HL Deb 24 April 1951 vol 171 cc490-5

5.17 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is a very small one, and it is one which I think will prove acceptable in all parts of your Lordships' House. That being the case, I shall content myself with merely reciting the main facts, without attempting to argue them in any way. The Reverend J. G. MacManaway was elected as Member of Parliament for West Belfast in 1950. Previous to that time, he had been elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Perhaps I ought to say that the electoral laws of the two countries in respect of the qualifications and disqualification of candidates are the same. So, if Mr. MacManaway had committed a wrong under those laws in Northern Ireland, he had also committed one in relation to the Parliament of Great Britain. And if he had done wrong in this country, then that wrong followed him to Northern Ireland.

Mr. MacManaway was, and is, an ordained priest: that is one of the central facts to keep in mind. The matter was raised with Mr. MacManaway before the Election, during the Election, and subsequent to the Election, when he took his seat in another place. And as the result of the discussions that arose the Government agreed to the appointment of a Select Committee to go into the questions involved and to report to the House. The Committee were appointed on April 3, 1950, and reported on April 18, 1950. This was the essence of their Report: Your Committee feel with the Attorney-General that the arguments on both sides of the question are evenly balanced, and are unable to come to a unanimous conclusion on their merits. Your Committee, therefore, recommend to the House that immediate legislative action be taken to clarify the law. On that Committee there were a number of lawyers, and there seemed to be as many opinions ventilated in the Committee as there were lawyers. That probably explains why no unanimity prevailed in making a Report. The Government considered the matter as reported from the Committee, and came to the conclusion that the proposal of the Committee was not the proper way of dealing with the problem. In the opinion of the Government it appeared to be desirable that the matter should be placed before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and an opinion invited from that body. The Judicial Committee considered the law and made a report, the effect of which was that Mr. MacManaway, being an ordained priest, was not eligible for election to the Parliament of Great Britain or for election to the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to mention two measures that govern the case. The first is the Act of 1801, dealing with the disqualifications that attend upon priests and deacons who have been ordained. The measure says that: No person having been ordained to the Office of Priest or Deacon, or being a Minister of the Church of Scotland, is or shall be capable of being elected to serve in Parliament as a Member of the House of Commons. Your Lordships will notice that there is no mention of the Church of England or of the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland and the Church of England were in Union at that time, and therefore these general words were best fitted for the purpose, and they applied all round. The next measure I want to mention is the Disestablishment of the Irish Church Act, 1869, because it would appear that most people have been convinced that the disestablishment of the Irish Church had the effect of releasing priests of that Church from the disqualification which prevented them from taking their seats in Parliament. The Privy Council have come to the conclusion that the Act of 1801 is still valid, and that the Act of 1869 disestablishing the Irish Church did not in any way change the disqualification laid down in the earlier Act of priests and deacons entering Parliament.

In consequence of the report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council the Government submitted in another place a Motion covering a declaration that Mr. MacManaway was ineligible to sit in the Parliament of Great Britain, and I understand that, subsequent to that date, Mr. MacManaway has resigned his position from the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The Bill now before the House is to indemnify Mr. MacManaway against any penalty that may arise for sitting and voting in both Parliaments without being qualified. We have man-aged, so far, to carry Parliament with us in agreeing to this measure, and the Bill was "passed in another place without a Division. It was our intention to ask your Lordships, when the Bill came before your Lordships' House, to pass it through all its stages to-day. It is now proposed, however, to introduce Amendments to the Recital to the Bill, in pursuance of the undertaking given by the Attorney-General on the Second Reading in another place, that the Government would see whether a suitable form of words could be found to make it clear that the advice of the Privy Council did not conclude the matter, and that the seat was vacated only when a Resolution to this effect had been passed in another place on October 19, 1950. The action of the Government in asking your Lordships to give consideration to these Amendments is due to representations made to the Government from the Opposition Benches in another place, the feeling being that as this matter had been sent to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for an opinion it should be made clear that Parliament retains complete control of its own constitution, and that the seat was vacated only when Parliament itself took action. That is all I need say about the Bill now, and I have pleasure in moving that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Shepherd.)

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I think there will be no doubt in your Lordships' House that this Bill ought to be passed. There was considerable doubt whether an ordained priest of the Church of Ireland was still ineligible to sit in another place or in the Parliament of Northern Ireland; and when there is such a doubt, a man who does take his seat is usually indemnified if he is afterwards found to have been wrong in law. This case has not been brought before the law courts, because it was known that an Act of Indemnity would be passed. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is as high an authority as can be found and their decision is no doubt in law the correct one. In introducing this measure, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said the test was whether Mr. MacManaway was an ordained priest. I do not think it is entirely that, because I believe that an ordained priest of the Church of Wales can sit in another place, as an exception was made in the Act disestablishing the Welsh Church. But at any rate it is clear that an ordained priest of the Church of England cannot sit in Parliament. I suppose they are thought to be-effectively and efficiently represented—as indeed they are—by the Bishops' Bench in your Lordships' House. Now it has been decided by the Privy Council that an ordained priest of the Church of Ireland cannot sit in Parliament. I do not suppose that anybody will have any objection to the proposed alteration of the Recital. It is not quite the case that Parliament keeps control of the whole proceedings, but that each House is entitled to keep charge of its own proceedings; and it seems rather odd that this House should have to insert this safeguard into the Bill because the Members in another place have omitted to do so. But if we can do that little service to another place, and thereby see that the privileges of another place are retained, I have no doubt we shall all accede to it.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, there is nothing new about Acts of Indemnity of this kind. I can remember five or six in my time. They are not always accepted; I can remember about forty years ago that Sir Stuart Samuel was penalised heavily in cash for voting, he being a member of a limited company selling silver to the Government. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Shepherd on the perfect clarity with which he has laid this case before the House. It is the hallmark of all his speeches, if he will permit this humble compliment from a Back Bencher. There is one point that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has not mentioned. The case of Mr. MacManaway is a special one, totally different from all other indemnity cases. In the ordinary way, whether a Member votes or does not vote is not important; but at the present moment, how one Member of another place votes, or whether a Member resigns from the Government, is a matter of immense importance, one which might imperil the fate of the Government. Therefore, Mr. MacManaway's vole was of importance, and if he committed an offence in voting when he should not have voted, that was not merely a casual breach of the constitutional rule; it was an act that might have brought the Government to an end.

It is quite right that this Member should be indemnified, but I should like to ask this question. I understand that he is guilty if he sits, or if he votes—and I think the penalty is £500. But suppose that he was incited to do this. There is no doubt that it was doubtful from the beginning whether he was entitled to sit at all. He must have known it: there was this committee, there were the opinions, and everybody knew about it. But, suppose that on a particular occasion certain Members of another place wrote Mr. MacManaway inviting him to come to the House to do something which they thought might be legal, what is their position? What makes this case entirely special is that the Opposition Whips, as I understand it, urged Mr. MacManaway to come to the House of Commons and cast a vote in a vital Division, both they and he well knowing that the vote might be illegal and might incur a penalty for him. I think it is right that this point should be made. I do not say that anything can be done, and I should not venture to oppose a Bill that is supported by both Front Benches—that would be most improper. However, it is right that someone should point out that we are dealing not with a minor constitutional lapse, but with a persistent offence by the Conservative Party who, even at the expense of constitutional propriety, would urge this unfortunate man to cast his vote in another place.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, for mentioning the position of the Welsh Church, but I was quoting a Motion of the other place when the declaration was made. I think it is still true that an ordained priest is ineligible unless, as in the case of Welsh disestablishment, some special dispensation is arranged to pre-vent its working. I do not want to enter into an argument with my noble friend Lord Stansgate on the contribution he has just made, but it should be said on Mr. MacManaway's behalf that the lawyers have been at sixes and sevens over his position—indeed, the Attorney-General himself had to go in a white sheet because of his own misinterpretation of that position. Therefore, when there is divergence of opinion among lawyers, even though there may be a suspicion that somebody has been trying to "work a quick one," I think we should ignore most of that and give the Member the benefit of the doubt.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.