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Honours Lists

Volume 155: debated on Tuesday 27 June 1922

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49.

asked the Prime Minister if he will state how many Departmental lists of names to be recommended for honours are prepared on each of the bi-yearly occasions?

As has already been explained, all Departments are asked by me to submit their recommendations for my consideration.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in addition to the Departmental lists, there are any other lists submitted to him?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say who are the people who present the other lists?

There are recommendations that come from every quarter. Every Prime Minister gets suggestions of names from every quarter.

Who suggested Mr. J. B. Robinson's name? Was it a Departmental suggestion?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in the lists submitted by him, a description of the services performed by these gentlemen is appended to the list?

As this question is being discussed in the House of Lords, will the right hon. Gentleman say why we cannot discuss it here?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in addition to a description of the services of the gentleman, the amount he has paid is also added?

Does the right hon. Gentleman receive lists of recommendations by the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury or from any of the Party Whips?

Certainly. In that respect I follow the precedent established by other Prime Ministers. I have never departed from precedents in this respect. Recommendations certainly come from the Patronage Secretary.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the request made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) for a discussion, so that the points that are now being raised in the House of Lords on this and other matters may be discussed in the House of Commons?

At the end of Questions—

Mr. Speaker, I desire to submit a point of order for your consideration. The following question has been refused at the Table, as I think you are aware:

"To ask the Prime Minister if he can give a definite assurance that no money or other consideration of money value has been paid, or passed either directly or indirectly, in connection with any of the honours recommended by the Prime Minister in announcing the list of honours on the 3rd of June this year."
Might I explain, Sir, before you answer on the point of Order as to the reason why this question has not been allowed to be put, that it has been carefully drafted so as not in any way to infringe or even suggest the infringement of the undoubted and unchallenged Royal prerogative in the bestowal of honours. I should be the last to do so. May I point out also for your consideration that it is not suggested in the question that any improper inducement has been offered to the Crown in any shape or form in the bestowal of honours. That again is unthinkable and would not on any account be suggested. I would also mention for your consideration that there have been Debates more than once in this House on this very question when a Motion has been put down and there has been a free discussion of recommendations made by the Prime Minister for the time being as to the bestowal of honours, and complaint has been made within the public knowledge that money has been subscribed to party funds in connection with recommendations made for the bestowal of honours. The intention of the question is to ensure that the advice offered to the Crown shall not be in any way influenced by money considerations offered to the Ministers, or for party funds.

I think I can best answer the hon. and gallant Member by quoting some of the rulings of my predecessor on this matter. I have gone into them carefully. On 21st February, 1907, a question similar to that of the hon. and gallant Member was tendered. Mr. Speaker Lowther declined to allow it to be put on the Notice Paper, on the ground that the Prime Minister had no responsibility to the House for any advice which he might tender to His Majesty respecting the distribution of honours.

Further, on 11th July, 1907, with regard to another question as to a Peerage then recently announced, Mr. Speaker Lowther said:
"A question cannot be asked of the Prime Minister as to his responsibility for any advice he might give to the Sovereign in the recommendation of honours."
Further, on 22nd January, 1908, the same ruling was referred to at Question Time in the House, when an hon. Member asked the Prime Minister, then the right hon Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), whether he would give an opportunity for discussing a Motion in the name of a certain hon. Member. The Prime Minister having answered in the negative, a question was put to Mr. Speaker Lowther to the following effect:
"Whether it is not the fact that it is the undoubted right of an hon. Member of this House to question the Prime Minister upon the advice given by him to the Sovereign in his capacity as Prime Minister upon any subject whatever."
Mr. Speaker Lowther then replied:
"It rather depends upon what meaning the hon. Member attaches to the word 'question.' If the hon. Member limits it to asking questions at Question time I say 'No.' If he means to extend it to criticism at the proper time, and raised in the proper way, I say 'Yes.' "
Further, on 17th March, 1920, Mr. Speaker Lowther refused to allow the matter to be discussed on the Report of Supply.

I cannot see my way to depart in any respect from these rulings of my predecessor. The hon. and gallant Member will see, I think, that the result of these rulings is that the matter may be raised on a Motion, but cannot be properly raised at Question Time, or in a Debate in Supply.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he will give facilities at an early date for discussion of the subject, which is of great public interest.

May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the House can raise the question on the Prime Minister's salary? If this House vote a salary to the Prime Minister, surely it should have some control over his actions?

That is a question which has often been dealt with by my predecessor, and I think it is covered by two parts of the rulings which I have quoted.

I gather that the rulings of your predecessor are confined to questions of Supply, but they do not indicate that a Motion may not be made and a day given for discussion of this matter. In the circumstances, I hope that the Prime Minister will fix a day for debate.

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is already a Motion on the Paper, supported by a hundred Members of his own party?

I am quite aware of what is on the Paper. With regard to time, I naturally consult those who have been making a forecast of the time at our disposal, and I am afraid that I have to give the same answer as I gave in reply to a previous request for more time, and that is that the time at our disposal is not merely very limited, but that we have already exceeded our anticipations as to the programme of the Session, and if there is any addition of business at all we shall have to sit very much later into August than we had hoped when we originally sketched our business for the Session. In addition to that, there is the anticipation that an Autumn Session may be necessary in order to deal with the Irish Constitution. All this is on the assumption that nothing new arises to demand the attention of the House. After the Debate yesterday, that is more than anyone would care to predict. It is not impossible—I hope it is not probable, and I sincerely trust it will not be the case—that the House may be called upon to take up some time in discussing the affairs of Ireland in connection with events in that country, perhaps, in the course of the next week or fortnight. In these circumstances it would be quite impossible for the Government to find time for any other Motions that have been demanded in respect to a great many matters and signed by a great many Members.

In view of the difficulty the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out—no doubt, it is serious—cannot the Government see their way to set up a Committee of Inquiry of the kind, without any discussion? That will save the time of Parliament and will greatly pacify the public mind, which is much excited on this subject.

Considering that "Hansard" shows that this subject was debated under a Conservative administration, and that similar charges were made in 1886, and again against the Campbell-Bannerman administration and the Asquith administration, and once more is made now, does the right hon. Gentleman not think, as evidently the same principles prevail in all the parties when they are in power, that it is time the House of Commons had another chance of discussing this question?

I agree. I have heard at least one or two discussions on the subject in the time of previous administrations, but they were almost invariably under a Motion for which private Members had balloted. It was open to Members of the House to ballot for an opportunity to discuss this subject. I am by no means ruling out the possibility of discussion of that kind. As far as the Government are concerned, we have no objection in the least to a discussion. All I care for is that the same principles should apply to all administrations. You should not have one set of principles to apply to one administration and another set of principles in order to criticise another administration. Before F came to any decision with regard to an inquiry, I should like to know what the character of the inquiry is and how far it is to extend. It was thought that I had given a flippant answer when I said it was entirely a question of how far back you went. I did not mean in the least the origin of the peerage. What I meant to say was that we have simply followed the precedent of, at any rate, the last 30 or 40 years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Well, if there is a discussion I shall be glad to say so and to prove it. What I want to know is how far back this inquiry is to extend? That is why I gave that answer to the question the other day.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that what the House is concerned with is not what happened in the past but to know whether we cannot in the future get rid of this detestable system?

Have any new circumstances arisen which call for an inquiry of this kind and the appointment of a Committee? According to the impression left by Members who have asked these questions, it has been the custom almost from time immemorial, for the Prime Minister to recommend certain people to His Majesty for honours. In my experience and recollection it has always been left to the unfettered judgment of the Prime Minister whom he recommends. If any hon. Member has a fault to find with any appointment which has been made it might be quite legitimate to raise that particular question, as it has been raised in another place. It seems to me however that the questions addressed to the right hon. Gentleman in this House were of a most general and undefined character. I think we ought to have something more definite before saying that there should be an inquiry.

Does not the Prime Minister think that all he has said—assuming it to be absolutely correct, as, of course, I assume it to be—shows the importance of having this subject inquired into, so that the public may really know what are the fixed principles which the right hon. Gentleman says exist in reference to this matter. Does not he think it is really doing a great deal of harm, not only to his Government, but to the whole belief of the country in the purity of public life, when these charges are constantly being made, that no efficient and proper reply should be made?

The Noble Lord knows perfectly well that it is not merely recently that this has been said. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward) pointed out, these charges have been brought against Administrations for the last 40 years, and have been discussed in this House. The principles have been discussed in this House, and the House has repeatedly reaffirmed the present method. If the House wishes to depart from that method, then I agree it is within the competence of the House to make recommendations upon a proper Motion. It was open to the Members of the House to ballot for an opportunity for that purpose earlier in the year, and had there been a universal desire—had there been a desire on the part of the majority of Members—for a discussion upon the subject, it would have been easy for the Government, earlier in the Session, to find time for that purpose; but to ask that we should find time late in the Session, when we are overpressed with work, and when there are possibilities that we may be pressed even further with work—that, I do not think, is fair to those in charge of the business of the House.

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean there will be no opportunity until the ballot next year?

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether, if it is the intention of the House to have a discussion on this matter, it will be possible for you to rule that any hon. Member who has already taken an honour, will not take part in the discussion except to explain how he or his predecessor came to have the honour conferred on him?

Is the Prime Minister aware that certain Resolutions passed in another place towards the end of 1917 and accepted by him, have lately been ignored by certain of his advisers, and what steps does he propose to take with these advisers to ensure that these Resolutions are carried out in future?

If a desire so widely spread as to cover all quarters of the House and a majority of Members of the House is shown to investigate the system, will the Government find time?

The House, of course, is the master of its own time and of the Government, and if there be a demand from the House of Commons representing the general sense of the House, of course the Government will find time We want the House of Commons to realise that at this time a certain amount of business has to be gone through, and that they will be adding, not only to the difficulties of the Government, but to their own.

Will the Prime Minister consent, supposing 200 Members put down their names? May I have an answer to that question?

May I also have an answer to my question? Is the Prime Minister aware that one of the resolutions which he himself accepted from the House of Lords in 1917 was to the effect that the reasons for the award and a detailed statement of the public services of the individual should be published in the "Gazette" in connection with these honours? Is not it a fact that that resolution as to these details being published has been ignored by the Prime Minister's advisers?

No, I do not think that is so. I think the reasons have been published.

Is it not a fact that the First Commissioner of Works, speaking for the Government in another place, said that particulars Given had to be withdrawn?