§ Brought from the Commons, and read 1a.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, on behalf of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who is at the Disarmament Conference, I beg to move that Standing Order No. XXXIX be considered in order to its being dispensed with for the purpose of taking the Bill through all its stages.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill, which is entitled President of the Board of Trade Bill, be now read a second time. No doubt your Lordships are aware of the curious situation which it is believed has been discovered in regard to the President of the Board of Trade. The object of the Bill is stated in the Preamble, which reads:Whereas it is apprehended that since the coming into operation of the Board of Trade Act, 1909, persons holding the office of President of the Board of Trade have not been capable of being elected, or of sitting or voting, as members of the Commons House of Parliament:And whereas it is expedient to provide that the holders of the office of President of the Board of Trade shall not be subject to that incapacity.…and so on. The Board of Trade, my Lords, is governed by a number of Acts of Parliament, but in order to make the matter clear I need only refer to one or two of them. A Board of Trade first came into existence as far back as 1660, but in 1675 the control of trade returned to the Privy Council. In 1695, however, the Board of Trade and Plantations was created and that Board continued in existence until 1781. It was abolished by Section 1 of the Civil List and Secret Service Money Act of 1782. Section 15 of that Act provided that the business theretofore done by the Lords Commis- 140 sioners of Trade and Plantations was to be executed by a Committee of the Privy Council and that the members of the Committee were not to have any salary, fee or pension.
Another section of the Act, Section 2, ys relevant to the question before us. It provides that:if any office of the name, nature, description or purpose of those hereby abolished shall he established hereafter, the same shall be deemed and taken as a new office to all constructions, intents and purposes whatsoever.There was at that date, 1782, in existence an Act of Queen Anne known as the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707, and that Act provided thatno person who shall have in his own name or in the name of any person or persons in trust by him or for his benefit any new office or place of profit whatsoever under the Crown which, at any time since the 25th October, 1705, shall have been created or erected or hereafter shall be created or erected.…shall be capable of being elected or of sitting or voting as a member of the House of Commons.That being the position, in 1826 Parliament passed a new Act. It was styled the Board of Trade (President) Act, and it provided that the Treasury might direct that the President of the above mentioned Committee of Council should have a salary not exceeding £2,000, and that the office should not by reason of such salary being annexed thereto be deemed a new office.
The position, therefore, is this: that so long as there was no salary attached to the office things were in proper order, but as soon as a salary attached to the office the Act of Queen Anne came into force. The Act of 1826 provided that the office should not by reason of such salary being annexed thereto be deemed a new office, and therefore the restrictions of the Act of Queen Anne did not apply. Since 1882 the President of the Board of Trade has, with few exceptions, I think only two, been a member of the Cabinet, and frequent suggestions were made as to raising his salary, which up to 1909 still remained fixed at the sum of £2,000 a year. In 1909 a member of your Lordships' House presided over a Committee. Lord Jersey's Committee suggested that the President should be put on the same footing as a Secretary of State, and in 1909 Parliament again dealt with the matter, and it was by reason, as it is thought, of an omission 141 in that Act that the present situation arises.
The Board of Trade Act, 1909, Section I, subsection (1) is to this effect:The Board of Trade (President) Act, 1826, which limits the salary to be paid to the President of the Board of Trade, is hereby repealed, and there shall be paid, out of monies provided by Parliament, to the President of the Board of Trade such annual salary as Parliament may determine.Subsection (2) of Section I postponed the coming into operation of the Act until the next occurrence of a vacancy in the office of President. When a vacancy did occur, and a new President to the Board of Trade was appointed, an increased salary was attached to the office, which now, I believe, amounts to as much as £5,000.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As much as £4,000. Unfortunately, the Act of 1909, though it repealed the Act of 1826 and made provision for a new salary to be fixed by Parliament, quite forgot to enact that the office should not be deemed to be a new office for the purpose of the Act of Queen Anne. In view of the terms of Section 2 of the Act of 1781 it is quite clear that the office of President of the newly-constituted Committee of the Privy Council was a new office, but so long as the statutory prohibition on the attaching of a salary to the office remained in force, the holder of the office did not fall within the prohibition of Section 24 of the Act of 1707, inasmuch as the office was not an office of profit. It is the opinion, therefore, of most lawyers that the latter Act, the Act of Queen Anne, remains in force, that the office is a new office and that its holder since 1909 is disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons, and is liable to very substantial penalties at the hands of a common informer.
I am perfectly aware that there are some lawyers who think this is not the true position, by reason of certain sections of the Interpretation Act, 1889, but in any event the position is one of doubt, as the Preamble of the Bill indicates, and it would be intolerable to expose the President of the Board of Trade, and his successors since 1909, to actions by a common informer in the Law Courts. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is far better to have a Statute which 142 is clearly in your favour than a Statute which some lawyers, however eminent, are prepared to argue is in your favour if you invoke certain sections of the Interpretation Act.
May I turn for a moment to the Bill itself? I have already drawn your Lordships' attention to the Preamble. Clause 1 of the Bill says:The office of President of the Board of Trade shall not render the holder thereof incapable of being elected, or of sitting and voting, as a member of the Commons House of Parliament.Clause 2 enacts an indemnity for former Presidents. I think these former Presidents are Mr. Churchill, Mr. John Burns, the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, Sir Robert Horne, Sir Auckland Geddes, Lord Ash-field, Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, Mr. Baldwin, Lord Passfield and the present holder. As an act of mere justice to them I think that this Act should be passed through as quickly as possible, to prevent them from being at the mercy of a common informer. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That this Bill be now read 2a,—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, my friends desire me to say that they give all the sympathy they can to the passing of this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.
§ House in Committee accordingly (the EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair): Bill reported without amendment.
§ Bill read 3a, and passed.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.