§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [10th February],"That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[The Attorney-General.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
May I in the first place draw attention to the copy of Hansard which I have in my hand? I seem to have lost a "W" out of my name but, in place of it, I have gained a lieutenant-colonelcy.* I hope a correction may be made in a later edition. While listening to the Debate yesterday I noticed that the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said he would have opposed the Bill if he had given notice to the Government of his intention to do so. That seems to me a quite extraordinary attitude to be taken by a person who made the speech which the hon. Member made. He was followed very soon afterwards by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), who said that if there were a Division he, most certainly, would go into the Lobby against the Second Reading. I think this is a most serious matter, and I should like to bring before the House one or two considerations which I think it will be well advised to bear in mind. There are 20 Members of Parliament who are not devoting their time to the House and who have received certificates—one has received two. I estimate that that disfranchises no fewer than between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 people. The Leader of the House might say that these Members have all, probably, made arrangements for their correspondence to be dealt with by someone else, but any Member of Parliament who is a busy Member, has his time fully occupied in dealing with correspondence from his own constituency alone. Another thing that is possibly influencing the Government in continuing this Act of 1941 cannot really and truly be said to arise, from its actual wording. It says:If it is certified by the First Lord of the Treasury that the appointment of any person being a Member of the Commons. House of Parliament to any office or place under the Crown is required in the public interest for purposes connected with the prosecution of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged.
§ *[The hon. Member was erroneously designated as LIEUT.-COLONEL BOLES (Wells).]2087
§ I wonder whether the House really feels that we should not be more vigilant now, than we were in that time of crisis when, after a good deal of discussion and struggle and debate, the Act got through the House. I am not at all disposed to accept the view that the crisis now is such that this Bill should be passed. I wonder, having regard to the fact that 19 out of these 20 Members of Parliament, if the Bill were not passed would be vacating Tory seats, whether there is son fear in the mind of the Government that they would have to fight 19 by-elections, with the very serious results that the Government is experiencing in all the by-elections it is now fighting. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) made a most startling speech. It seems clear that the House was shocked, and it is obvious that it created a furore in the Press, and I feel that we cannot just allow the case to go unanswered.
§ I am a relatively new Member, and I was particularly shocked that the House had allowed itself to get into the position in which he alleged it was. I do not feel inclined to be put off by high-sounding phrases and words from the right hon. Gentleman. I am wondering how much support I might get from all Members who are jealous of their responsibility and of the dignity and prestige of the House if we asked for an inquiry by a Select Committee into the charges made by my hon. Friend. I hope the Government will agree with that. This is an important constitutional issue. In the old days, the King obtained power by placing men in various offices. I feel frankly and strongly that under this Bill we are fighting to put the right to appoint up to 25 statesmen into the hands of the Prime Minister, and I think the House, apart altogether from party—it must not be a party matter at all—has to look to its laurels in this matter. The Government are entitled to be the Government so long as they command a majority in the House, but they must not get that majority by having a very large number of people in subordinate posts who are, to use my hon. Friend's words, directly or indirectly interested in certain benefits which arise from being attached to the Government.
§ It is obvious that a certain furore arose over my hon. Friend's suggestion that cer- 2088 tain Parliamentary private secretaries had a particular reason for being in that position. It is well known to hon. Members that Ministers and Under-Secretaries have been responsible for taking their Parliamentary private secretaries out of this country to various places that they visited. As a relatively new Member, I should have thought that the place for a Parliamentary private secretary was here, particularly in the absence of his Minister abroad. I understand, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether it is so, that there are a certain number of Members of the House who can be described as members of the Salvage Committee. Have they received certificates from the Prime Minister, or were they not necessary? In this matter I am in the position of one who does not want to take sides. I do not want to say that the Prime Minister is right or that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is right. I feel, like an ordinary independent Member of the House, that three things should happen. First, we should ask for the regular production by His Majesty's Government of the expenses' accounts of Members of Parliament, including what they get from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Second, the House, having listened to me so patiently, should be persuaded that the Bill should be rejected. Third, we should have an inquiry by a Select Committee. I hope that I shall find other hon. Members supporting the views that I have put forward.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I want to stand between the Government and the House only for a few minutes. [Laughter.] My hon Friend has no reason to laugh, although when people say they are going to speak for a few minutes they usually speak for half an hour. I am hopeful, without having any reason to expect it, that the suggestion I have to make will be accepted by the Government. If it is not patronising to do so, I should like to say that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) seems to have put most admirably the House of Commons point of view. He is entitled to say what he did. I would also, although I differ line by line from what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said, protest against the idea that we have reached the point when we should be mealy-mouthed 2089 in this House. If a Member, whether my hon. Friend above the Gangway or my hon. Friend behind me, uses language such as at one time we always used in this House, do not let anybody get up and tell him to be what Mr. St. John Ervine called "so refined." From a constitutional point of view, we can look at this matter in two compartments. In the first place, it was always the case in my recollection of the House, and long before I can recollect the House, that certain ex-Ministers, for example, would be asked if they would undertake, on a voluntary basis, certain official duties mainly of an advisory character. The last example of that was Lord Balfour, when he was Mr. Balfour in the 1906 Parliament. He had a great deal to do with the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and he was asked, despite the tremendous feeling between the Liberal and Tory Parties at the time, and although he was Leader of the Opposition, whether he would continue to be a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence. As such he saw all official papers and things of that kind. That is a perfectly proper action for an ex-Minister or any Member of this House to take. Although it may be to some extent beside the case, I represent the Government on an international Committee, and it is legitimate to say that those of us who have been doing that sort of work in the past are entitled to do it in the present.
That is a different thing from what is mainly at issue in this Bill, and I could not put it better than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton put it. The point is really this: is it right from the point of view of the House of Commons, as well as from the point of view of the Government, of the constituency, and of the position and reputation of the Member himself, that any Member of this House, not being a Minister, should spend years overseas representing His Majesty in some important capacity and unable to attend to his work here? That is the issue. As it happens that all those coming within that category are personal friends of mine, and as they are not present in the House, I propose to make no comment upon their absence. It is a matter they must settle for themselves. It is fair to say, however—and none of them can resent it—that the continuance of their position overseas 2090 and, therefore, the continuance of their inability to attend to the ordinary day-to-day work of a Member of this House, must cause criticism among their constituents. All of us, whether we be Tories or Socialists, who are supporters of the Government, would be put in a very awkward position if the electors at an election meeting asked, "Is it the case that there are a number of Members of your House who represent the Government in important capacities abroad and who are not Ministers? Do you think that that is a good thing for the House of Commons?" What would we reply? I know of no reply.
Can anybody say it is a good thing for the House of Commons? One might get out of the question by saying, "These are special cases and special circumstances, and these people have special qualities." I do not want to make any reflection on them, but I frankly question whether they have special qualities. I do not know of any special qualities in one or two cases that entitle them to be where they are, but that is a matter between them and the Prime Minister. I venture to say to my right hon. Friend, once again at the risk of being effusive, that he is very quick to sense the feeling of this House, and, unlike some leaders, he is not content to resist a strong and moral feeling of a non-party character in any direction. I would ask him, therefore, whether he will consider saying that, in view of the obviously genuine feeling that has been expressed in more than one quarter of the House, the Government will give further consideration to this matter—that, even though it may be necessary for the Government to ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading to-day, they will give serious consideration to the question of asking for it another year should the war last as long.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I assure the House that I will not detain the right hon. Gentleman for many minutes, but I want to make this contribution not only because I believe this Bill to be bad policy, but because I believe its effect on the constituencies concerned is bad and that they are feeling very strongly about it. I say that for deliberate reasons. I have no particular interest in Rossendale, although I nearly had in the last election. The right hon. Member for Rossendale (Sir R. Cross) has not been available to 2091 his constituents for many years; I believe it is three or four years. I was asked to visit Rossendale last Sunday. I went and heard from friends of mine, Liberals and Conservatives, what they thought about the situation. They feel that they have been cheated by the House of Commons and by this Measure. In fact, one subtle remark made to me by a prominent Liberal was, "We are a sort of Sudeten Lancastrians."
§ Mr. Sutcliffe (Royton)
May I say that I have been looking after the Rossendale Division, on behalf of the right hon. Member, since he left this country in June, 1941, which is hardly three or four years ago? I have dealt with all the correspondence, which is considerable, and have gone whenever possible to visit the constituency. The same, I think, applies to the others who are away. Some Member is looking after their constituency in their absence.
§ Mr. Walkden
I have not the least doubt that the hon. Gentleman has done very well but I am sure he will recognise that he is only a substitute for the Member who was returned in 1935. The feeling in Rossendale is that their Member ought to be here, in the British Parliament, representing them. They feel that somebody else who is not a Member of Parliament could do whatever he is doing in Australia for the Government. It was suggested that he would never be missed in Australia, but I do not say that. I say that his job is here. He was a Minister, and he ought to be fulfilling his Parliamentary functions. That is precisely what is being said by the citizens of Rossendale.
Let me mention one other aspect of the situation. Travelling up this morning by tube I met one or two friends of mine. I suppose they would describe themselves as "something in the City," a term which covers a multitude of trades and professions. I heard them passing remarks about the reports of the Debate which took place on this Bill yesterday, and one or two of them seemed to have information, of which I was not fully informed, that there are two or three Parliamentary private secretaries who, if they are not already away, will be sent from this country, for Heaven knows what reason, along with the Parliamentary Secretaries or Ministers with whom they are associated. 2092 When they asked me why it was necessary for those P.P.S.'s to go, I could find no explanation or answer, and I felt it was a question of: "Was their journey really necessary?" They had a right as citizens to ask where those representatives of the British people—
§ Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? He is making suggestions to the House of which I think the majority of us have not the slightest knowledge. He should specify the cases which he has in mind so that the House will be in possession of the facts.
§ Mr. Walkden
I do not know the particular constituencies. I know that two or three people have recently disappeared for different reasons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?" and "Name."] They have been P.P.S.'s. Their names I know, but it is difficult to associate them with their particular constituencies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name the Ministers."] There are Ministers, but I am referring to the P.P.S.'s. [HON. MEMBERS: "To which Ministers?"] Might I ask where the P.P.S. to the Minister of Supply is at this moment, the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division (Mr. Leonard)? I believe that is one example. Is he not away in America? [Interruption. There is a self-confessed Member here who has been out of the country. I do not know who authorised him to go, but he went with a Minister. I believe a P.P.S. is usually an active person, a sort of liaison officer between Members of this House and a Minister, and his job is here in the House of Commons, not serving abroad.
§ Mr. Arthur Jenkins (Pontypool)
To the best of my recollection the House was not sitting while I was out of the country with the Deputy-Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Walkden
For example, I would not blame the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Brigadier Harvie Watt), who is P.P.S. to the Prime Minister, for joining in the various visits that the Prime Minister has to make abroad, but the Prime Minister never takes the hon. and gallant Member with him. The hon. and gallant Member remains here and sees to it that hon. Members are kept fully informed from day to day. What is more, he is more genial, kindly and industrious in all the duties he performs. I have referred to the right 2093 hon. Member for Rossendale. I have tried to cover two or three people whose names come to me, but there are others who could be added to the list. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that this is not a party issue at all. We are not challenging this as members of a particular party, or perhaps because the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) made such a challenging speech yesterday. We feel that it is thoroughly bad policy and that it has a bad effect on the electorate; and it is, we say, unfortunate, as certain constituencies to which I have referred are feeling very strongly about it.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
I think that the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) was a little off the point when he was discussing the matter of Parliamentary private secretaries. I sometimes think, as one who does not belong to those august circles, that there ought to be some society for the protection of them, some dumb friends' league. Really, we are not discussing the question of Ministers who go abroad for a few weeks upon a matter of important business and who are so wise or so imprudent—depending on the person—as to take their Parliamentary private secretaries: We are discussing Ministers who are appointed to places of profit under the Crown and who are sent abroad for periods of years when they still remain. Members of this House.
§ Earl Winterton
May I correct my hon. and gallant Friend on a point of nomenclature? They are not Ministers. That is exactly what they are not. They are Private Members and they have not Ministerial rank in this House.
§ Major Petherick
I am glad of the Noble Lord's interruption. There are Ministers of State who have peculiar positions, something between a civil servant, a Colonial Governor and a Cabinet Minister, and, of course, there are others. It is very encouraging to notice in the course of the Debate that all parties in the House, with the exception, perhaps, of those who are in the Government, join together in asserting what is, in fact, a most important constitutional safeguard. I think on every possible occasion when such a matter as this comes up, it is right and proper that the House of Commons should take vigilant action.
2094 May I for a moment try to answer one main defence of the Bill, which is that it is just as proper that a man should serve his country abroad, if he is a Member of Parliament, in some important position, as that he should serve it in the Fighting Forces? It seems to me that there is some essential difference which we should endeavour to bring out. At the beginning of the war many hon. Members felt that we had to give the Executive very much greater powers in the earlier stages of the war, and that as the country was very short of officers it was right, on balance, and a narrow balance at that, perhaps, to go back to the Army or the Navy or the Air Force, if we had been members of the Forces before or to join the Forces if we had not. Every hon. Member must make his own decision in such matters and we cannot lay down any general rule; but we have reached a rather different stage of the war now. It seems more and more that the duty of a Member of Parliament is here in this House of Commons.
There are other factors. If he is a young Member, fit and strong enough to be a fighter in the front line, that is a motive which would justify him in staying in the Army. If he can manage to combine a Staff job, or even a job in a unit, with his duties as Member of Parliament, that is another matter. If he is unable to be in the front line or to combine those jobs, and can only do the Staff job, and that Staff job happens to be abroad, can we not look upon the House of Commons as a Staff job in itself? Anybody within reason who is efficient can do a Staff job, but only 615 persons can be Members of Parliament. That seems to be some sort of answer to that general thesis which has been put up on behalf of the Government in favour of the Bill.
The Bill mainly covers those Members, or at least we are discussing those Members, who have gone to positions abroad. I think that cases such as that of the Junior Member for Cambridge University (Professor A. V. Hill), who is on some sort of Government advisory board, could be dealt with in quite another way. It is nearly always wrong to frame legislation to fit persons and not situations which are concerned with matters of great collective importance. We always get into trouble if we allow anything of that nature. I come to two main points. Firstly, is it desirable that these Members should go abroad? The answer is that 2095 it may or may not be, depending on the person and depending on the national interest. The second point is, are these distinguished Members of ours the only persons available for those jobs? I very much doubt if that is the case. We have another place which provides at any moment a wealth of talent which is hardly drawn upon in normal times or even in war-time, and there are many outside either House. But what I am coming to is this: Is it right that a Member of Parliament, whose duty is in the Commons House of Parliament, should be away for years together? I may be allowed to protest against this system of perambulating pro-consuls. I think it is constitutionally undesirable, but that is by the way.
Is it desirable in principle that for a period of several years together Members of the House of Commons should be away from their own functions? They had a great deal of trouble in France before the war arising from the very fact that Members of the Chamber or the Senate would sometimes be sent abroad as Colonial Governors and they were then still playing politics. I am not for a moment suggesting that any of our Members abroad are doing that. The danger is that they might. They have a foot in politics and a foot in administration, and that involves a great constitutional principle which we should maintain most carefully. Supposing it is desirable on principle to send these Members abroad and we say that we must have Mr. So-and-so, who is a Member of the House of Commons. If we take that view I think we must consider it a step further. There are three main aspects of this situation. The first is that the Member of Parliament concerned, as the Noble Lord quite rightly said, must make up his own mind. I cannot conceive that I should be happy in going abroad for so long and neglecting my constituents, wondering how they were getting on and feeling that I had completely lost touch with them while nominally remaining a Member of this House. The second point is that the work of Parliament must inevitably suffer if we are to take 20 persons of distinction—Privy Councillors, ex-Cabinet Ministers in many cases—from Parliament at a very vital period. It seems absolutely certain that the general work of the House must be to same extent less forcefully 2096 carried on and carried on with less experienced people.
Finally, I come to the position of the constituency, which has been mentioned by many Members in the course of this Debate. The constituency is completely disfranchised. There is nobody who can speak for the hon. Member who is absent from Parliament. Another Member, up to his eyes with his own work, may be good enough to take over the absent Member's correspondence, but that is not the same thing. Furthermore, he may have an admirable wife—some Members have—and a very good agent, but once again that is not the same, because the personal touch is not there. There is the difficulty of borderline cases, of which we are all aware, when one needs to go to the Minister personally to get satisfaction. The result is that these cases will clearly go by default. In conclusion, I may say that this Bill is constitutionally undesirable. It was framed to meet a special situation. I do not say that the situation has now ceased, but none the less I believe that the Government, if I may respectfully suggest it, should between now and the Committee stage seriously consider whether they cannot limit the period of exemption for which these certificates are granted. I urge them very strongly to do that, particularly in view of the strong feeling on constitutional grounds which has been expressed from all sides of the House.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Following what the hon. and gallant Member has just said I would like to put one or two questions to the Leader of the House, who is about to reply. Firstly, if this Bill is passed now it will undoubtedly run for a year. In view of the feeling of the House, the undoubtedly strong feeling that has been expressed from all sides, could we get an assurance from the Government that although the Bill when it becomes an Act will allow this matter to run for a full year, the Government will take steps to try to end this situation at a much earlier date? I realise that it would be grossly unfair if the system were cut off suddenly now. These Members have gone abroad with the Prime Minister's certificate, with, as they think, the approval of the House, and it will take some time to reduce the situation so that such a large number are not spread all over the 2097 world. I think a year is too long. It would, I think, meet the feeling of the House if the Leader of the House could give us some assurance that the Government will not sit back and say, "We have another year" and put the matter aside until then.
The other observation I have to make is this: A good deal of feeling has been aroused, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) said, by the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) yesterday. Half of his speech was a passionate defence of democracy and the other half, in my view, was a very grave disservice to the same cause, and I feel it only right that that view should be voiced before this Debate ends. I think on reflection the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who has great oratorical gifts, would be willing to admit that he was perhaps carried away by the exuberance of the occasion.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
No such thing. Had I not used strong language yesterday the House would not have been sufficiently seized of the gravity of this matter to-day.
§ Mr. Hall
In the minds of some there is a feeling that we have as a House something to hide, that Members have been receiving money for services or benefits of one kind or another to which they are not entitled, and Parliamentary private secretaries—I am not one myself—have been dragged into this in a rather peculiar way. We have, or so it seems to me, rather done a disservice to the issue, which, after all, is what matters, whether a constituency should be disfranchised for an unknown period because the Member has been sent abroad at the behest of the Prime Minister. Although I personally do not think it is essential that we should have a Select Committee of inquiry, something should be done, if possible, to allay public misgiving, because some people, at any rate, imagine that half of us are lining our pockets with Government money. That may be going on: all I can say is that none of it comes my way or, so far as I know, the way of anybody whom I talk to in this House. I come back to the one serious point, the kernel and core of this discussion, and ask the Leader of the House for an assurance that this matter will not be allowed to drag on for another year.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I do not think anyone would complain—certainly I would not—that the House has desired to have, and has had, a full discussion and examination of this question. I never concealed my view that this particular Measure was a Measure for exceptional times, and it seems to me absolutely right—in fact, I think the House would be lacking in its duty otherwise—that Members should be vigilant in the matter; and should express their criticisms if they desire to do so. At the same time, the House was a little hard on my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in accusing him of incivility; I know of no more civil colleague of mine. No doubt he was misled by the precedents of previous years, when his short speech was followed by only one which was shorter, but perhaps he did not realise that the feeling on this matter had changed since last year. I will answer a point made by one hon. Member, which I do not think really comes within the scope of the Bill, but which seems to be harassing him since his railway carriage conversation yesterday. So far as I know, no Parliamentary private secretary has really gone abroad with his Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I only know that in my particular case I have never taken a Parliamentary private secretary, and I cannot discover a case. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is one on this Bench now."] There may be, but I do not think that is a terrible crime. I do not see in the least how it can be described as a case of corruption. Quite frankly, the only reason why I did not take mine was that there was no room in the aeroplane. For a Minister going abroad on an important mission it is a great help to be able to talk over matters with a Parliamentary colleague.
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry to disagree with my right hon. Friend, but surely the point made in the Debate is one which should be irrefragable. It is that the Parliamentary private secretary is not, like an official secretary, appointed to help the Minister in his Department: his duty is in this House, to help the Minister here. I hope that Ministers will not get into the habit of taking their Parliamentary private secretaries all over the place.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is a distinct economy to take a Parliamentary private secretary rather than a civil servant with him when he is abroad?
§ Mr. Eden
I do not know; perhaps I will practise economy one day, and find out. I will go on with the point of the Debate. I find, rather to my surprise, that this list of Members of this House who are affected has not for some time been circulated. I suggest that if an hon. Member would be good enough to put a Question down, the list might well be circulated in Hansard. If that happened, we should allay quite a considerable amount of anxiety which exists in this House. Hon. Members talked about 20 Members being overseas—and these Members were at the same time described as placemen of the Government, which is a rather difficult geographical combination. Hon. Members seem to think it is a terrible thing that there should be these 20 overseas. There are not anything like 20 overseas. This list contains 20 in all, of whom 13 are available in this House and do their work as Members, like any of us. I was asked just now whether the Waste Food Board appointments came on this list. In fact, they both do: the two Members concerned, the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), are both included in the 20. The House must not think that all these 20 persons are in receipt of public money. It is said that they are paid by the Government, but a great many are in receipt of nothing at all. I have had a telegram to-day from my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mr. Hewlett), who is also one of the 20. I think I might read the telegram:I was appointed Controller of Dyestuffs on 12th November, 1941, I am in receipt of neither remuneration nor expenses. I will be grateful if you would mention this in Debate.I know there are several others exactly similarly placed. This list of 20, which was so horrifying, shrinks into smaller proportions when so analysed. Perhaps I could say this at the outset, in reply to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). I agree that 2100 this was done for exceptional times and that we ought to be very watchful about it, and I am prepared to say "Yes" to the question which the Noble Lord put to me just now. The question was, whether the Cabinet would take into consideration the observations made in various speeches in this Debate and the very obvious feeling that this particular Measure, granted in an emergency, ought not to be continued indefinitely. I undertake that between now and the next occasion we will consider all that has been said in the Debate, and the Cabinet will go into the whole question. I cannot say what will be the position a year from now. The Government may or may not need these Members, but if we do decide that we need this Measure again we shall come and state our case to the House. I cannot say whether we shall need it or not: that depends upon the course of events in the next 12 months.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Would my right hon. Friend consider amending this present Bill, so that it runs for only six months?
§ Mr. Eden
I really cannot do that at this stage. I must ask the House to let us have this Bill. I think that is reasonable. When this Measure has been approved by the House I am prepared to say that between now and when we come to the House again for a similar Measure, the whole matter will be considered by the Government. If we do come and ask for it again, we will state our case, and the House can take its decision. May I say this to the House? I would be sorry if hon. Members were to take the view that in no circumstances were Members of this House to combine their duties here with various forms of national service in wartime. I think that would be a great mistake. We have taken, broadly, the view that, as long as there is no opposition, an hon. Member should have a certain kind of opportunity for doing that, and I should be sorry if we changed that, because there have been some very remarkable successes as a result. The constituency argument is a very formidable one, and, if the absence goes on too long, it may become completely overwhelming. That is possible, but, even so, I would say to hon. Members that in many cases hon. Members are best left to deal with each other. It has often been my experience. 2101 If you think you know more about an hon. Member's relationship with his constituency than the hon. Member himself, you may find that you are wrong. This Bill does not say that those who take these offices must remain Members of Parliament. It gives them power, if they so decide, to do that, and it is an opportunity which they would not otherwise have. It would be wrong in my judgment—
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw) rose—
§ Mr. Eden
I have an argument to develop and hon. Members can put questions if they like later. It would be wrong, I think, if it were possible for this practice to be widely extended. I think that would be a really dangerous situation, because you may reach the point where the Government, by creating a number of offices, supposing they were not abroad but here, would have a larger numerical hold on the House than it was entitled to have, and that is why the Select Committee, I think quite rightly, advised that the number should be limited. It was in pursuance of this recommendation that the Government fixed a limit of 25, which is still in force. There are now 20, and I can give the House the assurance that we have no intention of trying to increase that number or anything of the kind. On the contrary, if there is a tendency, it is much more likely to be the other way.
I think I must, as Leader of the House, say a word on behalf of those who were attacked yesterday, and in particular the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. M. MacDonald). I should have thought that this was just an example—and I say this because I have been in Canada fairly recently—of a case where an hon. Member of this House has been of quite invaluable service. In fact, I was told so in Canada and in the United States, and I cannot see why, when the right hon. Gentleman comes back to the House, he will be any less important a Member for the experience which he has gained there. I think I can say the same thing about the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Ben 2102 Smith) who has just begun his work in Washington. I have had exactly similar reports from Americans who have come here in the last few weeks—that his appointment has been absolutely justified. There is one right hon. Member who does not come under the Bill but who was attacked yesterday, the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Samuel Hoare). If the House will cast its mind back to the time he went there as Ambassador, I wonder how long hon. Members thought he would be our Ambassador in a neutral capital? I had the greatest doubts, and I would not myself have wagered very much on six months. Well, he is still there, and he is entitled, I think, to a share of the credit, and a great share.
§ Mr. Bowles
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is keeping to the point. We are not saying that these hon. Members are not doing a very good job.
§ Mr. Eden
The charge was made. The right hon. Gentleman was attacked and I propose to reply. So far as the policy pursued in Spain is concerned, it is the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is not the Ambassaodr's policy. If hon. Members wish to make any attack, let them attack me, not an Ambassador who is not here to defend himself.
§ Mr. Eden
One other reference I must make. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) was also attacked. I think the hon. Gentleman was more than unjust to him. I am not going over the past, but I remember an afternoon in this House when, whatever our views at the particular time, a decision was taken by the right hon. Gentleman which was an extremely courageous decision, and I think all of us felt a sense of admiration for it, whether we agreed or did not agree. It was a very unpopular thing to do. I also recall the fact that he gained the D.S.O. as a junior officer in the Brigade of Guards. It was a remarkable achievement.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman seemed to me to treat my right hon. Friend as a person of no account [Interruption.] That is my impression, but I do not propose to pursue the point further, and I would not have said what I have said except that I feel that when people are not here there is an obligation on those who are here to be fair to them. There is one other matter which was more serious about which I must speak. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made one statement yesterday to which I must refer. He said this:Before the Government begin, it can reckon upon 200 Members supporting it in the Lobby, because of the financial interest or the expectation of financial interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1944; col. 1997, Vol. 396.]I must say, as Leader of the House, that I believe that statement to be absolutely and entirely without foundation. I think it should go out from the House that that is the feeling of this House.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman has brought no evidence. He comes down and makes a charge, a most serious charge, without a shred of evidence, and then says, "Let us have a Select Committee." Let us have some evidence. Of course, the Government would examine the evidence and decide what to do about it. We ought to be very careful not to make general charges of this very wide character in this way; that can only do us harm. I rest quite content with what the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said yesterday, that in his experience, and it is mine, the House is a pretty clean place. I say no more than that. All the Ministers and others were linked into this large number. I do not think people outside understand how very little difference there is, if any, between the financial position of an Under-Secretary and that of a back bench Member.
§ Mr. Eden
I was going to analyse them, briefly, for the benefit of those who do not know. A junior Minister gets £750 a year. Many Members of the public think he still draws his Member of Parliament salary. He does not, nor is he allowed to charge anything against 2104 expenses. He is probably a poorer man than a private Member of the House. I believe it to be generally true that most people who have held office in this country were not richer men as a result of it. I feel that that is something of which we ought to be proud. I could think of many distinguished statesmen who were in this House not so long ago who died poor men after a whole life of service to their country. That is one of the most cherished of our traditions, and we must guard it, and charges ought not to be made unless evidence is brought at once to substantiate them.
I do not understand where the P.P.S. comes into all this. I was once for a short time a P.P.S., and the only privilege I recall was that of writing a letter on Foreign Office notepaper instead of House of Commons notepaper. If there were any privileges I failed to take them.
§ Mr. Shinwell
What about the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter)?
§ Mr. Eden
I looked at it again. It is correct. My right hon. Friend does not come under the Bill because he is serving an international authority. If that was to be a wide or lasting or general practice, I agree the matter would have to be closely looked into. My right hon. and learned Friend gave the right answer in regard to the provisions of the Bill. Let me sum up the position as I see it. It is a matter for watchfulness, but I do not think it is a matter for exaggeration, and I feel, in running through some of the speeches, that there is a strain of exaggeration. I have noticed the speeches and the tone of them to-day. I ask hon. Members to let us have this Bill. I repeat my undertaking that, if they will, before we come to the House again—this is exactly why we are doing it in this way instead of having special arrangements made—we will examine the situation bearing in mind the sentiments of the House. I cannot pledge what the decision will be, but I pledge myself that if we decide to go ahead I will come and make a full case to the House. I hope that in these circumstances the House will let us have the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I can only speak again with the permission of the House, 2105 because I have exhausted my rights. I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, that he desires to meet the wishes of the House, but I would ask him to realise that he has not really gone very far. All he has said is that the Government will give consideration to this matter between now and this time next year, and that if they are in precisely the same position next year as they are now they will put the matter very fully before us. That is not going very far. If the right hon. Gentleman wants us to-day to be unanimous in this vote I suggest that he might go a little further than that. The House is not parting with the Bill. If it gives it a Second Reading to-day we shall have a Committee stage and the Third Reading. Could he not undertake that at any rate before the Third Reading of the Bill, he will give consideration to this matter, so that he might be able to tell us how long the Government really want this situation to continue? It may be, for instance, that before the Third Reading he could say, "We cannot bring these men home. We cannot at once stop all these people who are working for the country, but the situation may be different in six months' time." Therefore, instead of letting the Bill run for a year now, we could make it run for six months with a view to reconsidering it. If the right hon. Gentleman, without pledging himself now, were to say that before the Bill reached the Committee stage or the Third Reading he would be in a position to consider the matter and to give some sort of indication, very likely my hon. Friends might, in these circumstances, not wish to divide against the Bill.
§ Mr. Eden
I really cannot do that. I have to consider the position of Members who are under this Bill and who are, in perfectly good faith, abroad doing service. I think that the undertaking I gave is as much as can reasonably be asked of the Government. All that I ask is that we should be allowed to have the Bill. Nobody denies the emergency. This is almost the only thing with which I disagreed with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) yesterday. The war emergency is as great as it was last year, and in some respects it is greater. For instance, I would not change the position of Ambassador at Madrid at the moment. I would regard it as a very unfortunate disservice. I ask to have this Bill for 2106 another year and again I undertake that everything will be considered, and if we come to the House—I cannot say that we shall—then a full explanation will be given.
§ Mr. Maxton
I did not attempt to suggest that the emergency was less but that the problems here were now becoming more important than problems abroad. Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider this, because it is primarily a House of Commons matter, and it is with the welfare of the House that I am concerned? Would he consider some Amendment on the Committee stage to place it within the power of the House to decide, inside the 12 months if necessary, when this process should be terminated? Some such words as "or on such date as shall be determined by Resolution of the House of Commons" or something of that description would meet the case.
§ Mr. Eden
I will consider what the hon. Member has said, but I really do not think that that is practicable. The period is not a long one. We shall have to reexamine the situation before we come back to the House, and the period will not be long, anyhow. If in the interval the emergency is at an end, another situation will arise. I do not think it unreasonable, in view of the opinion of the House on this matter, to let us have the Bill under the conditions I have suggested.
§ Major Mills (New Forest and Christchurch)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Are all hon. Members who have spoken to be allowed to make a second speech? Having fired their right barrel, are they to be allowed to fire their left barrel also?
The hon. Member was only asking a question, and I was going to stop him if he had gone on longer.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
It is said that these men are abroad doing very useful work. They have gone out in reliance upon the good faith of the Government in asking them to go on these services. If they have gone out on a certificate given by the Government under a Statute which is now running out they must have gone out knowing that that is all the certificate that they have got. The Government now have three or six 2107 months in the course of which they can say to some of these gentlemen, "If you are going to stay on any longer in the service you will have to serve the country a little more by giving up membership of this House." I do not think we are asking the right hon. Gentleman for very much.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
While I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has promised to look into this matter fully before he brings it to the House again, I do not think that he dealt with the situation at all satisfactorily. I particularly want to refer to one or two points of the attack on the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). In my opinion, and in the opinion of a great number of people in this country and in this House, he served a useful purpose in making the speech he did yesterday. I cannot understand the Leader of the House accusing my hon. Friend of wrong imputations against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper). I have taken the trouble to look up what my hon. Friend said:Take, for example, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper). He is always in office. Nobody knows why. He gets one office after another. He leaves them all with a worse reputation than when he entered them. He went out to the East and came back and made a report. Why is he kept in the Government—because he made a report on Singapore which they did not want to hear?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1944, col. 1995, Vol. 396.]Nothing that the hon. Member said was derogatory to the right hon. Gentleman except that in his opinion—[Laughter]. Why do hon. Members opposite always laugh before I finish a sentence? The point I want to make is that the only good thing the right hon. Member has done, the report on Singapore, the Government have suppressed. Naturally, the suspicion is widely abroad that the reason why he is kept in office is because it would be so thoroughly inconvenient to have him in opposition. That is the argument on this side of the House about these appointments which were described as the Prime Minister's Gestapo. The Prime Minister gets rid of a Minister and rather than have him come and do a useful job in office in helping to make the House of Commons a constructive and critical body, he is banished to the far ends of the earth at a salary of £5,000 a year or so. The 2108 second point which the Leader of the House made was about the Parliamentary private secretaries. I think it is quite wrong to say my hon. Friend accused them of what is tantamount to financial graft and I draw the attention of the House to what he did say as reported in Hansard:Before the Government begins, it can reckon upon 200 Members supporting it in the Lobby because of financial interest or the expectation of financial interest.That seems to me to be a perfectly fair observation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly it is fair. Why does a man become a Parliamentary private secretary? The answer is that he expects one day to be a Minister. That is one of the reasons why I do not become one. He does not do it for any other reason. That is an expectation of financial benefit. My hon. Friend went on to say that they expect benefits. Of course they expect benefits, and the main complaint we have is that practically speaking 200 people are only here in support of the Government and will only speak in support of the Government. I know there is a bit of dodging about at Question time when a Parliamentary private secretary comes over here and appears to be in opposition and then goes back, but when there is dirty business afoot—and I know this because I have had some jobs to do in the House—[Laughter.] I did not mean it that way—can you get a Parliamentary private secretary to join in an attack on the Government, although he knows it is perfectly fair? He says, "Oh, no, I cannot do that, because I am a Parliamentary private secretary." They all say it quite frankly. Everyone knows that the moment a Member becomes a Parliamentary private secretary he will only address the House for a moment in order to get into the local Press. That is, roughly speaking, all he does.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order to suggest that the reason why hon. Members of this House support the Government is the expectation of financial interest and not their desire to serve their country?
I do not think that was said. The position of Parliamentary private secretaries is getting a little far from the Debate.
§ Mr. Stokes
The point I want to get on to is this question of expense. I have always understood that the House of 2109 Commons was supposed to be the watchdog of the country's purse and to see to it that money was not squandered. I ask the Leader of the House why it is considered to be an advantage to have these plenipotentiaries who go abroad? I cannot believe, that, however good they are, they are better than the trained Ambassadors. I examined the salary position with regard to the right hon. Member for Madrid—as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) described him yesterday. The ordinary Ambassador's salary in Madrid is £2,500, subject to tax, plus £4,100 expenses. If you add those two together it means, in effect that the ordinary Ambassador, the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) was receiving about £5,000 a year. The right hon. Member for Chelsea, by his elevation to Madrid, is really the richest man in England, although he lives in Madrid. He has no salary because, having got round the difficulty by paying him £8,100 in expenses, it is free of tax. If you gross that up it is in the order of £160,000 gross. [HON. MEMBERS: "More than that."] Well, it is really £260,000, but it does not matter. The thing is perfectly extravagant and I do not see how you can justify getting rid of somebody you do not want by sending him away to a foreign country with any mandate you like, simply on the Prime Minister's certificate.
§ Mr. Stokes
I cannot answer that point; I am comparing what he gets with what an ordinary Ambassador would get under the same conditions and I have never had a satisfactory answer, but that is not unusual. I do not want to detain the House very much more but I do feel—
The hon. Member is carrying on a conversation with other Members; will he please continue his speech?
§ Mr. Stokes
That has put me off even more. I say this in all seriousness and I have stayed at great inconvenience to join in this Debate. I want to say, with great respect to the Leader of the House, that the sense of the House, quite obviously, is against this Bill. It may have been necessary at certain times but it is doubtful if it is necessary now. It leads 2110 to all sorts of possibilities and irregularities of the kind we do not like, and reminds me of an old Chinese proverb,A fish starts rotting at its head.I am glad to say that this House is so much on its toes at present as to insist that this House shall not start rotting at its head.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
The point I want to put is one of substance. This is not the first Debate which the House of Commons has had on this subject of the growth in the number of place men. There was a Debate in the middle of the last century when Mr. Dunning put forward a Motion that the Members of the House of Commons, occupying offices of profit, should never at any time exceed four. The House did not accept that. To-day, the number of Ministerial posts is somewhere about 90 and there are many other posts of one sort or another, bearing financial benefits, which are within the gift of the Crown.
Let me say at once, that I do not want to make any suggestion of corruption or bribery. It is not necessary to establish bribery or corruption to demonstrate that it is undesirable in principle that more than a limited number of Members of Parliament should occupy offices of profit. I do not suggest for a moment that a man is bribed by office, or bribed by the promise of profit to go into the Government Lobby. But it lies in the nature of things that a man who receives benefit from others is grateful for them. It is recognised that it is desirable to restrict offices of profit under the Crown, and in time of peace there is always a party on one side of the House trying to correct any errors or wrongdoings on the other side. There is a check upon the extent to which this thing might go. I think we are entitled, when we have a Coalition Government in office and when the natural check which operates in time of peace does not operate in time of war, to say that that makes it more necessary, not less necessary, that the Government itself should be vigilant and keen to reduce the number of place men occupying offices of profit. I feel in view of what the Leader of the House has said that we cannot do other than give this Bill a Second Reading, but I hope that between now and next year consideration will be given to the point that a thing which is generally undesirable in peace time is doubly undesirable 2111 in time of war because of the absence of ordinary checks.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Is the right hon. Gentleman going to make no advance whatsoever—to use the auctioneer's phrase—on the statement made by him, and is all he promises that between now and a year ahead the Government will do what they ought to have done before, examine the position? That is all the right hon. man said, as I understood him. He has given no assurance. May I suggest that some hon. Members will then have been
|Division No. 4.||AYES.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Cannock)||Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Hepburn, Major P. G. T. Buchan-||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Hicks, E. G.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Pym, L. R.|
|Beattie, F. (Cathcart)||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Beaumont, Hubert (Batley)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Berry, Hon G. L. (Buckingham)||Hughes, R. Moelwyn||Ritson, J.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford)||Robertson, D. (Streatham)|
|Bower, Norman (Harrow)||James, Admiral Sir W. (Ports'th, N.)||Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Savory, Professor D. L.|
|Burden, T. W.||Keeling, E. H.||Shakespeare, Sir G. H.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.||King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.|
|Cary, R. A.||Kirby, B. V.||Southby, Comdr. Sir A. R. J.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Lawson, J. J. (Chester-le-Street)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Linstead, H. N.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Conant, Major R. J. E.||Locker-Lampson, Commander O. S.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Longhurst, Captain H. C.||Tate, Mrs. Mavis C.|
|Critchley, A.||McCorquodale, Malcolm S.||Thomas, I. (Keighley)|
|Crookshank Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Macdonald, Captain Peter (I. of W.)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Douglas, F. C. R.||McEntee, V. la T.||Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)|
|Drewe, C.||Manningham-Buller, Major R. E.||Thorneycroft, Major G. E. P. (Stafford)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Marlowe, Lt.-Col. A.||Touche, G. C.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Mathers, G.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Elliston, Captain Sir G. S.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.|
|Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.)||Messer, F.||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Galbraith, Comdr. T. D.||Mills, Colonel J. D. (New Forest)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Molson, A. H. E.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Grant-Ferris, Wing-Commander R.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Guy, W. H.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—|
|Mr. Boulton and Mr. A. Young.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Granville, E. L.||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham (St. M.)|
|Bevan, A. (Ebbw Vale)||Horabin, T. L.||Walkden, E. (Doncaster)|
|Buchanan, G.||Maxton, J.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Pritt, D. N.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:—|
|Mr. Stokes and Mr. Bowles.|
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]
§ Committee upon the next Sitting Day.