Civil Servants (Political Activities)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

3.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The last Adjournment Debate before the Summer Recess, though it has from some points of view some agreeable aspects, is not a spectacular Parliamentary occasion, but it gives the opportunity, which I desire to take, of raising a brief preliminary Parliamentary Debate upon an issue which affects the personal and political liberties of half a million of our fellow citizens. I hope and believe that it will not be the last Debate on this matter but, in view of the answer which the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council gave the day before yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) it is not clear at this stage whether this may not be the last opportunity of raising this matter before irrevocable decisions have been taken. Therefore I desire, before that state of affairs has been reached, before it has become a question of the credit and face of Governments, while the matter is still open, to put one or two points to the House upon this matter.

As the House is aware, last year His Majesty's Government appointed a distinguished committee with the following terms of reference: To examine the existing limitations on the political activities (both national and local) which may be undertaken by civilian Government staffs, and to make recommendations as to any changes which may be desirable in the public interest. That committee, after deliberating for about a year, reported last month and its report was printed.

The next stage was this: on 28th June this year, by one of those happy Parliamentary coincidences, the hon. Member in reply to whose Question a year ago the announcement had been made of the appointment of this Committee, put a written Question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Question appears at column 77 of the Written Answers section of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 28th June: MR. RANDALL asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has now received the Report of the Committee which he appointed last year to inquire into the existing limitations on the political activities which may be undertaken by civil servants; and whether he will make a statement.SIR S. CRIPPs: Yes. Copies of the Report will be available in the Vote Office after Questions. The remainder of the reply is very important: The Government have considered this document and have decided to accept the Committee's recommendations. The detailed arrangements to give effect to the Committee's findings are being considered and will be promulgated as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 77.] The Chancellor then added a very appropriate tribute to the Chairman of the Committee.

Written answers do not always attract very wide attention, and for a little while this announcement by the Government that they accepted and proposed without further ado to implement the report of the Committee, did not attract attention; but when it became apparent to large sections of opinion, both inside and outside the Civil Service, very considerable perturbation was aroused. I need only quote in support of that the document which was issued by that very responsible body, the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council, and circulated to all hon. Members: The National Staff Side is shocked that such proposals should be put forward in 1949. It is still more shocked that the Government has announced acceptance of this Report without any prior discussion with the National Staff Side. The National Staff Side by unanimous decision is taking steps to deal with this but it wants the help of every member of every affiliated organisation. After that, public opinion became aroused, and on 28th July, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington asked this question of the Lord President of the Council: MR. EDEN: Will the Lord President give us an early day after our return in the autumn for a discussion of the Masterman Report, and could he, in addition, give the House an undertaking—I hope that he will be able to do so—that no restrictions will be enforced until the House has had an opportunity to discuss that report?MR. MORRISON: The Government are considering the representations made by the Staff Side at a meeting of the National Whitley Council held on 22nd July. Meanwhile, it has been agreed that no action will be taken to put the Committee's recommendations into effect until another meeting of the National Whitley Council takes place. In the circumstances I think that the House will agree that any Debate at this stage would be inappropriate, and it would perhaps he wiser to wait and see what the result of those discussions are.

Several Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

My right hon. Friend then put this supplementary question, which, I think, will assist those hon. Members opposite whose interjection indicates that they agree with the Lord President: MR. EDEN: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind what I was anxious to safeguard. There is to be this further meeting of the Whitley Council. I should like to be assured that no action will follow that meeting until this House has had a chance to examine and discuss the report.MR. MORRISON: I will consider that. My mind will be partly influenced by the result of those discussions, but I shall keep in mind the point made by the right hon. Gentleman."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 2686.] Speaking for myself, it seems that that assurance takes us no distance at all. From the circumstances I have recounted to the House, we have had the astonishing and most incomprehensible fact that the Government could commit themselves, as they did in June, to acceptance and implementation of these proposals without consulting either the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council or the House of Commons.

As the result—and, apparently, only as the result—of the revulsion of public opinion on this subject, the Government have given away so far as the Staff Side are concerned, and I am glad to know that they are very properly, although belatedly, now consulting them. But I ask the Lord President to reflect on this. This is a matter that cannot be left purely to settlement between the Government and the Staff Side of the Whitley Council, although their interests should, of course, have been consulted from the beginning.

This is a matter affecting the political liberties of half a million of our fellow citizens; affecting constituents of, I should imagine, literally every Member of this House, and affecting the exercise of their political rights. Whether the arrangements that the Government make or propose to make are good or bad, it seems to me quite intolerable that they should be made unless and until this House has had an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon them. It is possible that when the Lord President answered that supplementary question put by my right hon. Friend two days ago, he was not fully prepared to deal with the point put to him. I do not know, but he must certainly be now so prepared and I hope that before we separate for the Summer Recess, we shall have from the Lord President a specific assurance to the effect that no new restriction, or re-enforcement of an old restriction which has lapsed, will be put into effect until this House has had an opportunity of debating the matter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give that assurance.

This is in no sense a party matter. I believe hon. Members on either side of the House are disturbed and I believe all hon. Members will agree that this is essentially a House of Commons matter. We are sent here above all to safeguard the political liberties of our constituents. This directly affects the exercise of those political liberties and it seems quite wrong, if it be the intention of the Government, to deal with those political liberties and come to any final decision before this House has had an opportunity of making a decision. At the risk of repetition, I ask that when the right hon. Gentleman makes his reply, he will come to that Box and give a definite assurance to that effect, because I do not see that there is any other proper way in which he or the Government, or any Government, whatever its political colour, can treat this House.

That is the background of the matter; the Government's handling of this report. It seems almost a classical example of how not to conduct the business of government; to announce a decision without consultations, then belatedly to undertake some of those consultations and then to give half a pledge to have further consultations. I do not want to stress that aspect of the matter, as I know that there are hon. Members opposite who quite appreciate that the matter has been mishandled. But what we are now concerned with is what is to happen in future and I want to put one or two general considerations which, I hope, will be considered. They are certainly intended to be reasonably put forward and I hope they will be reasonably received.

It seems quite wrong to impose, or reimpose, these restrictions on political activity unless abuses have taken place. These restrictions are in some degree obviously necessary, but, unless there have been abuses under the present system, there does not seem any justification for tightening up the restrictions. The present system, as I understand it, is largely the result of letting the old rigid restrictions lapse and leaving the matter largely to the discretion of the Departments. In my experience—and I represent a large number of civil servants in this House—that has worked extraordinarily well.

It is obvious that the permanent Under-Secretary of a great Department of State could not become chairman of a local Conservative or Labour Party. But no restriction is needed to enforce that. because he would have demonstrated how completely unfitted he was for both positions. It would not be a question of making restrictions to prevent him, but a question of having to take action to remove him. So obvious a breach of discretion and understanding of his position would make the man quite unsuitable for that position. I am not aware of any difficulty which has arisen over this matter. I know that on the whole our regular Civil Service carry discretion to a point which, as a party politician, seem to me sometimes wholly unnecessary, but they have not erred the other way.

What necessity has arisen for reimposing these old or imposing these new restrictions? Secondly, as the House is aware, the report proceeds by imposing a demarcation line between certain categories of civil servants. Those above the line have very severe restrictions imposed upon their political activity; those below the line are free from those restrictions. For the reasons 1 have given it seems to me doubtful whether a rigid line of demarcation is the right way in which to handle the matter—whether we should not give discretion to Departments and rely on the sense of responsibility of the individual.

If there is to be a line of demarcation it seems to me that in the report, which the Government have accepted, the line has been drawn at the wrong place.

I ask hon. Members to look at appendix 7 of the report. It is rather like a bridge scoring card—amounts above the line and amounts below—in which is laid down the categories whose liberty to take any active political steps is virtually eliminated. These include the typing grades. Is there any justification why a typist in a Government office should not serve on a ward committee of either the Conservative or Labour Party? It seems to me very doubtful whether its application to the professional, scientific and technical grades can possibly be justified. I know of a technical officer of a Government Department who in a part of the world which I know well served a most successful term of office as mayor of his borough without the slightest prejudice to his impartiality in performing his technical duties. Many hon. Members know of similar examples.

If there is to be this rigid line of demarcation at all, instead of it being drawn where it has been drawn it should be drawn very much higher up. I appreciate that a number of hon. Members naturally desire to take part in this Debate, so I shall cut short one of two of the observations which I had proposed to make. I will content myself by saying that the House has been left, and the country has certainly been left in a rather perturbed state of mind by reason of the Government's handling of the matter since the Committee's report. I will not repeat the facts, I think that largely they speak for themselves. We are, therefore, anxious to be given, before the House separates for the Summer Recess, not only the undertaking for which I ask, that no liberties be taken away until this House has had the opportunity of discussing the matter, but also some understanding that the Government will give consideration to the general points which I have made and which I have no doubt other hon. Members will raise this afternoon.

That is wholly without prejudice to the Government's discussions with the Staff Side of the Whitley Council. I hope that they will discuss the matter with that responsible body. I hope that they will be able to find a basis of agreement but I do not want to leave the Government in the frame of mind that if they agree upon anything with the Staff Side they consider that that excludes criticism, or comment or observations by other people. This is not purely an industrial matter such as can be settled under our industrial machinery by discussions between the two sides. This is a political matter affecting the exercise of political rights and also the political position of our magnificent Civil Service. For those reasons we are entitled to insist that this is a House of Commons matter in which the House, in the exercise of its duty to its constituents, cannot only express its views, but can, if necessary. make its views felt.

3.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Gibson Mr Charles Gibson , Lambeth Kennington

My interest in this subject goes back for 25 years. As I was listening to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I could not help feeling that it might perhaps have been settled by this time had the political friends of his own party who were then in control, and with whom we discussed this matter, made a more serious attempt to reach a compromise, which was then submitted to them by the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council. Be that as it may, I confess I was a little surprised and sorry that the hon. Member started by attempting to make this an opportunity for a political bang at the Government. I thought we were concerned with the political liberties of civil servants, and it is about that subject that I wish to say a word or two.

I am glad indeed that the report itself recommends the abolition, in effect, of any restrictions on what are called the minor and manipulative grades. It has always appeared to me that there was no justification for making the restrictions which were made in days gone by on the political activities of people like porters, record keepers, messengers and so on. I hope that in the further consideration which is now being given, one or two of the grades mentioned in the report as above the line will also be included. It is important also that nothing should be done which will interfere with or restrict the political liberties of civil servants of any grade.

I agree that there are bound to be jobs in the Civil Service which are of a highly secret and confidential nature, and about which political rules and regulations must be made; but to say that a clerical officer must not canvass for a political party, or to say that he must not be a member of a ward committee, seems to me to be carrying the matter much too far. I doubt very much whether this House is the proper place, in the early stage, to discuss or, at any rate, to settle this matter. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a member of the National Whitley Council for the Civil Service, there were discussions with the Staff Side of the Civil Service, that body representing fully the whole of the Civil Service. I hope that discussions will continue with them. The Association of Civil Servants have always recognised the fundamental necessity for maintaining both the appearance and the actuality of impartiality and fairness on the part of all civil servants, and I have never heard anybody seriously suggest that our great Civil Service is not both incorruptible and completely impartial in the way it does its work.

The Staff Side have made a suggestion. They have suggested a formula which it seems to me might at least be the basis of discussion. I hope that discussions with the Staff Side will be aimed at endeavouring to get some understanding which will preserve the obviously fair and proper political protection which the State ought to have in these matters, and yet retain the widest possible freedom of political activity in the ranks of the Civil Service. I believe we can trust our men and women in the Civil Service, and I hope that one result of this discussion will be that it will be possible to reach some form of agreement, some formula, which the Staff Side can recommend to their people to accept.

I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that when that is done, it still has to be endorsed by this House and, if necessary, there must be discussion and criticism. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will agree 100 per cent. with that and present rather vigorously anything he may have to bring before this House; but the effective early discussions ought to be with the people mainly concerned, and I hope that the House will agree that that is the right way to do it.

3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stone

I and a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends have a Motion on the Order Paper asking the Government to provide an opportunity for a full Debate on this matter before a decision is reached. I am sure that that course is advisable. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) went a long way towards supporting our contention that this is a matter which ought to be fully discussed. He said that there are various ideas and various shades of opinion inside the Staff Side of the Whitley Council. It is perfectly clear from the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that, on the highest political grounds, this is a subject which ought to, be debated, because it concerns the defence of civil liberties.

I must join issue with the hon. Member for Kennington in reference to his remark that we on this side of the House were trying to make political capital in this matter. Certainly, we are attacking the Lord President and the Government for the way in which they have behaved. We think that they have behaved absolutely inexcusably. We think that the average civil servant thinks in the same way and that, after this Debate, a great many other people will take the view that the Government have behaved inexcusably. They have issued what amounts to a ukase that orders will be promulgated as thought fit by the Government and that nobody will be consulted. Now the Government have agreed to consult the Staff Side of the Whitley Council.

We ask that the Government should go further and that not merely should they consult the Staff Side of the Whitley Council, but they should bring this business before the House of Commons before a final decision is reached. The Lord President of the Council is present and, surely, before this Debate is over, he could give an answer saying "Yes" or "No." I am sure that on all sides of the House there is a strong feeling that the answer to our request should be "Yes."

From a reading of the Report it is clear that this is a subject which demands Debate. The Masterman Report leaves certain matters very much in the air. They ought to be clarified. To take one instance, the whole question of action in local government is left free for five years. There is to be a five-year interim period. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames pointed out, there is the question of where the line should be drawn. It seems that the line has been drawn somewhat at a venture. I should like to refer to the existing departmental rules obligatory to non-industrial grades. The Ministry of Agriculture say: It is a well-understood rule that civil servants should not take an overt part in public political affairs. The Ministry of Labour take a different attitude. They say: A civil servant is also expected to refrain from taking any prominent part in politics. No doubt, these lines of variation have worked out very well.

Obviously the number of civil servants is growing as nationalised industries increase, and a vast number of people are concerned. As one reads through the Masterman Report, one sees that the Committee, intelligent, if not brilliant, as they were, come to decisions on questions when they were not absolutely and posi- tively sure. They had to weigh the evidence. For the Government merely to promulgate and accept these instructions without any full discussion either with the Staff Side of the Whitley Council or in this House is nothing short of a scandal.

3.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Robinson Mr Kenneth Robinson , St Pancras North

I should like to deal very briefly with two points arising out of the Master-man Report. The first concerns one of matters which has already been covered in this Debate—the drawing of this line above which political liberties are reduced to a deplorable minimum. I think it will be accepted on both sides of the House that there are certain high-ranking civil servants dealing directly with matters of policy whose freedom of expression politically must to some extent be limited. Where I disagree with the Masterman Committee is that this limitation should be extended downwards through the executive grade and even to include the clerical and typists grades. This proposal seems to me to be wholly unwarrantable and quite unnecessary, and I think that the reasons adduced by the Committee for their decision are in the main spurious ones.

First of all, we are told that an Under-Secretary, a clerical officer and a shorthand-typist form part of a single organisation and work together. We are also told that there is a ladder of promotion from the lowest to the highest grade in that organisation. That is perfectly true in theory, but any of us who have knowledge of the Civil Service know that very few reach by promotion the higher rungs of that ladder, which represent, of course, the administrative grade, the only one dealing with matters of policy. In order to keep these few pure, the many have got to be denied their elementary political rights.

Then, the report goes on to suggest that the public confidence depends to a large extent on bringing into force the particular recommendations which they envisage, and this is where I come to the more general point. Throughout the report there is an idea—implicit, but nevertheless a very definite idea—that public confidence in the Civil Service could quite easily be undermined, that it is poised precariously on a razor's edge, so to speak, and in this I think the Committee completely misunderstands the public attitude of mind towards our Civil Service.

I believe the people of this country have a very soundly based and fully-justified faith in the impartiality of their Civil Service, and it is a faith which is not based on a woolly notion that civil servants have no political views, but which is founded on the knowledge that its members are a responsible, intelligent body of people whose discretion can be relied upon. We all know that the Civil Service is doing its job in the best interests of the people whom it serves, according to a unique and voluntarily accepted code which has nothing whatever to do with sanctions and prohibitions.

To suggest, as the Masterman Committee does, that the whole structure of impartial administration in this country in some way depends on the denial to civil servants of their fundamental political rights is little short of an affront to our Civil Service as well as an infringement of our elementary civil liberties, and I hope sincerely that the Government will reconsider their acceptance of these rather unfortunate recommendations.

3.38 p.m.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

I represent a very large number of civil servants of the Admiralty in Bath, and they have asked me formally to lodge a protest. I am quite certain that they would approve of every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said. I will not repeat what he has said, but touch upon one point.

If there is one thing which stands out in recent history it is the fact of the peculiar and particular difficulties of relationship of a Government which is both an employer and a conciliator. If we look at the dock strike, I think that what we see is the Minister of Labour as an employer who subsequently puts on another wig and moustache and becomes a conciliator; and, as somebody who has considered organisation, I think that particular point largely underlies the trouble. I have been asked why is it that that trouble does not arise in the Post Office and in the Civil Service generally, and I think the answer is that the Treasury, as distinct from the Ministry of Labour, has worked out over a long period of time good machinery and good Whitley Council arrangements for arriving at the right decision harmoniously.

I especially plead with the Lord President, who, I take it, in this case is acting for the Chancellor of the Exchequer—for I understand that the employment of the civil servants does definitely come within the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—not to let down the Treasury in this respect, but to back it up, and keep hale, hearty and respected right through the Civil Service, that Whitley Council organisation, which has been worked out in years of experience, and which experience has shown to be capable of producing both harmony and the most wonderful Civil Service the world has known.

3.41 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think the first thing the House ought to do in considering this Masterman Report is to say whether or not it agrees with the general principles which are contained in the report. Speaking for myself, I think that most hon. Members on this side of the House would wish to say that the principles enunciated in the report have our wholehearted support. The difficulty, of course, is to apply them and reconcile them. The principles are these:

  1. "(i) In a democratic society it is desirable for all citizens to have a voice in the affairs of the State and for as many as possible to play an active part in public life.
  2. (ii) The public interest demands the maintenance of political impartiality in the Civil Service and of confidence in that impartiality as an essential part of the structure of Government in this country."
For myself, I think that when one comes to look at the detailed recommendations of the Masterman Committee, they can be criticised on three general grounds, and I hope that those criticisms will be taken into account in the discussions that are to take place with the National Whitley Council and subsequently in this House. Let me as a preliminary say that I think that if this subject is to be settled on any coherent principle at all for the future, it may be necessary to consider not merely the civil servants but also the senior staffs of the nationalised industries, and also the senior staffs of local government services, to whom precisely similar principles ought to apply.

My criticism is three-fold. First, I think it is unrealistic to impose the same restrictions on the whole of the 450,000 civil servants who are classified above the line. I think it is unrealistic to impose the same disqualifications, for example, on administrative and professional grades as are imposed on clerical and typing grades.

Secondly, it seems to me quite unrealistic to impose the precise restrictions which are in fact suggested by the Masterman Committee. I can quite well understand the desirability of preventing, civil servants, for example, from speaking. in public on matters of party political controversy, but I doubt whether the same principle makes it necessary to impose any restriction on such persons engaging in canvassing in support of political candidates. One has to remember that there is a great difference between the open support of one political party and participating in some of the activities of a local party in a manner which may be quite anonymous, as, for example, is canvassing.

Third—and I think that this is, perhaps, the gravest criticism of the report—I think it is quite inconsistent in the way in which it deals with participation in national politics and participation in local government politics. The report concedes the right of all those above the line to participate in local government politics, even to the extent of standing as candidates in local government elections on one party ticket or the other. I find it difficult to see how it is logical to reconcile that right of a civil servant with the disqualification of participation in the activities of political parties. If the disqualifications imposed in the main part of the report are adhered to—and I hope they will be seriously curtailed—I think it whittles down very considerably the rights given to civil servants to participate in local government politics

3.46 p.m.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

The House will forgive me if I compress my remarks somewhat severely. I hope the Lord President is in no doubt as to the keen interest the House takes in this question. All Members regard it, I think, as one of the most important aspects of our duties to safeguard civil rights. I hope that this Debate, not the least important of our Debates in this part of the Session, has shown at least that we are entitled to a full-dress Debate on the subject later on. I think that Members in all parts of the House will insist upon that.

It is, of course, a matter of common sense, but I doubt myself whether it is really susceptible of precise regulation. Speaking as an ordinary citizen, I do not demand that a civil servant shall take no interest in politics. Politically sterile people do not seem to me to make the best people to have in the Civil Service. All we demand is that the actual carrying out of the work shall not allow of any political bias. I know that other Members wish to speak, so I will conclude by expressing my firm conviction to the Lord President that we are entitled to a full-dress Debate.

3.48 p.m.

Photo of Captain Charles Smith Captain Charles Smith , Colchester

In the minute which I have there is one point I wish to put. This is undoubtedly, as far as the content of the report is concerned, a complex matter, but we have a right to know from the Government that they stand for the principle of seeking the maximum liberty possible in the circumstances. The Committee in the section of their report dealing with "General Principles," describe the considerations which have led them to believe that civil servants should not be excluded from full citizenship except in so far as other overriding considerations of public interest render this unavoidable. I suggest that these considerations of public interest should have been clear and demonstrable if they are being held to justify restrictions upon the civil servants. I hope the Government will be able to give us some indication that in the discussions on the National Whitley Council they will abide by that principle. This is clearly a matter most appropriate to the National Whitley Council, where it can receive the detailed discussion which is desirable. But what is most essential is that the Government should make clear that their desire is for the maximum degree of liberty, restricted only where there can be shown to be some positive arguments for limitation.

3.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

At the outset, I think I should reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) when he made his oratorical ballon d'essai by anticipating that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council would reply instead of myself. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, as I think he knows, was unable to come today and it is for that reason that I. who have some indirect departmental responsibility, have to reply. Perhaps it would be best if at the outset I recapitulated the chain of events that took place in connection with the subject of this Debate.

As my right hon. Friend the Lord President said in the House last Thursday, a meeting of the National Whitley Council was held on 22nd July at the request of the Staff Side to give them an opportunity of expressing their objections to the Government's adoption of the Masterman Committee Report. The Official Side then undertook to submit to the staff such representations to the Ministers concerned, and it was agreed that no action should be taken to implement the Committee's recommendations until the Government considered the situation. A further meeting of the National Whitley Council will take place as soon as the Official Side are in a position to report their views to the Minister. As the whole question, therefore, is sub judice it might not be proper for me to say anything further at this stage. However, in view of some of the observations that have been made I think I should comment on one or two points that were raised, more especially by the hon Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I hope the hon. Gentleman is going to give us an assurance, which is far more important than any comments he, as a Junior Lord of the Treasury, may make, because what we want to have is an undertaking, particularly in view of the character of this Debate, that these changes will not be effected until the matter has been discussed in the House.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the noble Lord what I am prepared to say and what I am not prepared to say, in my own time.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by that observation? It is most discourteous. I think I was perfectly frank in my question, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to give an answer.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

I do not think I was discourteous; I did not intend to be. All I said was I was prepared to inform the noble Lord of what I was going to say, in my own time. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was making the point that it would be wrong for a decision to be come to while the House was not sitting and before the House had had an opportunity to deliberate the matter. I think that is probably based on the contention that the National Whitley Council was incompetent to put forward adequately the views of the members concerned.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

No. I hope I made it expressly clear at the time that I thought it was right for the Government to consult the Whitley Council. They ought to have done it before the original decision to implement the Report was taken, but this is a serious matter, involving as it does the political liberties of a section of the people, and I say nothing should be done in this question without the consent of the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

We have that point cleared up now. I think the hon. Gentleman might leave the matter to the ordinary constitutional processes, whereby if this House does not like what the Government does, then it can bring the Government's attention to it. I would emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is not prepared to say whether he may or may not take a decision after this further meeting has taken place. It is rather a pity to accuse the Government in this instance because of a decision, when generally hon. Members opposite are criticising the Government for lack of decision.

There is another point on which I should like to touch. The hon. Member also mentioned that this was in the nature of a preliminary Debate. When the recommendations of the Masterman Committee were first published, they received virtually the unanimous approval of the Press, and the Government felt that, in the nature of things, acceptance of the recommendations would be justified. The fact that certain Motions have been put down by hon. Members on both sides of the House have left the Government in no doubt that the position would have to be looked at again, and it was for that reason that a further meeting was arranged between the Government and the National Whitley Council.

I do not want, on this, my first appearance at the Box, to be unduly controversial. In fact, I do not want to be controversial at all. I have observed the activities of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames for four years from the "servants' hall" end of the Treasury Bench, and I am sure that he would not wish to give the impression that this is a partisan attack upon the Government in this matter. On that assumption I have accepted his speech. A short intervention by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) casts doubts into my mind. I think it was a pity that he should have intervened in this matter. I do not want to sound trite, but it is a most serious matter that we should maintain the political integrity of all grades of the Civil Service. The recollections of the Trades Disputes Act, 1927, Section 5, restricting the rights of civil servants to a very marked degree, I should have thought would make it rather difficult for the hon. Member for Stone to intervene as he did. It must be a difficult matter in the conscience of the party opposite.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) mentioned the large establishments of civil servants in his constituency. I can only say in reply to him that we have confidence in the National Whitley Council adequately to put forward the views of civil servants to the Government. The strong reactions which have been felt this afternoon ensure that the forthcoming meeting will produce a state of affairs when there will be no doubt on either side about what is wanted. The decision may or may not be taken before the House comes together again. In reply to the noble Lord, I am not prepared on behalf of the Government, to say that action will not be taken before the House meets again. On the other hand, if the Government feel inclined to take a decision, they will.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I do not think that the House will regard that reply as satisfactory. Unlike the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. Snow), who did his very best to import prejudice into this matter on this, his first appearance at the Box, the House has not approached the matter from a party political point of view. It is the clear duty of the hon. Gentleman—I am sorry that the Leader of the House did not intervene—to say that, in view of the Debate which has taken place and of the opinions which have been expressed on all sides of the House, the Government have decided that no action will be taken until the House has had an opportunity of expressing its opinion on this specific matter. For all I know, when I hear the Government's opinion on the matter I may agree with it. I regret that the hon. Gentleman has not taken that action. The whole tone of his speech shows the need for a General Election and a change of Government. This Government is tired.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

I am sorry that the noble Lord thinks that I introduced prejudice. I did not intend to do so. I think when he reads the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Stone he will see that I was not guilty in that matter. The noble Lord himself tried to put me off my stroke in my opening words just now.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

The hon. Gentleman did not answer one question which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He asked whether the hon. Gentleman would give an undertaking that no fresh limitation will be imposed without coming through the House of Commons. Will he answer that question?

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

I must leave the matter in the words of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council last Thursday, when he said that on the basis of the forthcoming meeting the Government will take a further decision.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

The hon. Gentleman has not met one of our main points, which is that we consider that this is House of Commons business.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Portsmouth Central

Oh, yes, Sir, we understand that quite well. We also understand that if the House objects to any decision which the Government take while the House is not sitting, the Government are answerable to the House of Commons.

It being Four o'Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, till Tuesday, 18th October, pursuant to the Resolutions of the House yesterday.