HC Deb 30 June 1954 vol 529 cc1353-60
Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707, and other Acts, to provide that the receipt by Members of Parliament of income other than their Parliamentary or Ministerial salaries in excess of such a sum and from such other sources as shall be decided by resolution of the House of Commons shall be deemed to be income derived from an office of profit under the Crown and shall disqualify from membership of the House of Commons as though the Member held an office of profit under the Crown; and for other purposes connected therewith. The Bill has one simple object and that is to remove the pernicious influence of the over-rich Member of Parliament by the simple expedient of liquidating that type of person politically. The Bill aims at completing the work which unfortunately has not yet effectively been achieved by Surtax and death duties. Many of us feel that it is highly desirable that this should be done in the interests of our country, in the interests of the House of Commons and in the interests of the Conservative Party.

Our danger in the House of Commons at present has been well stated by the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Sir W. Fletcher) who unfortunately, I believe, is ill, in a letter which he sent to the "Daily Mail" a few weeks ago, on 9th June. He said: The Commons must never become a Tied House.…The Conservative Party should realise the need to see that the best Members come in irrespective of party. We are steadily drifting towards a tied house. Unless a Member can have independence and freedom from financial worry…he is not the best representative for the people of this country. The hon. Member went on to point out that there were far too many Members in the House of Commons who had particular labels tied to them. He pointed out that some of them had the label tied to them of representing the brewing interests. Others represented the landed interests, and others the building interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] There are others.

In his letter the hon. Member also said: They are dependent on these interests for monetary assistance which put them in Parliament and maintains them there. The hon. Member drew the conclusion from his remarks that the only way to deal with that problem was to give Members of Parliament an adequate salary. I fully agree with that conclusion, but I should like to draw a further conclusion, which is that if we are to face up to that problem we must also attempt to remove the influences that affect Members undesirably. In other words, we must remove the undesirable sources of income which some may receive.

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe appealed to the Conservative Party for support on the ground that it was desirable to raise the quality and standard of the Labour M.P.s who came into the House. I should like to appeal to hon. Members on this side of the House to support my Bill so that we can raise the standard of Members coming into the House on the Conservative side. I only hope that the Conservative Members will give me the same support when I try to improve their standards as we on this side of the House gave to the hon. Member when he tried to improve our standards.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

He was not very lucky.

Mr. Parker

I am sure that most of us, on whichever side of the House we sit, would agree that the great majority of the House consists, whether we like it or not, of professional politicians. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Whatever may be said by the "Daily Telegraph" in its 19th Century grandmotherly way which thinks it infra dig. for a man to be a professional politician, the fact remains that the great majority of Members coming into the House cannot carry on the profession or the job which they had before they came in.

The miner, the building worker or the school teacher, the university lecturer or the doctor, cannot possibly carry on the job he had before he came into the House. He has to rely in the main on his Parliamentary salary. He cannot continue to earn a living in the job he previously had. There are some exceptions, we know. Journalists can earn a living in the House, so I am told, and we also see quite a number of barristers with us.

Mr. Osborne

What about the B.B.C.?

Mr. Parker

With barristers I would point out that, although people at the top of the profession may find it an advantage to have political connections, I am certain that for young barristers it is a disadvantage to be Members of the House when they are trying to advance in their careers. There is one important group, however, which finds it quite easy to combine membership of the House with a job, and that is company directors. I must say more about them later.

All of us would agree that it is highly desirable that Members of the House should have outside interests, that they should be able to carry on activities and have contacts with people in various walks of life so as to keep in touch with the life and opinion in the country. All of us would agree that it is desirable for back-bench Members particularly to have outside activities. Some may be unpaid, some poorly paid and some well paid, but there is one important criterion which should be borne in mind when we consider the types of activities, and that is that they should not be activities which prevent a man or a woman from giving adequate attention to the work in this House, and they should not be such as unduly to influence a Member in the decisions that he has to take in this House. In other words, he should not be forced through those activities to subordinate public interest to private interest. Experience shows that those in this House who have overlarge incomes from outside sources are likely to be affected undesirably by the two things which I have mentioned.

We ought, therefore, to pass this Bill and draw up a number of rules to try to meet the difficulties. I suggest that we should not be too harsh upon hon. Members about their outside activities. We might start by allowing hon. Members to have £1,000 net income after deduction of tax, which would represent about £4,000 gross as an outside limit, but if a man exceeded that income he should be disqualified from sitting in the House.

There would, however, always be an avenue of escape for hon. Members. Any hon. Member who wished to continue to devote his services to public work could always hand over the balance of his income to the Exchequer and thereby remove the disqualification. I suggest that that money might well be used by the Exchequer to pay a living wage to Members of Parliament who are less well off. I am certain that many hon. Members would be only too pleased to hand over their surplus income for that purpose.

Mr. R. R. Stokes (Ipswich)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Parker

I note that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) is not in his place. I am certain that if he wished to continue the great work that he has always done to develop the social services in this country, he could find some way of doing so.

I suggest that at the present time the real danger to the House of Commons and its reputation comes not from the professional politician but from the incompetent amateur who comes into the House and whose main interests are outside the House. That type of person either jumps into some field about the facts of which he is completely ignorant and does no useful work, or else he enthusiastically starts log-rolling in some field in which he is only too well informed. Parliament would be very much better if we got rid of these passengers which the rest of us have to carry.

I see that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) is in his place. I observe from the "Directory of Directors" that he has no fewer than 42 directorships, mainly in property and investment trusts, and is chairman of 23 of them. I cannot see how an hon. Member can give adequate time for all his 42 companies, for his constituency and for the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Croydon, East is also fortunate in that he has 12 directorships and is chairman of no fewer than two trade associations. Those posts cover a very wide field. We know, and many local authorities know to their cost, how wide that field is.

It would be in the general interest of the House of Commons and of the country that this Bill should be passed. There is a very strong case for the House to take these new powers and to use them in the way I have suggested. In doing so, the House of Commons would be adding to the dignity and standing of the House.

Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I beg to oppose the proposal which has just been made to the House. I consider that the object is bad, the method is bad and the timing is deplorable.

The object, as explained by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), is that the House of Commons should take upon itself the duty of deciding who are to become Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. It is written in the terms describing the Bill and it was stated again by the hon. Member in his speech. The terms of the proposal are: …income…in excess of such a sum and from such other sources as shall be decided by resolution of the House of Commons shall…disqualify from membership of the House of Commons… Thus, the House of Commons by resolution decides who shall be disqualified. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is in the resolution. There are the words. It was emphasised by the hon. Member in his speech. It was not a matter of inadvertence.

What did the hon. Member say? He said that a chief danger to the House of Commons is the entry into it of amateurs; that is to say, people whom the hon. Member considers to be amateurs. Who is the judge of who enters this House? The electors and no one else. This is not the first time that attempts have been made to limit membership of the House of Commons. Always they have been unsuccessful. A person who comes to the Bar of this House bearing with him the sanction of the electorate is inevitably at some time or other admitted to membership of this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "MacManaway."]—and that has been fought out time and time again. This is one of the most retrograde steps that could possibly be imagined.

The hon. Member said that this is only the beginning. If this method is adopted here, who is to say that it will not be extended by a future House of Parliament and that a Protestant majority will not exclude Catholics or a Catholic majority will not exclude Protestants? This is the way in which Fascist Houses of Parliament are created, by the elected assembly arrogating to itself the right to decide over the heads of the electorate who is to be allowed to join it.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Surely we already exclude those who are gainfully employed under the Crown. We are referring here to private gainful occupation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not customary to have any interruptions during a Ten-minutes Rule debate.

Mr. Elliot

I shall come to the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I said that the object of the Bill is bad. The limitation is to control the House by Resolution of the House. Ministers are not excluded under a Resolution of the House. The situation would be that under a Resolution of this House certain Members duly elected by the electorate would be forbidden to take their places in this House.

The next thing is how it is to be done. It is to be done by a flagrant lie, by deeming a thing to be so which is not so, by assuming that something which is not an office of profit under the Crown and which nobody suggests is an office of profit under the Crown shall be deemed by the Resolution to be an office of profit under the Crown.

Furthermore, the proposal is one which, I suggest, has never been given any thought or consideration from the administrative point of view. What about the hon. Member whose wife has an income? What are the "prohibited degrees" for income under this proposal? Is it possible for a man to have a wealthy relative and live upon his income, which is not the income of the Member concerned? Is that the way to get a free and independent House of Commons? What is to prevent an hon. Member living on his debts? It has been done before. It was Disraeli who boasted that his debts had been a spur to his advancement. Under this proposal, what is to prevent a man borrowing unlimited sums of money, which would not be income, unless a debt is deemed to be income? The only difference between Old King Cole and the Mother of Parliaments under this Bill would be that Old King Cole knew how many fiddlers he had got.

Last of all, I should say that the timing of this proposal is deplorable. As everyone in this House knows, we are in the middle of an acrimonious, wounding, and, if I may say so, degrading argument about the proper scale of remuneration for Members of Parliament. Everyone knows where I stand on that.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

We never know where the right hon. Gentleman stands.

Mr. Elliot

I have gone on record by signature, by voice and by vote, and I do not withdraw at all from the position which I then adopted or which I adopt now. But I do say that, at this moment, to muddy the waters of dispute by a proposition such as this, and to attempt to secure a vote from the House of Commons on this proposal, is no service either to the Houses of Parliament or the country.

I do beg hon. Members in all sections of the House, and indeed I beg the hon. Member who asked leave to introduce the Bill, to consider whether they wish to proceed with this proposal now. What we all wish is that this sordid dispute should be dealt with, and that a satisfactory solution should be come to, so that, with a certain amount of give-and-take from all sides, this matter can then be left behind, and we can get on to those great issues which, after all, this House of Commons was returned to settle.

A disproportionate amount of the time of hon. Members has already been devoted to this matter, and this is no time to prolong our discussions. If leave is given to introduce the Bill, the process of legislation would have to follow through the Second Reading, Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading, which, after all, would be the negation of the solution by agreement which we all desire. I strongly oppose the proposal which has been brought forward, and I trust very much that it will not be persisted in.

Question put, and negatived.