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Wednesday, 27 August 1952

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Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Prime Minister) . - by leave - During my recent absence abroad questions arose about the constitutional and parliamentary position of parliamentary under-secretaries. Mr. Speaker offered an opinion, and the matter has been raised in the House. I therefore think it my duty to explain the problem, so that there may be no question about the view which the Government takes of the appointment and functions of these honorable members.

First of all, I want to say that the position of these gentlemen is in no way to be determined by the particular description applied to them. The issue is one, not of words, but of substance. Assuming that, as the head of the Government, I desired to provide parliamentary assistants for Ministers, it would have been possible in theory to do this in at least three ways. In the first place, the proposed assistants might have been described as " Assistant Ministers " and sworn of the Executive Council accordingly. I have never believed this to be satisfactory, for the position of an Assistant Minister in the Commonwealth has always been one of some ambiguity. In the second place, following the practice of the House of Commons, these gentlemen might have been described as parliamentary private secretaries. The office of parliamentary private secretary is wellknown in the House of Commons. The select committee of 1941 described a parliamentary private secretary in these words -

Being co-opted and appointed by the Minister personally, lie is not the holder of an office or place of profit from or under the Crown.

Clearly, the question whether such a parliamentary private secretary was appointed by an individual Minister- or by the Prime Minister is not crucial. The third possibility was to appoint parliamentary under-secretaries. In the United Kingdom such functionaries are appointed under statute and receive indicated salaries. They are in fact junior Ministers, though they do not sit in Cabinet.

With the approval of the Cabinet, I decided that we should appoint certain members of the House to assist Ministers, and to describe them as parliamentary under-secretaries. The terminology is, as I have indicated, not important. The members concerned are paid no salary» and perform no executive act which a Minister is by law required to perform. In brief, they cannot sign executive minutes, nor can they under any act of this Parliament be substituted for the Minister himself. The parliamentary under-secretary receives no payment beyond his «salary» as a member of Parliament. "When he is performing some service for the Minister to whom he is attached he is naturally re-imbursed for the expenses reasonably incurred in the course of that performance. His duty is, under the direction of his Minister, to make inquiries, to conduct correspondence when authorized to do so and, from time to time, to receive deputations on behalf of his Minister. There is no novelty about this. Our predecessors in office very properly obtained the services of private members for similar purposes in a variety of departments and on a variety of occasions.

Mr. Speakerhas raised the question whether the appointment of a private member under these circumstances constitutes his appointment to an office of profit under the Crown. My colleague, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), has already stated to the House the view of the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer), who has advised that in his clear opinion a parliamentary undersecretary does not in law hold an office at all, still less an office of profit under the Crown, and that his appointment is in all respects constitutional. With this opinion I entirely agree. It would be strange indeed if the opinion were otherwise. Several members of this House perform duties which are of a special kind. We have for many years had Government and Opposition Whips. Until the recent legislation, following the Nicholas Committee's report, .Government Whips have always been provided for out of the Cabinet fund. Nobody thought that such a «Whip» occupied an office of profit under the Crown, because the simple fact was that he owed no duty to the Crown, except that which he owed in common with other members of the Parliament. He had, in fact, a responsibility to his own Ministers and party in the Parliament, and was remunerated accordingly.

The Speaker of this House has for very many years received a «salary» beyond that of private members. Yet nobody has suggested that he holds an office of profit under the Crown, because the historic truth is that the Speaker is not, as such, a servant of the Crown, but the servant and spokesman of this House. For a long time, and certainly for many years before legislation was passed on the matter, the Leader of the Opposition has occupied a recognized position in this House and has received payment beyond that of a private member. The leader of the third party when in Opposition, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have also been recognized by this Parliament as persons entitled to special recognition and ultimately remuneration, not because they are the holders of an office under, the Crown, which they are not, but because they have a special position in relation to this Parliament and a special duty to some, and perhaps all, of its members. It will be not inappropriate for me to add that each of these functionaries has occupied a room or rooms in this House upon the entrance to which there has appeared a description of his particular post.

It has never been suggested that the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the third party when in Opposition, or any of the Whips, has become disqualified under the Constitution by reason of his appointment. But, quite recently, it has been suggested that a parliamentary under-secretary in sharp distinction from the other gentlemen to whom I have referred, is disqualified as the holder of an office of profit under the Crown. As I have indicated, the Government completely rejects this view, and for two reasons. The first is that the parliamentary under-secretary does not occupy an office under the Crown, but has in fact a position analogous to that of a parliamentary private secretary in the House of Commons. The second is that if, contrary to our clear view, he is to be treated as holding an office, it is certainly not an office of profit. True, the parliamentary under-secretary is awarded travelling expenses as a fair recompense for what would otherwise be out-of-pocket expenditure in the performance of his work. But so are many members of this Parliament. Take, for example, the chairman of the Public Works Committee. He receives no additional «salary» , but he receives an expense allowance. Nobody has ever suggested that he holds an office under the Crown, because everybody has recognized that his duty is a duty to this Parliament. Similarly nobody can seriously suggest that a parliamentary under-secretary who owes his duty to his Minister has some duty of his own to the Crown, though he is not of the Executive Council and has no responsibility for advising the Crown other .than that which he shares in common with all other members of this House. # It may be said by Mr. Speaker that the title " parliamentary ' under-secretary ", by strict verbal comparison with the corresponding post in the House of Commons, connotes a ministerial qualification. The answer to that would be that it is the substance that matters and that the Fords are not important. It is true that in Great Britain, where many of the great officers of State are described as the Secretary of State for . Foreign Affairs, or Commonwealth Relations or the like, the term " parliamentary undersecretary" has a special significance. This is no doubt true. It would have been quite possible for us as a government, and for those of our predecessors who have made comparable arrangements^ without any change in the projected duties, to describe, for example, the honorable member for Canning as a " parliamentary secretary ", as a " parliamentary private secretary ", or as a " parliamentary under-secretary ". But these are mere questions of nomenclature on which the selection is obviously and solely a matter for the government of the day. We decided, in pursuance of former practice, to adopt the term "parliamentary under-secretary " and to that term we propose to adhere. Whatever the description may be, it is abundantly clear that the member concerned does not hold office under the Crown and does not hold an office of profit under the Crown.

I consider that, having said this, 1 should clear up two further points. I have never suggested that a parliamentary under-secretary, sitting in hia place in the House, should be given the right to answer questions on behalf of a Minister. I would think such a practice most undesirable, for Ministers are concerned with the administration of their departments for which they are answerable to the Parliament, and no secretary, parliamentary or otherwise, can perform this duty for them. Indeed, I think it should be made clear that under this system a parliamentary under-secretary is not a part of the Government so as to preclude him from criticizing or discussing the Government on appropriate occasions. It would be obviously improper for him to attack the administration of his own Minister. But as a member for his own electorate he is at complete liberty to address questions to other Ministers, and to offer his views on the floor of the House as his own judgment may dictate.

Having said all this, I want to take the opportunity of putting to the House a view which I think will be well understood by all of those who are or have been Ministers, whether they sit on the Government or Opposition side of the House. The duties of office have become tremendously complex in modern times. The work of a Minister does not begin and end on the floor of the House. The bulk of it takes place outside the Parliament altogether. There may very well be occasions when a Minister, having had settled by Cabinet important questions of principle, is authorized to bring a bill before the Parliament. It would be of great assistance- to that Minister if his parliamentary under-secretary could, during the committee stages of the bill, sit at the table and relieve his Minister in the discussion of clauses and amendments as they arise. We would therefore think it an extremely useful thing if the Standing Orders permitted a parliamentary under-secretary to sit at the table and to relieve his Minister from time to time in the committee stages of bills. It is not a matter which I am to-day asking the House to determine, because it. is .most appropriately a matter for consideration by the Standing Orders Committee. I shall take a suitable opportunity of inviting that committee to consider this problem and to make a recommendation to the House about it.

I shall not need to say to honorable members generally that nothing could be more calculated to give experience to private members of this House, both in the legislative and administrative field, than an effective use of the parliamentary under-secretary system. It would help to preserve continuity of administration and it would afford avenues of information which under our present circumstances tend to be shut out from many able members of this Parliament.

As I understand that Mr. Speaker feels that he should, have some direction from this House on this matter, I propose to move not only that this statement he printed hut also that this House approve of its contents.

One minor question remains to be dealt with. As I have already indicated, it has come to my notice that a question has arisen "whether a parliamentary under-secretary should have the description of his post placed upon the entrance of his room in this House. I want to make it perfectly clear that it seems to me and to my colleagues quite appropriate that, in addition to doors in this building upon which are written the words "Leader of the Opposition", " Deputy Leader of the Opposition " Leader of the Country party ", " Government «Whip» ", "Opposition «Whip " and the like, there should also be inscribed upon the door of a parliamentary under-secretary, for the information of those who have public business to transact, the fact that he is a parliamentary under-secretary, together with some indication of the identity of the Minister with whom he is associated.

I lay on the table the following paper : -

Parliamentary Under-Secretaries - Ministerial Statement, 27th August, 1952, ;md - by leave - I move -

That the paper be printed and that the House approves its contents.

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