has been advanced to the removal of disqualification is that it would result in the disfranchisement of electors in constituencies. Is that really the case? Here again the position is exaggerated. In the majority of cases no such disfranchisement would follow. No one would argue that 688 any Minister, Under-Secretary, or Parliamentary Private Secretary, or any other Member still serving in the House would thereby necessarily neglect his constituency.
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
Will my hon. and gallant Friend say how a Member in Canada can carry out his duties to his constituency?
§ Major Milner
I am coming to that point. I was about to say that there need be no disfranchisement unless the Member receiving an appointment is abroad for a great length of time. At one time in our constitutional history, from 1614 to 1688, Members were permitted to occupy the great offices of State and still sit in the House, but an exception was made in regard to those who had to go abroad for a prolonged period. They were barred from membership of the House. Therefore, it is, I admit, difficult to make a case for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) or anyone else to be appointed to an office in which he is likely to be abroad for a prolonged period. That is so in regard to governors, but we are told that in the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty he is appointed merely for the duration of the war. There is a distinction between that kind of appointment and the appointment, for example, of the Governor of Burma, which is fixed for a period of five 3 years.
The tendency has grown up within recent years to put up barriers to the appointment to offices of Members of Parliament. I do not object to that if any principle is involved. One sees, for example, that in the recent War Damage Bill Members of Parliament are excluded from membership of the Commission. That may be right, but why are they not equally excluded from membership of the Forestry Commission or the Ecclesiastical Commission or the Charity Commission? The whole position is chaotic and involved. We ought to look at this matter from what in these days is termed a realistic point of view. We must, in wartime in particular, be practical and endeavour to adapt our institutions and methods to meet the actual situation. Many of us are inclined to look at most of the Measures which come before the 689 House with what I may term the pre-war eye. I am endeavouring to adjust my pre-war eye to the present situation, and quite a number of us might do that with advantage. We are in a desperate struggle. We have a National Government. Our ordinary party differences are largely merged or postponed in the common interest of defeating the enemy at our gates. In an emergency such as that it is essential that those in authority should be enabled to secure the best and most suitable men for the public service. It is most desirable that the Prime Minister, who bears the chief responsibility and the heat and the burden of to-day, should be unfettered in his choice, even if that choice results in the disfranchisement of two or three constituencies out of 615. Surely the appointment to any of the three offices which are principally in our minds is at least as important to our cause to-day as service in the Armed Forces, to which I gather no objection is taken. We are told that 100 Members of Parliament can be spared from their constituencies to serve the Armed Forces, but that three additional Members of the House cannot be spared for other duties at least as important without public injury.
Complaint is made as to the power conferred on the Prime Minister. I have been more often in conflict with the Prime Minister than in agreement with him, but we must agree that he has the undoubted confidence of the country and that we want to do nothing to detract from it. We ought rather to assist and support it. There are definite safeguards in this Bill. It is a temporary Bill to expire after a year, and at the end of the year it is for the House to say whether the Bill should continue, A useful provision in the Bill is that the First Lord of the Treasury shall put a certificate on the Table of the House as to the appointments which come within the terms of the Bill. We can, therefore, be confident that the House at any time and on any instance may deal with an appointment. A Motion can be put on the Order Paper and the question of an appointment can be raised by moving a reduction in the salary of the First Lord of the Treasury. Any particular appointment can, therefore, be brought within the purview of the House. I was proposing to suggest that a Select Committee should consider the whole of this question, but we are told that a Select Committee will report on it. Having regard to 690 the points that have been put by other speakers and the necessity, in war-time in particular, of doing away with the present chaotic and harmful state of affairs, which has existed for so long, and which this Bill seeks to alleviate, although only temporarily, we should do well to pass the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereofthis House declines to proceed with' the Second Reading of the Bill before the matter has been considered and reported upon by a Select Committee.I should like to begin by referring to some of the things which have been said by recent speakers. The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) towards the end of his speech told us that if it was right for Members to be away without its affecting their seats in order to fight, that then it was right for them to be away for other purposes too. I believe that to be a completely false principle, upon which it is not possible to conduct a war. There is only one true principle upon which a war can be conducted, and cruel as it is to say it, it is that none but the best will do to stop the bullets. The House may remember the story of Marcus Curtius when Rome was at war, in much the same situation as we are in, when the chasm opened in the midst of the Forum and the Oracle told them that they must throw in what they had of the most precious if they wished to survive. They threw in earth, pens, paper, jewels and gold, and the chasm remained unfilled. Then Marcus Curtius said, "What have the Romans more precious than the youth and valour of armed men?" and leapt in, armed, upon his horse, and the chasm closed and Rome was saved. That is the service which Members who are fighting men are doing for us, and it would be completely false to compare any other service which any of us can do with that service, or to draw any conclusion for other members from the exemptions and the privileges which are given to fighting Members.
Then an hon. and learned Member opposite told us—I think he told us seven times, if I counted correctly—that the whole position was in a state of chaos and that there was no clear principle in it. 691 I do not think the principle is so far from clear as all that. There can be perfectly clear principles which it is very difficult to apply, and for 250 years the principle has been that office should be held on political grounds, and that this House should know what are the political grounds on which office is held. That is a clear principle; as with almost all clear principles there are in the application muddles and borderline cases, but we need not go very far to search for the principle.
I should like to refer to one or two of the arguments of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill), who, I think, is not here for a moment. I am rather surprised, though I make no complaint, that there is nobody on the Government Front Bench at this hour of this very short though extremely important Debate whose name is on the back of this Bill. The right hon. Baronet told us, and I should like special note to be taken of this, that there is one reason for an appointment of this sort, which was. that the Member in question, continuing to be a Member of this House, might come back from his foreign or his over sea mission and be able, or even be summoned, to report direct to this House. Is that argument to be used? I should very much like to know whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wishes that argument to be used, and if not I should very much like to have it repudiated—the contention that gentlemen in this position are to be able or compelled to report direct to the House on what is their direct responsibility to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs or the Secretary of State for the Dominions or whoever it may be.
Another very dangerous argument was put forward by the right hon. Baronet. He said this particular appointment was necessary in order to raise the prestige of the office. We have all seen that happen in other connections. When will the point arise when you do not want to keep the prestige of the office up to the point to which you have raised it? How is it ever going to cease to be a House of Commons appointment, upon that argument? It is a difficulty which constantly arises in connection with international representation. If a certain country is represented by an ambassador, a legation will no longer do for the State next door, 692 and so it comes about that every State is represented by an ambassador, and then you get ambassadors divided, openly or covertly, into first, second, or third class ambassadors. I do not think that is an argument which the Prime Minister will wish to adopt.
I wish now to go back—though it seems a long way, to go back—to the speech of the learned Attorney-General. When I look back upon it it seems an amusing speech—a learned speech, of course, if amusing. I believe that if there were someone else present with equivalent abilities to those of the learned Attorney-General, he could go through that speech sentence by sentence and make a complete answer to it which would be not less learned and not less amusing. I think the learned Attorney-General himself would hardly maintain that there were many arguments in it which are unanswerable. There were many points in his speech for which, perhaps, we cannot now find time, but there are two big points in the Attorney-General's speech which I think ought to be taken up. One was the argument that, of course, a year after the rule was made offices had only to be a year old in order to be tenable offices, whereas now the offices, in order to be tenable, have to be 236 years old— if his arithmetic and my memory are correct. Surely that is a false argument. The House has been silently legislating in every one of those 236 years. It has all the time been deciding that that should be the line. It has not forgotten that that number of years has passed; indeed, there is hardly a day in this House upon which we do not pride ourselves upon the number of years that have passed over us since our greatness began, and I suppose our real greatness, our modern greatness, began in the reign of Queen Anne. I cannot believe that that argument really has very much force.
The other main argument of the learned Attorney-General's speech was that the nation is at this minute driven by an emergency so urgent, so dire, so—if I may adopt the word of my right hon. Friend—so grievous, that this House must hesitate at no sacrifice of our traditions, our customs, our character. Very well, I accept that; but the second half of the learned Attorney-General's argument was—at least implicitly—that we are not in an emergency so grievous, 693 so dire, so urgent that we can reasonably expect a Member of this House to give up for a year or two his nominal membership of this House and to run the risk of not regaining his seat or finding another seat in a year or two's time. That argument, so put, is the mere bathos of paradox, and whatever decisions are taken to-day I hope that that argument will not be repeated. I am sorry that I had to deliver that part of my speech while the learned Attorney-General was away, but, of course, I do not blame him for needing to eat.
I wish now to come to the general argument and I find it necessary, with apologies to the House, to begin with three or four sentences of a personal nature. First of all, with the deepest respect, and almost blushing for my arrogance in referring to him as my right hon. Friend, I wish to say a word about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is extremely difficult to persuade oneself to take the time and attention of this House at this time, and most of all difficult to persuade oneself to take the time and attention of my right hon. Friend. There are three or four Members who do conquer that difficulty with some regularity, but for many of us, and I beg the House to believe for me, it is extremely difficult to conquer that reluctance at this moment. I would hardly have done so had I not, quite by chance, fallen upon a speech made by him in 1931. He said several things which I think are entirely and absolutely true. My quotation begins by his saying:We are suffering now from the evil of an irresponsible Liberal party.We are still suffering from the evil of an irresponsible Liberal party, but we are suffering also from an irresponsible Conservative party and an irresponsible Labour party; inevitably, but it is so. We must do our best to diminish those sufferings. My right hon. Friend said, a little later:No Government which is in a large minority in the country, even though it possesses a working majority in the House of Commons, can have the necessary power to cope with real problems.I am the last to suggest that the present Government are in anything but a very large majority in the country. My right hon. Friend went on to say what he thought about the Press. He said:Look at the papers to-day."—694 This was 10 years ago.Look even at 'The Times' newspaper today. Are they not a spectacle of immense democratic irresponsibility?if so, they are much more irresponsible now. Nobody can start a new paper, and the difficulties of getting into print are infinitely greater than they were even in those days.
Very well. This war will go on, I know not for how long. The hon. Gentleman opposite who spoke on this point said it would be not more than five years. I hope to God that he is right. How is my right hon. Friend to know from time to time the relation between the majority which he has in this House and which, I feel certain, he always will have in this House, and the general opinion in the country? Is he to trust the newspapers? Is he to trust Gallup surveys? Or is it necessary that, if only for this purpose, nearly every one—I do not say every one—of the 615 Members in this House should regard as an extreme tax upon his energies performance of his duties in this honourable House of Commons? In that speech my right hon. Friend went on to say:Parliament is all we have, and the House of Commons is the main part of it."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd June, 1931; cols. 101–110, Vol. 253.]To say that Parliament is all we have is putting it a bit high, but Parliament is a very great deal of what we have, and we should not allow its nature to be altered without the very fullest inquiry and the most candid possible Debate.
That is enough reason for my occupying the time and attention of the House and, to some extent, of my right hon. Friend, but before coming to the main issue concerned there are two other personal questions upon which I wish to speak. One is about the person who, as we all know, is the occasion—I do not say the cause—for the Bill. Clearly, that cannot be denied. No word can possibly be said by me, or thought by me, in this connection which arises from any disrespect to him. That point is of no importance whatever, but there is a further point which is of some importance and to which I should like to call the attention of the House. What I have said,perhaps unnecessarily, about myself 695 must apply to all of us equally; let us make no mistake about it. The Bill is beyond all excuse if it is not true that the reason for the right hon. Gentleman's removal is in order that a great compliment may be paid to Canada and that the right hon. Gentleman concerned may perform great services in Canada. If that be not true, the Bill is false. If it is true, the right hon. Gentleman in question must be regarded with the deepest respect by everybody, in all quarters of the House, and most particularly in all quarters of the Government; for otherwise, the Bill would be a joke in extremely bad taste at the expense of a great Dominion.
Before I come to the general case, my final personal point concerns all the persons in this story, that is to say, every Member of this House. We are all, by convention, honourable Members, except those who are right hon. Members. I should be the very last to venture any suggestion that that convention is not true. In time of war, every honourable man's first desire must be to serve his country in battle. Failing that—some of us must fail in that, for various reasons—every honourable man who is at all a politician is very well within his rights in next hoping that he may be able to serve his country in political office. Failing that, and some of us must fail, even in that—and even though we continue to create political offices at the rate of one a month—what must an honourable Member do? A man of honour, when his country is at war, must necessarily desire to perform those services which authority tells him would be his greatest contribution. Whether the Bill passes or does not pass, I have no doubt that any of us would at any time do what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told him to do, as his duty, in the national interest. That is an enormous power, and it brings me to what seems to be the main question, how far and by whom we are to be exempted from our Parliamentary duties in order to perform other duties.
That question, which is suggested by the Motion in the name of the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and some others, is whether this problem should be prejudged. It should not be settled from on high by a Bill put before us on a "take-it-or- 696 leave-it" basis, when "leave it" means, as we are told, shaking confidence in His Majesty's Government at the crisis of the greatest of wars. That is the way in which the Bill is put before us. The Bill attempts to cut the Gordian knot. I agree with other hon. Members that the whole question is in a more than Gordian tangle of knots. Most of us will remember when the former senior burgess for Oxford University, Sir Hugh Cecil, became Provost of Eton. There was a most ridiculous and paradoxical position, because it was then held that the Chiltern Hundreds were, in one sense, not an office of profit. The thing is in a hopeless tangle and is long overdue for cutting, but the question is, whether this particular scission is the right one and whether this is the right way to do it, and whether it should be by a scission proposed to us, indeed, practically imposed upon us. It seems to me that if we were all to speak freely, there could be but one answer. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have all possible offices within the reach of each one of us, and also have that superiority over the Executive which has been our function and our glory for eight or nine generations.The heart of man has long been sore,And long is like to be.That two and two will still make fourAnd neither five nor three.Or, similarly, you cannot have your cake and eat it too.Not God saving His perfection, neither the Pope saving his Holiness, nor any King nor Prince could give such privilege.We cannot have all offices at our disposal and at the same time have an effective supremacy over the Executive. That is what our ancestors learned in the second half of the seventeenth century, with all respect for the learned Attorney-General's history. It is true that in those times—so unlike these—there were party manoeuvrings, and it is true that in those times those party manoeuvrings had some effect upon what happened, but fundamentally more than that happened. In the reign of Charles II the Commons learned that all the offices of the Kingdom might be theirs for the scrambling. Soon after, this House, and others, made a revolution in order, among other things, to get rid of standing armies. That reminds me to answer the point about the one-year Bill. This House, with the help of another place, conducted a revolution 697 to get rid of standing armies, Dutch debts, direct taxation, and other things. We have passed the Army Act annually ever since. Income Tax is annual, the Army Act is annual, and the annuality of this Bill seems to me to be of no great importance. That is why I regretfully feel, it necessary to move this Amendment. If we had been told that we were to have a Select Committee which in the first year could advise the House as to the proper way in which to deal with this point, that would be another matter, but if the Select Committee is to consist of those of us who are not fit for anything else, in order that we may report what constitutional arrangements should be made when the war is over, then it seems to me that the Select Committee is not all that it might be.
I come now to the three main arguments generally used in connection with this Bill. There is the constituency point. and that is the most obvious and the most generally understood point. It has been said that many constituencies have been disfranchised because they have elected a man with a passion, for instance, for kids, and he has then spent a year in St. Helena looking after or looking at goats and kids. That does not disfranchise the constituency. There, the constituency disfranchises itself, because it has elected a man who will act in that particular way. But here the constituency is disfranchised because the man is selected by somebody else to do something elsewhere, and I think that there is a great distinction between the two. There is a further point. We all know the rotten part of our Constitution. It is the selection of candidates. The effect of this Bill will be to make it worse. Indeed, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the main point of the Bill is to make it worse, because it means that unless you get a constituency organisation to revolt they have got to go on electing any beneficiary of the Bill, even when they do get a general election. The constituency point is the most obvious, and I do not wish to labour it too far.
The next most important point is the weakening of the House of Commons. The argument that few of the people in the White Paper are getting money was, if I may use the word not in a quarrelsome but in its etymological sense, really a vulgar argument. It does not very much 698 matter whether a man is taking money or not. Many offices would be worth paying for, for that matter, as we know, because the man's earning power and prestige would be so much greater after holding them. But money is not the main reason why men want to take office. To do us all justice, I think there are few of us who are moved most by money. We are much more moved by the sense of importance, and even if we were moved by money the question whether an office is actually paid or not is, for the reason I have indicated, not all that important. Clearly, the more the abler Members are employed elsewhere, the less the ability of the Members to do the business of the House. The House of Commons suffers immensely in war from its times of sitting. The fact that we are now sitting these strange hours much weakens our powers. "We are suffering from the preoccupations of war, and most of us find it difficult to persuade ourselves each morning that anything else matters much. If the House suffers further decapitation there is the risk that we shall find ourselves reduced to the 75 Ministers, 75 P.P.S's, and those other Members of this House in whom His Majesty's Government can find no usefulness except the inconsequence of their criticism, the loose-mouthed loquacity of their questions, or the debate-killing monotony of their vocabulary.
This brings me to the third main objection, and I do not think it has yet been put. I wish to put it with the profoundest respect for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury. What is the main function of this House? I do not think anyone any longer can say, if it ever was right to say, that our main function is legislation. I mean no disrespect when I say that that which has been said in textbooks and so on, namely, that nowadays the Civil Service legislates by and with the consent of the Cabinet and under the veto of the House of Commons, has come near to acquiring some truth. That may be an exaggeration, but I think legislation was not in the old days and is not now our primary function. Is finance? I rather doubt it. Certainly in war time I doubt it. We can hardly have any control over expenditure, or much over taxation, in war time. What is our essential function? I would answer with 699 the profoundest respect to my right hon. Friend, and I fortify myself here with a quotation from Peter Wentworth. I need not remind the House that Peter Went-worth was one of the early martyrs for the freedom of debate. He died in the Tower, I am afraid, though there was no 18b then, but he said some good things on the way, and this is one of the things he said in Debate in this House:Certain it is, Mr. Speaker, that none is without fault, no, not our noble Queen"—Queen Elizabeth—Love, even perfect love, void of dissimulation, will not suffer me to hide them to Her Majesty's peril, but to utter them for Her Majesty's safety.He proceeded to explain the faults of Queen Elizabeth. I wish to revive no scandal about Queen Elizabeth, and I would venture to utter no criticism of my right hon. Friend, but this I would say: The essential function of this House is that it should be the market in which the stock of the Prime Minister is made. In war-time we are fortunate if, as now, the House is divided into two parties—the House always was divided into two parties and always will be—two parties, the less favourable of the two parties holding my right hon. Friend to be the absolutely indispensable governor of Britain in the greatest crisis in British history. No one would doubt that my right hon. Friend regards that as the highest tribute that could be paid to any man. And that is the view of him which is held by the less favourable party.
If we take the normal peace-time price of a good, decent, working Prime Minister's stock at 100, then I think we might say that it ought to fluctuate very slightly—like Consols did in the old days, down to 99, 98—, up to 101—but one does not want it bobbing up and down with great leaps, least of all in war-time. We are blessed by our destiny in that we have a Prime Minister whose stock, I hardly think it is any exaggeration to say, is now something like 1,000 on the basis I have just mentioned, that is, taking the peace-time norm at 100. But even so it would be a most dangerous thing for our country and—if it is not impertinent to say so—for him, that his stock should be pegged at that value. It ought to be able to go up and down.
700 What ought to be the reasons for its fluctuations? In war-time we cannot judge by legislation and finance; his stock ought to fluctuate very largely on the question of his promotions and dismissals. In the case before us no difficulty arises. It would be doubting the assurances we have heard, and it would be almost insulting to the greatest of Dominions, to deny that what has happened has been a promotion; but it is conceivable that in future there might be a case in which the House would not know whether it wished to boost the Prime Minister's stock up a point or so, because he had promoted someone, or to put it down a point or so, because he had demoted or dismissed that person. Perhaps, to describe the removal, we shall have to borrow a term from ecclesiastical law and speak of "translation."
That, I think, is the fundamental argument against this particular solution and against the Bill, and I submit to the House that all the three arguments I have put are fair and undeniable arguments. I do not say they are unanswerable, but even if they are all answered, I still think I have one argument left which is unanswerable, and that is this. The House will remember that Mr. Francis Bacon—not then, I think, Attorney-General—and if I may, in a parenthesis, say so to the Attorney-General, I was extremely disappointed that he did not explain himself to us, because in the fourteenth and fifteenth century our ancestors, wisely or unwisely, provided by Statute that lawyers should not sit in this House, and I have never quite understood how they came to be here, unless it is that wherever place and power are, there the lawyers will be found, just as it is said, I believe, that there are certain gases that will seep through any brick or plaster. I should have liked to have had that explanation.
§ The Attorney-General
I am not very well informed on this matter, but I think that the only Parliament which had no lawyers in it was the Mad Parliament.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think my right hon. and learned Friend is mistaken; it was the "Unlearned Parliament." But even after the lawyer had acquired some squatters rights in this House, it still remained a rule of the House that "Mr. Attorney" and "Mr. Solicitor" could not sit there, and I was a little sorry that the learned 701 Attorney-General did not touch upon that point. The point I was coming to, however, is what seems to me an undeniable argument. It is a rule of this House made against the Executive, and not entirely, as the Attorney-General suggested to us, because the House was afraid of the Crown. At that stage it was not so much that the Whigs were afraid of the Crown as that the Tories were afraid of the Ministers they would get if they had a Whig Crown. This is a rule of the House made against the Executive, eight or nine generations ago, by our ancestors, and upon it has been based the whole of Parliamentarianism in the English sense, as distinct from Parliamentarianism in Germany and Parliamentarianism in France, Belgium and the United States. It is an enormous thing we are doing on this occasion, and my unanswerable argument is that it would be better—I will put it no higher than that—if this great change had been made with the full, free and unfettered assent of this House, and giving at least an appearance of the initiative to the House.
Those are not the worst Christians who deny that Christianity should be positively fought for, though no doubt we are right in saying that forces which threaten our poor attempts to be Christians should be fought against. They are not necessarily the worst democrats who, whether or not renouncing war as an instrument of policy, say we should do wrong to fight in order to extend the bounds of democracy. But no doubt we are right to make war in order to preserve our freedom to make or to call the British State democratic or whatever else we choose. The best Liberal who ever sat in this House thought the Parliamentary cause was too good to have been fought for, but no doubt we are right to think that the cause of Parliament is now the cause of our country and should be fought for. Yet we fight for more even than Parliament, and if it becomes clear that before victory Parliament, democracy, and every one of our internal freedoms must go, we should be right to fling them all into the scale, secure that victory is everything, and that once foreign felony is beaten back, British hearts on British ground will produce liberty and Parliament again.
The leadership of my right hon. Friend should be our guarantee that no such total sacrifice of Parliament is yet neces- 702 sary or, please God, ever will be. Some part of the character of Parliament has been sacrificed, and perhaps some further part must be sacrificed, but let us make sure that when any part of the character of this honourable House has to be sacrificed, the sacrifice is made by this House, fully conscious of what it is sacrificing and for what purpose. Only so can there be assurance that, at the proper time, what has been sacrificed shall be restored.
§ Colonel Gretton (Burton)
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend has made a long explanation of the reasons for this Amendment, and I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. This Bill is not, in my opinion, in spite of the advocacy of my hon. and right hon. Friends, a Measure of first-rate importance. In fact, we were getting along quite well without it and no difficulty arose until a certain appointment was to be made, namely, that of the late Minister of Health as High Commissioner in Canada. That is, admittedly, the reason for the Bill. This is, no doubt, another instance in which, if nobody had raised objections, no indemnifying Bill would have been necessary, but if any objection had arisen, such a Bill could have been produced, whitewashing the action which had been taken. I find myself much embarrassed because a personal issue is inherent in the argument of this matter. One would not say any word in disparagement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald), on this or on any other occasion. In fact, many of us rather regret that he has been moved from a Ministry where he was doing the work of the Department and of its ramifications to the best advantage. But some of us are waiting for an explanation of why this right hon. Gentleman is especially needed to go to Canada, and why, supposing that he is so needed, this Bill should have to be pressed through the House to-day.
The Attorney-General has given no reasons which convince a number of my hon. Friends or myself. He described the legal entanglements which have existed in times past, in their most dramatic and impressive form; but we want something more. No doubt the Prime Minister will 703 be able to give us other, and stronger, reasons. The essence of this matter is that the Prime Minister holds that the late Minister of Health should resign that office and be sent to Canada. That can be done without a Bill and without any trouble, except that which is suffered by the people in the constituency of Ross and Cromarty. The whole question is: Should hon. Members who are being sent abroad or elsewhere to hold positions, be entitled to accept those missions, and also to try to carry on their duties as Members of this House? According to the Bill, as I read it, the House will not have the opportunity each 12 months of revising the appointments, but each appointment will stand for the duration of the war. All that the House will have the opportunity of doing is of deciding whether the Bill should be renewed each year and another series of appointments made. The proposal which was made by the Attorney-General does not meet the case. I should rather deprecate the setting up of such a committee, to spend its time on an academic question of this kind. Hon. Members of this House would be better employed in considering how we can bring about a successful termination of the war. We should deal with this question at once and settle it.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
We have all listened with very great respect to what has just been said by my right hon. Friend in supporting this Amendment. Personally, having been in this House for some little time, I have always felt on these occasions that, when matters concerning the privilege and work of the House of Commons are concerned, we do well, even in vital and critical times such as these, thoroughly to examine and criticise any proposal. There has been a considerable amount of criticism of this Bill as it stands, and, frankly, I give way to no Member of this House in my desire to see the position of the private Member and of every Member of this House, not merely held as it is to-day, but strengthened rather than weakened. I realise that quite as fully, possibly, as other hon. Members who have taken up a position opposite from that which I am taking. I have been listening in the House for weeks and weeks now to complaints and proposals about how we are to use the man-power 704 of this nation most efficiently, and, if we believe in the fullest possible use of the man-power of this nation, then that rule must equally apply to Members of the House of Commons. If it is necessary for Members of the House of Commons to be called out by the Prime Minister to go and do a particular job somewhere away from this country, then it is absolutely clear that they should go to that job and carry out the work, whatever it is.
I have heard to-day a good deal about the work of Members of Parliament. May I. analyse our work? Not very long ago there was considerable complaint among Members of the House that there was not enough for the ordinary Member to do; it was a very common complaint indeed then, but it has been forgotten to-day. What are we as Members of the House of Commons doing? What about our attendance in the House itself? My Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) says it is out-of-date.
§ Earl Winterton
I said that we brought down the late Government, which would probably appeal to some of the Members on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Williams
But not all the people who are complaining on that subject take exactly that same point of view. I wonder if we in the House of Commons would accept the position that doing our job here is the most important thing of all? I wonder how many times one has heard the complaint that there are two or three committees sitting simultaneously upstairs and no one quite knows which to attend when the House is sitting? I am not sure that that is not a point which might be considered in regard to the ordinary Member's position. Another very excellent work that is done by us is listening sometimes to very well-informed speeches in the House, but I think it absolutely essential that the Members of this House should endeavour, as far as possible, to keep in the closest touch with their constituents. That is a generally agreed principle, first of all for the purpose of keeping up morale, and especially to let the Government know as soon as possible, where necessary, circumstances in a given area. In such matters, we can usefully help the Government. Again, we have the hard side of our work which we know 705 as "patients cases" and things of that kind, which are important. But surely it is not impossible in the case of a town like Bristol, which has four or five Members, to spare one of them and let the others co-ordinate and combine to carry on the type of work to which I have been referring? It has been done, and it is being done to-day, in certain cases and I think that, with the co-ordination of the Whips, it might easily be carried further. We are not fighting each other now, and surely it is not beyond the wit of a Member of Parliament to carry on the work of another individual Member for a certain town?
May I take another point which has been made against this Bill and which is, I agree, a strong point. It is the feeling of the constituencies themselves and the question of whether it would be possible for a Member to give up his association with a constituency. Undoubtedly, in many divisions, the position is that the Member has been wished on the constituency but there are many other constituencies where a Member has carefully built up a long association with his constituents, and where the constituents on the one side and the Member on the other set great value by that association. If you are to tell a Member that he must suddenly give up his constituency to fill a particular Government job you may be causing a great deal of ill-feeling in the constituency, because you never know what the exigencies will be which will cause him to come back. I think you might say, quite reasonably, that a Member should keep his association with his constituency, especially when it has been well-founded over a long period.
In supporting the Bill I have endeavoured to meet one or two arguments which have been produced against it as it stands at the present time, I say, frankly, that there are three main reasons why I think it essential that we should on an occasion such as this, clearly and definitely make up our minds. I have never been one of those who are influenced by what is said by the Whips' Office or by Prime Ministers, but in a great crisis such as we have to-day, we must make up our minds, as Members of the House of Commons, whether we can trust the Prime Minister and the Government of the day to carryout these appointments. If we can, then it is our job to 706 vote for a Bill of this kind and enable the Government to have that power. There might well be an occasion on which the Prime Minister wished to take immediate action, and it might be of great value that a Member who has been through the electoral mill and has had close connection with the electors of this country, one with knowdedge of the real feelings in the country, should be appointed to a particular office rather than somebody who has spent his whole time in the Civil Service.
I think it is essential that such a Member should be available in that way. What is more important to-day than anything else is that we, as Members of Parliament, should show, not only a united front on occasions such as this, but a real determination to recognise that our privileges as Members of Parliament will stand more by the character of the individual Members in the future than by any formal rules, precedents, and so on. What is more important than anything else is that we should show a determination that the fullest possible use should be made of our services, as Members of Parliament, in the national interest in order to secure a speedy victory.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
This Measure causes a certain amount of genuine anxiety among hon. Members in all parts of the House, and various hon. Members have attempted to express their feelings by putting down reasoned Amendments to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. It seems to me that as we are all united in our support of a National Government, the proper way to achieve results is not by having Divisions or threatening Divisions, which are not effective, but by putting forward reasoned arguments to the Prime Minister and other Ministers, and if those arguments obtain support from all quarters of the House, the Government should take them into consideration and act in accordance with the wishes of the House. It is in that spirit that I put down an Amendment, on which I desire to address a few remarks to the House.
I feel that the offer of a Select Committee has gone a long way, although not the whole way, to meet some of the difficulties of the situation. I wish to appeal to the Attorney-General to consider whether the Government cannot go a step further and allow the Committee, if set up 707 now, to make two sets of recommendations, one set covering the peace-time period, and the other set, which might or might not be accepted, covering the wartime period following the end of the year in respect of which this Measure is being passed. If the Government would accept a proposal of that nature, which I submit is eminently reasonable, I think they would go a long way towards satisfying all reasonable anxieties, particularly having regard to the fact that the Bill has been introduced, and it is now impossible for the Government to withdraw it.
The only point concerning the Select Committee in the Attorney-General's speech which I could not understand was his plea of urgency. Obviously there is no urgency. This thing has been going on for years and years, and common informers have shown no activity. If there were a sufficient period to enable the Select Committee to report, it would really not interfere with the passage of the Bill. I hope the Government will consider seriously the suggestions I have made. Certainly, there is a case for a Measure of this kind at some time, but we do not want to do anything to override the ancient and sound practices of the House. We must maintain the independence of the House as against the Executive. We must have a sense of proportion about this thing. Obviously, there are different categories of Members performing different duties. I have heard some people describe this Measure in very improper and irreverent terms. Some have called it the National Labour Preservation Bill. Others have called it the Sir Robert Walpole Resurrection Bill. Of course, both these observations are most improper, but the two ideas seem to go through the minds of some people.
Let me take the different categories of Members of this House. First of all there are the Ministers. Taking the Ministers, their Parliamentary Secretaries, and various persons who owe their positions to this House, we have now something like 200 or one-third of the Members of this House in one way or another depending on the Government. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs and it ought not to be encouraged. Indeed, the number ought to be decreased. There have been 22 new Ministers appointed since the 708 war started, and with them they have carried their Parliamentary private secretaries. Indeed there appears to have been a scattering of political largesse in the various appointments made, and sometimes it seems as if the appointments had been made more for the purpose of satisfying party appetites, than to meet the real necessities of the Departments concerned. I do not therefore feel altogether reassured about the prospect of giving powers under this Bill, although I daresay it will be all right. I find also a suggestion in some quarters that one very good reason for supporting this Bill is that there will be further jobs going and that we might as well get them. That takes us right back to the days of Walpole, when he reduced the management of the House of Commons to a fine art, and we do not want anything of that kind to-day.
Let me now refer to Service Members of whom there are 116. I am entirely in favour of Members of this House retaining their seats while they are in the Services. We have derived very great benefit by having Members coming straight here from Dunkirk, and other parts of France, from anti-aircraft activities and from searchlight units, telling us, publicly or privately, just what they know. They have rendered in that way, not only in this House, but in the Departments, an immense service to the nation which they could not have done had they not been Members of Parliament. We must, of course, guard against the danger of civilians in khaki, and we must not give any encouragement to tendencies of that kind. Then there is the question of the Regional Commissioners. They appear to be partly civil servants, and partly potential district governors, while at the same time they are Members of this House. They administer a Department and yet they are here perfectly free to attack the Department, as they sometimes do. It is a difficult situation and is one which the Select Committee could, with great advantage, examine.
I should like to quote here a reply which was given on this subject—very relevant to our discussions to-day—by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain. When he was Prime Minister he stated on 13th Sepember, 1939, when he was asked about Members volunteering their services to the Foreign Office: 709I am aware that certain Members of this House have offered their services without payment to the Foreign Office, and I can assure them that their offers have been very highly appreciated. This matter has, however, been carefully considered and the conclusion reached that it would be undesirable for Members of this House to be employed in a Government Department, even without salary, in a temporary civilian capacity. A Member of this House so employed would be at the same time a member of the Legislature and a servant of the Executive and it was felt that such a dual position might give rise to a conflict of responsibility which might be embarrassing to all concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th September, 1939; col. 621, Vol. 351.]No doubt that was too rigid a statement which could not be maintained, but there is a lot of good sound constitutional sense in it, and I hope we shall not forget these words in considering this question. I think we want to guard against creating in the minds of the public the idea that we are a close corporation, that we are all life Members, that new entrants are not very readily admitted and that, if they come, they go through a special machinery which is operating in war-time. I am sure that would be most unpopular in the country and undesirable in itself. It seems to be the case that, when a Member is asked to undertake a job of any kind, the first thing he says is, "I must keep my seat in the House." From one point of view that is a very fine state of affairs. It shows the immense prestige and importance of a seat in the House. But we ought to think more of our constituents and less of our careers. It seems to me that one might to some extent meet the case of Members who go overseas as Ambassadors or High Commissioners by arranging, as one so easily can, for some other person to come in and temporarily occupy his seat on the understanding, with the good will of both sides, and through the local associations, that when the late Member comes back his seat will be given back to him if the constituents so desire it, and I do not think there is any doubt that they would do so in most cases.
With regard to appointments at home, of course, it is a very much easier thing here because Members, even if they do not come here, can attend to correspondence and look after their constituents, but there are many Members in Government offices in London who never come here at all, though there is nothing to prevent them, and there are others who have no 710 jobs at all who are somewhere in the country and never come to the House. I do not believe that that is really a very satisfactory state of affairs. I suppose we cannot get over it by reviving what used to take place in our history—a call of the House. The last occasion on which there was a call of the House was in 1836. Members who were not present on those occasions were sometimes sent for by the Sergeant-at-Arms, who brought them here in custody. I do not suggest that that should be revived now. [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] It is a suggestion that I throw out for others bolder than myself to take up. With regard to appointments overseas, the position is very different and I think, in the case of Ambassadors, it ought to be considered by the Select Committee whether it should still be possible for Members to do what they are now doing. I cannot help wondering whether the time will not come when the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) will have to choose between Ambassadorial careers and service in this House.
I feel that we have reached a stage when we have rather passed the limit, and that is the appointment of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] I understand he is not a Member of the House. A statement appeared that he was not going to attend the House, because of the doubt existing.
§ Mr. Mander
The right hon. Gentleman has always seemed to me extremely competent in everything he has done. There is no possible criticism from that point of view. He is very well liked in all quarters of the House and there is no personal criticism of him in any way. It does seem difficult to understand, however, why it should be necessary for him to retain his seat when he goes to take up the great position of High Commissioner to Canada. No doubt there is a background to all this about which it would be desirable not to say anything. I do not know what it is. The reasons are known to the Government and the Prime Minister, and I would not dream of trying to penetrate that 711 veil. In connection with the service of Members of this House I would like to quote a statement from Erskine May:Every Member of Parliament is under a constitutional obligation to attend the service of the House to which he belongs.There was an Act, 5 Richard II, c. 4, which is worth remembering in these days. It said:If a person summoned to Parliament do absent himself, and come not at the said summons (except he may reasonably and honestly excuse himself to our Lord the King), he shall be amerced, or otherwise punished according as of old times hath been used to be done within the same Realm, in the said case.It seems to me very curious that now, so far from amercing or fining the right hon. Gentleman, we are rewarding him with a salary of £2,500 a year on sending him to Canada. What a contrast to the days of Richard II. An Act, 6 Henry VIII, c. 16, declares that no Member should absent himselfwithout the licence of the Speaker and Commons, which licence was ordered to be entered on record in the book of the Clerk of the Parliaments appointed for the Commons' House.It was usual for Members before they left the House to obtain permission, and it may be worth considering whether they should again be required to obtain the permission of the House before they go away for any length of time. In this connection I would like to call attention to the card which hangs in the "No" Lobby, which shows that this is a question which is very relevant at this time. Paragraph 6 says:No pair shall be entered into during the continuance of the leave of absence granted by the House, but leave of absence may be applied for during the existence of a pair.That shows that the leave of absence is in existence at the present time and we could revive it, if we cared to do so. We want to call a halt and inquire carefully whither we are going. I am glad that the Government have brought forward this proposal of a Select Committee, which, if the Committee is extended on the lines suggested, may satisfy a great many people. I hope further that the Government will not close their minds to possible Amendments which may be put down for consideration in Committee. There are some that might be accepted without interfering with the object the 712 Government have in mind. My last. words are these—that the House of Commons is really a symbol of what we are fighting for, it is part of our war and peace aims, and I hope we shall not take any steps which will prevent it shining during the war as brightly as it has done all down the centuries.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
While I congratulate the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on a speech which had no reference whatsoever to the war, I must say that I feel that this is one of those Bills that could only be justified on the grounds of its temporary character and of its being passed for the purposes of the war. I therefore welcome greatly the fact that the learned Attorney-General has suggested that a Select Committee might be established to deal with this problem in all its aspects of a peace-time nature. We all come to this House with differing backgrounds. That is the value of Parliament. One of the things we have to decide before we seek the franchise of our future constituents is whether we are able to devote time and attention to the service of this House. There are many men of great ability who cannot become Members of this House by virtue of the fact that they are unable to reconcile service here with other calls upon their time. The call that comes to each of us at the present time is, as has been rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), first, if possible, to take part in the war, but it is a little hard if nobody else is to be allowed to enjoy what the House has reserved for men called to military service, and that a man serving his country in another capacity has to sever his connection with his constituency and perhaps sacrifice a promising career.
When we enter this House we may still retain earlier connections, perhaps connections of business, which may take us overseas. Surely it is not unreasonable, if we are free to go overseas in normal times without consulting our constituents, that if we are requested in time of war to perform some service by the Prime Minister and by the. Government, we should be at liberty to do so and to retain that intimate connection with this House. The thing that appeals to me in this Bill, which I support as a temporary 713 and war-time Measure, is that it does enlarge the opportunities of Members to serve at the present time. That, indeed, is its only justification, but that is a justification which I am prepared to accept in full.
The only other point I would make is in regard to the relationship of a Member to his constituents. I venture to say that that is a point with which the House should not unduly concern itself. The relations between a Member and his constituency should be of a very private and very personal nature. Any Member who goes against the opinion of his constituency is liable later to find himself compelled to seek another. No doubt any Member asked to go overseas on war service will visit his constituents and take careful steps to inform them of the reasons why he is absenting himself from this place and from this country and will seek their permission to go. If he goes without their permission then he will certainly take the consequences. If, on the other hand, he secures their consent, I feel there is much to be said for allowing them to be represented by a Member doing a good job of work, either in this country, in the Armed Forces or indeed overseas without our unduly troubling ourselves on their account.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I believe that the whole House will agree with me that the course of the Debate has shown, to put it no higher, that the Prime Minister was misguided in making the statement which he made at the opening: of the Debate. To make such a matter as this a vote of confidence was, in my judgment, an error that ought not to have occurred in one with so long a Parliamentary experience. I do not object to the Prime Minister coming to the House and saying that he would treat a vote against the Bill as a censure upon him and therefore making it a vote of confidence, but it was unnecessary for him to do so because there is no feeling against him in this matter. The general attitude of the House of Commons towards the Government is not in question. This is essentially a House of Commons matter.
There has already emerged in the course of the Debate ground for a reasonable compromise between the House and the Government, but when the Prime 714 Minister says he will treat the matter as a vote of confidence I am bound to consider it seriously, and I have to weigh it against all the other matters which I have in common with the Administration. I am not so foolish as to say that I attach very much importance to this matter and that I would prefer to see some other Prime Minister than the right hon. Gentleman. I do not feel that at all, and therefore I shall not vote against the Bill. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of a compromise. The mover of the Amendment wants a Select Committee and does not want the Bill. What is there against having the Bill and the Select Committee? There does not seem to be anything wrong with that, although a Select Committee after the war is, with all respect to the Attorney-General, plain nonsense. The constitutional adaptations that will have to be made in this country will go far beyond a Select Committee meeting to consider this matter.
Even if the appointment of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) had not been made, the Bill, or a Bill of some such kind, would be necessary. There is already a need for indemnification. Look at this White Paper. Patronage can be extended clandestinely, and has been extended. When I looked through the White Paper I was astonished. I thought that I was a fairly active Member, but there are names here, and posts occupied, which I never thought existed. My prying eyes were not able to find them out.
§ Mr. Bevan
No. I can speak freely, because I have no expectation. The Debate has been influenced by our thoughts about the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty and the Bill, and it is an unfortunate juxtaposition, because the one thing has created bad feeling about the other. We should still need the Bill, which will not give the Prime Minister any very considerable extension of the power of patronage. It is true that certain appointments can be made in the future under the Bill without the Members concerned resigning, but those are always unique appointments which would almost always commend themselves to the House of Commons upon their own merits. That this does not commend itself is another matter. That a Member of this House 715 may be appointed to a high position overseas is certainly contained in the Bill, but I submit that these are very extraordinary and unusual appointments. All the other powers of patronage, or, if you like, all the other powers of corrupting Members of Parliament, are already flourishing. They are being used in every conceivable direction—I think unnecessarily—and used to an extent which is likely to become exceedingly dangerous.
Why cannot we have a Select Committee which would be a sort of constitutional scavenging committee? Neither the Attorney-General nor the Solicitor-General, nor any constitutional authority in this House at the moment, knows exactly the position of many of the officers named in this White Paper. Surely, before this Bill comes up for renewal a Select Committee could explain the position and make recommendations to the House as to what alterations, if any, should be made, in order that we may not take unfortunate divisions over a matter of this kind when there need be no division at all. I put forward this suggestion very seriously, and I am very sorry that neither the Prime Minister nor the Lord Privy Seal is in the House. I hope that the Prime Minister may be asked to consider it.
There is the special matter of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. Hon. Members will recall that Membership of this House was originally a duty imposed by the Crown upon a constituency. That is why a great deal of these safeguards are in the Constitution. That is the reason why it is difficult for Members to be exempted from their duties. But now, representation in this House is a privilege demanded by the constituents themselves, and of which they ought not to be deprived, except in the most grave emergency. When a man is taken from his constituency to-day, many thousands of people are being deprived of a constitutional right for which they have fought for centuries, and when the Service Members analogy is used it leaves me quite cold. I regard service to this House as the highest service a citizen can render, taking precedence even over service in the Armed Forces. If that is not the case, what is the meaning of constitutional government? Whereas, formerly, Members of Parliament might feel that causing 716 service to this House to take precedence over anything else would be regarded as an indication that they wished to escape any risk of danger, recent events have shown that it is almost as dangerous to be here as it is to be a member of one of the Armed Forces. Therefore, they need no longer blush on that account. There was no reason at all—and that is why people felt disquieted about it—why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty should want to hang on to his seat and still be High Commissioner in Canada.
That is the reason why the House expects that the Prime Minister might not always use this power with discretion, because they cannot see that there is any very special case at the present time. There are large numbers of citizens of this country who could serve His Majesty in Canada and who are not Members of this House, and, therefore, I do not see why it was necessary for this situation to arise at all. The Prime Minister has committed himself, his pride is involved, and I am not prepared to vote against him on that account. I am not prepared to vote against the Prime Minister because he has, as I have already explained, made the matter into a vote of confidence. That would be to exalt the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty higher than the Prime Minister himself. I do not think he is, and, therefore, I am not going to take such a line.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I wonder if the hon. Member will explain, if he considers the Prime Minister made a mistake in making a question of this kind into a question of confidence, and if he also thinks that his view is wrong and that the Bill is wrong, why he should allow the Prime Minister to take it as a question of confidence if he votes against the Bill, or if any of us vote against the Bill? We shall not be voting against the Prime Minister in the least; we shall be voting against the Bill.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry, but if the Prime Minister comes to the House and says that he regards the voting on this Bill as a question of confidence, I am bound to accept his opinion. Furthermore, my argument is perfectly clear. Am I to take the action of the Prime Minister as wrong in not requiring the right hon. 717 Member for Ross and Cromarty to resign? I think it is wrong, but the Prime Minister has reasons of his own. I think the Bill is wrong, but I am begging the Government to see that there is no reason why the difficulty should arise and that there is a way out of it which would preserve the dignity of the House of Commons and of the Prime Minister. If the House will pardon me for repeating one point, I was submitting to the Prime Minister that there is no reason at all why he and the House should come into conflict on this matter, because what is before the House at the present time, as I understand it, is not the appointment of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty to the High Commissionership in Canada, but this Bill.
I say, therefore, that there is no reason why the Bill should not be given its Second Reading and should not go through the House. A Select Committee would immediately be appointed for the purpose of clearing up a number of matters which are at the moment obscure; they would report to the House before the expiry of one year, and the renewal of the Bill would again be discussed in an atmosphere free from the prejudice introduced by the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman to the High Commissionership in Canada. I have tried to say that this Bill would have been necessary if that appointment had not been made. I suggest that it is necessary to limit the extent to which the Executive can absorb Members of the House into the Administration. Like many others, over the week-end I have been reading some constitutional authorities, and I notice that Erskine May, at the end of a long description of the corruption of the House of Commons during the 18th century, made this observation:How did it come about that a Parliament so corrupted, that representatives so venal, nevertheless could for 40 or 50 years, whilst subborned in the way they were, enlarge the liberties of the subject, expand the constitution, and lay the foundation of our present liberties?He said that it was so because there existed then two forces of the State: first, an Opposition which always, by its vigilance in the House of Commons, chastised the Executive, even for the things of which it might itself have been guilty had it been the Administration, and, secondly, the 718 emergence of a free Press. I submit to the Prime Minister that one of those conditions is absent, and the other is suffering from slight anaemia. In such circumstances, so stalwart a custodian of constitutional liberty as the Prime Minister ought seriously to consider the health of Parliament. It is extremely undesirable that to the overwhelming power of the Executive should be added the power of making hon. Members always have to choose between virtue and profit.
That is the answer to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). It is not enough to rely upon the honour of Members of Parliament. It is a virtue of our Constitution that the temptation is not put before us. Therefore, we should be striving to maintain those constitutional principles that save Members of Parliament from being asked to choose between virtue and profit. It is necessary for the Prime Minister, if he wants a Member of Parliament to serve the State in a manner incompatible with Membership of this House, to realise that membership of this House is the paramount duty that anyone could perform, and that Members must give up their Membership if they wish to take on other posts. I pray the Prime Minister not to drive us unnecessarily into the Division Lobby on this occasion, but to agree to a compromise that accords with his own dignity and with our jealousy for the honour of this House.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle - under -Lyme)
I am all in favour of Members of Parliament, particularly in war-time, taking on jobs in the Civil Service, in the Armed Forces, in India, and in the Colonies. It is only natural that people who have been trained in the House of Commons over a long period should be able to perform those jobs better than people from outside. What I am opposed to is Members of this House taking Government money without the consent of their constituents. This Bill is designed to enable them to do that. Provided we had the old system, whereby any man taking an office of profit under the Crown had to face a by-election, all would be well especially in war-time, for there would be no difficulty even about a contest in the by-election. This Bill enables something to be done which, we all know, may be in our own personal interests, but which is against the traditions of Parliament and against the wishes of the con- 719 stituents of many Members who are being deprived of their representation. Because of that, we are desperately anxious to persuade the Prime Minister to appoint a Committee now to go into the whole question.
I opposed the whole idea of suppressing by-elections when Ministers of the Crown were appointed, at the time when the proposal was first brought forward in the early years of this century and when it was carried through in 1926, as I oppose it still, on the simple ground that the holding of such by-elections is not only a salutary check against the growth of place-men, but that it also gives the people of this country a chance of registering their view as to whether a man is being bought by the offer of a place or whether he is a valuable addition to the Government and a credit to the constituency. Under the old system there was a double check, the check of the man's own conscience and the check of the constituency. Now you are allowing an enormous number of this House of Commons to accept Government money without the consent of their constituents, in spite of the dangers which historically have always arisen when too many place-men were appointed. It is only to urge that point of view that I rise.
The people of this country are suspicious of Parliament. They have been growing increasingly suspicious of Parliament ever since the Fascist doctrine was introduced inside Europe. There has been continual criticism of Parliament. People will not realise that the £600 or £550 a year which we get now is not a salary, but is for expenses of representation. They are bringing that up against us all the time in the ignorant, stupid circles in which Fascists move. I do not want to add to that the allegation that Members of Parliament take two salaries. By all means let the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) go to Canada and do a job. Let him do it exactly as the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir R. Dorman-Smith) is doing an equally valuable job, or I hope he will, in Burma. Do not both deprive his constituency of a chance of representation in this House and at the same time deprive the Constitution of that safeguard which depends upon the 720 acceptance by the electors in each constituency of any appointment which can be made by the Government to any paid post whatever.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I must again make apologies to the House if I have not been present during every speech that has been made in the course of this Debate, but when I have been able to be present I must say that I have experienced a sensation of relief at the air of detachment which prevails in this House, and which seems to me in such very sharp contrast to some of the grave realities which are proceeding out of doors.
I must ask the House to give His Majesty's Government the minor facilities and conveniences—for that is all they are —which are afforded to us in this Bill. I must make it a question of confidence, because it touches definitely our war effort, it arises directly out of the war, and it is concerned only with the period of the war. If there is a suggestion—it has not been pressed in any quarter in any unkind manner—that the Government will abuse their powers under this Bill and proceed by mean and flagitious manoeuvres to perpetuate their tenure of power, if there were such suggestions, either tacit or spoken, obviously that also would be a matter of confidence.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has described the existing position and has shown, what every speaker has accepted, the confusion of accident and anomaly of legal fiction and Parliamentary circumnavigation into which we have fallen over generations, quite innocently and for good reasons, and in which we now lie. This now seems to have been brought to a head by the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. Mac-Donald). But the need for the Bill had already become imperative, even if this particular appointment had not been made. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) spoke of this Measure as a Bill on a purely personal issue. He is really quite wrong; he is beside the mark in making such a statement. He said we were getting along quite well without it, but that is really not the case, as I shall venture to show the House during the course of my remarks.
721 Although this Bill is associated with a particular case, the circumstances which have rendered it necessary are far more general in their application, and I do not think it is possible to state a case against the Bill on grounds of high constitutional principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) seemed to seek to do so, but I should warn the House against lending countenance to the constitutional doctrine which he has enunciated. He told us that the legislative functions of Parliament had ceased to be important. He even said that the control of finance had ceased to be real or important, although that is a structure around which the whole of our procedure had been built. What he considered the function of the House of Commons to be—and I took the trouble to write down his words—wasa market upon which the price of the Prime Minister's stock is based.I deprecate this squalid language of the bucket-shop as applied to the serious, responsible functions of the State, and I think it would be lamentable if the youth of a great centre of learning should be tempted to accept such slipshod and questionable guidance. The truth is that all the fundamental constitutional principles concerned with the holding of offices of profit and the vacation of seats—which was the real point behind this apparatus —have been blurred or effaced by decisions already taken by the House in this or previous Parliaments. Anomalies arise from the fact that positions under the Crown do or do not disqualify, according to the application or interpretation of words in old Statutes passed a long time ago in different circumstances and for different purposes.
These anomalies have continually been the target for Parliamentary attention and correction in recent years. Successive enactments have freed Ministers of of the Crown from the need of re-election on appointment to office. This has been found convenient in practice, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) that we have lent ourselves, perhaps too readily, to those great changes. But they have been made, and made in modern times. It was a very important provision that Members, on appointment to high office, should submit themselves to re-election: it was a 722 very important provision because it prevented a Government different from that which the electors had in mind at the time of the election from taking and holding office for a time, and filling up all its posts, without the country having a chance to challenge the matter, with different persons, of perhaps quite different policies from those the electorate had been led to contemplate, and from those that the country might wish. A Government so formed, even without a majority in the House, not daring to send a Minister that it had chosen to the process of by-election—saved from that by the legislation of the House—such a Government might take executive action which would have irrevocable consequences either in the direction of war or peace. It was a safeguard of immense consequence, but the House parted with it. It has been totally discarded by the House in my lifetime.
§ The Prime Minister
Surely, the House is not going to shelter behind party leaders; surely, the right hon. Member will not try to get behind such a poor little ill-filled sandbag as that. Now that I have shown hon. Members the camel they have already swallowed, I hope they will address themselves with renewed sense of proportion to this somewhat inconsiderable gnat. An office of profit is, in my view—I do not speak as a lawyer—a term of art. It applies to many positions where there is no remuneration. A Junior Lord of the Treasury, unpaid, is an office of profit, but a special mission, though it may be very highly paid and may last for years, is not a disqualifying office of profit. A foreign Embassy, even though, as in the case of the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), it is a formal, definite, diplomatic appointment, and not a special mission in any sense, has, according to the advice we have received, been held not to disqualify as an office of profit. That advice has not been challenged, or has not yet been challenged, by the House or by the common informer. [An HON. MEMBER: "He takes no salary."] That has nothing to do with it. That is one of the anomalies I am trying to bring out. It would make no difference if the right hon. and learned Member took a salary. He 723 takes the fees of representation necessary to the discharge of these important duties. Even though it is a formal appointhment, it has not been challenged, though I must say I should have thought it was a very doubtful case. If an office was in existence before 1705, it may be held by a Member of Parliament and profit drawn from it unless, of course, it comes under a special ban in some later Statutes, which are numerous and obscure. The High Commissionership of one of our great Dominions, not having been in existence in 1705, thus disqualifies, whereas an Embassy to a foreign country does not. I am only putting it forward to show the anomalies.
Then there is a distinction into which I shall not trouble to plunge too deeply, though it appeals, I believe, to legal and litigious minds—a distinction between an office of profit and a place of profit. Such a distinction would smite the holder of an unpaid office of profit, and would leave unscathed the paid holder of a place of profit. That is hardly a very satisfactory logical situation for us to have reached, although my right hon. Friend says that everything is going on very well. I have been assured that it would be possible to get out of what may be called the MacDonald difficulty in the following way: The High Commissioner-ship in Canada would be left vacant, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty would be sent to Canada on a special mission, and his mission would be to discharge all the functions which would normally fall to be discharged by the High Commissioner. I am not going to play such a game as that with the House of Commons. I am sure it is very much better in this matter for the Government to come frankly to the House, tell the House their difficulties, and ask for the necessary assistance and relief. And that is what we are doing.
The House has already given to the Executive immense latitude during wartime. It allows and encourages officers in the Armed Forces to serve on full pay in any rank, and to combine their public duties with their military appointment. There is no limit except, of course, that of the general control of Parliament over the Executive. There is no legal limit at all upon the. multiplication of military 724 appointments, either at the front or the rear. Regional Commissioners, without limit of number, and deputy Regional Commissioners can, as we have been reminded, hold their duties and sit in Parliament by recent war-time legislation, without re-election, whether they are paid or unpaid. The power under the emergency legislation to create new offices and appoint additional Under-Secretaries is unlimited. There are many other facilities which have been given by the House. Why have all these facilities been accorded to the Government by the House? The reason is that the House in its wisdom does not wish the Executive to be hampered in the conduct of the war, and it is quite sure that it can by its inalienable ultimate authority correct any excess or abusive use of these immense discretionary powers. But let me say this: There never has been a Government which had less need to hire or suborn Members of Parliament to vote for them than this present Administration at this actual time.
Therefore I make these two submissions to the House: First, that the whole of this question of office and places of profit is in a state of great legal complexity and obscurity, and that the law may strike here or there by accident or caprice without any reference to any principle of logic, or reason or constitutional doctrine. That is my submission, and, I think, it is a subject which may well occupy the careful deliberations and study of: a Select Committee, with a view to clarifying the whole position, with all due respect for tradition, and with proper regard to the interests of the modern State in times of peace or party warfare.
I am very glad that there should be a Select Committee, and I would very gladly myself, if invited, give evidence before it, when I have a little more time, upon the sound and healthy constitutional usages which should be defined, preserved and established. The terms of reference which we would suggest for this committee would be:To inquire into the existing Statutes which provide for disqualification of Members of the House of Commons by reason of their holding offices or places of profit under the Crown, and to make recommendations as to the proper principles on which future legislation in normal times of peace should be based.That is the reference which will in due course have to be submitted to the House. 725 If the committee completed its work before the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill came on, obviously the House would include the Measure in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, in the light of any report that the committee might make. If desired, the committee should not be wholly limited to the post-war period, but that is a matter which can well be discussed when the Motion for appointing (the Select Committee and the terms of reference are before the House. [Interruption.'] I think I should prefer to follow the course I have indicated, because I think it is the normal course. We have introduced the principle that the Bill should last only for a year, consequently the House can bring up the point on the Bill; or, if the reference is questioned, then again on the Motion for appointment of the committee it will be possible to raise the point, and I shall have a chance of giving it more consideration, and nothing will be lost in the meanwhile.
My second submission is this: The House has already given to a wicked and unworthy Executive, if such there were, immense powers of wrongdoing, so far as legality is concerned, which wrongdoing can only be corrected by turning the Government out by a hostile vote. I, hope I may be allowed to leave the legal aspect and its tangles for the wider practical considerations which arise. I think we should be wise to leave it to our Select Committee to tidy up the present state of confusion and uncertainty and meanwhile get on with the war, because, although one would hardly think it, there is a war on, and life and liberties, and even wider causes, are hanging in the balance.
Let us, therefore, look at a few simple, non-legal issues which seem to me, as a layman, relevant to the subject and which also are involved in the practical needs of the hour. The first point is this: A Member of Parliament, when he gives service to the Crown at this time of mortal conflict, ought to be able to know whether he is doing right or not. In the White Paper which has been laid before the House there are a very large number of doubtful or borderline cases. The case of the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) stand out. Are we to regard my hon. Friend as a grand con- 726 stitutional criminal or not? I fear that we must if this Bill is not passed. What is the crime that may be alleged against him? He is giving his highly competent service in the Ministry of Aircraft Production in an executive office as Director-General. He does not take any remuneration. He Hoes not even draw out-of-pocket or travelling expenses. I am assured that his work is of real value in a sphere which we all know is of critical importance. Suddenly a constituency where my hon. Friend was well known and apparently well respected, with its eyes open to the office he held and to the ties which bound him to assist the Government, elected him, and he unwitting accepted the honour.
§ The Prime Minister
I will deal with all the facets of the argument in turn. I am assured that my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston might on the action of a common informer be mulcted in financial penalties, or upon a Motion in this House his election might be declared null and void. My hon. Friend is not alone. The hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) and the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) are equally in this dangerous area, but worse may come. There may be a good many more fish in the net. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton, in his comfortable, secure position in that constituency, has not realised that not everyone is in that position of impeccable political stability which he has so long enjoyed.
I took the trouble, working into the early hours this morning, to go through the White Paper with the Law Officers of the Crown, and I am sure that there are quite a lot of other cases, most disputable, or at any rate very doubtful and challengeable, where action might be taken by the common informer. Such action would proceed in the courts at the expense of the hon. Member concerned. It might be carried from court to court to his endless vexation and the detriment of his war work, and, possibly, to his heavy financial loss. I do not think any fair-minded man would expect a Government which had offered and sanctioned such appointments to permit this state of uncertainty to continue or to allow men who are 727 giving valuable and faithful services to the State at the Government's request to lie under the menace and distress of potential persecution. I am asked why I make this a vote of confidence. This is why I felt bound to do so. If these men are to be censured, let us be censured too. If they are to be punished, let us share their misfortunes. If the House will not give to them and to us this relief, then I think the House will be taking upon its shoulders a more direct responsibility than it usually desires to do, in view of the burdens, not inconsiderable, of our present-day life. And so I put before the House, as the first of the practical objects of this Bill, fair play to individual Members, and I call upon the House to give their particular attention to this aspect and ask them, in the name of the Government, to afford the relief and security to these men which are their due.
There is a second point which ought not to be overlooked. At this time, when we are fighting for our lives, surely it is in the interests of the country that the Government responsible for the safety of the people, and for the successful emergence of the British Empire from its perils, should have full freedom, as long as it retains the confidence of the House of Commons, to make the best appointments which it can devise. Let me illustrate this point by another case, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty. He has been chosen for the High Commissionership of one of our great Dominions, and he accepted the task as a war-time duty. He made no conditions, but he expresed the earnest hope and natural desire that he might remain a Member of the House of Commons. I agreed to this so far as it rested with me, and I promised to seek from Parliament any statutory powers that might be needed. It seemed to me that if the House accepted, and indeed highly approved, the sending of two of its Members as Ambassadors to Moscow and to Madrid, no very serious, certainly no novel, constitutional issue would arise if it sent another of its Members to be High Commissioner in Canada. That was my feeling. I had never dreamed that between these two cases, the two Ambassadorships and the High Commissionership in Canada, all of which are out of this country, it could have been repre- 728 sented that there yawned and gaped this vast, hideous gulf of constitutional principle, and I take great shame to myself for not having appreciated the point.
I would say a word on the merits of this appointment, which has been rather commented on by my right hon. Friend below the Gangway. I attach very great importance to these High Commissionerships in the Dominions. I am anxious that in this time of war we should fill vacancies which arise in the High Commissionerships so far as possible by men of outstanding political reputation who have long experience of the House of Commons and of Cabinet government. I must admit that I may be biased in favour of the House of Commons. I have lived all my life here, and I owe any part I have been able to take in public affairs entirely to the consideration with which I have been treated by the House. But making any allowances for this bias, discounting it, as I ought, I do not hesitate to say that 5 or 10 years' experience as a Member of this House is as fine an all-round education in public affairs as any man can obtain. Sometimes we see very able men in the great professions making public speeches which are odd and ill-judged, although they are most capable, upright men, probably possessing abilities above our average here. Why, only the other day there was a military officer with a very fine record much respected by all those with whom he worked, who wrote a letter for which he was properly censured, a letter most awkward and unhelpful to the very work on which he was engaged. Had that officer sat here even for the lifetime of a single Parliament, and rubbed shoulders with everyone, as we do, in the lobbies and elsewhere, he would never have made such a goose of himself. We get to know something about each other when we work together in this House. We see men with their qualities and defects.
In appointing a House of Commons man to a position of importance and delicacy, we are not, as it were, buying a—perhaps I had better say taking a leap in the dark, as too often has to be done, especially in time of war. Therefore, I was very glad to find in the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, and also in Lord Harlech, men of proved Parliamentary and Ministerial capacity and standing and I am very glad to find that 729 those appointments have given the greatest satisfaction both in Canada and South Africa, and have evoked the most cordial responses from those two outstanding Empire statesmen, Mr. Mackenzie King and General Smuts. It would be a pity if, in this difficult process of selection, I should be forced to confine entirely to the House of Lords the area of my advice to the Crown. There are, no doubt, many capable men in the House of Lords with long Parliamentary experience, but I do not know why it should be considered essential to the moral and constitutional well-being of the House of Commons that choice should be confined solely to the Upper Chamber. We should take the best men at this time, those best fitted to hold appointments. There is no reason why the House of Commons should place itself under a particular ban on ability in this matter.
Now there arises the question of the rights and interests of constituents. It is a very serious question. A constituency chooses a Member to represent it in this House. The Member goes off, perhaps for a long period of time, to Moscow or Madrid or Ottawa, or it may be to Mogadishu or Benghazi. Here is a constituency, as it is said, disfranchised. Is not this a great constitutional misfortune? It certainly raises an important question, and we should look at it in some detail. It is not only in the field of service to the State that such issues arise. A sheaf of examples has been furnished to me. I will not quote names. A Member may fall a victim to a long illness which totally incapacitates him and as a result of which, after some years, he dies; or perhaps he lingers on. A Member may become mentally deranged or feeble-minded —I am not going to cite any particular instance—and so long as that Member is not actually certified a lunatic, he can hold his seat and draw his salary. A Member may be detained in prison under war-time regulations for an indefinite period—a most painful situation for any Government to become responsible for. Or he maybe sent to prison by the courts for misdemeanour without the constituency having the slightest power to compel him to resign.
An even more irritating case than this, from the point of view of the constituency, 730 is when a Member has been elected to support a particular party or a particular policy and, after being returned, circumstances arise which lead him, conscientiously or otherwise, to support a different party or the opposite policy. A Member again may obviously fail to represent his constituents. He may be entirely out of harmony with their views, and he may grossly misrepresent them without having the slightest intention to do so. These cases are not numerous, but they occur constantly, and a constituency has no redress. Of course, an honourable man actuated by good taste and good feeling, would, as is the usual practice, submit himself voluntarily for re-election, but a constituency has no power whatever to make him do so. While we are on this question of Members employed abroad, let me say I have had a written message from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty, in which he says:I wrote on the day of the announcement of my impending appointment to Canada to the Chairman of the National Committee of my constituency, saying two things: (1) That I understood the Government were introducing legislation which, if passed, would enable me to retain my seat in the House.(2) That, nevertheless, I would offer my resignation from Parliament to the National Committee in that constituency, and would resign forthwith if the general feeling in Ross and Cromarty was that they should have a Member of Parliament who was not absent oversea.Returning to the general theme of my argument, I have cited a whole set of cases which could easily be extended and of which many examples could be found within living memory, where the constituency for the time being is apparently disfranchised, and it is asked: "Ought we not to provide for this?" I would not mind the Select Committee considering that aspect, but, speaking as a fairly old Parliamentarian, I am myself very doubtful whether a change in our long-established practice would be beneficial to the House of Commons. Of course, there are Parliaments like the Parliament in Soviet Russia, where the constituencies have the power of recall; that is to say, if a Member or a delegate makes speeches or asks questions or gives votes of a kind not desired by his constituency, or by the party machine, a kind of round-robin of electors can be signed, and he can be forced to submit himself for re-election. 731 This power of recall is contrary to the best interests and dignity of Parliament, and the whole Parliamentary tradition as built up in this country, which is at once the cradle and citadel of Parliamentary government, is adverse to it. I believe it would give a great deal more power to the executive Government and to the party machinery, which has in recent times often been considered to be too powerful and too efficient. The independence of all Members would be affected. They would not know whether, at any time, they might not be exposed to an agitation worked up in their constituencies and thus forced to fight a by-election on a bad wicket. We must be very careful not to take short or impulsive views on these questions when dealing with an institution of the antiquity and vitality of the House of Commons. Once we start on this business of recall for any of the reasons I have mentioned, you will find that one will lead on to another; once we start on this business of recall, we shall have altered in a degrading sense the character of the House of Commons and the status of its Members. In attempting to avoid an occasional anomaly, we might find that we had seriously affected the health and vigour of this famous, world-honoured institution. I believe it will be found on reflection far wiser to put up with these occasional hard cases than to be drawn on to the slippery slope which would lead to the promulgation of the doctrine of recall.
I have given the best reply that I can to my hon. Friend on the subject of the disfranchisement of a constituency. But there is another important Parliamentary lesson to be borne in mind by the House. It is none of our business to declare what constituencies think and wish. We learned that in the Wilkes case. In the cases of these three eminent Members who have been appointed Ambassadors or High Commissioner, from what I can hear in this time of war, when we are all working together—or are supposed to be—and are certainly in the utmost danger and also in a very great period of national history, these constituencies regard it as a very great honour that their Members have been chosen to render these high and distinguished services to our country and its cause. In the same way constituencies feel proud that their representatives should go to the front on active service 732 and face, as many have done and are doing, the level as opposed to the vertical fire of the enemy. We shall see what view will be taken in Ross and Cromarty, but at any rate it is for them and not for us. The Members for constituencies neighbouring on those of men absent on active service or on public duty are nearly always found ready to look after local business and constituency correspondence, and the public Departments will be particularly careful in replying to such correspondence to make sure that the constituency does not suffer from the absence of its Member on what I must consider as an extremely high form of public duty.
There is, I am told, quite a lot of feeling in the country that we all ought to help as much as we can, and constituencies are glad to make a sacrifice in being inconvenienced if they think it conduces to the national advantage and safety. That is my answer to the question about the rights and interests of constituencies, and I hope that it also will be carefully considered by the House. Thus, there is the question of fair play to the individual Member, there is the question of the interest of the State in the freedom of choice and appointment, and there is the question of the alleged misfortunes to the constituency.
I come to the last issue which arises from this Bill. Is it in the interests of the House of Commons that its Members should play active, useful, and perhaps distinguished parts in the great struggle which is now going on, or ought they to confine themselves strictly to Parliamentary business and attendance upon this House? I may say that the House, or some of its Members, have shown themselves rather changeable upon this point. I remember my predecessor, the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, drawing a very strict line against the employment of Members of Parliament, and considerable offence being given, and his modifying that line to meet the wish of the House. For my own part, I have a very clear opinion, which I expressed in the Debate on the Address last November. Here is what I said—and it met, as I thought, with general approval—I entirely agree with what has been said about the desirability of Members of Parliament serving not only in the military forces but in all other forms of warfare and discharging their Parliamentary duties at the same time or in alternation. No doubt, difficulties 733 arise, but I think they are well covered, and that the good sense of the House and of hon. Members will enable these dual and occasionally conflicting functions to be discharged.I went on to say—I abridge it a little— that the fact thatthis House should be a House of active living personalities, engaged to the hilt in the national struggle, each according to the full strength that he has to give, each according to the aptitudes which he possesses, is, I think, one of the sources of the strength of the Parliamentary institution." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1940; cols. 31-2, Vol. 366.]I think this policy commanded the entire approval of the House. And there are many traditions which justify the desire of the Government to find useful employment for hon. Members. In the days when the Parliamentary liberties we have gained were being fought for, Parliamentary figures, in and out of the Administration, were prominent in every field of public service and were hastening in, as they do now, from the battlefield to cast their votes and to give their counsel. It was so in the Marlborough wars, it was so under Lord Chatham, it was so in the wars against Napoleon. The Duke of Wellington, then Sir Arthur Wellesley, went out to the Army in the Peninsula while still holding the Irish Secretary ship; and when the Army went into winter quarters he returned home, and resumed his duties on the Treasury Bench. A great and respectable tradition has followed those lines. In earlier times, I must admit, in a mood of temporary and melancholy self-abasement, or under harsh external pressure, the House of Commons passed a self-denying ordinance. That was the prelude to the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. In the Act of Settlement, 1702, Parliament proposed to prevent every Member of the House of Commons from holding any kind of office under the Crown.
It is to the House of Lords, in the later Acts of 1705 and 1707, that we owe that immense assertion of democratic power and popular control which is secured by the presence of the principal Members of the Executive in the House of Commons, chosen mainly from its Members, and living its daily life in full intimacy and association. In the palmy days of Queen Victoria, great respect was paid to the position of a Member of Parliament. His status and authority were everywhere con- 734 sidered. He was much looked up to. Then there was an interlude. As the franchise became more democratic, it grew to be the fashion in certain social circles to speak with contempt about Members of Parliament as a class and as a type. They were represented as mere spouters and chatterboxes, the putters of awkward questions and the raisers of small points of procedure. Kipling wrote his poem:Padgett, M.P., was a liar and a fluent liar therewith.Altogether, there was a phase in which Members of Parliament were thought to be rather a poor lot. That period is over. This White Paper is a proof that it is over. What is this White Paper? I say it is a roll of honour.
§ The Prime Minister
The roll is not by any means necessarily final. That is the answer I give to the hon. Gentleman, and if he will not reproach me with an endeavour to suborn him, I can only say that the roll is not necessarily complete. Many things have yet to happen. This White Paper records a process reached naturally and even inevitably under the conditions of these tremendous and terrible times, and which, while it serves the interest of the nation at war, dignifies and enhances the character and quality of Parliamentary representation.
It is the policy of this present Government to raise and sustain the personal status of Members of Parliament in every possible manner. It is my deliberate policy, as Leader of the House, to do so and always to watch very carefully— as indeed I have done—over the safety and dignity of the House and keep it alive and effective under conditions in which it has never before been attempted to carry on Parliamentary Government in any civilised State. I am sure that, when the war is over, this institution which we cherish and serve will have gained by having in its ranks large numbers of Members who have played an important part in the great days through which we shall have passed, and who will have their share in winning the victory, the fruits of which we and other Parliaments will then enjoy.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think I have the concurrence of my right hon. and hon. Friends in asking the permission of the House to withdraw the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day.— [Major Dugdale.]