HL Deb 13 May 1954 vol 187 cc594-6

4.7 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill that I have the pleasure of submitting for your Lordships' consideration will not, I hope, occupy much of your Lordships' time. It is a Bill which, as the Long Title states, is To indemnify Niall Macpherson, Esquire, from any penal consequences which he may have incurred by sitting or voting as a member of the House of Commons while holding the office of member of the London agency of the Dried Fruits Control Board of the Commonwealth of Australia, and to remove any disqualification for membership of that House by reason of his having held that office. The Dried Fruits Control Board of the Commonwealth of Australia is a statutory body set up under divers Acts of the Australian Parliament. It has a London agency, of which one member, at least, is appointed by the Governor General and others by the Board, and they are paid out of the consolidated revenues of Australia. It has therefore been apprehended, and Mr. Macpherson has been so advised, that he holds an office of profit under the Crown, and has accordingly brought himself within the scope of Sections 24 and 28 of the Succession to the Throne Act, 1707.

As your Lordships well know, following upon that Act, there have been a great number of Acts of Parliament—I am told that they number between 125 and 150—dealing with matters which disqualify persons from being Members of Parliament. Mr. Macpherson has, as I say, been advised that, holding that office, he has brought himself within the scope of the Act and the heavy penalties to which he is liable under Section 28. Accordingly, in accordance with what has been the practice of Parliament where an offence has been committed unwittingly, it has been thought proper to bring in a Bill of Indemnity. That is what this Bill is. I think it is common knowledge how difficult it is for any man to find his way amongst the numerous Acts which deal with this matter so as to be quite sure that he is not holding an office of profit within the meaning of the Act. It is not right, inasmuch as Mr. Macpherson is open to attack by the common informer, whose rights still remain (if they can be called rights) in regard to this matter, though they have been generally abolished, that he should remain liable to any penalty. Mr. Macpherson was elected as Member for Dumfries, and it is right to say that as soon as this matter was brought to his notice he at once sought advice and protection. While it is not strictly relevant, it is the fact that, although the office does provide for remuneration, he, in fact, has not drawn any. I submit the Bill for your Lordships' favourable consideration, and beg to move that it be read a second time.

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

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, may I say on behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House that we certainly give this Bill our support. Members of another place are in an exceedingly difficult position. No one who has held the office of Attorney-General can fail to know that Members come and ask about all sorts of offices—whether they are or are not safe to accept them. I will give one illustration. I remember the late Lord Simon, then Sir John Simon, consenting at my request many years ago to preside over the investigations into the loss of the R.101. He stipulated from the beginning that he should receive no remuneration for so doing. Then doubts were raised as to whether that was not an office of profit under the Crown. The mere fact that a Member receives no profit does not answer the question. If the office is normally one which carries remuneration, it matters not that he has not received the remuneration. Lord Simon was greatly disturbed about this. I was not myself, because I thought it was not an office at all, but he was by no means sure that that was right, and made me promise to get the Prime Minister's consent to bring in a Bill of indemnity in case any trouble was raised. In fact, no trouble was raised.

At some stage I myself tried my hand at drafting a Bill, and I think the late Sir Granville Ram prepared something which I hoped was going to find favour. I suggest to the Lord Chancellor that it would be desirable to see if something could be done, because I know that at the present time Members of another place are in a great difficulty about this matter. It may be quite impossible to avoid it. My efforts were not successful, but perhaps the Lord Chancellor may have better luck. I am quite sure that the Parliamentary situation being as it is in modern conditions, whenever we get a case such as this, where a man has honestly and genuinely made a mistake, we shall always be ready to extend to him protection in this way. I would point out to your Lordships that, if I understand it aright, this Bill does not authorise the continuance of his holding the office; it merely exempts him from the penal sections which would otherwise have resulted from his having held the office from which he has now resigned. In those circumstances, I wish the Bill a speedy passage in order that we may give the honourable Member the protection which we should all desire to give him.


My Lords, may I add one word? I am grateful to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and his colleagues for their approach to the Bill. The noble and learned Earl is quite right in what he says concerning this matter. A great deal of work has been done for which, I may say, we are grateful, because we have been attempting ourselves to solve this question and we have obtained great advantage from the work done by the noble and learned Earl and his colleagues. I cannot say more than that we are at work upon it, except to add that the more we work upon it the greater the difficulties seem to be. It is a difficult and complex matter.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.