§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
As my right hon. Friend informed the House on 6th May, this Bill is required in order to indemnify my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) from the consequences of his having accepted an office which, the Government have been advised, is an office of profit under the Crown. I need not tell the House that the acceptance of such an office automatically disqualifies any Member; in fact, it is the basis of resignation of a Member's seat, as recognised by the application for the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead.
If a Member inadvertently continues to sit and to vote after having been disqualified, he renders himself liable to very heavy penalties, for a common informer can recover £500 in respect of every day upon which the Member sits and votes, that having been excluded from the Common Informers' Act, when the activities of that unpleasant individual were very largely curtailed a little time ago. Whatever views hon. Members may hold about the rights and wrongs of any particular case in respect of disqualification, if there has, as a matter of law, been an infringement the House can prevent the activities of the common informer from coming into operation only by passing an Act of Indemnity, and that is why it has been necessary to bring this Bill forward. I mention it because some hon. Members might say at first sight, "Does it matter? As long as the House is satisfied that no harm has been done, why need we do anything?" The answer in such a case as this is that unless something is done, very heavy penalties might be suffered. There was a case in 1913 where £46,500 was claimed.
The first point on which the House will wish to be satisfied is as to the personal motives and behaviour of the hon. Member concerned, and it is a satisfaction to be able to assure the House 1158 that there is no question on that point at all in this case. The facts show—and I can give them to the House if necessary —that he acted quite innocently and properly, though possibly a little incautiously at the very outset.
He was appointed as chairman of the London Agency of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board as from 1st February this year, and he acted in that capacity for two months and 10 days— that is to say, until llth April—with this very important qualification, the House may think, as far as the merits of the matter are concerned, that during that period he received no remuneration whatever. He received no remuneration up to the time he ceased to act. Apparently it never occurred to him when he accepted this post that, as the Board was an Australian Government Agency, he ought to make some inquiries about it before he accepted employment under it, because that is what he did; he accepted employment as a member of the London Agency, which is employed by the Board itself.
It appears that in April he got some idea that there might be something wrong, and he took counsel's opinion, which appears to have been in his favour. I do not know whether counsel had all the information and documents which became available later, but when all the documents and information were supplied to us by the hon. Member, who gave us every possible assistance in the matter, we went into them and, to cut a long story short, we were compelled in due course, after considering the matter most carefully, to reach the conclusion that we must advise him, as we did on 6th May, that in our opinion he was disqualified. He thereupon withdrew from the House and since then, up to and including today, he has taken no further part in our affairs.
I should say at once that these matters are highly technical. The hon. Member has acted throughout with complete propriety, as I can safely assure the House. He received no remuneration at all. This, therefore, seemed to be a case where, in accordance with custom and usage, the House would consider granting relief.
I do not think the House would wish me to enter into a long disquisition on the matter, but in view of certain repre- 1159 sentations which have been made to me it would be at least discourteous of me, if not foolish, if I were not to mention one point which has been raised. There are, of course, two considerations involved under the relevant Act of Parliament, the Act of 1707. First of all, there must be an office of profit, and, secondly, that office of profit must be under the Crown.
As for the first point, I do not think anyone would have any doubt that the hon. Member's employment constituted an office of profit. It has been decided— and there are numerous precedents in the books—that it is not necessary to show that remuneration has been received if it were receivable. I think we may take that as being established.
As regards the second point, whether it is under the Crown, the Board is clearly a Government agency. It has the general duty of controlling exports of dried fruits from Australia, and its members are removable by the Governor-General of Australia. On the face of it, it would be generally described as a Government agency. I need not trouble the House with details of the statutes unless hon. Members wish to refer to them, but I can perhaps put it this way. The Board is much more of a Government agency than the Transport Commission or the Coal Board. It is much less of an independent corporation such as we have in this country. It was set up, I think, in 1924.
Two hon. Members—I should now say three hon. Members—have been good enough to raise with me a query as to whether the Crown in the expression "under the Crown" extends to Australia and would include an Australian Government appointment. The hon. Baronet the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who, I believe, is known as the Arch Back Bencher, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) have raised the point and I have carefully considered it.
The hon. Baronet suggests that the Crown is a different corporation sole in Australia and here. I assure the House that to the best of my belief that is just not so. I do not want to weary the House, but this is an important matter. It may be true that the effect of the 1160 Statute of Westminster and the Royal Titles Act, which was passed last year, can be to make the Crown divisible. But the fact that the Crown is divisible does not mean that the Crown is divided; and so far as Australia is concerned, the Crown is definitely not divided. Nothing whatever has been done since the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900, to alter the status or position of the Crown.
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900, says:Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:By Section 2,The provisions of this Act"—Which is still in force today—referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty's heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.The first paragraph of the Constitution, in Chapter I, "The Parliament," states:The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and which is herein-after called ' The Parliament,' or ' The Parliament of the Commonwealth'.Paragraph 2:A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty's representative in the Commonwealth…That, of course, is the Governor-General, who has the power of dealing with the Board. So that there is no question about it today; the position is still the same. Nothing has been done under the Statute of Westminster. Indeed, Mr. Menzies has always been most insistent that nothing of the kind should be done.
In "The Times" of 19th February, 1953, quoted in the House on 3rd March last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), Mr. Menzies is quoted as having said that he had alwaysstrongly opposed the suggestion that the Queen should be named Queen of Australia without first mention of the United Kingdom, because this would tend to work against unity…. It was unnecessary anyway, as the Queen was, under strict law, Australia's Queen, because Australia had never made an Act of secession.1161 That is the position today, and it is interesting to observe that the title under which Her Majesty was proclaimed named her as the Queen of the United Kingdom and Australia, and she has always been treated in that way. In other words, there has never been any division of the Crown between the United Kingdom and Australia, and we might say that long may that state of affairs continue.
It is also suggested by someone in connection with this matter that there is something new in the whole idea of a Commonwealth or colonial appointment having any effect of this kind. It is to be noted that on 25th April, 1879. according to c. 1104 of HANSARD, it was resolved by this House that the Attorney-General of Victoria, Australia, one Sir Bryan O'Loghlen, was disqualified from sitting as the Member for County Clare on the ground that he held an office of profit under the Crown. I will go into more detail if the House wishes, but I assure the House that this matter has been considered. Heaven forbid that I might have to consider what the position would be in relation to Eire, Pakistan, Ceylon or anywhere else, but certainly with regard to Australia there is no question about this, and so far nothing has happened to prevent the Crown from including Australia.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Since it is common ground with all of us that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) was doing a useful service, why should he be estopped doing it? Why do we have a Bill of Indemnity instead of an enabling Bill to enable people to serve members of our Commonwealth, which I think we would be all in favour of their doing? I am sure that nobody would object to retrospective legislation in that respect.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would wish me to enter into a general argument about Parliamentary disqualification, nor do I think that the House would be very anxious to legislate piecemeal, because that would mean that before we knew where we were one might find 625 Members in turn suggesting a case in which they thought there should be no disqualification. We can only deal with one at a time, and all I ask the House to do is to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Before we have the Amendment moved, if it is for the convenience of the House, perhaps I should call the hon. Member for Croydon. East (Sir H. Williams).
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I am very grateful to the Attorney-General for the amount of time he has devoted to the letter that I wrote to him. I hope that my friend Mr. Macpherson will be back here very soon. I call him Mr. Macpherson on the assumption that the Attorney-General is right, but for the rest of my speech I shall refer to him as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), because I think this Bill is totally unnecessary.
It is no good our going back to what was passed by this Parliament in 1900 when we set up the Commonwealth of Australia. Many things have happened since then. The question at issue is whether the Queen of Australia is a corporation sole in that capacity and the Queen of the United Kingdom is a separate corporation sole. A parson, for instance, may have the benefice of two separate parishes and he is two corporations sole. There is nothing unusual in a person holding two separate offices.
This matter has undergone very many changes, and I am not certain whether the present situation is desirable or undesirable. It started at Versailles on 28th June, 1919. I have in my possession a copy of the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed by a vast number of people representing many countries. There were live signatories for this country, starting with the late Lloyd George and finishing with George Barnes. They signed forHis Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the seas. Emperor of India.After that comes, not "for the King," but "for the Dominion of Canada," and there appears "The Minister of Justice" and then, "for the Commonwealth of Australia." They signed separately; they did not sign for the monarch. That was the beginning of the breakdown of the indivisibility of the Crown.
We move forward to 1926, when there was an Imperial Conference to which was presented a document known as the 1163 Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was the first document which created the idea of Dominion status. In short, the idea was separate sovereignty for the completely self-governing parts of the British Empire outside the United Kingdom. My friend Mr. L. S. Amery, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, was sent on a six months' tour to explain to the Dominion Governments the change in Dominion status as a result of the Balfour Declaration.
Following that, many Dominions started appointing diplomatic representatives in different capitals. In that sense the Queen of Australia is represented in a variety of countries by the Australian ambassadors. In the some countries she is represented by ambassadors representing the Queen of Canada. She is represented in, I think, every country in the world which has a government of sorts by an ambassador or Minister representing the Queen of the United Kingdom. It has been established quite clearly that the Dominions can enter into treaties in the name of Her Majesty with foreign countries which do not bind us. Equally, we can enter into treaties which do not bind them. So gradually over the years we have built up the conception of entirely separate sovereignties; in other words, that the Crown has ceased to be indivisible and has become divisible.
I remember in 1927 an old friend of mine, now dead for many years, Sir Gerald Strickland, then Member of Parliament for Lancaster, who was a member of the Maltese Parliament. We called him the Prime Minister of Malta, but that was not his technical definition, although he was in effect the Prime Minister of Malta and remained in this Parliament as the Member for Lancaster for, I think, six months. The situation was a rather embarrassing one, because he used to ask what I think I am right in saying were rude Questions of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who was his boss. The problem was solved when, on 1st January, 1928, he was made a peer. That does not alter the fact that he was unchallenged and, although I forget the exact dates, I think that for over six months he remained a Member of this House although he was the head of the Government of Malta.
1164 I should have thought that the head of the Government of Malta was an office of profit under the Crown. I know that he was not paid—he did not take any money—but it was an office of profit and it was not challenged. I should have thought that it was very much more of an office of profit under the Crown than that of someone in the Australian Government which today has a separate sovereignty. I do not know whether the Attorney-General has looked into the problem of Lord Strickland.
In 1931 we passed the Statute of Westminster, which carried further this doctrine of the sovereignty of the self-governing parts of the British Empire. Now we come to the Bill to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General made some reference. It is the Royal Titles Bill, which we discussed in this House on 3rd March, 1953. As right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will remember, there was a conference of Ministers which sorted out which titles Her Majesty was to take for the different parts of the Empire.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made a speech in general terms describing the gradual constitutional developments. He did not commit himself to the statement that the Crown had now become divisible. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) who, speaking from the Front Bench opposite, said:This Bill may come to be an important landmark in the constitutional development of the Commonwealth. The Bill has two aspects, both of which must be borne in mind. The first is that it accepts completely the idea of the divisibility of the Crown, and we ought to realise that this is the first occasion on which that principle and idea have been fully accepted in a formal document."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 195.]That was his interpretation. It was not challenged by the Government Front Bench or any other bench. Later on my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West(Mr. Powell), who did not like the Bill, said:It is that in this title, for the first time, will be recognised a principle hitherto never admitted in this country, namely, the divisibility of the Crown."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1953: Vol. 512, c. 242.]There we have a right hon. Gentleman and an hon. Gentleman on each side, 1165 one of whom likes the Bill because it sets out the principle, and one of whom dislikes it because it does. Nobody challenged the doctrine. It does not matter what we legislated for the Commonwealth of Australia in 1907 because this happened last year, and the latest Act overrules all the previous Acts if there is any conflict in interpretation. Here we have established by the Act we passed that the Queen of Australia in the corporate sense is not the same thing as the Queen of the United Kingdom. All our laws about disqualification for sitting in the House relate to services under the Crown of the United Kingdom. I am concerned that we should make sure what we are doing, because by this Bill we are challenging what we did on 3rd March last year.
§ The Attorney-General
Does the hon. Baronet know what the Queen's title in Australia is? It is, pursuant to the Royal Titles Act: Elizabeth II, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom, Australia and her other territories and realms, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. That is her title in Australia.
§ Sir H. Williams
The fact that that is her title in Australia has no authority on the Chairman here. Frequently in our proceedings, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you ask us to vote sums to Her Majesty for this, that or the other Estimates. She can only spend it as we direct. I know that the way they conduct business in the Commonwealth Parliaments is similar, and I am sure that your opposite number in Australia will ask for a lot of money to be voted to Her Majesty for the purposes of Australia. But it can only be spent in Australia. There is no swapping between us and them on the money voted to the Crown, whatever the title may be.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
It seems to me that there is a more relevant and recent fact. It is that the Queen of Australia is a party to the ANZUS Pact but that the Queen of the United Kingdom is not.
§ Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
Can my hon. Friend say who is the Queen of England?
§ Sir H. Williams
I think the proper answer to that is that Elizabeth I was. Her successor was King of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
The hon. Member ought to add, "and Northern Ireland," otherwise he will offend his own party.
§ Sir H. Williams
I think I said "United Kingdom." At that time it was Great Britain.
But what is actually Her Majesty's title in Australia has no bearing on the matter. She is trustee on behalf of the people of Australia of the property of what we might call the people of Australia. Equally here she is the trustee of all the property of the people of the United Kingdom. There are two separate corporations. It is true that the same person is what might be called the trustee of those corporations. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper, which I do not think I shall vote for, not because I disagree with it, but because I think we ought to relieve—I do not know whether to call him Mr. Niall Macpherson or the hon. Member for Dumfries—of his troubles as early as possible.
There is a lot to be said for the Motion. The time has come when we ought to sort out this matter afresh. It is perfectly absurd that we should have this uncertainty. I well remember the case of an old friend of mine who was the hon. Member for Walsall, Mr. William Preston. He was elected in 1924 on the same day as I was elected an M.P. for Reading. We had the British Sugar Subsidy Bill during which he voted 40 times. Just after Christmas he received a telegram asking him to go to 10, Downing Street at noon on the following day to see the Prime Minister. "Willie" as we used to call him, had no political ambitions, and he was anxious to know why Stanley Baldwin wanted to see him. He knocked at the front door of 10, Downing Street at five minutes to twelve on the following day. The door opened and he ran into Douglas Hogg, the Attorney-General, who was afterwards Lord Hailsham. The Attorney-General said, "I have some bad news for you." Willie said, "What is it?" and the Attorney-General replied, "You are not a Member of Parliament."
1167 This rather shattered Willie, because he distinctly remembered the Mayor of Walsall returning him as Member for Walsall on 29th October. The Attorney-General said, "Are not you a member of an electrical company called Saunders and Company?" and Willie said, "Yes." The Attorney-General said, "Is it a limited company?" and my friend replied, "No, it is a partnership." The Attorney-General said, "Do not you do a bit of work for the Post Office" and Willie said, "Yes, we have done so for years past. We have sold them a little speciality which costs £100."
The Attorney-General said, "You are a partner in a company which has a contract with the Crown. You were not qualified to be nominated as a Parliamentary candidate. The election at Walsall should never have taken place, and in addition you have incurred a penalty of £20,000."My old friend was very sad. The Attorney-General said, "We will pass a Bill of Indemnity to save you from your penalty, and if you renounce the contract you can stand again for Walsall. "My old friend did so and was elected. But he was completely innocent over the whole matter and his nomination was accepted in the first place in good faith.
If hon. Members look in the Library they will find the William Preston Indemnity Bill, and no doubt when this Bill is passed, Mr. Niall Macpherson, or the hon. Member for Dumfries, will frame a copy of it so that his heirs and successors will be able to gaze at it through succeeding generations.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has intervened in this debate, because these discussions—and during my membership of the House we have had several of them—tend to become a contest between lawyers on very obstruse refinements of the law.
I shall not attempt to criticise anything which the Attorney-General has said, except that I should have thought that the position of Eire was pretty plain, because they have actually seceeded from the Commonwealth. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention India where, as I understand it, the 1168 Monarch of this country is not Queen of India but is recognised as head of the Commonwealth, whatever that may mean.
I sometimes hear talk about the conferences between heads of States attended by the Prime Minister of this country, and, whatever else he may be, he is certainly not the head of the State. When we get a formal discussion, such as we sometimes have, one has to be very careful, because terms in colloquial use can be highly inaccurate when used in any formal sense. I certainly join with the hon. Baronet the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) in what he said at the end of his speech, because I think that it is high time that we had some clarification on this matter so that all hon. Members may know where they stand.
During the war years, and any hon. Member who was here will remember it well, Sir Dennis Herbert, a much respected Chairman of Committees, presided over a Select Committee which dealt with this issue, and which made certain recommendations. At that time, it will also be recalled, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) had accepted the dignified office of being Chairman of the Youth Education Committee under what was then the Welsh Board of Education. He received no remuneration, but it was held that he had accepted an office of profit, in the technical language, and that brought him within the mischief of this particular Act.
I have no doubt that a large number of other hon. Members, particularly during war-time, who had accepted various honorary offices were held to hold what we are pleased to call "offices of profit." The office in the Bill we are discussing tonight is not, I understand, an honorary office. There is remuneration, but the hon. Member concerned discovered his position sufficiently soon for him not to have drawn any of the remuneration which the Government of Australia were willing to pay to any holder of this post. The whole position appears to be full of traps and pitfalls for an innocent person. I cannot, for instance, understand what was the position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed him to the post in Wales which I have mentioned.
1169 Last year, the Minister of Works appointed the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and myself to be members of the Historic Buildings Council for England; and remembering what had happened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, I inquired about what effect that appointment might have on my membership of this House. But I was told that that appointment made no difference at all, and that, I think, illustrates how easily the thing might be overlooked. Any hon. Member might be found to have accepted an office which makes it impossible for him to continue membership of this House without recourse to an Act of Indemnity being passed.
I am not going into the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), but I use the words quite deliberately in saying that I think the mystery which surrounds the Crown is not the least of its attributes; and the mysterious way in which one person can combine within himself, or herself, all the loyalties of people of diverse races, descents, religions, and outlooks on life, is a thing which we should accept without probing too deeply into it.
I say that because I think the maintenance of this great brotherhood of nations as a collective force in the world, no matter in what mysterious way they may be united, is a thing which for any time for which we can look forward will be a considerable blessing to the world. I am therefore not very much concerned, if the Attorney-General will allow me to say so, with the words which were used in an Act in 1900 and the exact title by which the monarch is proclaimed in various states of the Commonwealth, but I think that the multiplication of the people in the House holding offices of profit connected with countries other than the United Kingdom is something which should be watched with care.
After all, if an hon. Member holds some office connected even with another member of the Commonwealth, there may be occasions when matters concerning that member of the Commonwealth may be discussed here and when, even if there were no remuneration, it would still be very desirable that that connection should be known. I am unfortunately old enough to recollect that an hon. Member for Caithness sat for many 1170 years when he was the agent in this country for the Republic of the Transvaal—Dr. Clark—and when it came to the Boer War it was quite obvious that he had a conflict of interests. I merely instance that as the kind of thing which can happen.
§ Mr. Ede
Yes, he was a Member for the crofters, and a very good one, too.
He was also a paid servant of the Republic of the Transvaal and, while my sympathies were always with the Transvaal, I think he was in a position of considerable difficulty as a Member of this House and a paid servant of a State which was at war with this country. I merely mention that because it is a case which has always been in my memory, and it is not without its connection with the kind of discussion which we are having tonight.
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will feel that there is some force, if not in the Amendment, certainly in what is behind the Amendment. I recall that in the last days of the Labour Government we were considering drawing up a list of disqualifications which would be placed in a Bill to be brought before the House, and our discussions had gone a considerable way. I cannot help thinking that in the circumstances of today it is very difficult to cover our proceedings and our membership of the House by an Act which was passed as long ago as 1707, in a very different world, in which the relationship of members to this House and in this House were very different from what they are today.
I hope that the Government will think that this further example, in rather a new sphere, of the difficulties which beset hon. Members warrants some action being taken in the light of Sir Dennis Herbert's Report and of subsequent happenings, so that we can proceed about our ordinary business affairs with greater certainty than is the case at present.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House is of opinion that a committee should be set up to inquire into the whole question of offices of profit under the Crown, 1171 with a view to preparing a short schedule _of such offices which would be ineligible to be held by Members of Parliament, and would remove all other disqualifications.I should like to point out that this is not an isolated case. In the past 20 years no fewer than seven Members have been thus disqualified for accepting some office of this kind, and four different Bills have had to be passed by the House. I think most hon. Members take the view that it is a waste of time that we should continually have to have Bills of this kind brought forward when some Member, through inadvertence usually, has accepted something said by lawyers to be an office of profit under the Crown.
Apart from these cases in the last 20 years, there was a surprising case in 1932 when it was found that all the Presidents of the Board of Trade from 1909 to that date were disqualified, owing to some slip in drawing up an Act passed in 1909, and a Bill had to be brought forward to remove that disqualification on all the Presidents of the Board of Trade between those particular dates.
I think it is important to look at why the House, in the first instance, decided to bring in legislation to prevent hon. Members from accepting offices of profit under the Crown. It was intended by the House that the Government should not have at their disposal funds which could be used to bribe Members to get their support in voting in this House. That was the original idea of the legislation brought forward in this House. At the present time we have complete chaos on this subject.
I do not wish to attack hon. and learned Members of this House as a group, but it is a fact that the lawyers in this House frequently obtain from the Government briefs, whether Opposition lawyers or those on the Government side. Many distinguished lawyers become recorders and obtain salaries for doing that work. There is one legal disqualification, that a man may not be an M.P. for the same town as he happens to be recorder. But we have a very important section of the House in a position where they can obtain official recognition from the Government of the day. In other words, the whole purpose of the original Act is by-passed in this important field.
1172 I am not saying that hon. and learned Members who accept Government briefs are thereby persuaded to vote for the Government of the day, particularly if they happen to be on the Opposition side, but it may well be an undesirable feature in the House if we have a Government able to offer official recognition in this way to hon. Members. At any rate, it seems quite ridiculous to have some jobs regarded as offices of profit under the Crown, for which in many cases no salary is paid, while on the other hand hon. Members can accept jobs from the Government without being disqualified in any way. I would say there is a strong case for having an investigation into this whole matter and for tidying up on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). That is the object of this Amendment we have put down.
It is curious that there is no way of finding out what jobs actually do disqualify a person. A friend of mine who happens to be a Professor in a North Country University actually wrote to the Home Office and asked for information as to what jobs disqualified a person from being a Member of this House. The answer he received recently was that no such list existed or could be supplied by the Home Office. The learned professor was told to look at all the statutes and work out for himself what jobs disqualified anybody from sitting as a Member of the House. He attempted to do so, but did not come to any very precise conclusion. If a professor of political economy who specialises in these matters cannot reach any conclusion, I suggest that an ordinary back bencher of this House is certainly not in a position to do so.
There is another difficulty in regard to the Civil Service. The Masterman Committee made a report on this matter, and the Government of the day decided that holders of junior posts in the Civil Service should be allowed to stand for Parliament and have the normal political rights. Negotiations have also been going on with the Civil Service unions, through the ordinary Whitley Council channels, to try to clear up the position of holders of senior posts, and I gather that a measure of agreement has been reached. Even so, certain sections feel dissatisfied about the whole matter.
1173 This is a House of Commons matter, and not merely a Government one. Previous legislation has clarified the position about the franchise, and we now have a democratic franchise, on the principle of "one man, one vote." Apart from peers and lunatics, everyone over 21 years of age has the franchise. But if we are to have such a democratic franchise it is desirable that as many voters as possible shall be permitted to stand for Parliament if they wish to do so.
In considering this matter, we should attempt to ban people from standing only where there is a very clear case against it. It would be highly undesirable for a judge, for instance, to be a Member of this House. But there are many borderline cases, and I suggest that a Committee of the House should be set up to go into the question, collect evidence from interested groups of people, and make recommendations for the revision of the law and the kind of schedule we should have in future, keeping it as short as possible in order to enable the great mass of people to stand for Parliament. It is high time that this part of the Constitution was tidied up.
If our own laws are in a muddle in this respect, the position in the Commonwealth provides an even stronger case for reconsidering the whole matter. I was not at all happy about the speech of the learned Attorney-General. He dealt with the case which is now before us, which concerns the position in relation to Australia. Other hon. Members have mentioned the case of India. Some kind of organisation might well be created, in India or Pakistan, which might want to trade with this country and might offer posts to Members of this House. As has been pointed out, India is a republic. The posts offered might or might not be remunerative, but it would be carrying things to an absurdity if a man holding such a post were to be disqualified from being a Member of this House when the post was neither profitable nor under the Crown, since India is a republic.
We must also consider the position with regard to those parts of the Commonwealth which have not yet attained full serf-government. What could be the position if an hon. Member accepted a post under the Government of the Gold 1174 Coast, which is not a full Member of the Commonwealth but is moving in that direction? What would be the position if the same situation arose in relation to Jamaica, Trinidad, or one of the provinces within a federal element of the Commonwealth, such as Victoria in Australia, or Alberta in Canada? Those Governments might well create posts, the holders of which would be disqualified from sitting in this House. The Attorney-General ought to state what the position would be in such cases, because the matter should be cleared up.
Because of the chaos which exists in our laws and the fact that it has now become obvious that the same question will arise in regard to all parts of the Commonwealth, there is a very strong case for setting up a committee of inquiry to hear evidence, if necessary, reach conclusions, and make recommendations to the House. This is not a party matter, but one which the House should settle for itself. There is probably a fairly wide measure of agreement on the general principles which I have set forth, and agreement might well be reached on those lines.
If a schedule of disqualifications were drawn up we could argue the merits of including certain posts in such a schedule. Without intending any discourtesy to the hon. Member whose case we are now discussing, I would say that this is a matter which goes a great deal further than an individual case, and it is high time that an inquiry into the position was made.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I want immediately to deal with something which the Attorney-General said to me in reply to an intervention I made, and that was that it would be wrong to deal with this piecemeal. That is an answer which I always find particularly irritating. One finds something that is wrong, one has an opportunity to right it, but then one is told that it must not be dealt with piecemeal. The whole process of legislation is to deal with things piecemeal. If we did not deal with things piecemeal we should have one enormous Act dealing with absolutely everything.
The whole principal is a piecemeal principal. Here we have a perfectly 1175 obvious wrong. A man is doing a useful job for which there can be no possible objection, but he is a Member of Parliament. I hear my right hon. Friend say, "There may be." There may be objections. There may be objections where there are conflicts of interest and conflicts of loyalty. But we have accepted and recognised that it is highly desirable that Members of Parliament should engage in outside occupations where they are employed by people and that where there is a conflict of interest or loyalty it is their duty to declare it to the House.
Why then should employment by the television industry be more or less objectionable than employment by the Commonwealth of Australia? I can see no conceivable reason, where it is public employment, that a public employer should be more embarrassing than a private employer. Surely it is reasonable to ask that the time of the House should not be continually wasted in coming to the rescue of Members embroiled in the absurdity of this law, a law which allows people to earn money from the Government in a whole series of ways whilst remaining Members of Parliament and yet disqualifies them on the grounds that it is an office of profit. It is a ludicrous principle. It is time that Members ceased to be prevented from doing useful public jobs, which other members of the Dominions or Her Majesty's Government wish them to do, by this law and now quite absurd provisions. Let us have a schedule of occupations which really are inconsistent with membership of this House, and let us clear up this matter once and for all.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
I want to oppose this Amendment, not because I disagree with the spirit of it, but because I think that it would, were it accepted, do very grave injustice to Mr. Macpherson, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries—if I may thus compromise with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). The advice that has been given in regard to this case is at least open to question, and that is one of the reasons why there are arguments, except in this case, behind the proposition put forward by the hon. Members opposite.
For instance, there are strong arguments, I believe, for saying that the 1176 Crown is divisible and, in fact, divided, and that they can be supported by the nature of the Coronation Oath. It was quite clear, both in 1937 and again last year, that King George VI and, later, the present Queen took the Oath as sovereign of separate realms, and, in doing so, acknowledged the divisibility of the Crown. I should think, therefore, with respect to the Attorney-General, that it is quite probable that there was no reason to bring forward this Bill.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was less than generous to Mr. Macpherson in drawing a parallel between the action that Mr. Macpherson has taken and that taken by a Member of the House some years ago, who was agent not for a member of the Commonwealth and Empire, but agent for a foreign country, at that time in a position of considerable difference of opinion, to say the least of it, with the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Alport
There are arguments that the point of view of the Commonwealth should be heard in this House. Not, perhaps, that the particular aspect my hon. Friend might have represented, the point of view of the dried fruit industry in Australia, is a particularly important one or one with widespread implications, but we have on both sides of the House for a long time hoped that it would be possible to have some more direct political contact and political expression of opinion between Commonwealth countries and the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I should have thought, therefore, that so far from there having been arguments against the action taken by my hon. Friend there were strong arguments in his favour. Therefore, I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields was a trifle ungenerous in drawing the parallel he did.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not think I should describe it as a parallel. I only pointed out one of the difficulties that might arise. I hope I shall not be thought ungenerous if I say that I can see cases that could arise. Let us suppose there is some dispute about tariffs on these goods, about Imperial Preference for these goods. There could be difficulties that would be presented. I do not want to go any further than that.
§ Mr. Alport
I should say that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) dealt with that point. I can see no difference in principle between representing an unofficial trade or industry in Australia and representing a, statutory body; or alternatively, I should think that a statutory body would be a more responsible and a more proper body to represent than a trade association. I do not want to go further than that. I wanted only to take up the point the right hon. Gentleman made.
I hope the Amendment will be withdrawn merely because I think it will cause injustice to Mr. Macpherson. I hope that at some time the Government and the House, for this is eminently a matter for the House, will consider the whole matter carefully because, as has been pointed out, there has been a number of occasions on which this problem has cropped up. I should think that, with the extension of the Government's spheres of activity, there may be even more cases and that it is surely time that the matter was gone into in the interests of the Members of the House, both of this present House and of Members that may be elected in the future.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
I rise to support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). The hon. Gentleman who is the subject of this Bill is the victim, first, of "the confusion of accident and anomaly," if I may use the words used by the Prime Minister on a previous occasion," of legal fiction and Parliamentary circumnavigation into which we have fallen over generations." He is also the victim of the modesty of the Attorney-General, because, when he is dealing with non-party matters, he always has the House eating out of his hand. When he was introducing the Common Informers Bill, it would have been easy for him to have included this if he had not wished to cut into the privilege of the House.
§ The Attorney-General
I only withdrew that part of the Bill on the undertaking given by my then predecessor, that the Government would take prompt action to deal with this whole question.
§ Mr. Bing
Like the Attorney-General, I am sorry his predecessor is not here 1178 to join in these discussions. Had he gone a little further, it would not have been necessary for us to pass this Bill through all its stages—unless there is some pressure from the Whips, because of the inevitable absence of the Member, in view of the Division which has just taken place.
The real basis of this is that Mr. Macpherson has decided to serve the public and not a private interest. If it is desired and suggested that Members should occupy half-time employment and should be employed in other activities. I should have thought that, on balance. it is better to serve the public than to serve a private interest.
The real fault of the hon. Gentleman was that he sought the service of a great Dominion. Had he sought to serve Imperial Chemical Industries or United Africa Company no one would have raised any question at all. Who can say that a Member serving one of those corporations would not—I do not say necessarily—have the opportunity of exercising a more injurious influence in the House than one serving a Government in the Commonwealth? If he sought to serve a Government not in the Commonwealth, there could be no objection whatever. This is the first and most stupid of the anomalies which presents itself.
We are really clinging to a fiction in order to conceal from ourselves the realities that what is really necessary is either to say, on the one hand, that Members should be here whole-time, or else that we ought to decide what are the part-time employments in which they can profitably or properly enter.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, we do not need a Bill to absolve those interested in commercial television firms from voting on the very matter under dispute. Yet here we are discussing whether in possibly some matter that might affect Australia, the judgment of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) might be affected. If hon. Members are prohibited from sitting in this House with such commercial interests, they are not prohibited from sitting in another place. That makes the matter even more ridiculous, because, although it is not often recognised, they are Members of Parlia- 1179 ment with equal powers to ourselves to decide and amend legislation.
It really is absurd if the House should continue to be dominated by what were rules made in essence for the convenience of the 18th Century borough-mongers. It is always supposed that the Chiltern Hundreds and the Manor of Northstead were a survival of ancient offices. They were nothing of the sort. They were introduced by a gentleman called John Pitt who desired to have a method whereby it would be possible for Government supporters to vacate their seats but not for the Opposition. The reason for that was simple.
In those days there were a certain number of seats for which, even in the 18th Century, there had to be a real election. To have a proper candidate one had to choose someone already known and in the House of Commons. The principle was that he should resign his seat for a rotten borough and stand for the seat where there was an election. If there was someone in the Opposition putting up it was undesirable to allow him so to do. So these two offices in the service of the House were utilised for this purpose, and that in fact is how they appeared. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the hon. and learned Member talking about?"] The hon. Member asks what I am talking about. I am talking about the House of Commons, a subject the hon. Member has never understood. One of the difficulties is that the House has never exercised an excessive sensibility about dealing with any question which concerns disqualifications of hon. Members.
If I may take an example raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, there is the disqualification which applies purely to Scotland. That provided up to 1948 that if any person twice running attended divine service at which there were not prayers for the Royal Family he was disqualified as a voter and from being a candidate for Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham called the attention of the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), to this on the passing of the Representation of the People Bill. My right hon. Friend was good enough to remove the disqualification from the voter but said, 1180 quite properly, that he could only deaf with that disqualification and the disqualification in regard to the candidate for Parliament would have to be left.
It is true that that disqualification disappeared later in the statutory provisions, but that is a way in which old disqualifications are continually being left. As a result, I think I am right in saying that there are 145 Acts on the Statute Book— there were when I last added up the list, but the total may be different now— which provided in some form or other for the disqualification of Members of this House. One is an Act of the Scottish Parliament, which is still in force for the purposes of disqualifying some particular type of person whose duty it is to test the strength of whisky. Ten are Acts of the Irish Parliament.
The result is most peculiar in the same way as, for example, an Act which enables us now to signify the Royal Assent to Bills by commission which was originally an Act for the attainder and execution of Queen Catherine Howard. Each of the Sections are spent save the one which provides for the Royal Assent: to be pronounced by Royal Commission.
If one looks at the title of the earliest Act, which is now described as the House of Commons Disqualification Act, one finds that the title was originally:An Act for granting to their Majesties certain Rate and Duties upon Salt, and upon Beer, Ale, and other Liquors, for securing certain Recompence's and Advantages in the said Act mentioned, to such Persons as shall voluntarily advance the Sum of ten hundred thousand Pounds, towards carrying on the War against France.From a series of Acts of that sort these disqualifications have arisen. If the hon. Gentleman had become an Ambassador, he would not have been disqualified.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that under the County Councils Act, 1889, it is possible for a county council officer who desires to remain unpaid in the service of the county council to be disqualified from being a Member of Parliament, and I only escaped having to ask the House to pass such a Bill as this by handing in my resignation less than 24 hours before Parliament assembled.
§ Mr. Bing
There is no end to the anomalies which exist in this particular matter. The most profitable office, that 1181 of an Ambassador who draws a salary, is no disqualification at all. The office of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is considered by the experts to be one of particular difficulty not because the Lord Wardenship disqualifies, but because it is joined to the office of Constable of Dover Castle. Some experts hold that that is promotion from the ranks to that of an officer, which if it takes place and the person is in the House means a disqualification. I do not think it is necessary to follow this kind of difficulty.
Seeing the Deputy Chief Whip on the Front Bench opposite, I might point out that the office of unpaid Whip was one of profit under the Crown but that when the holder was appointed as a paid Whip it was not an office of profit. Therefore, there seems to be no end to the stupidity and ridiculousness of the matter. It is difficult to know whether the Master of Trinity College Cambridge could or could not sit. All that is known is that, if we restore University representation on the old basis, because of a slip in the draftsmanship no Irish Peer could sit. I mention that because it is no slur on the late Father of the House, but it is considered that some of the Irish Peers were regarded as unsuitable to be University representatives. That is typical of the stupidity which marks the law of disqualification, and if one looks at the particular cases of disqualification the absurdities are greater.
We have passed Bills to indemnify various people who have been judges of different tribunals. They have not drawn their fees, but have had certain expenses allowed. My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) was a member of a rent tribunal, or some other tribunal, but she did not draw any fees and did not actually sit. That would disqualify her, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General was not occupying his office, or I, was instructed to appear before that tribunal for the Government we could draw fees to any extent according to the generosity of the Government without in any way endangering our seats.
That is one of the ludicrous and absurd devices of the present situation. There is every cause in the world for altering it. It is all very well to say do not do the thing piecemeal, but the question never arises until there is an instance such 1182 as the one we are now considering. No hon. Gentleman knows where the matter will strike next. What is certain is that present legislation prevents many hon. Members from performing useful public duties.
Hon. Gentlemen will remember that for years it was the custom to appoint Members of the House to sit on the General Medical Council, and it was done for about 50 or 60 years without any question arising. Then it was suddenly discovered, when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office and we were making these appointments—though I do not complain about that—that this was. in fact an office of profit and this proceeding stopped. But I think it would be valuable for the House were we able to appoint a suitable hon. Member to sit on such a body.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray
This House is now represented on the General Medical Council by an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House and also by an hon. Member on this side. It is no disqualification, provided no remuneration or emolument is drawn. That was made clear when the last Government were in office.
It may have been made clear then, but with respect, it seems to me, now that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has disclosed this appalling fact, to provide a wonderful opportunity for some well-informed common informer.
There might, for example, be an emolument attached to the Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead where the most minute research carried out by the historians who do that sort of thing— goodness knows why—has not been able to discover whether there was a manor there at all. As hon. Members know, it is some part of a public park at Scarborough. It has a purely fictional existence, unlike the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, where at one time the Steward had some real duties to perform.
It is not the existence of a payment which matters but the possibility which exists that the money may be drawn, even though it is not drawn. In this case we are indemnifying Mr. Macpherson who has not drawn any money at all. We are indemnifying him because he 1183 accepted office which gave him the possibility of drawing money. The whole position is most unsatisfactory, and if we are to have an effective democracy in this country it is necessary that we should do away with the absurdities which have collected round it. It is reasonable that we should preserve sensible traditions, but we should not prevent hon. Members from entering into public service of various sorts and confine them only to private enterprise because of the misunderstandings and the whole series of legal technicalities which have grown up round the legislation of the 18th Century.
Hon. Members may remember that the Act of 1707 was the result of prolonged conflict between the two Houses. The Clauses which result in the present disqualification represented a compromise between both Houses. In order to satisfy the other, each has decided to pass a Clause which was not very clear or very intelligible. Lord Campion, who was at that time Clerk to the House, giving evidence before the Commission in 1941 said:It is not surprising that two Clauses inserted by two different parties with different points of view and divergent purposes should not be very coherent.For 250 years the House has been suffering from that. Hon. Members have been ruined by incoherent legislation as a result of that very undesirable conflict between the two Houses. This chance affair has given us an opportunity to discuss the matter and put it right.
I agree with the unspoken comment— if I may so put it—of the Attorney-General, that perhaps the Labour Government might have done something about it when we were in office. But we were then engaged on various other important matters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not now much on his plate. Surely here is an opportunity for him to devote himself to this useful and valuable piece of legislation. I hope that under these circumstances, whether or not my hon. Friends desire to press the Amendment to a Division, the House will put an end to the various anomalies which are unfair to hon. Members on either side, and which prevent them from entering fully into the public life which it is their duty to do.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I should like, quite briefly, to support the Amendment. I take the view that there are quite sufficient occupational hazards attached to the office of a Member of this House and that if we can in any way reduce those occupational risks, then it is something which the House should take upon itself to do. As hon. Members have shown tonight, the law on the subject is very complicated and spread over a great many statutes. So far as it is based on case law, one will find upon examination that often the cases are contradictory and, as a large number of cases were decided before there was any official report made, one is unable to discover on what basis the House came to the conclusion it did in the cases which it had to decide.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has just said, the disqualification statutes are enormous in number. Mr. Alexander Pulling, who did monumental research work on this subject, and who produced a pamphlet and Bill in 1922, stated that there were no fewer than 122 statutes ranged over 220 years on the issue of disqualification. It is, consequently, impossible for an hon. Member, even with specialised skill, to find the time to discover whether his own position is covered and whether there may be any doubt. He could hardly hope to come to any definite conclusion, especially when it is realised that the Government itself had in 1932, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has said, to bring in an Indemnity Bill for all the successive Presidents of the Board of Trade owing to an accident in an Act of 1909. One remembers that, despite the advantage a Government has to information and specialised advice, it nevertheless fell into the trap.
There was another example. In 1919, the late Mr. Bonar Law referred to the fact that a distinguished Law Officer of this House actually sat for four years although disqualified all the time, and I emphasise that he was a Law Officer. Erskine May refers to the great difficulty in deciding what is an office of profit under the Crown. We have had examples tonight of cases where there is in fact no 1185 remuneration. The law appears to be that once a fee has attached to an office, that condition applies for all time. It is astonishing that hon. Members who quite innocently accept certain posts, as Arthur Jenkins did in Wales where no fee was intended, nor taken, are subjected to disqualification while others are not.
For example in June, 1944, in answer to questions in this House, the then Minister of Information stated that there was no disqualification attaching to hon. Members who received fees from the Ministry of Information in connection with articles published by the Ministry, and paid for by the Ministry. It seems impossible to justify that in the light of the other condition so often applied to hon. Members. The Select Committee of 1941, which did a great deal of work on the subject, made a recommendation to the effect that, with the exception of holders of political or Ministerial offices, all persons employed in civilian service under the Crown should be disqualified from membership unless they could be included in any specific recommendation for exemption.
What the Amendment proposes is that, after due consideration by a Committee of the House, we should have a schedule which would be a general guidance to hon. Members in this highly technical and difficult matter and in this additional occupational hazard, as I have described it. It is impossible for the average Member, and indeed for any Member, to be certain where he stands. Recently two hon. Members asked me whether, if they became lecturers for a local authority they would be disqualified. I advised them as far as I am able and said I thought they would not be in danger, but I told them that they had better make quite certain before they signed any contract of service.
It may well be that, for various reasons, the Amendment would create a difficulty, if pressed, but what we wanted to do was to take this opportunity to raise the whole matter, which is a complete anomaly and places hon. Members in considerable hazard. We hope that as a result of what has been said on all sides the Government may be able to give some indication of their intentions in this matter.
§ 11.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I was a little disturbed by the concluding words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), because he appeared to be expressing some doubt about the Amendment before I had given it my powerful support. I am always anxious to be cognisant of and respectful to the Scottish susceptibilities, for one reason because of the particularly hospitable treatment which I always receive in that gracious land, but it was a little ungenerous of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) to rebuke me for referring to the Queen of England only a few months after every Scottish hon. Member had been howling like mad for a Queen of Scotland to have a separate title from the Queen of England. On this occasion, I thought I was respecting their susceptibilities and being deferent to their desire for separation of the title.
I think there is a good deal in the argument of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and the remarks of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport). I think the divisibility of the Crown is now inherent in the office. At the moment Her Majesty's advisers in South Africa are making claims for Bechuanaland which are being resisted by Her Majesty's advisers in the United Kingdom, and I should have felt that in those circumstances divisibility was obvious.
The Attorney-General knows a phrase of great comfort to lawyers—ex abundanti cautelaOne takes steps not always clearly necessary but out of caution—and it would be unfair to keep the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) in uncertainty due to the technicalities of the situation. It is clearly sensible to bring in a Bill. No one on this side of the House has suggested that there has been any impropriety in the hon. Member's conduct; it is clear that he is a victim of the sort of misfortune which might occur to anybody.
But that is not all we are discussing. I was hoping that we should hear—and I always listen to him with attention and delight—the powerful voice of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), because we have heard him on previous occasions express himself with 1187 some force and some ability on this matter. He was always a very able and distinguished Member of the House, but he was not then the chairman of that powerful committee whose nod makes the Cabinet wilt even more than it normally does. He was then, I think, gossip writer of the "Sunday Dispatch."[An HON MEMBER: "Sunday Express."]
§ Mr. Hale
He was political correspondent of the "Sunday Express." In any event, there are no high principles involved in that appointment. But the hon. Member for Hertford discussed the matter on a previous occasion. Three of my hon. Friends had held highly technical little offices before they came into Parliament at all. One had resigned, but his letter of resignation had not been accepted until after the Election. Another, my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) had received eight guineas in fees two years before the election and had not served since, but her name had not been removed from the panel as one of the advisers of the local tribunal.
On that occasion the hon. Member for Hertford took a grave view of the matter: he said it was an issue of high constitutional importance and he called in aid the powerful name of Edmund Burke. Burke always emptied the House in his day but no one can fill it more rapidly a century-and-a-quarter after his death. The hon. Member also referred to John Hampden and his great constitutional battle, which involved only a matter of 20s. Burke said that 20s. was a small sum to John Hampden but that John Hampden was fighting an issue of vital constitutional importance. But the issue of principle was one which involved the safety of the State.
As to the contribution of the hon. Member for Hertford, it impressed itself on me so much that I remember it to this day. I wondered why he did not tell us why the case of the hon. Member was a matter of high constitutional importance, and I hope before the debate concludes we shall have an opportunity of hearing him on this matter.
I want to make it clear that no one on this side has tried to take advantage 1188 of the situation at all. One realises that the hon. Member for Dumfries accepted an office which it was well for him to hold, and everyone appreciates that he acted quite honourably, and has acted wisely in asking for an indemnity Bill. But I wish to reinforce the pleas that have been made. The situation is an unhappy situation. I think it is probable that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has been disqualified from being a Member of this House for some years because the occupation of the office of Constable of Dover Castle clearly comes within the purview of this class of case. I would be reluctant to see the right hon. Gentleman leave his office for a technical disqualification or even be "Muggeridged" out of office by a weekly journal.
A few years ago, in the middle of a world war, the House was full of Army Officers, voting for the Army Estimates and Service Estimates, many as officers and Members of the House. Everyone thought it was an excellent thing to have them in the House because they had knowledge of the House and at the same time were familiar with Service conditions. It really is a fantastic situation today that none of us know from day to day what the disqualifications are. There was a remarkable letter in a weekly journal the other day which suggested that people paid by a national board— the B.B.C.—were now being selected by people described as "party bosses." I have no knowledge of what a "party boss" is, but it seems to me that if people drawing fees from a national board are selected by party bosses one gets very near the line there.
One could conceive of cases of difficulty and doubt in which any Member might find himself at any moment faced with a possibility of disqualification over a minor technical appointment, sometimes involving no payment at all. An office of profit does not involve profit; it need not be a post; in connection with the Manor of Northstead, as we have been told, it need not even exist. The situation needs the attention of the House, and it would be in keeping with the dignity of the House, and the sense of its own importance and desire, to maintain a sensible front on these matters and deal with the whole question of offices of profit and disqualification as early as possible.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)
I am sure that what I must correctly call the late, and, I hope, shortly again to be, Member for Dumfries would be very grateful to the House for the way in which this Bill has been received. There are really two quite separate matters which have to be dealt with. There is the Amendment, and I have no complaint against the Amendment so long as it is not passed, because Mr. Macpherson would certainly have very great reason to be sorry if it were passed. Of course, one can have only one thing: either the Bill or the Amendment. Perhaps I may say a word about that and dispose of it.
I think I have already made it plain —and I shall not weary the House by repeating it—that I have something of a record in this matter. In 1949 I had the good fortune to pilot the Common Informers Bill through the House, and we attempted to include in it the House of Commons disqualification aspect. I see one hon. Member opposite who kindly helped me and was associated with me in that connection. But we came to the conclusion, under persuasion, from the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) in particular, that it was not practicable to do so. In the debate on 12th July, 1949, however, he said that he and his colleagues would give earnest and serious consideration to the general question of this branch of the law.
That was eight years after the report of 1941. It would not be of any profit for me to try to assign blame to anyone. During the 13 years since 1941, the various Governments concerned have had many other problems on their hands, and those who are interested in these matters from the legal point of view have all discovered that it is not very easy to sell their wares to those who are interested in marketing other kinds of goods, in the way of Bills, whatever the political complexion of the Government of the day. I know that a considerable amount of valuable study was given to this matter by my immediate predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), and we were grateful to him for having made available to us the result of his labours.
Since then there has been further consideration of the problem and, without 1190 occupying the time of the House, I think it would be right just to mention what some hon. Members probably know already, that as soon as one starts tackling this matter one begins to appreciate the appalling difficulties involved. If one is in process of drafting a schedule, or part of a schedule, one finds, at the beginning, a number of new animals, which have to be dealt with and sorted out, and one is perpetually chasing a fresh set of cases. It is an extremely difficult situation.
We should be perfectly frank this evening and say that the underlying reason for this Bill becoming necessary —as it was in the case of other similar Bills in the last 10 years or more—is the confused state of the existing law governing the whole question, and it is highly desirable that it should be dealt with. I am not in a position to give any kind of undertaking to the House this evening, and as I understood the very frank remarks of hon. Members supporting the Amendment they are not calling for it to be agreed to tonight. What they want is an assurance that the matter will be taken seriously. The best undertaking I can give is that I shall certainly do my best to bring it to the attention of my colleagues.
I have not altered my views simply because I now sit on a different side of the House from that on which I sat in 1949. The common informer aspect of the matter definitely has to be taken into account, because, if my judgment is correct—and I am not pontifical about it—if nothing is done Mr. Macpherson is in considerable jeopardy. I do not say that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and others who have spoken on the question of the schedule are wrong, but they are asking that Mr. Macpherson should be on a bet of nothing to £20,000. That is rather a risky position to be in, and I am trying to make him all square by this Bill.
I was grateful to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for the way in which he approached the matter. He put the constitutional question in a very clear way, and said that we did not want to look at the matter in too legalistic a manner. I would deprecate what was said about the Crown being a corporation sole. I refer 1191 to it in the words of Mr. Amery, when he said that the Crown was a jewel with many facets, not a disconnected string of pearls.
§ The Attorney-General
I am afraid I am quite unable to say that I will prepare a draft Bill, because that is not for my Department, but I will see that it is considered.
§ Mr. Parker
The House has expressed its opinion very fully and, in view of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time. Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr.T. G. D. Galbraith.]
§ Bill immediately considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]