HC Deb 30 June 1955 vol 543 cc646-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider whether the Election of Mr. John Clarke George as a Member of this House for Glasgow, Pollok, is invalid on the ground that at the time of his election he was a director of Scottish Slate Industries Limited appointed by the Minister of Works.—[The Attorney-General.]

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I hope we shall have an explanation of this Motion from the Attorney-General before we proceed with the election of a Select Committee. We should not agree to pass this Motion without putting further questions to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and receiving answers.

This is a case presumably relating to a constituency in Scotland, of which I understand one of the Law Officers is the Lord Advocate. Here is an important issue affecting election law in Scotland, yet the Lord Advocate is not here. We have an English Law Officer calling for the appointment of a Select Committee without giving the slightest word of explanation. This is another injustice to Scotland which should be resented in all quarters of the House.

We are all interested in elections and election procedure. [Interruption.] Ulster Members had better be careful. Some of the Ulstermen may be directors of companies. This is the case of a Scottish Member who was a director of some company. I am interested in the case because I want to protect the interests of the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George). I should like to know from the Attorney-General what exactly is to be the procedure of the proposed Select Committee? Judging by the terms of the Motion, there is evidently a charge made against the hon. Member for Pollok. Presumably the Attorney-General is speaking for the Crown. If so, is he going before the Select Committee in his capacity as Attorney-General, to prosecute the hon. Member for Pollak, and is the hon. Member for Pollok entitled to legal representation? Will he be represented by the Lord Advocate? We should have some enlightenment.

Why is the Select Committee to be set up? There must have been some laxity on the part of the Law Officers of the Crown, either the Scottish or the English ones. This is the third week of the new Parliament. The Leader of the House was by no means candid in his explanations yesterday, because in reply to questions put to him by the Leader of the Opposition he said that the hon. Member for Pollok was not taking part in the proceedings of this House. The OFFICIAL REPORT says: is not taking any part …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 4021 In "The Times" the Leader of the House is reported to have said: He has not taken any part. I do not know whether "The Times" is right or the OFFICIAL REPORT, but we should certainly have some explanation from the Attorney-General.

Did the Law Officers of the Crown know that the hon. Member was liable to disqualification when he voted in the Division following the debate on the Address? I want to know why this innocent Member for Pollok was not warned by somebody about the penalties he was incurring in voting when, presumably, there was some doubt as to whether he was disqualified from being a Member.

I understand that heavy penalties, amounting to hundreds of pounds, may have been incurred by the hon. Member because the Law Officers were too slow to take up the case. Exactly when did the Attorney-General discover that the hon. Member had possibly broken the law?

In addition, I am interested in the hon. Member's constituents. Presumably this position was discovered after the hon. Member had voted in the debate on the Address. He might have spoken in that debate, and I do not know what penalty he would have incurred then. It is, I submit, the business of the Law Officers to warn any unsuspecting hon. Member that, by being associated with one company or another, he is liable to be disqualified from membership of the House.

What is happening in the Scottish Grand Committee? The hon. Member for Pollok is presumably a member of it, and during this time his constituents, the electors of Pollok, the small shopkeepers, the chemists, the butchers, the grocers and all others interested in the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill, have no one to put their case for them because of the inefficiency of the Ministers.

Do the Ministers read carefully over the different directorships of hon. Members to see whether they have committed any offence? How did the Attorney-General suddenly discover the connection of the hon. Member for Pollok with the Scottish slate industry? It did not come as an inspiration; it must have been a matter of research. How much research was conducted into the directorships of the hon. Member for Pollok before it was decided to set up the Select Committee?

It is not good enough for the Attorney-General simply to ask the House to set up a Select Committee which might result in the hon. Member for Pollok being deprived of the privilege of representing his constituents in the House. Will the Attorney-General prosecute in the Committee or will he defend?

Surely someone must have been responsible in the counsels of the Scottish Unionist Party, because apparently the hon. Member for Pollok was a director of this company even when he fought a contest in South Ayrshire several years ago. They cannot complain that it is ignorance. They allowed this unsuspecting businessman from Scotland—this innocent, inexperienced businessman from Scotland—to walk into all this trouble and ultimately to find that a Select Committee is to inquire into his conduct.

10.40 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

The procedure of moving for the appointment of a Select Committee in circumstances such as these follows precedents of the past. In relation to the Coatbridge and Springburn Elections and the Camberwell, Bristol and Nottingham Elections of 1945, similar Motions were moved, and moved, I believe, by the then Attorney-General.

It is obviously right where doubts exist as to the position that inquiry should be made. It is obviously undesirable that before the Select Committee has performed the usual task that it does perform on these matters I should make any further reference than that made by the Lord Privy Seal when he spoke yesterday in relation to this matter. He then said in answer to a question put by the Leader of the Opposition. He is not taking any part at all. As soon as this came to light he was informed of the risk he might be running. He has written to resign the directorship in question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June 1955; Vol. 543, c. 402.]

Mr. Ross

Who informed him?

The Attorney-General

I think it would be desirable not to debate this matter until we have received the report of the Select Committee. Presumably there would be an occasion for a debate then. I hope I have satisfied the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that in moving this Motion one is following precedents of the time of the Socialist Government, precedents which no doubt the hon. Member then supported.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I wish to press the Attorney-General on this question. I am not asking him to prejudge the findings of the Select Committee, but he has made the assertion that the hon. Member for Pollok was informed by someone on a certain date. Surely we could be told about that?

Resolved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider whether the Election of Mr. John Clarke George as a Member of this House for Glasgow, Pollok, is invalid on the ground that at the time of his election he was a director of Scottish Slate Industries Limited appointed by the Minister of Works:

Major Anstruther-Gray, Mr. Bellenger, Major Sir Roger Conant, Mr. Elliot, Sir Robert Grimston, Mr. Hoy, Mr. Michael Stewart, Mr. John Taylor, and Mr. Charles Williams:

Power to send for persons, papers and records and to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House:

Three to be the Quorum.—[The Attorney-General.]