HC Deb 19 October 1950 vol 478 cc2243-76

4.4 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I beg to move, That this House having taken into consideration the Report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of the Reverend James Godfrey MacManaway, elected a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the constituency of Belfast, West, declares that he was at the time o£ his election and is disabled from sitting and voting in the House of Commons by reason of the fact that, having been ordained a Priest according to the use of the Church of Ireland, he has received episcopal ordination. In the first place, perhaps I ought to make plain the relationship of this matter to the situation in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. This Motion, of course, relates only to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The law relating to the disqualification from membership of the Northern Ireland Parliament is the same, subject to this, that Section 5 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, provides that: Any existing enactment by which any penalty, disadvantage, or disability is imposed on account of religious belief or on a member of any religious order as such shall, … cease to have effect … We are advised that that relates only to disqualification on the ground of a particular religious belief or membership of a particular order. The disqualification now in question depends on the holding of Holy Orders, quite a different thing. But the Privy Council did not rule on that, and the matter is wholly for the Northern Ireland Government.

As hon. Members of the House will now be aware, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council consisting, if I might say so, and as I think will be generally agreed, of most distinguished judges, have reached the very clear conclusion that clergy ordained into any church according to the form of episcopal ordination are disqualified by the Act of 1801 from sitting and voting in the House of Commons. While the opinion of the Privy Council is not strictly binding upon the Commons, or indeed upon the ordinary courts of the land, it would be accepted by them as being of high persuasive authority.

I expect the House will consider that the very full and reasoned opinion of the Privy Council does finally resolve the doubts which previously existed about this troublesome question of law. Although not myself a lawyer, I must confess that from the beginning I thought it not impossible that the words of the Act of 1801, that no person ordained a priest or deacon was capable of sitting or voting in the House, might mean what they said. Speaking as a layman, I must say that the case put by the Judicial Committee seems cogent and compelling.

I am not going to try to discuss the legal points, but if, as I expect, the House accepts the opinion of the Privy Council that the hon. Member who sits for West Belfast, is disqualified, the question arises whether there should be a new election or whether the candidate who was second at the poll at the General Election should take the place of the hon. Member. There are precedents on both sides, and I am advised that if this issue had been raised as an election petition before an election court that court could have said that the votes cast for the hon. Member who now sits for West Belfast were thrown away and of no account. This would be justified because the electors knew that they were voting for an ordained clergyman and by that curious fiction of law must be presumed to have known that such a clergyman was disqualified. But this matter has not been dealt with by an election court and it cannot now be referred to one. It is being brought before the House of Commons, and this House is undoubtedly the master of its own proceedings. In our view the fairminded and democratic course is to give those electors who, wilfully or negligently, have thrown away their votes, a chance once more of expressing their opinion and choosing between candidates who are qualified to sit.

On Tuesday I said that if the House accepts this Motion we would at a later stage bring in legislation to indemnify the hon. Member against any penalties he had incurred by sitting and voting in the House up to and including the statement by the Home Secretary on 17th October. I do not want to develop this point unduly because it will naturally arise on the Second Reading and the other speeches on the Bill. I only say that, as I said on Tuesday, the Government does not in any way feel obliged by the undertaking given on 29th June to indemnify him for penalties which may have been incurred by sitting and voting after that date.

At a time when the whole question was, as it were, sub judice, it may well be held, and in present circumstances with some justification, that, as the matter was sub judice, the action of the hon. Member in sitting and voting in a most critical Division, when his vote might have precipitated serious constitutional consequences, was irresponsible, provocative and undemocratic. But we all knew that the hon. Member had been misled, if he required any misleading, at the hands of such self-styled legal luminaries as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who, on 25th May last, said: I wish to give notice that in my opinion, supported by a great mass of legal authority, it is the duty of the hon. Member to take the oath and take his seat at the earliest possible opportunity. That is the advice which I propose to tender to him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 2242.] Well, we can do nothing to bring the right hon. Gentleman to book for his misleading, tendentious and unreliable advice, and, in these circumstances, we think it would be unfair to punish the hon. Member who sits for West Belfast.

The issue of the question of degree of indemnity will come up later, but our instinct is to act in accordance with the best and highest traditions of this House. The Government, therefore, submit that it would be right to proceed in the way I indicated on Tuesday, but, in the meantime, it does seem to us that the House has no option but to declare the seat vacant, and, by implication, to declare that the seat has never been filled, despite the grave situation that might have arisen on the occasion of a certain Division as the result of one hon. Member's vote. I think this course is the only one which this House can take, and I venture to ask for favourable consideration by the House of the Motion which I have moved on behalf of the Government.

4.13 p.m.

Rev. J. G. MacManaway (Belfast, West)

It is, I believe, a tradition of this House that, if any Member of it should be arraigned for any reason, he has the right to stand up here and defend himself before his fellows in this House. I thank you, Sir, for according that right to me this afternoon.

I have always heard that the classic definition of democracy is "government of the people, by the people, for the people." I have been returned to this House by the will of the people in the biggest working-class constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom, but apparently their will is not to count for anything. It is to be brushed aside because of some archaic legal enactment. [Interruption.] For the benefit of hon. Members opposite, I will say that the date is 1801, and I do not think that any of them were living then. I say the will of the people is to be entirely brushed aside in order that that archaic legal enactment may be given effect.

I should like to thank the Lord President of the Council for the way he spoke this afternoon, but I hope that he will forgive me if, as I feel I must, I disagree emphatically with some of the things he said. In the Motion before the House, it is stated that— having been ordained a Priest according to the use of the Church of Ireland, he has received episcopal ordination and is, therefore, disabled from sitting. Any clergyman of the Church of England—and any clergyman of the Church of England must have received episcopal ordination—who resigns his benefice tomorrow and any emoluments accruing can come and sit in this House. The fact that he has been episcopally ordained is not the bar. There is the Welsh Church Act, 1914, and, if I were to join the Welsh Church tomorrow as a curate, nobody could stop me coming to sit in this House, because it is laid down in the Welsh Church Act that its clergymen are entitled to sit in this House.

Therefore, it is not true to say that episcopal ordination is the bar. I cannot for the life of me make out what the bar is. It would appear that, in the case of the Church of Ireland, there must be something particularly virulent in our Orders which differentiates us from the Church of England or the Church of Wales, inasmuch as though we are all episcopally ordained, we only are debarred from sitting.

I know that, if I may say so, I am really in one sense wasting the time of the House and my own time in speaking now, because apparently the result is a foregone conclusion. but may I say that a candle has been lighted in Ulster today which will not be extinguished in the life of any hon. Member here.

The issue before the Privy Council was an issue of law; we must accept their verdict, whether we like it or not. The issue before the House is not a question of law but a question of fair play and British justice. Are you going to tell the clergymen of the Irish Church that they are penalised when you are not penalising clergymen of the Welsh and English Churches? If that sort of discrimination is to be practised, very well, then, there is nothing that we can do about it.

All I can say is that I have had the honour to serve this country and His Majesty in two wars, and, if necessary, I will serve in a third, but we in Ulster do not expect, on a question like this, any party in this House to play party politics. We expect and we hope that the tradition of fair play and justice which is the proud possession of this House will always be shown, and that in a question of this kind party politics will be discarded and that cricket will be played.

The hon. Member then withdrew from the House.

4.20 p.m.

Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

The House of Commons, except where it has surrendered its privileges by statute, has an exclusive right to determine all matters touching the election of its Members, and I believe that it must be made crystal clear that any action taken today on the advice of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council does not derogate from that position. On the other hand, when the House of Commons has asked that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should be consulted, it would be fruitless and bad taste to canvass the Tightness of its decision.

Perhaps, however, the House will not take it amiss from me personally, as my views on the subject are well known, if I make two quotations, the first that "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still," and the second, in order to keep myself in the proper frame of mind, a well-known story of my profession about Rufus Isaacs and Marshall Hall. When that great champion of difficult causes was about to begin one of his brushes with the judicial bench. Rufus Isaacs plucked his gown and said, "Marshall, for goodness sake remember they are there and we are here." I remind myself of that today.

With regard to what the Lord President said about Northern Ireland, I do not intend to follow him into that because obviously that is a matter which the Northern Ireland Government must consider, and, again, I do not think it would be profitable for us to discuss that point in this House. Equally, with regard to the indemnity Bill, I think it would be right and proper to wait until we see the Bill before we make any remarks upon it. The Lord President has dealt facetiously with certain advice. I want it to be quite clear that I take full responsibility for the advice which I obviously gave, and if my view and the view arrived at by the Attorney-General has been found to be wrong, well, then, our shoulders are quite strong enough to bear it. But the object of the Amendment which I desire to move is to draw attention to the anomalies which now exist with regard to the election of clergymen to Parliament.

If some of these anomalies reach the far side of absurdity, I do not want anyone in this House to think that I am being flippant in pointing them out. My fellow countrymen in this House know the great tradition of serious discussion of doctrinal differences and Church management in which most of us have been bred, and the last thing I would do would be to differ from that approach to these serious matters. But I want to point out the situation in which clergymen are left by this decision because I believe that the dignity of this House requires that we should face it. The report of the judicial Committee emphasises the point that the doubts of Parliament with regard to the sitting of clergymen had ceased to be based on the idea that the clergy were a separate estate, and it came to depend on the compatibility of the spiritual office with the mundane activities of politics as early as 150 years ago. But we must consider, although the Judicial Committee debarred itself from considering the point, what has been the attitude of this House in the intervening years.

By the Clergy Disabilities Act, 1870, the House allowed a clergyman of the Church of England, after having resigned his benefices and any preferment, and after giving the necessary notices, to be free of all prohibitions and to sit in this House. Mr. Speaker, you and I remember a friend of many of us in this House, the late Sir Edwin Brocklebank, who was in that position and who fulfilled his duties with the respect and affection of Members on all sides of the House. By the Welsh Disestablishment Act, 1914, a clergyman holding ecclesiastical office in the Church in Wales or whose last benefice or office was in the Church in Wales, is not disqualified, and I refer without quoting, because I am sure most hon. Members have read it, to the letter of the Registrar of the Archbishop of the Church in Wales which appeared in "The Times" this morning.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I wonder if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would allow me to deal with that point now? It was suggested in that letter in "The Times" that that point had not been brought to the notice of the Privy Council. I can correct it now; it was expressly drawn to their attention. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Yes, if I remember rightly, both the right hon. and learned Gentleman and myself drew attention to the point in the memorandum which we submitted to the Select Committee, and it was before the Select Committee of this House. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman would draw it to the attention of the—

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

Is the purpose of the Royal Commission to be set up to remove the disabilities of all clergy?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I propose to point out what are the disabilities and to deal with that point. I know the point he has in mind, and he will find that I shall deal with it as I go along.

I hope the House will not think I am occupying too much time, but I want to show hon. Members what the position is at the present time because I think they ought to know it. If hon. Members are not interested in the ecclesiastical point they have their remedy, but I think most hon. Members, at any rate, are interested in the dignity of the House. These points that I have mentioned, first of all the one dealing with the Church of England, and, secondly, the one dealing with the Church in Wales, show that this House had no objection to a person ordained by an episcopal Church being a Member of this House because it is quite clear with regard to members of the Church of England who resign and with regard to members of the Church in Wales who, of course, at the time of the passing of the Act had all been ordained by the Church of England.

May I turn to my native land? The Church of Scotland differs of course by being a Presbyterian Church and the words of the disqualifying Act are: having been ordained a priest or deacon or being a Minister of the Church of Scotland. The Judicial Committee apply that to the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church. But it has always been accepted that by the power which ministers of the Church of Scotland have of demission, they can by demission of their office free themselves of the prohibition and be elected to this House. I think I am right in saying that an hon. Member, again held in great affection on every side of the House, the Rev. Campbell Stephen, was in that position. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the Rev. James Barr."] Yes, and the Rev. James Barr as well. I was not quite sure to what branch of the Church of Scotland the Rev. James Barr belonged, but that augments the position.

Taking them in the reverse order in which I have dealt with them, Scotland, England and Wales are all provided for and their clergymen of the Established Church, or the Church in Wales, can sit in this House. The only explanation that one can think of as to why the Church of Ireland was not in the same position is that the Law Officers who advised Mr. Gladstone, and afterwards adorned the judicial Bench, fell into what is now considered the error into which the Attorney-General and myself have also stepped.

Before I come to the Church of England, may I first deal with the position of other churches, because I have now shown the House whose members can sit? May I point out the other side of the picture? The Roman Catholic Church was dealt with by a statutory Act, the Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1825, and by Section 9 it was provided that no person in holy orders in the Church of Rome shall be capable of being elected to serve in Parliament as a Member of the House of Commons. I am not a member of that Church and I do not know, but no doubt we shall hear from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) who interposed, or from somebody else, these important points of what is the view of that Church on this matter in 1950, and whether the authorities of the Church and its priesthood desire that they should be changed. That is a matter of which this House would want to be informed, and it would want to know what is the view of hon. Members of public opinion on that matter.

May I point out another anomaly? The Old Catholic Church which differs on an important matter from the Catholic Church—and one of the bishops of the Old Catholic Church was well known at Oxford some years ago—conducts episcopal ordination. Anyone ordained in the Old Catholic Church would now be disbarred from membership of this House by the decision we have in front of us.

Nonconformity in its popular sense—I am using it in the sense in which it is understood—has never suffered from any interdict. I think every hon. Member in the House would agree that the House of Commons would have been poorer without the contribution which Nonconformist ministers and preachers have made to our Debates. They have contributed that special moral earnestness and wealth of impressive Biblical language which is one of the great strains of British oratory, from whatever view one may regard it. Again, if the House will bear with me, I have a special tenderness in that direction, as the first service after the disruption of 1843 of the Free Church of Scotland happened to have been held in a tent made out of my grandmother's blankets. So I have always had a sympathy with those who break away from an established body.

May I for a moment deal with another aspect of the Scottish problem? The Episcopal Church of Scotland, although not Nonconformist in the ordinary sense in which that word is used, has a proud tradition of refusal to conform. Many of its churches were burned by the Hanoverian army in 1746, and from 1714 to 1788 the clergymen of that Church prayed for King James III and King Charles III. Therefore they carried their refusal to conform, to what the Home Secretary will agree was a remarkable extent. But that Church, although it has gone that length in its refusal to conform, and is of course entirely different in its ordering from the Established Church of Scotland, is in the position that no clergyman of that Church by any means, whatever step he takes, can, by this decision, submit himself for election or serve in this House.

Let me take it a little further. The Episcopal Church in the United States of America received its orders by sending someone to receive them from a bishop of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. It is not for us to pronounce on who is in schism or who is not, but everyone knows there have been splits from the Episcopal Church in America. But the position under this decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is that if a Canadian who, for a year or two, had been a resident clergyman in an Episcopal Church in America having left that and been in business or any occupation for some years then came over to this country, he would be debarred from submitting himself to election or sitting in the House.

The Attorney-General

I want to be helpful on this. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is raising what is obviously a very interesting and important point. One can conceive of this Parliament legislating with regard to our State Church here. Is he suggesting—it is very interesting—that it would be proper for us by statute to provide that those ordained into other Churches, for instance into the Church of Rome, could relinquish their Orders? Is not that really the point?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am very glad that the Attorney-General has raised that point. That is not the point. As I understand it, no lay power can interfere with orders at all. What we can do is to make the proper test. We can either wipe out altogether the prohibition on those who are clergymen, to use the generic word, or we can take the test of the State Church in order to conform with ideas of offices of profit under the Crown, or we can take the course taken with regard to the Church of England—that the resignation of benefice and office is sufficient. as also applies in Scotland. We can lay down our test. What I am saying is that the test of 1801, as interpreted and accepted, is one which has now become completely illogical and full of anomalies. Therefore we have to substitute another test.

I will take one more example, because I am sure hon. Gentlemen who come from the North of England will appreciate this case. There is a not very large body, but a body for which I have great respect and affection. the Free Church of England. The Free Church of England again claims its orders from an American bishop and, therefore, comes under the prohibition. But really it is the height of absurdity to go to one street in Liverpool. There is there a Free Church of England in what I might call a chapel, from the point of view of indicating the size of its place of worship, and the minister is debarred because there is episcopal ordination. One goes round the corner, in exactly the same street, and one finds one of the other Nonconformist bodies which are not under this prohibition. They are the same sort of size, the congregations are exactly the same, and yet this indefensible difference exists. I have tried to point out a few trees in the forest of paradox with which we are dealing.

May I remind the House that the Select Committee appointed by this House recommended legislation on this matter, and I hope that what I have said today emphasises the Tightness of their recommendation. I feel that whatever the Government of this country, whatever its political colour, it ought to be informed on this point. My right hon. Friends and I have suggested that a Royal Commission might examine the matter. I do not see any difference between the two; a Select Committee might be preferable and if a Select Committee of this House were felt to be the better body, because we are dealing with a matter concerning the House, I should accept it at once. We should get consideration from it.

I venture to support my point of view by the very weighty words of "The Times" leading article of yesterday, which said: Any revision of the law might well rest on the foundation that a constituency has a right to he represented by the candidate of its choice, unless he or she is disqualified for a specific and necessary reason, directly related to contemporary life and government. By that test, the exclusion of the minister of any religion merely on the ground of his spiritual status clearly fails. Let us restrict it to felons, bankrupts and Peers of Great Britain, England and Scotland. The article goes on—and this is important: The authority of his own communion may no doubt wish, by their own discipline, to dissuade him from entering secular politics; but if they permit him to offer himself, it is not for the State to refuse his services. I submit that that is the right view.

On the other hand, I see that we have got to get information not only as to what this House thinks of parsons, but of what the churches think of service in this House. That is a matter which has to be considered. I hope, however, that the Government and all hon. Members will approach this problem from the point of view of equity and not from any party political angle. It is not right that this House, the mother of democracies, should be held up to ridicule as the foster mother of indefensible anomalies.

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, at the end, to add: but at the same time urges that a Royal Commission be set up to deal with the state of the law as disclosed in the Report, thus avoiding in future an inconvenience similar to that now caused to the electors of Belfast West.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

I think that on all sides of the House that we can agree with the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), that this is a matter which should be decided by the House of Commons. If we all agree on that, then the Amendment, as I see it, is disposed of straightaway, because it is a proposal that the Membership of this House and the proper constitution of it should be handed over to a Royal Commission.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I thought I had made clear that either a Royal Commission or a Select Committee should advise on the position as it exists, which, as I have tried to make out, is one of difficulty, and should make recommendations thereon. I am sure the hon. and learned Member does not wish to make a false point. There is no suggestion of surrendering our rights. It is a question of collecting information on a most difficult matter.

Mr. Bing

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman means that the words "Royal Commission" in his Amendment should read "Select Committee," and we can proceed on that basis. then that is what has been urged on this side of the House for some time, and there is probably general agreement on it. But I must say that although we on this side of the House probably feel bound to resist a Royal Commission investigation, such a Royal Commission investigation in the terms which have been set out in the Amendment would produce a number of interesting and very startling results, which, possibly, have not as yet occurred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends. but with which I will deal in a moment.

I should like to deal with the argument which fell from the hon. Gentleman who was returned for Belfast, West (Rev. J. G. MacManaway). The duty falls on me, in default of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his maiden speech. If I may say so, I think it was very worthy of the part of the world which has elected him, and we all regret the circumstances which prevent his being here with us any further. But he was a little mistaken as to the nature of the law with which he was dealing.

If, indeed, this is an extraordinary legal anachronism, it is a peculiar thing that having sat, as I understand it somewhat irregularly, for some 3½ years in the Northern Ireland Parliament, he did not realise that these anachronisms of which he complains exist and are continually enforced by the Northern Ireland Government. The reverend gentleman could not stand as a parish councillor in Northern Ireland. No person in Holy Orders can stand for any purpose whatsoever. It is quite true that a clergyman of the Church of England—Sir Edwin Brocklebank was mentioned—can divest himself of his Orders for the purpose of entering this House. He can divest himself of his Orders for every purpose save one, and that is being elected to any elective office whatsoever in Northern Ireland. Sir Edwin Brocklebank, under existing law, is a layman for every purpose save one, and that purpose is standing for a parish council in Northern Ireland. That is a law which has been continually enforced by the Northern Ireland Parliament, and after all these years they have taken no opportunity—

Professor Savory (Antrim, South)

It was a British law imposed by the British Parliament on Ireland.

Mr. Bing

Perhaps hon. Gentlemen would wait until I have had a moment to deal, I hope fairly and justly, with the legal point.

It is true that such a law was enforced by a Tory majority against the wishes of all the Irish Members. That is quite correct. But when this Parliament saw fit to repeal those laws in so far as they affected this country, the Parliament of Northern Ireland, to which we had handed the exclusive power of doing the same over there, refused to do so. It was, therefore, no longer in the power of this majority here to effect this very necessary reform. It is a little peculiar that they should come complaining to us now that this has not been done.

In this question there is not only an issue of law. There is also a quite important issue of politics and, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West, said, there is an important issue of fair play. I will leave it for the House to judge whether the decision still applies to Northern Ireland or not, but the original argument for excluding Irish clergy from any elective office whatever was that they would exploit their sacred status for the purpose of obtaining votes on the one side or the other. I possessed myself of the address delivered by the chairman of the meeting at which the reverend gentleman was first chosen as candidate. Mr. Wallace Kennedy, O.B.E., D.L., who presided, said: There are only two parties—the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. The Protestants are loyal to the King and Empire, but the Roman Catholics are disloyal to the King. In those circumstances there may be an argument against permitting a person to come forward and exploit his clerical character for the purpose of obtaining votes on that sort of issue.

If hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to press their Amendment, let me ask them a question: Are they prepared or are they not, to give exactly the same exemption to Roman Catholic priests as they give to Protestant clergy? Would they introduce a Bill, if they were in power? Perhaps that is the test one should apply. [HON. MEMBERS: "Your party is in power now."] After all, while this party may be in power in this country, the representatives of hon. Gentlemen opposite are in power in the North of Ireland, and what we are considering is what is happening in constituencies in the North of Ireland. It would be very wrong and very improper if we here were to make a rule entirely different from that which the North of Ireland Parliament itself made. Let us have an answer from one of the hon. Gentlemen sitting for Northern Ireland constituencies. Is the Government of Northern Ireland prepared to repeal the legislation which at present prevents any person in Holy Orders from standing for any local election whatsoever?

Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich, South)

On a point of order. This may well be very germane to the Debate as it continues. After reading the Motion and the Amendment before the House it occurred to me that it was not in order to discuss the law of Northern Ireland. If it is in order to discuss the law of Northern Ireland, then I see no objection to what the hon. and learned Member is saying. [Interruption.] I will wait for hon. Members to become quiet before I continue. My submission to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that what the hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about is not relevant either to the Motion or to the Amendment before the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

We are dealing with an Amendment which seeks to set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the law, but if the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is dealing with the law he is going beyond the Amendment.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Did not the right hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment stray into the same field? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had reason to use arguments such as he did use, that justifies the use by my hon. and learned Friend of arguments to refute them.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had done so, I should have stopped him. Certainly, on looking at the Amendment, I find it is perfectly clear that it refers only to the setting-up of a Royal Commission.

Mr. Logan

Further to that point of order. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was opening his speech and explaining what this proposition meant, he dealt with the disabilities. As he has dealt with them, I take it that the question of the disabilities comes within the purview of a Royal Commission. Are we not to take it that the Royal Commission would have the power to deal with the religious disabilities?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not know what the terms of reference would be for the Royal Commission. This Amendment deals only with the setting up of a Royal Commission.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

Is it not correct, Sir, that, if a Royal Commission were set up in accordance with the Amendment, then the practices now operating in Northern Ireland would have to be examined together with the practices with regard to prohibitions of this kind operating in this country? Is it not correct that the Royal Commission, therefore, would not be in a position to exclude the consideration of such practices in the North of Ireland?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a hypothetical question, which I cannot answer.

Mr. Bing

I think I can get round all this procedure, if I may say so with respect, by putting to hon. Gentlemen opposite a question which I hope, this time, they will answer by something other than a point of order.

What is the nature of the inconvenience which has been suffered by the electors of Belfast, West? Is the inconvenience that, when the reverend gentleman presented himself to the electorate in the form of "the fighting parson," it was impossible for the electors to present as his opponent "the battling priest"? Is the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the inconvenience was, as quite clearly the law now provides, that no Roman Catholic could stand; or was the inconvenience the fact that they were not able to secure a Protestant priest as a candidate without having all this legal fuss made about him? I think that is a perfectly straight question to which I hope we shall receive an answer.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dunbartonshire, East)

They can only answer easy questions.

Mr. Bing

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will answer this question without asking any hon. Members who happen to profess one faith or another, because they are no more capable of speaking for their churches than is anybody else; they are not elected for that purpose: is the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and is his party, in favour or not of a Roman Catholic priest being permitted to stand for a Northern Ireland constituency?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am in favour of that matter being examined by a Royal Commission, and that is the proposition I have put before the House. I am not a Roman Catholic and, as I said quite clearly, I do not know what is the feeling of that church. I have, naturally, the greatest respect for both the hierarchy and members of a church whose faith I do not share. I want to find out what is their view. If the hon. and learned Gentleman, whose religious convictions I do not know, can tell us, then I shall be only too grateful to him. I hope he will tell us.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)


Mr. Bing

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I must first deal with the question which has just been asked. I cannot answer that question. All I know is that I think it is wrong that this House should decide what any particular church should do. Let us leave it to that particular church. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party will not give a straight answer to my question. My answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite a simple one. I am not in favour of any disabilities of this sort, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should know it quite well, because I have made no secret of my views; indeed, I have written a number of articles and made a number of speeches about this matter. It was, indeed, just the point I was coming to; but before I come to it, I will say this. It is not really very honest of hon. Members opposite to talk about the inconveniences suffered by the electors of Belfast, West, and then not be prepared to remove what may be, for all they know, the greatest of all inconveniences—that is, that a religious minority may not put up one of their pastors as their candidate.

Are we to remove these anomalies at this time? I do hope that when we have a little more time we can have some opportunity of discussing the anomalies as a whole; because, of course, it is not only the Church position that is affected; there are a great number of other anomalies, and it would be very wrong were we to set up a Royal Commission to deal only with this, and not, for instance, to deal with the difficult position in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) may find himself some time in view of his position of Constable of Dover Castle.

Air Commodore Harvey (Maccles field)


Hon. Members


Mr. Bing

I should be out of order if I were to develop this point in any way. None of us wishes to lose the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, and, therefore, it would be prudent if we were to look into all these disabilities, which, obviously, affect us on all sides of the House.

Air Commodore Harvey

Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman confused in his geography? He talks about the Constable of Dover Castle. Does he not really mean Deal Castle?

Mr. Bing

No. I do not want to spend too much time with those who cannot understand. The public office of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports itself no longer disqualifies the holder, though it did disqualify the gentleman who kept the bookstalls, W. H. Smith, one of the leading occupants of the office before the right hon. Gentleman. But in the case of the office of Constable of Dover Castle, which happens to be attached to it, the position is somewhat doubtful.

But the point which, I think, should be made, and which should be fairly made, is this: that when we on this side of the House on a very appropriate day—which was possibly the reason why hon. Gentlemen from Northern Ireland were not here—12th July last year, discussed this question, which arose out of the discovery which was made, I think on the other side of the House, that for 30 years Conservative Members who had been appointed to sit on the General Medical Council were, by that fact, disqualified from membership of this House—though it arose, by one of those curious political coincidences, in the discovery of a Labour appointee—Conservative Members took up that position which they did.

I did, at that time, raise this particular point here in the House—the question of the disqualification of reverend gentlemen, and the whole question of all these other disqualifications. Then right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side brushed the whole thing aside. They had no time for that then. Well, let us in this Debate offer this warning. It would be a good thing for the parties on both sides of the House to choose an opportunity to look into all these ridiculous disabilities, and to do away with a great many of them, because one never knows whom they will strike next and what injustices they will perpetuate.

Now let me turn briefly, because I do not want to take up the time of the House too long—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."]—to the question of the inconveniences which have been caused to the electors of Belfast, West; because if we were to have a Royal Commission on this subject, it would, I feel, be of the very greatest constitutional value. The only thing I regret about the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment today is that it should be in some way restricted to or connected with the Report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Of course, the inconveniences suffered by the electors of Belfast, West, were far greater than those within the ambit of that Report, because I think one of the inconveniences was that the one elected had to represent two seats in two Houses. That was dealt with by the late Member for that seat, Mr. Beatty, rightly or wrongly, by his attending here only on matters that dealt with Ireland—

Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)

That has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Bing

—but I understand it is now the policy of hon. Members to pursue a different policy, and to come here to deal with matters which affect exclusively this Parliament and do not affect at all Northern Ireland.

Now, this is a very important and interesting constitutional issue, which we should look into. It is a considerable inconvenience that, while hon. Gentlemen on the other side can come here and discuss on behalf of their electors matters which relate exclusively to this country, we are debarred from discussing matters which affect us but which they have exclusive jurisdiction for dealing with. I do not want to develop this too far because it is a point which, while it arises on the Amendment, is a little outside what we are generally considering. I should, however, like to give one illustration. It has been impossible for this Government to ratify the Geneva Convention because of the repressive laws in Northern Ireland, but we cannot discuss those laws here. Yet when we come to the question of the repeal of the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act, which applies only to this part of the country, Members from Northern Ireland come over and vote against it.

There is a second inconvenience—and I do not know if this is one the right hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind—that the electors of the constituency of Belfast, West, will be forced into another election. But if they are, that is entirely due to there having been no election petition, because, for reasons with which I shall deal very shortly a little later on, it is quite clear that, if there had been an election petition, the second candidate would have succeeded, without any need for an election at all.

The inconvenience can easily be dealt with by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's not moving for a Writ, because it rests with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side to move the Writ; and, if they wish to deal with this inconvenience, that would be covered by the law. They would merely have to make a Motion in the usual form that the Clerk of the Crown should bring out the Return and amend it. They would be acting strictly legally. Otherwise, they take advantage of the situation afforded by the generosity of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

But this is the question we, perhaps, should ask ourselves. Why was there, in fact, no election petition? It would be improper for me to go into the law which we so recently passed, but if there is to be a Royal Commission to study it. it may, for instance, consider whether, in such a small area as Northern Ireland, where, naturally, the judiciary happens to be drawn from those people who have considerable experience in the majority party in the Ulster House, in those circumstances, there is sufficient—

Sir R. Ross

Does the hon. and learned Member know that the last judge appointed was a judge of Labour opinions?

Mr. Bing

With the greatest respect, I think it would be very wrong in this House to suggest that any Member of the judiciary held any political opinions at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. and learned Member has just done so."] I am sorry that that suggestion should be made.

It is generally considered undesirable that a judge who has recently sat as a Member of Parliament on the one side or the other should then be the judge to decide an election petition, and it may well be that it should be considered, if we are considering this issue, whether we should not bring the venue of election petitions from Northern Ireland to this country. Who knows, if that had been the position, but that we should not have needed now to have a new Writ at all, and that an election petition would have been brought?

Sir R. Ross

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to cast reflections upon His Majesty's judges.

Mr. Bing

I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. Before the issuing of the Writ is moved by hon. Gentlemen opposite I think it right that they should this time be under no misapprehension as to the law. I would be the last person to attempt to lay down the law to the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, but at times the most surprising views of the law seem to be the correct ones. Therefore, if I very humbly permit myself one or two legal observations, I hope he will not take them amiss. He is probably well aware that the election law is perfectly clear, and dates from the case of a Conservative candidate, a certain Colonel Deakin, who was elected for Laureston, and who performed what I always considered a belated act of social justice when he published a notice in the newspapers saying that it was permissible for all voters and electors to shoot as many rabbits on his estate as they liked.

This was held by the Election Court, taking a rather stern view of the matter, as some form of corruption and he was unseated. In consequence of the judgment laid down there, and affirmed at a subsequent date, when Lady Sandhurst rather surprisingly stood for the L.C.C. as long ago as 1889, it was held—and I know the right hon. and learned Gentle man will correct me if he thinks I am wrong on the law—that provided the electors have knowledge of the status—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not see how this is connected with the Amendment to set up a Royal Commission.

Mr. Bing

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I may say so, I think it is extremely relevant. This is the consequence of passing the main Motion which we are discussing.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are not discussing the main Motion. We are discussing the Amendment.

Mr. Bing

With great respect, I understood that the discussion was ranging over both subjects.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

An Amendment has been moved and we are now discussing it.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

On a point of order. In view of the fact that nobody on this side of the House has been called on the Motion, except the mover of the Motion, can we be told whether the House will revert to a consideration of the Motion?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

After the Amendment has been dealt with the main Question will be put again.

Mr. Bing

Perhaps I can put myself in order by saying that what I conceive to be one of the inconveniences which this Amendment aims at dealing with is the need for having a second election in the constituency of Belfast, West. I am dealing with the point that such an election is quite unnecessary, and I am explaining to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House generally why it would be quite possible for that inconvenience never to arise. The Amendment refers to avoiding in future an inconvenience similar to that now caused to the electors of Belfast, West. Well, provided hon. Members opposite are prepared to accept the law, this inconvenience will never arise at all, and that is surely a reason for not appointing a Royal Commission, because we are able to deal with the matter in a different way.

The position is, shortly, this. If the status of the person is known, it does not matter that the electors may have been advised from the very highest quarter, because in Lady Sandhurst's case, if I may say so with the greatest respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, there was also very weighty opinion that a woman was able to stand for the L.C.C., and that opinion was afterwards held to be as erroneous as the one which suggested that an ordained priest could stand. At the time, however, that opinion was given, and was indeed believed by a great number of the electors. The real issue here is that had this matter gone to the Election Court they would undoubtedly have decided in favour of the second candidate, and in those circumstances I think that the House ought carefully to consider what their action ought to be.

I want to say just one final word. What has been suggested here is that the right course is that a candidate should be free to abandon his clerical position, and that then he is in a position to stand for Parliament. I think there is a great deal to be said for that proposition, but with the greatest respect that has nothing whatever to do with this present case. The reverend gentleman who sat in this seat, far from abandoning his clerical position, used it as one of his principal election assets. It is said that he gave up his pension and his rights. But he did not give up the propaganda value of his sacred calling; and if one wants to see official proof of that one has only to look at his notice of nomination, in which he describes himself as a clergyman.

The legislation in England which enables a clergyman to give up his clerical position in order to stand for Parliament expressly forbids him doing anything of that sort. Now had the reverend gentleman done that, there might have been some case for the House saying, "Well in those circumstances, this is merely a technical matter." But the offence in the eyes of myself and many of my hon. Friends is that there was a one-sided use of a spiritual position; a spiritual position denied to other religious minorities; a spiritual position which the Government of Northern Ireland refuse to admit even in their own local elections; and this was used in a critical constituency in the hope of swinging votes which would not otherwise be attracted by the political propaganda put forward by the reverend gentleman. In those circumstances, I hope the House will reject the Amendment and will carry the main Motion.

5.17 p.m.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

While we have party alliances in this House, the Motion moved by the Government this afternoon and the Amendment proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman are not party issues. The condition of membership of this House is the concern of every one of us as Members of this House, irrespective of party. The right to be elected to this House is the same for every Member of every party. As the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) pointed out, there are anomalies arising from the advice given by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and from the position accepted by the Government—anomalies that have been represented and accepted by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). Those anomalies, I believe, cannot be left where they are They leave, for instance, the Welsh Church, which was mentioned earlier, and the Church of Northern Ireland in a totally different position.

The question is: Are we to leave matters as they are, and leave the anomalies, which are admitted by every party to be unjust, or are we in some way to alter them? If they are to be altered, in what way are they to be altered? Those seem to me the plain and simple issues. If matters are left as they are, there is the odd anomaly pointed out this afternoon by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Rev. J. G. MacManaway) himself that had he maintained his position as an ordained priest in the Church of Northern Ireland and chosen to come across to Wales and taken a benefice in Wales, he could have stood for Parliament in Northern Ireland.

That is an anomaly which should be removed. It is not a disability upon Northern Ireland. It is not something which affects the electors of Northern Ireland. It is something which affects the right of the subject to stand for Parliament. To remove the anomaly is not a simple matter for a Royal Commission or a Select Committee. This is something which has grown up historically. There are two reasons, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, for excluding the clergy from this House. One is the legal reason imposed by Parliament itself. There is also the reason imposed by the Church itself, with which we have nothing to do. The Church say that the spiritual office and the more mundane political affairs are inconsistent with one another. That is the reason imposed by the Church, but that does not concern us.

The clergy were excluded originally for a very good reason. They were regarded as the fourth estate of the realm. Gradually, they found their duties to be too onerous. The lower clergy gave their rights to the higher House of Convocation, and we have the clergy still represented in the House of Lords, the Lords Spiritual. Prior to the Disestablishment Act, 1914, the Welsh Bishops, in common with the other Bishops, sat in the Upper House. After the passing of that Act, they were excluded. Clauses were put into that Act by which this privilege no longer obtained, and the Welsh Bishops no longer had the right to sit in the Upper House. Because they were excluded from the Upper House, it was felt that they were in the same position as ordinary citizens and should have ordinary citizens' rights of being entitled to sit for Parliament. Clauses were put in the 1914 Act to enable them to do so, and I do not think that anyone will deny the justice of that decision.

The same thing could have happened in the Act of 1869, and the matter was raised during a Debate in the House, but the reply of Mr. Gladstone was, I think, that the matter had been raised too late and it could not then be dealt with. He said, at a later stage, that the matter was urgent and should be remedied as early as possible. It is true that that was in 1869, and it never has been remedied. The passing of the Act of 1914 and the Welsh Church Act has made the position completely anomalous. Nothing could be more ridiculous than to allow the hon. Member for Belfast, West, to come to Wales and take a benefice there and then go back to Belfast, West, with all the privileges of being a clergyman of the Church of Wales.

Parliament cannot leave the position where it is. I agree with the Government's Motion, but I do not agree that a Royal Commission is what we want. A Royal Commission will not meet the position nor will a Select Committee. It is a matter of major constitutional importance. There might be a Speaker's conference because this is a matter which involves the constitutional position of the Lords Spiritual in this Parliament. While this involves the Catholic Church it does not involve Nonconformist Ministers. I suggest that the Government should consider setting up something analogous to a Speaker's conference to deal with the very major constitutional problem which this question involves.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)

I do not intend to deal with the legal arguments on this problem. Having delved into this matter for the last six months I find that like many legal problems it tends to lose its interest. I am bound to say that I gave an opinion which was not upheld by the Privy Council and which was not even, I learn now to my astonishment after the event, shared by the Lord President of the Council, although I should have thought more of his legal view had it been expressed before the event rather than after. However I was wrong, and I do not suppose for the last time, and the matter is now clearly decided.

I do not think that anyone can quarrel with the view that the seat must now be vacated. I am sorry that I gave the wrong advice to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, but there the matter rests. There is one thing that perturbed me somewhat when I heard it was suggested by some hon. Members that the indemnity which the Government had given—and I think properly given up to this date—should, as it were, have been in abeyance when the matter was sub judice. I think that shows a rather vindictive spirit that is foreign on the whole to this House. After all, the hon. Gentleman was sent here by his electors, acting on advice which has since been shown to be wrong, but which, so far as he was concerned, seemed good advice to him at the time, and the matter has been decided.

Supposing that the Privy Council had decided the other way, and he had been faced with his electors who said: "You should have had the courage to vote while this was going on." Surely we can understand that position. The hon. Gentleman could do nothing else, having been sent to do that very thing. I think that he could do nothing else than take his part, as well as he could, in this House until the matter was finally decided. Today, as we have heard, he made his first and last speech in this House.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

On a point of Order. Are we, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, now to take it that the question of the indemnities, so far as this hon. Member is concerned, may be discussed by any of us in connection with this Debate? Was that not to have been referred to a latter period, when a Bill is to be introduced?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I was on the point of stopping the hon. Member. We are now dealing with the Amendment and the question of a Royal Commission.

Mr. Gage

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I had in fact finished what I was going to say on that matter.

Speaking for myself, I always feel sorry when any hon. Member, for whatever reason, is leaving this pleasant and attractive place, which many of us enjoy so much. I think that so far as the hon. Member for Belfast, West, is concerned the matter could be left there.

We now come to the far more important aspect of this matter, and that is the lessons which we are to draw from the extraordinary state of affairs which have been revealed, and which I do not think were known to many hon. Members here. It would be perfectly simple to put this matter right. It would be quite easy to say that any clergyman of any denomination who did, as a clergyman of the Church of England can do now, namely, renounce his benefice, emoluments and appointments, should be entitled to sit. That could be done by a very short Bill without any difficulty at all.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry to interrupt, but before I put my question, I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my great appreciation to the hon. Member for the assistance which he gave me in this matter. As he suggested, I did put a similar point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that this Parliament should pass a law enabling a priest of the Church of Rome to leave his benefice, his priesthood, in such circumstances that he could never resume them, because that it what we have been able to do for the Established Church. Is the hon. Member suggesting that this Parliament can do that for any church other than the Established Church?

Mr. Gage

The Attorney-General will remember that the 1871 Act provided for a solemn act of renunciation; but there are circumstances in which a clergyman of the Church of England can return to his status. I suggest that the House could say that, as far as we are concerned, any clergyman of the Church of Rome can sit as a Member if he likes to cease to officiate as a priest and does not draw any emoluments in respect of his priesthood. Whether his church would permit him to do so, is quite another matter. I think we are entitled to say that any member of a particular church is entitled to become a Member if he does certain things.

The Attorney-General

The hon. Member is suggesting that we should pass legislation so that a Roman Catholic or a clergyman of some other episcopal church should be entitled to say "I relinquish my benefice," and, having said that, should be entitled to sit in the House, although he will remain a priest and can assume his priesthood whenever he wishes.

Mr. Gage

It would be perfectly easy to put it in the Bill, that if he does that he again disqualifies himself. I think we could do it, and I think it is the proper thing to do. It might, of course, launch the Government, as the Lord President of the Council has pointed out, into difficulties, as religious matters often do, but I am expressing my view, that I think it could and should be done. In an Amendment on the Order Paper to add at the end of the Motion: and further declares that it is of opinion that legislation should immediately be introduced to enable any clergyman of the Church of Ireland who relinquishes his living, appointment and emoluments by solemn deed of renunciation, as is the case with clergymen of the Church of England, to be eligible for membership of the Commons House of Parliament."— the point is covered for clergymen of the Church of Ireland, although I understand that this Amendment is not to be called. It is obviously very much less controversial to confine it to clergymen of the Church of England than to make a much wider provision, but if it is done in the one case, it could be done in respect of all cases.

My own view, which I have constantly expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, is that clergymen should not sit in the House at all. I personally do not care to see a person who exercises a spiritual calling sitting in this House, but I am also peculiar in many other ways. For instance, I do not like to see trade unionists sitting in this House, because I think they could be much better occupied in doing the work of looking after their comrades. I might say, if I were impertinent enough—of course, I would not say it—that I do not like to see the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) or the Lord President of the Council sitting here. I might say that it would be very much better for the country if they were not allowed to be members of any elected assembly, except, perhaps, the Lewisham Borough Council.

Obviously, we all have our idiosyncrasies when it comes to a question of who is to sit in the House of Commons. Far from it being an asset to the Unionist Party in West Belfast, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch seemed to imply, I take the reverse view. I do not think it was an asset that the hon. Member happened to be in holy orders. The position is, whatever personal idiosyncrasies one has, that the House should not prevent anyone from standing as a Member, save felons and peers. I think it is utterly wrong that, because a person follows a particular calling or has a particular office, he should be precluded ipso facto. Everyone should be given an opportunity to be elected.

This is a sad case in many respects, but it will have done some good by showing that these anomalies exist. I would make any legislation apply to all churches, whether they are established churches, episcopalian churches or denominational churches. It will be remembered that we had a peculiar case in the last Parliament. A very respected and robust Member, Dr. Little, sat for the County Down Division, while at the same time he was the Presbyterian minister holding a kirk in his constituency. No doubt, although I never heard him, he was accustomed on Sundays to express to his flock, in the robust terms he used here, a suspicion of some of the more secular views he expressed in the House on Mondays and during the rest of the week. How can we say that that is a right and proper thing for someone to do, while the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who has given up his living and does not officiate as a clergyman, and has not done so during the past few years, cannot sit here because he has been ordained? The position is obviously absurd.

There is clearly an objection to a clergyman who is officiating, particularly if he is officiating in his own constituency, sitting in the House, but that can be easily altered by a short Act, such as the one I have described, introducing the provision that applies to clergymen of the Established Church of England, to all denominations. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to this. If they do so the time that the Attorney-General and I have spent working together on this matter will not have been altogether wasted.

5.39 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

The House has heard the views of several Members on this issue. I think the more views that are expressed the more plain it becomes that it would create a fresh anomaly if we dealt only with this one disqualification in considering this question of disqualifications. May I say how much I agree with the first resonant sentence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), when he pointed out that this House has always preserved for itself the right to say who shall and who shall not be a Member of Parliament? If anybody is to advise us on this matter, we should be quite certain that they are persons steeped in the traditions and history of the House.

That is why I could not myself contemplate in any circumstances that this matter should be referred to a Royal Commission, as the Amendment asks us to do. I think it would be particularly difficult for His Majesty to find people to serve on a Royal Commission whose suspected political affiliations would not be canvassed very carefully by this House and by people outside. [Interruption.] Of course, if it was confined only to this matter, it might be their religious affiliations, but, while this matter has thrown itself up, it would be difficult, I think, to justify having an inquiry into only one of the many anomalies that exist.

We all know the problem that presents itself from time to time when some Member or other has found himself a member of a court of referees and then it is discovered that that is an office of profit under the Crown. I recall that when I was at the Board of Education it was felt that because my right hon. Friend the present Colonial Secretary had been asked by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) to be a member of the National Youth Council of Wales, he had been appointed to an office of profit under the Crown. Of course, there is outstanding the whole of that matter as reported to us by the Select Committee over which Sir Dennis Herbert presided during the war-time Parliament.

I should like to say this, and I think it ought to be said in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Rev. J. G. MacManaway). I under stand the stress under which he was speaking, but I regretted that he should have made some allusions which indicated that there was some party spirit about the action which has been taken. Let us be quite certain of this. No one can accuse the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of being actuated by any party spirit one way or the other in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nobody did."] After all, we are discussing the result of the Report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council—

Mr. Pickthom (Carlton)

I thought we were discussing the Amendment.

Mr. Ede

—and any partisanship which has been introduced must have come from that.

The Government recognise that there are anomalies in this matter. We are grateful for the way in which the advice of the Privy Council has, I understand, been unanimously accepted by the House this afternoon. I gather that the Amendment is not moved in any spirit hostile to the Motion.

I have given our reasons for thinking that if an inquiry has to take place, it should not be a Royal Commission. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) suggested that there might be a Speaker's Conference on the matter. That, after all, would keep it within the Parliamentary ambit, although as far as membership of the House is concerned I should not care to have the advantage of any interference from another place. I have never been quite sure, if we did what has been suggested today, what would be the position of a clergyman, if he was allowed to come here, who was appointed a bishop but had not a seat at the moment in the House of Lords. Would he be disqualified because in a few years' time, if he lived long enough and his brethren on the episcopal bench died off quickly enough, he might get a seat in the Lords? There are all sorts of amazing anomalies which can be thought of, which, perhaps, are conceivable although not always probable.

Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)

Are not bishops appointed by the Crown?

Mr. Ede

Yes. After all, during the reign of Queen Anne and some of her predecessors, Whig Governments took particular care to see that they had the right people there to vote among the Tory peers.

The Government are quite willing to consider this matter. It is the kind of matter that might very well be discussed through the usual channels, as it is said, to see whether we could arrive at some agreement as to what exactly are the things into which we want to inquire and, if we could get some agreement on those lines, what would be the most appropriate tribunal to consider them. I am quite certain that to appoint a Royal Commission to deal with this very narrow point would not either be in accordance with history nor would it serve the most useful purpose.

Many of my hon. Friends behind me have heard of anomalies. My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) the other day drew attention to the very amazing one that a schoolmaster employed by a county council is ineligible to stand as a candidate, but that if he is employed by a county borough council he can stand as a candidate. There are many things like that which, I think, need clearing up. I hope the House will be prepared to accept the view that we must today declare this seat vacant and the fact that it has thrown up the kind of doubts that may exist cannot be lost sight of.

Of course, the House today could proceed on the basis that it would appoint the second candidate to fill the vacancy. The precedent for doing it, while it is a good, sound Tory one, is not one which I commend to the House. That was what the House did when John Wilkes was returned for Middlesex after being declared here ineligible and getting a vast majority of votes. The House decided that they did not want him and they elected the second candidate. I do not suggest that course to the House, but I do suggest that the Motion should be passed, and that consideration should be given between the parties and other Members who may be interested to what is the best way of dealing with the numerous anomalies which undoubtedly exist.

5.47 p.m.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Perhaps the House will allow me. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman, he accepts the principle that a body will be established to consider the matter and leaves to discussion, according to the usual methods of the House, the terms of reference of the body and what that body will be. If I have rightly interpreted the right hon. Gentleman, I should ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Ede

There should be a general discussion about the whole of the issues involved.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The right hon. Gentleman will not, I hope, think that I am pressing too far, but, obviously, this is a matter on which people feel deeply, and he will appreciate the position. If the right hon. Gentleman will give us the undertaking that a body will be established—I am not asking him to tie himself to the body—then I should ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment. I must, however, ask the Home Secretary to go as far as that, because otherwise I have nothing tangible to hang on to.

Mr. Ede

indicated assent.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The right hon. Gentleman has indicated—

Mr. Logan

I take it that the nodding of heads signifies that an agreement will be arrived at in regard to all the anomalies. If so, that is all right.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The Home Secretary conveyed his answer by House of Commons wireless, but I understood it; he nodded affirmatively and agreed with what I have suggested, that a body would be set up—what the body is and what the terms of reference to be decided by discussion in the usual way. On that assurance, which I accept, from the Home Secretary, whether it is conveyed by nod or by word, I ask the leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That this House having taken into consideration the Report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of the Reverend James Godfrey MacManaway, elected a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the constituency of Belfast West, declares that he was at the time of his election and is disabled from sitting and voting in the House of Commons by reason of the fact that, having been ordained a Priest according to the use of the Church of Ireland, he has received episcopal ordination.