Further Amendments made: In page 5, line 10 after "Treasury" insert:
and the entry relating to the Secretary for Overseas Trade".
§ In page 7, leave out line 5.—[Mr. Houghton.]
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Houghton
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I was somewhat indignant at the outburst of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) a moment ago. After all, we have tried to meet the convenience of the Committee in doing a job which was moved by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). However, we will let that pass.
We now have the Bill before us in its completed state and it is difficult, after the debates which we have had for many hours yesterday and today, to add much about the detail of the Bill or about its purpose. I said through the debate, and it seems to me now, that underlying the opposition to this Bill has been the deep resentment of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite at having a Labour Government. That really is what all the row has been about. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. The real mischief in the minds 1904 of many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite is that it is a Labour Prime Minister who is making the appointments for the first time for 14 years. I can only say, in justification for that remark, that loopholes which have remained untouched for years and other alleged defects in the law which have been fully exploited in the course of our debate over the last two days were unnoticed by hon. Gentlemen opposite or else they were indifferent to them while there was a Conservative Government in office. But as soon as we come to power we get all this mischief raised as if we were in breach of the Constitution or acting unlawfully.
No one looks back and sees what has happened under existing legislation. One is amazed at the effrontery of right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they criticise steps which have been taken by my right hon. Friend, and which this Bill will sanction to form an Administration which, in his view and in the view of the Government, is now best poised and equipped to discharge the job which is urgently waiting to be done on behalf of the nation. Complaints have been made about the appointment of Ministers without legislative sanction and without prior Parliamentary approval, but that has been done by previous Administrations.
The office of Central African Affairs was created without any statutory authority. It began to draw on funds which had been voted to other Departments and went on for quite a time and had spent nearly £2 million without the slightest authority from this House—and not only for the payment of salaries but for other expenses which that Ministry was incurring.
This Bill improves the law in several respects. It will be a comfort to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) and other hon. Members that we have at least put a limit on the numbers of Ministers of State of any kind. We have closed the loophole which enabled Ministers of State to be made without a salary. Neither of these things had been done before, and in that respect I think we have improved the complicated law in these matters. The Schedule of Ministers has been brought up to date 1905 to bring it in accordance with the framework of the Administration which a Labour Prime Minister believes is needed to meet the challenges of the days ahead. This is what any Prime Minister must do.
The charge of excessive patronage has been amply disposed of by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. We have seen that, in total, there are only several more Ministers in this Administration than there were in the last. It is true that there has been a change in the disposition of Ministers as between this House and another place, but that, I suggest, is also in conformity with contemporary thought about the importance of this House—the elected House of Commons—and the need in modern times to have Ministers here answerable to Members of Parliament and not tucked away in another glace not so answerable to the elected Legislature. All this, surely, is only a shift in opinion as to the need for a difference in the deployment of Ministers and the reallocation of duties to meet new tasks that have to be done.
I submit that in all the circumstances there is no validity in much of the criticism, the noise and the fuss created about this Bill. All I can say is that if this is a Measure of grave constitutional importance, if it is one of the most important Bills that have ever been before this House, if some hon. Members opposite feel distressed in there being something done that is wrong, it is astonishing that the party opposite should have failed to rally all its members in opposition to the Bill.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
Mr. Speaker, I did rise at the beginning. I think that your predecessor did not see me.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Making every allowance for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—and we know that he had a hard day's night—I have been very surprised by the 1906 difference between him in Opposition and in Government. In Opposition, he was good tempered and reasonable; he made his points with courtesy and consideration. In Government, he is ill-tempered and quarrelsome, and his last remark about the rallying of our members for this debate is typical of this.
He knows quite well that because of the unreasonableness of the Government and their arrogance in trying to get this Bill through in one day, the Committee was put in a difficult position last night. It was clear that people were working too late and tempers were getting frayed, so, in an extremely reasonable way, we tried to help the Government to get these matters discussed at a reasonable time of day. That meant a considerable sacrifice on our part, because the right hon. Gentleman knows that the business previously arranged today was not controversial and many of our Members did not expect to have to come here to vote. We did that to help the Government, who had got themselves into difficulty by their flagrant disregard of Parliamentary decencies—and that is all the gratitude we get from the right hon. Gentleman.
Our first reason for objecting to the contents of this Bill is that, as one of my hon. Friends has said, it is a Balkanisation of Whitehall. We think that the whole tendency should be the other way; that we should rationalise, as we did with the Ministry of Defence and the other Ministries dealing with the Armed Forces, and not have this Balkanisation and the creation of more and more Ministries, each with specialised functions, treading on the toes of other Ministries, creating complications and divisions of responsibility. As another of my hon. Friends has said, the Government's approach has been to identify a problem and then set up a Ministry. We think that to be the completely wrong approach, so our objection to the Bill is, first of all, that it shows quite a wrong tendency towards the machinery of Government in Whitehall.
Our second objection is to the way in which the Measure has been explained. Yesterday, after saying that he had advised his colleagues not to attend the debate to defend their existence, the right hon. Gentleman said:We are thus dealing with machinery, with Ministers and Ministries, the boundaries of 1907 their activities, their functions and their responsibilities. We are not dealing with detailed questions …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1964; Vol. 703, c. 1564.]That is precisely what he did not deal with. He did not deal with their boundaries of activities and their functions—that was our complaint against him again and again.
Our complaint has been that we have not had a really clear statement of what the Bill means in fact. We understand that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources will diminish the power and authority of the Ministry of Housing—it is bound to have that effect. Equally, we think that it is bound to interfere with the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture; the very constitution of such a Ministry must do that. But we have had no explanation as to the boundaries of activities to be drawn between Ministries.
Next, we have technology. In case anyone present did not hear what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said yesterday, he told the Committee:Now we are to have one Minister to be responsible for technology, advised by one scientific council; one Minister responsible for science, advised by another scientific council; and somewhere swinging in the trees by its tail on the outside a third—the Ministry of Aviation, which employs more scientists than either."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1964; Vol. 703, c. 1647.]What attempt did the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster make to describe the boundaries of the activities and the functions of the Ministry of Technology in relation to education and science?
§ Mr. Houghton
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that statements on the functions of all the new Ministries were made in the House.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The Prime Minister was making a series of statements which were 1908 demonstrated yesterday to be very vague and imprecise, and not clearly stated. I still have not the slightest idea whether the Ministry of Overseas Development is to be responsible for policy in regard to aid, and responsible for the decision of whether and how much aid should go to Asian or African countries. Is it to be the Department responsible for making recommendations to the Cabinet on that? Up to now that has been the function of the Foreign Secretary or the Commonwealth Secretary, or both acting together in the case of a group of countries some in the Commonwealth and some not.
Who is to have that policy job now? Is it to be the new Minister of Overseas Development That was not made clear by the Prime Minister, nor was it cleared up by the right hon. Lady in the House of Commons, nor by the right hon. Gentleman in the course of this debate. That is why we have grave misgivings about Clause 1 and these new Ministries, although, as we have said again and again, we are, on the whole, sympathetic to the idea of the Ministry of Overseas Development.
Our next main objection to the Bill is the enlargement of the administration. I was very sorry that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) was not in the Chamber to hear his hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). The hon. Gentleman spoke for half an hour—a splendid speech about the dangerous path that the Government were beginning to tread. He said that he was not yet quite prepared to cast his vote against them—that might come later—but wished to give them a stern warning that he thoroughly disapproved of the increasing number of placemen, Ministers, in the House. He was prepared to allow them to be on probation for just a little longer, but the time would come when he would throw his weight—surely carrying the hon. Gentleman with him—against this monstrous power that he felt the Government were seeking to create. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale accepted our point of view but did not vote with us on it.
Oddly, it was clear that the Government had a very guilty conscience about 1909 the matter, because they said that they had not increased the numbers, as there were fewer Parliamentary Private Secretaries. That is very hard on Ministers. It means that they will get more and more out of touch with the House of Commons. I am not sure that this slaughter of potential P.P.S.s is in the interest of good Government. It certainly showed the guilty conscience and realisation of the Government that they had started on the downward slope.
I described this on Second Reading as a "placeman's charter". I still think that this is a matter of great constitutional importance, for this steady increase in numbers must carry on the process of increasing the power of the Executive, which cannot be good for the membership of the House of Commons.
The third matter which has come out in debate is this. I confess that I am left by what has been said by all the learned lawyers who have spoken in the position of some doubt as to what the law is and what action has been taken to alter it. It seems that the Attorney-General agreed that there was a mischief—in other words, he agreed that it was quite wrong that the Prime Minister should be able to multiply the number of Ministers of State, and appoint his hon. Friends from behind him to the position of Minister of State, without giving them salaries. There having been a mischief, he has put forward an alteration so that the Bill corrects the position.
At the same time, there was a plea by the Solicitor-General—not the Attorney-General. He did not dare to do it—to leave a loophole. There is one loophole now filled but it appears that another is left. At least I do not know whether one is left or whether the Government have created a new one. Nevertheless, the interesting feature of this discussion is that it has shown again the monstrosity of the procedure which has been adopted.
Time and again it was said that there should be a reasonable interval to consider and re-examine the matter between Committee and Report. There should have been that interval. Because the Government have sought to railroad the Bill through in this way it means that the only interval for consideration is the time between the Bill leaving this House and its arrival in another place. I hope, therefore, that the Attorney-General will 1910 look again at what has been said, particularly by my hon. Friends, because we have not yet been given a satisfactory solution to the points which have been so well put forward from this side of the House, particularly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival). I hope that these matters will be looked into during the interval between now and the Bill going to another place.
We are debating the Third Reading, but there remains a legitimate sense of grievance among hon. Members, as to the functions of the new Ministries, set up without legislative sanction, using the House as a rubber stamp, the question of so many more Ministers and the unsatisfactory treatment of the loophole involved. The Government have made a hash of this situation and of the Bill because of their over-confidence and cocksuredness. Let them beware.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I do not wish to repeat the words and arguments adduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) which I admired and wholly accept. I wish to raise only one point—the paradoxical and vicious circle element involved in all this.
I do not think that any hon. Member will say that the Treasury Bench's exposition of either the law as it stands, or as the Bill is intended to make it, carried any conviction. As a rule, however much one dislikes the legal authority of the Attorney-General, one takes it for granted. I do not want to overdo this but usually, one assumes at best that it is five-to-four that he is right. Very few hon. Members are left with that impression today.
Here is where the paradox and vicious circle comes in. What can we do about it? We can settle anything only by the voting power of the Chamber. If there is any uncertainty in any part of the Attorney-General's argument, at least 26 hon. Members are not qualified to vote, and I suppose that all of them, certainly some, have, without qualification, given a good many votes already. This seem to me to make much worse a very bad Bill, since on the basis of a dubious composition of the House, this method of passing a Measure is, if not challengeable, then, certainly dubious.
1911 I have never been sure that my view of the law is wholly right, but I assert that it is impossible to take it for granted that the Treasury Bench's view of it is wholly right either. If it is not, then anything up to 26 or more of the votes which might be cast in any division, or which have already been cast these last seven weeks, have been or may have been unqualified.
It appears to me that a Bill which has been passed in this way—apart from all the disadvantages and defects in the Bill which have been stated by my hon. and right hon. Friends—is not fit to be sent any further on its journey.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) has spoken about one paradox. There is another: that hon. Members opposite, from the Prime Minister down, have suggested that the Bill is taking us away from the days of Queen Anne. It is, I suggest, taking us straight back to Queen Anne—and the only hon. Member opposite who has realised this is the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot).
We were all somewhat surprised that he did not speak in the debate yesterday. I had the rather unworthy and unjustified suspicion that his silence was caused by the onerous nature of his duties as the illustrated biographer of the Prime Minister, the "Crawfie" of the Prime Minister, one might say. This suspicion was certainly amply dispelled by the brilliant speech which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made this afternoon.
It is not only that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster seems to have misunderstood the Bill. The Attorney-General has also completely misunderstood our constitutional history. I will quote a paragraph from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech on Second Reading. He said:The basis of this provision"—which was the 1707 Act—was the wish of Parliament to restrict the Executive's power to control the Legislature. But it was soon found that in achieving this object the power of the Legislature to control the Executive was very greatly diminished if Ministers were not there in the House to answer for their misdeeds, and, as a result, the provisions of the 1707 Act were gradually eroded "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 643]1912 That is a complete travesty of English constitutional history. The precise opposite happened. It was the Commons which were always trying to pass Place Bills to reduce the number of placemen. It was the Executive which was trying to stop the Commons doing so. In fact, the Commons often passed Bills of that type, which were only defeated by what were then the most effective brute votes in the country: those of the bishops in the House of Lords. It was the bishops who kept the Commons from reducing the number of placemen—today the Government's own placemen are helping them in this matter.
On the point I take issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). He pointed out that in 1741 there were about 200 placemen in this House—there were even more in 1761. He said that the Prime Minister had not yet gone as far as Walpole. I think he has, because with the growth of the party system it is the control of the majority party which is fundamental.
As a result of this great number of placemen—the patronage extension which we now have the Prime Minister has far stronger control through placemen in the House of Commons than Walpole ever dreamed of having. We have, therefore, gone very far indeed.
We know that as the result of the Economic Reform Act of 1782, and other acts, placemen were greatly diminished in number and that, after a short interlude, from 1867 onwards the number of jobs in Parliament has been steadily increasing: as a result, the Bill we are discussing today has gone so far that it has virtually nationalised the House of Commons. No wonder hon. Members opposite—that dwindling band of Government back benchers—are thoroughly bewildered by what they find in the House.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Member is making a positively bewildering contribution in talking about placemen. Does he not know his history? He runs the Spectator to try to justify his existence. Does he ever ask himself why he joined the Tory Party and how many placemen there are in the Tory Party looking after interests and placed there deliberately to do so?
§ Mr. Gilmour
It is unusual for the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) to interrupt while standing. I 1913 therefore welcome his intervention, and I am not in the least surprised at having bewildered him.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman has resumed his normal method of interruption, which is while sitting down.
It is not surprising that the Government back-benchers are bewildered by what they have to do. Normally in a nationalised industry one is at least allowed a consumer council, but hon. Members opposite are not even allowed to meet once a week—not even in order to be told what to do.
§ Sir D. Glover
In fact they meet only to discuss important business and, as far as I can make out, that means increased "lolly" and shorter hours.
§ Mr. Gilmour
No wonder the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) started talking about a shift system last night, although I notice that he has not been working a shift today. No doubt he is hoping to be the shop steward, as he failed to get into the management. Hon. Members opposite plainly realise that the House of Commons has been turned into a factory conveyor belt for all the legislation which is being churned out by the Government.
May I put to the Attorney-General a point concerning another, to me, extraordinary proposition which he put forward on Second Reading? This is reported in c. 649 when, unless I misunderstand him, he seemed to think that a placeman is somebody who is not paid. The primary characteristic of a placeman is that he is paid or hopes to he paid. The Attorney-General seems to think the opposite.
It is true that in order to keep to the letter of the law, possibly—although certainly breaking the spirit—the Prime Minister has not paid the large number of new Ministers of State since he came into office. Perhaps I may quote Byron, who seemed to put it very well.And as a high souled Minister of State is Renowned for ruining Great Britain gratis.That is what the right hon. Gentlemen have been doing: certainly ruining the country although it is too much to expect that they should ruin it gratis. Our funda- 1914 mental objection is that this intolerable Bill brings us back to Queen Anne, with all the evils of those days of patronage, prerogative and privilege.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Sir D. Glover
We have reached Third Reading, and I thought to ask the permission of the House to explain the Bill, because the explanations from the Government Front Bench have not been designed to make the Bill clearer. They have been designed to cast a shadow of doubt and cloudiness over our proceedings, because the Government know that the truth is that the Bill is a far more squalid Measure than they dare to admit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If I am challenged, I could give chapter and verse for my statement, but I was trying to make a short speech.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is not in his place. If anything I said last night persuaded him to relight the fire in his belly by his speech today, I feel that I have made a worth-while contribution to the debate. It is a shocking commentary on the attitude of the Labour Party to the House of Commons that on a Bill designed explicitly to reduce the power of the legislature and to increase the power of the executive only one hon. Member opposite—the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale—has made a speech in the slightest degree critical. It was the only speech from the Government back benches through the whole of Committee, Report stage and Third Reading—and even the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale had to be forced by a challenge to do what he did.
I thoroughly agree with the speech which the hon. Member made this afternoon. I do not go all along the line with my Front Bench, whether in Government or in Opposition. This is very largely a House of Commons matter. The tendency in all States is for the executive to get more powerful, but the protector of the rights of the people is not the executive. It is the back-bench Member of Parliament, and particularly the backbench Member on the Government side of the House. Under the Bill, with these placemen, we shall have nearly half the Government side of the House as Ministers and with a vested interest in the continuation of the Government, not on a legalistic or idealistic basis but purely on 1915 a placemen basis. This reduces the independence and the ability of the House of Commons to do its job to a considerable extent.
§ Sir D. Glover
It is no use the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne muttering "Nonsense" because on similar subjects he has talked more nonsense in the House than any other hon. Member. If he has not the courtesy to get up—
§ Sir D. Glover
I will not give way. If the hon. Member had had the courtesy to get up when he wanted to interrupt, I should have given way to him, but I do not propose to give way now, for he has been muttering all the time.
Now that I have been challenged I will explain the Bill. It is a much more sordid Measure than people think. The Prime Minister, having a majority of five, realised that Mr. Frank Cousins could not be allowed to go gambolling around the country like a bull going into industrial china shop after industrial china shop breaking all the china. He had to do something about it. The Prime Minister had to provide him with some great office of State with very little power—the sort of position which looks great but in which he has very little influence and power. He made him Minister of Technology.
§ Sir D. Glover
The right hon. Gentleman, Mr. Frank Cousins, played a dreadful political game. He played, "Heads I win, tails you lose". He does not stand before the electorate in the General Election putting his views and policy as a candidate trying to enter the House as an elected Member. He waits until he finds out whether the Labour Party has won, and when he finds out that it has won he decides to become a politician. If the Labour Party had lost he would have gone on being a trade union official. He could easily have stood in the last election. I am sure that the Labour Party could have found him a constituency. If he intended to go into Parlia- 1916 ment and to be a Minister, he had a duty to present himself to the electorate during the election like everybody else in the House.
§ Sir D. Glover
After he got a job, but not before. Why did he not do it before? That is what the democratic process demanded. It is not many years ago that a person on being given ministerial rank went back to the electorate for a new mandate from the electorate. Mr. Cousins is doing it in the reverse.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Is the hon. Member saying that what it is right for a Member of the House of Lords to do is wrong for a trade unionist to do?
§ Sir D. Glover
I did not want to enter into these details, but the Postmaster-General brought about this procedure, not anyone on our side of the House. It was a Labour Party Amendment which made it possible. The Measure was brought in as a result of the activities of the present Postmaster-General.
We have another Ministry, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Is the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the natural resources, coal, iron and all the basic materials which exist in the country? No, he is not; he is in charge of land, water and forestry. I think he will spend most of his time in the forest. As soon as he begins to operate the Land Commission he will get so many thousands of appeals against compulsory purchase that he will be sunk without trace under the volume of paper which comes to his Department.
§ Sir D. Glover
I come to that great Department of State, the Ministry of Overseas Development. I agree with the title. In 1955 I tried to get the words "Colonial Office" altered to "Department for Developing Territories". I thought for many years that it was an absurdity to flaunt the word "Colonial" when all those territories were working towards independence and self-government and we were needlessly making the position more difficult. I wanted to change the name to, "Office for Developing Territories". We now have three Ministers of Cabinet rank. 1917 There is one for Commonwealth Affairs and one for Colonial Affairs. The correct title there should be, "Minister for the Outlying Islands", because the colonial possessions which are left are small islands which hon. Members in both parties find difficult to group together in order to give them independence. There is added a third Cabinet Minister and we have three Cabinet Ministers dealing with what in the last Parliament was rightly dealt with by one Minister.
If that is not finding placemen jobs, what is it? Anyone can see the reason why the right hon. Lady is the Minister now in charge of this Department. She could not be left on the back benches. She was the most highly-trained political guerrilla in the Labour Party, trained for midnight attack and the most vitriolic speaker. She could not be left out of office; an office had to be found for her. This is a case of providing important offices of state with little power in order to keep vitriolic critics quiet in the months ahead.
I shall not delay the House for much longer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If hon. Members continue interrupting, I shall do so. In Clause 3 of the Bill we have a direct building up of the executive needlessly against the legislative assembly.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. I hope, for the benefit of the House, that hon. Members will not shout things across the Floor at each other.
§ Sir D. Glover
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I shall try now to make my speech short. I did not intend to make a long speech, but I said that if I was interrupted I should have to do so. I feel very strongly about this matter.
§ Sir D. Glover
I do. 1 am a House of Commons man before anything else. I believe that this Bill is an attack on the authority of the House of Commons.
§ Sir D. Glover
No. If the hon. Member keeps interrupting, I shall go on for longer.
Inevitably if we get more and more Ministers as placemen who have a vested interest in the continuation of the Government, we shall reduce the power of this House. I regret that this Bill has come on at this early stage. I am not criticising the Government for doing this because I understand the position, but I am sorry that the Bill has come early. I am sure that if many new hon. Members opposite had been in Parliament for a longer time they would realise the weakening of their position which will come about. I criticised my own side of the House also. The growing power of the Executive is all the time whittling away the powers of this forum, whereas in the ultimate this forum looks after the freedom of the people.
It is not the Executive that does that. The Executive always wants to get its business, but the fundamental place where the freedom in a democratic society resides is in the lower House in a bicameral State such as we have. Anything that the Executive does to increase its power should be approached critically by ordinary Members of Parliament. I regret that during this debate, which I think is important to Parliament, there has been so little comment and so little criticism from the Government benches. From the occupants of those benches only the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has had the courage to stand up for the rights of Parliament.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
We have heard an awful lot of nonsense in speeches this evening and some of it has been bedevilled by squalid personal protest against the new Ministers proposed in the Bill which we are considering. I think the debate has shown more solidly than anything else the narrow outlook of the Opposition and the way that they cannot look to the future. The whole outside world in banking, commerce, journalism and industry, is crying out for ex-Ministers. The hon. Member 1919 for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) grabbed himself an ex-Minister as editor of his journal. Ex-Ministers are in great demand. I have a list of a dozen ex-Ministers who recently obtained lucrative appointments in the City and various financial, banking, commercial and industrial undertakings—
§ Mr. Hogg
On a point of order. I had always understood that on the Third Reading of a Bill is was the custom and order of this House to confine oneself to the contents of the Bill. I would not have addressed this point of order at this stage had it not been for the fact that I understood there had been something in the nature of an agreement between the two sides of the House, but, if the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) is to pursue this line of approach, I cannot see an early end to this debate. I therefore ask for your Ruling on my point of order.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Further to that point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to bear this in mind when you rule on the point of order which the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has raised? We have listened this afternoon to speech after speech from hon. Members opposite not content to question the constitutional validity of what the Government propose but to attack personally the Government, every Minister and almost every hon. Member on this side of the House on the ground that everything the Government did had a sinister intention, that everyone who accepted an office was doing so merely in a corrupt sense and that we are less concerned about any constitutional criticism. They made purely personal attacks of the squalidest and meanest kind on everything connected with it. If this is done without protest from the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) is entitled to say that all the corruptness is not on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has raised two points. The second one is a point for the House. I understood that both sides of the House had come to some agreement that the Bill would pass all its stages round about 8 o'clock. That is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the House.
On the point of order the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised, he is absolutely right in his premise that Third Reading debates should deal only with matters which are in the Bill, but I permitted earlier speakers to refer to the principle of placemen which they think is involved in the Bill and I take the remarks of the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) to be an endeavour briefly to counter those references to placemen.
§ Mr. Jeger
I was fully cognisant of the agreement that the proceedings on the Bill should end at 8 o'clock. If the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) had not spoken for so long, we could have concluded by 8 o'clock. I had intended to speak for only two minutes. I was provoked by the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central into making that reply to him.
I assure the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) that I have no intention of going into any squalid personal details about the dozen placemen of whom I have a list. I am surprised that his mentality and quickness of brain have deserted him on this occasion. Probably he was up too late last night after that very brilliant speech he made rather late last night.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman has brought me into his argument. He said that ex-Ministers are in great demand. Is he defending the Bill on the ground that the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) is easing the future of his present Ministers for when the Government are defeated?
§ Mr. Jeger
There cannot be a corps of ex-Ministers available to the City, to journalism and to business unless they are Ministers first. They must be Ministers before they can be ex-Ministers. Therefore, if right hon. and hon. Members opposite are patriotic, if they are thinking of the future development of this country, they will want to see as 1921 many Ministers being made as possible, thinking of the future of the country when those ex-Ministers, with the training they have had as Ministers, will be in great demand for the benefit of the country. In other words, we are expansionist. The Opposition are restrictionist. In opposing the Bill they are resorting to restrictive practices.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hogg
I certainly do not want to delay the proceedings of the House on the Bill. I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to whom, through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the main burden of my remarks will be addressed, will not take amiss what I have to say. I would not have risen had it not been for what we on this side of the House regarded as a deliberately provocative and insulting speech by the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Third Reading. He accused us of opposing the Bill because of our distaste for a Labour Government. He said that in terms. I do not conceal from the House that many of us, including myself, view a Labour Government with distaste. We believe that that view will be shared by the country as the consequences of a Labour Government become more and more obvious.
§ Mr. Hogg
There is absolutely no truth in the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that our distaste for a Labour Government has anything whatever to do with our opposition to the Bill. Indeed, I would much rather be discussing and opposing the Government on their economic and general policies. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman frankly that what has gone wrong with the Bill was his own grotesque mismanagement of affairs last night. He was bailed out by the very wise and statesmanlike action of the Leader of the House who, on second thoughts, thought it right to come to an understanding with the Opposition, for whom the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had shown no consideration in his handling of Amendments, otherwise we would probably not have got our business today and would still have been discussing yesterday's business up to 11 o'clock this morning.
§ Mr. Houghton
May I tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I was threatened by one of his right hon. Friends with what the Opposition would do if we persisted with all stages of the Bill yesterday, and that promise was amply fulfilled? We had the filibuster, and it was only because the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends threatened to wreck the Bill by going on indefinitely that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council came to some understanding about progress.
§ Mr. Hogg
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is doing his right hon. Friend a grave injustice. The Lord President of the Council is the Leader of the House and not simply an officer of a party or even of a Government. The Leader of the House did very right to understand the depth of feeling which the Chancellor of the Duchy, with his mismanagement of the debate, had aroused in the Opposition. Hon. Members opposite must awake to the fact that this country does not have an elected dictatorship. It is the business of an Opposition to probe and criticise legislation and to present arguments which occur to them as reasonable. It is precisely because the right hon. Gentleman grossly misjudged the genuineness of the feeling and the misgivings to which the Bill has given rise that we have had so many protracted debates and tempers have to some extent become frayed.
That is the first reason to explain what has gone wrong on the Bill. The second is the genuine feeling of distaste we have for the contents of the Measure. I do not repeat the arguments, which we believe are absolutely conclusive but which have not been answered, as to the totally unnecessary introduction of two or three new Ministries in Clauses 1 and 2. We think that to be a retrograde step in Government machinery.
Let me remind the House that the Opposition represent just as large a segment of the electorate as those who sit on the benches opposite and our views have been very largely shared by the Liberal Party in the criticisms we have made. I see absolutely no reason either why we should not have presented those arguments or why they should not have been answered with better temper and 1923 with better reason than have been displayed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The other feature of the Bill to which we have taken exception is the very large increase in the number of Ministers. It is not simply a question of the payment of Ministers. Those who sit on the Front Bench on this side of the House know just as well as those who sit on the Front Bench opposite that the freedom of action of those who accept Ministerial office, whether it is paid or unpaid, is very greatly curtailed. We are proud to serve our country through our parties, in ministerial office, but in doing so we accept a very real curtailment of our liberty as Members of Parliament. We limit the subjects upon which we can speak. We limit the votes which we can give.
§ Mr. Hogg
There always ought to be volunteers for the job. Let us make no bones about this. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has interrupted me, because he is prolonging my speech beyond what I intended. Of course there ought to be volunteers for high office. High office is an honourable calling for those of us who engage in public life, and none of us should be ashamed of volunteering for high office. None the less—this is the point I make to hon. Members opposite—it involves a very real curtailment of the liberty of Ministers to exercise their freedom of speech and their freedom of voting in the House.
The Attorney-General made a point which I thought was a false one in this connection. He said that there was a direct or implicit allegation of corruption about this. I think that he misunderstands the nature of at any rate my objection to the Bill. It is the simple fact that, although nobody doubts the integrity of either Front Bench, I hope, in public life in this country, the conventions of public life to which I have alluded, coupled with the efficiency of modern organisation, make Ministers just as reliable and just as automatic in their support of decisions of the Executive as the old placemen under Walpole who were actuated by less worthy motives.
The fact is that if the majority party in the House becomes composed of too 1924 large a proportion—I will not call them placemen because that is a derogatory term—of hon. and right hon. Members who accept office, they are losing to a very high degree the freedom and independence which the public expects of this Parliament.
The Attorney-General attempted to get round this objection, which I think he saw, by alluding to an article of mine in which I had said that for certain purposes, and I repeat that it is for certain purposes, the class of Member known as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to some extent adds to the number of people whose freedom of action is curtailed. I do not think that anyone would deny that as a fact.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that, adding the number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the number of Ministers, there was not all that difference between the size of the present Administration and the size of the past one. That was a stage in the argument which, with respect, he was not entitled to make. There is all the 'difference between a Minister and a Parliamentary Private Secretary, whether the Minister is paid or unpaid.
§ The Attorney-General
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, if he is not seeking to castigate those on the Government side as placemen, can he explain why this hysterical article of his ended with the words:Meanwhile, this may well become known as the placemen's Parliament"?
§ Mr. Hogg
I said that I would not in this connection and in this speech, precisely because I did not wish to raise the heat of this debate, refer to them as placemen, but of course placemen is exactly what they have been. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cares to prolong my remarks by causing me to read at length from the article, he will see that I said in it precisely what I have said in this House, namely, that the honour of right hon. Gentlemen who accept office under any Administration is in no way in question. The purity of our public life is higher, or at any rate as high, as that of any country, and high office is something to which Members of Parliament can legitimately aspire as a form of service to their country. This is what I said, as the Attorney-General 1925 knows if he has read the article from beginning to end.
I made it plain that whether one calls them placemen or one does not, the freedom of members of an Administration is very greatly curtailed—even their freedom to abstain from a vote—and it is not a desirable thing to multiply them. I endeavoured to say that with as little offence as possible. The whole history of the series of Statutes, of which this is the last, has been the recognition by the House of the danger implicitly in the fact that we in this country, unlike many others, including our allies in the United States, have our Executive right here on the Floor of the House. This is something of which I heartily approve, but there are dangers implicit in the arrangement and I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has not given us the credit for drawing attention to a real constitutional danger when facing the criticisms that we have made.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time and passed.