HL Deb 20 March 1918 vol 29 cc544-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill to which I am going to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading is one to regularise the status of the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, who has, as a matter of fact, been holding that office since the month of September last. It was a question, I understand, whether it would be possible to deal with the appointment of this new Secretary administratively, by appointing both an Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Secretary to the Board of Trade, but there were certain difficulties in the way of taking this step. In the first place, there was an Act of 31 Victoria, providing for the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade, which was rather unusual in form, and it would appear that under that Act there was only power to appoint one such officer. In the second place, special provision is made by Section 9 (subsection 2) of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, for the appointment of additional Parliamentary Secretaries to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for War respectively, but there certainly seems to be an assumption by Parliament that the number of Under-Secretaries which can be appointed is limited. In the third place, although the number of Under-Secretaries which may be appointed in any Department is not limited, there is in every case a limit to the number of Under-Secretaries who may sit in the louse of Commons. It is true that the limit has been removed for the period of the war and for six months afterwards by Section 9 (subsection 1) of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, but the office of Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade is intended to be a permanent one. In the fourth place, the Treasury have laid it down in very definite terms that it would be wholly improper to make any payment from the Overseas Trade Department Vote for the salary of the Parliamentary Secretary until the creation of his offices has been authorised by Act of Parliament.

There is a certain border land between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade over which this new Secretary is presiding. Of course, the point might be raised that certain overlapping would take place between the new Department and the other Departments of the Board of Trade and Foreign Office respectively. As a matter of fact, ever since the month of September last when Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, the present holder of the office, was appointed, a satisfactory delimitation of functions has been arranged and has been found to work quite reasonably in practice. The broad lines of this delimitation are that the Board of Trade deals with the large issues of commercial policy, and the Political Department of the Foreign Office with all matter affecting international relations, and within these limits the Overseas Trade Department is authorised to take action for the promotion of trade, in addition to collecting and disseminating commercial intelligence. If your Lordships look at the Bill you will see that it consists practically of one clause only. The second is merely a definition clause. I have to ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading this afternoon. At the same time, perhaps it is convenient that I should say that the Government hope the House will make no objection to taking all the remaining stages to-morrow, so that the Bill may receive the Royal Assent on that day.

On Question, Bill read 2a.