§ Returned from the Commons, with the Amendments agreed to.873
§ HOUSE OF COMMONS DISQUALIFI
CATION (DECLARATION OF LAW)
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Viscount HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading is, as its terms state, a Bill for the avoidance of doubt. Its purpose is to make it clear that certain recent appointments do not affect the right of the respective holders of those appointments to continue to sit in another place. The two members of the Government whose positions are affected are my right honourable friend Mr. Anthony Eden and my noble friend Lord Cranborne. With regard to Mr. Anthony Eden the position is this. By the Succession to the Crown Act passed in the year 1707 any person who is appointed by the Crown to a new office is thereby disqualified from sitting in the House of 'Commons. In the year 1919, after the War, it was thought desirable to have certain Ministers without Portfolio, as I think the current phrase is, and an Act was passed entitled the Reelection of Ministers Act, which provided in its second section that where a member of the Privy Council is appointed to be a Minister of the Crown at a salary, without any other office being assigned to him, he is not to be disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons. My right honourable friend Mr. Anthony Eden is a. member of the Privy Council who has been appointed a Minister of the Crown. His appointment is described as that of Minister without Portfolio for League of Nations Affairs. If ever the matter were litigated the question that would arise would he whether that is an appointment with an office assigned to Mr. Eden beyond that of being Minister of the Crown. If he were merely described as Minister without Portfolio the question would not arise, but since he is described as Minister without Portfolio for League of Nations Affairs the question might conceivably be raised as to whether he had an office assigned to him within the meaning of that section.
With regard to Lord Cranborne the position arises under a different Act of Parliament. In the year 1742 a Statute 874 was passed by which, after declaring that certain officers were. not admitted to Parliament, it was provided in Section 3 that nothing in the Act should extend to exclude the Secretary to the Treasury, the Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretaries to the Admiralty, or the Under-Secretary to any of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, or the Deputy Paymaster of the Army from sitting in the House of Commons. Your Lordships will observe that the words there used are "the Under-Secretary of State to any of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State," and the doubt which might be raised is whether that allowed two Under-Secretaries of State to one principal Secretary of State to sit 'at the same time in the House of Commons. There are very good arguments either way. There is a Statute providing that no more than six Secretaries of State shall sit in the House of Commons. That still remains the law, and there are good constitutional grounds for saying that the office of Secretary of State is indivisible and that it is only a matter of arrangement between the different Secretaries of State as to who shall have which particular sphere of activity.
There have been no exact precedents, but some twelve years ago Mr. Amery had two Under-Secretaries of State sitting with him in the House of Commons. Then he held the dual office of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and Secretary of State for the Colonies. Therefore, although he had two Under-Secretaries they might each be assigned to him in his capacity as Secretary of State for one or other of these two offices. These are points which obviously might employ lawyers profitably for quite 'a long time. His Majesty's Government thought that if there was any doubt in the matter it was far better to have it cleared up at once instead of to wait until some ingenious person brought some form of proceedings in the Courts to challenge the validity of what was happening. The Bill, of course, has nothing to do with the creation of those two offices. The Bill does not alter the existing legislation as to the number of Ministers without Portfolio whom it is -permissible to have, or as to the number of Under-Secretaries of State who are eligible for the House of Commons at any one moment. The question of the salaries of these two 875 respective officers will no doubt be raised in another place at the proper time. The function of this Bill is confined to regularising and putting beyond question their position as members of the House of Commons, and it is brought forward for that and for no other object. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I am sure we are very much indebted to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for having so clearly stated the position which is concerned with the introduction of this Bill. These intricate matters have led to a certain amount of confusion and, as he rightly says, to the possibility of somebody outside calling attention to an irregularity which the Government and Parliament have been unconscious of committing. I think I owe my presence in your Lordships' House to a certain confusion which was caused in 1929. However that may be, I do not want to enter into the arguments that were brought forward in a previous debate last week with regard to the necessity of this Bill caused by the appointment of a second Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office.
Whatever may be said with regard to the need for a very full representation of the Government in the Foreign Office, we, on this side of the House, feel that the Government have gone too far, that there is no real need for two Under-Secretaries, and that the confusion that arises from having two Cabinet Ministers in the Foreign Office might conceivably lead to a certain division of responsibility which we should deplore. But the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, in the previous debate assured us that that would not be the case, and the only remaining point therefore is as to the need for two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries. That still appears to us to be unnecessary. I rise only to emphasise that point because we have no desire in any way to object to the passage of this Bill.
§ LORD STRICKLAND
My Lords, I beg leave to say a few words on this Bill in order to ask His Majesty's Government, when future opportunities arise, to relax further such disabilities as may exist from the point of view of the Colonies. Every step which tends to bring the 876 Empire and this country closer together should have sympathy. As the law stands at present, if a member of the House of Commons accepts an office of profit under the Crown in the Colonies, because the Crown is one throughout the Empire, he is interpreted by some lawyers as having accepted an office of profit under the Crown which disqualifies him under the Act of Queen Anne. That Act of Queen Anne applies only to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as it was then united and to the Plantations beyond the seas. To-day there are parts of the Empire which are not Plantations beyond the seas and are not part of the United Kingdom. Therefore I do not think that that Act applied to Malta.
Nevertheless, when I had the honour to represent Lancaster in another place and became head of the Ministry in Malta, I was invited not to sit and vote in the House of Commons because, on the precedent of Sir Timothy O'Brien, who accepted the office of Attorney-General for Victoria, I was liable to be called before a Committee of the House of Commons to defend my seat. These are anachronisms not suitable to the present development of the Empire or to the present day, when the bribery and corruption which distinguished our politics in the days of Queen Anne are no longer to be found amongst us. I think these disabilities should be further relaxed.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, in reply to the two speeches which have been delivered I should like to say that the Government of course recognise that the Opposition do not accept the necessity for these appointments. On the other hand, I do not think they will wish me to argue at length whether or not the appointments are desirable. The Government have very definitely formed the view that it is necessary for the efficient discharge of the duties of the Foreign Office under existing conditions that these appointments should be made. I know noble Lords opposite, although they quarrel with that premise, would not dispute the conclusion that arises from it—namely, that it is essential that whatever is necessary for the proper administration of the Foreign Office should be approved by Parliament. So far as my noble friend Lord Strickland is concerned, he was not concerned to 877 challenge the necessity for this Bill but he wished to call attention to another anachronism, as he terms it, with regard to people who hold offices of profit under the Crown. It is a remarkable illustration of the doubt and difficulty which may arise that the two speakers, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and my noble friend Lord Strickland, respectively owe their presence in this House to the fact that confusion has been created in the past for one reason and another. I am sure that that fact only reinforces the wisdom of the Government in making sure that no such contingency should happen this time.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.