That the Report from the Select Committee on Offices or Places of Profit under the Crown be now considered."—[Sir Dennis Herbert.]
§ Report considered accordingly.
§ Sir Dennis Herbert (Watford)
I beg to move,That this House recommends the Report from the Select Committee on Offices or Places of Profit under the Crown to the consideration of His Majesty's Government.As the House did me the honour of putting me on this Committee, of which I was Chairman, they will, I hope, assent to my exercising the privileges of an ordinary Member to-day in putting this Motion. For that reason I have to occupy the seat in the House which I occupied for many years and from which, through no fault of my own, I failed to deliver many important and statesmanlike speeches that I had prepared with great care and trouble. After being debarred from ordinary speech in this House for so many years, I feel some of the diffidence of a new Member, and I am inclined to ask for some measure of the indulgence which is always granted in the case of a maiden speech. But indeed, to-day, I must ask the House for a little indulgence if my remarks occupy a longer time than that time which I have frequently pressed upon ordinary Members of the House should be amply sufficient for them to say all they have to say. My reason for this is that the Report with which I have to deal is a very long one, and it deals with matters of very considerable importance.
The whole question of Offices of Profit under the Crown is part of the structure of our British Constitution—a Constitution which is the result of growth and development over many centuries, a Constitution which is the envy of the civilised world and which cannot be reproduced by any modern-made Constitution. It would, therefore, be a blunder of the first magnitude to deal with this subject without very careful regard to its past history. What we have to do is not to invent or to devise some new scheme, but rather to tend, train, prune with care and nourish a plant which has been growing for many centuries, and which, we hope, will continue to grow for many centuries to come.
1291 Therefore, the six or seven pages of this Report which are devoted to a historical survey are thoroughly justified. That survey was necessary for the consideration by the Committee of what we had to consider, and it is well that it should be placed on record for the benefit of future generations. Here it is only right that I should acknowledge the very great services which were rendered to the Committee by our learned Clerk, Sir Gilbert Campion, whom I am sorry not to see in his place to-day, owing to illness, because these historical paragraphs are mainly his work, and he devoted, as I know, a very considerable amount of overtime to it, for which, I am afraid, he will not get double pay. Those paragraphs may be relied upon, I think, as being absolutely correct. We had a learned historian on the Committee who could find no fault with them, and I took the opportunity myself of submitting those paragraphs privately, to one of the greatest constitutional historians of the day, and he returned them to me with the remark that he could not find a word in them to criticise or to alter.
I hope hon. Members will not form a false impression of the proceedings of the Committee by reason of something which results from the form in which the minutes of evidence are prepared, because it will be seen there, that a very large number of paragraphs in the Draft Report were disagreed with and other paragraphs were substituted. I think perhaps, therefore, hon. Members may like to know that the real reason for that was that, on account of certain reasons with which I need not worry the House, the original Draft Report contained a number of provisional paragraphs which were disagreed with and were withdrawn at my own request in order that more carefully considered paragraphs might be put in their place. In fact, the extraordinary absence of serious disagreement or divergence between Members of the Committee, representing as they do many and very different shades of opinion in the House, was quite remarkable. We naturally had our differences on matters of details, but in most cases they were settled to the satisfaction of the whole Committee, and there was no serious difference of opinion on any of the main questions which arise. Though it is true that at an early stage in the consideration of the Draft Report my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton 1292 (Mr. Maxton) moved an Amendment to the effect that, having set out the chaotic condition of the law on this subject, we make no recommendations for improving it or restoring order out of chaos, which he described as destroying, the flexibility of the Constitution, but, finding himself in the position, not new to him, of being in a minority of one, he accepted that position with his usual dignity and good humour and proceeded to give us valuable assistance in that work of destruction, as he has described it. Apart from that, the House will note that the Draft Report, in the end, was passed unanimously by the Committee.
I want to draw the special attention of the House to paragraph 19 on page 13 of the Report, because the Committee there set out the three chief principles which could be deduced from the preceding historical survey and which should, I think, be kept carefully in mind in considering this subject. Those three principles are, first, the incompatibility of certain non-ministerial offices with membership of the House of Commons; second, the need to limit the control or influence of the House by the Executive Government, by means of an undue proportion of officers being Members of the House, and, third, the essential condition of a certain number of Ministers being Members of the House, for the purpose of ensuring control of the Executive by Parliament. If those principles are borne in mind, they will, I think, assist hon. Members to appreciate generally the recommendations which the Committee have made.
Our recommendations in regard to Part I are summarised in the form of the outlines of a Bill. I should here point out that Part I of the Report deals with the matter in normal times without regard to the present period of emergency. Questions relating to the period of emergency are dealt with in Part II. The state of the law in regard to this subject during the present period of emergency caused by the war is, like the war itself, in the nature of a nasty and unfortunate excrescence on the law in normal times, just as the war indeed is a nasty and unfortunate excrescence on the history of the civilised world. Hon. Members will please bear in mind that in the remarks I am about to make, I am dealing entirely with Part I and that all considera- 1293 tions arising out of the present state of emergency should be put out of mind for the present.
The Bill which we propose contains nothing of a revolutionary character. Indeed, it is mainly a consolidation and clarification of the law as it stands, with some slight amendments in points of detail and a few new proposals of a modest but I hope a useful character to bring it more into accord with the present times, such, for instance, as the proposed abolition of the rights of the common informer. I am not proposing to deal with the details of the different offices which are specially referred to in the Report, because I think the House will find it more convenient to postpone consideration of these details until the proposed Bill comes before the House. Then will be the appropriate time for considering those questions, but I want to go briefly through the provisions of the proposed Bill which hon. Members will find set out in heavy type in paragraph 63 on page 35 of the Report.
Clause 1, as I will describe it, is really the basis of the Bill. It provides that the holding of offices under the Crown shall disqualify for membership of the House of Commons, subject to two important exceptions. Those exceptions are dealt with in Clauses 2 and 3. The first is a limited number of Ministers of the Crown, and the second is holders of offices which may, perhaps for convenience, be described as harmless offices, that is, offices of a non-political nature, the holding of which, I think, no one would suggest is incompatible with membership of this House. Clause 4 preserves two archaic, sinecure offices which might almost be described as museum curiosities, namely, the Stewardships of the Chiltern Hundreds and of the Manor of Northstead, but which are still of definite and practical use as the only convenient means by which the ordinary Member can resign at will his membership of the House. Here, even at the expense of occupying the House for another minute or two, I would like, if the House does not object, to read a description of the office of the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds written by Mr. F. S. Parry in 1893, a description which is, I think, substantially correct to this day. It says:In its present development, the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds is a bewildering anomaly. Any account of it reads like an unwritten chapter from Rabelais on 'How Pantagruel arrived at the Island of Paradox'. 1294 In the eye of the law an office, it has no official duties, functions or characteristics of any sort, whatsoever; a post of profit, no vestige of emoluments attaches to it; granted by the Sovereign, Her Majesty has absolutely no voice in making the appointment. Formally nominated as Crown's agent over an estate where the Crown has no rights, the Steward has to account for moneys which he cannot receive and to hold courts which no suitor ever attends. In return, he enjoys wages, fees and allowances, fully as substantial as the Emperor's new clothes in the Hans Andersen story and privileges and pre-eminences are conferred upon him, which exist nowhere out of Cuckoo Cloudland. In actual practice, the House of Commons jealously asserts its right of control over an appointment which it can neither make nor cancel, an appointment the disposal of which being rigorously guarded from the slightest suspicion of any political motive is entrusted to whatever political party happens to be temporarily in power and rests not with the Leader of the House, but with the one Minister who has no shred of patronage at his disposal. The Minister in turn sets his seal to a document which never a seal touches and sends greetings to all to whom it comes, before locking it up in his own boxes for ever. Nor is this all. Until a few decades ago, it has been his wont to declare his 'especial trust and confidence in the care and the fidelity' of the blackest sheep in the House, and by his agency many a Celtic patriot, pledged never to accept office under a Saxon Government, has even nowadays forsworn himself for months and years in blissful ignorance of his crime.I think that is, on the whole, a fairly correct description of the office and justifies its being preserved as a museum piece in addition to the justification that it is of some practical use to hon. Members when they wish to retire.
Now I come to the Clauses again. Clause 5 is to protect Members from the possibility of being excluded from membership by the action of the Executive, by being appointed to some disqualifying office without their consent. It is a matter which is not particularly likely to happen in practice, but it may be just as well to have it in this Bill. There is one case in which it might be of practical use, and that is in the case of the office of the High Sheriff of a county in England—an office which, I believe I am right in saying, cannot be refused unless the gentleman in question is able to put forward an excuse which is regarded as good, which he does not always succeed in doing.
Clause 6, about which, also, I think there will be no question, provides that pensions shall not be a disqualification unless they are such as can be determined at the will of the Crown otherwise than for good reason. Clause 7 deals with 1295 a difficulty which may arise in drafting the Bill in defining the meaning of the phrase "office under the Crown," or whatever phrase is used for that purpose as an office the holder of which is to be disqualified. I think we rightly interpreted our terms of reference fairly widely to enable us to consider some offices which, possibly, are not, strictly speaking, offices under the Crown but which, possibly, are so comparable with such offices that it would be altogether an anomaly to exclude them from our consideration at the present time. It may, therefore, be necessary in order to avoid doubt to disqualify expressly the holders of certain offices which, perhaps, might not be held to fall within the general expression to be used to describe the offices which disqualify. The best way in which I can explain this point is by giving as an illustration in the case of the Recorder of London being appointed and paid by the Corporation of London, it is not possible to describe his office as an office under the Crown, although, it is to be noted, he cannot exercise his judicial office until the Crown's assent is given. It has been recognised now for many years that his office disqualifies from membership of this House.
Clause 8 is a new proposal designed as a piece of machinery which may be found useful in order to save a Member from losing his seat through inadvertence. I will not go into this matter in detail, but hon. Members will find noted in the margin the paragraphs of the Report which refer to the several clauses and will find, I hope, ample justification in these paragraphs for these different recommendations.
Clause 9 is a technical provision which is necessary in a Bill of this kind—a revocation of the existing Statute law which it is intended to be enacted or superseded—but the last words of the Clause are important and should be noted because they provide that the existing law as to penalties is to be repealed without re-enactment or substitution. The object of this is to get rid of the common informer, who has been described on many occasions by somewhat uncomplimentary adjectives. He seems to be a totally unnecessary person in present circumstances. Again, I will not go into arguments on this point, but I ask those who are interested in the matter to 1296 read with great care the excellent Joint Memorandum which Sir Gilbert Campion and Sir Granville Ram prepared and which will be found on page 176 of the full copy of the Report. That deals with what is a matter of very great interest indeed, namely, the principle which the House of Commons has for so many centuries jealously guarded—its own sole and exclusive right of dealing with questions of membership of this House. I think hon. Members will find that the House has full power if it accepts the Committee's recommendations, to deal with all questions which may arise and to exclude from the House anyone who may be disqualified. The preservation of that right of the House of Commons is, I think, one of very great importance, and it is well that hon. Members should consider the matter as it is set out in that excellent Memorandum.
The 10th and last of these Clauses is to provide that when the Bill is passed it should come into operation forthwith. I need not say anything more about that at the moment, because I shall have a word or two to say about it when I come to Part II of the Report. I have already said that questions of detail will be more appropriately discussed on the Bill than to-day, and, therefore, that is the reason for the rather indefinite form of the Motion which I am moving now, namely, that the House recommends the Report for the consideration, the favourable consideration, I hope, of His Majesty's Government. I have specially avoided asking the House to do anything which might seem like pledging themselves to every detail of the recommendations contained in the Report. Inevitably there must be differences of opinion on some of those matters, and the Committee would not wish to dogmatise on details. In fact, we should regret it if the re commendations were carried out in detail, because, by an unfortunate slip, we have made one recommendation which would have the effect of disqualifying from this House an old and respected Member whom I see sitting a few benches below me, because we have described him as the First Church Estates Commissioner when it should have been the Second Church Estates Commissioner. This shows that in a matter of this kind there may be a number of points which will require very careful consideration when the legislation comes before the House.
1297 One more word about the form of the Bill. Hon. Members who have not had the advantage of all the knowledge which the Committee obtained may think that the simplest way of dealing with the matter would be to compile two lists of offices, one, offices which disqualify, the other offices which do not disqualify. That would, I can assure the House, be quite impracticable for a variety of reasons, but, further, I think the form which we have recommended of starting off by disqualifying all the holders of Offices of Profit under the Crown, with the two classes of exceptions to which I have already referred, is the right and proper one, in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution on this matter.
If the House agree to the Motion I am proposing, I must express the hope that the Government will give instructions to the Treasury Counsel to put in hand the drafting of the Bill recommended in Part I forthwith—I have no doubt it will take some time to do—and that they will then consider such draft and introduce a Bill into the House as soon as may be reasonably practicable, having regard, of course, to the overriding claims of the prosecution of the war. The Bill as a whole would, I hope, meet with but little, if any, opposition. A number of points would be the subject of discussion in Committee and possibly on Report, but I see no reason why it should raise any party questions, and I think that with general good will and support it ought not to occupy an undue amount of Parliamentary time.
Before I finish with Part I of the Report, I must refer to two or three recommendations not requiring legislation. One is that we should pass the necessary Standing Orders in order to set up convenient machinery for enabling the House to deal efficiently with questions or matters which may arise as to the vacation of seats through acceptance of office, dealt with in paragraphs 57 and 58 of the Report. The other point is the interesting one as to Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I commend to the very careful attention of the House what I hope will be regarded as a moderate and carefully considered statement in regard to those hon. Members. The Committee think that the number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries should be 1298 limited, and perhaps even reduced at the present time. We cannot deal with them by legislation, because they are curious creatures, neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring. You cannot abolish them. They have not sufficient existence to be abolished, because no one can prevent a Minister of the Crown coming to a Back-Bench Member who happens to be a friend of his and saying to him, "Look here, run and speak to Mr. So-and-so for me, and tell him I consider he is behaving very badly, or he is behaving very well." Therefore, it is a peculiar office, but, none the less, in fact it has raised, whether justifiably or not, a kind of suspicion that it is increasing the voting power of the Government and increasing the restrictions on the independence of a number of Members of the House. Therefore, it is a matter which I think should be carefully considered, and nothing more is required in regard to it than that the Government should sympathise with what we have recommended and establish some such principle as we suggest.
I come now to Part II of the Report, which deals with the matter from the point of view of the present emergency period. The first Part is undoubtedly the most important from the point of view of its dealing with a permanent matter. Part II deals with what is only a temporary matter, and a matter that is, in a sense, of much less importance, but it is none the less very important as a temporary matter, and the Committee gave very meticulous and careful consideration to questions arising on the subject of the holding of offices under the Crown during this period of emergency. The Committee had some difficulty, and diffidence indeed, in making many recommendations in regard to the period of emergency. The real reason for this is that this legislation and other legislation, sometimes by Statutory Rules and Orders, for the purposes of the war has been so lately considered and discussed in the House that we did not feel it would be respectful to the House or right that we should express any very strong opinions on such matters unless there was very good reason for it. Moreover, the emergency Acts, with one exception to which I shall have to refer in a moment, are all in the form of temporary Acts which come to an end either with the termination of the period 1299 of emergency or earlier, if it is so decided. The Emergency Powers Defence Act, which is the basis of all this war-time legislation, as hon. Members know, can only be continued in force from year to year by an Address to the Crown by both Houses of Parliament.
Two of our recommendations under Part II require legislation, and two only. One is the Act which deals with the appointment of Ministers of the Crown in war-time, which for some reason—I think that I have discovered to some extent what it is—does not contain any provision for its coming to an end, either before or from the end of the period of emergency. The Committee recommends the House to pass legislation to provide for that Act coming to an early end, and I feel sure that the House will accept that recommendation and put the matter right. The other matter requiring legislation is that very important one of the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1941, which will expire, unless renewed or re-enacted, on 6th March. Therefore, it will have to be dealt with by the House within the next few weeks.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Would the right hon. Gentleman enlighten me on one rather important matter? On what date will the emergency legislation, which now permits the practices described in Part II, if ever, come to an end?
§ Sir D. Herbert
I am glad that the hon. Member has put that point, which, of course, is dealt with fully in the Report. It is true that the termination of the period of emergency is a date which we cannot foresee. It does not mean the termination of actual hostilities; it is a date which has to be fixed by Order in Council after the war, but, if the hon. Member will read the Report with care, he will see that we have specially dealt 1300 with that. It is for that very reason that we recommend the House to pass the Bill to carry out Part I as soon as it is practicable, in order that it may be there on the Statute Book, subject to the protection of the temporary legislation, if necessary, ready to be put into force directly it can be. I bear in mind with considerable satisfaction the Prime Minister's statement in this House, in the course of a speech which, I think, he made in October last, in which he said that he himself hoped this emergency legislation would come to an end as early as possible, not only at the end of the war, but some of it, he hoped, even earlier.
§ Mr. Bevan
In view of the fact that the powers under which the Executive can make these additional Offices of Profit under the Crown will be kept alive unless the Executive, by Order in Council, bring that emergency to an end, would it not have been possible for the Committee to have recommended that the House from year to year should decide that the emergency was still in existence? It would leave the matter in the hands of the House and take it away from the Executive.
§ Sir D. Herbert
Yes, Sir, I think that is so already. As I have said, as regards the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, it comes to an end on 6th March, and the Committee expressly recommend, the hon. Member will see, that any re-enactment or renewal of that Act should preserve all those limitations which are already in the existing Act, including the one which provides that the Act shall come to an end again on the expiration of another 12 months.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South West)
Would it not be convenient for it to come under the Expiring Laws Continuation Act?
§ Sir D. Herbert
No, Sir. If I may say so, I am very glad indeed that it was not included in that Act which was passed recently, because I think that the question ought to be reconsidered every year and quite possibly amended every year, and, indeed, we have made some suggestions for its possible amendment. The Committee, in regard to this Act, the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, felt, and felt quite rightly, I think, that it was not a matter in which they should make any very definite and strong recommendations. 1301 It was fully debated in this House just under a year ago, and it will, no doubt, be fully debated again before 6th March. Therefore, we felt that the proper course was to try and see whether we could think of any useful amendments which might be introduced into the new Act for the benefit of the House on the lines already suggested, in the direction of putting the power in the hands of the House as far as possible and not leaving everything entirely to the Executive Government. Therefore, we put forward a few suggestions rather than recommendations. These suggestions we have made will be more properly discussed when an opportunity comes, as it must do, within the next few weeks on the introduction of legislation for renewing that Act.
But there is one of these suggestions upon which I must say a few words, namely, the first one, which was designed to draw attention more effectively to certificates given under the Act by the First Lord of the Treasury. We suggested that such certificates might be formally communicated to Mr. Speaker in order that he might announce them to the House. As I made this suggestion to the Committee, I must take responsibility for it. Therefore, I feel obliged to tender my apologies to you, Mr. Speaker, for having made the suggestion without having consulted you. It has since been pointed out to me, as no doubt you, Mr. Speaker, would have done if I had consulted you, that this suggestion might have the undesirable effect of appearing to make the Speaker of the House in some sense the mouthpiece of the Government by communicating to the House decisions of the Government. The whole House will, I am sure, agree with the importance of their Speaker not only being, but appearing to be, completely free from any tutelage of the Government of the day which might be calculated to be an embarrassment to him. Moreover, such a course as that suggested might easily be misunderstood outside the House by those who are not fully acquainted with the procedure and methods of the House, and it would be most undesirable that, through misunderstanding in the Press or among the general public, the position of the Speaker should be in any way impaired. In these circumstances I feel confident that the House will comply with the request I now make that this suggestion may be abandoned. The House may well 1302 consider, when the time comes, some different method of drawing attention to the grant of certificates under the Act. Possibly with your consent, Sir, arrangements might be made for the granting of these certificates to be reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, or some step of that kind, but that will be more properly considered when the legislation is before us.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think, as an alternative to the Speaker, that it might be arranged that the Prime Minister should, with his consent, make a statement and that that would be the most effective way?
§ Sir. D. Herbert
I had thought of that. I mentioned it for the reason that I thought it would be more appropriately discussed in a week or two when we had the Bill before us, but there are certain objections, as is often the case, to what seems to be the obvious course of procedure, and I think that an announcement from the Government Bench might lead to immediate discussion or Debate, which would be undesirable. However, that is a matter for future discussion.
I have come to an end of what I have to say, but I would close with just two or three observations. In the first place, I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will realise the importance of this matter. Secondly, I hope they will realise, what I believe to be the case, that the Report is a very good one. I can say that without any lack of modesty because, though proposed by the Chairman, it is by no means the work of the Chairman alone or any one, two or three Members of the Committee. The whole Committee and others worked very hard on it, and I hope the House will agree that on the whole they had dealt with the subject satisfactorily. The third thing I want to do is to acknowledge the assistance, good will and personal kindness and forbearance to myself of the other Members on the Committee and the various witnesses who came before us or supplied us with information in the form of memoranda, all of which was very useful to us. Although the Committee were hard worked, I think they enjoyed their hard work, and I am very grateful to them for the help they gave me. I hope the Motion will meet with the assent of the House.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
In common, no doubt, with most Members present I have read through the text of the Report, and I have listened to my right hon. Gentleman's comprehensive speech. I think I shall be only putting words to what will be felt by others that he has expounded in full the Report which the Committee have written and that there is not a great deal left to say as to the details of their proposals which has not already been covered. In the circumstances I do not propose to go over all the matter again. I would rather make a few general observations and then refer to the Report generally and to one or two details. I cannot help feeling, when I read the Report, that what the remit really amounted to was that the Committee should re-open the question as to the death of Queen Anne. Having considered the matter very fully, they came to the decision that Queen Anne was very much alive, and what we are being asked to do is to concur in that judgment, and from what I know of hon. Members I think it very probable that they will so concur. Speaking broadly and in the main, I certainly shall vote "Aye" to the proposition.
I think the Report bears out the view that I have long held that, with the possible exception of the ancient Egyptians, we are the most conservative nation that has ever lived. We still bow to the altar when we come into the House from the far end on my left, not because there is an altar in the House, not because there was an altar in the House that was destroyed, not even because there was one in the House that preceded that, but, I believe, because there was one in two or three Houses before, to which we still do reverence when we come in. We still adhere to an ancient procedure which compels us to discuss matters on the Aljournment of the House when the very object of our discussion is not to adjourn the House but to carry through our Debate. When we at certain intervals proceed to another place in order to hear the Royal Assent given to our labours, that Assent is still given in Norman-French, which no one speaks at present and which has not been the language of the Court for many centuries. We still carry out the fiction that in some peculiar way a Money Bill is a special kindness which the dutiful subjects do for the Monarch of the day, and we still keep 1304 up the fiction that in the first stages of a Money Bill the King's Consent has already been obtained.
I think hon. Members opposite who are called by the name "Conservative" are apt to suppose that, if by some curious mischance they were all to vacate their seats and, I will not say, Members sitting behind me came into a position of power and responsibility, but the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) or possibly even the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), peopled the whole of the House with their own supporters, the whole pillars of the Constitution and the whole basis of our civilisation would fall in ruins. I do not believe it in the very least. I think that if they fell into a trance after a general election had brought about that result, they would, when they came to at the end of about four years, find practically every old landmark still in its place and all the outward forms in the Constitution persisting. They would have to look for any change with great care. Certainly they would not find a tithe of the alterations which have been made in Turkey, where the language, the script, the clothing, the religion and—perhaps what may be even more difficult to change—the whole relationship between the sexes have been altered since the last war. The curious thing about our British method of doing things is that it works. Somehow it has always managed to work in the past, and I have no doubt that it will continue to work in the future on one assumption.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I am following this historical survey with great interest as a member of this Committee. My right hon. Friend commits himself to the view that our methods have always worked, but have there not been one or two outstanding periods when they just did not work?
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
Perhaps I should say that they have generally worked. That meets the incidental criticism of my hon. Friend. They will no doubt continue to work on one assumption, and that is that there will continue to be in future as in the past sufficient common sense in this country so that within the framework of the constitutional structure we shall be able to make changes that really matter. If ever the time should come when that common sense failed, I am certain it would destroy the 1305 fabric of our life, because when a thing is unable to change it can, when it finally crystallises, only break to pieces in the end.
Before I relate all this to the structure of the Committee's Report I may perhaps be permitted to give one more illustration of what I mean by possibilities of change. If a man a century or so ago proved himself an extraordinarily capable initiator and organiser and built up a great business, his great grandson to-day is ennobled and he remains in charge of the business which his great grandfather created. It might not matter very much that he should have a title, but it would matter very considerably if he exercised serious control over the legislation of this country because of his ennobled position, and it would matter very much indeed if he were allowed to interfere in the growth of industry on the assumption that he had the talents of his great grandfather, when they might very well have gone to a second cousin once removed or to a great aunt and her offspring.
That brings me more directly to the subject-matter of to-day. What my right hon. Friend and the Committee have been trying to do is to see how the legislation of Queen Anne can be patched up so as to carry with it all the changes which have occupied the country in the intervening years. The broad structure which they propose we should set up is this: We should disqualify all Offices of Profit under or from the Crown, with certain exceptions. I think that that in the main is a proposition to which the House will be inclined to agree. When the Committee consider the exceptions, they do not consider them in general terms, but consider them in relation to specific offices. That, offhand, would not appear to be the ideal method, but it may be and probably is the most practical method of dealing with the question. Observe what is the effect of that. It is for the moment to stereotype the Cabinet and other Government positions to those which we already have in existence and to compel the Government to bring in fresh legislation if ever they want to create any additional Ministerial offices.
§ Sir D. Herbert
What my right hon. Friend says is not quite correct, certainly not in regard to the Cabinet and the Government, because, although we set out a list of ministerial offices, that list is really set out in order to show the type of 1306 office-holder. The last item in the list is "any other office of a similar Ministerial character."
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
It may be that there is a loophole there, but when it comes to actual legislation I imagine that that will have to be carefully considered. I am not sure that what I have said would not be a good thing, because it would give the House of Commons a power to control and to prevent an unlimited expansion of the Government, which I imagine is the whole object of the scheme. I have supposed that the intention of the Committee was to compel legislation whenever fresh offices were to be made. There obviously must be some means of adding to the list of existing offices; otherwise, we should be putting the future into the strait jacket of the past. That is just what I was explaining must never happen within the British Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a charming description of the Chiltern Hundreds. From what I have described as the conservative character of the House of Commons and the British people I have no doubt that we shall preserve this interesting relic. The right hon. Gentleman rather suggested that there could be no other method of dealing with the matter. It would, however, have been possible to say that when a man wished to resign his seat he was entitled to do so. That would not be so picturesque, but it would be the simple method of handling the difficulty.
I come to the question of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. The right hon. Gentleman has already explained that by voting for his Motion we are not committing ourselves to every detail of the Report. If the detail with regard to Parliamentary Private Secretaries were covered, I should certainly be disposed to oppose the particular suggestions which the Committee have made under that head. The right hon. Gentleman has already anticipated the objections. How on earth will the Government prevent Ministers having the Parliamentary Private Secretaries which they have at the present time? The suggestion in the Report is that there should be one Parliamentary Private Secretary to each Ministry, not one to each Minister. I should have thought that anyone who had been in a Government or had been a Parliamentary Private Secretary would see that that 1307 would be quite unworkable, because a Parliamentary Private Secretary is definitely related to his particular Minister, and to relate him only to the Ministry and have two Ministers using a kind of batman between them would surely produce great inconvenience.
But it would not very much matter if the proposal of the Committee were carried, because I am sure, even if it were more specific than it is, that the ingenuity of the British mind would be quite able to find a way through. I will suggest one straightaway. Supposing it were said that there were to be only so many Parliamentary Private Secretaries. It would be said, "We have only one Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry, and he goes to the principal Minister," but the Under-Secretary could be allowed a "political devil" attached to himself—or some other charming phrase would be used—and that man would, of course, perform exactly the same functions under a different title as those of the Parliamentary Private Secretary attached to his chief. I think I have said enough with regard to the Report to show that it is, in my view, in accordance with the general conservative tendencies of this country, that it does no harm, that it preserves the framework of our Constitution and, I think, does not prevent those changes which the efflux of time and the economic, industrial and political life of the country and the world demand. For those reasons I can find no difficulty in giving it my support, and I believe that will be the verdict of the great majority of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)
I may perhaps be allowed to echo the gratitude of the House to the Committee and to my right hon. Friend the chairman of it who has so lucidly conveyed to us the views recorded in the Report. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find other occasions to leave the valley and to ascend the mountain and give us the pleasure of speeches from the high spot he now occupies. We are greatly indebted to the Committee for so learned a survey of an exceedingly difficult problem, and I think we shall all agree with the conclusions at which they have arrived. They express the commonsense of the matter and I shall be glad to support this Motion and to invite the Government to implement in 1308 general the conclusions of the Report. Before I come to the Report, I should like to refer to an observation made by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) in regard to the effect of this Report upon Ministerial offices. He seemed to imply that the Committee has power to create an indefinite number of new offices without legislation. I think he will find that all modern offices rest upon specific Statutes. For instance, I remember that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretaries to all these new Departments were all provided for by new Acts, and that procedure gave the House the power of saying that the Minister should not be so reinforced out of the House of Commons. It is a power which the House has always retained and I hope that it will be retained in future. At the present time we are, of course, living in very special conditions. A spawn of Ministries is being created out of emergency legislation, but that is a wholly abnormal condition.
§ Mr. Denman
Yes, s—p—a—w—n. Is that not a reasonable expression to use? I will leave my hon. Friend to select his own precise word. The Report makes quite clear the inherent objection of this House to allow the indefinite creation of offices of profit that can be filled only by Members of the House. It is obvious that if this went too far the Crown would have a power of bribery over the House that would militate against the free exercise of the powers of the House.
The Report has not dealt with one quite modern feature of this question of profit, that is, that the Crown makes these payments on top of the payment of salaries to Members of Parliament. We know that in the case of all the old Ministries that was not the process; that there the moment a Member accepts office and joins the Front Bench he ceases to enjoy his salary as a Member of Parliament. But while that applies to any in this list of 80 it does not apply to other offices of profit that the Crown may confer, and surely that does produce a rather undesirable position. I know that in the Labour party we have always objected to a man taking two salaries for two whole-time jobs. I suggest that the true theory is that, generally speaking, it is objection- 1309 able to add to an M.P.'s salary further pay for a whole-time occupation. Under present conditions, of course, those things happen. Members are entitled to enjoy their military pay as well as their Parliamentary pay. In the last war I believe we were a good deal more strict. The practice then—though there was no law about it—was that the individual took whichever pay he preferred. If he enjoyed high military rank he probably took the pay of that rank, but if he were a lowly subaltern he probably preferred the pay of a Member of Parliament. I do not so much mind what happens under existing circumstances, which are abnormal, but I feel that as trustees of the public's money we ought to know what goes on. We in this House really have no idea of how many Members are receiving both their own pay and the pay attached to an office. I do not know whether the Front Bench is in a position to tell us the number of Members who are in receipt of both those sources of benefit. I do not want to know who the individuals are, but it would be good to have the broad picture. It is a thing to be inquired about, if not at this moment, then at some later stage.
The other point to which I wish to refer is the interesting section relating to Parliamentary Private Secretaries. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means that he really ought to have some lunch? What I am saying now can easily be read in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not like the paragraph on Parliamentary Private Secretaries in the Report, because the whole tenor of it implies that Parliamentary Private Secretaries, although not specifically members of the Government team, are in some special measure bound to the team, and that, by becoming Parliamentary Private Secretaries, they have lost a considerable amount of the independence which all Members ought to enjoy. If that is allowed to become the permanent impression about Parliamentary Private Secretaries, it is bad.
§ Mr. Denman
Yes, Sir, I think it is. The paragraph conveys the prevailing feeling, but it ought not to be the feeling, and the remedy is not to be found by increasing the number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries and so, perhaps, en- 1310 forcing the existing erroneous view, but by modifying our conception of the place of the Parliamentary Private Secretary in this House.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
This is rather an important point. Is the hon. Member suggesting that the paragraph in the Report, although it correctly interprets the feeling that we all have, nevertheless states a position which is not really correct? Is it not obviously and inevitably the case that when a Member of this House assumes a personal and direct position with regard to a Minister of the Crown in which his personal loyalties are inevitably bound up, he thereby puts himself in a position of less independence than is the case with Members who are not in such a direct relationship?
§ Mr. Denman
My hon. Friend is anticipating my argument. If he had waited, he would have found that I would have dealt with the point he raises. There is obviously a limiting of independence. Limitation of independence is inevitably associated with the loyalty that the individual must have to the Minister with whom he works. That loyalty cannot be put too high. He is bound hand and foot to his Minister. He must not speak on the subject of his Department, and his personal loyalty must be beyond any question. That ought not to extend to implying any special loyalty to the rest of the team. I suggest that the true position is that, associated with his complete personal loyalty to his Minister, there should be an equally complete independence of any personal obligation to other Ministers, other Departments, or the Government as a whole. The Parliamentary Private Secretary is working in a Department with a Minister, and I do not want to say anything which would limit the number of people occupying that position. I have a very great regard for that position. It confers opportunities of education which only those who have done such work can realise. Only those who have actually taken part in the administration of the country, in framing legislation and perhaps in answering Questions, realise what added experience it gives to the Member, making him a much more valuable person. Anybody who has been the Parliamentary Private Secretary of a first-rate Minister will endorse that statement. [...] do not want to see any limitation of their numbers, but I do want to see the inde- 1311 pendence of the Parliamentary Private Secretary safeguarded. I should like to see my hon. Friends defend the trade union Parliamentary Private Secretaries in making a declaration of loyalty to their own Ministers as independent from all others.
§ Mr. Denman
Of collective action, if there were any victimisation. I would remind hon. Members of the extremely interesting illustration which arose in the course of the last war. The great Coalition Government suffered only one defeat on the Floor of the House, and that was at the hands of a Parliamentary Private Secretary. Sitting in his proper place, behind the Minister, he moved an Amendment to a Government Motion and carried it against the Government. So effective was the Amendment that the Government had no choice but to accept it or to drop the Bill, and they dropped the Bill. I think the Parliamentary Private Secretary was exercising his proper function as a Member of the House, dealing with a matter in no way related to his own Department.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
I should like to remind the hon. Gentleman that a Parliamentary Private Secretary has access to private papers from all other Departments, as well as to Foreign Office telegrams, he may attend conferences between his own Minister and other Ministers, and inevitably he must become acquainted with the inside view of other Departments upon questions outside his own Department. That places him in an invidious position in respect of loyalty not only to his chief but to other Ministers as well.
§ Mr. Denman
The hon. Gentleman has raised a real point. The practice of Ministers in relation to their Parliamentary Private Secretaries varies very much. I do not think it used to be usual that the Parliamentary Private Secretary saw Foreign Office telegrams; that was the business of the official Private Secretary. I agree that if the Parliamentary Private Secretary becomes so involved in the work of other Departments, his freedom thereby becomes limited. In his own interests he should see that the scope of his activity does not range too widely over fields 1312 with which he is not immediately connected. If the position is as the hon. Member suggests, which means that the Parliamentary Private Secretary is tied to the team as a whole, I suggest that the argument of the Report is sound, that we are getting too large a body of people who are tied to the team, and that we ought to reduce the number. I believe that the suggestion I make is the better one, that it makes for the better education of the Member of Parliament and preserves the freedom he ought to enjoy in relation to the great mass of Parliamentary work. I have referred to the only two subjects I wished to raise, and I end, as I began, by thanking the Committee for guiding us and giving us this exceedingly valuable Report. I shall look forward to the resulting legislation.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
There are two subjects upon which Members of this House can be depended upon to be unusually sententious; one is education and the other is the Constitution. I do not think it is necessary to spend a very great deal of time in discussing the past in this matter, because what we really ought to face at the moment are the difficulties of the existing situation, having regard to the principles of representative government as we practise them. I think the Report we have had is a wholly admirable Report, one of the best reports that I have ever seen coming from a Select Committee, and it is so clear that it is hardly necessary to spend any time on explaining what the Report itself explains so admirably, far better than one can be expected to do in the course of an extempore speech. I only propose to address myself very briefly to the first part of the scheme proposed by the. Select Committee, which has reference to the permanent position. That is quite clear. I do not think anyone will quarrel with it, and I hope the Government will find it possible to introduce legislation giving effect to it. What we are particularly interested in, however, are the modifications of the permanent scheme suggested by emergency conditions, because it is the departure from a normal set of circumstances which has given rise to this in the first instance. It seems to me that there is likely to be some confusion about this particular aspect of it. First, at what point does an emergency arise? Because it is an emergency which is likely to set up a series of practices which militate 1313 against the independence of this House. I think it is quite clear as to what is to happen to the existing Act of 1941. The Chairman of the Select Committee made that quite clear when he said that that Act is being renewed from year to year and that the Committee recommend that the same procedure should be followed in the future. In fact, therefore, Parliament at the moment retains complete control over the extent and the duration of the departure from the scheme. That is quite clear, and I hope that when the Government bring the Bill in they will accept that part of the Committee's recommendations, because it is very important.
On the other hand, I do not think the Committee are quite clear as to what is to happen in the case of a future emergency. Let us look at paragraph 83:Your Committee are therefore of the opinion that the continuation in force of the Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act, 1939, in its present form is undesirable.We are not particularly concerned with that Act in these recommendations, but we are very much concerned about the Act of 1941, the Emergency Appointments (Disqualification) Act. They say:They recommend that the Act should be amended by some definite provision for its expiring not later than the termination of the present emergency, and for the limit on the number of Ministers permitted to be Members of the House of Commons becoming effective on the expiry of the Act.It is this matter of the future emergency to which I wish to call attention. I may be misunderstanding the Committee's recommendations, and again I say I am in no difficulty with regard to the present emergency, because Parliament has to renew the Act year by year and retains full control, but where a future emergency arises it would be impossible, unless we are protected against it, for one Act to declare the emergency and then for the emergency to exist indefinitely until an Act of the Executive ended it. In the first part of the scheme, therefore, it would be necessary to put in, if possible, that an emergency under which the permanent scheme would be modified should be declared by the House, such declaration to be renewed annually so as to safeguard the permanent position in the same way as at present.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
The hon. Gentleman has insisted on this House retaining control as regards the 1314 emergency scheme, but surely at the present time the House with its present powers has the right at any moment to refuse the passage of any Bill which did not include the very powers he wishes to have included in it. As I understand his argument, I do not see that we can do that, because any dictation as to what this House should do at any particular moment would limit the powers of this House in refusing or accepting any Bill put before it.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think the hon. Member misunderstands the procedure. What happens is this: We will assume that the present emergency has come to an end and therefore that there are no departures from the permanent scheme recommended by the Committee. Then a new emergency arises, and emergency legislation is passed. That emergency legislation would provide for modifications of the permanent scheme; in other words, it would provide for a larger number of Members to hold paid offices under the Crown.
§ Mr. Bevan
As I have already pointed out, having passed that one Act, having declared the emergency which would include the right to modify the scheme, the emergency then does not come to an end until the Government come to the House and ask the House to declare that it is at an end. Now does the hon. Member understand? At the moment, we have control over the situation, because we have to renew last year's Act every year, and if we do not renew it, the permanent scheme automatically comes into operation. But, once this emergency is over and the Act of 1941 comes to an automatic end, the permanent scheme makes no provision for the annual renewal of emergency powers.
§ Sir D. Herbert
If the hon. Member would allow me to interrupt, there is no automatic method of bringing back this legislation into operation by declaration of an emergency. If it had been so, we should undoubtedly have dealt with it, because the hon. Member will observe that we have specially dealt with the provisions under which certain powers are to arise or to be in existence during the continuance of any war, and that is the only possible thing of that kind which might 1315 happen. We have dealt with that and have made our recommendations.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think the right hon. Gentleman has in substance confirmed the main point I was trying to make. I was not merely dealing with the Select Committee's Report, but I was trying to influence the nature of the legislation which may be based upon it. Might I suggest that there is no reason at all why the House should not have automatic control over the emergency for this purpose?
§ Mr. Bevan
We are dealing with a point which is very important to the House. It is very undesirable that the Government should have more Members of the House directly dependent upon them than they will have under the permanent scheme. That is the first point; but the Government begin to get many more Members under their control once that scheme has been modified by an emergency situation. There is a sensible growth at once, because once a Government begins to appoint additional Members of the House it begins to get more control over the House, and so long as that emergency situation exists the Government will be able afterwards to add indefinitely to the numbers of Members of the House who are holding Offices of Profit under the Crown. I therefore ask—I am not being dogmatic—whether it is impossible for the permanent scheme to contain the provision that where the Government declare an emergency, and by a declaration of emergency or by emergency legislation have the power to appoint more Offices of Profit under the Crown than in the permanent scheme, the power so to do shall be annually renewed by the House of Commons. There is no reason at all why that cannot be done. All that it would do would be to make a permanent feature of this scheme what is the position now temporarily, because at the moment we have the right to refuse the renewal of last year's Act under which the additional Offices of Profit are continued. There is no reason, it seems to me, why this can- 1316 not be incorporated in the permanent scheme.
That is the one main point I wish to make for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman when he brings the Bill before the House. Let me suggest to him that it will not be sufficient to follow the suggestion of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) that it would depend upon the emergency legislation at that time. That would not be sufficient, because we should pass one Act on that one day in an emergency in the atmosphere of emergency and then give the Government power to make these appointments quite indefinitely until the Government themselves, on their own initiative, asked the House of Commons to discontinue their power to do so. That is a very great mistake. The power to bring these powers to an end should be in the House of Commons, and on the initiative of the House, and not on the initiative of the Executive.
I wish to make one observation on what has fallen from one hon. Member in relation to the position of Parliamentary Private Secretaries in this House. I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary myself for a very short time—I am afraid a very unsatisfactory one. It was to my own leader at the time he was not a member of the Government. It was the only time when I had had official smiles bestowed on me at all. It is perfectly clear that the Committee has properly interpreted the position of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, and I though: that the hon. Member made a mistake in using the word "independence" too often. All Members are independent, including members of the Government. They can always, without having the danger of having their heads chopped off, disagree and resign. What we are seeking is to prevent certain disabilities being placed upon Members so that in disagreeing with the Government they also have to surrender certain other things. That is what we really mean by independence, that a man should be able to exercise the freedom and right of criticism in the House without incurring any additional disabilities, to those involved in the issue itself. The difficulty of a Parliamentary Private Secretary is that once he becomes attached to the Government he takes a proprietorial interest in the Government; he begins, to obtain certain privileges, access to certain documents, as my hon. Friend pointed out. 1317 Indeed I have found some Parliamentary Private Secretaries to be much more angry at any opposition to the Government even than the Ministers themselves. Some of my friends with whom I was on very friendly terms before they became Parliamentary Private Secretaries now turn a basilisk eye on me. It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that a Parliamentary Private Secretary, while loyal to his own chief, can quarrel with the rest of the Government. I have known one or two Parliamentary Private Secretaries, who shall be nameless, who appeared to think they served their own chiefs best by denigrating their chiefs colleagues. That creates an unhappy, unhealthy situation in the Government. The Parliamentary Private Secretary, having access to the secret information, can do great harm to the Government if loyalty to his chief is in excess of his loyalty to the Government. That cannot be done.
Again, the Parliamentary Private Secretary cannot expect to enjoy the best of both worlds. He cannot expect to go into the Opposition Lobby when he likes and still bask in the sunshine of official benediction. I am not certain whether it was Mr. Masterman or another of the old Liberal Ministers who said to a Parliamentary Private Secretary who had been exercising his right to vote against the Government rather frequently, "I do not mind if you sometimes speak against the Government in the House; I do not mind if you sometimes vote against the Government in the Division Lobby; but there ought to be occasions on which you support the Government." It seems it is an impossible situation. Surely what has happened in this House is that there are far too many Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Every tin-pot Minister gets his Parliamentary Private Secretary. Surely the Prime Minister ought to frown upon any Minister in a subordinate position having a Parliamentary Private Secretary. That is what we should get to. The only way we could do it is by making it quite clear to Parliamentary Private Secretaries that when they do accept these appointments certain disabilities accompany them and we regard them as being in the Government's entourage, although we know at the same time they have no effective voice over policy.
I am very glad that the House of Commons is particularly jealous of this matter. 1318 I think the way it has handled it is to the credit of the House, because if Members will notice how many Members of this House are now under the direct control of the Government in some form or other, they will appreciate how difficult it is for the House to exercise effective criticism of the Government. One of the reasons many mistakes have been made in the past is because the Government have far too large an army on the back benches of this House—something like 160 to 180 Members under the direct control of the Executive, a phalanx of support against which the critics rail in vain. It is always necessary not only that the Government should be powerful, but that the critics should be powerful if representative government is to continue in wholesome fashion.
§ Major Sir George Davies (Yeovil)
It is rather interesting to observe the way in which this Debate has developed. The particular thing which seems to have taken up the most time and discussion is a subject which strictly speaking was outside the terms of reference of the Select Committee, because whatever is the position of a Parliamentary Private Secretary it is not an Office of Profit under the Crown. It was included in the general remarks of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means in opening this Debate, in which he said that they gave attention to things which were directly ancillary to the important subject they were considering. Two questions came under this heading, one of which has not been touched upon at all, and I do not want to drag it into the Debate as a red herring. That was the question of justices of the peace. The other was the question of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. It was obvious, from the start of our consideration, that what really concerned us was the maintenance of the true independence of Parliament. We found, on going into the very interesting but very chaotic history of this matter, that in the early days the outstanding consideration which had weighed with Parliament was to preserve the independence of the Members of this House from possible encroachment by the Crown, which later developed into the question of possible encroachment by the Executive. Under that head, comes the question of the position of the Parliamentary Private Secretary. It is quite useless to suggest what Parliamentary Private 1319 Secretaries should not be or do. What we were faced with is what they actually are or do to-day. There is no question that this is a potential means of the Executive more and more getting control over the complete independence of Members of this House. You can see an example when what is humourously called a free vote comes along. When it is known that practically all the Members of the Government Front Bench are going to vote one way, you know that practically all the Members of the bench—now empty—just behind the Front Bench is going to vote the same way.
We were considering whether this was an evil, whether it was a growing evil, and whether we could make recommendations to clip its wings. While it is not exactly an evil, it is obviously undesirable. A Parliamentary Private Secretary to-day is generally a younger Member who shows promise of developing into good timber to use for the formation of a Government. He is given a trial. The more useful he becomes in that job, the wider becomes his influence. He has access to what are, to the rest of us, secret papers. He gets information outside his particular Ministry and opportunities of showing whether he is a potential source of usefulness and strength to the Government. Side by side with that, there must be an increasing identification of himself with the Government machine. As has been pointed out, you cannot check that by saying what a Parliamentary Private Secretary must or must not do. It would seem that the only possible way is to try somehow to limit the numbers of what are called official Parliamentary Private Secretaries. There is, of course, nothing to prevent a junior Minister asking somebody to fetch and carry for him, but that is not the same thing. Our recommendation was that the line should be adopted of, in some way, reducing the numbers.
In general, I think that all of us who had the pleasure of listening to the speech which introduced this Motion will agree that we could not have had a better Chairman of our Committee. We found the work extremely interesting. It developed along lines that we had not considered probable, such as the matter of the King's Printer and of the Provost of Eton. For myself, I found it intensely interesting sometimes because—I am not giving away any secrets—I found myself 1320 in a very small minority. It has been said thatEast is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,and that left is left and right is right, and never the twain shall meet. But my solitude was relieved by the company of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who backed me up in my minority position except on one occasion, when I was left alone. That was a very interesting occasion, and the Chairman of the Committee has withdrawn the recommendation that was made. That is by the way. It was considered desirable that a Committee should be set up to go into the law and practice of this matter. If the action suggested in our Report is taken, it will not be necessary to dig back into the archives to find out what Parliament really meant in respect of certain legislation. This will be the datum line of approach in these matters, whether for future emergencies or on the question of the normal procedure of the House in these matters. It will preserve the old methods and traditions; it will be in conformity with good sense—which is, after all, the over-ruling consideration—and I believe that if the Government bring in a Bill to implement our recommendations, a very definite advance will be made in a matter which in some respects is of secondary importance, but which in many respects demands attention.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I agree with everyone who has spoken as to the very great value of this Report, and I concur in the recommendations. It seems to me that the Committee have produced a document of great historical importance. It is a most interesting historical survey. It is extremely gratifying that the information has been collected now, because some of it might not have been available in a few years' time. This historical survey, dealing with the important subject of the preservation of the independence of Parliament, is a great addition to the constitutional history of Parliament. But I think—I speak subject to correction—the Committee did not include any Member particularly concerned with the interests of science or of any scientific profession, and it has perhaps not paid attention to some aspects of future developments which I think merit attention from the point of view of the Bill 1321 which I hope will shortly be presented to the House.
I draw attention to the growing importance, recognised in the country as a whole and by the scientific professions, of what are called the social relations and social responsibilities of science. It is a fact that scientific men, such as a distinguished Member who represents Cambridge University in this House, have a way of being attached to universities or research organisations, such as agricultural research, medical research and so forth, which receives, directly or indirectly, Government subventions which make them, from the technical point of view, the holders of Office of Profit under the Crown. It Members will turn to the list of the special arrangements which have been made so that they may be able to sit in the House, they will see that special arrangements have had to be made for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Professor A. V. Hill), who is Secretary of the Royal Society among other things, because he is technically holding an Office of Profit under the Crown in virtue of his membership of certain scientific committees. Offices of that kind might very easily be brought under the heading of what the right hon. Gentleman, who so lucidly and interestingly introduced this subject, called innocent offices. The man who is engaged on medical research in regard to vitamins, the engineer who is engaged on technical research, the chemist, and the physicist engaged on researches into the atom or other intricate matters of that kind, are not receiving emoluments which are influencing their political conduct.
Some provision ought to be made to see that the choice of possible Members is not narrowed too much by excluding those who are among the best qualified people in the country from being Members of the House of Commons. There is also the possibility, with the developments in our social life as they are going on at present, that certain of the large industries of the country may be brought under Government control, and certain of the great professions, even possibly the legal profession, and very possibly indeed, the medical profession, may be brought under Government control and receive Government emoluments even to a greater extent than they do at present. We might have such a position brought about that so 1322 many people were holding technically Offices of Profit under the Crown that a great many lawyers, as indeed is the fact in present circumstances, and members of the medical profession would be prevented from standing as candidates or being Members of Parliament while holding certain offices. That would be a pity and a very serious disadvantage to the life of the country.
§ Mr. Maxton
Would the hon. Member suggest that medical men and scientists who were working full-time in the public service should be prevented definitely from sitting in this House?
The people who are working full-time in any employment are probably incapacitated from being Members of Parliament by the fact that they are working full time. What I want to be safeguarded in the Bill is that the man or woman who is not working full-time, but only part-time, should not be disqualified. The other day, in order to show how far this question of Offices of Profit under the Crown extends, I gave an example from my own experience in the last two or three weeks. I was endeavouring to find a way by which I could get payment for a motor car to take me from this House to one of the large camps where I could deliver a lecture to the Army Education Department. If I accepted a fee for the purpose, it would be an Office of Profit under the Crown and would exclude me from sitting as a Member of Parliament, although its only object was to enable me to pay a taxicab fare. Therefore, it is not only a question of people working full-time. A man might be in receipt of a very small emolument or even no emolument, as shown in the case of an hon. Member who sits on these benches. It will be remembered that a few weeks ago we had to pass a special Arthur Jenkins Indemnity Bill. One wants to safeguard the working of the Act which the House will be asked to pass, and, particularly, to see that it does not prevent the electors from having the possibility of choosing men of scientific or legal eminence who are not in effect in such a relation to the Crown as to prevent them from being really and truly independent Members of the House.
At the present time certain organisations like the British Council, the Royal Institute of International Affairs and other 1323 bodies are receiving very considerable Government subventions, but do not come, for some mysterious reason, under the heading of Offices of Profit under the Crown. Before the Bill is finally passed a good deal of attention will have to be paid to that aspect of the matter, in order that, on the one hand, offices which are really Offices of Profit under the Crown are fully listed and made incompatible with membership of the House and, on the other hand, that scientific persons and members of the learned professions generally shall not be disfranchised from the possibility of being members merely by the fact that some of the money which they receive comes from a Government source. That is the important aspect of the matter from the point of view of the future of Parliament and especially of the growing sense of the social responsibilities and duties of the scientific professions given expression by the Royal Society, the British Association and other representative bodies. The sciences have a great contribution to make to the public life of this country, and I hope that the Bill will not make it difficult for them to get in the House of Commons.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I would like to express the satisfaction which I think all Members of the House feel with the excellent report which has been submitted by my right hon. Friend. I do not propose to go into any details at this stage, but I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee that the stages of the Bill will provide that proper opportunity. The Government desired this Debate to-day in order that there should be an opportunity of His Majesty's Government learning the views of Members of the House. We have given some thought to the problems arising out of the recommendations, and we have arrived at certain provisional conclusions, and it seemed right, before we put the Bill before the House, that we should take the opportunity of collecting the voices in the Chamber to-day.
I would say, as to Part II, that we have proceeded very far, and later we shall resume our consideration of Part I with a view to the necessary legislation to which my right hon. Friend referred. As to Part II, there, as the House now realises, legislation is necessary almost immediately—within a month. Although we 1324 have given some thought to the questions involved and to what has been said in the House, they will have to be carefully considered by the Government before the Bill is brought before the House. The suggestion that the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act should be continued for a further period is reasonable, and I am glad to know that hon. Members did not make the suggestion that it should come under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, as there would be no opportunity for amendment, which might be desirable in the light of experience. We accept the suggestion that the Act should be continued for another year.
A further proposal is that a certificate issued with regard to a Member should contain a statement that it is desirable that the Member should continue to be a Member of the House. I hope the Select Committee will not insist upon that particular provision. I think we ought to realise that the First Lord of the Treasury has sufficient burdens to bear without adding this particular one. I have consulted my colleagues on this problem, and we thought that that provision should not be insisted upon by the House. I should like to support the statement made by the Chairman of the Select Committee—that it would be well not to take account of a proposal that the certificate should be announced from the Chair by Mr. Speaker. I think that when my right hon. Friend made that proposal it was received with approval by the House, and the Government would propose now to take that line. The suggestion was made about limiting the number of certificates. The Government will be quite prepared to put in a reasonable figure so that the House shall be protected from these hordes of people who, it has been said, might get these special privileges.
Lastly, there was a suggestion for limiting exemption from disqualification to some stated period of time unless extended in any particular case by Order-in-Council or by Resolution of the House. I suggest, with all respect, that that Procedure might involve the Government and the House in some embarrassment. If you have a Resolution before the House dealing with the expiry of a particular certificate and there is a Debate on the action of a public servant, it may well be that such Debate would be most deplorable and unfortunate and not in the public interest, and I hope, 1325 therefore, that the House will give consideration to that point. The Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act does not contain a provision limiting its duration. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who has, naturally, a very suspicious mind, seemed to suggest that in some future emergency the Government would put an Act on the Statute Book and keep it there. Let me say that in the case of the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act it was not limited in time but in the forthcoming Act we are prepared to put the Act on a temporary basis.
I have announced that the Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act should be in existence only during the present emergency and that it should then come to an end. It would, however, be difficult to fix a time now as to when that emergency will end, because emergencies end at different times for different purposes, as the House will clearly understand. That is all I would say in the light of the discussions on the Bill which will shortly come before the House. After the discussions we will continue our own consideration of Part I of the Report with a view to the introduction of legislation at a convenient time.
§ Sir D. Herbert
I was not quite pleased with the expression the Minister used with regard to consideration of the proposals of Part I of the Bill. I asked that the Government might give instructions to Treasury counsel to draft the Bill as soon as possible so that the matter could be considered further. I only want to put this point. So many difficulties will arise in regard to the drafting of the Bill that I think the Government will find it hard to give that consideration, which I should wish, to the detailed proposals that will follow unless and until they get them in the form of draft legislation. My suggestion is that although no Bill should be printed or published at the present time, there should be a Treasury counsel's draft of the Bill for the purpose of the Government's further consideration.
§ Mr. Greenwood
On the whole I think that is a matter of method. Final consideration will have to be on the basis of the Bill. It may well be that Treasury counsel may not at the moment be able to proceed with the details of the Bill, but Ministers could in the interval give further 1326 study to the recommendations in Part I of the Report.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry to detain the House, but with regard to the point my right hon. Friend made about the form of certificate, there may be some of us who are not prepared to accept the advice offered to-day, and I would, in advance, suggest this consideration to the Minister. It had been understood by a great many people hitherto that the form of certificate already used does, indeed, contain the notation, which is here suggested might be made a little more express, but from the words which he used to-day it rather appears that the opposite view is taken by the Government. If so, then I think the gentlemen who are beneficiaries by these certificates are placed in a highly invidious position.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I must say that I am very disappointed with the speech made by the Minister without Portfolio, because he has gone very far to express the Government's unwilingness to accept the proposals of the Select Committee in respect of Part II. The point I want to make is that the recommendations or suggestions made were of an exceedingly moderate kind. The word "suggestion" was used so as to make it as easy as possible for the Government to accept them, and we only embodied proposals which we thought the Government might reasonably accept. That was the specific reason for the proposals. Some members of the Committee held quite different views, and I moved an Amendment which is an indication of the views that some members held. It is referred to in the Report in these terms:Some hold the view that no certificate issued under the Act should be effective until an affirmative resolution has been passed by both Houses of Parliament and that the seat of the Member in question should be vacated, though he would be eligible for re-election. These provisions would give some safeguard both to the House of Commons and to the electors. In normal circumstances no doubt in both cases formal approval would be given to the appointment, but the provisions might none the less be a useful recognition of the rights of Parliament and the Constituencies. Others feel that it would be more in accordance with Parliamentary tradition and with the dignity of the House of Commons if the House itself were to give leave of absence to a Member whose services are required by the Government in any period of national emergency.Because we wanted to come to an agreed decision, those who held the views thus 1327 expressed did not press them; but there are some hon. Members who feel very strongly that something very much more drastic would be reasonable in the public interest. It is for this reason that I am disappointed when the Minister, referring to one after another of the modest and reasonable suggestions that have been made, says that he hopes they will not be pressed, and that the Government cannot accept them. I quite agree with the point about Mr. Speaker, but the alternatives that have been mentioned, such as a statement by the Prime Minister, would go a very long way towards meeting the views of members of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was not reasonable to press the point about the certificate being altered so as to state that the public interest requires that the Member should retain his seat. I think the House as a whole attached very great importance to this matter. Our view is that when an hon. Member is appointed to a position overseas, the Prime Minister should issue a certificate stating not only that is it desirable for the hon. Member to hold that appointment, but that it is desirable for him also to remain a Member of the House. It may be that the Prime Minister would find some difficulty in giving a certificate of that sort, but the fact of that being so does not meet the point we have made. I hope the Government will not close their minds to these proposals.
The Minister said, again, that he did not think it would be reasonable to ask the Government to accept a stated period of time because that might give rise to discussion that would be unpleasant. But all sorts of discussions which take place in the House are controversial, and the question of sending hon. Members overseas and allowing them at the same time to retain their Membership of the House might be felt, in certain cases, to be very controversial and undesirable; and in those cases the House ought to have an opportunity of discussing the matter and stating their views, and not simply be told that it is much better to draw a veil over such things. I hope the Minister will take into consideration the views I have expressed, which certainly represent the views of the Committee, as they are to be found in the Committee's unanimous recommendations.
1328 With regard to Parliamentary Private Secretaries, I want to ask when the Government propose to make a statement concerning the suggestion, in the report which do not require legislation, such as resolutions, new standing orders and conventions. I know that some hon. Members look with favour upon the appointment of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I will not inquire too deeply into that. There are also very strong arguments against these appointments. It is true that in some cases it may be desirable for both the Minister and the Under-Secretary to have Parliamentary Private Secretaries when the Department they represent is a very busy one. In this matter there can be no rigid rule, but in some cases there is no necessity for the Under-Secretary to have a Parliamentary Private Secretary, and in fact, a number of Under-Secretaries do not find it necessary to have them. I want the Government to give some sort of lead in this matter. Of course, Parliamentary Private Secretaries vary a great deal. Some of them can do work of the very greatest importance. They can be looked upon almost as Ministers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has a high-powered and eminent Parliamentary Private Secretary who is almost regarded as superior to the Chancellor, on occasions. Seriously, the Chancellor's Parliamentary Private Secretary is a very good one. The whole thing depends upon the Department, the officials there, the Minister, and the Parliamentary Private Secretary himself. However, I hope that some principle will be laid down that will limit severely the number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries unless they are absolutely necessary.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I had no intention of taking part in this Debate, but I must confess that the Minister's reply left me a little unhappy about the position. There is very deep feeling in the House on the subject of the ever-growing amount of Government patronage. It was for that reason that the Committee was set up. I was a member of the Committee, and I should like to say that if there was anything that was evident throughout the whole of the proceedings of the Committee, it was the amazing industry and ability of my right hon. Friend who presided over the meetings. I should like the Patronage Secretary to realise that the Government would be very well advised, before bringing in the 1329 Bill, to go rather nearer to the point of view held by the Chairman of the Committee, and to have some form of very close consultation between the Minister and the Chairman of the Committee. I think this would be advisable in the public interest and from the point of view of the facility with which an agreed Bill might be passed through the House. I feel it is essential that the Government should realise that in all quarters of the House there is a considerable amount of feeling on this very important matter.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I should like to add what weight my support has to the argument made by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on the subject of the contents of the certificate and his insistence on the value of the inclusion in the certificate of a statement that continued Membership of the House is considered essential. I feel that that particular issue was rather glossed over by the Minister. I do not think the House can lay too much emphasis upon the value of the inclusion in the certificate of some such undertaking.
There is one other minor point to which I want to refer, although I am not sure whether I am justified in speaking on it. It concerns the position of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I am one of that downtrodden class, and having been one for some six or seven years, I may be a little more downtrodden than some others. At the present time, as a result of the heavy work in every Department, the position of Parliamentary Private Secretaries is an extremely difficult one. It has been suggested that their numbers should be limited, but I do not think that suggestion would really meet the true problem. The argument used, both in the House and in the Report, seems to be based on the assumption that a private Member, when he becomes a Parliamentary Private Secretary, forfeits all his independence and future course of action, and adopts a servile attitude to the Minister he has the honour to serve and refuses to allow himself to consider going into an opposite Lobby. That, of course, is a ridiculous argument, because, if he does not find himself able to follow his Minister into the same Lobby, it is always open to him to resign, in which case he loses no emoluments but merely releases himself from a great deal of heavy work. I think that the real cause 1330 of the trouble lies in the fact that so many Ministers attempt to translate their Parliamentary Private Secretaries into junior Ministers.
I should like two essentials in regard to the appointment of Parliamentary Private Secretaries made perfectly clear in some statement to the House. I believe that such a statement would help Parliamentary Private Secretaries, the House and, possibly, the public, because there is still the misunderstanding abroad that when a Parliamentary Private Secretary speaks he speaks on behalf of a Government Department. The first statement which I should like made would be to point out that secret documents remain secret from a Parliamentary Private Secretary. At one time, I think it was shortly before the beginning of this war, there was reason to remind Ministers of the fact that their Parliamentary Private Secretaries should not have access to all the documents which a Minister has to study, and I believe it is fully time that a further reminder was given on the subject. Secondly, I believe that the position would be very much better if it were made known in this House that a Parliamentary Private Secretary's job was to act as a liaison between this House and his Minister and Department, that there his functions ceased and that he was not a junior Minister and had none of the rights of a junior Minister to peruse documents. It might be argued that the work of a Department and of a Minister would suffer because they would not receive the same assistance, but, if that is the case, and I do not accept it as being the case, it is an argument for adding to the number of junior Ministers. We cannot allow bogus Ministers to be appointed in the form of fairy-like Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I believe that the position would be much better if these statements were made.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I do not rise to take part in the discussion about Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I hope that I preserved the proper serenity and soberness of demeanour when the Committee discussed this matter. A Parliamentary Private Secretary has been a matter of humour. Gilbert wrote:But the privilege and pleasureThat we treasure, beyond measureIs to run on little errands for the Ministers of State.1331 There is a certain type who like doing it, and we do not object to their doing it. I was never so alarmed about the evil effects that they might have on Parliamentary institutions as a number of my colleagues on the Select Committee, because I consider that they can go on normally, just like a back bencher, supporting their Government so long as it is going well. When the Government begins to get in the doldrums and people begin to look around for a way of going while the going is still good, I am quite sure that in the rush the Parliamentary Private Secretaries will not be left behind.
I rise to my feet because, as a Member of the Committee, a hard-working Member of that Committee, and as one who appreciates the work of my colleague, the Chairman who presented the report referred to an amendment of mine which was defeated. I accepted the defeat and worked loyally with my colleagues for the production of the Report. The general line of my amendment was that we should not recommend legislation on this matter, but that we should simply concern ourselves with stating historical facts. We should not make recommendations for legislation which could be left for a later period. The right hon. Gentleman informed the House that that amendment was defeated. It was carried by, I forgot how many votes, to one, that we should recommend legislation. However, I think that my colleagues in the Committee will be inclined to agree with me now they have heard the statement of the Government's intentions with reference to the Report. I am the "one," and the Government have accepted my recommendation for no legislation, thereby rejecting the proposal of the Committee that legislation should be proceeded with. It was very difficult to follow precisely what the Minister without Portfolio promised in the way of legislation, but, whatever it was, it seemed to me to be the very minimum. I see that the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) is described in the Press as the Leader of the Official Opposition—an office of profit, but not under the Crown.
The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech to-day, glorified the conservatism of Great Britain, and seemed to go on the assumption that this war would come to the normal conclusion of all wars, namely, a 1332 resounding British victory, and that all things would return to their different places again, the House of Commons and the House of Lords would go on just as before, and that we should all genuflect to the altar in the corner. Frankly, I cannot, with the world-shaking things that are happening just now, take that easy view. The reason why I thought it was a bit futile to propose legislation on these minor matters during the war, is that probably by the time you are seeing your way to an emergence from the present world conflict, fundamental changes will be taking place which people had not contemplated when the thing started, and those fundamental changes will probably take place in the Governmental methods of the country as well.
The raison d'étre for the appointment of the Committee was the sending of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald) to be High Commissioner in Canada. That started the whole controversy. It was a preposterous act, examined from every constitutional point of view, to send a Member of this House several thousand miles away to a paid non-political post. I understood and sympathised with the Prime Minister's difficulties and I had some admiration for the ingenuity of the device that he produced to solve his immediate difficulty, but from the point of view of the Constitution it was preposterous and indefensible. When I have said that, and when I have noted the appointment of Members of this House to Ambassadorial positions in Moscow, Washington, and Madrid, while some of them retained membership of the House; while I note the appointment of an hon. and learned Gentleman to control the vegetable market, a thing which normally we should regard as completely out of keeping with the traditions of Parliament, I am prepared to say that by the time we emerge from this war we may have come to the conclusion that our old way of maintaining relations with foreign countries through professional Ambassadors and the Diplomatic and Consular services is completely out of date.
It might, conceivably, be agreed by Parliament that a more direct relation between the Parliament of this country and the Congress of the United States and the Central Committee of the Soviet Republic is desirable and, in the new world which has to be met and dealt with, it may be 1333 that the legislative or governing assemblies of the various nations of the world will find it absolutely necessary to maintain permanent contacts by the interchange of representatives. I certainly cannot see you going through this war without your Dominions being definitely associated with the Imperial Government in a way they have never been before. Indeed, it is quite within the bounds of possibility that the Dominions may find it more acceptable to associate themselves with the United States than with the British Government and House of Commons. I made a jesting reference to an hon. and learned Member controlling vegetables. One would have said, normally, that that was just fantastic, and under the traditions of the House of Commons it is fantastic. But to what extent will the nation be involved in industry and in the control of the material necessities of the people before we emerge from this war? It might be most desirable to have a meat controller, a poultry controller, and a butter controller, all sitting in the House.
Further, I put this point, which has given me a tremendous lot of thought. The whole of the discussions of the Committee and of the House to-day are made on the assumption that after the war we shall make peace treaties in the normal way and that we shall all go back to our old Parliamentary systems or autocracies, or whatever we had before the war. I see that we have the first autocrat back on his throne quite safely as a result of the struggle for democracy. The Emperor of Ethiopia sits enthroned with the full assent of the British House of Commons—which the Prime Minister told me to-day has not been asked—maintaining his old position and he has given some promise that, perhaps, when he finds it suitable, he will abolish slavery. I am not resenting the cash. I would not mind paying £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 if I thought I was going to get something like democracy and freedom for the people. But I do not make the assumption that things are going to return to their former state like that. It may be that this House of Commons will have to take a day-to-day responsibility for administering economic and social things in a way they have never done before. We make the assumption—it has been implicit right through—that we are going to return to a Parliamentary system in which there is a Government and an 1334 Opposition and that we are going to have the same good old system of "ins" and "outs."
I am inclined to think, looking at the relationship of my hon. Friends above the Gangway and the people across the Floor, and the way in which Labour, Conservative and Liberal are all sitting cheek by jowl, and how it has now become a tremendous offence to vote against them on any occasion, that the essentials of the House of Commons—a Government side and an Opposition side—are gone. The question that must arise is whether they are gone for good or only temporarily. If they are to be resumed, what will be the basis of difference? What fundamental principle will separate one side from the other, because if you are not going to have a real dividing principle, do not let us maintain the farce, the facade, of disagreement where there is none. If we are to have something in the nature of a totalitarian, authoritarian State, let us say so. Do not let us have authoritarianism and totalitarianism by defeat.
Those are the thoughts in my mind which made me feel that to propose legislation at this juncture on these relatively minor points is not meeting the situation according to the size of the situation itself. My colleagues on the Committee must feel a certain measure of resentment that, after all their toil, the Government say, "Thank you very much. We appreciate your efforts very highly. We like your pamphlet—it runs to so many pages—and you are a lot of nice fellows but we are going to do as little about it as we possibly can." My colleagues who formed the majority of this Committee hoped at least that if they made moderate proposals for legislation the Government would accept them and perhaps add one or two more of their own. That has not been the attitude of the Government. The Government refused legislation for reasons which seemed good to them, and I, for one, look forward to a time in the near future when this ground we have covered will have to be covered again, with bigger and more world-shaking considerations in our minds than those which were present when we produced this Report.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House recommends the Report from the Select Committee, on Offices or Places of Profit under the Crown to the consideration of His Majesty's Government.