Re-Election of Ministers Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 17th February 1919.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

4.0 P.M.

The subject of the Bill is one with which Members of the House are very familiar. It has been not only a subject of debate, but of conversation, among Members for a very long time. In the past, I think, it has been regarded almost entirely from the point of view of party interest. Every Government would have liked to see the system abolished and every Opposition enjoyed it, and no Opposition looked far enough ahead to put the future disadvantage against the momentary advantage. It is said—I do not know with what accuracy—that towards the end of the Government of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary (Mr. Balfour) the proposal was made to the then Opposition that the course proposed in this Bill should be adopted. That proposal was not agreed to, but it was one of the ironies of politics that within two or three years the then Opposition was suffering more inconvenience from it than the then Government. I shall endeavour, very briefly and as fairly as I can, to put the arguments for and against the existing system and to give the House the reasons which have induced the Government to come definitely to the conclusion that the continuance of the present system is not in the public interest. In the first place, I should like to call the attention of the House to the absurdity of the law as it stands, and not merely to the absurdity, but to the Confusion of the law. That cannot be better illustrated than by the fact that when the first Coalition Government was formed one of the Law Officers was himself liable to re-election and did not know it, and subjected himself in consequence to very heavy penalties, for which an Act of Indemnity had to be passed by Parliament. It is very absurd in the case of those who have to be elected, and also of those who have not to be elected. For instance, if they fill the post of Junior Lord of the Treasury they have to seek re-election, and, as a matter of fact, the legal advisers of the Crown came to the conclusion that even Junior Lords of the Treasury, who receive no salary, were still technically holding an office of profit under the Crown, and had to be re-elected. That applied to re-election in the case of the Junior Officers, while at the same time other officers, for instance, the Financial Secretaries to the Treasury and most important Under-Secretaries, did not require re-election at all. The absurdity was shown in another direction. In the first Coalition Government the present Prime Minister gave up the post of Minister of Munitions in order to become Secretary for War, and, without knowing it, by doing so he rendered himself liable to re-election. The same thing has happened now. My right Hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was, like the rest of us, a member of the Government in another office, is also to-day liable for re-election. All that happens simply because certain offices are not in a particular Schedule of an Act that was passed many years ago.

I quite admit that the confusion and absurdity of the present practice is no justification for the change I am asking the House to make. If the principle were right, then the proper course would be for the Government to amend the law, and for that reason I shall ask the House now, quite fairly, to consider whether or not the principle is a good one in existing conditions. It is common ground, I think, that the particular purpose for which the original Act was passed has become an entire anachronism, and is of no further use. The question is part of the long-continued struggle between Parliament and the Throne as to the proportion of power to be divided between them. That is shown very clearly by this fact. The Statute which governs all the others was passed in the reign of Queen Anne. It was at the same time as the Union of Scotland and England, but six years before an Act had been passed which made it not only impossible but illegal for anyone enjoying an office of profit under the Crown—that is to say, for any Minister—to sit in the House of Commons at all. As a matter of fact, that Act never became the practice of our Constitution, though it was imported into the American Constitution. It would be a very convenient Act now for Ministers, but the House will see how completely the object has been changed. Everyone now agrees that this proposal, if it had been carried, would have had one effect, that of depriving the House of Commons of the power which is so necessary of having Ministers here. It will be admitted that the purpose for which the Act was passed no longer exists. The last example of any dispute between Parliament and the Crown on the question of personal government was in the reign of George III. Since then there has been no question, and therefore, from the point of view of the purpose for which the Act was passed, everyone will agree that it is no longer required.

I acknowledge that that does not settle the question. In a Constitution like ours, which is not a written Constitution, which is made up not only of laws, but of practices and usages, many laws and many usages adopted for one purpose had to be used for another. It is suggested that this is required as a protection no longer against the Crown, but as a protection against the Executive Government of the day. I wish the House of Commons to realise exactly what that means. This law was passed originally in order to strengthen the House of Commons, but its only use now is a check on the House of Commons. [An Hon. Member: "On the Government!"] Not at all. I am surprised my hon. Friend should say so. I hope to convince him he is wrong. It is a check on the House of Commons, and nothing else. No Government now can exist for a single day if it has not the support of a majority of the House of Commons; therefore, obviously the Executive Government in this connection really represents the House of Commons. That is quite clear. Whatever protection this is, it is a protection of the electorate against the House of Commons itself. It has no other meaning. I quite admit that it has not been without its use. It is a common complaint of every Opposition to say of a Government which has existed for a year or two that it has lost the confidence of the electors, and that the country is against it. That claim has been made by every Opposition since I have been a Member of the House. One of the methods by which the truth of that statement can be tested is by pointing to by-elections. We used to be told that by-elections were the "writing on the wall," the clear sign that the Government had lost the confidence of the country. I quite admit that anything which keeps the House of Commons in touch with the electors during its continuance is an advantage, but I would like the House to consider to what extent this is a help in that question. I remember well that the Government in regard to which the kind of charge which I have mentioned was made more emphatically than any other was the Conservative Government which came to an end in 1905. I had the numbers of by-elections looked up in the two last years of the existence of that Government when it was most asserted that it had lost the confidence of the country. In 1904 there were twenty-four by-elections and none of them were due to this cause. In 1905 there were twenty-two by-elections and two of them only were due to this cause. The House will see that the continuance of this law as a test of the authority which the House of Commons hold—of the strength of its hold on the country—is very slight.

But it has been suggested that a House of Commons elected for one purpose might, in the course of its existence, set up an entirely new Government and try to carry out some entirely different plan, for which they have received no mandate. That is a possibility of course, but again I ask the House to realise that that is a protection against the House of Commons and nothing else. Obviously if it was a new Government and the House of Commons did not approve of it it would have the power of moving Resolutions condemning it, and that is the end of it. It is a protection, therefore, against the House of Commons. My own view is that against an evil of that kind, which would really be a usurpation by the House of Commons of powers to which it was not entitled, anything of the substance of the present law on this subject would be practically useless. It would be too great an evil to be cured or even affected in any way by a law such as this. It would require some other protection. After giving, as other Members of the House have given, a great deal of thought to this subject, I am of opinion that if an evil of that kind ever arose the real remedy is a Second Chamber strong enough to revise its action. I am quite sure that this law as it stands would have no effect. For instance, if the House of Commons was carrying out such a plan clearly the Government has a majority. It can immediately refuse doing the very thing I ask the House to do. That Bill would be carried in the House of Commons, but it could not become law until it had been passed in another place. If the House of Lords in a case of that kind were prepared to reject the Bill brought forward by the Government of the day and passed by the House of Commons it would do so because the House of Commons was usurping powers which it did not possess. Clearly it would have the same power of bringing the question to a test by any other Bill which the Government chose to pass.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I am surprised that my Noble Friend should put that question. Does he not know how many years it takes for this Parliament Act to work?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I think I have shown the value of that as a check on the House of Commons represented by the Government of the day. I ask the House now to consider the disadvantage which the public service has to undergo in order to have that advantage. Take first of all the inconveniences, not to the Government but to the public service. You could not have a better illustration of it than the present position. It was recognised during the War by the passing of a Bill relieving Ministers from the necessity of having to go to the constituencies for re-election. If that was necessary then I say this, that at no time during the War was the pressure of work upon Ministers greater than it is at the present moment. So that the reasons which made it necessary during the War apply now. I ask the House just to look at some of the Ministers affected—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Food.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

Take these three offices. We have found the disadvantage of not having them in the House of Commons during the Address, and I would remind the House it would have been impossible for them to be here if they had sought re-election; and, indeed, the argument which applied before is in a sense stronger now, because, owing to the Franchise Act, it would take longer for Ministers to get back. Just consider what that means to the offices concerned. I am not speaking merely of their absence from this House, although that is a great drawback. It is far worse than that. They are absolutely overwhelmed with work. Everybody knows that an election in this country is becoming more and more exacting. Would it really be reasonable to send these Ministers away from their work down to their constituencies to undergo another election a month or two after being re-elected to this House? And does anyone believe that, if Ministers are of any use at all, that must not be a disadvantage to the public service? Of course, it would not be an equal disadvantage in ordinary times, when only one office is vacant and one Minister is seeking re-election; but, on the other hand, the particular office might be one which requires the undivided attention of the Minister, and, as a general principle, it is imperative that a new Minister should devote himself quickly and completely to the work of the Department to which he is appointed.

Looking at these considerations since the Election was over, the Government came definitely to the conclusion that, apart altogether from the interests of Ministers or the Government, it would be a distinct harm to the public service to take them away from their work. We decided that that should not be done, but that we would ask the House of Commons to support us in the proceeding we are now taking. So much from the point of view of inconvenience, and, of course, that is the main argument against the present condition of things. But I would ask the House to consider—and this applies to the general principle, and not to the present necessity—two other facts. Those who have been for some length of time in the House of Commons know that Governments and Oppositions in the past—they are, perhaps, going to be wiser in the future—have been profoundly influenced by what afterwards seemed very slight influences. I have seen people standing on the Bench opposite with delight, and cheering themselves hoarse, because a Government has lost a particular by-election. When that is the case, if you take the psychology of Governments into account, it follows that, not liking demonstrations of that kind, they will select for any office that has become vacant somebody they are sure will be re-elected. That has happened. I have reason to believe it happened in my own case, because the Whips of my party told me at the time that if I had had a safe seat I would have been a member of a Government in 1905. That is a hardship on individuals. But if that were all, it would be a very small thing. But it is not a question of individuals. If a Government is driven by a law of this country to select somebody, not because it thinks he is the best for the post—and every Government gets blamed a great deal for not selecting the best people. I often wonder what selection its critics would make if they had the chance of choosing the members of the Government—at all events, this is the result. It must be a disadvantage to the public service if there is any law which tends to drive Governments to select the second best instead of the best men for offices.

The only other point I put to the House as regards general principles is the unnecessary expense to which a Minister is driven in seeking re-election under such circumstances. I do not know whether the House attaches the same importance to that as I do. I attach the greatest importance to it. When I first entered the House of Commons I used to hear a great deal of talk about professional politicians. I entirely sympathise with the idea underlying the use of that term, if it means that a politician is in politics for the sake of making money, but I have no sympathy whatever for it if it means that a politician ceases to be an amateur and throws his whole heart into the business of poli- tical life. From that point of view I want them to be professional politicians. See what this means. It is, of course, a tremendous advantage to anyone entering political life to be financiallyindependent—to know that he can live without his salary. I am not speaking now as a Conservative; it is not a question of party. I cannot imagine any greater evil than that our choice of men in any party should be limited to those in that financial position. It really is a big thing to a man who has no private means, and depends upon his salary, that we should ask a man of that kind to be called upon unnecessarily to submit to the expense of another election.

That is all I wish to say, but perhaps I may be allowed to summarise what I have said. I think it is an advantage that there should be, by means of these by-elections, an opportunity of letting the country give its vote. Against that you have to take, in the first place, the inconvenience to the public service of taking men away from their work; in the second place, that it does not tend to limit the choice of men to fill offices; and, in the third place, that this system really is a handicap to men engaged in political life who have no private means. I believe I have put this case as I see it as fairly as I can, and if Members of the House do what has never been done before, that is, put away from their minds the idea that a particular course will damage the Government or help it, and will look at the question simply from the point of view of what, in the long run, will be in the public interest, I have really little doubt that they will come to the conclusion that the course the Government suggest is the right one.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

The whole House must be very much indebted to my right hon. Friend for the learned, as well as the lucid, way in which he has dealt with a most difficult subject. But I fear, from the point of view which I feel compelled to take with regard to part of the measure, he has been all too persuasive. I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend said when he challenged the issue on the question of principle. He also truly stated that, although the main cause for which the Act of 1707 was passed had really disappeared, it was an essential part of the British Constitution that certain methods or means of procedure, which were applied in one direction, in the course of years become very useful parts of the Constitution when used in quite another direction. It is, therefore, very important that we should bear that in mind in connection with this subject, which is of a highly technical and an intricate nature, and which, I would say, has not only been the subject of many conversations and debates in this House, but of one or two really important decisions. The classic decision on the whole of this question, I think, was given by Sir William Harcourt in 1869, when the whole subject was thrashed out. The House then refused the Motion which was placed before it, and Sir W. Harcourt quoted what Hallam said with very great effect— These restrictions ought to be rigorously and jealously maintained, and receive a construction according to their constitutional spirit, and not as if they were of a penal nature to individuals. The Bill which is laid before the House to-day has apparently only one object, but it has two very distinct effects, and I propose in what I have to say to make that distinction. First of all, I for one, at any rate, heartily agree with what the Leader of the House has said in support of the Bill on this one point, and that is the uselessness, indeed the waste, of public time and money which is caused by the re-election of Ministers immediately after a General Election. I do not think there can be any real cause shown for by-elections in the case of Ministers whom the Leader of the House has named. There is not the slightest doubt that the opinion of the country has been clearly and definitely given, and an unprecedented majority has been the result. It cannot be said with any real truth or justice that the time has now arrived when the opinion of particular constituencies should be tested as to whether Ministers should take offices of profit under the Crown or not. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, I am quite prepared that this measure should have a time limit put to it. I would suggest that for a period of nine months after a General Election, or indeed the election of any Member at a by-election, he should be enabled to take an office of profit under the Crown without having once again to seek re-election. I hope I have made any position with regard to that perfectly clear.

What about the other point? I think it is a point of real constitutional importance, because our Constitution differs. as we all know, entirely and fundamentally from what you may call the presidential form of government such as they have in the United States. Ours is the Cabinet form of government. The Presidential form of government can be entirely indifferent to what goes on in the country. They have got their positions for a term of four or five years, as the case may be, and are entirely independent of the people of the country for that period of years. Not so with our form of government. The very essence of our form of government surely is this, that there is a real union between the Executive and the Legislative Chamber. There is a very close connection also between the Legislative Chamber and the electorate. From time to time—all through our history, certainly during the past 100 years or more—these by-elections have influenced policy and even—rightly or wrongly—changed it. Certainly they have had a very profound and direct effect upon the policy of the Ministry, until, it may be, the last eight or ten years. The series of by-elections which take place are bound to have a real and vital effect upon the policy of the Ministry of the day. It is perhaps un-fortunate for Ministers, and perhaps very discouraging to the Ministry. The basis of our government being what it is, these inconveniences, as the Leader of the House has so clearly stated, may be very hard indeed. I would, however, repeat what Hallam says, that however it may be with individuals, it is of the utmost importance that we should maintain the constitutional principle. What are the methods of testing the opinion of the country from time to time? They are, so to speak, putting the political thermometer into the body politic outside this House. There is, unhappily, the incidence of death. In this connection I am sure we shall all have heard with the deepest and most profound regret of the death of one of the hon. and gallant Members of this House, Colonel Sir Mark Sykes—

HON. MEMBERS:

Hear, hear!—

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

—a man whose wide sympathies, deep learning, and high public spirit make his death a great loss to this country. There is the incidence of death. There is that of bankruptcy. There is the case of a Member becoming insane. No Member can resign his seat. The only way of getting rid of his obligations when sent here is to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds, which, as someone has said, is not in effect an office. These are the methods, and this other one, following the acceptance of an office of profit under the Crown, is a real and most valuable method of keeping this House in touch with the country.

My right hon. Friend has said the method is not so much a check on the Government as a check on the House of Commons. And a very good thing too! Why should not the House of Commons have a check administered from time to time by the country? After all, we are not mere delegates, we are representatives; and I repeat that a fundamental part of our Constitution is made up by an intimate connection between this House with the electorate. If we take away that valuable means of keeping in touch with the electorate, consider what we are effecting? Let us be perfectly clear about it. If to-day we give the Government what it asks, we are effecting a real, a great, and a constitutional change. Let us see for one moment—and I will speak as briefly as I possibly can—how it affects the present situation. The Government is in. It came back from the country at a time of deep popular excitement. I do not suppose anybody who listens to me at the present time would deny that if the election took place to-day, there would not be anything like so great a majority as there is now in the House.

HON. MEMBERS:

"No, no"! and "Why"?

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

It was a time of deep popular excitement. We have a Coalition Government. Let us suppose two years have passed. The Prime Minister of the day feels it necessary, in view of the high responsibilities of his office, to reconstruct his Government. The reconstruction of that Government may result in a Conservative Administration. It may result in a Liberal and Labour Administration. It may result in some other change which at the present time we cannot contemplate. Can anyone say that two years hence it would not be a right and proper thing to have half a dozen or more by-elections, so as to gauge the feelings of the people on the change? Any fair-minded man must admit it would be so. If this Bill pass, there will be no opportunity at all to do that. The Govern- ment can be reconstructed as often as the head of it thinks well or wishes. He may entirely change its constitution. And, except in the way to which I have already alluded, there will be no opportunity of any expression of public opinion At a time of an ad hoc election, so to speak, on a miniature scale, there ought to be that opportunity. If we allow this Bill to pass, there is the probability of which I have spoken. I do not say it is a great probability, but every reasonable man must contemplate such a probability; and we have no constitutional right to allow this Bill to pass without safeguarding such a contingency. The matter is one which requires the most grave consideration. If we are to maintain the central fundamental proinciple of which I have spoken, I repeat that the essence of the existence of this House is that it should be in effective and intimate contact with the public opinion of the day.

There is another point in connection with the Bill. As I said the other day, this election has swept out of the House very largely the representatives of unpopular causes, and there is abroad in the country a feeling that if they cannot agitate inside the House they must agitate outside. This House is the place in which to agitate. Anyone who reads the newspapers knows what is going on outside, the dangerous spirit that is abroad—and the deliberate campaign against the authority of this House. We give opportunity by putting to one side one of our constitutional opportunities for an expression of opinion upon the House of Commons and the Government. We give by this another weapon into the hands of those in whom is this spirit of opposition. We should by proper action take all real offensive power that we possibly can out of their hands. I should like to say a word or two about Clause 2 of the Bill, of which my right hon. Friend said nothing. I do not quite understand what it means. It says:— Where, before or after the passing of this Act, a member of His Majesty's Privy Council has been or is appointed to be a Minister of the Crown at a salary, without any other office being assigned to him, he shall not by reason thereof be deemed to have been or to be incapable of being elected to or of sitting….he shall not….be deemed to have vacated his seat. My right hon. Friend might have told us what is the real object of this Clause, and what it really does. I may be quite wrong, but as far as I can make out it gives power to appoint three more Ministers.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

There is already one, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes). I suppose one of the objects of this particular Clause is to regularise his position, because I can imagine it may be subject to some legal dubiety. But why two more Ministers? Surely there are now enough Ministers of the Crown. Why add two Ministers more, who are going to be salaried Ministers, as we used to say in this football days of "flying political men" in the Cabinet, with no special post at all, except, it may be, an advisory one? This is really a matter which requires very careful and close consideration. I am sure my right hon. Friend will be able to give us much more complete information than we already possess in regard to Clause 2. I think it will be admitted that what happened in 1915–16 is no precedent at all, for then it was a matter of a purely war measure. I myself remember listening to Sir Robert Finlay when he spoke on the measure introduced by the Attorney-General (Sir John Simon). Sir Robert Finlay said: The Bill is an emergency Bill devoted to deal with a particular crisis….I do not share the views which obtain in the minds of some hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House as to the desirability of abrogating the rule. But the whole of that legislation of 1915–16 was of a purely emergency and temporary character. The measure at present before us is to have fundamental and permanent effects, whatever happens, and whatever may be the consequences. I have already indicated, as far as I can make it clear to the House, that I have no objection to a Bill of this kind in so far as it affects a General Election and for about nine months afterwards.

An HON. MEMBER:

Six months!

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I do not mind whether it be nine or twelve months; at any rate, that, for a reasonable period, there shall be a time within which men should be appointed to these offices without the necessity of going through another election. Beyond that, I fear, as at present advised, I shall have to give the Bill strenuous opposition and at all times careful consideration.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

In the few remarks which I am about to make regarding the Bill which has been introduced for Second Reading this afternoon I do not intend to discuss the constitutional issue that has been raised. At the moment I am not going to say much concerning whether this time-worn arrangement is a good or a bad one, but, after what has transpired within the past few days, I think that the present time is a most inopportune one for the Government to introduce a Bill of this character. During last week my colleagues and myself raised in this House the question of industrial unrest. We asked the Prime Minister, as strongly as we could, to tell us what the Government intended to do with a view of finding a solution to it. The Prime Minister in his reply greatly disappointed members of the Labour party in this House. Not only was the character of his reply a disappointment to members of the Labour party in this House, but it was a disappointment to the Labour movement throughout the country. Since then we have had the Minister of Labour, in a letter to one leading trade union official—a letter which was published in the Press—objecting to the terms of the ballot about to be taken by that particular trade union. Again this morning we observe that the Minister of Labour has sent a proposal to the Prime Minister for the calling of an industrial conference which the leading representatives of capital and labour will be invited to attend. That same report announces that the Prime Minister was greatly impressed by the speeches made on behalf of labour in Parliament last week, and he feels that such a proposal should have the serious consideration of the Government. To-day we have had the Leader of the House intimating that the Government intend to proceed with the setting up of a certain Commission of Inquiry outlined in the Government's reply to the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and it is proposed at an early date to set up this Commission of Inquiry notwithstanding the fact that the organisation to which that proposal was made has given it a very cold reception. My right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) has pointed out that he did not object to such an arrangement being made in this Bill as would arrange for Ministers who would otherwise have to seek re-election being made in the case of present Ministers, and his chief reason was that we had only recently had a General Election. I want to point out that at the General Election we had no detailed programme put forward by the Government, but since then we have had an indication of the manner in which the Government intend to deal with some of the great issues that are in front of the people of this country.

I have already drawn attention to the unfavourable reply of the Prime Minister to the appeals of Labour Members last week, for that reply was more in the nature of a lecture to labour as to how they should conduct themselves. If those remarks which the Prime Minister addressed to labour had also been applied to capital we could not have taken so much objection to them, but in the main the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were applied to labour. Since the General Election we have also seen that the Government are disposing of certain valuable property belonging to the State which during the War the Government were compelled to purchase and provide, because private enterprise had failed to give all the supplies that were necessary for the carrying on of the War. These things give us some indication of the policy to be pursued by the Government, and in fact of these facts the members of the Labour party cannot be a. consenting party to a proposal which provides for Ministers not requiring to seek re-election at this juncture. In view of the serious labour situation this opposition of ours more particularly applies to the Ministry of Labour. If the Government are convinced that the policy they are pursuing in regard to labour is a good one, they should have no fear in regard to any Minister seeking re-election. In view of these facts the Labour party cannot consent to the Second Reading of this Bill, and I beg to move, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months."

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

The hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) has already given me notice that he intends to move that Motion. I did not know that the right hon. Gentleman was going to move the rejection of this Bill or I should have called upon the hon. Member for South Hackney, and I do not think it right that the right hon. Gentleman should forestall the action of the hon. Member for South Hackney.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

I did not know that I was infringing any rule of that character, and therefore I do not move.

Photo of Mr Horatio Bottomley Mr Horatio Bottomley , Hackney South

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

I have listened with very great attention and due respect to the discussion which has so far proceeded on this Bill, and, though unrepentant, I rise to move what is tantamount to its rejection. I desire, with great respect to the Government, to express my regret that the first measure introduced into this House by the Government is one for its own personal benefit, and one in which it is personally so directly interested. That is a somewhat caustic remark, but it is not my own, because I borrowed it from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), who used that phrase when a similar measure to this was introduced in 1915. Therefore I am fortified in my present attitude by knowing that so redoubtable a champion will be on my side. Upon the formation of the first Coalition Ministry a Bill of this kind was introduced to operate for the duration of the War, but it was limited to two months, and on that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy said: I regret that the first measure brought forward before Parliament by the new Government should be a measure which so directly concerns themselves. I venture to repeat those weighty words used by the right hon. Gentleman, who also said, on that occasion: That the sole and only argument for this Bill, the only ground on which it could be put forward in the public interest, is that it is going to facilitate the move rapid return of Members of the Treasury Bench buck to the House of Commons. This is the whole question, and I have heard it adumbrated time after time. Until the formation of these Coalition Governments there was not a right hon. Gentleman on either side of the House, including the present Leader of the House and his colleagues, who was not dead against any interference with the right of re-election on the occasion of the appointment of Ministers. When under the stress of war emergency, first in 1915 and then in 1916, a similar measure to this was introduced, it was cut down in each case to two months, and not nine months as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. There was not a speaker, whether it was the Attorney- General in the first Coalition Government or Lord Cave as Attorney-General in the second Coalition Government, who did not make it absolutely clear, and I could quote their words, if necessary, that they could only justify such a measure as this on the ground of war necessity, and Lord Cave said that in no circumstances must this be taken as a precedent. Lord Finlay also said that he was far from asking that the safeguards of this old rule should be thrown away. Other representatives of the Government said that if for any reason it should ever become necessary to propose the entire abrogation of this rule, in no circumstances would it be justifiable to take all the stages of the Bill in one day. Therefore, I assume we are going to have ample opportunities to consider this Bill in all its phases.

I have been wondering what really is at the back of this proposal. The General Election concluded on the 28th December. I am quite sure that for some little time after that date, in the case of the Ministers who are particularly concerned in this Bill—there is no reason why, for example, the Secretary for Ireland, the Labour Minister, and the Pensions Minister, and the others could not have gone to the country weeks ago and have been re-elected, and they might have been back here in their places to-day. [An Hon. Member: "The writs had to be moved!"] I believe, Mr. Speaker, that yon might have issued your writ—

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

No writ could have been issued until last Tuesday.

5.0.P.M.

Photo of Mr Horatio Bottomley Mr Horatio Bottomley , Hackney South

I am glad to have the great privilege of saying that I was wrong, and an old philosopher once said, no man need ever be ashamed of that because he is only saying in another way, "I am wiser now than I was before." I accept Mr. Speaker's correction that it could not have been till last Tuesday that the writs could have been moved. If at the General Election the Prime Minister had indicated to the country that these particular gentlemen were to be members of the new Administration, then the electors would have had something to vote upon. I suggest that if we refer to the election address of the new Minister for Labour we shall not find any great labour policy there, or any indication of any special capacity or interest on the part of that distinguished Gentleman in the labour movement. I have the privilege of his acquaintance. I know he is a brilliant man who has done magnificent war work, but this is a matter in which the Labour party are more concerned than I am, and if they are content to have an eminent member of the Scottish Bar chosen to decide questions which are not industrial, commercial or trade questions, but specifically and exclusively questions of labour, on their behalf then one cannot complain. With regard to these Ministers I have not gone through all of them, but I assume they are either Celtic, Hibernian or alien, because I understand the Saxon race is not qualified for office as a general rule, but really in view of the declarations made when this Bill was previously before the House I say that no specific case has been made out for altering the law. The right hon. Gentleman says, "We have just come back from the country; we have an overwhelming majority and why trouble us to go back again." If we were discussing this Bill on the eve of a General Election and this were an old and moribund Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman would say, "What is the good of worrying us now? We are shortly going to the country. Let us wait until the General Election." I say seriously that there is a fundamental distinction between the appeal that a man makes to his constituency as a private individual and the question of his qualification in the mind of that constituency for office under the Crown. Once become a Minister of the Crown and, as has been said before, your whole relationship towards your constituents undergoes a fundamental change. I do not know therefore why this power should be taken away from us. Most of these Ministers, I believe, have fairly substantial majorities. What leads you to anticipate that there will be any opposition? If there should be opposition and if a man has not private means—some individuals of some nationalities who have means might even think it a great hardship—it might be a very reasonable provision to put into the Bill that a Minister who goes back to his constituents merely because he has taken office should have his expenses paid by the State. That, however, is a Committee point. This is a new Parliament of new Members, and many of them perhaps are too disposed out of a sense of loyalty to the Government to fall in with anything that may be proposed, but in a day or two we are going to revise the Rules of Procedure and to have half the power of this House taken away. At the same time we are going to arm the Prime Minister with this power. I do not say it as a debating point, but because I believe it is substantial. If, when the Prime Minister's present cares and anxieties are lessened, when peace is in sight and he is able to give more time to the affairs of this House, he finds that he wants to reorganise the Government which he formed after the General Election and which an inspired Press told us might not be permanent in its character, perhaps making the First Commissioner of Works Minister of Education and other changes of that kind, he would have the power under this Bill to go to Downing Street one day and address a letter to every one of his colleagues, except, of course, the Leader of the House, whom he would never think of changing, saying, "I do not want you any longer. I am going to have a Government entirely of my own"—Heaven only knows, he might put even me in!—and he would be under no necessity of going to the country. It is not impossible that the time may come when the Prime Minister may wish to do this and to get rid of nearly all the talents now on the Treasury Bench, and it is not right that the House should be deprived of the opportunity of knowing how far a new Minister has the trust of the country, and it is not right that the constituencies of the country should be deprived of the opportunity of answering the question, "You elected this gentleman to go and vote for the Government as an ordinary private Member; do you think he is a man who can perform great administrative work?"

If the Leaders of the Labour party, who are deeply interested in this matter, had said that they were satisfied, I do not think that I should press my Amendment. I see that at least one old antiquity is to remain—the Chiltern Hundreds. I am interested in that because some years ago His Majesty did me the honour of appointing me one of his stewards. The fact that I have never attended the office and never taken any step to ascertain what are the duties of the office does not differentiate me from many other Ministers of the Crown. But when you are amending the law, why not get rid of the whole lot? When a man has had enough of the House, why should he not resign? I am not at all sure that as a steward of the Chiltern Hundreds I am not entitled to sit on that bench. I am not going to assert my right—the bench is rather overcrowded as a rule. As far as I am concerned, I do not want to be an obstructionist or a nuisance or a captious critic, and, if the Leader of the Labour party and the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) had accepted the Bill, I should have assumed that was a fair indication of the feeling of the House, although I know that many hon. Gentlemen opposite have grave doubts about it. If a compromise can be effected, let it be effected, though I do not know that we want twelve months. I do not want to give the Prime Minister time to come back from Paris and reconstitute his Administration without submitting it to the country. If a reasonable compromise could be effected I would not stand in the way, but there is no indication of it, and therefore I beg to move the Amendment of which I have given notice.

Photo of Mr Noel Billing Mr Noel Billing , Hertford

I am glad that a period of time has elapsed since the Leader of the House addressed us, because when he sat down he had so convinced me that I was wrong that I was wondering whether it was necessary that there should be an election of any description. He suggested that once having gained the confidence of the country, all that was necessary to protect the country from the House of Commons was the House of Lords. Practically everything that is to be said against allowing this Bill to become law has been said, with one or two exceptions. Under the Courts Emergency Act a Bill which was introduced into this House during the War, it was made legal for Members of this House to trade with the Government as well as to hold office of profit under the Crown. I should have liked the question to have been raised by one of the hon. Gentlemen who preseded me, as to whether it is proposed to allow Members of this House to become members of His Majesty's Government and either to continue or to proceed to trade for their own personal profit with the Government. It is a most important matter. Many complications may arise. If a new Minister had to appeal to his constituents before taking office, it would give the Opposition an opportunity of making some inquiry into his shareholdings or commitments to see whether or not he was a suitable man to hold the par- ticular office to which the Prime Minister had been pleased to call him. I think I may claim to have had some experience of by-elections. I have found that they are a pretty healthy indication of public feeling. It does not matter whether you win a seat against the combined parties of this country or not. Providing you make a good fight, you so shake the confidence of the Government in itself that probably the thing for which you are fighting eventually receives the attention of the Government. That is one reason why I think nothing should be done to prevent what one may call a healthy by-election.

One might almost liken a by-election to a clinical thermometer which the Prime Minister applies to the body politic. It is now suggested that it should be broken, so that it should not be possible to take the temperature of the public at any time that is not convenient to the Government. When a new Minister is appointed he generally takes the place of a Minister who has departed, and if the Minister has not departed through death he has generally done so owing to a difference of policy. Under these circumstances, it might be just as well for the Government, through the medium of the new Minister or the proposed Minister, to be able to explain to the public just exactly what is their policy. I am sure that the House and the public agree that this is a fairly representative House of Commons, but it came in on a very great wave, and I venture to suggest that it was won by the Prime Minister's promises. I have here a book in which the Prime Minister's promises are carefully tabulated. There are 1,211 distinct promises which were made by the Prime Minister at the last election, and, having spent two weeks of my time indexing and cross-indexing these promises, I feel it would be a personal injustice not only to myself but perhaps to other hon. Members who may have similarly occupied their time to be deprived of the opportunity of reminding the right hon. Gentleman of them at a by-election. It is a book which day after day will become of increasing interest in this House, and should the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) wish to have access to it I shall be only too pleased to let them have it.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

I am now a fairly senior Member of this House, having had fifteen years service in it, and I have always paid particular attention to by-elections, having participated in the majority of them prior to the War in the capacity of a speaker. I came down to the House this afternoon by no means convinced that it was undesirable that the Bill should pass. I was, on the whole, opposed to it, but I was prepared to vote for it after hearing the reasons which might be put forward by the Leader of the House. I am bound to say, after having heard my right hon. Friend's speech, which I am sure he will not think it disrespectful of me to say, I thought particularly unconvincing, and the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, which with great respect I may say showed great knowledge of the subject his historical references to Sir William Harcourt was really a great point of great moment—that I am certainly not prepared to support the Bill unless the Government are prepared to put in a time limit of six or nine months. I can assure the Government that a great many of my hon. Friends hope that they will see their way to adopt that proposal. The Government have chosen an extraordinarily favourable opportunity for bringing this Bill forward. There has been no such great change in Parliament since 1906. Consequently, there are a large number of Members who have no experience at all of the procedure of the House, and let me say, as an old Member, that I do not think this question of procedure can be dismissed in a few lines in a newspaper. It is of far greater importance than that.

It is easy enough to write paragraphs to the newspapers saying that certain procedure of the House of Commons should be swept away, but let us see first what the change is that is going to be effected as a result of sweeping away that procedure. Is it going to be for the good of the House, and will it expedite public business? It does on the face of it seem unnecessary that, immediately after a General Election, a number of Ministers should have to go back and ask for the approval of their constituents on their having taken office. But it would be a very different matter a year or two later. The right hon. Gentleman stated, not very cleverly, the difference between a by-election at which a private Member is standing and one at which a Minister seeks to be re-elected. I say the difference is absolutely fundamental. The Leader of the House mentioned that in 1904 there were twenty-two by-elections, and in 1905 twenty-three. Now, I got in at a by-elec- tion in 1904, and although I have taken part in a good many contests this was one of the roughest, and I only secured my return by a majority of 600, in comparison with my present majority, which exceeds 13,000. At that time the tide was running extremely strongly against the Government. Still, the by-elections in that year had very little effect.

But then came the year 1905, when a gentleman, who was a Member of this House, had to seek re-election on nomination as Junior Lord of the Treasury. I am referring to Mr. Gerald Loder. To the amazement of the Government and of the organisers of the party, he was defeated by a very heavy majority, and I am convinced, from what I know of all the circumstances of the time, that that election had more effect than any other incident which occurred that year in inducing the Unionist Government to go to the country in the autumn of 1905 instead of waiting, as it was currently reported they intended to do, till after the Session 1906; it made them realise that the inevitable political catastrophe could only be made worse by delay. Then I turn from that to the case of the right hon. Gentleman who now holds the office of Secretary for War. He was defeated at North-West Manchester. Some of my hon. Friends in the House will remember what was the attitude of the Liberal Government in 1906. They had an enormous majority and acted very aggressively towards the Opposition, but as a result of that by-election their attitude was changed, and no one will deny that that particular election had a great influence on the course the Government took and rendered it far less arrogant than it had been. That shows the difference between a by-election at which a private Member is standing and one at which a Minister seeks authority from a constituency to take office.

In considering this Bill there is another point to be borne in mind. A great change in the Constitution is proposed by this Bill. It will upset a principle which has been in force since the reign of Queen Anne. The House should ask itself, in the first place, whether the Bill will remove any grievances that may be felt by the public or by the electors, whether it will secure greater efficiency in Parliament, and whether it is likely to lead to a more speedy realisation of the will of the people. I do not suppose that one elector in ten thousand, or indeed one in one hundred thousand, feels any grievance with the law as it stands, while as to the point whether the passing of the Bill is likely to lead to a more speedy realisation of the will of the people, I think again the answer must be in the negative. As regards the second question, which is perhaps of more importance, whether the change means more efficiency in Parliament, there again I feel the argument put forward by the Leader of the House on the subject of the strain which the present state of the law imposes upon Ministers is by no means convincing. It is unquestionably unfortunate, because the number of Ministers is very great at the present time, but I do not think the advantage to be gained by keeping the law as it stands is outweighed by its possible bad effects on the nerves and temper of a Minister who may be returned to this House after a somewhat heated by-election. There is no doubt that a Minister coming straight from a constituency has the advantage of knowing what the people feel. In these days the machinery of Government is so complicated and so complex that the average Minister never has time to visit his constituency. It was very different in the old days when autumn Sessions were the exception rather than the rule, and when Parliament sat for a much shorter period of the year. Now very little opportunity is afforded him of doing so. Therefore I think it would be of the greatest value that a Minister who changes his office should be compelled to go to his constituency. It would also be to the benefit of good administration.

With regard to the point that nomination to some offices does not involve re-election, my answer is very simple. In my humble judgment every Member of Parliament on being appointed to any office whatsoever should have to go to his constituency. I desire to call attention to what I consider is a very grave position at the present time. There were in the last House no fewer than 100 Members who enjoyed, in some form or other, an office of profit under the Crown, altogether apart from those hon. Members who were serving on war duties. A regulation—or General Routine Order—has recently been brought in, I am very glad to say, preventing officers actively serving in the Army and Navy sitting in this House, although they may be transferred to the Reserve. There are a great many hon. Members of this House who, although not members of the Government, are holding appointments in the public service. I could mention one whose work involves the handling of vast sums of money and of dealing with very important questions. Another hon. Gentleman practically controlled the whole wool buying for the Government. Not only do I disagree with the abolition by this Bill of the principle that certain offices cannot be held by hon. Members without going to their constituencies, but I go further and say that no hon. Member should be allowed to accept office, whether it carries with it a seat on the Treasury Bench or not—because after all offices such as I have referred to are practically ministerial offices—without being called upon to seek re-election. If we adopted that course we should be returning to a practice which unfortunately has been dropped in recent years. I happened recently to be reading in my rather extensive Parliamentary library a Debate in the eighteenth century in this House on Burke's Establishment Bill, which dealt with matters analogous to this. In the course of that Debate Mr. Burke used a phrase, which I thought strangely true to-day and certainly more true than it was ten years ago, when, speaking of the Establishment Bill of 1780, he said a particular office had been established or created in the year 1768, on purpose to introduce a Noble Lord into His Majesty's Household. I think that remark would apply to many cases to-day, and for that reason alone, as well as in view of the multiplication of offices, I think it would be most unfair for this Bill to be passed at the present time.

I would much prefer an amending Bill bringing all offices under the existing Bill. I really can see no good reason for passing the Bill in its present form at this time. There has during the General Election been a great deal of talk with regard to the greater independence of Parliament. I hope the Government will consent to allow the House to give its decision on this matter without being subjected to any pressure from the Whips. If they will not agree to that I for one shall vote against the Bill. It is very unfortunate it should have been introduced at this period of the Session, before the majority of hon. Members have had any opportunity of realising the pros and cons of the principle which the measure proposes to abolish. It fundamentally alters the constitution of Parliament before hon. Members have had any opportunity of considering that important question. At any rate I very much hope that the Government will consent to insert a limit of six months or one year into the Bill. By so doing they will conciliate many of my hon. Friends, and also, I gather, the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) who has moved the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Philip Lloyd-Greame Mr Philip Lloyd-Greame , Hendon

As a new Member and not, perhaps, well acquainted with the effect of procedure, I should like to urge the House very strongly from the point of view of the public outside, to insist upon the Government putting a time limit upon this proposal. There is a perfectly clear distinction to be drawn between the case of the re-election of Ministers immediately after a General Election and during the period when Parliament has been running for six months or a year. I do not agree with the argument that a constituency which has elected a Member of Parliament at a General Election is likely to reject him because he has become a Minister of the Crown. The constituency is probably likely to feel highly complimented. I should therefore support this proposal provided it is restricted to six months after a General Election. In the case of Ministers who have just taken office, particularly the Minister of Labour, who must have continuity of work at the present time, it would be disastrous to send them to fight elections in the country. Obviously, anomalies dating from the time of Queen Anne ought to be abolished, but I do not think it follows that the anomalies should be abolished by making all offices come down to the level of the more fortunate. The more fortunate themselves should be put in the same position as the original offices of profit. This question cannot be regarded apart from the Rules of Procedure which the House is going to be asked to consider to-morrow. I say at once that I shall support those Rules when they are moved. It is absolutely necessary that some such rules should be passed and that some experiment of that kind should be tried, because it is a lasting reproach to this House that so many measures, on which, I believe, there has been substantial agreement for many years between both sides of the House in principle, have been shipwrecked in the cross-currents of purely party politics. In order to prevent that, it is essential that some such Rules of Procedure should be introduced. I cannot conceal from myself, however, the fact that once you introduce these new Rules of Procedure you are going very directly to increase the power of the Executive and to reduce the control of the House of Commons. For that reason I would ask the Government to limit the scope of their present proposal. Their proposal is a restriction, both on the general power of the House of Commons, and what is even more important, upon the general power of the country outside. I therefore appeal to the Government not to carry the proposal any further than is absolutely necessary at the present time.

Apart from the question of the Rules of Procedure, this old convention is very much in the interests of the public. The Prime Minister said, quite rightly, during the General Election, that it was impossible to have Bills brought forward at a General Election, and equally that you could not have a General Election every six months. That is perfectly true, but, at the same time, the Debate on the Address has shown us that there are certain quite broad questions of policy, as distinct from detailed application, upon which either the Government have not made up their minds, or, if they have, they have not yet shown their hands. The obligation upon a Minister to go to the country and seek re-election has been the recognised opportunity of the country to express its opinion after a time upon the conduct of the Government in the application of its principles. One right hon. Gentleman said that we would have other by-elections, but the ordinary by-election with a new man coming forward is a totally different thing from the by-election of a Minister Take the case of a candidate who stands for the first time at a by-election in the middle of a Parliament. What is the first thing he does? He says that he totally disagrees with all the things the Government has done which are unpopular. I have spoken at by-elections at which candidates have been prepared to do that with the greatest alacrity and with considerable success. A Minister at a by-election cannot do that; he is standing not for what he promises to do in the future, but in order that the past record of the Government can be tested by the electorate. It is perfectly true that it is only in one constituency, but it is a very useful example, and the constituency for which the Minister stands may be taken to be a very fair reflex of the opinion of the whole of the country.

No one will deny that the issues which were put before us at the last election were necessarily of a very general character. I sincerely hope that this Parliament is going to hold together and to do the work which its supporters hope for, and that it is going to falsify the prophecies of some of its critics. But it is quite possible that a time may come when some of the Prime Minister's colleagues can no longer support him. It is even more possible that a time will come when the Prime Minister can no longer support and sustain some of his colleagues. When that does come it will be much fairer to the Prime Minister, as well as much fairer to the country, when a reconstruction is brought about, that the country shall be able in these test cases to express its opinion There was a secondary argument put forward by the Leader of the House which did not impress me very much—I say so with all respect. It was that we were putting a Minister to great unnecessary expense by sending him down to fight such an election. May I point out, in the first place, that in order to meet cases of that kind the cost of elections has been greatly reduced, and an election to-day costs far less than it did previously? May I also point out that if the Minister who goes down to fight an election is fortunate enough to be elected, he will be able to pay his expenses out of he first year's salary of his office? If he fails to be elected, then I am sorry for him, but undoubtedly the practice which I am supporting now has been amply vindicated. The Leader of the House said he did not want to put any discredit upon professional politicians. That is perfectly reasonable. There should be no discredit upon a professional politician for having his expenses paid for him, although I do not think it necessary to go so far as the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) has suggested and pay out of public funds, because I am convinced that as long as the Upper House remains the penultimate destination of plutocracy the party chests will never be wanting funds to enable such candidates to pay their expenses. I hope the Government will meet the very real body of opinion in the House on this question, and that they will meet us by way of compromise. I also hope that private Members will not look at the matter from the point of view of what may possibly be their convenience at a later date. I suppose that every private Member carries the portfolio of a Minister wherever Ministers do carry their portfolios, but even in an Administration which the exigencies of the War or of the political situation have swollen to the size of a Sanhedrim there would not be room for all the supporters of the present Government. In any case, I hope hon. Members will look at the matter not from the point of view of particular convenience, but from the point of view of general interest. I most sincerely want the Government to stand well with the country, for I know how difficult are the times that lie ahead, and for that reason I would appeal to them not to give even the least appearance to the country that they are trying to create a new vested interest for themselves in the country. They are quite strong enough to stand on their own merits. I would therefore appeal to them to do so, and not to oppose the six or nine months' limit.

Photo of Mr Gerald France Mr Gerald France , Batley and Morley

I hope that an impression has been made by the interesting speech to which we have just listened on the mind of the Leader of the House, and that the Attorney-General has informed him that during his inevitable absence from the House there has been rapidly in the course of formation in the House a Coalition Opposition, and that there has not been one speech made yet upon the occasion of the introduction of the first Bill of this Government which has supported the measure. This Coalition Opposition has interesting features about it. As a fairly old Member of the House as things go nowadays, I never expected to find myself in entire agreement with every word which fell from the Noble Lord (Major Earl Winterton), with whom on many previous occasions I have differed, nor did I expect at this early stage to agree almost entirely with every word which fell from the hon. Member for South Hackney, (Mr. Bottomley), without having come more under his powerful eloquence. The Leader of the House ought really to understand that everyone in the House at the present moment agrees with him that it would be desirable that present Ministers should be relieved from the task of going back to the country. Without calling this a serious situation, it would be advisable to take due note of the general feeling in the House that a limit of six or nine months ought to be inserted. I hope it will be definitely moved either from the Government Bench or by someone in charge of an Amendment. Notice ought to be given of so important a constitutional change in the procedure of this House and of elections. The House agrees with the main part of the speech of the Leader of the House with regard to the inconvenience to present Ministers. Why, then, cannot he take the general feeling of the House and adopt the suggestion made, not in any antagonistic spirit, but in order to assist him to get on with the business. The great change so strongly objected to should not be forced upon a reluctant House.

The speech of the Leader of the House did not carry such conviction as he does generally. He was as persuasive but not so convincing as usual. His reminiscence drew from the House some degree of sympathy with him and some for the country. He said that he himself had not been promoted to an office which very modestly he did not describe, and we were unable to deduce who was his right hon. Friend, unknown, who was privileged to fill it. He commented on the fact that there were only two by-elections of this class in two years. Does not that go to show that the Government, afraid of the operation of this particular rule, dared not go to the country upon this issue of the elction of Ministers? If a Government is not strong enough, and not brave enough, to go to the country in order that a Minister of the ability of the right hon. Gentleman should occupy a seat on the Front Bench, it is quite obvious that the Government is no longer in possession of the confidence of the country, and it is very desirable, therefore, that such a rule as this, which protects the electorate from any improper or unwise moving of Ministers or reconstruction of Ministries, should not be abandoned hastily. The House should agree to the proposal of a time limit to enable the present Ministers to retain their seats in this House, but no further steps than that should be taken at this stage.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I was not so sanguine as the hon. Member (Mr. Bottomley) when he prophesied the other night that this would be a very interesting and independent House of Commons. I have somewhat changed my mind while listening to some of the speeches which have been delivered this afternoon, and I rejoice most heartily that in some of the new Members. especially the hon. Member for Hendon (Major Lloyd Greame), we have some manifestation of an independent spirit materialising in brilliant expression of opinion. I am more sanguine than I was that we are going to have perhaps a better House of Commons than we had before. Many hon. Members who have spoken to-day are perhaps not aware that this attempt to confiscate one of our great constitutional rights is only part and parcel of a slow and gradual attempt which has been made to rob Parliament of its great authority, and now to steal from the electorate the constitutional privileges which belong to it. I have watched for the last four or five years different attempts made, and successfully made, to rob the House of Commons of its privileges. I remember in the last Session of Parliament when there could not be forty Members found to come here and make a House for the Government, although there were 100 paid members of the Government outside those who occupied seats on the Ministerial Benches. The most fatal thing I have noticed in modern Constitutional and Parliamentary affairs is the gradual attempts not only to corrupt Parliament, but to corrupt the electorate. Members of Parliament, who no one knew were paid, were paid large salaries, and we have an instance only to-day of an attempt which was made during the last election, not to corrupt Parliament, but to corrupt the electorate by giving these unemployment grants which were an attempt to deal with a great economic problem, but were also intended to rally people to the support of those who ruled the country in the last Parliament. Another attempt is being made to undo a thing that Parliament should see ought to be done, and that is to compel Members of this House, when they assume Ministerial once, to submit themselves to the judgment of the electorate. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) said to-day that it seemed to him not only an inconvenient but a ridiculous thing to ask a man who is fresh from the poll and who has received the sanction of the electorate to go again in the course of a few weeks, but there is this distinctive difference. The hon. Member for East Herts said this Parliament was returned upon the promises of the Prime Minister. I think he said he kept a book in which were contained 1,056 promises. There has been time for perhaps ten or fifteen of these promises to materialise. We want to know how they have materialised. Knowing how they have materialised, we want to know what the electorate thinks of them.

But I am not so much concerned with the purely conventional and constitutional operation of these suggestions as I am with a matter infinitely more vital to those whom I represent, and that is the question how Ireland stands in this matter. One of the offices lately filled was the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland. That office was given, according to constitutional and democratic procedure, to a Scotsman. It was always the custom here for either an Englishman or a Scotsman to be Chief Secretary for Ireland. I put this question to the Prime Minister, and I put it to his representative, who is present. I wanted to know what was meant by the paragraph in the King's Speech referring to Ireland. If that paragraph put into the mouth of His Majesty was an honest statement that you proposed to deal with the Irish question you ought to have told us how you were going to deal with it. If you did not intend to deal with the Irish question but merely intended to make the King responsible for camouflage, which was to throw dust in the eyes of the Peace Conference, it was a characteristically dishonest performance on the part of the Government. When we invited the Leader of the House of Commons to explain that paragraph—

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I think the hon. Member is under the impression that this is last week.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Will the hon. Member please keep to the Question of the Second Reading of this Bill.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

That is precisely what I am trying to do. I want to know what is the Irish policy of the Government. I cannot get it in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman will not answer me. I wanted an interpretation of that paragraph in the King's Speech. The only way in which I could get it was when I went down to the constituency in Scotland of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and found out from him there what was the Irish policy of the Government. This is a new House of Commons. Many hon. Members have virgin minds on the Irish question. I hope they will be as receptive as their Minister. I put aside altogether the question of Home Rule or a broad and wide national solution of the Irish problem, and I come to vital and immediate questions which do not divide Irishmen, and which, I think, would receive the sanction of Englishmen. We asked to-day what was to be done about housing. There is to be a Housing Bill introduced for England. We asked in the House of Commons where did Ireland come in in this transaction, and they told us they did not know. We asked what was to be done in regard to Ireland in the matter of public health, and they did not know. We asked them about demobilisation, and they did not know. We asked them about reconstruction, and they did not know. It was not that they were dealing with a small section of the Irish national representation. Even hon. Members opposite from Ireland could not get any answer either from the right hon. Gentleman or any of his friends, and if we cannot get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman and those who have taken upon themselves to control the affairs of Ireland we are entitled to say to Mr. Macpherson—a good old name to rule Ireland—"If you are to be the Irish Chief Secretary, having full control of the Government and administration of Ireland, we are entitled to ask you where you stand, and so are the constituents, where Ireland comes in, not only on the wider question of government, but on such questions as reconstruction, demobilisation, public health, and housing." I would refrain from interfering in these constitutional and Parliamentary questions if I could get any other opportunity of riveting the attention of the House of Commons upon this scandalous anomaly. You will not allow us to rule ourselves, and we cannot open the lips of a single Minister when we press him to tell us the truth as to what they are going to do for Ireland. If I were a Unionist I should say the thing is indefensible. The only way we could maintain the Union would be to do all those things for Ireland which a native Parliament would do. It is not that they despise Home Rulers. They despise all Irishmen, and for that reason I am here to know what is the policy of the Government. I am here to ask that there should be an election in the constituency of the Chief Secretary for Ireland in Scotland, that we may still have that constitutional method of information which is denied to us in this House.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gordon Hewart Mr Gordon Hewart , Leicester East

There was a very marked contrast between the speech which has just been delivered and the other speeches which have been delivered during this Debate. With the exception of that one speech the real argument against this Bill is that it erred in not containing a time limit. The hon. Member (Mr. Devlin), in that small portion of his speech in which he permitted himself to speak on the question before the House, said the object of the Bill was to confiscate one of our constitutional rights. I waited with expectation to hear how he would justify that strong attack. If I followed him it was that he had endeavoured in vain to obtain information as to the Irish policy of the Government from the Leader of the House in the regrettable absence of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Does he not perceive that if this Bill had been carried into law a little time ago one of the fortunate results of it would have been that my right hon. Friend would be here? It is precisely one of the inconveniences of the existing system that Ministers, and it may be many Ministers, are kept out of the House just at the time when they are most wanted here. With the exception of that single speech, what has struck me in listening to the Debate was the large amount of common ground in the various speeches. One of my hon. Friends said a Coalition Opposition was in the course of making. If this be the Coalition Opposition, let us see how far we agree. It is said, and it is not denied, that the existing system gives rise to great public inconvenience. It is said, and it is not denied, that the existing system gives rise to great and unnecessary expense. It is said, and it is not denied, that the existing system sometimes leads to the selection of Ministers upon grounds other than fitness, and it is said, and it is not denied, that the reason for the Statute of Anne has long since ceased, and the only possible argument for the existing system must be a quite different one. That is the amount of common ground. The Leader of the Opposition, while he agrees that what he called the principle of the Bill was right, regretted that there was not a time limit. I find a certain difficulty in appreciating what exactly that principle is, which is right in its essence and becomes wrong at the end of nine months. That was the contention which was put forward. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party was content to base his criticism of the Bill upon the solitary case of an individual Minister—the Minister for Labour. If I followed his argument whether the principle of the Bill was good or was bad, he for his part was content to base his opposition to it upon the claim that at this particular time, in the midst of so much unrest, the Minister of Labour should go back to his constituents. Could there be a greater waste of time? Could there be a more unfortunate example? As to the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley), who was the parent of the proposal that this Bill should be rejected, his argument was of a most illuminating kind. He wound up with the suggestion that the proper course was to compromise on a time limit, but he began with the extraordinary assertion that the Government was ill-advised in making this the first measure of the Session. If this measure, which is to admit to the House those Ministers who are waiting to come in, is to be brought forward at all, is it not obvious that it should be brought in at the earliest possible moment? How can it be said that the Bill is to be postponed, and at the same time how is it to be argued that the operation of the Bill is to be limited to a very short time in order that it may only apply to the period immediately following the General Election?

Photo of Mr Horatio Bottomley Mr Horatio Bottomley , Hackney South

I did not propose the time limit. I said that if the House thought that was a desirable compromise I would not stand in the way.

Photo of Mr Gordon Hewart Mr Gordon Hewart , Leicester East

The suggestion for compromise has come from various sources, and it is really that argument, if argument it be, which is raised against the Bill. I have only one observation to make about it. It does not go to the root of this measure. It is not directed against the proposal now before the House, "That the Bill be now read a second time." Whatever the merits of the time-limit may be and whether it is right, as has been suggested, that the Bill should be confined to six, nine, or it may be twelve months, that is a question eminently fitted to be considered in Committee.

Photo of Mr Gerald France Mr Gerald France , Batley and Morley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance at this stage, that on the Committee stage the Government will favourably consider limitation? That will greatly affect the vote on this measure.

Photo of Mr Gordon Hewart Mr Gordon Hewart , Leicester East

Certainly, I give that assurance.

HON. MEMBERS:

What is the assurance?

Photo of Mr Gordon Hewart Mr Gordon Hewart , Leicester East

The assurance that in Committee the Government will favourably consider the question of introducing into the Bill a suitable time-limit.

Photo of Mr Gordon Hewart Mr Gordon Hewart , Leicester East

If I meant accept it I would have said accept it. I adhere to the phrase I have employed, that we will favourably consider the adoption of a suitable time-limit, and under these circumstances I ask that the House should give the Bill a Second Reading.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

My objections to this Bill are that it is wrong and not that it requires Amendment. I can speak with the more freedom because in the last Parliament I blocked and successfully opposed a Bill brought in for achieving exactly the same end as the Bill before us to-day. My opinion is that it is wrong because the electorate have received from the candidate certain pledges and when he joins the Government he has to modify those pledges and to accept absolutely the policy of His Majesty's Government. Therefore, whatever the cost, the Member should go back to his constituents in order to make his new pledges secure. That is the principle upon which people are sent back to their constituents for re-election when they take office in the Government. Every constituency in this country expects its Members to exercise his independent judgment and every constituency elects its members as an independent member of Parliament, but we know perfectly well that when the Member joins the Government he votes as the Government Whips dictate. For instance, on the Labour Amendment to the Address the other day we saw two ex-Labour members, who are now Ministers, voting against their party, and quite rightly doing so, because they are members of the Government and. therefore, must vote with the Government. Everybody knows that directly anyone becomes, I will not say a member of the Government only, but a private secretary to any member of the Government, he sacrifices his own independence and becomes a voting machine with the leaders of the party. That has always been so; but now when there are far more Ministers in this House than ever before and far more private secretaries attached to those Ministers, I think it is absolutely essential that we should retain the one privilege of saying that those Members who enter His Majesty's Government in certain historic offices must go back to their constituents and stand as members of the Government instead of as an independent Member of Parliament. It seems to me that on that ground it is right that anybody should go back to his constituents when he becomes a member of the Government.

It has been urged that that is very unfair upon poor Members of Parliament. As a matter of fact it is not in the least hard upon a poor Member of Parliament. In nine cases out of ten Members who stand for re-election as Ministers have no contest. Their constituents are content with the change from an independent Member to a member of the Government. Therefore, they are re-elected without expense. In former times it is true that even an uncontested election cost about £150. That was true in the last Parliament, but under the new Reform Bill an uncontested election costs nothing at all. Therefore, it is infinitely easier than before to seek re-election. I have never heard of any Member of Parliament who was so poor as not to be willing to obtain £2,000 a year by risking an election at the expense of £500. As a matter of fact, we know perfectly well that the emoluments attaching to office are a very large attraction to people to take office. There is no fear of its being difficult to get people to take office because of the expense of a by-election. You will find people only too willing to take office even at the risk of that expense.

My objection to the Bill is that it is wrong in principle to convert an independent Member of Parliament into a member of the Government without the constituents being consulted as to whether in their opinion that was advisable or not. I go further and I say that the whole principle of the Bill, when it was passed in the time of Queen Anne, was that Parliament at that time was being filled with placemen. You have only to look at the records of that time to see the number of sinecures to which Members of Parliament became attached. It was done under both Tory and Liberal Governments during the hotly contested years of Queen Anne. Members of Parliament, directly they were elected, took office and became the paid hacks of the Government. It seems to me that that danger is more present to-day than it has been in this country since the days of Queen Anne. We are faced with an enormous number of placemen. We are threatened now with a new Ministry of Commerce, a Ministry of Public Health, a Ministry of Fisheries, and a new Minister for Wales. If we are to have these new Ministries set up we shall have a Secretary of State and an Under-Secretary, and very often two Under-Secretaries. These positions have been created at a rate which has never been equalled in the history of this country, and at this time, when Ministers and posts are being created at this rate, to abrogate the old right of the electors of this country to say whether or not they are content with their representatives to become placemen seems to me to be a singular anachronism. Every argument of right and justice must perpetuate the old system of seeking re-election and to extend it as the Noble Lord opposite suggested, to everybody who takes office in the Government. I do not think you would find any great difficulty in getting members. It is rather absurd for this Government, which commands such an enormous majority in this House—for nearly seven-eighths of the Members are supporters of it—to say that this system of sending prospective Ministers to their constituents limits the Government's choice. They have a far larger choice in this House than any previous Government in my memory and, therefore, the limitation seems to me a very small one.

It seems to me that in politics you have a constant struggle going on between democracy on the one side and efficiency on the other. The argument by the Attorney-General is that unless the Government is free to select whosoever it will from the whole of its supporters, irrespective of whether they hold seats by large or small majorities, the efficiency of the Government is limited. There is something in that argument. You have the instance of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Charles Masterman), a man whom it was very desirable to include in the Government. As a result he lost his seat and ceased to be a member of the Government and to have any influence in politics. It may possibly limit the efficiency of the Government, but, as I have said, you have always a struggle between efficiency and democracy, and I would be the last person—and I hope many right hon. Members on that bench would—to object to anything which in these days of increasing bureaucracy limits the efficiency of the democracy of this country in making its voice heard. Every by-election is a miniature General Election. Every by-election is reported fully in the daily papers, and every argument used at that election is promulgated all over the country. It is not only an education for the constituency, but an education in politics for the whole country to have a by-election. The results of by-elections are indications to the Government of what the people think, which the Government do not get in any other way whatever. I do not want to see the number of by-elections reduced. I want to see every possible opportunity for the people of this country making their voice heard and indicating to the Government what they want. We rely, I fear, too much upon the public Press to say what the people think. The people who have the votes areless voiced in the Press than they have ever been before. If you rely upon the party Press, if you rely upon the moneyed Press of this country as to what the people are thinking, you are going to go wrong altogether. A by-election is a thermometer which tells you really what public opinion is, far better than any inspired leading articles in the Press.

We have always the struggle going on between democracy and efficiency, and I hope that this House will see that we do not sacrifice everything to efficiency. It is quite possible we might have the best Government in the world if we had an autocrat. If we made the Prime Minister the autocrat of the country, and he appointed all his Ministers and they were uncriticised and he created all the Departments and run this country as Germany was run, as an autocratic monarchy, it is possible that we should have a more efficiently run country than at the present time. But efficiency is not everything. It has led to the smash up of Germany as it is now. Efficiency which smothers individual expression of opinion—[Laughter.] I am perhaps exaggerating, but that is the direction, and it is well to look at the direction in which any legislation is going. We do not want legislation which leads perhaps to greater efficiency if at the same time you are sacrificing any control which democracy exercises over the Government. Democratic control is often bad, often stupid. If you have a democratically governed country, you have obviously one which is less efficient than an autocratically governed country, but in the long run democracy pays. Though you may see the argument in favour of efficiency in a particular measure, yet when you sacrifice the liberties of the people in the long run it is bad for the Government and the welfare of the country. I hope for these reasons that my hon. Friend and those below me will press this matter to a Division. This is a bad Bill: it is aimed directly against the interests of the electorate of the country, and in favour of what I believe is a very small gain in the efficiency of the country. The Act which you are repealing has been on the Statute Book for 200 years. Every Government has tried to get rid of it and failed, because independent Members of Parliament have felt instinctively that it was a right thing that a Member should not pledge himself to his constituents and then join the Government and sell those pledges without having to face the electorate. I hope that this Bill will not pass into law, and that we shall retain upon the Statute Book one of our old constitutional safeguards.

Photo of Mr Alfred Short Mr Alfred Short , Wednesbury

Speaking for the first time in this House, if I contravene any of its ancient traditions, I hope to be the recipient of that generosity for which the House is justly renowned. I have listened to this Debate with exceeding interest, and the course of the Debate reminds me of the friendly rivalry which was exhibited on this side regarding the Leadership of the Opposition. But I think that if the Government brings in any more Bills of this character it will have to look for the Opposition on the benches opposite. The proposal embodied in this Bill, and which can be embodied in Bills of a similar character, will meet with strenuous opposition from all Members who love progress and consider the interests of real democracy. I agree entirely with the Attorney General, that if the principle of time limit is wrong, if it is wrong in essence it is wrong all the time, and the matter should not be compromised on that. But I do not propose in offering opposition to this Bill on behalf of the Labour party to go into questions of a constitutional character, because I am unfamillar with the procedure and constitution of this House, but I believe that the policy suggested in this Bill will be regarded by people outside as an indication of the iron heel of the dictator, and an indication that the Government propose to use their huge majority to ride roughshod over the rights and privileges of the people.

I believe that the Bill itself will be regarded by our people, particularly in view of the grave unrest that exists, as a sign of political weakness on the part of the Government rather than as a sign of political strength. I should have thought that this Government would have been anxious to face an electorate in elections of this character in view of the severe, and shall I say justifiable criticism, which was voiced in the Press and in the country with regard to the appointments of right hon. and hon. Members to the various Ministerial positions. These appointments have been regarded as placing round men in square holes and square men in round holes. I have heard it suggested in some quarters that the appointment of some of these Ministers has been due entirely to a recognition of the fact that they were the college chums of some of the members of the Government. Ability, experience, or political standing in the country appear not to have been necessary so far as these appointments were concerned. If this Bill is passed, and Ministers fail to appear before their constituents for election, it will be taken, I believe, as a cowardly policy on the part of the Government, and it will be considered in the country that they are afraid in some cases to justify their appointment before the bar of public opinion. But I regard the proposals of this Bill as a violation of one of the customs of our country, and a custom which is in harmony with democratic thought and the spirit of our times, and which should be retained in the interests of clean and wholesome government.

I regard these by-elections, arising out of the appointment of Ministers, as political safety-valves which enable the electors to express their opinions upon policies and principles which are vital to their interests, and on matters which the Government should not attempt to force upon the public, as it were, against their will. But there is another reason. With such a power in the hands of the Government of the day, it will be possible for the Government to thrust upon the country any person in the shape of a Minister whose appointment will not only be distasteful to popular opinion, but might outrage every sense of public and political decency. What I believe the people of this country desire at this stage is courageous leadership, leadership which will encourage the confidence of the people in the Government of the day, and I should imagine that no object would be better calculated to secure for the Government the retention of the full co-operation of the people in all important matters than to allow hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who may be appointed as Ministers to face their constituents, seek re-election, and defend the policy of the Government of the day. I thank the House for the generous attention and indulgence which it has extended to me, and trust that this Bill will be strenuously opposed.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

May I ask the Leader of the House whether we are right in thinking that he proposes on the Committee stage to introduce an Amendment limiting the operation of this Bill within a certain time after the election of the Minister? If that is so, I think that the Government have met us very fairly, and that we ought not to continue the Debate. One other question. Clause 2 enacts that Ministers who are appointed without portfolio should also be exempted from going to the country. It is a new thing to appoint Ministers without portfolio, and is only done in very exceptional cases, and I would ask the Leader of the House if he would drop this Clause in the Committee stage. Where it is necessary to appoint a Minister to a particular office I think that the country ought to have an opportunity of saying what it thinks as to the matter. Subject to that I think that the Government has met the House in a reasonable manner, and might now have the Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

With the indulgence of the House I should like to say a word or two on this matter. I was struck to find from the hon. Member opposite (Colonel Wedgwood) that the fight is between efficiency and democracy.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

You will find that in Plato and Aristotle.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

If that is so, it is a bad look-out for democracy. I think that the experience that we have had in this War gives us some reason to hope that if there are defects, as undoubtedly there are, in our system, it has undoubtedly merits which on the whole outweigh these defects. Now, I do ask the House not to treat this as if it were an attempt to ride over an Act of Parliament or to stamp on the country with the iron heel of the dictator. It is simply a question of what is the best thing to do in the public in- terest, and nothing more or less. I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast. He gave us an indication of the kind of spirit in which he approaches this subject. It is quite obvious that he regards the views of my hon. Friends who come for the first time to this House and the test of their character as something to be exemplified by the extent of their hostility to the Government. I do not, of course, regard it in that way, but I am bound to say that it is no surprise to me to find that there is an attitude of criticism. I should not only have been surprised, but disappointed, if it had been the other way. All the Government have a right to ask or expect is that on these questions Members will come to them with the desire, after they have been elected, to do nothing to delay our work, so as to enable us to get on with the business for which we were elected. That is all I would like to say in regard to the principle. As regards the question of my right hon. Friend, we do not regard the question of time limit as something on which the Government are bound to stand or fall. Nothing of the kind. We are simply taking this as a question of what is best, of which the Government need not necessarily be the best judge, and I am quite ready to say now that what my right hon. Friend intended was this—and I myself said it in introducing the Bill—that in spite of the fact that there are strong arguments in one direction, the disadvantages are greatly outweighed by the advantages in the other. I hope that the House will now give us the Second Reading of the measure, and that they will then allow us to go into Committee. [An Hon. Member: "Straight away?"] I hope so. We stated that we proposed to take all the stages to-day. I would make an appeal to hon. Members. I think it is reasonable to ask the House to give us the Second Reading, and that then we should go into Committee. On behalf of the Government, what my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General proposes to do is, that if an Amendment is moved making this apply to a certain time, we shall leave that, without pressure of any kind by the Whips, to the free decision of Members of the House.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

What about members of the Government?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I can say that there will be no pressure on them by the party Whips, and if any of my colleagues, looking at the matter as something perfectly open, took the view that I was wrong, I would not feel in the least hurt if they voted the other way.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

May I ask whether that opinion just expressed will be conveyed to all the absent members of the Government?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I do not know how that could be done.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Could not the Whips go out and ring a bell?

Photo of Mr James Hogge Mr James Hogge , Edinburgh East

I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has not referred at all to another very important question referred to during the discussion with regard to Clause 2 and just mentioned by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). Clause 2 is a very vital one. It deals with the appointment of extra Ministers without portfolio. We were told the other day about the creation of two new Ministries, to which no one can have any objection, because sufficient work has accumulated to make a case for those two Ministries. There is now in the Government one Minister without portfolio, the right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) who is at present in Paris, and this Clause gives the Government the right to appoint two other Ministers without portfolio. There are three offices in the Government now which are practically Ministers without portfolio. There is the office of Privy Seal and that of Chancellor of the Duchy and positions of that kind to which there are salaries attached but in connection with which there is no departmental or official work. Some of us would like to know before we give the Bill a Second Reading and agree to accommodate my right hon. Friend with regard to the Committee stage, what is the attitude of the Government as to taking this fresh power to appoint Ministers without portfolio. That question arose during the War and appointments were made to which the House agreed, but there is no reason why a Minister should be appointed in peace time except in the perfectly natural way in which the new Minister for Ways and Communications is going to be appointed. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to state whether the Government in the same way as on the time limit are prepared to allow the House the same rights on Division on the second Clause as has been suggested with regard to the first.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I cannot give that promise and for this reason. It would necessitate re-election of at least one Minister [An Hon. Member: "That would be a terrible thing!"—because obviously what applied to one would have to apply to all. I believe they cannot be paid without a Vote of the House and the House will have that hold over them. We can discuss the matter in Committee, but I do not think that is a reason for refusing now to give us the Second Reading.

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

I have heard many surprising propositions in the course of my Parliamentary life, but I never heard such a surprising proposition as that we should agree to make such a great constitutional change as that proposed in this Bill in the course of a single sitting. That is what the Leader of the House proposes. But on the question that the people of this country shall retain their right periodically to consider the policy of the Ministry, I believe the House would be most unwise to abandon such a right. I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite who do not possibly share my views, that there is something far bigger in this Bill than party interests on one side or the other. If this Bill become a Statute, it will apply not merely when a Conservative or Coalition Government be in office, but as well to a Liberal or Labour Ministry in office. If this House be unwise enough, without consulting the people, or rather behind the back of the people—since this question has not been considered by them—to give up that right of constant supervision, and by constant supervision of constant control, over the Executive and policy of the country, then I think the House will be doing one of the most stupid and rash things which I have known any House of Commons to do. On this question of procedure, a sense of duty compels me to express my views to the House. The Leader of the House in his opening speech used a most extraordinary argument. He said that this measure was originally passed to protect the House of Commons against the prerogative and usurpations of the Throne, and that that controversy had come to an end long ago, which is quite true, and that there was no other struggle left except a struggle between popular opinion and the Government. He said also that if you give this right of appealing to the opinion of the nation, that then it is not a conflict between the nation and the Government, but between the nation and the House of Commons. Did anybody ever hear a more extraordinary argument than that? Has not the nation the right to review the House of Commons as well as the Executive? The House of Commons may lose, and justly lose, the confidence of the nation as much as the Government of the House. "Oh," but says the right hon. Gentleman, "the Government could not remain in existence unless it had a majority of the House of Commons," and that therefore this was an appeal to the people against the House of Commons. But is it not an extraordinary new doctrine that the nation has not the right to protest and act and vote against the House of Commons as well as against the Executive?

I have known plenty of Houses of Commons that have lost the entire confidence of the nation and where the nation indicated that by its vote. I quite admit there are inconveniences in the present system. I remember in the very first House of Commons I was in we were left a fortnight without the Executive, because the Government of Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues had to be re-elected. The only representative of the Government during that time was Lord Richard Grosvener, and when we had to deal with a hot argument on Mr. Bradlaugh or some other subject there was no answer to be obtained. Lord Richard Grosvenor, who was a man of promptitude rather than resource, ended the argument by moving the Adjournment. That, of course, was an absurd state of affairs. In the course of this Debate there has not been a single Member who has spoken—except the Leader of the House and the Attorney-General, that is to say, the Government—who has not resisted the principle of this Bill, and has not at the same time agreed that some concession should be made. I think it is absurd that when a Government has come fresh the electorate and taken office that the country and the House of Commons should be left without the Government for some time. But that does not interfere with the fundamental constitutional principle that the people of this nation have the right and have the duty to constantly watch and to constantly criticise, and to constantly pronounce judgment upon the Government and the Parliament of the nation.

I feel very strongly for that reason on this question. I cannot describe myself as an admirer of everything in our Constitution, but I can say this, that in the close and intimate relationship between the public opinion of this nation and its Executive we are a model to the constitutions of all other countries. I was in America recently, and, as on many former occasions, I got into constant discussion with my American friends as to whether their constitution is freer than ours. I held, and hold, that our Constitution is freer than theirs. As I tried to put it to them, our Constitution is mobile, while theirs is stationary. In the United States they have their men elected for a certain length of time, and the country has no opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon the policy of those men. The country may pronounce an opinion in America upon the policy of the President of the United States, but the President remains President for four years, whatever may be the views of the country. Their Cabinet Ministers do not appear, except by request occasionally, in the Legislative Chambers of the United States, with the result that you have an executive almost, or quite, independent of the Houses of the Legislature.

I have always said to the people there, "If you want to realise the difference between the American constitutional methods and those of this country, I would put it in this way. The President of the United States is, to a large extent, independent of the decisions of your electorate for four years of office, the Congressmen are independent of the public opinion of your nation for two years, and the Senators are independent of the opinion of your nation for six years." "Now," I have told them, "if yon come to our Parliament—and this is why I think it is a much more democratic institution than yours—you could see, as I have seen, a Ministry, apparently omnipotent and eternal at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the hour when Parliament meets, and in its grave at seven o'clock or half-past seven o'clock." I have seen it myself. The Ministry of Lord Rosebery came down at a quarter to three o'clock one day to the House, and at half-past seven o'clock, by the vote on the famous cordite question, that Ministry went out of office. That was inconvenient to the Ministry, but I hold that that was a vindication of the fundamental principle of our Parliamentary system, that the House of Commons ought to be omnipotent over the Executive, and that the nation ought to be omnipotent over the House of Commons.

There have been three cases in my time that I can remember of the rejection of Ministers on taking office. One was the case of the late Sir William Harcourt when he was made Home Secretary, and then defeated. Then there was the case of the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary for War, when he was beaten in North-West Manchester, and there was the case of Mr. Masterman, defeated for Bethnal Green. While we may regret such cases, can anybody say that the constituencies had not a right by voting upon these gentlemen and their election to office to pronounce their verdict upon the Government? Supposing a Minister is secure for a year after election, after that period the country has had an opportunity of judging of the quality of the Government, and in voting for or against a Minister they are voting for or against a policy of which by that time they have had some experience, and I implore the House, in the interests of the nation and of our Parliamentary traditions and liberties, not to give up this right in a hasty manner.

Supposing anybody wants to discredit parliamentarianism. A great many men in the country, and large sections of opinion in this country, want to do that. What lies at the back of some of these unauthorised strikes that we see in various parts of the country? They are not encouraged by the leaders of trade unions, but by the idea which is rampant through Europe to-day. It is not merely in England, it is also in France to a certain extent, and, of course, all over Russia. The fundamental idea at the root of all this form of labour disturbance and unrest is that working men must seek their rights by direct action. That means by syndicalism, the universal stoppage of labour, the joining together of all the different labour organisations of the country to hold up and paralyse the nation; and it is argued by the syndic lists too, which is a very powerful school, with great philosophers behind it as well as great agitators, that direct action of any kind is a far more effective weapon for gaining their rights than by trusting to the deoayed methods of parliamentary discussion and decision. I pray the House not to encourage that feeling in the country, for it is a strong weapon in the hands of those who denounce parliamentarianism that one of the first measures of this House of Commons should be to take from the people the weapon which gives them the right of periodic examination and decision on the acts and policy of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Horatio Bottomley Mr Horatio Bottomley , Hackney South

I should be prepared, with the leave of the House, to ask permission to withdraw the Amendment if the right hon. Gentleman opposite would say that he would bring no pressure to bear upon his supporters if in Committee I attempted to add the words "at any date between 1st January and 31st December, 1919," after the word "profit" in Clause 1.

Photo of Viscount  Wolmer Viscount Wolmer , Aldershot

May I utter a protest against the proposal of the Government to take the Committee stage immediately? I think most of us are ready to give the Second Reading, but to ask the House to go at once into Committee without any Members having had the time to table Amendments is an extraordinarily bad beginning. I think the House wants to give the Government the Bill, though not in exactly the form in which it is proposed, but it is a really important constitutional question and not by any means the light question which the Treasury Bench would like the House to believe. It is the abrogation of a constitutional principle that has been maintained for good or for ill for 200 years, and it is being done at a moment when the whole British Constitution is in a state of flux, when we have no Second Chamber, and when the Government admittedly are considering proposals for the reform of the Second Chamber and for producing an amendment of the Parliament Act. This vital change in our Constitution is a matter which, I think, ought to be taken at any rate according to the usual practice of Parliamentary procedure. Then, for the first time, so far as I am aware, for a great many years, the Government propose to introduce a constitutional change which is retrospective in effect. It may be necessary in this case, but I think that is a very bad principle and a very dangerous principle. It is dangerous that the Constitution should be amended in the interests of particular individuals who have taken office knowing perfectly well what the Constitution is, and about whom no special urgency can be alleged, as was undoubtedly the case during the War. I think it is really a serious proposal that the Constitution, which has been pre- served since, the days of Queen Anne, should be altered, when there is no House of Lords, with retrospective effect, in order to get particular individuals out of a difficulty which every other Minister for the last 200 years has been subjected to, and that the Government should ask the House of commons to give them Second Reading, Committee stage, and, for all I know, Report of such a Bill on the same day. I really believe the Government would make more rapid progress with this Bill if they followed the normal course of Parliamentary procedure and enabled us to table our Amendments so that they

could be printed and circulated to-morrow morning, and thus give hon. Members and the Government time to see and consider them, than by trying to rush it through in this indecent fashion. After all, the Government have other important business to-night. They have, the Aerial Navigation Bill, which the House can proceed with at once, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend, with all respect, if he will not be content with the Second Reading to-night.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 272; Noes, 42.

Division No. 2.]AYES.6.56 p.m.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. ChristopherCompton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.Henderson, Major V. L.
Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)Hennessy, Major G.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James TynteCope, Major W.Henry, Sir Charles S. (Salop)
Ainsworth, Capt. C.Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)
Amery, Lieut.-Col. L. C. M. S.Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)
Archdale, Edward M.Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, Mid.)Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Bagley, Captain E. A.Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir HenryHickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.
Baird, John LawrenceCurzon, Commander ViscountHilder, Lieut.-Col. F.
Baldwin, StanleyDavidson, Major-General J. H.Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)Hinds, John
Barnett, Captain Richard W.Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.
Barnston, Major HarryDavies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)Hohier, Gerald Fitzroy
Barrie, C. C.Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)Hood, Joseph
Beauchamp, Sir EdwardDean, Com. P. T.Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)
Beck, Arthur CecilDenison-Pender, John C.Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)Dennis, J. W.Hopkins, J. W. W.
Bellairs, Com. Carlyon W.Denniss, Edmund R. B.Hopkinson, A. (Mossley)
Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.Hughes, Spencer Leigh
Bennett, T. J.Dixon, Captain H.Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)
Bethell, Sir John HenryDockrell, Sir M.Hurd, P. A.
Betterton, H. B.Donald, T.Inskip, T. W. H.
Birchall, Major J. D.Doyle, N. GrattonJackson, Lieut.-Col Hon. F. S. (York)
Blades, Sir George R.Duncannon, ViscountJameson, Major J. G.
Blake, Sir Francis DouglasDu Pre, Colonel W. B.Jephcott, A. R.
Blane, T. A.Edgar, CliffordJesson, C.
Borwick, Major G. O.Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham)Jones, Sir E R. (Merthyr)
Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)Kiley, James Daniel
Brackenbury, Col. H. L.Entwistle, Major C. F.Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Brassey, Major H. L. C.Falcon, Captain M.Knight, Capt. E. A.
Breese, Major C. E.Falle, Major Sir Bertram GodfreyKnights, Capt. H.
Bridgeman, William CliveFarquharson, Major A. C.Lane-Fox, Major G. R.
Briggs, HaroldFisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.Law, A. J. (Rochdale)
Brittain, Sir Harry E.FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)
Brown, T. W. (Down, N.)Flannery, Sir J. FortesqueLewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)
Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.Foxcroft, Captain C.Lewis, T. A (Pontypridd, Glam.)
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William JamesFraser, Major Sir KeithLindsay, William Arthur
Burgoyne, Lt.-Col. Alan HughesGalbraith, SamuelLister, Sir R. Ashton
Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)Ganzoni, Captain F. C.Lloyd, George Butler
Burn, T. H. (Belfast)Gardiner, J. (Perth)Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)
Butcher, Sir J. G.Gibbs, Colonel George AbrahamLonsdale, James R.
Campbell, J. G. D.Gilbert, James DanielLorden, John William
Campion, Col. W. R.Glanville, Harold JamesLort-Williams, J.
Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)Glyn, Major R.Loseby, Captain C. E.
Carlile, Sir Edward HildredGoff, Sir R. ParkLowther, Major C. (Cumberland. N.)
Carr, W. T.Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir E. A.Lyle, C. E.
Carter, R. A. D. (Manchester)Grayson, Lieut.-Col. H. M.Lynn, R. J.
Cautley, Henry StrotherGreame, Major P. L.Lyon, L.
Cayzer, Major H. R.Green, J. F. (Leicester)M'Callum, Sir John M.
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Oxford Univ.)Greenwood, Col. Sir HamarM'Curdy, Charles Albert
Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)Gregory, HolmanM'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)
Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir HillGreig, Col. James WilliamM'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)
Clay, Capt. H. H. SpenderGriggs, Sir PeterM'Guffin, Samuel
Coates, Major Sir Edward F.Guest, Major O. (Leices., Loughb'ro'.)M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)
Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.Hacking, Captain D. H.M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)
Cohen, Major J. B.Hallas, E.Macleod, John Mackintosh
Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.Hambro, Angus ValdemarM'Micking, Major Gilbert
M'Neill, Ronald (Canterbury)Ramsden, G. T.Thompson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)
Maddocks, HenryRaper, A. BaldwinThomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.Tickler, Thomas George
Manville, EdwardRees, Sir J. D.Tryon, Major George Clement
Moles, ThomasReid, D. D.Wallace, J.
Molson, Major John ElsdaleRees, Captain J. Tudor-Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.
Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. C. T.Richardson, Albion (Peckham)Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.Richardson, Alex, (Gravesend)Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)
Morden, Col. H. GrantRoberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.
Moreing, Captain Algernon H.Robinson, T. (Stretford, Lancs.)White, Col. G. D. (Southport)
Morrison, H. (Salisbury)Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.Whitla, Sir William
Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.Rowlands, JamesWigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson
Mosley, OswaldSamuel, A. L. (Eye, E. Suffolk)Wild, Sir Ernest Edward
Munro, Rt. Hon. RobertSamuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)
Murchison, C. K.Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir Rhys (Banbury)
Murray, Lt.-Col. Hn. A. C. (Aberd'n.)Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald
Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox)Sanders, Colonel Robert ArthurWilson, Capt. A. (Holdness, Yorks.)
Nall, Major JosephScott, Sir S. (Marylebone)Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)
Newman, Major J. (Finchley, Mddx.)Seager, Sir WilliamWilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)Seddon, J. A.Winfrey, Sir Richard
Newton, Major Harry KottinghamSeely, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. JohnWinterton, Major Earl
Nicholson, R. (Doncastser)Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)
Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)Shaw, Capt. W. T (Forfar)Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)
Norman, Major Rt. Hon. Sir HenrySprot, Col. Sir AlexanderWoods, Sir Robert
Norris, Col. Sir Henry G.Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)Worsfold, T. Cato
O'Neill, Capt. Hon. Robert W. H.Steel, Major S. StrangYate, Col. Charles Edward
Parker, JamesStephenson, Col. H. K.Yeo, Sir Alfred William
Pearce, Sir WilliamStewart, GershomYoung, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)
Pinkham, Col. CharlesStrauss, Edward AnthonyYoung, Sir F. W. (Swindon)
Pownall, Lt.-Col. AsshetonSturrock, J. Leng.Young, William (Perth and Kinross)
Pratt, John WilliamSugden, Lieut. W. H.Younger, Sir George
Prescott, Major W. H.Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.
Pulley, Charles ThorntonTalbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—capt.
Purchase, H. G.Terrell, Capt. R. (Henley, Oxford)F. Guest and Lord E. Talbot.
Raffan, Peter Wilson
NOES.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. WilliamHarbison, T. J. S.Sexton, James
Arnold, SydneyHartshorn, V.Short, A. (Wednesbury)
Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)Hayward, Major EvanSitch, T. H.
Benn, Capt. w. (Leith)Hirst, G. H.Smith, W. (Wellingborough)
Billing, Noel PembertonHogge, J. M.Spoor, B. G.
Brace, Rt. Hon. WilliamIrving, DanSwan, J. E. C.
Briant, F.Jones, J. (Silvertown)Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)
Cairns, JohnLambert, Rt. Hon. GeorgeThorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Devlin, JosephLunn, WilliamTootill, Robert
Donnelly, P.Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)Waterson, A. E.
France, Gerald AshburnerM'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)
Graham, W. (Edinburgh)MacVeagh, JeremiahWilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)O'Connor, T. P.
Grundy, T. W.Redmond, Captain William A.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)Richardson, R. (Houghton)Bottomley and Colonel Wedgwood.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I beg to move, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."

In doing so I should like to say that I have decided not to proceed with it tonight. I do not know if I am acting wisely or not, but in all these matters, since I have been in the position of Leader of the House. I have preferred to make the mistake of doing what a large number of hon. Members wish rather than of forcing my view on them.

Bill accordingly committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.