[Mr. SHORT in the Chair.]
In Sub-section (1) of Section one of the Re-election of Ministers Act, 1919, the words "and if such acceptance has taken place within nine months after the issue of a proclamation summoning a new Parliament" shall be deleted and the said Section shall, as from the passing of this Act, have effect as if the said words did not form part of the said Section.
Motion made [4th March, 1926] and Question again proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
Mr. RHYS DAVIES: I think it is well at this stage that I should tell the Committee what is the attitude of the Labour Party towards this clause which we tried to amend in several respects but failed. Clause 1 is, in fact, the whole of the Bill, and in our opinion it is a violation of one of the fundamentals of our constitution. Hon. Members are probably better versed in political history than I am, but as far as I can gather this is one of the greatest blows that has ever been aimed at the Constitution of this country. There must be something behind this measure, something about which the Committee has not been informed. Just to prove my contention, I would point out that this is the first Bill that has come before a Standing Committee this year, and there seems to be great haste to get this measure on the Statute Book. The Committee, I think, should be told why there is all this haste to secure the passing of this measure. I do not know whether the Government are in any difficulty in consequence of the incompetence of some of their Ministers. There are one or two cases where an im- 46 provement might be effected by shifting some of the more intelligent Members now on the back benches on to the Government bench. I do not think there is any doubt on that point at all; that is agreed by the back benchers themselves on the Tory side. We are entitled to a frank statement from the Government as to what is their real difficulty. Have they found out that some Members of the Ministry are so incompetent that they want to change them without a by-election. It was contended the other day that by-elections were inconvenient and unpopular, inconvenient to the Government and to the Department over which the particular Minister presides, and unpopular with the constituencies. There is no better test of the popularity of the Government and the Minister concerned, in my opinion, than a by-election. Hon. Members will remember the case of the Minister who was defeated and thrown out of politics for good because his policy was not popular with the community. I refer to the case, the classical case, of Dudley. There the Minister's policy on the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle was so unpopular that not only was he defeated in the by-election, but he was actually thrown out of politics, or thrown out of Parliament, for good. I will not, however, pursue that point. All I am doing is to use it as an example. There is just one other point which I think should be made against this Measure. It is based on a selfish motive. Merely because it is inconvenient for the Government in shuffling their Ministers to have a by-election, they are supporting this Bill, and they are not frank enough to bring it in themselves. It is introduced by a back door. They asked private Members on the Tory side to bring it in, and then they give it their blessing! If this be a good Bill for the Government, then the Government themselves should have introduced it and should tell the House of Commons definitely and frankly what they are about. We are opposing the Measure. We are suspicious. Let me pursue that point for a moment. Hon. Members will remember that there has been a change in the case of a notable personality from one side of the House to the other, and rumours are afloat that that right hon. Gentleman may be appointed to a post in the Government very shortly. We are sus- 47 picious that this Bill is definitely designed and deliberately intended to find room for that right hon. Gentleman. I do not know who is going to be removed from office, but I fancy the Home Secretary, if he was here, would know a great deal about these things. It may be that the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) may be our next Home Secretary. I am not sure, but it seems to me that the Government should tell us this morning, or the hon. Member who is in charge of the Bill should tell us, what is actually behind this Measure. The Labour party oppose it because it will bring a great deal of indignity into the public life of this country. It avoids by-elections, and does not give the electorate an opportunity of registering its opinion not only of the work of the Government, but of the work of an individual Minister who may be removed from one office to another. I protest against this Measure. We on this side of the House, as well as several intelligent Members of the Tory party, will not have this Bolshevism of the Constitution, and will vote against this Clause.
Captain CROOKSHANK: I am afraid it is rather invidious for a private Member on this side to keep on opposing this Bill, but I must carry on with the protest I made during the earlier stages and put a few points to the Committee before we leave this Clause, this first Clause, but not, I hope, the last Clause of the Bill. The Bill seems to be having very bad luck. Its promoter went down with measles, and the right hon. Gentleman who fathered it last week has had to go away. This is rather indicative of the slender foundations on which the Bill is built. If the Bill be really desired by the Government, they should have adopted the precedent of 1919, when the Government of that day brought in a Bill as the first measure of the session. It was brought in by Mr. Bonar Law, who was then acting as one of the dual controllers of the Government supporters in the House of Commons. It was discussed in Committee of the whole House, and eventually after considerable amendment was put on the Statute Book. This Bill seeks to do far more than that Bill. Its original object is the same, but in this Bill we are cutting away all the safeguards, and it has been attacked not only from the Socialist and Liberal benches but by a few insignificant 48 but persistent Conservative Members. There is no doubt that it is an infringement of our present constitutional system. Nor do I think we can uphold the theory that it is going to do away with any tremendous grievance. I had the curiosity yesterday to try and find out how many times a Bill of this nature has been before Parliament during the present century and my researches resulted in this fact, that no such Bill has been introduced since 1900; there is no Bill of this kind until 1919. If these crying injustices exist surely some enterprising Conservative Member, when they were in the wilderness, after 1906, would have sought fame and notoriety by bringing forward a Measure of this sort. So far as I can see, there was no attempt made at all; there was no assault on this bulwark of the Constitution, until the Coalition days of 1919. I am sorry that the attack has taken place in 1926, in a Parliament which is dominated by Conservatives. The Socialist party, of course, sees all sorts of suspicious reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) mentioned the great necessity for haste in bringing forward this Measure. Perhaps it is ungracious for me to say so, considering that I am fighting the same battle, but I wondered why the Socialist party was so very anxious about this Bill. I give the Members of that party credit for having a sincere admiration for all constitutional principles, and I hope we shall see that maintained in future. It struck me that perhaps the more constitutional of them were making a desperate stand on this Bill to save themselves from their own friends. I understand, from what I see on the Front Opposition Bench, in the House, and in the Press, that there are certain shadowy organisations behind the Socialist party which tend to force their views, and possibly even certain personalities, upon other sections of the Socialist party.
The CHAIRMAN: I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Member to go on at that rate, and I must ask him to address himself to the subject matter of the clause.
Captain CROOKSHANK: Certainly. I was trying to get some explanation. The hon. Gentleman had dangled before the 49 Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office questions as to why this Bill was being brought in, and I was trying to ascertain why the Socialist Party was opposing the Bill. One of the supporters of the Bill is the Home Secretary. He is not with us, and yet here is a question of very great importance to him. The real point about this re-election of Ministers, as the last speaker said, is that it is a definite test of the popularity and the suitability of the Government of the day, not only in so far as the Government itself is concerned, but in so far as the particular Member put into office is concerned. It is the only accurate way in which you can get the political barometer to work. The barometer is dealing with the same person on two different occasions. If you have a vacancy arising from death or from promotion to the other House, the candidate who presents himself before the electorate is automatically and inevitably a different candidate from the candidate at the previous election. Therefore, you do not get what you might call a direct line either on his own popularity or the opinion of his constituency, as to whether he is or is not a suitable person to become a Minister of the Crown, and, in a reflex sort of way, on the Government itself. I think it is correct to say that any hon. Member who becomes a Minister of the Crown is very much more restricted in his outlook, because he has automatically to take over the constitutional practice which we have of the mutual and general responsibility of every Member of the Government for the attitude and actions of all his colleagues—what is called the collective responsibility of the Cabinet—whereas as a private Member he has not any of these restrictions either upon his actions or his sayings. Thus, by the present system, you get a very distinct line on the value of the individual, both as the representative of a given constituency, and as a fit and proper person to become a Minister of the Crown. I hope, therefore, that it may be possible, even now, for hon. Members of the Conservative Party to reconsider the attitude they adopted in the earlier stages of the Bill. If they throw out the Clause that will be a satisfactory solution to all those who hold that there is something in all this that is not just fractious opposition, but that it really is an important point. Even if it be said that it is not 50 very important, it is certainly a matter which the Government should have tackled themselves. This is the first private or Government Bill to come up to a Standing Committee this Session. There should be no desperate haste. There are in the room now, Members who, were not here at our previous sitting. Perhaps I may remind them, as I am sure that they did not read the verbatim report of what I said on the last occasion, that the Government have promised to pass during this Parliament certain reforms with regard to the House of Lords and the franchise. I object most strongly to this kind of piecemeal legislation. This Bill can affect only a few individuals in the immediate future. Perhaps it will not affect anyone at all. But if we are to tackle problems such as the Reform of the House of Lords and an alteration of the franchise, affecting women's votes, which presumably will have to be done in some kind of Speaker's Conference or other agreed method, then will the time be ripe for discussion of this particular issue. But there can be no point in tackling it now. The promoters of the Bill and the Home Secretary certainly have failed to make it clear that there is any urgent hurry about the matter, although they refused by a very small majority an Amendment postponing the action of the Bill until next Parliament. That is a point of which some hon. Members may not be aware—that we tried on a previous occasion to postpone the operation of the Bill until the next Parliament.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. and gallant Member must not discuss Amendments of which we have already disposed.
Captain CROOKSHANK: I stand corrected. I was hoping that I might persuade the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to give us a full explanation of his views on the matter. Evidently you will also rule him out of order if he does so, and we shall not be able to pursue that topic. I hope that the Committee will do its best in the coming Division and reject this Clause.
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Captain Hacking): I must first apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He has a very im- 51 portant engagement and cannot be here to-day. In any case, I think he felt sure that he had convinced the Committee of the rights of this Bill, and that therefore it was not so necessary for him to be here as it would have been had there been any doubt as to the result. I would like to reply to a few of the questions put to me by the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies). He described this Clause, which is the Bill, as the greatest blow at our constitutional history. I never know quite when I am to take the hon. Member seriously, but I would point out to him that in the Re-election of Ministers Bill of 1919 there was at any rate a serious blow at constitutional history, if this be the greatest blow, for the late Mr. Bonar Law told the House frankly on that occasion that he was taking only a first bite at a cherry. The words used by Mr. Bonar Law were: "Perhaps it is preferable to take two bites at the cherry. We will take the first bite now, and the second later." Therefore, I do not think the hon. Member need be really alarmed that this is the greatest blow at our constitutional history. Then he asked, "Why this haste?" I would remind him that this Bill was not introduced by the Government. It was introduced by a private Member, and the Government cannot very well be accused of showing any undue haste in the matter. He also asked, "Is there any incompetency in the present Members of the Government, and is that the reason why they are pressing this Bill forward?" The answer was given quite clearly by the Home Secretary at our last meeting when he said, "The suggestion that the Government is going to reconstruct is, of course, pure nonsense.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 4th March, 1926; col. 39.] My right hon. Friend is in a much better position than myself to know, and I think we might take his word, which will completely answer the hon. Member's question as to any incompetency in any Members of the present Government. The hon. Member said that the Government had given their blessing to this Bill. That is perfectly true. But only after the House of Commons had given its blessing to the Bill, and that is most important. The Government left the Second Reading to a free vote of the House, and it was only after they obtained the views of the House that they determined to 52 support the Bill in its remaining stages. Another accusation, of the hon. Member was that the Bill was deliberately introduced to allow a certain right hon. Member to join the Government. Does he really believe that that is so? Does he really believe that we had such intelligent anticipation as to know that a certain right hon. Member was about to join our party? When this Bill was introduced that right hon. Gentleman had not, at any rate, communicated with the Conservative party.
Mr. CAPE: I think you will find that he had.
Captain HACKING: I think not. I believe this Bill was introduced before the right hon. Gentleman in question had given any indication to the Government, or at any rate to the world, that he was coming over to our party. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) used as his main argument the statement that because this Bill was not introduced before 1919 it should never have been brought in. I think we might argue with equal force that because motor buses were not introduced into the streets of London before 1912, we should still be riding in horse buses. After all, that was the only point of substance in his speech. As I see this Clause there are three parties who are really interested in it. There are the electors, there is the individual, and we have to discuss the Parliamentary rights and privileges to which many attach so much importance. So far as Parliamentary rights and privileges are concerned, that has been threshed out so thoroughly that I need not develop the argument more on this occasion. It has been shown that the Re-election of Ministers Bill of 1919, which is now on the Statute Book, was distinctly a greater attack upon the rights and privileges of the House of Commons—if it was an attack at all—than is this Bill. That Act, as will be remembered, was made retrospective, which is not the case with this Bill. As far as the electors are concerned, my own view is that electors never want an election.
Mr. R. DAVIES: At any time?
Captain HACKING: Certainly not a by-election, and in my opinion the electors as a rule are not very happy even at the time of a General Election. So far as 53 the individual is concerned, I think there is very great hardship. The Committee will not, I hope, think I am doing wrong if I give—purely as an example—my own particular case to show how it hurts the individual. A short time ago I held the office of Vice-Chamberlain of His Majesty's Household which was an office of profit under the Crown. I was promoted, rightly or wrongly, to the position which I now occupy, which is not an office of profit under the Crown, and thus I have sacrificed myself to that extent, although the remuneration which I now get is twice as large as that attaching to the previous office. The position is this. If I were to go back to the Whip's office as Vice-Chamberlain—from which position I was promoted—I would have to fight a by-election, but, worse than that, if I were to go back to an unpaid position in the Whip's office as a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, I would still have to fight a by-election. I say that is wrong, and if, as many hon. Members in this room say, it will be wrong in two or three years' time, it is equally wrong now. For those reasons, I ask the Committee to pass this Clause and incorporate it in the Bill.
Mr. THURTLE: The argument which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has just used in favour of the Bill is, in fact, an argument directly against it. If he were to prove himself so incompetent in his office as to warrant his reduction from his present position to a subordinate position, it seems to me his conduct would justify his electors in passing their verdict upon him. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) on his opposition to this Measure. I take it, I may describe him without offence as a back bench Member, but also as an ambitious Member, and it is interesting to find a Member of that class opposing this Measure. I was led to understand that the Bill had been brought forward largely by ambitious back bench Members of the Conservative party, who saw in the way of their promotion to those offices which they felt themselves so qualified to fill the fear of by-elections. Indeed, it has been suggested to me that one might divide back bench Conservative Members into two classes by finding out whether they are in favour of this Bill or against it. If they are in favour of it you may 54 define them as ambitious; if they are not, you may define them as unambitious. I do not think, however, that classification is altogether fair to Members who are opposing the Measure. I prefer to think that all back bench Members of the Conservative party are ambitious, but that some of them are prepared to put a decent constitutional curb on their ambition and are not prepared to ride roughshod—
The CHAIRMAN: That has nothing to do with the Clause or with the Bill. The hon. Member must give reasons why this Clause should stand part of the Bill or otherwise.
Mr. THURTLE: I am sorry if, in my inexperience, I have transgressed, and I promise not to do so again. My main point aginst the Bill is that it takes away a fundamental right from the electors. Frequently, when a Ministerial change takes place it is the result of differences on some important point of policy. May we not conceive that a very recent crisis in connection with the League of Nations, might have involved the resignation of the Foreign Secretary, a Ministerial reshuffling and, probably, a by-election. I think on an issue like that, where the country is so vitally concerned, it would be eminently satisfactory from every point of view, if the electors in one constituency were able to pass a verdict on the point of policy involved. As was mentioned downstairs, there is an even better illustration in connection with the education policy of the Government which has aroused so much strong feeling. Let us suppose we had a Minister who formed such a high conception of his duty towards the cause of education as to say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer: "I refuse to submit to these forced economies, because I think on education we ought not to economise in this way, and, therefore, I am going to resign my post." I know that is assuming a very high ethical standard in Ministers, but, making that very large assumption, such an occasion would afford the electors of the country an admirable opportunity of telling the Government what they thought of the proposal to economise on education. For that main reason I am very glad to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in his opposition to the Clause. I hope I am not out of 55 order in saying as my concluding remark that even those Members who anticipate some rare and refreshing fruit, as a result of the passing of this Measure, ought to pay heed to the statement of the Home Secretary just quoted by the Under-Secretary to the effect that it is pure nonsense to imagine there is going to be any early reconstruction of the Government.
Mr. STANLEY: I fall into the category of Conservative Members classified as the unambitious by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle). I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in his opposition to the Bill, but not because of any subterranean designs, such as those which the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) professed to uncover. I am sure we were all glad to hear the Under-Secretary state categorically that there was no foundation for the suggestion of a Government reconstruction. Why should the Government be conscious of inefficiency when, as we all know, it is extremely efficient? We, on this side, who oppose the Bill, stand loyally by the assumption that all is for the best in the best of all possible Governments; but to one who has listened to the arguments used to-day in favour of and against this Clause, and who has read the arguments used at the last meeting of the Committee, the reason for our opposition emerges quite plainly. Although many sound arguments with a great deal of weight behind them can be advanced in favour of this Bill, yet on examination one finds that all these arguments are arguments to the particular, whereas our one great argument against the Bill is an argument to the general. The supporters of the Bill point with a great deal of reason to the inconvenience which is caused to the individual under the present system, to the difficulties which may be created in the Ministry, and to the restrictions which may be placed on the Prime Minister in forming his Cabinet. We in our opposition to the Bill, point, not to the inconveniences of the present system to the individual, but to the inconveniences and restrictions which the Measure is going to place on the general public. I think it will be agreed that whatever may be the balance of advantage and disadvantage, this Bill, 56 in fact, is going to deprive the public, the electors, the nation, of what may be considered by some a small or by others a great safeguard, but yet what has been proved a safeguard. I would also point out that the arguments advanced in favour of the Bill are of much the same class as the arguments advanced nearly 100 years ago in favour of the retention of rotten boroughs. It was said then, that if you abolished rotten boroughs, you would make it very difficult for clever and poor private members; that you would deprive the Government of a chance of getting clever and ambitious young men into Parliament and of being able to push them on. I only hope that the Conservative party, before it is too late, will realise that it is being more reactionary to-day than it was nearly 100 years ago. I trust the present House of Commons will not go down to history with the stain on its character, that it listens to-day to arguments to which the House of Commons of nearly 100 years ago would not listen.
Mr. CAPE: The hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said he had been searching the records to find how many times during this century a Bill like the present Bill had been introduced, and he could only find the Bill of 1919. May I draw attention to the fact that a great constitutional change in our methods of election took place in 1918. A Committee sat under the presidency of the former Speaker, now Lord Ullswater, to devise ways and means of redistributing seats, altering the franchise and introducing new methods of election procedure. If the present system of re-electing Ministers is such an obnoxious anomaly as hon. Members would have us believe, it is peculiar that a Committee of that kind did not consider the possibility of changing it. In 1919, the previous Measure was introduced, but it does not follow, because the late Mr. Bonar Law said he was not going to eat the cherry at one bite, that everybody in the House of Commons agreed with him. As a matter of fact, they did not, and merely because Mr. Bonar Law made that statement, are we to accept it as the finding of the House of Commons in 1919? In regard to the constitutional aspect of the question, a good deal has been said about the Labour Party's stand for 57 constitutionalism. A good many gibes and sneers have been thrown across at us, but when have we tried to upset the Constitution? We have always stuck to all constitutional methods that were of a democratic character, and surely the re-election of Ministers is a democratic measure. If we change that system by this Bill, we are giving the Prime Minister full autocratic powers. At the present time a Prime Minister has the right to select his own Cabinet, and, if he finds that he has in that Cabinet someone who does not agree with certain of his proposals, he has only to ask for the resignation of that member and to supersede him in the Cabinet with a man more of his own heart and way of thinking. There is no appeal to the electors for a mandate as to whether the Prime Minister is right or wrong, and we are taking away, not only from this House but from the electorate, rights which they have held through the centuries. I suggest that the Under-Secretary is altogether wrong when he says the electors do not like elections. As a matter of fact, they revel in elections, and always like to have the opportunity of expressing their approval or disapproval of a Government, and the only method of doing that is probably when some man is taken out of the Cabinet because of a stand he has taken and somebody else is put in. We are taking away from the electors rights which they have held from far back in the Parliamentary history of this country. It may be said that this is not a change of system, but I suggest that it is a definite change of system, and that we have no right, as Members of Parliament, to change our electoral system without first of all having a mandate from the people of the country. This is a change without a mandate. A private Member, whether Conservative, Socialist, or Liberal, comes to this House probably with certain individualistic opinions apart from his own party's policy, and very often we find he is elected probably because of strong personal convictions on certain matters, but if he is promoted from being a private Member to Cabinet rank, it stands to reason that that Member has to forego his individualistic opinions, and to become part of the Parliamentary machine of the Cabinet. Therefore, his individuality has gone, he becomes merged 58 in the Cabinet, and he must always take up the attitude or policy of the Cabinet or else clear out. If he clears out, then the Prime Minister, if this Bill be passed, simply puts in somebody who agrees with his own personal views. The Under-Secretary said just now that this was not a Government Bill. We have all to admit that it was introduced by a private Member, but the Under-Secretary cannot prevent us from thinking or from expressing our thoughts. While we recognise that the Bill was introduced by a private Member, we also feel very keenly in our minds that the hand of the Government was behind the framing of this Bill, and I think it is as well that the Under-Secretary should realise and understand that that is the feeling of a large number of Members. It is the feeling also of a large number of the electors outside, who believe that this Bill is simply a part of the Government's policy. My last point is this: I have a great deal of respect for the Under-Secretary of State, and also for the Secretary of State, but I cannot accept them as real guides and authorities on everything. The Under-Secretary said that the words of the Home Secretary, in replying last week to my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), in regard to the competency or otherwise of the Government, ought to be sufficient for us. We have no right to stop the Home Secretary from expressing opinions, and, as a matter of fact, I do not think anybody could, not even the Cabinet, because he expresses some strange opinions at times, but, nevertheless, we do not accept all his opinions, and, whether or not he thinks his reply was sufficient, I want to say, as a Member of this side, that, to me, it was not sufficient, because we have eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear, and we are positive of this, that the incompetency of the present Cabinet is the most deplorable thing that has been seen in Parliament for many years. The Coalition Government—
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member must not discuss the competency or otherwise of the Government.
Mr. CAPE: I apologise, but I was simply replying to the Under-Secretary, who ought not to have used that point either, and he is a bigger authority than 59 I am. If he transgresses, it is open surely to a private Member to do so.
Captain HACKING: I did not discuss the Coalition.
Mr. CAPE: But the hon. and gallant Member discussed the present Government. In conclusion, I shall oppose this Clause, which is the crux of the Bill, because we believe it is the most retrograde step which has been taken for many years against the Constitution of this country.
Sir JOHN MARRIOTT: I want, before we go to a Division, to try and recall the attention of the Committee to what I regard as the fundamental issue raised by this Bill. The Bill, which is really, say what you will, a very considerable constitutional alteration, has, I think, been argued from first to last in a spirit of considerable levity, and I am personally rather distressed that the party to which I have always belonged should approach a grave constitutional issue of this kind in a spirit which seems to me to be one of considerable levity—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—I may be quite wrong, but I thought so. At any rate, with all respect to you, Mr. Chairman, there has been introduced into this discussion a very large amount of personal matter which, I think, is really foreign to the discussion of this Bill. From the very first I have admitted, as my hon. and gallant Friend insisted just now, that all the superficial arguments, all the arguments which would occur, I think, to the more light-hearted, are in favour of this Bill. It is very easy to make a case on behalf of immediate necessities or on behalf of individuals in favour of the change proposed in this Bill, but, if I may be allowed to say so without offence, it seems to me that the deeper reasons, the graver arguments, the more fundamental considerations, are all the other way. What has been the main argument upon which the case for the Bill has from the first been based? We have been told that this is an archaic restriction, and that it was introduced out of jealousy against the power of the Crown. That is, historically, perfectly true, and it is also true that that jealousy of the power of the Crown has now entirely disappeared, but does that necessarily remove the arguments in favour of this restriction? 60 I contend that it does not. Everybody knows that the prerogative powers and the legal powers of the Crown are now entirely exercised by Ministers responsible to this House, but it seems to me that, so far from weakening, that transference of power to the Ministerial Executive of the day has really strengthened the arguments in favour of the restriction which we are now asked to remove. I do not for one moment want to go into the many personal questions which have been raised in the course of this discussion, but this is a matter between three parties. It is a matter between, on the one hand, the Executive, who are anxious for the passing of the Bill for reasons which are perfectly intelligible and, if I may be allowed to say so, perfectly honourable, the great mass of the Legislature, and, above all, the rights of the electorate in the third place. It is really, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) has just said, a question between the Executive and the electorate. This is a privilege which has been, from time immemorial, or at any rate ever since the introduction of the placing of Ministers in the House of Commons, exercised by the electorate, whether the electorate was a restricted one, as up to 1832, or whether it has been a more and more widely extended electorate by the Acts which have been passed since 1832. From time immemorial the electorate, narrow or wide, has possessed the right of veto on appointments to office under the Crown. This Bill seeks to remove that right of veto, and for that reason I am opposed to this Clause and to this Bill.
Mr. BASIL PETO: I do not wish to give a silent vote, and I want to state the reasons why I shall vote in the same sense as the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), who has just spoken. I was unable to attend the meeting of the Committee a week ago, through indisposition, but I read the whole of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and my first reason for voting against this Clause is that I am of opinion, after reading that Report, that a serious measure of this kind should not be passed now, as a private Member's Bill and by a Committee which was so narrowly divided as 18 to 16, for it is leaving the matter almost to a question of chance as to whether a great change of this kind should or should not be 61 made. My second reason is that. I do not think any change of this kind should be made except on the direct responsibility of the Government, by a Government measure, and I do not think this is the proper time to make it. The proper time to make it is when other alterations in the electoral law are made and towards the end of the life of a Parliament. My final reason is this: I notice that the question of a by-election on the appointment of a Minister has been frequently discussed, but the Under-secretary of State, who so recently occupied and who so ably filled a post in the Whips' Office, will forgive me if I say that I think the electors have still more right to be heard and to decide when a private Member, returned perhaps because he has a reputation for being active in the interests of his constituents, persistent in asking questions, and reasonably able to intervene in debate, is suddenly given the post of a Whip, and hence, as far as active intervention in the actual Chamber of the House of Commons by its representative is concerned, that constituency is silenced entirely. Surely a constituency, without any question of politics entering into the matter at all, has the right to say whether it wishes an active and a free Member of the House or a Whip to to represent it. That is the third reason why I think there is much to be said against this proposed change, and certainly it ought not to be made in a private Member's Bill, by a Committee which is closely divided, and in such a haphazard way as is at present proposed. Therefore, I shall vote against the Clause.
|Division No. 3.]||AYES.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Clayton, G. C.||Huntingfield, Lord||White Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Jacob, A. E.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Nuttall, Ellis|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Broad, F. A.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Cape, Thomas||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Thurtle, E.|
|Connolly, M.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Paling, W.|
This Act may be cited as the Re-election of Ministers Act (1919) Amendment Act, 1926.62
Sir ROBERT HAMILTON: I wish to explain the reasons for the vote I am about to give. I voted for the Second Reading of the Bill in the House, because I thought that, on the whole, it was intended to remove anomalies which were better removed, but I fail entirely to see any reason at all for the haste with which it is being pushed forward and made applicable to the present Parliament. I was, unfortunately, unable to be present at the previous meeting of the Committee, or I should have voted for the Amendment, but I intend now to vote against this Clause, and I shall oppose the Bill at every possible stage until I am satisfied that it is not going to be made applicable to the present Parliament.
Major RUGGLES-BRISE: The whole of the discussion on this Clause has been on the point as to whether it is an infringement of our constitutional rights and privileges. I contend that it is nothing of the kind. The constitutional issue does not arise in connection with this Bill. It was settled by the Act of 1919, and for seven years it has been part of our constitution that a Member of Parliament should not be required to seek re-election provided there has been a General Election within the previous nine months. All this Clause does is to remove the time limit. It makes no fundamental change in the constitution. It merely extends what has been for seven years part of our constitution. I hope hon. Members will bear that in mind when voting on this Clause.
Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 17; Noes, 14.
Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Notwithstanding anything in any Act, a member of the Commons House of Parliament who accepts one of the offices of profit mentioned in the schedule to this Act shall vacate his seat.
Provided that more than nine months have elapsed since the issue of a proclamation summoning a new Parliament.—[Captain Crookshank.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Captain CROOKSHANK: I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time." On the second reading of this Bill, it was said that the position was very anomolous as between different Members of the House who were elected to positions in the Ministry, and the Under-Secretary in his speech this morning has made it clear that if he went back into the Whip's Office he would have to stand for reelection. The brunt of the accusation against the present system is that no one knows what are and are not offices of profit under the Crown.
Captain BOURNE: On a point of Order. May I ask whether this Clause is within the scope of the Bill?
The CHAIRMAN: I have decided that the Clause is in order.
Captain CROOKSHANK: On the Second Reading the Prime Minister said: "Indeed, in some offices it is quite impossible for anyone to answer whether the Member appointed to that office is subject to re-election or not. It would puzzle even the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) to advise on that question. That fact alone shows that the system is not a perfect one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1926; col. 1437, Vol. 191.] If the object of the Government and the promoters of the Bill is to simplify the issue, then perhaps we might be able to reach a compromise on the lines of my Amendment; that this Committee should decide what offices are to be considered of sufficient importance as to warrant reelection, and then let the small fry, so to speak, escape. It is for that reason I have put down this new Clause, which provides that certain Offices under the Crown should be definitely stated in the Schedule as Offices of profit under the Crown. As far as they are concerned, it leaves the matter exactly where it stands 64 now as the result of the 1919 Act, including the 9 months qualification because that has been found to be of some practical value. An incoming Prime Minister may very reasonably have to change one of his Cabinet in the early days of his administration, and as we have the precedent of 1919 for the nine months' qualification I have left it in this proposed new Clause. This merely adds certain other Offices to the Schedule, and makes it sure that if a Minister is appointed of real Cabinet rank, where there is no question about the authority he will wield in the Government and the Administration, the electorate will have the right to say whether that particular Minister is a right person to be a Minister at all and, granted he should be a Minister, that he is the right person to fill that particular Office. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) touched upon the famous case of a former Minister of Agriculture, and anybody who dabbles in books written by Lord Beaverbrook will know exactly what happened on that occasion. If the statement of facts in that little pamphlet is a true record of what occurred, one must assume that they thought he was not the right person to be a Minister or that his policy was not the right policy. This Clause is meant to ensure that a particular electorate in a particular constituency shall have the right of saying whether Mr. B, C or D shall or shall not be a Minister and occupy a particular post. I hope the Committee will give serious attention to this proposal. It is a compromise between the very strenuous opposition we have put up against the Bill and the uncompromising resistance with which that opposition has been met. I do not say that the particular details in the Schedule are necessarily correct. We may have to amend them, but as we do not know what are Offices of profit under the Crown let us decide it by Statute and make it perfectly clear in this Bill what is meant.
Mr. ATTLEE: I should like to say a word in support of this new Clause. It gets rid of all the arguments with regard to the partiality of the old provision, its unfair selection as between different Offices of profit under the Crown, and concentrates on certain quite definite Offices. I want to take the Committee back to the days of Queen Anne, when the 65 first Bill of this nature was brought in. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) has pointed out that it was due to the influence of the Crown, and its whole purpose was to prevent people changing their opinions for profit. We have to consider whether that danger still exists or not. I say it does. There is always a danger at certain times owing to the state of parties, of people taking Office against the convictions they expressed at the time they were before the electors. You had it in the days of the Peelites, who were an Independent party, but who were always holding themselves up to auction and buying themselves in. You may have it arising again. There is another point which I would like to put to the Committee. A person stands for Parliament and gets elected on a "stunt." There are two ways in which a man may possibly get Office under the Government. He may make himself very industrious as a private secretary, or he may make himself an infernal nuisance, and eventually get taken into the Government. I think he should have the salutary lesson of having to go back to his constituents and explaining why he has thrown overboard everything he said during his election. We have in this new Clause an acceptable compromise. A list of Offices is put forward which can be altered when we come to the Schedule. With the hon. Member
|Division No. 4.]||AYES.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Broad, F. A.||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Paling, W.|
|Cape, Thomas||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Connolly, M.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Huntingfield, Lord||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Jacob, A. E.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Nuttall, Ellis||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Session and Chapter.||Short Title.||Extent of Repeal.|
|30 & 31 Vict. c. 102 …||The Representation of the People Act, 1867.||Section fifty-two and Schedule H.|
|31 & 32 Vict. c. 48 …||The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868.||Section fifty-one and Schedule H.|
|31 & 32 Vict. c. 49 …||The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1868.||Section eleven and Schedule E.|
for York I think a grave constitutional issue is involved. We have no provision dealing with the case of a person elected on a certain set of opinions changing them and crossing the Floor of the House; he can still retain his seat. And it is even worse when he does that and gets Office. Let us see that if he gets Office his constituents have the chance of saying what they think about it.
Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY: I think this is a most vicious Amendment. In the discussions in this Committee one point of view has been forgotten, and that is the point of view of the Prime Minister. One of my chief objects in supporting this Bill is to give the Prime Minister greater freedom in electing Members to the Cabinet. On many occasions Prime Ministers have felt a difficulty in selecting the person they think most fitted for the post for fear of his losing his seat, and one of the chief reasons for supporting this Measure is that it gives the Prime Minister greater freedom and is more likely to ensure that the best man gets the job. It seems to me that the Amendment strikes at the root of one of the principal reasons for supporting the Bill.
Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 11; Noes, 18.67
|Session and Chapter.||Short Title.||Extent of Repeal.|
|48 & 49 Vict. c. 61 …||The Secretary for Scotland Act, 1885.||In section three the words "in Schedule H of the Representation of the People Act, 1867; in Schedule H of The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868; in Schedule E of The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1868; and."|
|52 & 53 Vict. c. 30 …||The Board of Agriculture Act, 1889||In sub-section (1) of section eight the words "and shall be deemed to be an office included in Schedule H of The Representation of the People Act, 1867; Schedule H of The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868: and Schedule E of The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1868."|
|62 & 63 Vict. c. 38 …||The Board of Education Act, 1899||In sub-section (1) of section eight the words "in Schedule H of The Representation of the People Act, 1867; in Schedule II of The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868; in Schedule E of The Representation of The People (Ireland) Act, 1868, and."|
|6 & 7 Geo. V. c. 65 …||The Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916||In sub-section (1) of section seven the words "in Schedule H of The Representation of the People Act, 1867; in Schedule H of The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868; in Schedule E of The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1868;and."|
|6 & 7 Geo. V. c. 68 …||The New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916||Sub-section (2) of section twelve.|
|9 & 10 Geo. V. c. 2 …||The Re-election of Ministers Act, 1919||In section one, sub-section (1), the words "and if such acceptance has taken place within nine months after the issue of a proclamation summoning a new Parliament," and sub-section (2),|
|In section two the words "and the office of such Minister shall be deemed to be an office included in the above-mentioned Schedules."|
Brought up, and read the First time.
Captain HACKING: I beg to move, "That the Schedule be read a Second time." The object of the Amendment is to remove from the Statute Book all enactments which will become dead if this Bill becomes law. I do not know whether the Committee wishes me to go into all the details?
HON. MEMBERS: No.
Question put, and agreed to.
Schedule added to the Bill.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, with amendments, be reported to the House."68
Mr. R. DAVIES: The Committee will have noticed that we have put up a strenuous opposition to the Bill, and I want to make it clear that we shall oppose the Bill throughout all its stages.
Captain CROOKSHANK: I think that the promoters of this Bill, now that they have recovered from their serious illnesses, have treated the Committee rather badly. We have had practically no response to our statements, and none of the hon. Members whose names are on the back of the Bill has favoured us with any observations to-day. A new Cluase was moved just now, and two or three Members spoke in support of it, but we had no answer either from the Govern- 69 ment or the promoters of the Bill. I protest most strongly against such an attitude being taken up, and I hope that when the Bill goes to the Floor of the House we shall see a little modification of these very Prussian and dictatorial methods, both by the Home Office and the promoters of the Bill. I am afraid that some of us will have to continue our 70 opposition to the Bill, and hope for some miracle at the last moment.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill, with Amendments, ordered to be reported to the House.
Committee rose at Twenty Minutes after Twelve o'Clook.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Short, Mr. (Chairman)
Davies, Mr. Rhys
Davies, Dr. Vernon
Hamilton, Sir Robert
Harvey, Mr. Barclay
Hudson, Captain Austin
Hudson, Mr. James
Knox, Sir Alfred
Marriott, Sir John
Peto, Mr. Basil
Williams, Mr. Herbert
Wood, Mr. B. Compton