HC Deb 30 June 1944 vol 401 cc962-3

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Goldie (Warrington)

I was unable to be present when the Attorney-General moved the Second Reading of this very necessary Bill, and there is just one point on which I would venture to ask for information, and I am sure you will not call me to Order, Mr. Williams, if before doing so I, as the senior practising King's Counsel in this House, pay my tribute to the Law Officers. At the present moment those of us who are practising know that their work has increased enormously, beyond all reasonable bounds, and speaking as a member of the General Council of the Bar, I would acknowledge the assistance received from the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General in many difficulties.

What I want to ask my right hon. and learned Friend is this: I notice that this Clause makes no provision for the possi- bility of the absence of both the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General at the same time. I can well envisage circumstances—for instance, the trial of the war criminals—when we should welcome both the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General being absent. Is there no way in which, in these circumstances, the power can be executed by a Secretary of State? I quote that for one reason and one reason only. I think I am right in saying that all the Secretaries of State have similar powers, and I am strengthened in that argument by a recollection of what Sir Austen Chamberlain told me of a great difficulty he experienced during one Parliamentary Recess when he had to make recommendations with regard to the exercise of the Prerogative of mercy, although he was, in fact, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time. I venture to suggest, with all deference, that when this Bill goes to another place, it might be possible to consider whether, in the absence of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General through causes over which they have no control, the old constitutional principle of a Secretary of State having power to perform an executive act, which would normally be carried out by another Secretary of State, should be considered. I can only say that everybody connected with the legal profession welcomes this Bill as a Measure which will supply a long-needed want.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

Let me first express my thanks to my hon. and learned Friend for his kind remarks about myself and