HL Deb 06 March 1941 vol 118 cc605-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is a purely war-time measure, although it deals with a subject which is, in many quarters, considered to call for far-reaching reform. Statute Law dealing with the disqualification of members of another place by reason of taking certain offices dates back to 1707. It contains many obscurities and anomalies. I confess to a certain personal interest in these anomalies because I believe I am the last victim of the old system whereby a member of the Government, on being transferred from one office to another, had to face a by-election, and I had a very hard and unpleasant by-election on going from the position of Financial Secretary of the Treasury to the Ministry of Agriculture. But that particular anomaly, as between old and new Government offices, was shortly afterwards removed, and transfers can now take place from one Government office to another. But plenty of other anomalies remain. For example, a member of another place can become an Ambassador without losing his seat, but if he becomes High Commissioner to a Dominion his election is declared void.

I will not take time to discuss difficulties in the present law, such as whether a particular appointment is an office or a place under the Crown. A Select Committee has been appointed in another place, arising out of this Bill, to inquire into the whole law on this subject and to make recommendations. Meanwhile these legal freaks are merely being put into cold storage, and will re-emerge at the end of the war unless further amendment takes place meanwhile. Already war-time Acts have been passed to remove disqualifications which might be attached to accepting positions in the Armed Forces or as Regional Commissioners or Deputy Commissioners. The White Paper which was issued last week gave a formidable list of those in both Houses who are serving in His Majesty's Forces or are assisting the Government in a civil capacity. Many of those names in the list are marked as "serving without pay," but this does not, in many cases, necessarily prevent disqualification, because if it can be found that an office has at some previous period of our history been paid, it may lead to disqualification.

In war-time the Government think that it is right that they should have power to appoint members who are specially qualified to positions without causing them to vacate their seats. Clause I (1) provides that the statutory disqualification will not operate when the First Lord of the Treasury certifies an appointment as required in the public interest for the purposes of the war. There are many border-line cases and many problems have arisen on which the Law Officers of the Crown find it difficult to give a confident opinion as to whether a particular case falls within the ancient Statutes, even where an office is only part time and no pay is involved; for instance, whether members can sit on various Tribunals under the Home Office or work in various new Ministries or in the office of the Judge Advocate-General. It is also uncertain whether they can with safety and without incurring very heavy penalties be Chairmen of Courts of Inquiry. In view of the very heavy penalties to which the appointees may be liable the Law Officers have frequently felt obliged to advise the safe course and to avoid such appointments, even when it is to the prejudice of the public interest. It is to deal with such problems and to remove doubts as to whether any earlier appointments may have infringed the Statutes that subsection (3) absolves from penalties appointments made since the beginning of the war.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Moyne.)

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended, Bill read 3a and passed.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.