Orders of the Day — Elections

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th December 1945.

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Motion made, and Question proposed.

"That a Select Committee be appointed to examine any cases which may be brought to their notice of Members of this House who may have been incapable of election to this House by reason of the fact that at the time of their election they held offices or places of profit under the Crown within the meaning of Section 24 of the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707; and to report whether any such Member was on that account incapable of election to this House, and, if so, what course should be adopted in any such case."—[Mr. Mathers.]

9.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

Are we not to have even a short explanation of this Order by the learned Attorney- General? There are some unusual points in it. I am informed that there is power taken for this Committee to sit during Adjournments of the House and that is, I think, a little unusual. There is also a provision that the quorum shall be—

Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont):

This Motion is in sections. That will come on a later one.

9.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

I regret to have to tell the House that several cases have come to light—there are, in fact, four—in which a question has arisen whether or not certain hon. Members may suffer disqualification from Membership owing to the holding of what may possibly be offices of profit within the meaning of the Statute of Anne. I apprehend that as the matter will have, in any event, to be referred to a Select Committee, it would be undesirable and, indeed, improper that I should invite the House to consider the details affecting these particular cases now, or that I should myself enter into any of the merits.

As an indication of the kind of problem which will have to be considered by the Select Committee, I may perhaps just say this. They will have to consider, for instance, whether the members of a panel, some but not all of whom may occasionally be recruited to form a quasi judicial tribunal, and when sitting as members of such a tribunal may receive more or less nominal remuneration in respect of the days on which they sit, are thereby disqualified from membership of the House owing to the holding of an office of profit under the Crown. That is one case.

Another case is whether the writing of a formal letter of resignation after the date of the poll, but before the declaration of the result of the election, is effective to terminate the holding of such an office. Another case, again, is whether an oral arrangement made some considerable time before any question of an election arose, but not formally recorded or acted upon by the Government Department concerned, would be sufficient to terminate the holding of what otherwise might constitute an office of profit under the Crown. These are matters of considerable difficulty, and it would not be possible, nor I think would it be appropriate, for me to attempt to express any final opinion as to whether or not in these cases a disqualification has arisen. The House is itself the arbiter of its own constitution in these matters, and the House will have to consider in relation to each case that it takes into consideration, whether or not a disqualification has arisen.

We therefore propose that this Select Committee should be established; and that the Committee should have power to settle the time of its own meetings, to consider such cases as may be referred to it, and to make such report as appears in the circumstances to be right. I should perhaps add that I am not unmindful of the undertaking which I gave earlier in the Session, that we would in due course consider the possibility of introducing legislation to simplify and clarify this very confused and perplexing branch of the law. We intend to do that, and I hope, at all events before the next election occurs, that this branch of the law will have been simplified in that way.

Ordered: "That Mr. Clement Davies, Mr. Grenfell, Sir Arnold Gridley, Dr. Haden Guest, Mr. Hector Hughes, General Sir George Jeffreys, Mr. Orr-Ewing, Mr. Sydney Silverman and Mr. Webb, be Members of the Committee.—[Mr. Mathers.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; and to report from time to time."—[Mr. Mathers.]

9.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

I am much obliged to the learned Attorney-General for his explanation of the setting-up of the Committee. The more particular question which I wished to address to him and which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, indicated would be better raised at this stage, was the rather unusual provision in a Motion of this character for the Committee to have power to sit, notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House. I cannot ever remember on a similar occasion such a power being taken, and perhaps the learned Attorney-General would tell us why it is necessary to treat this matter as one of such urgency that the Committee may have to sit during the Adjournment of the House.

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

I understand that, in point of fact, the Select Committee which, was appointed at the beginning of the Session to deal with a rather similar problem, was appointed under exactly similar terms of reference, and did sit during the Adjournment of the House in the early part of September. The matter is, of course, of some urgency. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will no doubt be anxious that the position should be clarified with the least possible delay, at least in regard to the four Members whose cases arise for consideration. I understand that the Committee will be able to sit this week before the Recess and will not then sit again until the House has met again.

Ordered:

" That Three be the Quorum."—[Mr. Mathers.]