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Clause 1—(Indemnity For And Removal Of Disqualification Of Nlall Macpherson, Esquire)

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 11 May 1954

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11.57 p.m.

On a point of order. I wonder if you would allow me to move a manuscript Amendment, Sir Charles, in line 12, to leave out:

"by reason only of his having held that office."
There will be no time to put down Amendments on the Paper. The object of this Amendment is to enable Mr. Macpherson to continue to hold this office if he so desires. It seems to me proper that we should indemnify him for the future as well as the past. It may well be that he is not disqualified at all. It would be very unfair to pass an Act of Parliament leaving him under the belief that he is unable to occupy an office which it is entirely legal for him to do. I understand, Sir Charles, that you have had notice of this.

Perhaps I can pursue the argument, and I shall have got a good part of my argument in before there is any ruling one way or the other.

I thought the hon. and learned Gentleman was addressing me on a point of order. I can answer now, but perhaps he might develop it a little.

The object of this Amendment is to provide that Mr. Macpherson shall be indemnified altogether, irrespective of whether he resigns his office immediately, or whether he continues until tomorrow, or the day after. In the past there have been quite a number of disputes in the House about whether or not a Member has been disqualified. It has often been a matter of considerable legal argument. In the circumstances, I hope I may move the Amendment and that it will be accepted.

12 midnight.

I am afraid the hon. and learned Member will not be able to. It is out of order. The Bill is to remove a disqualification. The House has already agreed to that.

My Amendment is to remove the disqualification. It is for this reason I have chosen the words so carefully. All I am doing is removing the words

"by reason only of his having held that office at any time before the passing of this Act."
That is to remove the disqualification from membership of the House by reason of his having held that office. Surely, it must be in order to do for the future what the Clause is doing for the past. In the removal of the disqualification there is no limit in time—

I think the hon. And learned Gentleman is quite wrong. This Bill deals with the past. His Amendment relates to the future.

Perhaps I can argue the matter on mat Clause, and so I shall not delay the Committee now. Surely, however, it is within the scope of a Bill that is designed to remove a disqualification to remove it altogether? That is what I am seeking to do.

Yes, I know, but the Amendment is out of order. The purpose of the Bill is strictly defined.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

I do not want to detain the Committee unduly, but I would urge the Attorney-General to look at tins matter again. Perhaps something could be done about it in another place, although that might be a little unusual. It is unfair that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) should be penalised in this way. There are a great many other Members who occupy all sorts of other offices whose capital for all practical purposes may be owned by other governments. It is a most technical matter. None of us knows the hon. Gentleman's circumstances, but there may be in some cases a situation like this in which an hon. Member may be deprived in this way of his whole livelihood, and so even the opportunity to continue membership of the House.

This is such a technicality, being dealt with on a piecemeal basis, that the Committee ought to be generous to the hon. Member and say that while possibly as a general rule in future hon. Members ought not to accept offices for Commonwealth Governments, as the Australian Government have chosen the hon. Member as a particularly suitable person to occupy this office of trust on their behalf, it would be ungenerous, and almost rude to the Australian Government, for the Committee to say that if the hon. Member chooses to occupy this position of trust that they have offered him he should be deprived of Membership of the House. I hope the Attorney-General will look at the matter again and consider whether in another place such an Amendment as I sought to move could be made.

In a sense there is something rather unusual and, perhaps, not unattractive in the Opposition's pressing the Government to be even more generous to one of the Government's own supporters. None the less, it is a question of justice as well as a question of good public service, and I hope that the Attorney-General will think about this and, having had an indication of what the Opposition's views are, see if he can in another place have the Bill extended to allow a licence to the hon. Member to continue, if he wishes, a useful job.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.