HC Deb 22 February 1945 vol 408 cc957-9
50. Mr. Petherick

asked the Prime Minister whether it is proposed to continue in force the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1944, which expires on 5th March next.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, the Government have now decided that they do not propose to ask Parliament to continue further the House of Commons Disqualification (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1941, which has played such a useful and convenient part in our affairs. That Act will, accordingly, expire on 6th March this year, and no further certificates can be issued thereafter. On the other hand, Members of this House who are at that date the holders of offices under the Crown which would otherwise disqualify them for membership of this House, will continue to enjoy the protection afforded by the Act of 1941 until the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, expires.

We have, at the same time, considered what would be the position of Members who still hold certificates under the Act of 1941 in the event of a dissolution taking place before the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act expires. We are advised that such Members, if they continue to hold their offices, would for the most part be precluded from seeking re-election under the terms of the Servants of the Crown (Parliamentary Candidature) Order, 1927. In the event therefore of a General Election it is proposed to advise His Majesty to amend the 1927 Order so as to permit those Members to seek re-election.

Sir Herbert Williams

Has this decision the effect of denying this House the opportunity of again considering whether it is desirable that Members of this House should serve for long periods overseas? Are we not being denied an opportunity of discussing the desirability of Members continuing to wander round the world?

The Prime Minister

Far from it. My hon. Friend is, I think, attaining all, or even more than he desires. The Act is going to disappear. It was a very great convenience in wartime, and I am much obliged to the House for giving me that facility, but with the change in our affairs which we may hope for in the future, such necessity will not occur. We can dispense with this and much other wartime machinery. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As to Members being absent for a long time from their duties in this House, I have always been of opinion that that is a matter for the constituents and not for this House.

Sir Hugh O'Neill

Can my right hon. Friend say what are the factors governing the end of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act?

The Prime Minister

I hesitate to make anything like a legal pronounce- ment upon these matters, but I should suppose that the circumstances would be a general consensus of opinion that the emergency had passed away.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is it not a fact that the definition given from time to time of the words "the end of the war" has been that it will be when, in the opinion of the Government, the emergency has in fact ended; does not the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, propose to continue almost indefinitely at the disposal of the Government the certificates which have already been issued; and does he appreciate the fact that these certificates are repugnant to the overwhelming majority of the Members of this House and that they ought to be withdrawn?

The Prime Minister

As I say, after 6th March there will be no power to issue new ones but I think it would be very unfair to remove the protection which they have given to the Members who have received these certificates suddenly in such a way as to disqualify them from conducting their political business as they think fit. The object is to facilitate such people coming up to stand for Parliament and that they should not be penalised in any way. As to the certificates being repugnant to the House, I obtained unanimous approval, or at any rate approval by an overwhelming majority, when the Bill was passed in 1941.