HC Deb 18 February 1942 vol 377 cc1810-49

Order for Second Reading read.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move,"That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1941, received the Royal Assent on 6th March of that year. It was to be in force for a year only, and therefore it expires on 6th March this year, and the present Bill is in effect one to continue the provisions of that Act for another year. The House is very familiar with the Act and, indeed, with this topic generally. It was not only fully discussed when the Act of 1939 was passed, but it has been referred to the Select Committee and considered by them, and their Report was discussed in this House only a short time ago. Therefore I do not propose to go into the general purposes of the original Measure and the machinery under it, because those are matters with which the House is very familiar. The Select Committee made certain suggestions with regard to alterations which might be incorporated in any Bill such as this renewing and extending the period of the original Act. The first recommendation was that any renewing Bill should be for a limited period only and should expire at the end of 12 months. That purpose is effected by Clause 2 of this Bill. Hon. Members will see that where the expression "one year" occurred in the original Act this Bill substitutes two years. The Committee made three or four other suggestions. All of them have been carefully considered. Two of them we have not adopted in this Bill, and I desire to say a word or two to explain the reasons which have led us to that decision.

The Committee suggested that the certificate which the Prime Minister issues in operating the Act should state, in addition to what it states already, that the Member's retaining his membership in this House was required in the public interest. That will be found on page 42 or 43. The Government have considered that suggestion very carefully and, for reasons which I will outline and which I hope will commend themselves to the House, do not think it would be an appropriate or an advisable alteration. The basis of the proposal embodied in the Bill and in the previous Act is that in war time there may be work which, in the public interest, Members should be able to perform, if asked to do so by the Prime Minister or by the Government, without being forced to resign their seats.

It is implicit in the granting of the Prime Minister's certificate that the case is one in which, in his opinion, the Member should not have to face the dilemma either to refuse the work offered him or to resign. That is the dilemma which a Member has to face in normal times, if the Government or anyone in authority thinks that the Member is suitable to perform work which would disqualify him for membership. The Member has to make up his mind either to do the work and thereby vacate his seat, or to refuse the work and to retain his seat. It is for the Member to decide whether he can properly accept the appointment and, if so, to apply for the certificate and so retain his membership. For the Prime Minister to certify that it is in the public interest that he should retain his membership would be, in effect, to decide for the Member what his duty was, and that would be inappropriate.

The suggestion is open to the further objection that it would, in effect, be a pronouncement by the head of the executive Government on a matter which must, as we see it, be one for the Member and between the Member and his constituents. In such cases as have occurred I have no reason to suppose that any constituents have not approved and welcomed the course taken by their Member in accepting an appointment, whatever it was, accepting the certificate and remaining a Member of this House. Supposing, however, that some of the constituents of a Member objected and did what they are entitled to do, make representations to their Member on the subject, saying, "You are not to accept the appointment, or, if you do, you ought to resign your membership," those representations would be for the Member to consider. It would be constitutionally wrong if the Prime Minister were brought into that controversy. To answer to such a representation, "The Prime Minister has said it is in the public interest that I should remain a Member," would be overstepping the mark, and it would be a wrong function to put on to the Prime Minister. It would be going beyond what is either necessary or constitutionally proper.

If the matter is left as it is at present, the Prime Minister is stating, for reasons which are familiar, that a Member ought not, as a matter of law, to be compelled to resign if he does accept the post. It is for the Member to consider and to decide whether, on his own judgment and paying such regard as he should to such representations as he may have had from his constituents urging him to remain, he should accept the post and apply for the certificate. We have considered the matter very carefully, and, for the reasons I have outlined, we are against inserting in the certificate words such as those suggested in the Report, or similar words.

The next suggestion was one put forward in the form of words in which it appears in the Report, and it was referred to by the Chairman of Ways and Means, who was Chairman of the Committee, when we discussed the Report the other day. The idea in this suggestion is that greater publicity might be desirable when certificates under the Act are given to individual Members. The suggestion in the Report is that they might be announced by Mr. Speaker, but the Chairman of Ways and Means gave conclusive reasons, which were accepted as such by the House, against adopting the suggestion in that form. He went on to say that arrangements might possibly be made, with Mr. Speaker's consent, for the granting of these certificates to be reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT. This is not a matter which would involve legislation, but it ought to be referred to for a moment. It is very much a matter for Members. The presentation of the certificates appears at present in the Proceedings which are sent to Members, but if the House felt it desirable that there should be further publicity, subject to Mr. Speaker's consent, on the lines of the suggestion in the speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means the other day, namely, having the certificates printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT—though I do not think it ought to be regarded as a pre cedent—the Government certainly believe that such a suggestion might commend itself to the House.

The next suggestion of the Committee, one, I think, of great importance, was that there should be a limit inserted in the renewing Bill as to the number of Members who might at one time be protected by these certificates from the disqualifying provisions of the Act of 1707. The Government have accepted that suggestion, and therefore Clause 1 provides that the number of persons exempted from disqualification at one time shall not exceed 25. The Committee went on to suggest that if the fixed number were adopted, it would not be unreasonable to provide that that number could be exceeded should it be found desirable in the public interest to do so but only if an Order in Council was made on an Address presented to His Majesty by this House. Both those suggestions have been adopted and embodied in Clause 1. I may say a word or two about this number of 25. There are, at present, I understand, some 18 certificates so that unless one or other of the Members who are now protected should drop out and, by giving up his appointment, should cease to be a person exempted from disqualification, that means that seven are still in hand, subject to emergencies.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

Does the figure of 18 include the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps)?

The Attorney-General

No. The right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was an Ambassador, and under an old Ruling of this House, the grounds of which nobody has ever quite understood, an Ambassador does not come within the scope of this disqualification. That leaves, as I say, seven, and I hope the House will agree that we have put the limit sufficiently high and will accept the proposed figure as reasonable and as carrying out, in the letter and in the spirit, the recommendations, or rather the suggestions of the Committee. They made one other suggestion—land I would repeat that they put these forward, not as definite recommendations, but as suggestions for consideration—that the House might consider whether the exemption from disqualification should not be limited to some stated period of time, unless continued by an Order in Council based on an Address or a Resolution of the House.

It may be worth while reminding the House that the appointments are in any event limited in time by Section 1 (4) of the original Act to the date when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act expires. That Act is renewed from year to year. The House keeps its hand on that Act and on its renewal every year. There is a provision that if the emergency comes to an end within one of the years of renewal there can be an Order in Council bringing it to an end at that date. The appointments are, in any event, limited by the duration of that Act, which, as I have said, comes up from year to year. We felt in the first place, that the nature of the work which would properly he brought under the operations of this Measure might be such that it would be undesirable to leave it uncertain whether an appointment could or could not continue during the war period. It might give rise to difficulty if it were uncertain that a man could continue doing a certain work, even though he enjoyed the confidence of the Government in his work. One might feel confident that he would get the renewal but it would not be quite certain and, clearly, there might be work to which it would not be desirable to put a definite term.

We also felt that circumstances might make it very undesirable, in the public interest, to have a Debate on the work that a particular public servant was doing at the time when his renewal came up at the end of the original period, as fixed. No doubt there would be occasions when the House could raise matters of that kind, but circumstances might make it undesirable, for instance, if a Member were working in relation to some foreign country, that there should have to be discussion or opportunities of discussion on the question of renewal, in his case. For those reasons we recommend the House to leave that matter as it is. I think that covers all the suggestions made by the Committee. We have given very careful consideration to them and have made up our minds in the sense I have stated.

Clause 3 deals with quite a different matter and arises out of a different paragraph of the Committee's Report. It deals with the Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act, 1939, which enables a Minister appointed for purposes connected with the prosecution of the war to sit in this House, and, as applied to him, prevents the normal disqualification. It also contains a Section enabling statutory powers to be transferred to him from another Minister and other consequential provisions. It is, for example, by reason of Orders under this Act that the Minister of Aircraft Production can hold that appointment and sit in this House, and it is under this Act that certain powers formerly vested in the Air Ministry have been transferred to the Minister of Aircraft Production. It has also application in other cases with which the House is familiar, such as the Minister of Information, the Minister of Shipping, the Minister of War Transport, and so on. The wording of Section I is: His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that this Act shall apply to any Minister of the Crown appointed for the purpose of exercising functions connected with the prosecution of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged. The Committee took two points on that, and I will deal with the second point first. They say that the powers continue in respect of "any war" in which His Majesty may be engaged; they are not limited to the present war, and therefore, if, unhappily, after the conclusion of the present war, we remain—it might be merely technically—in a state of war with a small and possibly insignificant country, the powers existing under the Act would, theoretically at any rate, continue and be exercised. Then they take the further point that even apart from. "any war," the Act was not on its face as it were stamped as an emergency Act, by which I mean, an Act to be operated for the present emergency, and they thought it desirable that it should be so stamped or marked. We have accepted their suggestion, and Clause 3 provides that the Act shall be repealed on such dates as His Majesty may by Order in Council declare to be the date on which the emergency that was the occasion of the passing of the Act—clearly the present it war—came to an end.

Of course, it is impossible for anybody to define now the precise circumstances under which the various different forms of emergency legislation and powers can properly be brought to an end, because the emergency goes on for differing periods according to the type of circumstances being considered. For instance, a whole group of war difficulties disappear on the termination of hostilities. The black-out and evacuation may then be no longer necessary, and there is indeed a whole group of measures the necessity for which will come to an end at that date. But when you take the various matters with which these Ministries deal, it may be necessary in some cases to go on dealing for a longer period with problems which have arisen directly out of the present emergency. What the Committee intended was to make it quite clear that this Act is to be repealed when the problems arising out of the present emergency, which led to the setting up of these Ministries, come to an end.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must have thought of the point I wish to raise. What precisely is the meaning of the emergency that was the occasion of the passing of that Act"? Let me visualise a special point. "The emergency" was the war against Germany; Italy had not then come in. Suppose the war with Germany was to end, and either the war with Italy or, what is quite conceivable, the war with Japan was to continue. Will the Attorney-General tell us whether, in his opinion, that would be the emergency that was the occasion of the passing of that Act"?

The Attorney-General

In my view, the words: the emergency that was the occasion of the passing of that Act include what in one sense, one might say, has been added by the adherence to our then enemy of two new enemies in the shape of Italy and Japan, and until those three enemies are disposed of, the emergency which gave rise to the passing of the Act has not concluded. That, I think, is what the words would mean. I was about to add this: I do not make any prophecy or forecast one way or the other about it, but it may be that some functions which have arisen for the first time in wartime, some technical functions possibly connected with food supply and so on, may require to be continued in a modified form after the emergency as part of the permanent structure of the country. By putting in this provision, I think it is made plainer than it was before that if it is desired to do that, there will have to be fresh legislation, and I think that is right. This Act is to enable these things to be done during the war, for the purposes of the emergency and for a limited time after the cessation of hostilities. If any of these things are to survive in some form or other as part of our permanent structure, there will have to be new and permanent legislation.

There is one other very small point that I might mention. On looking into this Act, it occurred to me that there were certain provisions in Section 4 of the original Act of 1930 about documents signed by the Minister being acceptable in evidence and so on. Possibly pro vision ought to be made for that to be continued, even though the Act and the Ministries come to an end, because in litigation afterwards it might be necessary to prove an act of a Minister. It would be a very technical Amendment, and we could probably make it in another place, but I had it in mind and mention it now.

For these reasons I commend the Bill to the House. I know the Committee realise how very carefully we have studied their Report, and I hope they will feel that we have given very careful consideration to their suggestions. Without necessarily hoping that they will accept all the arguments I have put forward, I hope they will at any rate feel that we have not failed to adopt any suggestions without having good reasons for such failure.

Mr. Petrick-Lawrence

All I have to say can be said in a very few words. My hon. Friends have considered this Bill; we gave our support to the original Act, we supported what was said a few days ago on the Report of the Committee, and in general terms I think the Government have embodied the principal recommendations in this proposal. For those reasons we shall give it our support. The points on which there is some slight divergence between the Report and what has actually been embodied in this Bill will, of course, arise on the Committee stage, but, speaking offhand and without having heard the arguments which no doubt the supporters of the Report will put forward for an alteration of the Bill, I think the Attorney-General has made out a case for putting it on the Statute Book.

Wing-Commander James (Welling borough)

I hope that in view of the very short time which is to elapse between the Second Reading and the Committee stage we shall be allowed some slight latitude in our remarks on the Second Reading. I only want to bring two points to the notice of the Attorney-General. The first is this: Efforts have always been made to keep separate the judiciary and the Executive, and more recently an effort has been made to keep one great organ of publicity, the B.B.C., free from the direct control of the Executive. I very much regret that it has not been possible in this Bill to raise the question of inter connection between the Press and the Executive in two directions. I do not want to make difficulties or to stir up mud—

Mr. Speaker

Surely the hon. and gallant Member is under a misapprehension. I cannot see any connection between this Bill and the Press.

Wing-Commander James

I was going to show that there might be a connection at a later stage.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member had better wait until that time comes.

Wing-Commander James

I accept your Ruling. The other point is the question of the employment in the Ministries of Press officers. I think they are called public relations officers. It is surely notorious at the present time that in one Ministry especially the Minister uses his Press officer not only to publicise and popularise the work of his Ministry, but even to popularise himself.

Mr. Speaker

I think the hon. and gallant Member has got hold of the wrong Bill. That has nothing to do with this Bill at all.

Wing-Commander James

I will withdraw on both counts, but I hope I have made my points plain.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-on-Tyne, North)

I do not wish to take up much time, as I am interested only in one particular point which the Attorney-General mentioned, that is, with regard to this certificate. His argument seemed to me to be that it was a matter entirely for the Member of Parliament to decide whether he accepted an office or whether he did not in the public interest, and that really it was not fair to him or to the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister should say that it was in the public interest that he should retain his seat and at the same time take up an office which prevented him, or might prevent him, from doing his Parliamentary duties. He suggested that in most cases, indeed in all cases, he said, the constituents of Members of Parliament who have been placed in this position have raised no objection. It seems to me extremely difficult for constituents as a whole to voice their opinions in this matter. I look upon the whole question as one of real, material importance. I disapproved entirely of the view that was expressed by the Prime Minister that it was possible, for a man to hold his position in the House of Commons and at the same time to do work of urgent national importance outside it. Therefore, I look upon this matter in a rather different frame of mind from that of my right hon. and learned Friend.

It seems to me more and more clear that if a man is to be asked to retain his seat in Parliament and do other work, it should be made amply clear to his constituents that this is really in the public interest, because otherwise it is not fair on the Member of Parliament. It seems to me completely unfair that a man should be placed in that position when it really is in the public interest that he should take up a new job which prevents him entirely from acting for his constituents. In the old days it was not a matter of very much importance, but those of us who are Members at present realise that a Member has a hundred and one different things to do, and is always being called upon by his constituents to do things for them, and to help them in one way and another. Therefore, that it should be left for the Member to decide entirely "on his own" when the Prime Minister could so easily make it clear by a certificate to the effect that it was in the public interest seems to me to be asking too much of the Member. I cannot for the life of me see what objection there could be to this being made clear in the certificate.

We were rather handicapped in the Select Committee when we came to consider this whole question by the fact that the House had passed an Act so recently. We could not make recommendations; we could only offer suggestions as to how the Act might be modified. I think, if I recollect aright—and I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that we were practically unanimous on this particular point, that we all thought that in common fairness to the Member of Parliament, and in the general public interest, it was highly desirable that the Prime Minister should make this recommendation by a certificate to the effect that it was really in the national interest that a Member of Parliament who might have been sent abroad for a period of years was yet to remain a Member of Parliament, and that in those circumstances the interests of constituents were to go to the wall. It seems to me that the Government, have made a very great mistake in this matter and that the argument adduced by my right hon. and learned Friend that a Member of Parliament must himself make the decision, is a wrong one, and that it would be much simpler if the recommendation or the suggestion of the Committee were adopted by the Government.

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

I had hoped to commend myself to you, Sir, and the House, by refraining on this occasion, but since the learned Attorney-General has developed what it is courteous to regard as his full argument on a point which might otherwise have been discussed on an Amendment, I think that probably this is the appropriate occasion for dealing with that argument, and then the Committee stage might be short. Before coming to that specific point, I should like to make this preliminary point. If an Act is an annual Act, it becomes in fact more of a freehold than an Act for seven years or 77 years, unless at the time when it comes up for renewal it is definitely possible for the House to consider whether it shall be renewed in that form, or not at all, or with considerable alterations. I fully understand the difficulties in which the Government find themselves this year. Heaven knows in the scale of events which surround us, it is difficult for any one of us to attach any importance to any of this business, but presumably we must do so. If we give up doing it, we almost give up sanity itself; it is necessary to take our ordinary business with our ordinary seriousness.

What are we confronted with in this Bill? We are within a few Parliamentary days when this or some such Bill must become a Statute, or the Government will say, "You are making it impossible for us to carry on the business of the country because we cannot, shall we say, ask the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) to continue to be public relations officer to the Ministry of Aircraft Production while remaining a Member of the House." I quite see that as a result of the events of the last week or two an urgency has been put on our proceedings which was certainly not designed by the Government. I say that it ought to be a lesson to them, if the House is really to be treated with respect, if bringing Bills to the House is not to be merely observance and ceremonial. In war-time more especially no one ever knows what events will impinge within the next 24 hours. These Bills must be brought in in plenty of time for Members to consider Amendments and so on, or they are not annual Bills at all.

I now come to what seems the main part of the Attorney-General's argument. I am bound to say I thought it was rather frail and tenuous. He said there would be gross constitutional impropriety in any arrangement that resulted in the Prime Minister saying whether or not a man should continue to be a Member of this House. There has never been anything more essential to the Prime Minister, after the selecting of his colleagues, than saying whom he wants and does not want to be in this House. Anything which would suggest that there would be something unconstitutional in the Prime Minister taking an interest in this matter seems to me to be reaching a degree of improbability which the comic poets never attempted.

Suppose the Prime Minister decides to-morrow that there must be a new Ministry set up for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, and that the Member for Treorchy must be the private relations officer or adviser to that Ministry. One or two suggestions must arise in the Prime Minister's mind. Perhaps he says to himself, "My friend Snooks happens to be Member for Treorchy and it is perfectly clear that he would be much the best private relations officer to the Ministry for Extracting Sunbeams from Cucumbers; therefore, I must ask him to serve his country by accepting that office. What is more," says the Prime Minister to himself, "he will not be so useful to the war effort in that office if he leaves the House of Commons as he would be if he stayed there." In those circumstances, there is no difficulty in the Prime Minister giving him the certificate in the old form or in the new form suggested. But suppose that the Prime Minister merely decides that Mr. Snooks would be a very good private relations officer to the Ministry for Extracting Sunbeams from Cucumbers, and, on further examining his conscience, the Prime Minister does not think that it is additionally necessary to the war effort that Mr. Snooks should continue to be Member for Treorchy. In that case, he does not sign the certificate.

The argument of the learned Attorney merely means that a great many Members are enjoying a freedom to combine normality with abnormality which no other persons in the country are enjoying. I cannot believe that that is a proper result. I would not wish to compete with the learned Attorney on points of law, but I ask his consideration of the following argument. I take it that this certificate can never be brought before a court of law. Therefore the learned Attorney's ipse dixit is the last word. When he tells us what the certificate means, that is that. But is he perfectly certain that no other lawyer could possibly have taken any other view? Let us see what the certificate says: Now, therefore, I, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, First Lord of the Treasury, hereby certify that"— I happen to be reading the certificate which was issued to my own colleague— Professor Archibald Vivian Hill, Member of the Commons House of Parliament, is required in the public interest.… What are the operative words, surely the words after "I, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill"? I take it that the most operative words are "First Lord of the Treasury;" the name is less material, it might have happened to be the right hon. James Maxton. The words that have to be there are "First Lord of the Treasury." The words "First Lord of the Treasury" have that importance; but the words "Member of the Commons House of Parliament" are no less important, coming after the name Archibald Vivian Hill. If that is so, the certificate is already doing that which the learned Attorney says would be intolerable. If on the other hand the learned Attorney is certain that his view of the law is right, there is a strong argument against handing out sugar plums to Members of Parliament in this way. Everybody is told to do this or that in the national interest, to give up practising at the Bar or keeping a shop or something else, in order to help to fight his country's enemies. But a Member of this House is allowed to keep his membership dormant, just as the grains of wheat in the tombs of the Pharaohs are said to have kept their germination suspended during the centuries.

If the learned Attorney is not certain, if there might be other competent lawyers who would disagree with his view, I think that his argument is more than ever blown to pieces. You might say, on the basis of my second argument at any rate, on the assumption that the Attorney is mistaken, that it is not necessary to tighten the certificate; but it is necessary, for this reason. No doubt, in the eyes of a strict moralist, every one of us is guilty of perjury every day. There is hardly a day in which everybody does not slip into stating something which is not exactly true, because he has not made himself as certain as he might have what his words mean. That is true even of hon. Members of this House; even of right hon. Members of this House—

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

It might be better if the hon. Gentleman would speak only for himself.

Mr. Pickthorn

I am sorry; I thought we were all miserable sinners, but there might be Members of the Kirk of Scotland or of the Front Benches who are not. If a very strict moralist takes the line that one is guilty of perjury in making a statement without examining it as closely as one might, there is scarcely a day in which we do not sink into that fault. That is so even in the case of hon. Members of this House, perhaps rather less of right hon. Members, because they are more careful, and because they have people to advise them of the implications of what they are going to say. The importance of this in relation to one of my arguments is that if the words mean what I am inclined to think they mean, it is not fair to the First Lord of the Treasury or to the potential beneficiary that it should not be absolutely clear to the First Lord at the time of certification exactly what it is that he is going to certify.

Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), I had not intended to take part in the Debate on the Second Reading, but I had thought of addressing the Committee, at the next stage, on two Clauses in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), which, unfortunately, he will not be able to move himself, on account of illness. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General de voted a good deal of his speech to a point about which speeches had already been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Newcastle (Sir C. Headlam) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University. I should have thought that this proposal was not in conflict with the principle of the Bill, and until my right hon. and learned Friend spoke I did not think it was in conflict with the policy of the Government. It is necessary that some words of this character should be inserted in the Bill, because we are dealing with a very novel situation. When this House passes legislation, that legislation can be used as a precedent on future occasions. When one is dealing with an unusual situation, it is desirable to incorporate, in clear terms, in the legislation the principles which are responsible for the production of that legislation, so that it cannot be abused or wrongly used as a precedent in future. Here, it is perfectly clear that the suggestion which has been made meets with the real purpose which the House of Commons thought it was implementing when it originally passed the Act.

My right hon. and learned Friend has tried to get rid of the point by saying that there is a dilemma implicit in the situation, and that the dilemma ought to be settled by the Member himself. But the dilemma is made by the Prime Minister, or by the Government. In normal times the situation was perfectly simple. The Member of Parliament was asked to undertake a certain responsibility. If that responsibility was incompatible with membership of this House, he knew that he would have to resign his seat. It is because the Government did not want him to do that that this legislation was passed, and the dilemma is not one created by the Member himself, but one imposed upon him by the Government. It is unfair to put the responsibility of deciding upon the Member himself. It is introducing a very unfortunate discrimination. One Member may say, "I think that the job that I am asked to do is so important that I would like to give up my membership of the Horse of Commons." Another Member may say, "I think that I can carry on both." The constituents of these respected Members may say, "Look at So-and-so. He was much more honourable than our Members. He gave up his membership of the House of Commons." You are putting a very difficult obligation upon Members of Parliament to decide for themselves, especially in view of the fact that it is the Government who have put them into this dilemma. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University has pointed out that the mere fact that the Prime Minister asked a Member of this House to undertake a particular responsibility at the present time means that he wants that particular Member for that particular job and still wants him to retain his membership of the House of Commons. If he wants him to do that, why not say so in the certificate? It would be much fairer to the Member and to the country as a whole.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it is easy for constituents to make representations. How are they, to do it? Is the party caucus to do it, or is the party that is opposed to the Member to do it? They might do it, but would the Government pay any attention either to them or to the Member himself? All this talk about taking it to the constituents is really ridiculous. The Government have to face the fact that they want a Member of this House to do a particular job and to remain a Member of this House, and since they want him to do that, it is only fair that they should say so in the certificate.

Major Sir George Davies (Yeovil)

Like other speakers, I supposed that this matter would really come up on the Committee stage, but as the Second Reading and subsequent stages are almost to be one and the point we are discussing is in an Amendment in the form of a new Clause, it is perhaps better to concentrate upon the Second Reading Debate and consequently shorten the time when it comes to the Committee stage. Like other speakers, I regret that my right hon. and learned Friend has had to take the action that he has over this matter. We of the Select Committee have spent a great deal of time and thought on this point and regard it as of great importance. It is something that has developed out of the new technique made necessary by the present war conditions. We have been afraid, as other hon. Members have pointed out, that this was open to a wrongful use or to abuse, and also put a Private Member into an intolerable position.

It is all very well for the Attorney-General to say that this is a dilemma which the hon. Member can solve himself. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) pointed out, it is a dilemma which has been fore upon the hon. Member. It does not face up to reality. The real fact of the matter is that for some reason or other it is desirable to appoint someone to a certain job and that someone is a Member of this House. The Member says, "If I take on that job, I shall have to give up my seat in the House of Commons. A successor will go there. If and when a general election comes at some future date, and I still have aspirations to continue as a Member of Parliament, I may merely be one of the long list of candidates looking for a seat somewhere, whereas for years I have nursed, and, to the best of my ability represented, my present seat. It is asking too much, and therefore I refuse the appointment." Therefore, the authorities may say, "We so much wish you to have the appointment that we will give the certificate." That certificate introduces an element of unreality because the point is that it is essential in the interests, not of the Member, but of the war effort, that that individual should remain a Member of this House. It is that to which we are facing up and also the possibility of an abuse of it if it became more widespread. I really hope that after the Attorney-General has listened to the views expressed on Second Reading he will give this matter reconsideration, because we consider it is one of great importance.

In our activities in the Select Committee we were impressed by the fact that when the question of Offices of Profit under the Crown arose in the early days of chaotic peace legislation one of the early considerations of those deciding these matters was the physical question of whether a Member of Parliament could or could not be in two places at once. What was behind many of the decisions was that a Member of Parliament could not be carrying out the duties of a certain office and also attending to his affairs here. The increasing rapidity of transport and other things have altered these considerations very much, but they apply to those who are sent long distances away and overseas. If it is a question of the appointment, as was picturesquely indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), of a publicity officer or something of that sort, it is possible to combine such offices and for a Member to be a fairly constant attender at this House and to that extent be properly representing his constituency. But if he is sent to an overseas job for the duration, it brings up a very different consideration. It is idle to think that any form of referendum could be made to his constituents, because not only is it impossible to make such a reference to his supporters, but it is also impossible to make reference to his opponents, for they are his constituents if not his supporters, and they are equally disfranchised if he can no longer give his proper time and attention to this House. I want to reinforce what has been said, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that it is not a trivial matter but one of considerable moment requiring really further consideration on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Hannah (Bilston)

I had no intention of speaking when I remained in the House for the discussion on this Bill, but I feel such strong sympathy with back bench Members who have spoken that I feel that I must add my voice to theirs. In recent years the position of a Member of Parliament has been wholly changed. I believe it is a true story that when, long ago, a much respected Member of this House was travelling down in Sussex he was told that the place at which he was staying was called Bramber. The name seemed strangely familiar to him, and he suddenly remembered that it was the place he represented in Parliament, but he had not very clearly realised just where he was before.

My own experience in my first Parliament, having come into public life comparatively late in my own lifetime, is, emphatically, that the ordinary business of a Member of Parliament is far more important in his own division. There he can do far more than in his actual work in this House. He must, of course, attend to pressing duties in this House. I do not for a moment deny that, but, on the whole, he will probably find more scope for his usefulness in his own division than here. I think that that fact is rather ignored by the present form of the Bill. By what the learned Attorney-General has said, it seems to me to be unfair that the Member of Parliament must himself decide. In time of war let him, like anybody else, be at the disposal of the Government, and if the Government say he must do this or that and it this desirable for him to retain his seat in this House, by all means let him do so. But I feel that it is definitely unfair that a Member should be asked to make that decision for himself, and I feel sure the average constituent would feel that too. The average constituent, I know, is much more interested in what his particular Member is doing in his constituency than in this House.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Whiteley.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am selecting the second new Clause on the Order Paper.

Mr. Ernest Evans

The fact that you are not calling the first proposed new Clause—(Form of Certificate)—Colonel Clifton Brown, puts us in a very consider able difficulty, because much of the discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill was devoted to the very proposal contained in that new Clause. We were looking forward to a reply from the Attorney-General, which, I understand, he is anxious to make.

The Deputy-Chairman

If it would be more convenient, I will call the Clause in the name of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn).

Mr. Pickthorn

I would rather defer discussion on my new Clause until the other Clause is disposed of.

The Deputy-Chairman

Then I will call upon the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. Ernest Evans) to move the second new Clause on the Paper.

  1. NEW CLAUSE.—(Limitation of period of certificate.) 1,036 words
  2. cc1840-9
  3. NEW CLAUSE.—(Amendment of form of Certificate.) 3,758 words