HC Deb 10 February 1943 vol 386 cc1354-6

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 is very familiar with the subject of this Bill, which renews the Act introduced some two years ago the broad purpose of which was to enable Members to undertake work under the Crown connected with the war and during the war without being forced to resign their seats under the House of Commons Disqualification Act. The original Bill was referred to and was considered by the Committee which sat under the ex-Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means. Certain recommendations were made, all of which were discussed and some of which were debated in the renewing Bill last year. I think the most important of the recommendations which were embodied in the Bill of last year was the limitation on the number of Members who could, on the certificate of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, take these appointments without incurring the penalties of the Disqualification Act. The limit was put at 25. The Government, of course, appreciate the anxiety of the House that excessive use should not be made of this power. The number when the last Bill was before the House was 18 and the number to-day is the same. Three or four have dropped out for one reason or another, and three or four have come in, but on balance there is no increase in the number of those who are exempted by a certificate under the original Act. The Bill simply continues the, Act for another year. The various points that are raised under it were fully discussed on the two previous occasions, and I do not think the House would wish me to go into any detailed recapitulation of the arguments on one side or the other.

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

The situation is not quite the same as when the original Act was passed. We have gone farther into the war, and we still cannot see the end of it, which may be some time distant. If it is the intention of the Government to continue this Measure year by year, and, upon the certificate only of the Prime Minister, which may be given for a variety of reasons—into some of which it would be interesting to go, considering the record of the individual certificatees—to allow this to go on until the end of the war, the position will be somewhat serious for the constituencies represented by hon. Members who may now be thousands of miles away from this House and cannot attend to the needs of those constituents. There may be a very good reason why certain hon. Members should, in taking up appointments which they would ordinarily have been glad to accept and at the same time give up their seats in this House, continue to be nominal Members of this House while holding paid appointments overseas under the Grown. There are hon. Members who come under the Bill whom we see very seldom. Even if they return to this country, we hardly ever have the opportunity of finding out from them exactly what their duties consist of overseas and what they have been doing there. Whether it is possible for their constituents to interrogate them on various matter of interest to those constituents I do not know, but I am aware, and the House will be aware, that such Members might, to all intents and purposes; cease to be Members of this House, so far as their usefulness to this House and to their constituents is concerned.

I do not want to oppose the Bill, but I do ask the Government and the Prime Minister in particular earnestly to consider whether they ought to continue the grant- ing of these certificates and to continue bringing their Bills before this House and in that way create a situation which might be undesirable if the war lasts much longer. If hon. Members are given permission to serve their country overseas, they ought, on accepting that position, give up their seats in this House. I believe it is difficult, even in the case of hon. Members serving in the Forces, to carry on the two jobs at the same time. Many hon. Members who have been serving' in military capacities overseas have now returned to this House for one reason alone, which is that they consider their main duty is to their constituents and to Parliament. I hope that the Government will be able to give us a more reassuring reply than the Attorney General has given in trying to persuade us to give a second Reading to the Bill.

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

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day.—[Mr. Adamson.]