§ Considered in Committee, and reported without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I shall not detain the House for very long, and I only do so because, when we were discussing this Bill on Second Reading, after I made some references to the work of the Select Committee, I was admonished by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) for criticising the Committee.
I want to make it clear that the mere fact of this House appointing a Select Committee does not deprive this House of the right, if it so wishes, of making any comments it likes on the work of that Select Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw seemed to think that I was guilty of some blasphemy or sacrilege in criticising the work of the Select Committee, on the basis of whose Report this Bill now before us was framed. I think I am entitled to say that any hon. Member may criticise the work of any Select Committee if he thinks fit.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
It was not my good fortune to be present when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) made the speech on Second Reading to which he has just referred, and that was why he was not also criticised by myself for having made it. I entirely agree with him that it is still in the power of the House to make any criticism it wishes of the work of a Select Committee. I merely suggest that the work of the House itself is facilitated if criticisms are based on an appreciation of what the Select Committee was intended to do and what, in fact, it did. The criticisms of my hon. and gallant Friend on this occasion were not so based.
It was the purpose of this Select Committee, as we understood it, to ascertain whether the persons referred to in this Bill were holding offices of profit at the time 853 of their election, and, when it had ascertained that matter, also to decide whether it ought to make any recommendations to the House with regard to the validation of their election or indemnifying them against any penalties which they might have incurred. That was the purpose of the Select Committee, and I submit that it was important that it should fulfil that purpose as speedily as possible, because it would be most inconvenient to the hon. Members concerned and to the House itself if there were any unnecessary delay. Had that not been so, and had there been plenty of time, we should have been very happy to inquire into many other matters in which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton expressed interest.
There was the fascinating point which came up in evidence about the lunch between Mr. George and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. I must confess, after what we have heard about that, that it seems to me that an invitation to luncheon from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works will be regarded with as much alarm in future as in the past was an invitation to take wine with Lucrezia Borgia.
All these matters, fascinating as they might have been, would not have helped the Select Committee to decide the questions which it was required by this House to decide, and I invite my hon. and gallant Friend to consider that if we had done those things which he regretted we had not done, we should, in fact, have come no nearer at all by a fraction of an inch towards deciding the question which this House asked us to decide, and we should not have obtained any more information that was in any way relevant to that purpose. I submit that we should not have done so. We should have been inflicting upon the gentlemen concerned and upon this House an unnecessary delay if we had adopted any of the advice which my hon. and gallant Friend wished to give us.
It seems to me, therefore, that the House may properly conclude that the Report of the Select Committee on which this Bill is based was a report of the kind which the House wished to have when it set up the Select Committee, and that we can, without hesitation, proceed with the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I wish briefly to make two points. First, as far as the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) are concerned, I wish to say that everyone in this House knows that if we appoint a Select Committee, it is open to any Members of Parliament to criticise its work, and it is also open to Parliament as a whole to accept or reject its recommendations. I accept the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman on that matter in that spirit, and I only hope that as time goes on some of the wisdom of his hon. Friends who sat on the Select Committee may come to him in due course.
I would point out that the Select Committee was asked to do certain things. We found, first of all, that both elections were invalid, and, when we had done that, we had to make recommendations, if we so desired, and we did. We did so unanimously, and agreed that the two hon. Members should be indemnified, as is being done in this Bill, and we did it for this reason. There are three cases at this time, two of which we are dealing with here, and another one is to come. Some years ago, there were five cases, which were dealt with on almost exactly the same lines, and those constituted the precedents.
I should like to say that one point that has always puzzled me is how it happens that in this Bill we are dealing with two Conservative Members, supporters of the Government, and in 1946 we were dealing only with Socialist Members—supporters of the Labour Government of that time. How it happens that supporters of the Government are caught and have to be covered by Bills of this kind, while their opponents never do, I do not know.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
The debate on Third Reading has so far been confined almost entirely to the question whether criticisms of the work of the Select Committee were justified or not. I must say that it seemed to me, on reading the Report of the Select Committee, that it had fully inquired into all relevant matters.
I am sure the House is grateful to all Members of the Select Committee for the 855 expedition with which the Committee worked, and for the clarity and concise nature of its Report, which left very little room for argument as to any of the facts. There is only one correction that I should like to make. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) referred in rather intriguing fashion to what he said was an invitation to luncheon by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. I hope that no one will be discouraged from accepting any invitations which the Parliamentary Secretary may like to offer, though he has not so far offered one to me, nor did he offer one to Mr. George on that particular occasion.
There is one further matter that I should like to mention. In the Report of the Select Committee, mention was made of the desirability of Government Departments taking all possible steps within their power to help hon. Members to avoid getting into this kind of difficulty in the future. Of course, the difficulty arises in relation to those who are nominated to Parliament. Once they are elected, we must have a Bill of this kind. I should like to tell the House that the issue of a Treasury Circular to all Government Departments on the lines proposed by the Select Committee has been put in hand. I hope that that will, to some extent at least, reduce the risks to which all of us have been subject in the past, risks which, I hope, will be diminished, if not eliminated, when a Bill which is now before the House reaches the Statute Book.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.