§ Before the end of January in any year at the beginning of which the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, is in force, the Treasury 563 shall lay before the Commons House of Parliament a return of all certificates issued under the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1941, which were in force at any time during the previous year, showing the person and the office or place under the Crown to which each certificate related and the amount of any salary and allowances payable to him in respect of that office or place, and indicating which (if any) of the certificates had ceased to be in force before the beginning of the year in which the return is laid.—[Mr. Eden.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This Clause has been put down in an attempt to meet a point which we thought was a good one and to give the Committee information which it ought to possess. The point is the same as is covered in the Clause on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). We have slightly altered the wording and the arrangement, but I think all the points of this Clause are covered. I think the House should have this information. I was a little surprised to find, on the Second Reading Debate, how little was known of this list of Members and I think the publication, in itself, has done a good deal to remove some exaggerated views as to the numbers and emoluments. By giving this information, I think we shall meet a desire that is felt in many parts of the Committee. I put the date earlier, because I thought it desirable that the House should have the list before, rather than after the Government come again to the House.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
It seems to me that most of this Debate has had something of the atmosphere of a hang-over from last week's Debate, or almost as though the Committee were killing time until it could hear the West Derbyshire election result. Even the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was unable to destroy this atmosphere with his usual tonic. I put down a Clause slightly different from this one which has been moved by the Foreign Secretary. It had not been on the Paper for more than 24 hours before the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual skill and disarming charm, had put down this new Clause which says that a full list, together 564 with salaries and expenses and duties, shall be laid before the House of Commons by January each year. My own Clause said March. I imagined, as the right hon. Gentleman's Clause states, that it meant that no list would be issued until January of next year, but I was pulled up very short in that train of thought because the Government have gone even better than that. In column 342 of HANSARD, if you please, there is a list of 19 holders of these certificates and on the following page there is a list of nine from whom certificates have been withdrawn. Therefore, if there has been something of a hang-over the Government certainly have shown some repentance about all this since the last Debate which shows that the Debate was not in vain.
But what a great pity that the Government did not issue this list before. There would have been much less heat engendered if we had been in, possession of the information—if the country had been in possession of it. Further, we have had the spectacle of a number of Members who thought it necessary to come here and make personal explanations as to their own positions and their relationship to the Bill. But even now the surprising thing about it is the number who have said the list is inaccurate. One said his name was wrongly in the list, another said it gave the maximum amount of his expenses allowed but not necessarily the actual amount that had been drawn. Now can the Attorney-General see his way to bring the list up to date and make it accurate in the near future so that we shall know the correct amounts and whether they are still in receipt of a certificate? I am glad the Government have published the list for another reason. There has been a great deal of strong feeling in the House and in the country since the Debate took place. The public has its own method of judging these matters. The Leader of the House read a telegram from one Member saying that he was not in receipt of any expenses or emoluments, and others have explained their personal position. Surely, if the information had been given before, all this would have been unnecessary and no one would have been — however you describe it as being—as it were, under the shadow of certain of the charges that have been made.
565 I, therefore, emphasise the tremendous importance of giving the public the fullest possible accurate information. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has tried to obtain it from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the last information we had was that the number was 21 but, as far as I can see, it is 19 and nine have had their certificates withdrawn. I am glad the Government have seen their way to make this concession as the result of public opinion or Debate in the House. But there is another reason for publication. Surely, the taxpayer has something to say on the question whether or not these items are to be paid directly by the Government. Ministerial salaries appear from year to year in the Estimates, with the expenses of their Departments, and there are opportunities for Members in their critical capacity to scrutinise them and to exercise their vigilance in the control of public expenditure. For hundreds of years that has been the established practice of the House of Commons. But here we have an entirely new situation. Emoluments or expenses, whether it is a necessary practice or not, were being paid out of money provided by the taxpayers. Surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer has an interest in this as well as the Leader of the House whose charm as has been said gets away with so many of these things! I am sorry that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not present, as he was on the previous occasion. Heaven only knows, the taxpayer is being committed to millions of pounds day by day without denying him this information—
This is going too far. We have already had a very wide discussion on many of the points that the hon. Member has raised. I did not interrupt him before because I thought he was coming to the point of the Clause.
§ Mr. Granville
This is the first time we have had such a list published and I am arguing that this is important not only from the point of view of appointments of the Members involved, but of Members who may have to answer their constituents on Government expenditure. It is important because, up to now, the expenditure has been paid out by the Exchequer and no account has been given to the House of Commons. I hope that the Attorney-General, when he deals with this corrected list, will give us the exact figures of the expenses and salaries drawn up to date in January each year, because 566 we ought to be vigilant and scrupulous not only from the point of view of the principle whether hon. Members wish to divide their Parliamentary duties but equally scrupulous to see that no public money is allowed to go in this direction unless it is on the list clearly published under this new Clause. This Bill started as a crisis Measure. It has become the unwanted child of all parties—
The unwanted child has been discussed a great deal and it cannot be discussed here.
§ Mr. Granville
Maybe I have had a bad example set me on the previous Amendment, on which the discussion ranged widely; there were personal explanations, and it was almost a Second Reading Debate. During that time I sat patiently waiting to argue that my proposed new Clause is better than the Government's Clause, only to find that the Government are proposing to do the same as I proposed in my Clause, but that the list is inaccurate. If the Government are unable to accede to all the requests which have been made to shorten the period from 12 to six months may I appeal to the Attorney-General to bring this list of appointments and the figures up to date so that we may know the actual expenses drawn by the various recipients? That is in Order. Would he also see that when the list is issued in January each year we can have accurate figures of the certificates withdrawn up to that date? I will not refer to the Bill as an unwanted child again, but will say that last week the general sense of the House seemed to be that it wanted to end the Bill.
We are not discussing at this minute the question of ending the Bill. We are discussing a new Clause.
§ Mr. Granville
I was about to add, what would have been in Order, if I had finished the sentence, that the general sense of the House was to end this wretched Bill, but if we are denied that surely it must be the general sense of the House to end or amend it. As the Attorney-General has gone to the trouble of realising that my proposed Clause was a good suggestion, and of drafting his Clause in almost identical language, may I ask him to give us an up to date list so that the public will know what hon. Members are doing and how much we are 567 committing the taxpayers of the country to?
§ Mr. Mander
This is an admirable new Clause and I support it. The Government have been wise in complying with the wishes of the House and supplying this information. Full details were given yesterday in reply to a Question I put, but there seems to me one weakness in the proposed Clause which I would ask the Attorney-General to consider. It is a weakness which is remedied by the new Clause I have down—
§ The Attorney-General
I have good reason to suppose that there is no inaccuracy in the list as has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). If there is, it can be looked at and it can be put right.
§ Mr. Granville
The Attorney-General was out of the Committee when the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James) said he thought it was inaccurate because his name should not have been on it, and when another hon. Member said that the amount stated was the maximum allowance and not the actual expenses.
§ The Attorney-General
I was not out of the House and I heard the hon. and gallant Member say that. I think that he is wrong. There are sticky points of law involved, but from the nature of the appointment I think that he would come under the existing law. The point with regard to expenses allowances can be looked at. Broadly speaking, my impression in listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Eye is that he is clearly not a man very easy to please. We have in our new Clause adopted his suggestion. We think it is a good one. We think, however, that we have improved the date, and I hope the Committee will pass the Clause. My hon. Friend asked whether I would make the list up to date, and he pointed out that one Member had dropped out. He has ceased to hold the appointment under a certificate since I gave the figures on Second Reading, and that is 568 why the number is 19 instead of 20. It is open to any Member at any time to put a question asking for this information at an intermediate stage. What appeared in HANSARD yesterday was in answer to a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander).
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member can see how much information was given in reply to the question put down yesterday. If we have a statutory provision for a list on 1st January each year, and Members can ask for information at intermediate dates, that should be satisfactory.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
Can the Attorney-General give an assurance, on behalf of the Government, that any Member who is granted a certificate and serves overseas in any capacity will be given favourable consideration if he believes that he ought to be relieved of his responsibilities so as to be able to return to the House of Commons?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.