New Clause. — (Amendment of form of Certificate.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Ministers of the Crown and House of Commons Disquali Fication Bill. – in the House of Commons on 18th February 1942.

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Photo of Sir Kenneth Pickthorn Sir Kenneth Pickthorn , Cambridge University

I am not quite sure, whether the Attorney-General is really prepared to assert without fear of contradiction what in his opinion are the implications of the words "Member of the Commons House" after A. V. Hill as compared with the words "First Lord of the Treasury," after W. S. Churchill. His opinion, no doubt, is the best opinion in this House and infinitely better than mine. But he is under a moral obligation on this occasion to be extremely scrupulous in this matter, because he is giving a legal opinion which has no chance of being challenged. He has not answered my question and stated whether he is perfectly certain that all competent lawyers would agree, or whether he would lay ten to one that this view would be upheld if the matter were brought before the King's Bench and up to the Lords. I know that that is a lot to ask of a lawyer, but, unless the Attorney-General is prepared to make some sort of pledge on this point, the relevance of his argument is not of much value. Of course when the Attorney-General states what is the implication, I do not say that he is cheating, or that he is intellectually dishonest or anything of that sort; he holds that view, and on an ordinary Measure we could accept his word as probably right, and yet know the opposite meaning might turn out the right one, because the thing would be open to challenge in the courts. However, in this case there is no machinery, I think, whereby this matter could ever reach the courts.

If I may revert to my illustration of the hon. Member for Treorchy, I would point out that my right hon. and learned Friend unintentionally misrepresented my argument. I was not suggesting that the Prime Minister should take one Member and say that, because he was no good in the House, he could go, and, therefore, they would give him a job; and that in the case of another Member he should say that because he was a good Member, he should be given a certificate. Suppose a job falls vacant. We all know what would happen in France; the Minister would look round among his friends; and in Germany the Minister would look round among Members of the party. Here the First Lord of the Treasury would send for his advisers to say merely who was the best possible man to do the job. It might happen that the advisers came back and said there was only one man for the job and he happened to be a Member of Parliament. In my view, the Prime Minister should then ask himself this question: Is this matter one of such importance that the Member concerned ought to be willing, as a sacrifice to his country, to leave his seat? or, if it is not, then is it the sort of job and is he the sort of man where I can properly certify that it is in the interests of victory that he should combine the two? No one wishes to be controversial and we are all conscious of the excessive amount of work which rests upon the Prime Minister. It is extremely difficult on looking through this list of persons and offices to say that it is obvious and perfectly clear why it was necessary for "X" and "Y" to hold both office and seat in order to hasten on victory. All that we ask is that, whatever is certified, the questions to be answered before signing the certificate should be brought clearly to the mind of the person who has to sign. I do not consider that is placing an excessive burden: on the contrary, I consider it is making it easier and quicker for the Prime Minister to decide.

And finally, if I may without impertinence, I would beg my right hon. and learned Friend not to use again the argument which has been so frequently used about the analogy with Members who are in the Forces. That is an entirely different thing. Death dignifies everything. It is one thing, to say that a Member who wishes to go out and be shot at shall not have to suffer also the penalty of giving up his seat; and it is another thing to say that a Member who wishes to be a Governor of the B.B.C., or a public relations officer somewhere or other shall have an extra privilege. If that argument is to be used, there is a riposte, namely, that many of the Members who do go into the Armed Forces ought not to do so, but only those who are going actually to fight, or to exercise some technical skill of which they are among the rare possessors.