Orders of the Day — House of Commons (Indemnification of Certain Members) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

7.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

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

There are perhaps some who would say that this is an unnecessary Bill, that it errs on the side of caution, that no challenge would have been made and no great harm might have been done if we had neglected to introduce it. But we have thought that in matters affecting the constitution of this House and the qualifications of Members who sit here, one must err, if at all, on the side of caution, and that we must be jealous of any infringements, whether in the spirit or merely in the letter, of those laws which are designed to protect the independence of Members of Parliament and to avoid the evils of placemen and so forth.

Unhappily, the precise limits of those laws—and, in the main, they are embodied in Sections 24 and 25 of the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707—are very obscure. There is no precise definition of what is meant by an office of profit. A case where a large salary is payable to the holder of an office is, of course, clear enough, but what of the office where something is paid which in name at least is a subsistence allowance? That is at times a case of great difficulty. On the whole, we have taken the view that where there is any payment or any expectation of payment going in amount beyond the sum which might be regarded, not as a mathematically accurate but as a fair reimbursement or pre-assessment of the expenses actually incurred through holding that particular office, the payment or expectation of that sum would constitute the office one of profit.

Then again there is the question, also difficult, in relation to new offices, whether they are held "under the Crown" within the meaning of Section 24 of the 1707 Act or whether, in relation to the old offices, they are held "from the Crown." There is room for argument as to whether there is any legal difference in the meaning of these two different phrases. There we have taken the view that to be held under the Crown an office does not necessarily have to be subject to any continuing control in its exercise by the Crown. The words in Section 24 of the 1707 Act, we think, refer comprehensively to any new office connected with the public service or the appointment to which is in the hands of some authority under the Crown. If—which is not certain—the meaning of the words "from the Crown" in Section 25 is a different one—apart from the fact that the Section refers to old offices—the difference may be that they imply an office which has been within the immediate grant of the Crown.

Those are the conclusions about the rather obscure laws in regard to these matters which we think are right. I would never assert with absolute certainty about a branch of the law of this kind, that those conclusions are inevitably right. These are matters which have been discussed a great deal in the past, and other views are held about them, but, giving the best consideration we can to the matter, we think that the view which I have just presented to the House is probably the correct one on the proper construction of the Act.

That being our view as to the construction of this old Statute of 1707, our attention was drawn to the position of certain hon. Members who had been nominated by His Majesty to become members of the General Medical Council. The General Medical Council was set up under a Statute of 1858 which has been amended, in details that I need not now recite, by various subsequent Acts of Parliament, but under its constitution His Majesty, on the advice of the Privy Council, nominates five of the members of the Council and those members hold office for a term not exceeding five years, although I think they are eligible for reemployment. Provision is also made under the constitution of the council for the payment of fees to the members of the council, and in practice, as I understand, they are in fact paid a sum of five guineas in respect of each attendance. They are paid not out of State funds, not out of moneys provided by Parliament, but out of moneys collected by the medical profession from registration fees, but we do not think that it is a criterion of whether or not an office is an office of profit under or from the Crown that the actual emoluments of it are derived from sources other than public funds.

That being the nature of the office, during the lifetime of the present Parliament two hon. Members of this House were nominated to the council by His Majesty on the advice of the Privy Council. They were, however, by no means the first hon. Members of the House who had been nominated to and sat as members of the General Medical Council. In times past many hon. Members belonging, as a rule, to the party opposite had been nominated to the General Medical Council, and had sat upon it and performed the duties of members of it without it occurring to anybody at all that there might be any possible infringement of the Statute of 1707. This Bill does not provide indemnification for those other Members who in the past have sat as members of the General Medical Council, for the simple reason that any claims to penalties against them should now be statute barred; there seemed, therefore, no reason to include them in the scope of this Bill, and I have no reason to mention them particularly by name.

In the case of the two hon. Members whose names are mentioned in the present Bill, they, being appointed in the lifetime of the present Parliament, are not of course protected by the lapse of time and might, on the view we take, be liable to the possibility that actions would be brought against them. We think there is no doubt that they were appointed to an Office of Profit under the Crown. On the other hand, I think it is right to say, and the House would no doubt wish me to say, and I hope will concur in my saying, that they were appointed and held their office in complete good faith on the basis of many precedents of times gone by. Indeed, the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) never acted in the office at all, because immediately after his appointment to the office, just recently in the course of this year and before he had ever taken any part in the proceedings of the General Medical Council, it occurred to him that there might possibly be some question of propriety in holding the office. It was in these circumstances that the matter came to notice and was the subject of consideration.

I hope that, as far as these two hon. Members are concerned, the House will be satisfied that whilst there was a technical infringement of the law relating to this matter, confused and obscure though unfortunately that branch of the law is, no one can really be blamed for having followed the longstanding and numerous precedents, and that whilst the two hon. Members must, of course, vacate these appointments and cannot continue to hold them, they ought not to be penalised for having held them in the past, and that this Bill, as it seeks to do by Clause 1, might properly indemnify them.

Photo of Sir Hugh Munro-Lucas-Tooth Sir Hugh Munro-Lucas-Tooth , Hendon South

Before the Attorney-General leaves that point, will he say whether the Bill applies to any future appointments of Members of this House to the General Medical Council?

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

I thought I had made that clear in my remarks. I said that these two Members must vacate this office. We are not seeking to make this office not one of profit. It will remain a disqualification, and these two Members will vacate the office and will be indemnified. We are not proposing to legislate for the future and to say that this will no longer be an office of profit which Members may hold. It is the future policy that no Member shall be qualified to hold the office. We do not think it right to alter the law in a piecemeal way, by providing that this particular office should be excluded from what has hitherto been the law. This is merely a Bill of indemnification in respect of these two Members.

Clause 2 deals with a different case. Under a Statute, also an old one, the House of Commons (Disqualifications) Act, 1782, a Member is disqualified to hold any contract with the public ser- vice. Here, again, the Act and the law arising from it are obscure in many particulars. It does not, for instance, apply in the ordinary way to Members who are shareholders in or directors of a public company, unless, possibly, they are remunerated in an unusual way out of the actual profits of the particular contract. Moreover, it does not apply to casual or isolated transactions over the counter, so to speak, transactions which are small in amount. By the de minimis non curat lex maxim, a number of cases have not been brought within the strict provisions of the Act.

In the case of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans), to whom the Bill refers, the transactions went a little further, and here, I think, I might say somewhat nearer the line hitherto drawn between those transactions that need not be bothered about and those which involve an infringement of the Statute. There were 11 transactions altogether extending over a period of 21 months, of a total value of just under £100. What happened was that the Home Office placed an order with a firm in which the hon. Member is a partner, a firm trading under the style of Evans Bros., for a small quantity of labels of some kind. The first order was placed with that firm before the hon. Member had been elected to this House, and it was for a sum of £2 7s. The other orders were in the main for small amounts, although there was one for a comparatively large sum, the whole amounting to £100. After the first order which had been placed with the firm, quite legally because there was then no question of disqualification arising at all, 10 further orders were given to the firm and were given in completely good faith, because of the various firms which had been approached for the supply of these particular labels this one offered the earliest deliveries at competitive prices.

If these transactions had been the subject of a written contract, the position in regard to them would at once have become clear, because written contracts with Government Departments in this connection have a clause in them dealing with this particular point. But, as it was, in these small occasional transactions it was not realised by the Home Office that a Member of this House was a partner, and the hon. Member himself did not realise that although the Statute does not apply at all to a one-man company it does apply to a many-man partnership, which was how this misapprehension arose. In this case also I would ask the House to say that this is a matter in which no one can or would for a moment wish to impune the good faith of the Department concerned or of the hon. Member, and that it would be proper to indemnify him from the possible consequences of the breach of the Statute.

I want to add only this: I did refer, and the hon. Baronet took me up on the point, to the obscurity and confusion of this branch of the law relating to offices of profit generally. We do not propose by this Bill to alter the law on this matter. The law is obscure and confused, but its amendment, restatement or codification is by no means an easy matter. It would, we think, probably have to be the subject of study by a commission, legal committee, or body of that kind. It would not be easy to find a better formula which would hit at really substantial cases, where Members ought to be disqualified from sitting in the House, while not affecting quite trivial infringements which ought not, in existing circumstances at this time, to affect a Member's right to sit here. We think that that would be a difficult formula to find. Previous Governments, which no doubt have considered this problem, have felt that it was perhaps better to leave matters as they were until an obviously better formula had been found to take the place of the existing law. We have hitherto taken the same view about this matter, but I can add that we are giving the whole subject attention and considering whether there is any more comprehensive way in which the matter can be dealt with. But that, of course, is not the purpose of the Bill, which is designed merely to indemnify the three Members named.

Photo of Sir Norman Hulbert Sir Norman Hulbert , Stockport

Will the Attorney-General clarify one point. I think he said, when referring to the case of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans) that where an hon. Member is a shareholder or a director of a public company he does not come within the scope of the statute. The Attorney-General rather emphasised the word "public." Does it also apply to private companies?

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

I believe I did say "a public company" but I did not attach significance to that. Any incorporated body is deemed in law to have a quite separate existence from the persons composing it. That is the distinction between the company, private or public, and the partner.

7.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

It should be made clear on behalf of the Opposition that we regard all these cases of the three hon. Members who are concerned as bona fide cases which it is right for the Government to cover with the least possible delay. That is to say, the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) and Berwick and Haddington (Mr. J. J. Robertson), as members of the General Medical Council, would seem to us to fall under the mischief of Section 24 of the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707. I have not the great legal knowledge of the Attorney-General, but it would seem to me that the series of precedents which we have discovered, to which the only contradiction is afforded by Pringle's case in 1924, supports the view that the receipt of remuneration by the holder of the office is immaterial provided that his office is one in respect of which remuneration is payable. That is so even when the remuneration is now fictional, as is the case with the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, for example. In view of the fact that under the rules of the General Medical Council such fees and reasonable travelling expenses can be made payable, there is no doubt that the cases of those two hon. Members ought to be covered by some such Bill as this.

In the case of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans) there is a greater complication about which one or two of my hon. Friends might perhaps wish to ask some questions in regard to the type of company and the type of contract which is or is not covered by this matter. I do not wish to go into that myself. I am satisfied that the Attorney-General has gone into it thoroughly and that legislation is therefore necessary to cover the case of the hon. Member for West Islington. The sums concerned seem to us to be very small. I am quite certain that there was no intention on the part of the hon. Member to do anything which is illegal or wrong in any way because we have been informed by the Lord President that the hon. Member himself informed the Government, taking the initiative because something appeared to him to be going wrong.

From my point of view, and I think I can speak for my hon. Friends, there is nothing about which we need, so to speak, make a fuss in regard to the position of these three hon. Members, who, I am sure, will feel themselves adequately covered by this massive Bill, enshrined in which their names will have an immortality to which I hope never to aspire. I wish to refer for a few moments to the position generally. A Select Committee in 1941 made a report which proposed that a Bill to reform the present law in regard to Members receiving payment from the Crown should be amended in certain directions.

The Committee made three main proposals: That, with the exception of not more than 60 ministerial offices, any office from or under the Crown should disqualify any person from election to, or membership of, the Commons. It also stated that certain specified offices whose duties are such as would not substantially interfere with a Member's duty or increase the power of the executive in the Commons, for instance, Regius professors—of whom I am not aware that we have any examples, and which position my hon. Friend the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) has not as yet attained—should be declared not to be disqualifying offices. The report also said that certain specified offices, including the Chiltern Hundreds and Manor of Northstead and some others about which doubts have arisen in the past, for example, Recorder of London should be expressly declared to be disqualifying.

The Committee went into the matter with some care, and when the Coatbridge and Springburn Elections (Validation) Act, came up in 1945 my right hon. and learned colleague, who was then Mr. J. S. C. Reid, raised this matter and received a reply from the Attorney-General who, in winding up the discussion said: We will certainly take into more than sympathetic consideration, as soon as we are able to do so, the report of the Select Committee of 1941, without of course considering ourselves restricted by the terms of that report. This was four years ago. We will examine the whole problem. As I indicated in my previous remarks we realise that this is a problem of considerable complexity which may lead hon. Members inadvertently into great difficulty, and it is one in which the position should be clarified as soon as Parliamentary time permits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 575.] Here is the shepherd who has allowed his sheep to go astray through four years of neglect. He was warned by the Coat-bridge and Springburn Elections (Validation) Act, 1945, how his tender sheep might stray from the farm. He promised us that he would take up this matter and give it consideration, using the phrase "as soon as Parliamenary time permits."

Ever since then the greater part of Parliamentary time has in our view been wasted by the proposals of the Government to stifle and hamper our industrial structure in this country. Meanwhile hon. Members have been allowed to stray from the path and have only been brought back, as in the case of the hon. Member for West Islington, by their own moral sense, by appealing to the shepherd themselves. I do not believe that the sheep generally in this excellent institution are so well endowed with knowledge of the law and necessarily with such high moral sense as the hon. Member for West Islington.

I must appeal to the Government once again to give this question of introducing legislation to clear up these complicated and antiquated Acts under which we work their immediate consideration. It really is an intolerable imposition upon hon. Members and upon Parliamentary time that we have to have small Bills of this character and to have hon. Members on any side of the House being in a position where they might at any time be unwittingly contravening the law and have to have a special Bill passed. I make a special appeal to the Government and ask them whether they will now not give the matter consideration and do so urgently, and if necessary postpone the date of the next General Election in order to give the necessary time to it.

7.58 p.m.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

I think the House would make a mistake if it passed from this matter immediately without considering the need for the further legislation which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, because it does not only concern Members on this side of the House. It might be very desirable if, before the General Election, we had some general Measure which would remove all types of doubt not only about the position of Members of this side of the House but of some Members even on the Front Bench opposite.

Before I come to the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)—there may be some need for further—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

It is not permissible to discuss the position of any other hon. Member. This Bill is limited in scope to three named hon. Members, and the discussion must relate to those three Members alone.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

Before deciding what I would say I examined the precedents set by the Coatbridge and Springburn Elections (Validation) Act, and there the principle, which I suggest might be accepted here, was permitted of discussing not only what was in the Bill but what general reforms were necessary. I only intended to illustrate the position by a general reference.

If I may now turn to the position of the three hon. Members concerned, they are the victims of a law which is not only obsolete but which has quite clearly become absurd. It is not only a waste of Parliamentary time to introduce these Measures but it exposes the Members concerned to misrepresentation that they have done something which is in some way improper, and makes them not only open to action here in the House but to action by common informers, and to a type of action in the courts which might set the courts at variance with the House. It might be used at a General Election, when the House is not in existence, to make an attack upon a number of leading candidates.

If I might just deal with the first point, I think the Attorney-General is quite clearly wrong if he suggests that, in order to have an office of profit, it must be some profit consequent on such a position.

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

I never said that and I never thought it, and I referred to a reasonable expectation. Those were my words.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

If I might refer the Attorney-General to the evidence of Lord Simon in 1941 before the Select Committee, he will see that what Lord Simon called attention to was the case of the paid and unpaid Whips. In those days, an office of profit disqualified a Member, and it was decided that the office which disqualified him was that of the unpaid Whip, and that when a Member from being an unpaid Whip became a paid Whip, in accordance with the Statute, he was not occupying an office of profit. The matter is perhaps a little more complicated than possibly the Attorney-General thought at first sight. The amount of remuneration received by the hon. Member is not really in question. If they had been employed as Ambassadors in Washington, they would have been entitled to the salary of somewhere about £3,500 a year, with £20,000 expenses—that is the rate for the job—but in accordance with precedent, that would not have disqualified them even if they had been absent from the House the whole time. The whole position has now reached something approaching confusion.

Indeed, hon. Members may be disqualified by a number of statutes, and there are some 150 of these which are capable of being invoked to disqualify a Member. Secondly, Members are disqualified if they get any new office of profit under the Crown, that is to say, any offices of profit which have been constituted since 1707 and held under the Crown. What is the meaning of "new offices," and what is the meaning of "under the Crown"? It is so obscure that the House really ought to take steps to have the whole matter cleared up. If I might give an example, in 1932 it was suddenly discovered that, as a result of some valuable reforms which had been introduced concerning the President of the Board of Trade by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford when he held that office, since 1909 this had become a new office not "from the Crown," but "under the Crown," and it therefore was an impropriety for every President of the Board of Trade from 1909 to 1932 to sit in this House.

If we come to the case of contracts with the Crown, that is equally absurd and equally ridiculous. If one looks into Parliamentary history, one sees that legis- lation was originally introduced to prevent any mushroom firms with which hon. Members might be associated from securing contracts in the war which was then unhappily raging against our American Colonies. Very properly, old firms were exempt, but, as the date has never been altered, the law still provides that a firm was not a mushroom firm only if it consisted of ten persons on the 1st January, 1782, or since the 20th June, 1802, in regard to Ireland. This illustrates that the whole position is completely absurd.

If one reads the Report of the 1941 Select Committee one finds the Chairman's remarks on the unhappy case of a very respectable Member of the House who was horrified to find that Westminster Hall was being repaired with timber from his estate, and who came to the conclusion that he would be disqualified as a Member in consequence of that fact. On investigation, however, he found that his estate had been turned into a limited company, of which he was the sole director and therefore he was entirely exempt.

In those circumstances, the position is really absurd, and, indeed the whole contract position raises very difficult questions, because it was discovered that hon. Members were entering into a large number of contracts with the Postmaster-General for the provision of telephones. Because they were under contract with the Postmaster-General it was necessary in 1931 to pass an Act to relieve hon. Members of their liability to disqualification which had been incurred by the fact that they had got telephones from the Crown. So we now have the case of the unhappy hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. A. Evans) because he was dealing as an unincorporated company and is liable by these transactions. But let us suppose that as a lawyer he was interested in a packet of stationery concerning which there was a prosecution. It would be quite possible, without any impropriety in it at all, for the Home Office to employ an hon. Member of this House as counsel dealing with that matter. When we get to the intermediate position, the matter is much more difficult, and it is still undecided for example, if a scientist is employed to examine the packet of stationery to see if it is up to sample, whether he would be disqualified. That is still an unresolved question.

This matter really does require looking into, and I think my right hon. and learned Friend is wrong when he says that the only cases we should look at are those of offices of profit. There are other disqualifications equally undesirable which ought to be included in this Bill. Alternatively, the House should not allow this Bill to pass until we have had some indication that these other matters will be included in another Bill. If we allow this Bill to pass without dealing with these other matters, we shall be avoiding an opportunity to put right what might go wrong at an election.

There is one other aspect of the matter to which I should like to refer for a moment. When we are dealing with the disqualification of clergymen we find an extraordinary position.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The hon. Gentleman really cannot extend this matter beyond Members of Parliament. This Bill refers to three specific Members of Parliament, and the hon. Gentleman must really relate his remarks to the cases covered by the Bill.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

In the case of the Coat-bridge and Springburn Validation Bill, the whole question was to validate the election of the hon. Member for Coat-bridge (Mrs. Mann) and the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Forman), and the whole Debate on that occasion ranged around—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

That may be, but we are not debating the Coatbridge and Springburn matter. We are debating the question of indemnifying the three hon. Members whose names are set out in the Bill.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

I am attempting, and I hope it is in Order on the Second Reading, to criticise what is not in this Measure. Surely on this Bill on its Second Reading, one is entitled to criticise what has not been put in it? Surely, one is entitled to say that there ought to be further Clauses in this Measure, and, quite clearly, it is within the scope of this Measure to deal with other features of disqualification?

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The Ruling of Mr. Speaker is to the contrary—that the discussion of other matters beyond the three hon. Members named would not be in Order. In my view, the hon. Gentleman would be perfectly in Order in offering general observations, and that is as far as he can go.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

I do not want to prolong the matter, but I would like to put this point. If we allow this opportunity for discussion of the matter to pass, we may find that at a General Election there are a number of candidates who would be disqualified, and this House will be dissolved and we shall not be in a position to deal with the matter. The argument I am trying to put is that, in those circumstances, either this Bill should include those other matters, or, if we agree to this Bill going through as it is, we should have some promise that some other Measure will be brought forward which deals with these very important points of disqualification.

The point I am trying to put here, for example, in regard to the position of the clergy, is that they are all disqualified and disqualified under different decrees, from being candidates. For instance, a clergyman of the Church of England may not sit, but may divest himself of his orders and may then be elected. A clergyman of the Church in Wales can be elected, but if he takes orders while sitting as a Member, he is immediately disqualified, though he may stand again for re-election. So far as the Church of Ireland is concerned, there is a complete and absolute disqualification, and as hon. Members opposite have a candidate who is a member of the Church of Ireland, I thought it would be desirable before the General Election that there should be some opportunity of presenting them with the position in which their candidate could go forward to the polls. That was the only point I was trying to make.

It really is a very complicated and difficult question, and there are so many anomalies that it is hard to give examples without straining the patience of the House too much. The law, however harsh it is to the Irish clergy, is particularly tender to the Irish bankrupt, because, while, under the existing law, a bankrupt in England and Scotland may not be a Member of this House, there is no disqualification whatever on an Irish bankrupt. It is fair to say that any Irish hon. Member who is foolish enough not to become a bankrupt before he enters this House, but becomes a bankrupt immediately afterwards is dealt with straight away by suspension, while in the English case the matter is held in abeyance for six months.

I am sorry that the noble Lord the hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is not here because there is a serious disqualification of the Irish Peer, who is not permitted by statute to sit for any university in the United Kingdom. Whatever else we may think, and whatever may have been the original reason for it, there is obviously now no need for such discrimination, and, indeed, the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) would be easily interchangeable. If, therefore, it is to be one of the principles of the party opposite that they will restore the university representation, it is a little hard that this House should deprive them of the possibility of what might be their most attractive type of candidate. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned other offices where we are up against exactly the same difficulty. I will not specify or deal with them; I will merely say that these anomalies exist throughout the whole sphere. If I were allowed to develop my case, I could show how exactly the same arguments put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend would apply to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The hon. Member is referring to another right hon. Member of this House, and, in my view, is going far beyond the confines of this Bill. This Bill, both in its Title and content, refers to the indemnification of three specific hon. Members, and the hon. Member must confine his personal remarks to their cases. I have given him a good deal of latitude.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

I gave the hon. Member some notice of this point because it is obviously of some importance owing to the common informer procedure under the Act of 1707. If, for example, an hon. Member has sat in this House, has voted, and is disqualified, he is liable to a penalty, as are the hon. Members whom we are now absolving, of £500 a day for every day he sits and votes. Imagine the position of an hon. Member who has sat for 200 days; he would be liable to a penalty, owing to the action of a common informer, of £100,000. It is desirable that we should relieve people of the possibility of actions of this sort.

I am not going any further than merely to say that this Bill does not go far enough. It seems to me that in the past these Measures have, perhaps, been rather too much of a party nature. Up to now, we have always introduced Measures dealing with Members on our side of the House, but hon. Members Opposite are in an equal difficulty. We might have difficulty in the General Election because there might be actions to restrain returning officers from returning the names of possible candidates as candidates. Therefore, it would be better, here and now, to try to clear up the whole set of anomalies because one never knows when some action will fall within the Statute and when it will not.

I should be willing to argue that none of these hon. Members have fallen within the statute at all, and in regard to the first two, I think the case is very strongly arguable. I will not take up the time of the House any longer because we are about to pass the Bill, but I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who I understand is going to reply, if he cannot give a definite undertaking to do something to clear up these anomalies which, though we know they exist, we have difficulty in debating or raising in this House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House for Today."—[Mr. Collindridge.]

8.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of Order. If we are to take the Committee stage now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will it be in Order to move manuscript Amendments if they are within the scope of the Bill so as to cover any points such as those which have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), because, if there is to be no interval in which to put them down on the Order Paper, it would seem only reasonable that some indulgence should be given to manuscript Amendments.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

That is a matter for the Chairman of the Committee. No one, of course, can prevent hon. Members from putting forward manuscript Amendments, but as to whether they would be accepted or not, I cannot, of course, give any assurance.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

May I then ask my right hon. and learned Friend before we take the vote whether he does not think it might be convenient not to proceed further in view of the very important points raised by my hon. Friend in order to give the House and the Government an opportunity of considering them. Obviously, if there is anything in them, it might be a very good plan to deal with all similar cases together in one Bill rather than be faced with the necessity at some time or other of introducing a separate Bill in each separate case as research and investigation bring it to light.

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens

I can assure my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) that we shall give grave consideration to the points he has raised and consider whether any further legislation is required in regard to individual Members who are at present Members of this House. I do not think it would be right to attempt to deal with them tonight in isolation, and it may be—I cannot anticipate it, of course—that the Chairman of the Committee would rule that the introduction of any Amendments dealing with other hon. Members was outside the scope of this Bill. But we shall certainly give serious consideration to the points raised by the hon. Member for Hornchurch and emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, and, indeed, to the general question of the whole of this branch of the law.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.