HC Deb 18 February 1944 vol 397 cc569-73

Any certificate issued under this Act shall be accompanied at the time of its issue by a statement showing the office held and any salary, expenses or other emolument paid whether the service is at home or abroad, and the period of the appointment.—[Mr. Mander.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Mander

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

The Clause which I now move, deals with the point which I was trying to raise upon the Government's new Clause just now. It deals with what seems to me to be a weakness. Any appointment made after 1st January would carry with it no information at all, until the subsequent January. I should have thought that it would be wise to put in a provision that we not only got the general information but information every time a certificate was issued, and at any time in the year. It seems to me a natural and normal consequence. I know that the Attorney-General seemed to suggest just now that the information could be asked for at any time, and that is true, but it would involve some Member putting down a question every time a certificate had been issued. We could get the information in that way, but I suggest that it is an unnecessarily clumsy way. I think it would be in accordance with the spirit of the Government's Amendment to carry its principle a little further so as to get the information as the certificates were issued. I hope that the Attorney-General will consider between now and the Report stage—which I hope will not be taken to-day—whether it would not be possible to embody my suggestion in the new Clause which has just been added to the Bill.

Mr. Granville

I am not quite sure what information the Government could give us when the appointments were made. The Attorney-General did say something about it and reminded us that news of these appointments was published in the Press. I do not think that the information, as published in the Press, gives what my hon. Friend requires in his new Clause. It is purely a question of whether the Government could give, when the certificate was issued, the actual information which is to be given at the end of the year, such as in the list which is in HANSARD. It is merely a question of giving in detail, when the appointment is made, the same kind of information which is going to be given in the end of the year. It would be difficult for the Press, with its limited space, to give such information fully, if at all. If it were given when the appointment was made, it is much more likely that it will be noticed by the Member concerned and his constituents, as well as by the general public. I do not know whether there is any precedent for doing this, and whether it would be possible to do it.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

I should like to call attention to the difference between the proposed new Clause and the one which has just been added to the Bill. It is a difference which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) did not stress. In his Clause, he is asking for information as to the amount paid to the individual who gets the Prime Minister's certificate, whereas the Government's new Clause provides for information as to the amount payable to him, and that is a very different thing. Hon. Members holding certificates have stressed the difference between what they are entitled to receive and the amount which, in fact, they do receive. I am certain that the Attorney-General, in considering the proposed new Clause, will have noticed that difference, and I hope he will be able to make some pronouncement about it. It seems to me that the wise and fair thing to do, in the interests of Members who hold the certificates, is not merely to indicate in round figures what they are entitled to receive, but the amount which, in fact, they do receive.

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), because he has pointed out what I think is a defect in the wording of of the proposed new Clause, with the main purpose of which I am not unsympathetic. The distinction has been drawn, in this discussion and in one or two earlier discussions, between the amount of the expenses allowance and the amount that may actually have been drawn. If that distinction is borne in mind, I think that the hon. Member is asking the Government to prophesy—

Mr. Mander

I have no such intention at all.

The Attorney-General

The hon. Member is asking for the pay and expenses allowance. We could not accept the new Clause in the form in which it is proposed, for the reasons which I have given. I ask my hon. Friend to leave it to us, on the basis that we will consider it. I quite see the point of it. We will consider whether, at the time a certificate is issued, such information, on the lines of what was in HANSARD yesterday, can be given. The actual new Clause asks for the period, at home or abroad, but that is indeterminate, because there might be a case where the appointment involved some work at home and some abroad. It might be difficult to prophesy. I will undertake to consider the matter. In cases where there would be a salary normally, but the Member concerned has made it clear that he does not want it, that information should be stated to the House at the time when the certificate is presented. I hope that the hon. Member will not press his Clause.

Mr. Woodburn

It would be most unfortunate, after the Debate which has taken place, if particular Members, to whom certificates have been given, are set aside in some particular tables, and a distinction is made between them and other Members of the House or of the Government who are also receiving salaries and expenses. I do not think that that distinction should be made. Whether he wanted to or not, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) has conveyed to the country the idea that there is something corrupt in such Members receiving their train fare and hotel expenses. He has made it quite clear that he was not discussing the amount of the expenses and even whether there were expenses, and that it was a question of whether the person concerned became a member of the Executive in any way. It would be most unfortunate if the eyes of the public were concentrated on the fact that somebody got his rail fare, and on the idea that there was anything corrupt about that. These things ought to be published in the accounts in the ordinary way, and then if Members wanted to know about it they could look it up in the Civil Estimates and see what amount was received by the holder of the office.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

Whatever the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said to-day, he made very definite charges the other day. I am concerned about the charges which were made in this House before. The publication of the proposed new Clause will help to clear the minds of the people of this country for the future. There may be no objection to any right hon. Gentleman who takes work being entitled to receive reasonable expenses, and it might not be possible for some hon. Members to accept appointments abroad without somebody defraying their expenses. To withhold the information in some cases and to publish it in others would lead to more rumours than it would be wise to allow. I think the Government are right to ask the hon. Member to put up some form of words which will make it clear that when any hon. or right hon. Member takes on work for the Government in future, the House of Commons and the country will know the facts. There is no reason to be ashamed of them; there is no disgrace about it. Some of the expenses in this list are very high, but no doubt there are reasons for that, connected with the rates of exchange, and so on.

The Deputy-Chairman

We cannot go into that list now.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

For the purposes of my argument—

The Deputy-Chairman

Yes, but not for the purposes of an argument that is out of Order.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

Let me put it in another way and try to conclude what I have been trying to say, which is that, for the sake of the future, and in order to prevent rumours and charges being levelled on the Floor of the House of Commons, which undoubtedly have a deleterious effect, it will be much better for the Government to state categorically and clearly what emoluments a Member is accepting who has gone out to an appointment for which the sanction of the House is being asked.

Mr. Mander

In view of the assurances given by the Attorney-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

  1. TITLE 44 words
Forward to