§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
I beg to move, in page 3, line 35, after "Minister," to insert: 1232for a period or periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than six months.The object of the Amendment is to make it clear that the pension which is to be paid to a person who has been Prime Minister is to be paid to him, not merely because of the fact that he has attained that office, but for the services rendered by him while holding that office. The distinction is this. If the mere attainment of that high office justified a pension it would mean that the pension would really be paid for services rendered by the person concerned, possibly just as a Member of this House and certainly as holding other positions in the Government than that of Prime Minister. If that view were taken, I hold that the proposal to grant a pension would not be justified. It can and sometimes does happen that a man serves the House for many years and holds high office in the State with great credit for many years and yet does not ultimately attain the office of Prime Minister. Such a person would not qualify for this pension. A striking example is afforded by the family of the present Prime Minister. His father and his brother were both Members of this House for very long periods and held high office with great credit for long periods, but neither of them under this Bill would qualify for this pension.
It seems to me, therefore, that we should make it clear that it is not in respect of anything done before the person attains the office of Prime Minister that this pension is to be granted. If it is to be granted only in respect of what the person does while he is Prime Minister, then it does not seem unreasonable that some provision should be included to the effect that the person receiving the pension must have held that office for a certain period. Suppose that a minority Government were defeated in the House on some important issue. The defeated Prime Minister might advise His Majesty to appoint as his successor the leader of one of the other parties in the House. The new Prime Minister on meeting the House might in his turn be defeated and go to the country. If his party were not successful at the election someone else would have to take over the office of Prime Minister and thus the office might have been held only for a week or two, or even for a few days.
I submit that if the pension were payable in such a case as that, it could not 1233 be held to be in respect of services rendered as Prime Minister. It ought to be made clear that the reason why the House assents to this pension in the case of the Prime Minister only and not in the case of other Ministers, is because we feel that the burden of responsibility of that office is something heavier and different in degree from the responsibility borne by other Ministers. I cannot think that a claim to such a pension in those circumstances could be maintained, unless the office had been held for a reasonable period of time.
I recognise the difficulty of suggesting any specific period. In the Committee stage I suggested a period of two years, but it was represented to me by several hon. Members who sympathised with the idea of that Amendment, that the period was too long. I have, in this case, proposed a period of six months, but I am not wedded to any particular period. I think it desirable, however, that we should lay it down that this pension is in respect of services rendered as Prime Minister and that the office must have been held for a reasonable period if the holder is to qualify for the pension. It is not an unusual suggestion. It is the general practice where pensions are granted. I have no doubt that precedents to the contrary could be found, but the only one I have been able to discover is the case of the Lord Chancellor, and I understand that the legal sanction in that case goes back over 100 years. I could not, however, find any recent case in which a pension has been granted without any specification as to the period of service. If the Minister who is to reply feels that he cannot at the moment accept this Amendment, will he promise that the matter will be seriously considered with a view to the insertion of some such words as these when the Bill goes to another place?
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think the situation under the Bill as it stands is that Ministers other than the Prime Minister have to prove poverty before they can obtain pensions, but in the case of the Prime Minister no question of proving poverty is involved. A Prime Minister may have attained his high office very rapidly. There are cases 1234 on record, I believe, of men having risen to that office after comparatively few years of Ministerial rank. In other cases, some of which are represented in this House now, people have been Ministers, off and so, for 20 and 30 and even, I believe, 40 years, but they would be entitled to no pension at all unless they proved poverty, never having been Prime Minister. In this case we propose to give a pension of £2,000 a year to a person who has been Prime Minister, even if he has held that office for only a very short time. I think it right that we should provide that he must have held office for a certain period—whether six months is the correct period or not, I am not sure—before he is entitled to receive the pension.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Earl Winterton)
I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) for the very pleasant personal reference which he made to me earlier in the Debate. I assure him that like all Members of this House I appreciate those little courtesies. May I begin my remarks upon this Amendment by a statement which is also of a slightly personal character. In common with other senior Members of the House, when I sat on the back benches I was consulted by the the then Prime Minister, Sir Stanley Baldwin, as to my views on the main features of this Bill. That I think is a very proper procedure in the case of a Bill which essentially affects the House of Commons. It is right in such cases that the Prime Minister should seek the opinions of senior Members of the House and one of the points which was put to those of us who were asked, in a very informal manner, to give our opinions was whether there was a feeling in the House in favour of the proposal for a pension for the Prime Minister. I expressed the opinion that there was a strong feeling in favour of such a proposal. I pointed out that there had been cases in previous years where an ex-Prime Minister had been placed in a position of some difficulty by reason of not possessing a pension. I said I thought it most undesirable that an ex-Prime Minister should, by reason of his financial position, be compelled to take part in activities of a certain kind and I think there is general agreement on those lines.
1235 The only point we have to consider and indeed the only point which arises on the Amendment is whether a time limit of service should be imposed, that is to say, whether a right hon. Gentleman should have to hold this high office for a certain number of months before he can get a pension. I have two observations to make on that point, and the first is this: Under our Constitution, which differs so essentially from the Constitution of many Continental countries, and especially the one great country which I have in mind, changes of Government and changes of Prime Minister, and indeed short Parliaments, are very much more the exception than the rule. There has been in fact, so far as I can recollect, no case for a great many years in which a Prime Minister has held office for a period of only six months. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bonar Law!"] No, he held office for about nine months, I think. The cases contemplated by my hon. Friends are most unlikely to arise, but even if such a case did arise, I cannot find myself in agreement with the argument put forward that it would be desirable that the pension should be withheld from an ex-Prime Minister in such a position. After all, a man does not attain to the office of Prime Minister without years of effort and stress, years of patient work. This applies to every Prime Minister of every party. He has to be of great parliamentary merit and an exceptional person in every sense of the word, and assuming that a man who has attained the office of Prime Minister finds himself, after some six months of office, smitten by a serious illness which does not kill him, but disables him for the rest of his life from active service in this House, would my hon. Friends contend that in those circumstances it would be right to withhold from him the pension for an office that other Prime Ministers, more fortunately placed in matters of health, had been able to hold for four or five years?
My hon. Friend asked whether the Government would consider the matter between now and the passage of the Bill in another place. Naturally, any Government would consider any arguments that might be advanced, but I would point out that this proposal was considered in formal consultation, very care- 1236 fully, by the Cabinet, and it does not seem right to make a differentiation of the kind that is proposed in this Amendment between a man who holds office for months and a man who holds office for years. I agree that no one would want anyone to get a pension for no reason at all, but it is because the position of the Prime Minister is exceptional that the House is asked to pay this pension on his retirement. In the circumstances it does not seem wise or fair, for the reasons which I have mentioned, that there should be any time limit imposed, and I cannot think that there is anything but the remotest chance of the circumstances which my hon. Friends contemplate arising at all.
§ Mr. Petherick
Can my right hon. Friend answer this hypothetical point? At what point does a Minister become Prime Minister? Supposing he is sent for by His Majesty and asked to form a Cabinet, is he Prime Minister from that point? Supposing he is unable to form a Cabinet, what is the situation then? Is he entitled to a pension as an ex-Prime Minister?
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Sir J. Simon
This is a point that was referred to on the Second Reading. My hon. Friend will observe that the words in the Bill are not "Prime Minister," but "Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury," and the constitutional practice is that, although it may be that the Sovereign invites someone to be Prime Minister and to form a Cabinet, and he then kisses hands, that is to say, accepts the commission to do this, he is not sworn in as First Lord of the Treasury until after the Cabinet has been formed. The work is completed, and when he has accepted this office under the Crown, along with his colleagues, he takes the oath. Therefore, I think the point does not arise.
§ Amendment negatived.