§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Clarendon.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Amendment of law as to necessity of re-election of Ministers.
§ 1.—(1) In subsection (1) of section one of the Re-election of Ministers Act, 1919, the 945 words "and if such acceptance has taken place-within nine mouths after the issue of a proclamation summoning a new Parliament" shall be deleted and the said section shall, as from the passing of this Act, have effect as if the said words did not form part of the said section.
§ (2) The enactments mentioned in the Schedule to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent specified in the third column of that Schedule.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER moved, to leave out "as" ["as from the passing of this Act"] and also "the passing of this Act "and to insert" and after the next General Election." The noble and learned Lord said: The Amendment that stands in my name is designed to give effect to an objection which some of your Lordships may remember I took when the Bill passed its Second Reading in this House. I expressed my approval of the principle of the Bill, but I pointed out that it appeared to me extremely undesirable that the Bill should be made applicable to the present Parliament, and that objection, I think, is founded upon a principle which I hope will find favour with your Lordships. As it is, the Bill is obviously intended to grant relief to Members of Parliament who are elected to the Government. I have always thought that it was a very sound and very salutary rule that Parliament should never pass remedial measures affecting the members who themselves vote upon them.
§ This is not a Bill that affects people outside, except in so far as they know that their representatives will be able to become Ministers without going to the country again. This Parliament was elected with the certain knowledge that, except within the limited period of nine months after the General Election, every person who was promoted would be compelled to submit himself again to the electorate. The Bill takes away that right from the electorate and confers upon all members of the House of Commons the privilege of entering the Government without passing through the ordeal of a by-election. I submit that that is wrong. It is perfectly true that on one occasion—I think it was with regard to payment of Members—the House of Commons did pass very important remedial legislation in its own favour. I do not think it was right. I think the right course would have been to have 946 passed the provision and made it applicable only to all subsequent Parliaments. I believe the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, thinks that I was a party to it, but he will find out that he is wrong and that I was not a party to it.
§ I remember that I have always been greatly impressed with the argument brought forward by Sir Edward Clarke that, apart from the merits of the thing, the rule should be in force and should remain. All rules, however strong and however beneficial, sometimes necessitate exceptions. I want to know what is the reason for the exception in this particular case. Why is it that the Government is so anxious to persist in their Bill of granting relief to the present Members of Parliament? I suggested on the Second Heading that there were occasions in the life of every Parliament when there were secessions from one side to the other and that that occasion had undoubtedly arisen at the present time. Some secessions have taken place and it may even be possible that others are contemplated, because I notice that at least four or five people who profess and call themselves Liberals, but who certainly have not been led in the way of truth, invariably vote with the Government when any question arises on which the House is dividing. Supposing that these people seek to regularise their position and to do what I think they ought to do—go straight over to the other side—and the reward of their fidelity is some small place in the Government, which at any rate may encourage others—
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
That may be so, but the more there are coming over the more important my Amendment will be. I trust the noble Lord appreciates that, otherwise he would not have interfered. That being so, I submit that there is special reason at the present time why you should not protect people who go into the Ministry from the ordeal of facing their constituents. It is a very different thing when you have a member of a Party who has been returned to support that Party entering the Ministry of that Party. After all, ho can say: "My people have returned me as a Conser- 947 vative and as a Conservative I am now promoted." But when you cross over to the other side and say: "I am entitled to be made a Minister without facing the electorate," I think that is unfair.
The noble Viscount may very well say: "But that is what will happen in future Parliaments.'' I agree, but that is no reason why this Parliament should confer upon itself this protection. You may think that this is a small precedent, but small precedents, if followed, very often lead to great evils. You cannot be sure that you are always going to have Governments as steady as the present one in charge of affairs in this country. If you have others who are voting themselves protection and privileges, what answer are you going to make when they say: "But you did the very thing in your Bill and that notwithstanding the fact that it was objected to and that people pointed out that it was contrary to constitutional practice." I am utterly unable to understand why the Government are insisting on maintaining the Bill in its present form and not doing what would cause them no difficulty whatever—accepting my Amendment and saying: "Well, we do not think that this should apply to the present Parliament and we are prepared so to legislate." I beg to move.
Page 1, line 11, leave out the first ("as") and leave out ("the passing of this Act") and insert ("and after the next General Election").—(Lord Buckmaster.)
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MAEQUESS OF SALISBURY)
The noble and learned Lord who moved this Amendment has expressed his wonder why the Government resist it. He asks: What would they lose by accepting the Amendment? He does not seem to think that the Government are ever moved by any motive except what they may gain or lose by a particular course. I am sure he does not really think so. We are governed in this particular matter by the principle involved, but before I say a word or two upon the principle, may I make one or two observations upon the precedent? The noble and learned Lord has most candidly admitted—and he is always most candid in debate—that there are precedents and he reminded your Lordships of the case of the Payment of Members Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It ended in an Act of Parliament which gave it force. I suppose it was in the Appropriation Bill; at any rate it was a legislative act. The noble and learned Lord says that he does not approve of it. I shall show in a moment that that Act stands on a very different footing to the present proposal. I would remind him that it is not the only precedent and that there is a precedent directly in point. There is the Act of 1919 under which, for the first nine months of a Parliament, the rule does not apply and Members becoming Ministers have not to seek re-election. In point of fact that Act was originally introduced to cover as wide a ground as the present Bill, but it was modified in its passage through Parliament, as your Lordships were reminded on the Second Reading. But, although it was modified, the fact remains that that Parliament enacted that for the first nine months Members who accepted office should not have to seek re-election.
That is the very principle which, according to the noble and learned Lord, was a great breach of constitutional practice, because it made a change in the conditions binding Members of Parliament that applied to that Parliament itself. That consideration did not, however, restrain the Parliament of that day from passing that Act, which deals with precisely the very subject-matter that your Lordships are dealing with this evening. It is a precedent directly in point. I have not looked at the debate, but I should be very much surprised to find that the noble and learned Lord raised the point which he now makes when the Bill was going through. I forget whether he was a member of this House or of the other House at the time; he has been a member of both Houses and he has always, I know, commanded the greatest attention when he has arisen to address either House of Parliament. I do not think he made any protest and yet, according to him now, this was a gross breach of constitutional practice. The precedents are dead against the noble and learned Lord, as well as the principles.
What else did the noble and learned Lord say? He said there was a very 949 special reason—he certainly said so on the Second Heading, and I think he also said it just now—why his Amendment ought to be introduced and that was because of the migratory habits of certain Liberal Members of this Parliament. I may tell the noble and learned Lord that there is no sinister conspiracy on the part of my right hon. friend or of any of his colleagues to put any migrant into the Government, it may be that hereafter there may be reasons, of which I am not aware, why some migrant, of whose name I have not the least notion, may be found so adequate and competent a Minister as to call for his appointment to the Government. There is no such prospect as far as I know at the present moment. May I say that it is not a good thing to argue great constitutional changes, whether they are good or bad, upon personal grounds'? Let us leave that out of the question altogether.
I turn to what is after all, the substance of the matter. What the noble and learned Lord is trying to maintain in this particular case—although he joins with us in abandoning it in the general case—is to give the electorate some control over the appointment of Ministers. That is quite wrong. I would beg the noble and learned Lord to realise that it is quite wrong. That, indeed, is a very dangerous precedent. The electorate have supreme power in this country, but they have to exercise it in a particular way. The method which is laid down by the Constutition is that they should elect Members of Parliament, not that they should elect the Government. That is not their function, as I ventured to point out to your Lordships on Second Reading. The appointment of the Government rests with His Majesty, advised by the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister is indicated by the majority, not of the electorate but of the members of the House of Commons sitting in Parliament. That is the constitutional principle. The noble and learned Lord asked me to approach this subject upon the high ground of principle. That is the principle. The electorate have nothing to do with the appointment of particular persons to be Ministers of the Crown.
I come back to the fundamental reason for the passage of this Bill and I do not think it was better stated, or could be better stated, than by the noble and 950 learned Lord himself. The noble and learned Lord, on Second Reading, said:—I cannot see why the Prime Minister's judgment should be biased and restrained in considering, not whether a certain man is the best man to appoint, but whether the man that he seeks to appoint has a safe seat.That has nothing to do with this Parliament or another Parliament. That is a general statement which applies to every Parliament, including this Parliament. Why should the noble and learned Lord think that a Prime Minister in a future Parliament ought not to be restrained but that this particular Prime Minister in this Parliament ought to be restrained? The argument is a general one. If it is good at all it is good universally. I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that he has been a little misled by what I may call the "migrant" argument, and that that was present in his mind so that he forgot that consistency which generally characterises every argument which he submits to your Lordships' House.
I do not think, if I may say so, that the noble and learned Lord has made out a case of any kind whatever. This is not a question of the privileges of Members of Parliament as he suggested to you. The payment of Members was an advantage to Members of Parliament and I agree with the noble and learned Lord that if exception is to be taken on the lines which he has advised, it might very properly have been taken to that particular Act of Parliament. But this has nothing to do with the privilege of Members. The point is, how are we to get the best Government, and if it be true, as we agree, that the existence of this rule does militate against having the best Government, then by all means let the change be made by this Parliament and this Government just as it should be made by a future Government and a future Parliament.
§ LORD WITTENHAM
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, referred to the payment of Members of Parliament. He was in another place at that time. It was one year when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister. It came forward on the Estimates. It was not in the form of a Statute at all. I should like to know as a matter of curiosity whether the noble and learned Lord, Mr. Buckmaster, as he then was, voted with his Party, or 951 whether he took the view that it ought to be embodied in legislation and postponed perhaps until another Parliament. Leaving that for a moment, I want to explain my own attitude. I voted against the Second Heading of this Bill for two reasons. First of all, I thought it ought to have been a Government Bill, whereas it was brought forward as a Private Member's Bill. For some reason or other it was caught up at a late stage in the House of Commons and turned into a Government Bill and we find it as such in this House. I wondered what was the question of high principle, because I suppose the Government would not have taken it up if it had not been a question of high principle. I have never got to the bottom of that yet.
As I remarked on Second Reading, politics are so much a question of expediency. The noble and learned Lord voted for the Second Reading. He and I were in opposite camps then. To-day he wants to amend the Bill, and I want to make the best of a bad thing. I am not going to pursue my antagonism either by supporting his Amendment or any other Amendment. Having had to gulp down the principle—we were in a small minority on Second Reading—I think we had better try to make the best of it. Why on earth should not this Government, as the noble Marquess has said, have the benefit of this Bill, which, doubtless, will be turned into an Act? I cannot see why not. Why should they wait?
The noble and learned Lord, if he will allow me to say so, has always taken, both in the House of Commons and in this House, in the best sense of the word, a high line. But I am afraid that in this matter he has deviated rather from that high line. It was clear, and he would not deny it himself—here is where policy comes in—that the political motive was uppermost. When friends fall out there are no bitterer enemies. Already that splendid Party, as I remember it in the House of Commons—splendid in strength —has fallen utterly to pieces. There is very little of it left. Those that are left are quarrelling with each other. Now the noble and learned Lord is pursuing with rancour those who have left the torn umbrella of the Liberal Party and found safety with our Party. Why should he 952 not let them alone? They have gone away from him; they will never return.I shall go to him, but he shall not return to mo.The noble and learned Lord may follow them. Do let him leave them alone in peace. This is one of the reasons why I disagree with the noble and learned Lord: that instead of putting it on the high motive of Parliamentary propriety he has reduced it rather to a personal question.
I propose to adopt the advice of the noble Marquess and to avoid as far as possible, as he suggests, any personal question. There is, of course, in this Parliament a very notorious instance of a Member who, having promised his constituents that he would resign if called upon, when called upon to do so did not resign. I am not surprised to learn from the noble Marquess that the Party of the gentlemen of England is not going to welcome that Member into the Cabinet.
I think he said that he would have no migrants, so far as he knew. I am not surprised that his motto is "Non tali auxilio nec non migrantibus istis." So far as that is concerned, that would go a long way to prevent my supporting the Amendment that has been moved. I find myself, not for the first time, shocked by the iconoclastic principles of the noble Marquess opposite and the way in which he is prepared to overthrow long-established constitutional customs. Of course, when a Government has repealed the Statute of Uses I suppose that one must not be astonished if it proposes to repeal a much more modern Statute of Queen Anne, but this has been the law for a long time. I think it is perfectly true that the original reason for which it was passed does not exist any longer, but it is still to some extent the case that it is not unreasonable to give the electorate a chance of saying whether they wish a particular person to be re-elected or not when appointed Minister. Once you have whittled it away with the nine months proposal it is rather difficult to avoid doing the rest, but I am surprised, nevertheless, that the noble Marquess should not accept this Amend- 953 ment, because the present Parliament has not a very long time to run and I think it would make the Bill rather more gracious and rather less suspect if it were passed with this Amendment. I should have been glad if he could have seen his way to accept it.
As I say, I am one of these people who very much dislike change and are very much shocked at the changes that are proposed. I suppose that I shall have to try and bear it. The noble Marquess has held out to us a prospect of a Government superior to all possible Governments that we have thought of before, a Government in which an invitation may be extended to any distinguished migrant from any Party at any moment and which, without being a Coalition, is apparently to draw its Cabinet, at any rate, from all Parties; and perhaps the prospect will make up for this Bill. I regret, perhaps more as a matter of sentiment than as a matter of business, that the Act of Queen Anne should be repealed, but I can feel the force of the argument that it is not the best ground for selecting a Minister that he has a large majority rather than that he is the best possible man to select.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I will only say a few words to explain why I cannot accept the explanation of the noble Marquess. I agree as to the precedent, set with regard to the payment of Members. I think it was a bad one. Lord Wittenham suggested that I supported it. I think he will find—though it is difficult now to charge one's memory exactly—that when the Bill was passed I was not in the cold shadows of Opposition but in the cold shadows of the constituencies and was not in the House of Commons at all.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not speak with certainty, but that is my recollection. None the leas, it was a bad example and, when the noble Marquess seeks to reinforce it by that which happened
§ in 1919, I must say that I am a little astonished. I do not want to speak ill of the Government of 1919 because it is dead, and that seems to me to be a good reason and, I may add, the only reason why I should refrain. But I feel quite certain that, if this fact had been present to the minds of the noble Marquess and myself when it was my great pleasure to sit by his side on those Benches and criticise that Government, we should have raised precisely this Amendment. The reason why it was not done was because it was not realised.
§ I agree entirely that what the noble Marquess calls the personal view is a small ground upon which to base objection to this Bill. I referred to no persons, but only to groups, and I say that nothing has been urged in answer against the main argument that this is a Bill which is intended to give relief to Members of Parliament and that the persons relieved are those who are there to-day. It is very difficult to charge one's memory exactly, but I remember this principle coming up for consideration in a different form atone time or another, either by discussion or Resolution, in another place, and it was always provided that it should not apply to the then existing Parliament. It may have been that this was in order to secure support for it, but at any rate the existing Parliament was excluded. I cannot see why a Bill of this kind should be made to operate for the men who are already there and who, it must be remembered, have been returned to Parliament by the constituencies with the knowledge that if any one of them were appointed to the Ministry his constituency would have the right to consider his re-election. I am sorry that I cannot withdraw my Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the word "as" shall stand part of the clause?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 79; Not Contents, 25.955
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)
|Balfour, E. (L. President.)
|Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)
|Mar and Kellie, E.
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
|Howard of Glossop, L.
|Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)
|Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.
|Bertie of Thame, V.
|Cochrane of Cults, L.
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
|Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)
|de Mauley, L.
|Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)
|Desart, L. (E. Desart.)
|Oriel, L. (V Massereene.)
|Douglas, L. (E. Home.)
|Younger of Leckie, V.
|St. John of Bletso, L.
|St. Levan, L.
|Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]
|Banbury of Southam, L.
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.)
|Muir Mackenzie, L.
|Ashton of Hyde, L.
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.
|Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
|Buckmaster, L. [Teller.]
|De La Warr, E.
|Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
|Allendale, V. [Teller.]
§ Resolved in the affirmative accordingly, and Amendment disagreed to.
VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved to add the following new subsection:
This Act shall not apply in the case of a person appointed a Minister who has changed his Party since he was last elected to Parliament.
The noble Viscount said: I do not think this Amendment requires much explanation. It merely seeks to exclude from the operation of this Bill those persons appointed Ministers who have changed their Party since election. I submit that there is no authority for including them in this Bill. I am sorry that some people seem to think that this Amendment is directed against an individual, but I can assure your Lordships that it is not. "With regard to Lord Darling's suggested Amendment to my Amendment, whereby he proposes to substitute "political principles" for "Party," I submit with great respect that that would be rather too vague. You can ascertain very easily whether a man has changed his Party, but it is not so easy to ascertain whether he has changed his principles. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 15, at end insert the said new subsection. — (Viscount Bertie of Thame.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
This is a very different Amendment from the one with which we have just dealt. I voted against Lord Buckmaster's Amendment because I thought it was an Amendment which gave an advantage to the Liberal Party and denied it to the Conservative Party, but I am in favour of this Amendment, and if Lord Bertie goes to a Division I shall certainly support him. Let us see what this Amendment aoes. It deals not with one Party but with all Parties. The Act of Queen Anne was introduced to prevent corruption. Unless we had an Amendment of this sort what would happen? A Government happens to be in power, and in the first nine months it appoints a number of Ministers. After it has been in power a year or a year and a half it does not get on very happily, and it has not a very large number of supporters who are fit for office. It looks around and it sees certain members eager for office, but who happen to hold different political opinions. The Whips go and suggest to those members that if they find, on con- 957 sideration, that they rather agree with the principles of the Party in power, instead of the principles in support of which they were returned, they can have office.
By this Bill as it stands you are going to facilitate that sort of thing. You are going to allow a man who is returned as a Liberal to become a Conservative and to take office under a Conservative Government, or a man returned as a Conservative to become a Labour Member and gain a place in a Labour Government. If the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Bertie is accepted it would be necessary for the member in question to go back to his constituency. I sincerely hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.
LORD DARLING had on the Paper an Amendment to substitute "political principles" for "Party" in the proposed Amendment. The noble and learned Lord said: It seems to me that this Amendment itself requires some amendment before it should receive your Lordships' approbation. To me it appears that the mere fact that a person deserts his Party may be nothing against him. I should be sorry if it were, because I know so many people—at least I have seen them—who have done it. But there are occasions when a Party deserts all its avowed principles, and the Party remains, and, if there be only one person left true to his principles, why should he not change that Party? He is described in those beeautiful words
''Among the faithless, faithful only he.
He really is a kind of minor Athanasius. Why should he be selected for persecution? It has been written in a book—I do not know whether it is in your Lordships' library—that
In affairs none are consistent except tins dishonest.
That may be an over-statement, but the apparently inconsistent may be thoroughly honest, although not transparently so.
§ It would take me too long if I were to attempt to give, even from recent history, instances of thoroughly inconsistent politicians. But I will not condemn them; in fact, the maxim that I have ventured to quote to your Lordships is their justification. I would therefore deal very tenderly with people who 958 change their Party—not because I have changed my own, or mean to. I would try to ascertain whether these people who are regarded as aspirants for immediate office are people who should be trusted because they have not really changed their political principles, although they have changed the benches on which they sit. I think my noble friend is too severe. Here are these people and they have left the Inferno of Opposition and would desire to enter the Paradiso of office. My noble friend says: "No, before you can do that there is the Purgatorio; you must go into that and stew there for the duration of the Parliament." That seems to me to take an unduly severe view of what is, after all, a, very venial fault, and may be, in fact, a virtue.
It is not so long since, by a sort of decree of Olympian Jove himself, the Socialist Party was told to take office. I can imagine, when he heard this, the attitude of the noble and learned Viscount opposite. It recalls to my mind at once the words:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken,
Or like stout Cortes when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise.
And then they settled down on the Treasury Bench. Should we regard them as men who have changed their principles? No. I decline to regard them as anything of the sort. Their political principles were there all the time, but they had concealed them. There are those who say we should not regard with favour wolves in sheep's clothing. No,
but the proper time to condemn the wolf is not when he takes off sheep's clothing and reveals himself to be really a wolf. I have a respect for him myself, and say that he has not changed his political principles, he has not changed his nature. He has only thrown off something which became inconvenient in the particular circumstances. And therefore why should these people be debarred from taking office unless they have really changed not only their Party, which they may have done for excellent and estimable reasons, but their political principles, too?
§ I am aware that it would be a difficult investigation on which, if my Amendment were passed, somebody would have to embark. How the Prime Minister 959 would find out whether a person who has just crossed the floor of the House has changed his political principles, how he would find out whether he had any principles at all—I confess I cannot tell. But this is a great assembly, and I would only ask your Lordships to accept this Amendment to my noble friend's Amendment, and then let the Prime Minister, when he is considering whom to appoint, solve this question, perhaps with the help of a Committee of both Houses. Before I move the Amendment, however, I will ascertain whether it is acceptable to the House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I gather that my noble and learned friend does not move the Amendment, and I am not altogether surprised.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My noble and learned friend is a very humorous person, and also a very poetical person. I am afraid I cannot compete with him in poetry, and I do not propose to try to compete with him in this particular vein of humour, which seems to me to take up a good deal of your Lordships' time. I am afraid that when I saw the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Bertie, I did not really approach it in perhaps as serious a vein as I ought to have done. I do not know whether your Lordships really wish me to deal seriously with it.
It is very evident that if you put in an Amendment of this kind you would have to define what a political Party was, and I think in these days that would be extremely difficult. For instance, I see opposite my noble friends of the Liberal persuasion, if I may use that ambiguous phrase. I do not know whether they have got one Party or two now. And then there are the noble Lords opposite. Quite recently the noble and learned Viscount (Lord Haldane) was drummed out of the Labour Party by his friends in the House of Commons. I did not notice that he looked very depressed afterwards, but undoubtedly that was the case, and I am quite sure that it would be very difficult to say whether Mr. Wheatley and Mr. Thomas belonged to the same political Party. They certainly agree on hardly anything, and I imagine that the 960 task of definition would be beyond the skill of even our most accomplished Parliamentary draftsman.
If this Amendment had any operation at all the only thing it would do would be to promote the practice of government by Coalition. That would bring everybody in and a man need not even be a migrant to be absorbed into a Coalition Government. I am sitting on a Bench next to one of my most distinguished colleagues who was also a most distinguished member of a Coalition Government and, therefore, I shall not say what I think about Coalitions, though I imagine your Lordships know pretty well. We have spent, I think, almost enough time on this Amendment and I am afraid the Government cannot accept it.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
After what the noble Marquess has said and his having threatened us with a Coalition Government, I do not desire to persist in my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Remaining clause agreed to.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported without Amendment.