HC Deb 18 February 1942 vol 377 cc1837-40

No certificate shall be issued to any member who is appointed to an office or post involving residence abroad for more than three years unless an address shall have been presented to His Majesty by the Commons House of Parliament praying that the period shall be extended in any particular case. His Majesty may by Order in Council give effect to this.—[Mr. Ernest Evans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Ernest Evans

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

This proposed new Clause deals with a limited number of cases and asks that no certificates shall be issued to any Member who is appointed to an office or post involving residence abroad for more than three years. There was a good deal of misgiving on the part of many Members of the House when the original Bill was introduced and passed. One was the question of hardship upon constituents in a case where a Member was asked to undertake one of the responsible duties which are covered by the operation of the original Bill. Where individuals are resident in this country, I think it is conceivable that a Member with the assistance of his colleagues would manage in such a way that his constituents would not seriously suffer, but where a man is appointed to a post which involves residence abroad, and especially residence abroad for a considerable period, it is quite clear that the rights of constituents are seriously affected. It is the purpose of this new Clause to try to avoid that.

Sir C. Headlam

Would it be possible for a Member of this House under the Bill, if it becomes law, to be appointed for a definite period of time? Would it not depend entirely on the extension of the Act? When the new Clause alludes to a Member of this House being appointed for three years to some post abroad under the terms of this Bill, is that a possibility? Would it not depend entirely upon the duration of the Act?

The Attorney-General

If my hon. and gallant Friend will look at Clause 2, Sub-section (2), of the original Bill, be will see that that provided that persons appointed should continue. It was recognised that people appointed to important posts abroad should have their official heads cut off, as it were, automatically, at the end of the year. With regard to this new Clause, as the hon. Gentleman who moved it said, so far as posts in this country are concerned most of them do not impede the ordinary work of a Member of Parliament, and may impede as little or less work connected with the war effort, which many Members do in ordinary circumstances. The difficulty we feel about this fixed-term proposal, as I see it, is that there is a certain unreality in fixing a term when you are appointing a man to the sort of work or position that would be likely to come under this Bill. We know that Ambassadors, entitled to hold office under the Crown, are not disqualified. That would be a very typical case. As I have said, there seems to be a certain unreality about appointing an Ambassador for a period of one year. The mover of the Clause has suggested three years. I agree that that is a substantial period. It may be that substantial progress with the war will be made by the end of the next three years. There is no reason why we should not hope that we may be getting into a period when all this business will come to an end, but there is a certain unreality about the question of imposing a fixed term designed to be shorter than the war.

The other point is one which may or may not influence people's minds very much, but I think it is one that has some substance. Whether the period were one year or three years, there would come a time when the question would be raised whether the Member concerned should continue in the position, and a special Resolution would be required. If he held a position in some foreign country, there might be very considerable misunderstanding, and there might be a Debate which all parts of the House might think was undesirable. That is another reason against the hon. Member's proposal. These appointments are limited by the emergency, but we feel that a further limitation such as that suggested would create the difficulties to which I have referred, and, therefore, I hope the hon. Member will not press the new Clause.

Sir Dennis Herbert (Watford)

There is one point that I ought to bring out here. It is that the new Clause which is now before the Committee—at any rate, according to the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General—does not, in my view, carry out what was the suggestion made by the Select Committee. My impression was—and certainly it was the intention of the Committee in making this suggestion—that the immunity from the necesssity of ceasing to be a Member of the House should not continue for more than a certain period of years. We did not for a moment wish to suggest that if a Member was appointed to some post abroad, that post must be limited to a certain number of years. The Member would be appointed to that post with the advantage of a certificate which relieved him from losing his seat in the House. All we wanted was that if he remained in that post for more than a certain period at a time, he should, unless it was otherwise decided, then come under the original disqualification and cease to be a Member of the House. I think we ought to hear from the Attorney-General what is the Government's view.

The Attorney-General

I had not misunderstood the new Clause, although I may have used words which gave the impression that I had. I was assuming that the Member would have very good grounds for wanting to retain his seat, and, therefore, if he did, he would have to give up the post.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.