§ The form of the certificate required by section one of the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1941, shall be amended in the second paragraph by inserting the words "whale remaining a Member of the said House" before the words "is required in the public interest for purposes connected with the prosecution of the present war."—[Mr. Pickthorn.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
Having formally moved the new Clause, may I be allowed to say the very few words I want to say after the Attorney-General has replied on the general argument?
§ The Attorney-General
As hon. Members will remember I dealt with this matter to some extent when I was moving the Second Reading of the Bill. Having listened to the discussion, I am not sure that the gap between the Government and those hon. Members who spoke on this matter in the Second Reading Debate is as large as some hon. Members represented. I said—and I repeat—that it is, of course, implicit in the granting of the certificate by the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister considers that the case in question is one in which the Member should be free to accept the work without, as a matter of law, disqualifying himself as a Member. That seems to me to cover most of the points that were made about the difficulty of the private Member's position, and so on. I think that the suggestion contained in the new Clause goes beyond what is reasonable and proper. I think we all agree that the Prime Minister, by giving the certificate, implies that the appointment is one which in present circumstances he thinks the Member should 1841 be able to take without being forced to resign. The new Clause suggests that the Prime Minister should go further than that, and should certify that it is in the public interest that the Member should remain a Member of the House. I think that goes beyond the realities of the situation.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
May I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that one of the main arguments for passing the original Bill used by the First Lord of the Treasury was the necessity of increasing the prestige of certain offices by having them held by Members of this House?
§ The Attorney-General
But it was also a part of that speech that, although my right hon. Friend realised that some Members took a different view, in his view the vast majority of the House did not feel there was any inconsistency in Members accepting during war time appointments of this kind. Naturally, every Member would consider the position vis-à-vis his constituents. It was pointed out that many Members of the House are serving in the Armed Forces, and that many of them may be abroad for the whole period of the war, and that they might become prisoners of war, and so be cut off from their constituencies. All that has been sanctioned quite apart from this Bill. I do not think that on that occasion my right hon. Friend said anything inconsistent with what I am now saying. It must be a matter for the Member. A Member is approached, because the Government or some Department think that he could do some useful work. It is for the Member, in the first instance, to consider whether he will take the appointment or not, and then, if the appointment is abroad, he has to consider whether he can reconcile it with his duty to his constituents, just as every Member who joins the Forces has to consider whether it is consistent with his duty to his constituents to do so. These are matters that can be dealt with, and have to be dealt with in other connections.
Then, following up the procedure, the Prime Minister expresses his willingness to give the certificate—and that may be of value to the Member in reinforcing his own judgment in the matter—that this is a case in which he considers the Member should be free to accept the position without being forced to resign. When 1842 one goes further and asks the Prime Minister to certify that it is in the public interest—which, in effect, is what the new Clause proposes—that the Member should remain a Member of the House, it goes beyond the proper function as between the Government on the one hand and the Member on the other. I thought that the picture which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) drew underlined every objection I have put forward. He imagined the Prime Minister to be considering the Member for Treorchy, and saying, "I do not think he is very much good as a Member of the House."
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member gave two alternatives. He said the Prime Minister might say, "I do not think A is very much good, and I do not see why he should not go;" and in the other case, he might say, "I certify that it is in the public interest that he should remain." If it is to be automatic, then surely it is sufficient to rest on the implications in the certificate. I appreciate my hon. Friend's argument, but what I consider to be implicit is what I have stated, namely, that the Prime Minister regards this as a case in which a Member should be free to accept an appointment without being forced to resign his SE at. I am still unconvinced that it would be necessay, appropriate or right to ask the Prime Minister, in effect, to go on certifying that it is in the public interest that a Member should remain a Member of this House. We have not considered the matter unsympathetically—my right hon. Friend himself has considered it—but we think it would be inappropriate for the certificate to go further than it does, for the reasons I have explained.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am not quite sure, whether the Attorney-General is really prepared to assert without fear of contradiction what in his opinion are the implications of the words "Member of the Commons House" after A. V. Hill as compared with the words "First Lord of the Treasury," after W. S. Churchill. His opinion, no doubt, is the best opinion in this House and infinitely better than mine. But he is under a moral obligation on this occasion to be extremely scrupulous in this matter, because he is giving a legal opinion which has no chance of being challenged. He has not answered 1843 my question and stated whether he is perfectly certain that all competent lawyers would agree, or whether he would lay ten to one that this view would be upheld if the matter were brought before the King's Bench and up to the Lords. I know that that is a lot to ask of a lawyer, but, unless the Attorney-General is prepared to make some sort of pledge on this point, the relevance of his argument is not of much value. Of course when the Attorney-General states what is the implication, I do not say that he is cheating, or that he is intellectually dishonest or anything of that sort; he holds that view, and on an ordinary Measure we could accept his word as probably right, and yet know the opposite meaning might turn out the right one, because the thing would be open to challenge in the courts. However, in this case there is no machinery, I think, whereby this matter could ever reach the courts.
If I may revert to my illustration of the hon. Member for Treorchy, I would point out that my right hon. and learned Friend unintentionally misrepresented my argument. I was not suggesting that the Prime Minister should take one Member and say that, because he was no good in the House, he could go, and, therefore, they would give him a job; and that in the case of another Member he should say that because he was a good Member, he should be given a certificate. Suppose a job falls vacant. We all know what would happen in France; the Minister would look round among his friends; and in Germany the Minister would look round among Members of the party. Here the First Lord of the Treasury would send for his advisers to say merely who was the best possible man to do the job. It might happen that the advisers came back and said there was only one man for the job and he happened to be a Member of Parliament. In my view, the Prime Minister should then ask himself this question: Is this matter one of such importance that the Member concerned ought to be willing, as a sacrifice to his country, to leave his seat? or, if it is not, then is it the sort of job and is he the sort of man where I can properly certify that it is in the interests of victory that he should combine the two? No one wishes to be controversial and we are all 1844 conscious of the excessive amount of work which rests upon the Prime Minister. It is extremely difficult on looking through this list of persons and offices to say that it is obvious and perfectly clear why it was necessary for "X" and "Y" to hold both office and seat in order to hasten on victory. All that we ask is that, whatever is certified, the questions to be answered before signing the certificate should be brought clearly to the mind of the person who has to sign. I do not consider that is placing an excessive burden: on the contrary, I consider it is making it easier and quicker for the Prime Minister to decide.
And finally, if I may without impertinence, I would beg my right hon. and learned Friend not to use again the argument which has been so frequently used about the analogy with Members who are in the Forces. That is an entirely different thing. Death dignifies everything. It is one thing, to say that a Member who wishes to go out and be shot at shall not have to suffer also the penalty of giving up his seat; and it is another thing to say that a Member who wishes to be a Governor of the B.B.C., or a public relations officer somewhere or other shall have an extra privilege. If that argument is to be used, there is a riposte, namely, that many of the Members who do go into the Armed Forces ought not to do so, but only those who are going actually to fight, or to exercise some technical skill of which they are among the rare possessors.
§ Captain Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I consider that the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I do not consider that the question of whether an hon. Member should remain a Member of this House on receiving an appointment is a question to be decided by the Prime Minister. It seems to me that it is entirely a matter for the electorate to say whether a Member should remain a Member of this House. The fact that a man is a Member of this House should have nothing whatever to do with the consideration of the qualifications of a Member for a post. It is looking at the question from the wrong end of the telescope to say that the holding of a post should be a disqualification for a Member of this House on the grounds that the Member is or is not of use.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
I am afraid that I was not present during the Second Reading of this Bill, but I have listened to the Debate on this new Clause, and I must confess that I found the remarks of the Attorney-General quite unconvincing. If I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman aright, the argument he used was that the decision whether a Member should retain his seat in the House should not be embodied in the certificate issued by the Prime Minister, because it is essentially a matter for the Member him self to decide. That seems to me a most dangerous argument, because it is making a man adjudge in his own case, a case which may involve very delicate considerations and a case where an outside individual should obviously be the judge. To leave the onus entirely on the Member himself is wrong, and there should be some outside person or authority to decide. It might conceivably be unfair in some cases to ask the individual to make the decision.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I am profoundly dissatisfied with the way in which the Government are dealing with this Amendment. I think those who have taken the view that the Prime Minister should make the double certification had by far the best of the very close discussion that took place in the Committee, and the Attorney-General's answers to-day do not seem to me to dissipate in any way the opinion that I have formed that the Prime Minister should not do this sort of thing carelessly at all. He should not be sending Members of the House haphazard all over the place and saying: "Yes, it is all right, go to Panama or Venezuela or Singapore, as long as it is quiet there, and keep your seat in the House." The hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Attorney-General both made the point that, if the suggestion is accepted, that is equivalent to the Prime Minister saying who is to be a Member of the House and who is not. He is doing it now, and he is doing it in a casual and irresponsible way, as far as that aspect of the position is concerned. No doubt he is making the appointments having regard to the qualifications of a particular man for the particular post to which he is appointing him. He is doing that seriously because that is what he is asked to certify. On the Attorney-General's own showing, as far as membership of the House is concerned, he says: "Yes, it is all right. If you feel 1846 like it, you can remain a Member of the House. If you do not, you can resign your seat." He has said to the very first appointee to a job, "You can go out of the country for four years; it will be all right by me." That is taking a responsibility on his own shoulders towards the person concerned, but it is not taking a responsibility to the House.
If I remember rightly, every single Member of the Committee, composed of very different types of individuals, ranging from the Chairman of Ways and Means to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), with myself as a moderating influence between the two extremes, felt that when the Prime Minister was making one of these appointments to an Office of Profit under the Crown which would normally have unseated the Member, he ought to certify that not only was it in the public interest that the particular Member should go to the particular job, but that he should also retain his seat in the House of Commons, and that the Prime Minister, when he sat down solemnly to decide whether he would issue a certificate or not, should go over the whole range of these two conceptions, first, "This man is the appropriate man for the particular post and an office of profit, and, secondly, it is essential for the best performance of the lob to which I am putting him that he should retain his membership in the House of Commons." When he does that, he does not, in my view, remove from the individual Member the onus that still remains with him, and it certainly does not take away from the constituency the right to get up on its hind legs and say, "We are not having our Member in that position" and to take every step open to it. [Interruption]. I have seen Members made so uncomfortable by their constituencies that they have found it desirable to re sign. I admit that it is difficult, particularly in war-time, but if I were an elector in Ross and Cromarty, I should start seeing if there was not a certain amount of objection to the position which could be made vocal and effective, and I think it could be done.
§ Captain Nicholson
Why in this case should you insert the Prime Minister between the electors and the Member, whereas you are not giving the Prime Minister power to call upon a Member to resign his seat if he never attends the 1847 House? You are introducing a novel element and saying that the Prime Minister is qualified to say whether a Member can claim to represent his constituency.
§ Mr. Maxton
The Prime Minister took it on his own shoulders to say that Offices of Profit under the Crown, which up to recently were incompatible with member ship of the House, should become compatible with membership of the House if he issued a certificate.
§ Captain Nicholson
What he is really saying is, "I wish to have a full field of talent open to me."
§ Mr. Maxton
He might say, "I think the hon. Member for Bridgeton would be a first-class man to maintain public relations with Timbuktu." He might say—this is one of the old conceptions of these appointments abroad—"Thank God, Timbuktu is a long way off, and he will not be able to come back from there." Prime Ministers have always said that when appointing people to positions which carried them out of the country. But now the Prime Minister says, "I am not only going to send them away to these foreign appointments; I am going to say that at the same time they can do that and remain Members of the House of Commons." That is a new power that the Prime Minster has taken to himself.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is the suggestion being made that to enable the Prime Minister to do that all the more effectively he should also say, in order the more easily to induce the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to go to Timbuktu, he could do so without sacrificing his seat in the House of Commons and that it would be in the public interest for the hon. Member to be a Member of the House of Commons and reside in Timbuktu?
§ Mr. Maxton
The Prime Minister has arrogated to himself the power to say that the hon. Member for Bridgeton may go to Timbuktu physically and still remain a Member of this House. What the Select Committee are saying is that the Prime Minister ought to say in explicit terms to the House, and not to the man concerned merely, that it is, in the view of the First Lord of the Treasury, speaking for the Government, desirable and in the public interest that he should go to Timbuktu, 1848 and that not only is it desirable in the public interest that he should go to Timbuktu, but in the public interest that he should retain his seat in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Maxton
The reason for the appointment of the Select Committee was that this whole thing was dangerous, but it does not make it more dangerous to make the thing explicit instead of implicit. The purpose of this new Clause is to impress on the Prime Minister the serious thing that he is doing. He is doing a thing that has two aspects; he certifies the one as being necessary in the public interest, and that, so far as the other is concerned, it does not matter, the man can do as he likes and remain a Member of the House or not as he phases. We say that the Prime Minister should say definitely to the man who is appointed, "You are needed in the public interest to go to this job and you are needed in the public interest to remain a Member of the House." Both things should be stated plainly and certainly in the certificate that he grants. At any moment when he is granting a certificate it will be in the hands of the House to say, "We can see why so-and-so should go to Singapore or Australia, but we cannot see why he must retain his membership of this House."
§ Mr. Maxton
I am not saying that there is a tremendous difference, and that is why I fail to appreciate the point of the Attorney-General's stubborn resistance. There is not a tremendous difference, but there is just this difference, that the Prime Minister does not say now that the man must remain a Member of the House, and if the House then argues with him he can say, "I never said that." If, however, he does say it in the certificate, the House can take action.
§ Captain Nicholson
If a Member is appointed to Timbuktu and there is a difference between him and many of his constituents as to whether he should re main a Member, and if he resigned and stood again on that issue and was re elected on the understanding that he should go to Timbuktu, is the Prime Minister also to have the right to say that he shall remain a Member of this House?
§ Mr. Maxton
That is a point I would like to think about. Normally, a man appointed to Timbuktu is disqualified automatically. He would have an Office of Profit under the Crown and he would be disqualified to stand as a candidate for Parliament. That is the normal law on the subject, and I do not know whether an acquiescent constituency snakes a law any better or easier, but, so far as my own general view on the subject is concerned, if a constituency says, "You can go to the far ends of the earth and we will be represented by you there just as well as if you were in Westminster," I would certainly say that the spirit of democracy would be preserved but the intelligence of democracy would have sunk to a very low level.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.