§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I think that the Amendment can be taken with the further Amendment in the hon. Member's name, in page 26, line 16, leave out "Sub-Postmaster".
§ Mr. Parker
Starting from the argument that we want to disqualify as few people as possible, it seems to me that a sub-postmastership should not be a disqualification. There was a keen discussion in the Select Committee on this point and this office was only left in the list by the casting vote of the Chairman. In most cases sub-postmasters carry on other forms of business, often in a village shop selling all sorts of things, and the sub-postmastership is often a minor part of their work. It is true that there are exceptions, but the number of large sub-post offices is very small, and I suggest that there is no strong case for keeping sub-postmasterships in the list of disqualifications.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
As the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has said, the members of the Select Committee were evenly divided on whether sub-postmasters should be included in the list or not, and they are only in the list by reason of the Chairman's casting vote. My right hon. and learned Friend no doubt felt that he ought to cast his vote that way so as to keep them in the list as a subject of further discussion, 1068 although he had himself expressed the view that they should not be in the list. He therefore fulfilled his duty as Chairman with the impartiality and skill one would expect.
I agree that it is rather an anomaly to find sub-postmasters in this list. They are in charge of offices of all kinds and categories—large, small and middle size—and none are civil servants, although they fulfil functions which are in many respects similar to those of civil servants working under the Postmaster-General. I understand that in the case of sub-postmasters, particularly in the villages, a great deal of the work is done by members of their families, and that on occasion they may do not so much themselves.
There are considerable numbers of them, but I would find it difficult to contend that the tenure of a sub-postmastership makes a man unfit for membership of this House, and the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment. At the same time, I feel sure that the House would consider it undesirable for Members of this House to be sub-postmasters, with the access that sub-postmasters have to all kind of post office information and, in particular, the power to see the savings accounts of those who come to the post office, the contents of telegrams, and so on.
My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General desires me to say that he thinks it desirable that administrative steps should be taken to ensure that this does not happen, and I hope the House will agree that this is a proper course to take. Of course that is a very different thing from disqualifying by Act of Parliament anyone who holds the office of sub-postmaster from being a Member of this House, and the Government therefore agree to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I find, by reference to the Special Report, that in the Select Committee I voted in favour of what is now the intention of the Government. It is no doubt a nicely balanced question. I see little risk of the House of Commons being flooded with sub-postmasters, even if the administrative steps proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his right hon. Friend were not taken. Indeed, I would feel that the major difficulty might be that if there were any conflict between the offices, people in some part of the country might be left 1069 with an inability to purchase postal orders or the like, which we should all of us deplore.
§ Mr. Ede
This is a wonderful place. After we have had the strongest legal arguments addressed to us against what we call the reverse process of disqualification, now, in the final stages of the Bill in this House, we have decided to make it certain that by administrative action there shall be at least one post where the reverse process of disqualification shall occur; that is to say, a person being at one and the same time a Member of Parliament and a sub-postmaster must resign the sub-postmastership.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and myself, who stood for the process throughout, welcome this tardy conversion by the Government to the commonsense way of dealing with the matter. I am certain that I can speak for my right hon. and learned Friend in saying this. Yet I can hardly think of a worse case in which to apply it. My experience is that it is difficult on occasion to get people to take sub-postmasterships in many villages and in the suburban parts of some towns.
I do not know what will happen when a sub-postmaster, having been elected a Member of Parliament, returns to a remote village after his triumphal ride round the constituency and is faced, when he gets back to his own office, with a telegram from the Postmaster-General telling him that he is no longer sub-postmaster of the village. What will happen about the supply of stamps and postal orders until his successor is appointed, I do not know. It shows us that when in the end those who have erred try to do well, how they, even in their doing well, slip into paths of great difficulty.
§ Amendment agreed to.