§ Considered in Committee.
§ [sir DENNIS HERBERT in the chair.]
§ CLAUSE 1.— (Prevention of disqualification.)
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, to leave out "First Lord of the Treasury," and to insert:Committee of Privileges of the Commons House of Parliament.I do not know whether it is your intention, Sir Dennis, to select this and the following Amendment which stands in my name—in line 5, at the end, to insert:owing to the fact that no one else with suitable qualifications is available.If so, I would like to suggest, for the convenience of the Committee and with a view to saving time, that discussion on them might be taken together, as they are related.
§ The Chairman
As far as I can understand them, I do not see the slightest connection between the two Amendments, and, therefore, I cannot see how the Committee can debate them together.
§ Mr. Lewis
I will speak then only on the first of the Amendments. Its purpose is to obtain from the Government a clearer statement as to their intention in inserting in the Bill the proviso that the First Lord of the Treasury should issue a certificate with regard to an appointment under the Bill. At first sight it would seem absurd to suggest that the Prime Minister, having made an appointment, should be asked to say that in his view the appointment was in the public interest. We must assume that no Prime Minister would make an appointment which he did not consider to be in the public interest. The Attorney-General evidently felt there was something in this contention, because on the Second Reading of the Bill, when he was asked by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) what the use of the certificate was, he replied shortly, "To inform the House." I take it from that 796 reply that the Government do not attach any importance to the mere statement of the First Lord of the Treasury that in his opinion the appointment he has made is in the public interest. With regard to the purpose which the Attorney-General apparently has in mind, it might be helpful if we had a clearer declaration from him about it. When he was being questioned as to the purpose of this provision in the Bill, the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) asked him whether the information would appear on the Order Paper and be subject to discussion. The Attorney-General replied:Yes, I think that is right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1941; col. 663, Vol. 369.]I ask the Committee to notice the word "think." When a right hon. Gentleman of the learning of the Attorney-General uses the word "think" in such a connection, it is a little disquieting. Since the Second Reading no doubt he has had further opportunity of considering the point, and I should be glad—indeed, it is one of my purposes in moving this Amendment—if he would tell us definitely what the Government had in mind regarding the presentation of these certificates.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of Order. Is this transgressing the discussion we are to have on a future Amendment, if you propose to call it, Sir Dennis, asking that an opportunity should be given to the House, if it wishes to discuss the certificates issued by the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Lewis
I would ask that the Attorney-General should tell us definitely what is in the mind of the Government with regard to the presentation of these certificates and the particular procedure that would follow. I ask whether the certificate would be debatable and, if so, how a Debate would arise?
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
If I were to keep strictly to the terms of this Amendment, my answer would be irrelevant to the observations which my hon. Friend has made, but I will do my best to enlighten him on the 797 points on which he desires a further statement. He asked what is the purpose of the: Government in putting into the Bill this provision as to a certificate. In the first place, it will be noted that the certificate has to state not only that the appointment is required in the public interest, but also that it is for purposes connected with the prosecution of the war. Those words were inserted in order to make it clear that the Government did not intend and had no desire to use this power except for a purpose connected with the prosecution of the war. I think it is important and desirable to have those words in the Bill, and they ought to remain there.
Then my hon. Friend points out that the certificate is to be issued by the First Lord of the Treasury, the Prime Minister. That provision was inserted because it was realised that this is not only an important matter in itself, but one to which the House of Commons naturally attaches special importance. Everyone would assume that an appointment made by the Prime Minister, or, indeed, by any other responsible person, would be an appointment made in the public interest. The importance of inserting the provision that the Prime Minister, the head of the Government, has to give the certificate, lies in the fact that many appointments— hundreds—even thousands—are made without the knowledge of the Prime Minister. He is not the only person who can make appointments to offices or places under the Crown, but in regard to this matter, having regard to its importance, it was thought right that any case in which it was proposed to appoint a Member of this House should be brought to the personal attention of the Prime Minister. That is why it is provided that the certificate shall be in his name.
The question of procedure arises in more detail, I think, on a later Amendment, but let me take the earliest opportunity of correcting a slip I made in the Debate on Second Reading. I said that I thought that notice of the issue of the certificate would appear on the Order Paper. As a matter of fact, it will not appear on the Order Paper, but it will have to be presented to the House, as many other documents are presented, thus giving Members an opportunity of seeing them and asking questions about them. But it 798 will not appear on the Order Paper and be subject to a Debate as such.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I am much obliged to the learned Attorney-General for his explanation, and I hope I shall not be thought to be meticulous in a further little point I am raising. I always understood that these appointments were made by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister. It is a departure from practice to introduce the phrase "appointments to be made by the Prime Minister '' in regard to the appointment of High Commissioners or Ambassadors. I raise this point so that it shall be recorded in the Official Report. As a matter of fact, I think it is a great concession to have a certificate that these urgency appointments are made for the purposes of the war only. The insertion of that phrase is a very useful contribution to protecting the interests of the House.
§ The Attorney-General
I quite agree that some of the appointments would be appointments made by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, but some appointments to other offices under the Crown are not necessarily appointments made by the Crown, though they would be offices under the Crown. May I add to what I have said that a document presented in this way, though it would not appear on the Order Paper, would appear in the Votes and Proceedings, and hon. Members would have that notice of it.
§ Mr. Bevan
When we discussed the Second Reading a great deal of doubt was expressed as to which officers were subject to disqualification. Do I understand that the Prime Minister will not take a narrow and technical view of the cases in which he will feel under an obligation to issue a certificate, and that it will be issued in all cases? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, Ministers themselves make appointments without the Prime Minister's knowledge, and it has been found that some of those appointments subject Members to disqualification. Are the certificates to be necessary in all cases and not merely in the cases covered by the Bill?
§ The Attorney-General
Yes, I think so. I have read the Clause as meaning that a certificate would be given in all cases where the office clearly disqualified a 799 Member, and think it would be equally right to give it in any case which might conceivably be regarded as a borderline case. Of course, the form of the Clause would not be appropriate if you were dealing with an appointment which was plainly outside the disqualifying provisions, because the object of the certificate, and of this Measure, is to provide against the disqualification. Suppose, for example, that a serving Member of the House got an appointment on the Staff or something of that sort, nobody would suggest that a certificate would apply in such a case. We shall certainly bear in mind what the hon. Member has said and will see that the certification is used in all cases which could possibly be regarded as coming within the disqualifying provisions.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
This raises a wider point, in connection with the White Paper which was published last week giving the names of a large number of Members holding all sorts of positions. The question was asked during the Debate, and we have not had a full answer to it yet, whether in the case of a Member who was serving on, say, a local committee of the Ministry of Information or on a food control committee, any doubt was involved about his ability to retain his seat in this House. Some hon. Members went so far as to say that they thought that no such disqualification was involved and presumably the list of such hon. Members would not have been included in the White Paper, unless the question had, to some extent, been raised in the minds of the Government. I should like to know whether it is intended to make use of this certificate in the future in cases such as those set out in the White Paper, like appointments to a local food committee, or an advisory committee of the Ministry of Pensions, or a Ministry of Information Committee, or bodies of that kind. That is a point on which we ought to have more information because it is not clear at present. In any case, where there is the slightest doubt concerning an hon. Member's ability to retain his seat, surely a certificate ought to be given.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
The Clause provides that a certificate is to be given on the appointment of 800any person being a Member of the Commons House of Parliament to any office or place under the Crown.There is nothing about an office or place of profit. I had assumed that to mean any Government appointment of any sort. If that is not so, the Attorney-General ought to inform us about it. We should be clear on this very important point.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I should like to ask the Attorney-General a question which has some connection with that already put by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). The Subsection provides:If it is certified by the First Lord of the Treasury that the appointment … is required in the public interest for purposes connected with the prosecution of any war.When the First Lord of the Treasury gives that certificate, does he thereby certify, not merely that it is requisite to the prosecution of the war that Mr. Blenkinsop should occupy a particular post, but also that it is requisite to the prosecution of the war that Mr. Blenkinsop should be and should continue to be a Member of this House, while holding that office. The two things are rather different, and it seems to me that the words of the Bill do mean that the First Lord of the Treasury is required to certify, not merely that the services of Mr. Blenkinsop are necessary but that the services of Mr. Blenkinsop, M.P.—and continuing to be M.P.—are necessary for the prosecution of the war.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think we ought to know a little more clearly whether or not that is the meaning of the words in the Subsection.
§ The Chairman
I think I ought to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that we are getting a long way from the question of whether this certificate should be given by the Prime Minister or by the Committee of Privileges. Some of the remarks which have been made could hardly be ruled as definitely out of Order and I rise only to express the hope that the Committee will not discuss these matters again on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." If that is generally understood, then I should not seek unduly to curtail this discussion.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I wish to ask the Attorney-General to make one point clear. It appears to me that if this certificate were not given, on a Member of this House being appointed to some Government office, the only party at risk would be the person so appointed. Therefore it will be up to any Member of this House who receives such an appointment to satisfy himself whether he ought to obtain a certificate or not.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I am very disturbed by all this talk about "certifying" Members of Parliament, because in Scotland we talk about "certification" only in a certain sense. It has struck me, however, that there is one point in this Bill which concerns the only way in which I am likely to be personally affected by it. One can retire from membership of this House only by applying for a certain office of profit under the Crown.
§ The Chairman
I must remind the hon. Member that there is an Amendment on the Order Paper which specifically deals with that question. I should add that, at present, I am doubtful whether that Amendment is within the scope of the Bill, but I propose to ask the hon. Member in whose name it stands to try to justify it to the Chair.
§ Mr. Maxton
I merely wish to ask whether it would be necessary for me, if I were desirous of retiring from membership of this House—a step which I am not contemplating at the moment—to have a certificate from the Prime Minister before I could do so?
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) all referred to the scope of the places in regard to which this certificate would be given and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton referred to the list in the White Paper. I would draw his attention to the fact that the White Paper was not confined to offices under the Crown, and the list included those who were assisting the Government in various ways in a civil capacity. Clearly, by its terms, the White Paper list is much wider than actual offices and places of profit under the Crown. I am quite ready to say, however, that having regard to the obscurity 802 of the law on this matter, in cases in which an appointment might be an office or place of profit under the Crown, a certificate would be given—subject, of course, to the point about the Chiltern Hundreds. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) asked whether the certificate implied that the Prime Minister was certifying that it was in the public interest that the Member concerned should remain a Member of this House. I think the right way to put it is the other way round. If the Prime Minister felt that the office which he was asking the person to undertake would involve his leaving the House—and one can imagine cases where the man himself might say that he wanted to go—then the certificate would not be given.
§ The Attorney-General
Not necessarily. The way I would put it is this: The certificate would be given in cases where the Prime Minister, or the Government, or the Crown as advised by the Government, wants a Member to fill an office which might disqualify and when, in the view of the advisers of the Crown, there is no reason, if war conditions continue, why he should be required to vacate his seat.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
The relationship of the White Paper to the Clause raises a number of really important questions. The White Paper was not carefully prepared, because there are omissions. In my own case there is an omission. I hold an office, as representative of the Government, upon an International Committee, and I think it will come under the Clause. I held the office when I was a Minister, and I still hold it as a Private Member. If membership of a local information committee comes under the Clause, then a fortiori representation upon an international committee does so, but there is no mention in the White Paper of my appointment. When the Bill comes into operation a new White Paper should be prepared, showing exactly which hon. Members come under the Clause. It is inconceivable that membership of a local information committee should be described as an office of profit under the Crown. Local information committees elect their own members, and there was a desire expressed by the Ministry of Information that Members of Parliament 803 should be members of these committees in their own localities. This White Paper was a somewhat unfortunate publication, and I ask that there should be a fresh statement as soon as the Bill becomes law, showing how far Members of this House are affected by the Clause.
§ Mr. Bevan
I hope that no such White Paper will be issued. I do not think the Noble Lord sees that if such a White Paper were issued, the offices would be regarded as circumscribing the application of the Clause. We cannot permit any circumscription of the meaning of the Clause or of its scope, such as would be indicated by any attempt to define the offices coming under the Clause. It would be far better to accept the suggestion of the Attorney-General. I understand that the certificate is to be an instrument of exemption, in the case, say, of a Member appointed to what was not thought to be an office of profit, but which turned out subsequently to be an office of profit, and it is thought that he might be liable to disqualification. We therefore have a guarantee that exemption may be applied to all Members, and that certificates will be given fairly generously. I hope that v/e shall not have the issue of a series of rolls of honour.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Can the Attorney-General give a definite ruling whether, in his opinion, membership of a local information committee is or is not an office of profit?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Lewis
I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, at the end, to insert:owing to the fact that no one else with suitable qualifications is available.We do not know whether as many as possible of these appointments are to be made, or as few as possible, but I was somewhat disturbed by the observation of 804 the Prime Minister in the closing passages of his speech. Hon. Members will remember that he waved the White Paper and told the House that he regarded it as a roll of honour. Having looked through the White Paper I feel bound to say that I regard that description of it as ridiculous. At the present time, over 100 Members are serving in the Armed Forces of the Crown, and their names might fairly be described as a roll of honour. When I read that an hon. Member is a member of a local information committee I feel it rather hard that he should be entitled to have his name inscribed on a document described as a roll of honour. The Prime Minister seemed to take the view—if I am correct in this matter it appears to be extremely serious —that it is desirable in war-time to get as many Members of Parliament as possible away from their ordinary duties. He used these words:There are many traditions which justify the desire of the Government to find useful employment for hon. Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February 1941; col. 733, Vol. 369.]The most useful employment for the ordinary Member of this House is his duties as a Member of Parliament. It is very unfortunate that the Prime Minister took the line that he did upon that point, and if it is to be the basis of the Government's policy, it may lead to very undesirable—perhaps, indeed, ultimately dangerous—consequences. We are often reminded, when the Government come to us to ask for exceptional powers, that we retain in this House the ultimate responsibility and the ultimate power. That seems to make rather important the question of who remains in the House. Over 100 Members are serving in the Armed Forces of the Crown, and many of them find it difficult to attend important Debates. If they were serving overseas, they could not attend. Members have been given appointments of various kinds of a civil nature, which partly or entirely prevent attendance here. The number of private Members is being reduced, and the number of Members in the service of the Government is being increased. Since the war began, there has been a considerable increase in the number of Ministers, secretaries, Parliamentary private secretaries and others, and I think I might, without offence, describe them as to some extent tied to the Government of the day.
805 The Prime Minister would not be Prime Minister, and certainly would not have been made Prime Minister at the time he was appointed, if it had not been for the action of this House. It was the vote taken in a Debate in this House which caused the late Prime Minister to retire and make way for the present Prime Minister. I believe we are satisfied that we have the right man in the right place. But the war might go on for a long time, and there might arise circumstances in which it might be thought that the Government had not in mind the wisest proposals for the conclusion of the war. The Press to-day is so regulated that this House is the only place in which public opinion can be brought with any force to bear upon the Government of the day. If that force is to be effective, it is essential that there should be present in this House a large majority who are not Ministers, Under-Secretaries, private secretaries or others connected with the Government. What is happening to-day is that that proportion is being steadily reduced.
Take the case which is the immediate cause of this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman is sent to Canada, at first sight it would seem that we should lose a Minister. We should not. If another Member is appointed in his place, what happens is that by his going to Canada we lose, not a Minister, but a private Member. If the policy is to be followed of seeking room for a Member of Parliament, where—to use the Prime Minister's expression—useful work can be found for him to do, and if that process does not stop, circum-stances might arise where we should find the majority of Members holding office under the Crown or intimately connected with the Government. That would be very undesirable and might be a source of danger. One hon. Member alluded to that point in the Debate on the Second Reading, and he seemed to describe it so well that I will quote what he said. The hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1941; col. 673, Vol. 369.]I believe he is right. It will undermine it because there will not be left a large enough body of independent Members effectively to exercise their influence if 806 need be. I would say that it is most desirable that the powers under the Bill should be used, not as often as possible, but as little as possible. The Prime Minister should not spend his time trying to find useful work for hon. Members to do, but should confine himself to appointing in some exceptional case some Member who, by reason of his previous experience, exceptional capacity or knowledge, is pre-eminently suitable to fill that post. Those are two very different views.
Let me take the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). If it be desired that he should have useful work to do, no one would question that the position of High Commissioner in Canada is one in which he can do useful work, and no one questions the fact that he has the qualifications and gifts necessary to fill that office with distinction and effect. But if we look at it the other way and ask whether there is no one else who can fill the office, what answer can we give? Take the Diplomatic Service. We see all over Europe our embassies being closed because of the war, and people with the right kind of experience and capacity without employment. Is it suggested that not one of those would have the qualities sufficient to fit him for the position of High Commissioner in Canada? Is it that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty is the only or, indeed, the best man to fill that post? We should bear that distinction in mind. I do not say for a moment that he cannot do the job perfectly well. I have no doubt that he will make a success of it, but it is absurd to suggest that he is the only man who can do so or that it was necessary to come to ' the House to find anyone to fill the appointment. I would urge the Government, if they resist this Amendment, at any rate to give up the idea that it is their job to seek employment outside the House to occupy the time of Members, and that they should regard the Bill simply as a permissive Measure to enable them to make use of a Member's capacity in some exceptional post.
§ Earl Winterton
I believe that it is now the practice of a large number of members of the public, being unable to obtain any accurate report of Parliament in the Press by reason of the curtailment of space owing to the war, to buy the 807 OFFICIAL REPORT. I hope that, if they do so, they will read the speech which has just been delivered by my hon. Friend opposite. It is of great, and almost of historic, importance. I desire to refer to a point which was not made clear by the Prime Minister's speech; in fact, the Prime Minister adopted the almost complete alternative. It is this: I have always understood that it was held as a general principle that while it was honourably right for Members of this House, to whatever party they belonged, if they were in agreement with the Government of the day, to hope that some day they might hold office under that Government, and that office would be confined to service in this House. That is the object of serving in Parliament, to serve the Crown as a Minister of the Crown, junior or senior, in this House. But my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has gone much further. He suggested that in war-time, at any rate, it should be the object of the Government to co-operate in endeavouring to find positions outside this House for Members of Parliament. That is a completely wrong principle. There may be exceptional cases where it might be justified. I make no reflection upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) or the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), but what my hon. Friend opposite said is perfectly true, and the Amendment is a desirable one for the Government to consider. It would be difficult for the Attorney-General to go against what the Prime Minister said, and I do not ask him to do so, but I deplore the suggestion that it is the duty either of the Government to appoint, or of Members of Parliament to seek, work for the Crown outside this House in time of war, with the sole exception of service in the Armed Forces of the Crown.
§ Earl Winterton
Yes. If they choose to give up their membership, that is a different matter. I would commend what my hon. Friend opposite has said about service in this House. It is of great national importance that there should be a sufficiency of private Members in this House who do not seek office, who are 808 prepared to put their points of view and to be present during Debates. I do not think that the Committee has realised the immense importance of these questions. After all, for generations this House has been fighting for the freedom of its Members and for their right to express their points of view, irrespective of personal considerations. It always has been so in the past, and unfortunately independence has become rare. I say, therefore, that even if the Government cannot accept this Amendment, they should give consideration to it and to the most important considerations which were raised by my hon. Friend opposite.
§ Sir P. Harris
I should like to endorse what has just been said by my noble Friend about the speech we had just previously heard. With the gist of his arguments I think the whole Committee will agree, namely, that the main duty of a Member of Parliament is to attend to his duties in this House. It is all the more so in war-time, for two, among many, good reasons. The first is that a very large number of our Members have not gone through a process of election or examination by the electors. They have not even had to make speeches from platforms, but have come in merely on an automatic recommendation of a party caucus. The second reason is the tremendous extension of the duties and responsibilities of the House in war-time, when many matters affecting almost every elector have to be attended to.
Whether this particular Amendment is the right way or not to achieve the purpose, I am not going to say, but I think it can be argued that this Clause goes a long way to meet the desires of the House, because under it the First Lord of the Treasury has to say that an appointment is required in the public interest, for the purpose of the prosecution of the war, before a Member of Parliament can be appointed to a particular post without forfeiting his seat. That is a great recognition of the fundamental, paramount duty of a Member of Parliament to carry on his responsibility of criticising the Executive. It is good for the Executive, and it is good for the country. However capable, however brilliant Ministers are, they sometimes become intoxicated with power, or slack or inefficient in the discharge of their duty, and nothing keeps Ministers up to 809 the job more than the fear of this House. I will go further, and say that nothing keeps officials in Government Departments up to their jobs more than the fear of being asked awkward questions at Question time. It would be a disaster if our numbers were depleted by Members being sent all over the world to discharge various duties.
We are deprived of some 100 Members because they are in one or other of the Services. We have accepted that, and I. think rightly so, because it would be unfortunate, once we had passed conscription, if we said that Members of Parliament should be exempt. That makes it all the more important that other Members, who are not going into the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, should be present in this House. I have noticed that more and more Members are getting slack in their attendance, and I think that is at the bottom of the strong feeling which exists in the House and in the country. I am always getting letters—I suppose many of us are—from people, quite strangers to myself and who are not my own constituents, asking me to deal with personal points that are raised by the results of the administration of various Departments, because they find that they cannot make contact with their own Members. Very often there is a very good reason— the Member may be on Service, or he may be doing some other job. But all Members have had that experience, and I think the strong feeling expressed in all quarters of the House about this extension of the number of jobs does express the view that attendance in the House of Commons is the primary duty of every Member of Parliament. I think the Prime Minister has very generously recognised that, first by putting in this novel Clause, and secondly by proposing to set up a Select Committee.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he remembers that the Prime Minister definitely declared that in his view it was in the public interest for the national war effort that as many Members of this House as possible should be engaged in the war effort outside their interests in this House?
§ Sir P. Harris
I would rather put it that they should be so engaged in addition to their duties in this House. I do a lot of 810 work, and we all do, but I think we ought to do it in addition to our duties here. In saying that it ought to be in substitution, however, I think the Prime Minister went a little too far. In war-time there is no limit to the work we can do. Many of us have to sit up at night to do A.R.P. work, but that should not be in substitution for our duties here. This Debate has discharged a useful purpose in showing that the House of Commons realises that our primary duty is to carry out the job for which we were elected by our constituents, and to be, faithful in our duty of attendance at the House.
§ Sir I. Albery
The speeches to which we have listened, although without any doubt strictly in order upon this Amendment, have been definitely against the whole principle of the Bill, and I think that some of the arguments advanced were stronger than any of those put forward on Second Reading. Perhaps that is to be regretted. To go back to the actual Amendment, if it were passed, the Bill, it seems to me, would in fact become inoperative. It would be absolutely impossible, in almost every case, for the Prime Minister to attach a certificate stating that no one else was suitable or available. Whether it may not nevertheless be a good thing that the Amendment should be passed is a matter for the Committee to decide. I have, however, no doubt in my own mind that if it were passed, the Bill would be killed.
§ Mr. Bevan
I intended to keep one or two general remarks until the Third Reading of the Bill, but the Amendment which is now before the Committee certainly does form a basis for a few general observations such as the very interesting ones we have heard to-day. The hon. Member who last spoke said that he thought that if the Amendment were carried, it would have the effect of destroying the main purpose of the Bill. I do not know that I should regret it if it did, but at any rate the Prime Minister would find that he could attach his certificate only where he could show that people with suitable qualifications were not available in the special sense in which he meant suitable qualifications—in the sense, for instance, in which he discovered one last week in the case of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). In that 811 case he said—I think it would be very doubtful logic—that because he could still be a Member of this House, he would be a more suitable High Commissioner in Canada.
I should not be in the least worried if the Amendment was carried and did impose such strict limitations upon the Prime Minister's powers that only in very exceptional cases indeed would he be able to issue his certificate, because I think the House last week wanted him to use his powers only in very exceptional circumstances. I very much regret the speech which the Prime Minister made on Second Reading about the House of Commons. I think the House was stampeded by a cacophony of rotund Churchillisms which made up one of the most unfortunate speeches I have ever heard fall from the lips of the Prime Minister. In some of its passages I think it was a disgraceful speech. No one who is proud of our Parliamentary institutions could possibly have listened to some of its generalisations without a sense of shame. They could only have been uttered by Lord North or somebody like that who was intending to buy the House of Commons in order to carry some particular Measure.
§ Mr. Bevan
And the right hon. Gentleman, I hope, will have increasing reason to be afraid of this House. Many people seem to forget that the liberties which we are now supposed to be defending were never won against a foreign foe—although they might be lost to a foreign foe—but by civil strife, inside and outside this House. The Prime Minister seemed to me on Thursday to have insulted a very large number of Members of this House. After a piece of potted history such as I have never listened to in my life, after having described the variations in the regard in which the public have held this House over a period of 30 to 50 years, he said that the House was rising once more in the public esteem because a larger and larger proportion of Members hold offices of profit under the Crown. I must say that most of the eighteenth-century Parliaments would have been regarded by the Prime Minister, therefore, as ideal Parliaments. That means that the rest of us who do not 812 appear on this roll of honour are underemployed. It means that our constituents are entitled to say to us, "What are you doing with your spare time?" I do not know about other hon. Members, but I find my time fully occupied with the House of Commons and matters arising out of it; and I have not observed that those Members appearing on the roll of honour are able to bring such scintillating brilliance to our debates that they can understand all the matters brought before us with less study than they have previously given to them.
I hope that there will emerge in this House a far greater spirit of independence than has been shown in the last 12 to 18 months. It would be disastrous if the House of Commons did not gain in vitality as the war went on. We are in a very difficult set of circumstances. All the major parties are Members of the Government. It is natural for party leaders to use their power, as far as possible, to bring their supporters to heel. It is becoming, not less, but increasingly difficult for independently-minded Members to state their point of view, and to exert influence upon the Executive. Such space as the public Press is able to give to the Debates is almost invariably devoted to the reporting of the official speeches. The criticisms passed upon the Government, although those criticisms represent the views of millions of people outside, do not get any publicity at all. At the same time, the critics are unable to mobilise and focus pressure of public opinion upon the Executive, because means of communication are entirely cut off. This is a rather dangerous situation. An anti-toxin can be found only in increasing vigilance by hon. Members in attendance, and in a loosening of the bonds of party allegiance. I have suggested more than once in the House that the only way that we can correct this unwholesome condition is for the Government to be compelled more and more to collect its majorities from free discussion and free votes in the House.
I have ventured to make these observations, which are, I think, somewhat remote from the real purpose of the Bill, first, because the discussion had become rather wide, and, secondly, because I think it would be a tragedy, and a disgrace to our people, if we allowed the observations of the Prime Minister on 813 Thursday to pass unchallenged, and allowed it to be assumed that the latter part of that speech represents our idea of constitutional government in this country.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think I can bring a little consolation to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan); and, since what he said was in Order, I hope that what I am about to say will be in Order, too. He spoke of the pressure which party leaders can put upon Members, when voting in connection with this Bill and on other occasions. It seems to me that that pressure will be very much reduced by the Prime Minister's speech. The form that that pressure now takes is that the party leader says to his followers, "You must vote for me, because, according to whether 100 of you or 99 of you vote, so will the confidence which the House has in the Government be estimated." My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury very strongly objected last Thursday to the suggestion that the function of exactly estimating the degree of confidence in the Government, and especially in the Prime Minister, had be come the most important function of the House—even more important than legislation. If that suggestion is not true, it seems to me to follow, quite clearly, that no longer can it be claimed that votes of confidence should be used in order to get majorities upon legislation. Logically, that can be done only on the basis that a decision upon the exact degree of confidence that exists is more important than the legislation itself. I hope that a re minder of that will bring some consolation to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale; and that consolation, no doubt, will be more than redoubled if what I say is emphasised—as I am sure it will be—by either the learned Attorney-General or my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.
§ Mr. Lipson
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) justified his support of this Amendment, which he admitted would. in effect, destroy the purpose of the Bill, by saying that he wanted to see a greater spirit of independence in this House. By that, I suppose he really meant that he wanted to see more insistent criticism of the Government—although why the critics of the Government should be considered to be showing greater independence than supporters of the Government is not 814 always clear to me. But if he wanted greater independence in this House during war-time, he ought to be opposing this Amendment, because, obviously, all the members of Parliament who are lacking in a proper sense of responsibility as Members of this House will accept offices of profit, and will be certified as holding those offices; and there will be left in this House the independent Members of whom he spoke. For instance, I cannot imagine the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) being certified as holding offices under this Clause.
§ Mr. Lipson
We may apparently come to a state of things in which those hon. Members find themselves in a majority in this House.
§ Mr. Lipson
The Government have their methods of obtaining a majority in the Lobby, if they so desire, without making use of this Measure, as was shown on Thursday, and as has been shown on other occasions. I think that the supporters of this Amendment have forgotten that there are over 600 Members of this House. Why it should be assumed that the quality of the Debates in this House is to be measured purely by the numbers of Members present has not been made clear to me. It has always been found possible by Members of this House to have other responsibilities apart from their responsibilities as Members of Parliament, and nobody has apparently found serious complaint on that head. If there is a new responsibility to be taken on, surely the special service which the Government think a particular hon. Member of this House can render at the present time is a special justification for that. I do not agree with the Noble Lord that all Members of this House feel that their services to the country at this time should be limited by their duties as Members of this House.
§ Earl Winterton
I have never said anything of the sort or made any such suggestion I think I spoke not only for 815 myself but a good many hon. Friends when I said that we consider there can be no more honourable or useful service in war-time than that performed in this House.
§ Mr. Lipson
I must apologise if I misunderstood the Noble Lord, but I would point out that in the opinion of a great many Members of this House—and it has been openly expressed—and also in the opinion of the Government, there are many Members of this House who can render a service to the country in other capacities and at the same time do their duty as Members of this House.
§ Mr. Lipson
When a Member of this House is asked by the Government to accept any office, he must decide for himself whether the acceptance of that office would so interfere with his duties as a Member of this House that he could not accept the position unless he resigned his membership of this House. I feel that in a good deal of the Debate that has taken place sufficient regard has not been paid to the views of the individual Member concerned, who is perfectly alive to his own responsibilities and is in a position to decide for himself whether, in view of his obligations as a Member of this House, he is justified in accepting the invitation of the Government to perform a particular service. I feel that a great deal of the arguments which have been advanced for the addition of these words is based really upon a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister. Some of the things that we have been told to expect would follow from this Bill could not result from the actions of a Prime Minister in whom this House had confidence. It is because we have confidence in the Prime Minister and realise that his principal aim is to win the war, that I think we can have sufficient confidence to give him the powers for which he asks. Therefore, because these words would stultify the purposes of the Bill, I personally would oppose them.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
This discussion has shown that many Members in this House are very much afraid that the Executive may get too great powers as the result of the war, and there even seem to be visions of the 18th century when the 816 Executive were in the position that they practically had this House under their thumb. It is a very healthy thing that there should have been so many speeches in this Debate in which the Government are warned that this House is on the watch and will not tolerate any steps which may, in the long run, result in undermining its independence, and particularly at a time like this. But, at the same time, one has to realise that the Government must be able to draw upon talents and abilities wherever they may be able to get them, and, if necessary, in this House. The speech of the learned Attorney-General on the Second Reading made it clear that there are great difficulties in the way under present conditions. The object of the Amendment is very sound; it is to put in adequate safeguards in order to prevent abuse. The difficulty I find is that there really seems to be sufficient in Clause I to make these safeguards adequate. First of all, there is the reference to the fact that these powers under the Bill are to operate only for the duration of the war, and further there is the certificate that the Prime Minister would have to give, and the House could raise this matter on each particular occasion that the Prime Minister made an appointment. [Interruption.] I think so, and if it is not so, perhaps the learned Attorney-General would clear it up.
§ The Attorney-General
The question could be raised on the Adjournment. The certificate would not be the subject of a Prayer. It could be raised like anything else.
§ Mr. Price
This House can raise it. There is some safeguard anyway, and perhaps the Attorney-General will look into the matter to see what further safeguards can be put into the Bill. The Amendment goes rather too far and would hamper the Executive in choosing the best. Although I think the Amendment is not really necessary, at the same time, this Debate has shown that the Government will have to watch their steps in anything they do in this connection.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I am glad that this discussion has taken place, and it could not have done so, I am quite sure, but for the able arguments that were adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis), which 817 gained the sympathy of the whole Committee, endorsed as they were by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). I most strongly object to and wish to contradict the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). No one is actuated in any remarks he may make on this Amendment or on any other occasion by a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister. That is the last thing that would enter our minds. The present Prime Minister of this country is as nearly indispensable as any man has been in the public life of this country throughout history—certainly in war-time. There is however no question that this discussion is the result of the repercussions to the attitude taken by the Prime Minister when he stood at that Box waving the White Paper, the exclusive "Roll of Honour," last Thursday. It certainly caused a good deal of amazement among a large number of my hon. Friends in all parts of the House that it should come from my. right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is such a great House of Commons man, and has exercised such an independence of mind and judgment in this House, and it is not too much to say that, if the policies adumbrated, supported and endorsed and so ably enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when sitting in this part of the House, had been carried out, we might not have been in the situation in which we are to-day. However, I will leave it at that.
I wish to emphasise very strongly the remarks made by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham in support of this Amendment. Many of us are very exercised in our minds as to the way in which we can make the most effective contribution towards this war. Many of us are over age, but in the case of those hon. Members who are in the Services, I take the view that they should not serve more than twelve months. After that, they should come back to this House.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
I submit that the Debate has already been allowed very wide latitude. I have not mentioned anything which I have not heard uttered so far, and I would like to emphasise that all Members who are in the Services 818 should return to this House after a certain period.
§ The Chairman
I stopped the hon. Member just now and told him that he was out of Order. Most deliberately he has repeated what he said, and I cannot allow that.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
It is not my custom to get at loggerheads with the Chair, and I will pass from that to say that I regard service in this House at the present moment as the best contribution that I can make to this war. One is very much impressed by the fact, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), that people at large do not know what is going on in this House. I had a letter from a correspondent recently who stated that he had read the Official Report and had no idea, until he had done so, of the way in which the House of Commons is functioning at the present time. In view of the fact that it has become necessary for the Press of this country greatly to curtail their reports, I think it is vital that the House of Commons, as such, should be able to exercise its functions. I do not know whether the Government will be able to accept this form of words, which, I appreciate, are rather restrictive. It is very difficult, even for the Prime Minister, in making an appointment to serve outside this House, to say there is no one else of the same qualifications available, and in view of the sentiments which have been expressed by the Committee, and the general support for the principle and intention of the Amendment, I would ask the Attorney-General to see whether some words cannot be found which will meet the wishes of the Committee.
§ Mr. Maxton
I was not able to be here for the Second Reading Debate on this Bill, so I am very glad, Sir Dennis, that you are allowing something in the nature of a Second Reading Debate at the moment—
§ Mr. Maxton
I was going on to say that I did not intend to follow the example of other speakers, but would deal strictly with the matter on the Order Paper. I was interested in the Second Reading Debate from far off, but 819 my first knowledge of what has taken place was not from the newspapers. It was through the wireless, and all that I gathered from it was that the Prime Minister had made a brilliant speech and that the Second Reading had been carried without a Division.
§ Mr. Maxton
I think that was a shocking thing. Hon. Members have talked about newspapers not being able to give a show, but surely an organ of State like the British Broadcasting Corporation could have said that dissent was entered by certain Members, if only to give us an indication—
§ Earl Winterton
I think all of us in all parts of the House might well co-operate and have this scandal ended. It is not the first time that it has happened.
§ Mr. Maxton
The other point I wanted to make was this: I was shocked on reading the newspapers to learn that the Prime Minister was making this a matter of confidence. I agree that the Prime Minister had the right at some point to ask all his supporters in the House for a greater loyalty than he had been having. I do not agree, and never have agreed, with being in an in-the-Government and out-of-it position. My position, and that of my hon. Friends, has been quite clear from the start; we are outside, and I only regret that through my absence on the Second Reading there was no Division; there would have been if I had been here. I think the Prime Minister had a right to say, "There has been enough of this Back Bench rebellion stuff, and I intend to take the opportunity of asking you to decide where you are," but he had no right to do it on this Measure—a Measure essentially affecting the status of Members of the House of Commons. I do not think we need worry about the Prime Minister making a whole lot of appointments to important posts from Members of this House, because he has not a high opinion of the general calibre of the Members of this House. I noticed it when he was speaking in the Debate about the individual position of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) when he talked about the talents displayed by the hon. Gentleman and said they were talents in which this 820 House was none too fertile. I do not know whether other Members noticed that or not, but I think the qualities of the hon. Gentleman—I am not talking about his business activities—were fairly commonly distributed among all sections of Members in this House. The Prime Minister, apparently, has no such high opinion of the persons who put him into office as to make us fear that he will be casting a wide net to catch all the available ability for high posts in foreign countries, because he does not think the abilities are present in any quantity in the House of Commons. The House of Commons has done for the Prime Minister practically all it could do, and now he can afford to look further afield.
If I were an Opposition supporter, I would resent the way in which he goes out to the country and pulls somebody in to make him a Cabinet Minister. I would also resent, if I were a Back Bencher member of the Labour, Conservative or Liberal Party, the general principle that it is the Member who has been in the service of the House for the shortest period who is appointed to some position or another—the general feeling that Members of the House are only a claque for the big full-dress Debates, an audience to give applause. I shall support the Amendment if the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) presses it to a Division, and if he does not do so, I hope that some other Amendment on the Order Paper in the names of other Government supporters will be pressed to a Division.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not follow my hon. Friend's point. I made an offer which I thought was of a most generous nature. I said that if one of these Amendments was carried to a Division, I would support it. I hope the hon. Member for Colchester will press his Amendment to a Division. I and other hon. Members agree that the speech in which he presented that Amendment was one of scope 821 and vision. In my view, the Amendment gives him an opportunity of recording definitely on paper the point of view which he expressed in his speech, whether or not the words of the Amendment cover the ground completely.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I am at a loss fully to understand the purport of the Amendment as seen by the majority of hon. Members who have spoken. However, the Committee is to be congratulated upon the unanimity with which hon. Members from all sides have stated the effect which the Bill will have in extending the power of the Executive on the one hand, and on the other hand, diminishing the authority, attendance and direct association of Members of the House. But I contend that the Amendment does not achieve the purposes which hon. Members have expressed in their speeches. I contend that if the Amendment were passed, it would leave the position no better than before. At best the Amendment can only be an injunction to the Prime Minister to search elsewhere than in the House for persons to fill offices of profit under the Crown. I should like to know who is to overrule the judgment and decision of the Prime Minister when he has selected a person as being the proper one to fill a certain position. Who is to challenge the Prime Minister's decision that such a person is the best person?
§ Mr. Maxton
Nobody, but somebody can challenge whether such a person is to be allowed to sit as a Member of Parliament after being selected.
§ Mr. Maxton
No Member, in the course of the Debates that have taken place, has challenged the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman who was formerly Minister of Agriculture to be Governor of Burma. Nobody has criticised that selection, because when the Prime Minister made the appointment the right hon. Member concerned knew, and the House knew, that his position as a Member had ceased. I hope the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Adams) will 822 recognise that that is the important point so far as I and other hon. Members are concerned. The point is not that the Prime Minister should make the selection of a person to fill an important position, but that when the selection has been made, the person concerned should be in that job and not in the House.
§ Mr. Adams
If that is the purpose which it is intended should be achieved, I submit that it is not achieved by the Amendment. That position is not affected, for the Amendment does not state that once a person has been appointed to an office of profit under the Crown, he shall cease to be a Member of Parliament. To achieve such a purpose, one must either take away from the Prime Minister—which this Amendment does not do—the power to make these appointments, or one must bring forward some other Amendment to prevent the persons appointed from continuing to sit as Members of Parliament. The Debate has been very discursive and extraordinarily interesting; it has indicated the desirability of checkmating, if it be necessary, the Executive of the day and restricting, as far as possible, the appointment of hon. Members to the posts concerned, but nothing of that sort is achieved by this Amendment.
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) is to be congratulated upon his speech and upon the discussion to which it has given rise in the Committee. I should like first —if it will not shock hon. Members after they have travelled over wider and more interesting ground—to deal with the actual words of the Amendment. They raise a point with which I hope to deal and on which I hope to be able to satisfy hon. Members. Clearly, one could not predicate of any man and any job that there was no one else with suitable qualifications available. Although some things have been said in the Debate contrary to some of the things that the Prime Minister said at the last Sitting, perhaps there is no man who, in the general opinion, might be more likely to get through the net imposed by the Amendment than the Prime Minister himself, as the head of the Government in present circumstances; but I do not think one could fairly or reasonably ask the First Lord of the Treasury or anyone else to lay his hand on his heart when appoint- 823 ing anybody to a job and say there was no one else with suitable qualifications available. The importance of the point raised has become apparent in the course of this Debate. Many right hon. and hon. Members in different parts of the Committee have expressed a desire that the powers conferred by this Bill should be used very sparingly. I think my hon. Friend put the question whether these powers were to be used in as many or as few cases as possible. There is no intention of making a general broadcast appeal to hon. Members to accept offices of this kind.
I quite agree, however, that there remains an area within which hon. Members have somewhat different views. There was some reference to it last week; I remember it very well, because a number of hon. Members spoke to me about if. The feeling in the House at the beginning of the war, when the late Prime Minister made a statement—I think it was in answer to a Question—which took very much the same view as that of many speakers in the discussion to-day, was that it was undesirable that Members of this House should take posts or assist in Government work because their position was that of Members of this House, but that they were free to do what they could in their own localities. There was a very definite feeling that that was too narrow. A number of Members spoke to me and said that they thought the late Prime Minister was taking too narrow a view, and that in war time there should be a relaxation of the principle, which was perfectly proper in peace time, in order to enable those Members who felt that they could combine that sort of service with their duties as Members, to have an opportunity of doing so. Some of those who criticised what the Prime Minister said did not draw the same distinction as he did in what he said between peacetime and war-time conditions; but I quite agree that even if you draw that distinction and say that war presents different problems in regard to this matter from those which peace-time presents, and some departures from what would be right and proper in peace time, it still forms a difference of opinion.
I think that this Debate and the views which have been expressed are a contribution to a solution which is satisfactory to 824 the Government and the Committee. The Government and the Prime Minister will, of course, pay regard, in considering what is right, to the line which different Members in different places have drawn. This Debate itself will contribute to solving that problem. The Government will have regard to the views which have been expressed from different quarters of the House on the matter. I should like to carry it a little further. Of course, it is a question which remains in the hands of Members themselves. Some Members feel that in addition to their duties here, they would like to have some position associated with the Government— it may be an office under the Crown— and others feel, and no criticism can be directed against them, that they fulfill their duties to the State in these days best by remaining independent and doing work outside, additional, no doubt, to their actual Parliamentary duties, while not accepting office under the Crown or being associated with the Government. Each Member decides that problem. There is, of course, this further point. The working of this Bill will be drawn to the attention of the House and will therefore be kept under review by the House, whether by Prayer or by Motion. When one of these appears on the Order Paper, Members can take the matter up in the ordinary way, and the opinion of the House will express itself, as the Committee has expressed itself to-day.
As stated by the Lord Privy Seal, the terms of reference to the Select Committee have been drawn so as to enable them to make recommendations, if they so desire, as to how this problem should be dealt with in war-time, and that covers what future policy should be adopted. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend and the Committee that it would be better not to seek to put in words such as those on the Order Paper, or similar words— I agree that they would not really affect the purposes of this Bill—because they amount to words to which no honest man could subscribe. I hope therefore that the Bill will be left in its present state, but again I would point out that the Government will have regard to the general opinion expressed as to the desirability of keeping the powers within narrow limits, and to the other means of checking and limiting the use that may be made of them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Mander
I beg to move, in page I, line 13, at the end, to insert:Provided that this Sub-section shall not apply in the case of any person whose duties shall involve his absence from Great Britain for a period of more than six months.We have been dealing with this problem up to the present time in a general way. This Amendment is more precise and deals with a point which is concerned purely with service overseas. It may well be that it is proper for hon. Members to accept appointments, such as those which come within the scope of this Bill, which would keep them in London or different parts of the country, but it is a very different thing and a very different question arises when an appointment is accepted by an hon. Member which will keep him overseas for a period of years. In a case such as that, it is obviously impossible for a Member to carry out his duties to his constituency. It may be said that such an hon. Member could go to his constituency and consult with his constituents and ask his association for permission. But I think we all appreciate what a very easy thing it would be to go to an association which knows its Member very well and how they would be very much inclined to fall in with any suggestion he might make as in the public interest. But that really does not settle the point as to whether the constituents themselves— many thousands of people and not just a small body— are best served by such an arrangement.
I bring my suggestion forward more for the purpose of giving the House an opportunity of expressing a view upon it than with any hope that the Government will accept it, because it strikes at the root of what they are proposing to do in one particular case. My proposal is that a Member should be allowed to accept an appointment overseas, such as a mission — something which would take him for a period of not more than six months— but if the job lasted more than that, he should have to resign his seat. I understand that an exactly similar arrangement existed in the French Parliament— a democratic Parliament so long as it existed. Members 826 often accepted missions but lost their seats after a period of six months. Of course, we have in mind at present the case of a gentleman to whom I am still going to refer till you, Sir Dennis, rule me out of Order; I state it in order to test the question. I refer to the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. Mac-Donald), because I think it would be ruled by the authorities, and the Attorney-General will probably agree, that there is really very little doubt at all in this particular case. The right hon. Gentleman has not come to the House. He has absented himself purposely since his appointment was made. That can only be on the ground that he is no longer a Member of the House.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think that is right. I think, although the fact that he is to be appointed has been announced, the appointment has not become operative.
§ Mr. Mander
I see the point, that if the appointment had actually been made, a different situation would arise. The importance of the question really arises in this way, that the Prime Minister would have power to say that Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith could remain a Member of the House while Governor of Burma, and that the Viceroy of India and various Indian Provincial Governors, who are often taken from the House, should for the period of the war remain Members too. It does not seem to me that that would be desirable at all. I gather from what the Prime Minister said that he had an open mind on the question and that it might be a proper thing for the Governor of Burma to remain a Member of the House. I hope the Attorney-General will make it clear that it is most definitely not intended to use the powers of the Bill to allow Members to remain in the House and accept appointments of that kind, which up to the present have always been ruled as being unsuitable to be held by Members.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I am trying to understand the constitutional point, which seems to be of great importance. Do I understand the hon. Member to say that in his view the Bill should be used to reinstate a person who, by reason of his acceptance of an office before the passing of the Bill, has actually ceased to be a Member?
§ Mr. Mander
Obviously it could not do that. Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith applied for the Chiltern Hundreds. I am thinking of future appointments. Perhaps the Attorney-General will make clear what the views of the Government are on that question.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member said he had not moved his Amendment with any great hope of its being accepted. As was explained in the Debate on Thursday, the only reason for the Bill is to remove a quite illogical distinction drawn by the law between the cases of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). The Amendment would, of course, defeat that. I cannot be expected to use words which might bind the Government in future and enable it to be said, "Here is an individual case which might well have been foreseen at the time and which it may be necessary to invoke the power of the Bill to deal with, and it should be regarded as precluded," but I certainly can say—I think the Prime Minister said words to the same effect on Thursday—that where you are in the area of ordinary overseas appointments—the Governorship of Burma has no particular relation to the war—the Bill goes as far as it can by the use of the words in Sub-section (I) which restrict its use to appointments required in the public interest for purposes connected with the prosecution of the war. I do not see how those words could be regarded as applying to the class of appointments in the ordinary course which the hon. Member has in mind. Let us take the only three which have arisen where the Member is serving overseas— the appointments to Moscow, Madrid and Canada. Those three positions are very directly related to purposes connected with the war, and those words, I think, preclude the sort of possibility which the hon. Member has in mind, namely, the Prime Minister using his power under the Bill for what one may call ordinary appointments, such as Governors in India and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Mander
Surely the contribution of India to the war, both industrial and political, is so immensely important that 828 it might well be argued by the Prime Minister that the appointment of a particular person to a Governorship in India came under it.
§ The Attorney-General
I entirely agree as to the great importance of the contribution, industrial and otherwise, which India is making to the war. I should not have thought that one of the Governorships would have been the class of appointment which, by giving full regard to that contribution, might come within the purposes which the Bill is intended to assist. There might well be a necessity for sending people out on missions to India in connection with that contribution. Suppose the Prime Minister felt that a Member of this House was eminently qualified to assist in that way, it would probably be outside the Bill altogether, because it would be a special mission, but I do not think anybody would suggest that that might not be a right and proper thing to do.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell me whether the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), who, I understand, is at Madrid, is included in this Bill? Does he hold any appointment on behalf of the Government?
§ The Attorney-General
I think that the lion. Gentleman will find in the White Paper that he is an honorary —
§ The Attorney-General
He is included antler Sub-section (3). The question with him, as with others, would be whether an honorary — would come within the obscure words of the old Statute. I suggest that it is very difficult to lay down by either words in the Bill or words from this Box, what may happen. We can, of course, say that the fact that the work which a Member is asked to do would take him overseas for a considerable period is one which the Government would bear in mind and which the Member himself would bear in mind in considering whether he should take the appointment. This is one of those questions in which we cannot lay down principles which would bind the Government and the Member in advance. We 829 must leave it to the time when each case arises and trust that when it arises neither the Government nor the Member would do anything to incur the criticism of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Mander
In view of the statement made by the Attorney-General, and in view more particularly of the fact that the whole question is to be reviewed by a Select Committee, which is a considerable concession on the part of the Government, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ Mr. Mander
I beg to move, in page I, line t6, at the end, to insert:and such certificate shall not have operative effect until an affirmative resolution has been passed by such House.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
On a point of Order. I understand, Colonel Clifton Brown, that yon are allowing this Amendment to be discussed with that in my name, namely, in page I, line 16, at the end, to insert:(3) If the Commons House of Parliament, within the next twenty-eight days on which that House has sat after such a certificate as aforesaid is laid before it, resolves that the certificate be annulled, the certificate shall thereupon cease to have effect except as respects things previously done or omitted to be done, without prejudice, however, to the making of a new certificate.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I thought that as one was a positive aspect and the other a negative one of the same proposition both might conveniently be discussed together.
§ Mr. Mander
During the Debate various suggestions have been made that when a certificate is granted under the Bill there will be opportunities for Members to bring it before the House either on the Adjournment, or by Prayer, although I do not think that would be in Order, or such other means as are open to hon. Members. That is a very different thing from what I propose in the Amendment. A Member would have to find his own time, which might be fully occupied by the Government, and there would be no positive Motion before the House. I am putting forward this Amendment because it seems to me to be a moderate one from the Government's point of view, and it would not: interfere with what they are trying to do. It is moderate, too. from the House of Commons point of view. It is 830 clear that the House is deeply interested in this matter, and my suggestion would be a mild but useful check and safeguard against any possible abuse that might arise In the great majority of cases the Motion would go through without any discussion and merely as a matter of form. I think, however, that the House would be happier if they felt that the Government, on each occasion when a certificate was issued, would have to come before it and ask, although formally, for its positive agreement with the proposal.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I agree with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), but I think he is going a little too far. I hoped that he would be satisfied, if the principle is acceded to by the Government, that the appointment of Members under this Bill should be subject to the effective review of the House. That is all we are asking for. At the moment there is no review whatever, and if the Prime Minister gives the certificate in regard to the appointment of a number of Members to positions of profit under the Crown, the House can do nothing about it if it should think that the powers given to the Prime Minister were being exceeded or abused in any way. All that will happen under the Bill as it stands is that a certificate is signed by the Prime Minister and put in the Votes and Proceedings. The House can do nothing about it except leave it there and accept it. The Attorney-General has made it clear that all that Members of the House can do is to ask a question about it at Question Time. That is not completely satisfactory. It is not a question of having confidence in the Prime Minister or not. That issue does not arise.
We are now reviewing and amending an important part of the Constitution. I agree that it is necessary to do it in view of the war situation but we have to do it apart from the personalities involved. What we have to decide to-day is whether the House, as a House, should retain within its power the safeguarding of the integrity and the status of the House and its Members. It was clear that when the matter was before the House on the Second Reading of the Bill many Members were doubtful about the arguments which were advanced in favour of the Bill. They felt, there were many strong arguments against it, but on balance they 831 thought that the view put forward by the Prime Minister was the stronger one. That was my view too. The problem which presented itself to many Members and certainly presented itself to me was this: Under war conditions it is plainly desirable that a number of Members should hold certain positions outside their Parliamentary work in order to help the national war effort and it is desirable that those Members should be allowed to do so without coming under the many penalties imposed by previous legislation. What is the best thing to do? Is it better to shut one's eyes to these appointments of Members, it may be illegally, to certain positions or to bring the matter fully into the light of day so that we should know exactly what was happening, with every appointment reported to the House, giving full publicity to Parliament and to the public?
I thought it was better to adopt the latter solution of the problem, but it is of no use to bring these matters to the notice of the public unless we have in reserve some check upon the appointments. At the moment there is no check, except when the Bill comes up for renewal at the end of each year, and that is quite ineffective. It is most unlikely that the House will want to review any of the appointments made, but it is possible that the House may want to do so, and therefore I put down an Amendment which does not ask that each appointment made by the Prime Minister should need a vote of approval by the House, but which does give the House the power, if it so desires, within 28 days, and by a Prayer, to annul an appointment made by the Prime Minister. In other words, the House will retain within its own hands the power of checking and reviewing appointments made and of saying to the Government, if necessary, "We think you are making too many of these appointments, the independence of the House is being threatened and we ask you not to make any more." It is only by having the power of moving such a Prayer that the House will have that control at all. I therefore very much hope that the Government will give this Amendment sympathetic consideration. It does not interfere with the main purpose of the Bill or with the freedom of 832 the Prime Minister to appoint whom he likes to whatever position he likes. All it does is to say that the House itself, and not any Member, not even the Prime Minister, is the guardian of its own independence, of its own status; that the House is jealous of its position in this respect and retains to itself the right of challenging at any time an appointment made by the Government.
§ Mr. Price
I should like to appeal to the Government to accept at least one of these Amendments, and on the whole I should like to see that in the name of the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) accepted. Both of them embody the right principle. As things stand it does seem that the House will have no control over any of these appointments. The House will not be able effectively to pull up the Government if it thinks that too many appointments are being made, or that they are not of the right sort, or that the interest of the House or its independence are being in any way interfered with. The speeches which have been made show that that is what is troubling the minds of a large number of Members. There is no effective control in the Bill as it stands, but there are three ways in which control might be made effective, or at least more effective. One is the affirmative resolution method embodied in the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). Possibly that might go a little too far and might hamper the Government, because it would demand a good deal of Parliamentary time, and for that reason the Government might feel justified in saying they could not accept it. On the other hand, there is the negative resolution, but such a resolution generally comes on very late, and would, I think, hamper the House in raising the question of appointments. It seems that a Prayer would be, on the whole, the most effective way. In any case, whatever method is adopted, I hope that whoever replies will give us an indication that the machinery will be strengthened so as to give the House much more effective control than is laid down in the Bill.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
We all know that when it comes to the concrete realities of House of Commons control over Ministers, whether in peace or in war, the question 833 turns upon a convention, the convention of what is matter of confidence and what is not. I should like to ask the Lord Privy Seal to say when he replies—because in one case either of these Amendments would seem really to be nugatory —whether each appointment made in these circumstances is to become a matter of confidence in His Majesty's Government. Since we have some disadvantages in war, we have also this advantage, that we have leaders of the two main parties on the same Bench, and the House can hear not only the man whom the House thinks ought to be Prime Minister but the man who a few months ago was what the main minority thought ought to be the Prime Minister; we can therefore be told with an authority which we could not have in peace-time what is the view taken of this question of confidence. There are not many of us here, but it would help one or two of us to make up our minds about the probable effectiveness of either of these Amendments, if we could have some guidance on that point from my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)
I understand that I can reply to both these Amendments. They both raise the principle of keeping as much control in this House as possible, but it is necessary to consider how that can be done effectively. Here we have a case where a certificate is granted by the Prime Minister, and if that is challenged, it obviously does involve, as the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) has said, a question of confidence in the Prime Minister. Therefore, these various devices go more to the occasion, I suggest, than to the substance. If this power were being abused by the Government, and it was the feeling of the House that it was being abused, the Government could not possibly resist an opportunity for discussion; and let me say that in this war— and I speak as one who has been in Opposition and in this Government— I think the Government have shown no sign of trying to prevent the House discussing any matter whenever representations have been made. I think it would be undesirable that every appointment made under these war conditions should be the subject of a personal debate. After all, the Government have to make these appointments and to stand or fall by them. The Government can 834 be questioned about them. It is unreasonable to say that every time an appointment is made, which might be either of a minor character or of great importance, there should be a Debate in this House. What is required is an opportunity, if necessary, for a general Debate on such matters as, Are not the Government going too far? Have they exceeded the limits by this appointment? Is the whole thing getting out of hand? I cannot imagine that if there were a demand for such a Debate, the Government would refuse it. Such a Debate would be a serious matter, and certainly should come on at a time when it could be properly discussed. The ordinary devices are not very effective when they come on at the very end of the day. Therefore, in reply to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), I say that his Amendment is unnecessary.
With regard to the Amendment of the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss), again that is unnecessary. The fact that the Government are seeking power to notify the House on every occasion means that this House will have much more power than before over a considerable range of appointments. As has been pointed out, a number of appointments have been made without the knowledge of the House, and until we have our report we do not know which of them come under the Clause. Nevertheless, we are making a distinct advance in getting notification, because we shall be able to watch that the power is not being abused. If there is such abuse, the matter can be raised under the ordinary Rules of the House and under the practice that we follow. It would be a mistake to put technicalities into the Bill such as the necessity for an affirmative or a negative Resolution. The matter should rest where it is. I can assure hon. Members that, if there is a feeling that the power is being abused, ample opportunity will be given for discussion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ Mr. Mander
On a point of Order. I have on the Amendment Paper the fol- 835 lowing Amendment: In page 1, line 16, at the end, to insert:but such certificate shall not apply to the position of steward or bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead.At an earlier stage, Sir Dennis Herbert indicated that he would give me an opportunity of explaining the Amendment, as he was not sure whether it would be in Order. I therefore abstained from making any observations on the matter at the earlier stage, because I naturally expected that this opportunity would be given to me.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
There is some doubt whether the Amendment is necessary. Perhaps the hon. Member will explain it to the Committee.
§ Mr. Mander
Some provision is necessary of the kind I suggest. I think the matter has been overlooked by the Government. The only way in which any hon. Member can leave this House is, not by resignation, but by the acceptance of one of the offices of profit, such as the Chiltern Hundreds. Under the Bill, I think it would be possible theoretically for the Prime Minister to issue a certificate— in practice, it is not very likely to arise, but we must be clear about the Constitutional position— in the public interest and in connection with the prosecution of the war, preventing the Member vacating his seat.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
After the hon. Member's explanation, the Amendment seems too remote, and I therefore do not select it.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, at the end, to insert:and such certificate shall state the salary and the nature of the expenses payable to such a Member.I do not think the Amendment requires much elaboration. The Government say that, in the process of giving Members work of national importance outside the House, the Prime Minister shall issue a certificate in every case giving particulars of the work that the Member is undertaking. I hope to make the matter complete and to put the House in possession of the full information which it ought to have. Attached to the certificate there should be a statement of the remuneration which the Member is to have. It is always possible for us to find 836 out that remuneration by asking a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is an invidious thing to do, and one does not like to do it. It is a matter on which the House requires to keep some check, otherwise it will be impossible for us to see whether the power given to the Government is being abused or not. Suppose a large number of Members appointed to honorary posts, which do not take up the major part of their time; to that there would not be very much objection. On the other hand, if we found a large number of Members becoming, in effect, highly-paid civil servants with a salary of £2,000 a year, it would be a very different matter. In order that it might be possible to review the exercise of the powers which we are giving, the Prime Minister's certificate should state the salaries which such hon. Members would be drawing over and above their ordinary Parliamentary salaries.
Now there is the question of expenses. I know this is rather a thorny point, but the matter is at least as important as that relating to salaries. At the moment a number of hon. Members do work of national importance attached to some Ministry. They are allowed a certain lump sum per year for expenses, say, £ 200 or £ 300. On top of that, they are allowed railway fares when they have to travel about. Under the regulations, they do not have to account for their expenses. I am not suggesting that that procedure is being abused, and I have no reason to think that it is, but it is a state of affairs which might give rise to the possibility of abuse, and, what is equally bad, to the suspicion of abuse. All that a Member has to do at the end of the quarter, if expenses of £200 a year are allowed him, is to give a receipt for £50 in regard to expenses which he has paid out, without giving any details whatsoever, and he receives those expenses. That is a wrong procedure, and if hon. Members are—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The general practice of expenses hardly comes within the scope of the discussion. It seems to go rather beyond what is stated in the Bill.
§ Mr. Strauss
My Amendment asks that the certificate shall state the salary and the nature of the expenses. I suggest that this includes such matters as whether the 837 expenses are in respect of money paid out by the Member for something which he has done or whether it is an all-in round sum for which he has not to account at all. No doubt it is a comparatively small point, but it should be considered by the Government and by the Committee. I cannot see what objection the Government can have to the general principle that the certificate should state the salary and expenses of the Member in question. I think that that information should be in the possession of the House on each occasion, and I imagine that it is the desire of the House that it should be so. I can see no reason why the Government should object to giving the information, and I therefore hope that the Amendment will be accepted.
§ Mr. Mander
I think this is a matter of some little importance. Nobody objects to an hon. Member who is doing work in the Government receiving either a salary or such expenses as are suitable for the post, but I think it is wrong that there should be any misunderstanding in the public mind about it. We have had published recently a very remarkable document, the White Paper, containing a large number of cases of hon. Members' names put down as unpaid. As a matter of fact, in many cases they are receiving substantial sums by way of expenses—quite properly, and I make no criticism, but it is wrong to convey to the public the impression that they are doing it all absolutely free and paying their own expenses. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider whether it is possible in some form, possibly even without necessarily accepting the Amendment, to agree that a statement on the point should be made.
§ Mr. Attlee:
I think it is undesirable to accept this Amendment, for the reason that Members are in very different positions. Some can afford to go without expenses; some have a salary attached and do not draw the salary. On any individual appointment, the House has the opportunity to raise the matter by Question—
§ Mr. Attlee
The answer has been given in some cases. There are some who seem to think there should be a dividing line and that one person is more patriotic than another because he is not drawing a salary. That is not so.
§ Mr. Bevan
It says:payable to such a Member.In fact, the Amendment supports my contention. It does not deal with what salary he is being paid, but what salary is payable. A Member may return his salary. What we want to know is whether there is a salary attaching to the office. The next thing we ought to know is the nature of the expenses. This is public information; it is not private. How can the House of Commons discharge its duty if it does not receive the information which it ought? We have recently had a report from the Committee of Privileges, and it is laid down there that an hon. Member ought to state whether he has any private interest in any matter that he is raising. In heaven's name, are not the Members of the House of Commons entitled to know whether a Member who rises to his feet is a member of the Administration or not? Indeed, before a certificate is given the Prime Minister has to satisfy himself that the certificate is needed because it is an office or a place of profit. The Government are resisting all Amendments with equal obduracy, but I would say that their obduracy on this occasion will have to be paid for by their own bitter tears. Here seems to be a very reasonable Amendment. We have not pressed any other Amendment, but here is a piece of information which the House of Commons is entitled to have. Indeed, we shall be quite incapable of coming to the conclusion whether the Prime Minister's certificate has been rightly or wrongly given unless the information is disclosed to the House. I would ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider whether it is not possible to accept this Amendment. I thought that one reason given for the 839 non-disclosure of the information was extraordinarily snobbish. If a Member of the House thinks that he is bound to take a salary, is there anything dishonourable in doing so?
§ Mr. Bevan
That was implied. I under stood that the Member who did not take his salary would be put in a more favourable position, so far as concerns public opinion, than the Member who took his salary. Why? The answer is simple. We are trying to suit the opinion of snobs. Our whole financial standing is to be made as furtive, secretive and subterranean as possible in order that our relationship with the Executive shall agree with the views of snobs. It might happen, as has recently happened, that hon. Members are doing very considerable service to the State and that they take no salary. As a matter of fact, some Ministers, thinking that if a salary were paid it would disqualify Members, have said, "We will not give you a salary; we will put you on the expenses account." That means that only well-to-do people can take these jobs because they are the only people who can live without salary. Why should we be exposed to such a snobbish point of view? It seems to me much more reasonable that everybody should know what is happening. I suggest that the reasons given for rejecting this Amendment are extremely superficial. Also, they expose the party to which the Lord Privy Seal and I belong to whisperings from which we ought to be exempt. They suggest that Members of the Labour party receive unknown emoluments from the State. The members of our party are poorer than anybody else—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am afraid the hon. Member is getting too far removed from the Amendment which we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Bevan
I beg the Deputy-Chairman's pardon, but the reason given by 840 the Lord Privy Seal for resisting the Amendment is that it is unfair that there should be discrimination between men who are compelled to take their salaries and men who are not so compelled. It is strictly relevant to that argument to say that most of those who would be too poor would belong to the Labour party. In my opinion it would be a wrong discrimination against the Labour party if an office were given on those terms. I would further suggest that it is not desirable that the Labour party in this House should be subject to whispers that they are receiving an unknown amount from the Exchequer. I would much rather have the amount that is being paid made known. That would be far better than to lay ourselves open to obscure charges and to whispering campaigns. I suggest that the Government have not made out a case for resisting this Amendment. I do not know how many hon. Members will vote with me on this matter, but if 1 can get sufficient support, I intend to press it to a Division.
§ Sir I. Albery
Personally, I cannot see that the certificate which is to be given under this Bill is a suitable medium for stating the expenses or the actual conditions of service, but apart from the question as to whether it is a suitable medium or not, I feel most strongly that any Member of this House who accepts any office under the State or under the Government should definitely give information as to what he gets, whether it be by way of expenses or any form of allowance. That information should be available to every Member of the House and should further be available to his constituents. I cannot think of any justification for maintaining that such information should not be, to that extent, made public. I should have thought the proper way to deal with these things would be the issue of a periodical White Paper giving the names of all persons, Members of this House, so employed, with full particulars of the remuneration they receive and of any expenses which they are allowed. I hope that even if the Government are not going to accept this Amendment— and I do not think it is very convenient that the First Lord of the Treasury, in giving a certificate, should have to state the details of such employment which, at the time, may not be completely decided—
§ Sir I. Albery
I do not know whether that is so or not, but it seems to me to be quite possible that when a person accepts such an office it might not be officially decided what he shall draw as expenses. That, however, is rather a side issue. I was rather surprised to hear the argument put forward by the Lord Privy Seal, suggesting that it was invidious to make this information public. I do not think there is anything in that argument at all. Any Member of this House who is wealthy enough, or who for any other reason wishes to give his services free of all remuneration, is no doubt honoured for doing so, but I am equally certain that any Member of this House who cannot afford to do that is equally honoured.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
I am rather sorry that the Lord Privy Seal is resisting this Amendment, and I am sorry that I did not have the advantage of listening to the arguments on which he based his resistance, but I am quite sure there is a case to be made out for the Amendment. I will give a very simple illustration. There is a number of very able people who are doing good work at the present moment, namely, the Regional Commissioners. On more than one occasion Questions have been put down on the Order Paper asking for details of the salaries and expenses paid to the Regional Commissioners. As yet, no satisfactory reply has been given to that question. I take it that the House is entitled to know what the salaries of officials are. Or are they some sacrosanct body above the State, about which the State is not supposed to give any information? Is there some secrecy about their work, that we cannot even ask what their emoluments are? I think the Amendment under discussion covers that point of view.
There is a great deal in the question of expenses. I do not know what the scale of expenses is, but there are some very curious rumours going about as to their extent. It has been stated that two, three or even five guineas a day are paid. Even assuming the lowest figure of two 842 guineas a day, that comes to some £700 or £800 a year, free of tax. They are not a taxable revenue, and it is quite possible that in this roll of honour there are hon. Members who are drawing something like £ 1,000 a year free of tax in emoluments from the State. The Government have no case whatsoever for refusing to give full information to the House on this matter. If they do not give it, we shall persist in putting Questions on the Order Paper, and we shall continue to raise the matter until such time as we are given adequate information on the point. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will consider this form of words as being adequate to meet the situation, or will at all events give an assurance to the House that no information shall be withheld as to the emoluments, whether salary or expenses, that any public servant, whether a Member of this House or not, is receiving from the State and therefore from the taxpayers, so that we, as well as the constituents and the public, should know the extent of his remuneration.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I am sorry that the Lord Privy Seal has not seen his way to accept the Amendment and I would like to ask him to reconsider the matter. I know the question of the time spent on the various stages arises, but there is a strong feeling in the House that there is no reason at all for the Government to withhold information as to the remuneration which they are paying from public funds to the Members they appoint to these positions. The Lord Privy Seal said it would be invidious to state exactly what each Member will receive. I really cannot see the difference between stating publicly what payments are made to those Members who are working outside the House and those who are serving in the Government. We all know what the salary of every Minister and of every Under-Secretary is; that is not hidden. It is a fact that some Ministers do not accept their salaries, and in fact it was recently stated that one Minister would return to the Government the salary which he was receiving. Exactly the same situation would arise in regard to Members who take office to work inside the various Ministries and Departments. Why should we not know what they are getting, and how can we really judge to what extent this Bill is being used, to what extent 843 Members are in Government pay, unless we have a full account of the payment of salaries and expenses to all those Members working for the nation, outside the Government as well as within it? There is such strong feeling about this matter that unless some assurance is given, I think it would have to be pressed to a Division— which I should do unwillingly. The suggestion made by the hon. Member would meet the case. If a White Paper were issued every couple of months setting out the payments made in salaries and expenses of Members working for the Government in this way, that would be satisfactory. If my right hon. Friend would say that he would give that proposal sympathetic consideration. I, personally, would be satisfied.
§ Mr. Attlee
The Government do not wish to go against the feeling of the Committee on this matter. It would be inconvenient to attach this information to the certificate, but I think the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) is a perfectly reasonable one; and I am prepared to give an assurance that it will be considered. If the decision is unsatisfactory, Members have their remedy; but I am prepared to look into the matter.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and Stirling, Eastern)
My own impression is that the statement that the question in regard to salaries to Regional Commissioners has not been answered, is based on a misapprehension. I saw an announcement recently about the salary of each Regional Commissioner. It is true 844 that there was a refusal to give details of what each Regional Commissioner was accepting.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
If I had heard the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones), I should have stopped him before. Regional Commissioners do not come under this Amendment.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his assurance. I would point out that many Members have asked about the expenses. I do not ask him for an assurance that he will deal with that point, but it is important.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ CLAUSE 2.—(Short title and duration.)
§ Mr. Mander
I beg to move, in page 2, line 15, to leave out from "repealed" to the end of the Clause.
At present, any certificate given is indefinite in respect of time; but under this Amendment it would have to be reconsidered annually. The disqualification would be removed only for one year at a time. This is another attempt to keep the control of the House of Commons over the operation of the Measure. I feel that this Amendment and others that have been moved to-day would form very useful material for the consideration of the Select Committee which is to inquire into these problems. I do not think that I can reasonably expect the Government, in the circumstances, in view of the appointment of the Committee, to accept the Amendment; but I would like to hear some observations on the subject from the Attorney-General.
§ Sir I. Albery
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has moved this Amendment so faint-heartedly. I thought it was rather a good Amendment, and the argument which he put forward for not pressing it seems to me, on the contrary, a very good argument in favour of the Amendment. It is true that the Select Committee is to have its scope extended, and is to make recommendations as to what would be the best war-time procedure. The effectiveness of that concession will be very much limited if all appointments of this kind which have been made already, or 845 which may be made during the next 12 months, are to stand, no matter what the recommendations of the Committee may me. In any case, I do not see what the Government can lose by accepting the Amendment. If they wish to continue in office those persons whom they have already appointed, they have only to bring in another Bill, still shorter than this one. We have here an innovation, and it would be a good thing for the House of Commons to express its opinion as to the success or otherwise of the appointments which have already been made. Therefore, I hope the Government will give very careful consideration to the Amendment.
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolerhampton (Mr. Mander) suggested that this matter might be safely left to be considered in the light of any recommendations which the Select Committee think proper to make. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) was rather less elastic.
§ The Attorney-General
In any event, this Amendment would have an undesirable result. Assume that a Member is appointed for work which, if it is to be properly done, will carry him beyond the 12-months' period. If the Amendment were accepted and Parliament did nothing further, he would be in jeopardy; he would have no idea as to what his position was. If he was abroad, he might have to come back to this country. Otherwise he would be disqualified, and might become liable to penalties. It might be that the man was in the middle of an important job, and that, if this disqualification were applied, the job would have to come to an end. Parliament, of course, can legislate in that sense; but it would give reasonable time for the appointment to be terminated. The position which left what was going to happen in complete doubt at the end of the year, when questions for renewal came up, would not, I think, be a satisfactory way of dealing with this problem. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment. The thing is at large. Parliament can do what it likes with any recommendations that may be made. It can regulate these, and indeed, all the appoint- 846 ments, and obviously it will do so in a way which will enable sufficient time to elapse for every arrangement to be made for the work to be done.
§ Sir I. Albery
Surely, my right hon. and learned Friend would agree that it would be impossible for any reasonable authority, while these gentlemen were overseas, to terminate their employment. On the other hand, there is no difficulty whatever in the way of the Government to continue their employment.
§ The Attorney-General
I should think, from what my hon. Friend has said, that that was a very good argument against the Amendment. This Bill has to deal with the situation as it is to-day. The Bill says that an appointment made to-day will not automatically terminate at the end of the year, which might be a most inconvenient moment, and indeed it might be inconsistent with the appointment that it should not be possible to extend it beyond the year. Therefore, I think it would be wrong in this Bill to have legislative provision which disentitled, on the face of it, an appointment beyond the year. As I have said, Parliament is free to deal with this matter as and when it chooses. [An Hon. Member: "Now?"] The way to deal with it now is, I am suggesting to the Committee, not to introduce a provision which would automatically terminate these appointments at the end of the year, but to consider it in the light of any recommendations that Parliament may make or is so minded to determine. I think it would be much better to leave it in the light of any such recommendations.
§ Mr. Bevan
I listened to the learned Attorney-General with interest, but I recall a Debate in this House, some years ago, as to whether a certain important piece of legislation should be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, to which the House objected because it would give very limited opportunities to debate the particular matter and go into a question affecting some thousands of people in the distressed areas. These people were entirely at their wits' end to know whether their jobs would finish at the end of the year, because, unless the law were continued, all the decisions they gave, all the plans they made and all the grants they gave would be rendered nuga- 847 tory or suspended. Therefore, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is correct, all the efforts of these people would be paralysed by the fact that they would not know whether their jobs were to continue. That applies to every Act. Does the Attorney-General still hold to his contention and that it would impose any great hardship upon Members of this House and interfere with their employment if, at the end of one year, the power came to an end? Would he apply the Expiring Laws Continuance Act? In the language of Marc Antony, "I pause for a reply."
§ The Attorney-General
Where you are making an appointment of this kind—and we all know what sort of appointments have been made and might be made—it would be a mistake for the Committee to say here and now that power to appoint is limited to 12 months.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not think the Committee will be impressed by the Attorney-General's reply, because that will apply to every distressed area commissioner, contractual relationship, the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act, etc. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman strained his intelligence— I would not say to breaking point—but to extreme tension in seeking to find an argument to resist the Amendment. My heart was uplifted today when the Lord Privy Seal announced the terms of reference to the Select Committee. I thought our efforts of last week had produced some result. Although the Prime Minister did not commit himself too strongly, nevertheless, he did indicate that he might so frame the terms of reference as to enable the Select Committee to make recommendations during the war. When the right hon. Gentleman announced that the Prime Minister had, indeed, done so, I thought we had made some progress. Now it seems that we have made no progress at all, because if this Amendment is resisted, all appointments which have been made, and which will be made next year, will, by the Select Committee's recommendations, have no effect. The recommendations on the Select Committee will have to meet the most formidable resistance in the House.
The Select Committee have to consider all the appointments which have been made as limiting the scope of their recom- 848 mendations, and, therefore, will only be able to make recommendations leaving all these appointments outside, which will be ridiculous, because the area of recommendation will be infinitesimally small. Or, they will make recommendations which will bring them into conflict with Members of the House of Commons, whose jobs they would be considering. It is too much of a handicap for the Select Committee to say to the House of Commons, "This hon. Gentleman should be removed from his job, or this office should be discontinued or this practice should be adopted." The Select Committee already has many formidable obstacles to meet, and to construct a mighty wall of prejudice is surely undesirable. Is it not far better that these appointments should die at the end of the year, unless renewed? That gives one whole year and a clean sheet for the Select Committee to work on, and they can recommend what should be the position at the end of the year. One year is long enough for the Select Committee to make their interim report.
Last week I suggested to the House on the Second Readings that I wanted the Select Committee to do a piece of scavenging work. I do not attach much importance to the peace-time recommendations of the Select Committee, because I am certain that the whole situation will fundamentally change after the war. No Select Committee can make intelligent recommendations about that situation now. Therefore, the real work of the Select Committee will be in its interim report, which will try to bring our practice into closer accord with constitutional precedents and clear up a position that is at present obscure, since nobody knows what is an office of profit and what is not. If the Attorney-General gets his way, and if all these appointments are not to die at the end of the year but are to continue, the interim report of the Select Committee will be confined to such a narrow territory that it will be useless to the House. Having regard to these considerations, I think it is desirable that the Amendment should be accepted.
Finally, suppose that the Select Committee do not report; suppose that circumstances prevent us from considering their report. In that case, there will be nothing to stop the Government bringing 849 forward an indemnification Bill at the end of the year for the purpose of continuing the powers for another year. Such a Bill would go through the House automatically, unless in the meantime the Government had abused their powers. Surely, that would be a most salutary weapon to have in reserve. The Government, knowing that they would have to come to the House in a year's time either to renew their powers or to consider the recommendations of the Select Committee, would not in the meantime so abuse those powers as to prejudice the House against continuing them. On all these grounds, the Amendment ought to be accepted, and the Attorney-General has really no justification for resisting it, unless he can put forward some other argument than those that we have so far heard.
§ Mr. Mander
Without pressing the Amendment to a Division, I think that, as a result of the discussion we have had, there is a possibility of agreement if the Attorney-General would be good enough to give a reply to a question that I am about to put to him. What I am afraid of is that persons to whom this certificate is granted may think that they are safe for the period of their appointment—for the period of the war, or whatever period it may be—and that the matter will not arise again. If the Attorney-General would be good enough to say that the appointments are made without prejudice to any recommendations of the Select Committee and any action that may be taken thereon— which is obviously the case—and would communicate that to the persons to whom the certificate is granted, so that they would be on their guard as to anything that might arise, I think the purpose of the discussion would be achieved and that we should achieve unanimity in the Committee.
§ The Attorney-General
I think one must remember that these appointments are made for the efficient prosecution of the war. That is the purpose behind the Bill. As everybody realises, the efficient prosecution of the war is the most import matter on which we are engaged. Of course, nothing that I say can confine the Select Committee or prevent them from 850 recommending what they think proper, having regard to the views which they may form on this matter, whether with regard to the war period or the period after the war. Nor do I desire in any way to confine them or suggest to them what recommendations they should make. I do not think I can go further than that. The purpose of the appointment made is for the efficient prosecution of the war. I think I should be going beyond what is right if I gave any further assurance than that; I merely point out what is the position in the matter.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry to return to what may be rather a Second Reading point, but I think the Attorney-General is taking us back to that. He insists once more that the object of these appointments is the efficient prosecution of the war; but that is not true. We all know that the efficient prosecution of the war is what matters most, but the object of the appointments is for the efficient prosecution of the war by certain gentlemen without their ceasing to be Members of this House. That is the essence of the contract. It seems to me a little too much to tell us that the decision must be given at once for all without the House of Commons keeping back for itself the right to remake it in 12 months' time. That is the argument which the Attorney-General is making upon this point. The argument is even more difficult to follow than that, because on an earlier occasion my right hon. and learned Friend distinguished between the management of affairs in Canada, which he said was essential to the successful prosecution of the war, and the management of affairs in Burma, which he appeared to think had a very slight, indirect connection with the war. I think that if my right hon. and learned Friend looks at the Official Report, he will find that that is a fair interpretation. He may be right about that, because it is not for me to decide which is the more important; but that a decision can be made now which will certainly be the right decision not only in a year's time, but for any numbers of years after during which the war may still be going on, and when persons may still be holding appointments— to make that assertion does seem to me to be a prevision which is really not short of omniscience.
§ Sir I. Albery
I must say that I still do not see any difficulty in the Government making this decision. After all, the period of twelve months in time of war can be a very long period indeed. There are many things which can happen during the next twelve months, and the Government may find it desirable to make many appointments under this Bill for terms less than twelve months. It seems to me that the House of Commons should have the opportunity at the end of twelve months of reviewing this exceptional war-time practice and if possible with the advice tendered by the Select Committee before them. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) seems to be so tepid over his own Amendment. All I can say is that if he wishes to withdraw the Amendment, I shall oppose it and, if necessary, move it myself.
§ Mr. Mander
I must say that I was very disappointed in what the Attorney-General said, because when he was arguing at an earlier stage he was emphasising the tremendous power of control that the House of Commons possessed. He was suggesting that at the end of twelve month? we could do exactly what we liked and that it was very risky for people to take jobs overseas, because nobody knew what the House of Commons would do. When I asked him to be good enough to be precise and to indicate to those people that that was the position, he immediately backed away and suggested that, after all, it was not reasonable for him to say anything which would commit the Government in any way. I think he ought to make some gesture of good will in the matter. An important discussion has taken place in which the House is pretty unanimous, and 1 think there ought to be some means of calling the attention of certificated persons to it. I would ask the Attorney-General if he will not go thus far. Is it not fair to persons who may receive these appointments that their attention should be called, for what it is
|Division No. 7.]||AYES.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Brooke, H.||Christie, J. A.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Cannock)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Clarry, Sir Reginald|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Burke, W. A.||Cobb, Captain E. C.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Burton, Col. H. W.||Collindridge, F.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P.||Cadogan, Sir E.||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Blair. Sir R.||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cary, R. A.||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Brocklebank Sir C. E. R.||Chorlton, A. E. L.||Crowder, J. F E.|
§ worth, to the discussion, so that anyone accepting an appointment will appreciate the state of mind of the House? That is surely a matter of courtesy that ought to be done to the persons concerned for their guidance and assistance. [Interruption.] I quite agree that my opening remarks were not very enthusiastic, but I have been fortified as the Debate has gone along. I have now reached the stage when I am seriously asking the Attorney-General whether he will not make a communication, not to all the people named in the White Paper, but to a limited number, and in particular to the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald), drawing their attention to the fact that this Debate has taken place From a House of Commons point of view, that would be of some if not of very great value. I do not propose to press the matter to a Division.
§ The Attorney-General
It appears to me that it would be a reflection on Members of the House for me to draw their attention to a discussion that has taken place. I do not think it is a matter of great consequence, but I should imagine that Members would have due regard to what has been said by the hon. Member and by others.
§ Mr. Mander
As the Attorney-General is unwilling to do that, I beg to give notice that I shall personally send a copy of the Official Report of the Debate to anyone who may receive an appointment.
§ Sir I. Albery
I do not associate myself in any way with the reference that the hon. Member made to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). What I said was completely impersonal. I desire, if I am in order, to move the Amendment on the Paper.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 135; Noes, 36.
|Davidson, Viscountess (H'm'l H mst' d)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Jeffreys, General Sir G. D.||Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k Newington)||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|De la B è re, R.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Scott, R. D. (Wansbeck)|
|Denville, Alfred||Key, C. W.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Doland, G. F.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Shute, Col. Sir J. J.|
|Drewe, C.||Lathan. G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Levy, T.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Ede, J. C.||Lewis, O.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Elliston, Captain G. S.||Liddall, W. S.||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)|
|Emery, J. F.||Lipson, D. L.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Erskine Hill, A. G.||Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.)||Stuart, Rt. Hn. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Everard, Sir W. Lindsay||McCorquodale, Flight-Lt. Malcolm S.||Summers, G. S.|
|Fleming, Flight-Lieut. E. L.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Fletcher, Comdr. R. T. H.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Foot, D. M.||Marshall, F.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Mathers, G.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Tomlinson, G.|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-CI. R.Hn. J. T. C.||Train, Sir J.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nall, Sir J.||Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Naylor, T. E.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Peaks, O.||Weston, W. Garfield|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Pearson, A.||Westwood, J.|
|Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Peat, C. U.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Power, Sir J. C.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)||Pym, L. R.||Willink, H. V.|
|Heneage, Lt.-Col. A. P.||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.||Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W. J.|
|Hepworth, J.||Rankin, Sir R.||Woodburn, A.|
|Holdsworth, H.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Woolley, W. E.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Wragg, H.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Richards, R.|
|Hurd, Sir P. A.||Robertson, D. (Streatham)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Isaacs, G. A.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Mr. Munro and Major Sir|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Harvey, T. E.||Rickards, G. W.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Shinwell, E.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hollins, A. (Hanley)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Chater, D.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sloan, A.|
|Cooks, F. S.||Loftus, P. C.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lunn, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Daggar, G.||McGhee, H. G.||Thomas, Dr. W. S. Rusell (S'th'm'tn)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Maclean, N.||Thorne, W.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Martin, J. H.||Walkden, E. (Doncaster).|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Maxton, J.||Windsor, W.|
|Gallacher, W.||Messer, F.|
|Granville, E. L.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hardie, Agnes||Price, M. P.||Sir Irving Albery and|
|Mr. Aneurin Bevan.|
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
Before this Bill is given the Third Reading, I should like to be allowed to make one or two observations. We have put into the Bill certain safeguards, such as that the Prime Minister must issue his certificate, and the Government have given the concession of granting a Select Committee, and further it is to be an annual Bill, but when the Bill is law the Prime Minister will be able to make Ministerial or semi-Ministerial appointments abroad subject to these 854 qualifications, and I should like to express the view that I hope it will not become a general practice of the Government to appoint ex-Ministers to posts abroad and at the same time enable them to keep their seats in this House, thereby disfranchising their constituents.
In this war the British Commonwealth of Nations is fighting as a single war unit. I understand the argument to be that the Prime Minister feels it necessary to send Ministerial minds abroad in order to keep the Dominions in contact and to enable the Government to make quick decisions. There was an Imperial War Cabinet during the last war, and representatives of the Dominions sat here in London. By that method it was possible for the Government to take rapid decisions 855 affecting the whole Commonwealth. For some reason, that is considered not possible during this war. We have visits to this country from distinguished Prime Ministers and representatves of the Dominions, and we make appointments, like that of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) to be High Commissioner in Canada. I hope that there will not be a considerable extension of this principle. I am not certain—I know something of the Dominions—that it is paying a very great compliment to a great Dominion to follow the practice of appointing ex-Ministers on these occasions.
Now let me say there are hon. and right hon. Members who have been sitting on the Government Front Bench since 1931. They have been in office for 10 years. I submit that no man can stand the strain of office for 10 years and remain fresh enough to be sent out on very important appointments abroad, such as representing the Government in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Undoubtedly, such hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have been in office for 10 years are stale and tired. They ought to be given a rest. I am not sure it is a compliment to the Dominions to send them out there for a rest. So I have to ask myself, What is this principle of the Front-bench club, this magic circle, this idea of constant employment, in pursuance of which, whenever there is a vacancy to be filled in the British Empire, you must take someone who has been sitting on that Bench for five or ten years and who is stale and tired? The Prime Minister said that good men are hard to find, but I say to him that the war will not be won on established reputations. The country is looking for fresh men and fresh minds and for new blood.
When America makes an appointment it is not afraid to use new men, but the great British House of Commons are instituting a principle by which, when an appointment is made, it must be given to the Front Bench club, to the magic circle, and that one must maintain the idea of constant employment once one has received Ministerial rank. I remember talking to a young soldier in the Army a little while ago, and he told me that he was an extremist. I asked him whether it was because of economics or 856 politics, and he said, "No, but because I believe that the avenues of opportunity in this country are blocked by influence." There is a good deal of that feeling among the young men in this country to-day. I would like to see the Prime Minister, not coming down to the House of Commons and making the speech that he did on the last Sitting Day, disappointing those of his admirers and supporters, but I would like to see him do something new and brave about representative Democracy. I would like to see him give the young men who are fighting this war a voice in the Government which is running this war. It may seem an illogical or improper suggestion in the Mother of Parliaments, but the young men of my generation who came out of the last war were never given the opportunity or the responsibility of governing in this country. It was in the hands of old men. The young men of my generation—the lost generation of the last war—had to face 20 years of postwar rule in which we were being ruled by the old men, and it is the old men who have got us where we are to-day. The youth of my generation never had the responsibility of governing and dealing with the post-war problems for which they fought. I am appealing to the Prime Minister not to accept this thing which is the principle of constant employment of Ministers and old men, but to let us have some young men who represent something of the ages of the young men and their ideals who are fighting this war. Let us have a spirit of initiative and enterprise in making these appointments although it be an innovation.
There is growing up in the House of Commons a tendency, which has shown itself throughout this Debate, to regard the House of Commons as superficial, to regard the House of Commons as being unimportant during war. One hon. Gentleman opposite said that it was the place where the Prime Minister required a sounding board, with the big battalions to come and cheer when necessary, and then to go away and be good boys in the meantime. I have heard it said that the Mother of Parliaments has become an old woman. I have heard it said by Government supporters and even by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House that during a war you do not want Debates. I believe some of the best Debates we get in Parliament to-day are in another 857 place. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where they arc all old men."] That is not what I am arguing for. I believe that some of our best Debates are in another place, where, particularly since Parliament is never reported except for the speech of a Minister who is introducing a Bill or making a set speech, they get a better report than we do in this House.
On one occasion a fortnight ago there was a Debate in this House on Scottish land drainage which ended at an early hour. Yet we were told by the Lord Privy Seal that there was no time before Easter to discuss food production.
Mr. De la B è re (Evesham)
Does my hon. Friend realise that nothing further was ever intended?
§ Mr. Granville
I am trying—I hope with the support of my hon. Friend—to make out a case that, if Parliament is a reality in time of war, if you believe in democracy, if you believe in the working of democracy, if you believe in free government as represented in this House of Commons, then you ought to debate the great issues of war. During the Debate on man-power on 22nd January, the Prime Minister said:I think I have said before that to try to carry on a war, a tremendous war, without the aid and guidance of the House of Commons would be a superhuman task. I have never taken the view that the Debates and criticisms of this House are a drag and a burden. Far from it. I may not agree with all the criticism—I may be stunned by it, and I may resent it; I may even retort— but at any rate, Debates on these large issues are of the very greatest value to the life-thrust of the nation, and they are of great assistance to His Majesty's Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1940; col. 257, Vol. 368.]Therefore, if I say that some of the recent activities of the House of Commons have made one wonder whether democracy is going to function, it is because, when we are pressing for a Debate on the vital issue of food production— in regard to which my hon. Friend has supported me— we are told there is no time before Easter, although we get up at an early hour after discussing Scottish land drainage.
I personally give 100 per cent, loyalty to the Prime Minister. I do not: care whether it pleases him or not; I am stating my view on behalf of my constituents. So long as this is an open Parliament and 858 so long as my constituents are not disfranchised, I intend to say what I think, and I am saying here that I give 100 per cent, support to the Prime Minister, be cause I believe that his energy and leadership have saved this country. [An Hon. Member: "He is 66."] Someone says he is 66. I am not altogether certain that youth is a matter of years. I am saying that my support for him is 100 per cent. During the years when the Prime Minister sat here, below the Gang way, I was a supporter of the National Government, and I hope that I am honest enough to say now that it was a great and tragic error that we kept the present Prime Minister out of office so long, and any vote of mine to that effect I now recognise as a mistake. I am therefore perfectly entitled to come here and say that I give him 100 per cent, support in the prosecution of the war. The Prime Minister, as Minister of Defence, has enormous burdens upon his shoulders: he has to take day-to-day decisions on the great problems of the war; and I say it is wrong—
§ Mr. Granville
There has been a wide discussion in Committee, and I am merely trying to adduce the argument that an extension of the appointment of these ex-Ministers, or even of Members of Parliament, is weakening the effectiveness of Parliament in fighting for democracy. I am not pleading that there should be any alternative, but that there should be no great extension of these powers once the Bill has received a Third Reading. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) gave a long description of what he thought the function of Parliament was. He said it was something with which to measure the Prime Minister's stock. I believe that the function of Parliament is to represent the people. It is the authority of the people behind any Government. I do not believe it should be any of the things which the hon. Gentleman described. In this Bill we may be giving away something which our forefathers fought for during hundreds of years. If you do not believe in the working of democracy, be honest and say so; but if you do believe in democracy, you cannot shelve it in time of war, and hope 859 to bring it out again afterwards just as it was. I am going to quote the words of a journalist, written last week:We admit none of the Nazi gibes against democracy. It is a brave upstanding creed. It was deformed only by bureaucracy, which feared to act with speed, and caucrocracy, which feared to tell the truth. However in the days after Dunkirk democracy regained something of its young fire and faith. We wish to keep it alive and flaming. The right to speak and print freely, the right of Parliament to retain the essentials of its proud status; these are not trophies to be taken from the cupboard on the day of victory. They serve us even amidst the heat of battle. They give to our people a long courage, which all the instruments of the Gestapo can never instil. They are the sure bulwarks of the spirit of this nation which enable it through all calamity to fight and to conquer.I think that is a good passage. In a total war, Parliament is or should be the political front-line. If there is one lesson from this war which affects democracy, it is the lesson, "Do not destroy the power of Parliament." In giving this Bill the Third Reading we shall be doing something which is revolutionary in the democratic practice of this country. We may be taking away the foundation stone of representative government. We may damage the structure in that process. For my part, I think that this House of Commons should at all costs guard our institutions of democracy. We are the last bulwark of free government. This Parliament is the voice of democracy, which should be heard by millions. I believe that if democracy is worth fighting for, it is also worth preserving in the process.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
The hon. Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk (Mr. Granville) made a very impassioned and violent attack upon old men. As he had the experience at one time of being Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Simon, I can understand his feelings. I must say that if I had had that experience, I might largely agree with him. In view of the statement which has been made by the Prime Minister that he wishes to have this Bill, I am not, of course, going to oppose the Third Reading, but I must say that to some extent it offends my constitutional principles, or, as the learned Attorney-General would say, my constitutional prejudices. I was rather alarmed at the speech of the learned Attorney-General last week. He apparently thinks very little of constitu- 860 tional principles. He treats them with scorn and derision, and he tried to laugh them out of court. He called them archaic, obscure, illogical and an "old archaic mosaic of Statutes." He not only said this once, but he repeated these words about half-a-dozen times. This contemptuous treatment of our ancient and ordered Constitution appears to me to be most distressing. Our revered, our long cherished Constitution, which Burke loved, it is said, "with the passion of a lover for his mistress," was dismissed by the Attorney-General as a collection of bourgeois prejudices. I fear that when the Attorney-General was reading the "Daily Worker," and advising its suppression, he must have been infected by its principles. The learned Attorney-General has become a Bolshevik. The machinations of the Ogpu and the Communist party have won a great success. They have landed a noble fish. With a Bolshevik holding the position of Attorney-General of England, the foundations of our Constitution are undermined. The floodgates are open, and the destructive flood of Communism will soon be sweeping over our country, drowning the last relics of our ancient institutions.
The learned Attorney-General made great fun on Thursday with the argument that the House of Commons considered that there was nothing wrong with Members holding positions or offices which had been created before 1705, but they thought it was wrong only if Members of this House held offices which were created after that date. The reason was a very simple one. The Attorney-General mentioned it a little later. The real reason for this distinction was that the offices created before 1705 were very few in number. It was the wish of the House, and it has been the continued wish of the House, to prevent the creation of scores of sinecure posts to be held by a golden horde, by a pack of placemen. That was the whole idea. In the reign of King George I, out of 550 Members of this House, 271 held office of one kind or another. When this Bill becomes law we shall have a very good chance of beating that record.
Another argument against the Bill is that as a result of its operations many constituencies will become virtually disfranchised. I feel that that argument has not been fully met yet by the Govern- 861 ment. They claim—and I am not prepared to dispute that claim—that in wartime they have the right to appoint the best men to the best jobs. No one denies that. We all desire to win the war, and if it will help to win the war, we are quite ready to accept any office offered to us by the Prime Minister, either without remuneration or, if it is really necessary in the national interest, at a salary of £5,000 a year. But that is no reason why Members given these posts should necessarily continue to hold their seats. We are all ready to do our duty just as much as soldiers, sailors and airmen, and if we have to sacrifice our Parliamentary careers, for a time, that is a much less sacrifice than losing our lives.
The Attorney-General will no doubt remember the great speech, delivered to the electors of Bristol, by Edmund Burke on the position of a Member of Parliament, in which he proclaimed the independence of Members of Parliament and declared that Members were here as representatives and not as delegates. In that speech he also defined our duties to our constituencies. He said:It ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions to theirs; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interests to his own.I fail to see how these high and arduous duties, this "strictest union," this "closest correspondence" and this "most unreserved communication" can be carried out if the waste of the wild Atlantic rolls between a Member and his unfortunate constituency somewhere in the North of Scotland. But these defects of the Bill—and there are many—seem to me to pale into insignificance and, in the words of the author of the "Young Visiters," to be "piffle before the wind," when compared with the brilliance and glory of the appointment which rendered it necessary. It has been said in the Press that Members of the Labour party have been animated by personal or political prejudice against the right hon. Gentleman in question. Surely there never was a more grotesque suggestion than that. We have always admired the right hon. Gentleman and his sudden rise 862 to power and influence from obscurity and insignificance. The poet who was quoted by the Prime Minister on Thursday once said that:Joseph's sudden riseTo comptroller of supplies,Was a fraud of monstrous size.Nobody has ever said that about the sudden rise of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). We always knew that his position was not due to any family influence; we always knew that his promotion was due to his native brilliance, which had never before been adequately recognised outside his family circle. We knew it must be there, or he would not be where he was placed. We admired his swift rise to power as we admire the ascent of a rocket, and when he comes back from Canada with his breast glittering, like Goering's, with decorations, we shall admire the rocket's stars. We have watched his career with interest, we have admired the masterly way in which this statesman handed over British naval bases to Ireland, and although he received little popularity for that feat in this country, I am sure that any little thing of that sort he might do in Canada will gain for him greater popularity in the New World than he has ever achieved in the Old. Again, in considering this Bill, I admire very greatly the ingenious way in which the Prime Minister one by one is getting rid of what are called the "Municheers." One by one they are all departing—All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.One is presiding at the Old Bailey, instead of standing in the dock, another is sitting upon the Woolsack, a third has gone off across the Bay of Biscay to Madrid, and now a fourth has booked his passage to Canada—the latest playboy of the Western world. It is true that most of them, although they have left us, have gone to take up remunerative appointments. They have fallen politically, but they have fallen on velvet. That is the Prime Minister's way. He is always ready to reward the guilty as long as they get out of his sight; he is always ready to help lame dogs over stiles as long as they get out of his way and go on another path. Although the proverb says that there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream, the Prime Minister prefers, even in these days of food 863 shortage, the more extravagant method. After all, it was a Churchill who tried to prevent the right hon. Member from obtaining a seat in the House. It is only fitting, therefore, that a Churchill should enable him to retain it. We shall miss the right hon. Gentleman. Some of us thought he might have taken another path to honour, but Canada has called him, and he has gone. We shall miss his buoyant personality, his cameraderie, his merry wit, his gay insouciance, his Falstaffian enjoyment of life, his calculated indiscretions, his dashing oratory, his devil-may-care demeanour. But one consolation we shall have left when we see him unfurling against the snowy wastes of Canada the scarlet banner of Socialism, the Socialism in which he was bred and of which he has always been so valiant and so uncompromising a supporter.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.