Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [12th February],
That the Resolutions of the House of the 1st December, 1882, relating to the constitution and proceedings of Standing Committees, he revived."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)
And which Amendment was,
At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided that no Bill reported from such Standing Committee shall be first taken into Consideration by the House at any date in the Session later than the 1st of August."—(Sir Baldwyn Leighton.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. MONK
said, that he was not disposed to take any exception to the proposal of the Government to reappoint Grand Committees on the lines of those of last Session; but he thought that it was only right that Members who had had experience of the working of either of the Grand Committees should take that opportunity of saying what they thought about them. He himself had served on the Grand Committee on Law, and though he did not agree with the ton. Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), who thought that Members were very much overworked who were called upon to serve on Grand Committees, he nevertheless thought that the Standing Committee on Law had been anything but a success, in spite of the exertions of the Attorney General; in fact, it had been a complete failure. Various reasons had been assigned for this failure; in the first place, that the Bills submitted to that Commit- 1906 tee were not proper ones to be considered by a Grand Committee; secondly, I that the principle of those Bills had not really been assented to by both sides of the House, that the number of Members serving on the Committees was very much too large, and that some Members attended very little, others not at all, while some came in about 3 P.M., merely to be "marked in." He thought that the number of Members should not exceed 35 or 40; but the real cause of the failure of the Committee on Law was, in his opinion, that it was far too complete a reflex of the House itself.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would point out to the hon. Member that his remarks will be more in Order when the Main Question is before the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member having spoken when the question was last before the House, is not entitled to speak upon it again.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, proposed.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, in the absence of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), he rose to move the Amendment which that hon. Member had placed upon the Paper. During the proceedings of last week very considerable dissatisfaction had been expressed by the Irish Members as to the way in which Irish Business was conducted from time to time. It must be evident to the House that the details of many of the Bills relating to Ireland were altogether beyond the ken of the House in general, and required a great amount of local knowledge, while they were well understood, as a general rule, by the Irish Members. It was from this want of knowledge of details on the part of the House and the perpetual meddling on the part of some hon. Members in small matters connected with Ireland, that many ludicrous mistakes had happened, and that several Bills had been absolutely unworkable. He thought that the common sense of the House would support him, as a very considerable amount of time had been wasted on the attempt to enter into details of Irish Bills. There was no proposition to take the Bills out of the hands of the House at large; they would consider them upstairs, and the Report of 1907 the Committee would come simply as a recommendation to the House at large. This would save an immense amount of time and add greatly to the value of every Bill relating to Ireland. He would now simply move the Amendment standing in the name of his hon. Friend, who would state his own views upon the subject to the House.
At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided also that one Standing Committee be appointed consisting of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Members representing Counties, Counties of Cities, and Boroughs in Ireland, for the consideration of all Bills relating to Ireland which may, by Order of the House, in each case be committed to them, and the procedure in such Committee shad be the same as in the two Standing Committees appointed under the above Resolutions of the House of the 1st December 1882."—(Mr. Molloy.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. CHARLES RUSSELL
desired to point out in a few words the reasons why he should assent to the Motion of the hon. Member, provided it were amended so as to include, as Members of the Committee, his right hon. and learned Friends the Members for the University of Dublin, who—he did not know whether designedly or accidentally—were excluded.
§ MR. CHARLES RUSSELL
Now, the reasons why he supported this Amendment were briefly these. It might be in the recollection of the House that the Order of the 1st of December, by which these Standing Committees were appointed, limited the subject-matter of the Bills to be sent to them to Bills relating to Law, Courts of Justice, Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures. No Bills could be referred to a Standing Committee until the principle was affirmed by a second reading. It did not even follow that all Bills relating to these matters should be necessarily referred to the proposed Standing Committee, for the words of the Amendment were "Such Bills as may in each case be committed to such Committee." Now, the reasons for which he thought it desirable that this Amendment should be accepted were these. In the first place, he thought it would effect a considerable saving of time. It could not, 1908 he thought, be doubted that if a prolonged discussion of the details of a Bill occurred in Committee it would, although not precluding the re-opening of the discussion in the House, have a material effect in shortening discussion, because the Bill would have already been discussed in the presence of those who represented the Government, and who, consequently, would have heard all the reasons urged in favour of it. There was a further Amendment to the Amendment which he intended to suggest, and it was, that in addition to the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Government should have power of appointing on the Committee Representatives from either England or Scotland not exceeding three. Such a course of procedure would clearly have the effect of saving time. In the next place, the comparatively limited number of the Committee before whom any question was brought would bring home to each Member of that Committee a sense of individual responsibility for the proposals offered for acceptance. Lastly, its effect would be to bring clearly and distinctly to the knowledge of the House and of the country what was the opinion of the Representatives of Ireland upon any question affecting Ireland, which was at present exceedingly difficult, because few persons attempted in the mixed Division Lists to analyze the expressed opinions of the House, and determine what the opinion of the Irish Members was on any given subject. But it was a matter of the greatest importance that there should be placed before the House and the country what was the public opinion of Ireland as Constitutionally represented in that House. For these reasons he thought the Amendment ought to be accepted.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he was very much indebted to his hon. Friend the Member for King's County (Mr. Molloy), in his temporary absence—the debate on the previous Motion not having taken place as was expected—for having moved his Amendment, and he was thankful also to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Charles Russell) for his able contribution to the debate. He must say that in this Amendment he followed a precedent laid down by the late Mr. Butt, a Constitutional lawyer of great learning, who moved a similar Motion when an Irish Bill was under consideration, and 1909 as it had now the adherence of another distinguished lawyer and eminent Liberal like the Member for Dundalk, he hoped it would receive the support of those "nominal Home Rulers "whom the Prime Minister had immortalized by conferring that name upon them [Mr. GLADSTONE: I have no recollection of it.] There was no doubt that it was the Prime Minister invented that name for them. Now, some men might look upon this as a Home Rule Motion in disguise; but it really had nothing whatever to say to that matter. He admitted that it was open to Members to say that the adoption of the Motion might be a step towards Home Rule; but he might say that many of his Friends around him would regard the adoption of the Resolution as a deadly blow against what was known as Home Rule. That those opinions might exist he had no doubt; but for his part he would wish the House to look at the Motion simply as an endeavour to promote the efficiency of the House for the purpose of enabling the House to perform its duties towards the Three Kingdoms, whose interests it had in charge. Although it might be a matter for argument whether Home Rule would be advanced or injured by this Motion, he would ask, was the House to look at this matter from the point of view which he had suggested—namely, how best to work the Sessional Order of the Autumn of 1882, so that it might be made an efficient instrument for the purpose of forwarding the Business which Parliament had now in charge? He thought it would be admitted by everybody that the Sessional Order of 1882 had not been sufficient to solve the problem it was intended to solve. There was just as much difficulty as ever in transacting the Business of the nation. The Prime Minister from time to time had urged that, in his view, the principle of delegation was the principle which he looked forward to as the most hopeful for the purpose of enabling the House to get through the greatest amount of work; but the principle of delegation which was fixed by the Sessional Order which it was now proposed to renew was perfectly useless, although he would admit not quite useless for the purpose of saving the time of the House. Then he found that the Resolution as it stood absolutely neglected the interests of Ire- 1910 land. The Resolution provided for important matters which were of much consequence to England and Scotland. It provided for the codification of the law, a most important matter for English commerce and trade. It provided for manufacture and trade and shipping matters, which, unfortunately, did not much affect the interests of Ireland; and its practical effect was that while the House provided for all non-contentious matters relating to England and Scotland, it left Ireland out in the cold. The Government contended itself, forsooth, with this assurance, that the time of the House was so much occupied during the first three years of this Parliament with Irish matters that all time now must be devoted to English and Scotch Business. That was the announcement practically made in the Queen's Speech of 1883, and it was the announcement practically made in the Speech from the Throne by which this Session was opened. Now, he denied that the Government was entitled to take up that ground. He submitted that so long as the English people and Parliament asserted their capability of legislating for the wants of Ireland that their first duty and care should be to carry out the obligation so undertaken. Irish Members came to that House as the Representatives of an unwilling people in unwilling union; and it was not a sufficient answer to them, under those circumstances, to be told that Parliament had not time to examine the just claims and just grievances of the people of Ireland. The time of Parliament had, no doubt, been occupied with the consideration of Irish affairs, but not mainly of remedial legislation. If they took numbers of days as the measure of the attention given by Parliament to remedial Irish legislation, they would find that in the Session of 1880 this number did not represent more than about one-third of the time at the disposal of the Government. In the Session of 1880 they would find that 14 days were given to the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, which was the principal measure introduced during the Session. All the rest of the Session, so far as Bills undertaken by the Government were concerned, was devoted to English and Scotch questions. Coming to the Session of 1881, they found that only one-third of the time of Parliament 1911 was devoted to the passage of the Land Act—53 Sittings, either wholly or in part, were given to the single Irish remedial Bill introduced by the Government in that Session, which lasted about 150 days. Coming to 1882, they found that 20 days were occupied in the passage of the Arrears Act. With the exception of these 20 days, all the rest of the time of the House had been devoted to English and Scotch interests, if they left out of the question the time spent in protesting against and bringing before the notice of the public and this House the results of the most mischievous policy of coercion in Ireland. It was not the attention of the House to Irish remedial legislation which had rendered the House incapable of doing its work; nor was it Obstruction, because Obstruction had undoubtedly been put an end to by the Rules which the right hon. Gentleman passed in the Session of 1882; but it was the inherent incapability of Parliament to cope with its work, which still remained, and which must continue to increase until some radical alterations were made either in the direction of his Resolution or in the direction of distributing the duties of Parliament among local Governing Bodies. What were the causes of this paralysis of the functions of Parliament? He traced them chiefly to the fact that this single Assembly had taken upon itself duties which ought to be distributed among a number of Assemblies; secondly, to the presence of a "foreign body" in the House, of which foreign body he considered himself a component part; thirdly, to the results of the coercive legislation undertaken against Ireland; and, fourthly, to the existence of "another place," which so far from serving as an example, and as a deterrent to evil-doers in that House, seemed on occasions to incite them to acts which they probably would not undertake were that "other place" not in existence. The first of the causes he had mentioned would undoubtedly increase from day to day and from year to year, and would produce congestion and blocking in all matters of importance. England had the greatest commerce in the world; she had the largest foreign Possessions, and the most extensive Colonies. She was more liable to be brought into contact with Foreign Powers, and a greater number of Foreign Powers, than any 1912 other country. Her cities were increasing in a greater ratio and to a greater extent than the cities of any other Power, and all those interests and affairs which necessitated the intervention and attention of Parliament were more pressing and more numerous in reference to the Empire of England than were like interests and affairs in the case of any other country. Take, for example, the United States. The United States had not one-twentieth part of the commerce of England. They had not her mighty interests, and could not compete with her in many matters. Yet how did the States do their legislative work? How did they attend to the wants of the 50,000,000 comprising her population? Why, they distributed the work among nearly 40 different Assemblies. If all the business of the American States was attempted to be done at Washington, instead of being distributed through local centres, there would be a state of paralysis nearly equal to that which prevailed in the British House of Commons. Canada, again, distributed her legislative work. She did not content herself with one Legislative House, but had several subordinate Local Assemblies invested with considerable powers. If England, with 10 times the need for distributing her legislative function, attempted by one House to do that which America found it difficult to do with 35 or 40, it followed that there must be paralysis. The Irish Members—"the foreign body "—had been held up during the last few years to odium, as a cause of the incapacity of the House to perform its work. It was said that their Obstruction, which it was alleged existed till very lately, was the cause of Parliament not getting through its Business. Well, he would admit at once that he believed the Irish Members sitting on those Benches were part of the difficulty which Parliament had experienced, and he thought that so long as they continued to sit there so long would they continue to be a difficulty. He did not for a moment mean to say, in regard to the great bulk of them, that that difficulty was intended. He thought that it was the reverse. Indeed, he believed he could show that it was the reverse. Take, for example, the last few years, when Obstruction, or rather what was alleged to be Obstruction by the organs of public opinion in England, took place in that 1913 House. Take the question of the Prisons Act. That was apparently a non-contentious measure until they came to that portion which was impeached by the Irish Members. Under the skilful guidance of the Home Secretary the Bill was passing through the House with the utmost celerity, when two or three Irish Members intervened in the debate, and from that moment till the measure struggled through its final stage there were scenes of constant difficulty and alleged Obstruction. Now, why was it that the Irish Members intervened in the Prisons Bill? It was simply because the question of prisons had an absorbing interest for many of the Irish Members. At the time, perhaps, it had an absorbing interest for only very few of the Irish Members; but since then the number of Members concerned about prison discipline had very much increased. So though very few intervened in the debate, yet by their resistance and Obstruction—if they would call it so, though he deemed that it was not Obstruction—they obtained improvements and the recognition of principles in the measure by which it afterwards became possible when the Coercion Act was put in force in Ireland to obtain something like just and humane treatment for the 1,000 persons arrested under its provisions. Then, again, take the Army Discipline Act, which enlisted the sympathies of Irish Members for somewhat similar reasons. They would find that if they looked back on the last and the present Parliament that the presence of the Irish Members was always a source of complaint from the fact that they took a practical interest in the questions brought before the House, but not with any desire to obstruct Business in which no section had greater concern than they had. He thought he had proved his case, then, that they must look forward to difficulties, not designed, but arising out of the nature of the case, so long as they had Irish Members in the House. That being so, why did not Parliament allow Irish Members to devote their energies and attention in Committee upstairs to the particular questions affecting their own country—non-contentious subjects, such as the question relating to the housing of labourers, which had been made the subject of reference to a Royal Commission he far as England was concerned. 1914 If the Government would agree to this Amendment, they would, in all probability, find that much of the energy now devoted by Irish Members to outside matters—to matters of a negative kind, and in regard to which they could only hope to act indirectly—would be applied to their own affairs, and that the experiment would be so successful and beneficial that it would be repeated. It was obvious that the results of coercive legislation had delayed the Business of the House very much. No reasonable or sensible Englishman could suppose that 1,000 persons, many of them of great responsibility and respectability, could be arrested, and their business ruined, and they taken away from their families, without causing considerable friction and discussion. When the last Coercion Act was passed—an Act which exceeded in stringency all the Coercion Acts ever devised by that House—no far-seeing Englishman could ever have supposed that such an Act could have any other result than that of creating considerable friction and discussion and obstruction in the Business of Parliament. As to the existence of that "other place" to which he had referred, it was within the experience of Members that Bills which had occupied day after day in that House were wrecked on the Charybdis of the other branch of the Legislature. He was sure that many would be disposed to agree with him that one great source of difficulty, if not of obstruction, was the continued existence of that "other place" of irresponsible legislators. Let hon. Members consider the present position of affairs so far as Ireland was concerned. Amongst the non-contentious questions which might be referred to a Committee such as that proposed by his Amendment were the extension of the Municipal Boundaries of Dublin and the working of the Labourers' Act. The Irish Members had secured a very good day (Wednesday) for their Agricultural Labourers' Bill; but in all probability it would be blocked, and then it would be utterly impossible to make progress, except by a miracle or some fluke, aided by as good management as enabled them to reach the Committee stage last Session. It was not reasonable to expect Irish Members to spend the whole Session in this country, and to deny them the opportunity of obtaining reforms of admitted evils. 1915 He hoped, therefore, the Government would consider the matter, and that they would agree, if not to his Amendment as it stood, at least to some modification of it by which non-contentious matters connected with Ireland could be referred to the definite judgment of the House by means of inquiry by a Grand Committee upstairs. He concluded by expressing a hope that the House would accept the Amendment which had been moved by his hon. Friend, who had taken the matter in hand in his absence, or as he had said, some modification of it.
I think the hon. Gentleman must have framed the Amendment which has been moved in his name, and has been supported by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. C. Russell), with a perfect knowledge that Her Majesty's Government could not accede to it, for reasons which I shall presently give. Before doing so, however, I wish to say, with regard to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, that I regard it as a very noteworthy speech. It is one to which I have listened with very great interest, and one which, while it contains many propositions to which I cannot subscribe, and from which I must altogether separate myself, is yet, looking at the main staple of the speech, a most valuable and able contribution to the arguments in favour of Grand Committees. It recognizes in full that we can only cope effectually with the enormously increasing Business of this House upon the principle of the distribution of labour and by multiplying the means of dealing with that Business, as far as its details are concerned. With regard to the Motion itself, there are various grounds on which, as the hon. Gentleman has himself anticipated, the Government cannot accept it. One is that it is a step in the direction of Home Rule; another that it involves the adoption of the local principle of government, which many hon. Members may not see their way to accept in greater fulness than it at present exists; another objection is that the form of the Motion is faulty; and the fourth is that the present is not the time at which to consider the reconstruction or the full development of the principle of Grand Committees. I will not now deal with the objection based on the Home Rule argument, nor will I deal with the prin- 1916 ciple of local government involved, because I frankly own that I am rather sanguine in the belief that, if the experiment of Grand Committees has fair play, and is allowed to develop, it may be found advisable to refer to such Committees matters of legislation referring especially to particular portions of the United Kingdom. My main objection is to the form of the Motion, which is such that the Government could not possibly accept it. The Motion as it stands applies only to Ireland. How would it stand in the face of the country, even if we had arrived at the stage at which we should consider how to apply the local principle, that we should apply it to Ireland exclusively? It is quite plain that the claim of Scotland would be as undeniable as the claim of Ireland. [Mr. PARNELL: Hear, hear!] Quite so; you may say you will make another Motion for Scotland, but that is an objection to your Motion because you do not propose a plan for Scotland. I consider that Wales has a fair claim of the same kind, and, moreover, that parts of England might profit very considerably by the judicious application of the principle. But that is not the proposal we have before the House. The proposal deals with only one particular instance of the application of the principle which, if it is to be applied at all, must be applied equally and fairly, in order that all the different parts of the Kingdom might take advantage of it. I am bound to say that if ever the local principle came to be applied in these Committees, it would never be upon a basis so exclusive as the hon. Member proposes. Then the hon. Member proposes that all Irish questions of a certain character should be remitted to a Grand Committee, consisting exclusively of Irish Members, with the exception of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, who might or might not be an Irishman but who would, at any rate, be a solitary and undefended individuality amongst 103 Irish Members struggling to maintain existence in such a depressing atmosphere as that in which he would find himself. The legitimate consequence of adopting this Motion as drawn would be that not only must the same principle be adopted for all parts of the United Kingdom, but the Grand Committees must be constituted of Members who stood in special relation to the subject. 1917 The hon. Member has used expressions with regard to the working of these Committees up to the present time which are not, I think, justified by the facts. He seems to think that the experiment has been a failure. That is the very principle which the House has always rejected. It has always aimed at taking care that a Grand Committee should be a body in which the special interests should be largely and adequately represented; but it has never acceded to the principle that the Committee should he exclusively composed of those who may be called specialists. If it did accede to a rule so rigid, nobody would consent to refer Bills to such Committees, or when they came back they would have to go through the same ordeal as if they had never been referred. The hon. Gentleman said we were very nearly in the same position as if Grand Committees had never been appointed; that the experiment, if not a total failure, was very near it. Surely the hon. Gentleman will not press that proposition. Is it not an undoubted and indisputable fact that two very important laws relating to subjects which for a long time had each presented insurmountable impediments to the progress of this House in legislation—namely, Bankruptcy and Patents—were both disposed of last year, and exclusively through the medium of Grand Committees? We found that we were making a promising commencement, but still it was not such a commencement as would justify us in asking the House to go into the question at large. I cannot help thinking, and I believe that the great mass of the House will agree in my opinion upon the point, that we have not as yet had sufficient experience in reference to this subject as to warrant our putting forward any other plan. "Well, then, what was the only plan open to us to propose? It was a repetition of the experiment of last year. What would have been the case practically if we had taken any other course? Supposing we had endeavoured to bring in another plan, or to make some sort of amendment, the consequence would have been that every hon. Gentleman would have brought forward his own view upon one or other of the extremely numerous points involved in the question of Grand Committees, and the result would have been that we 1918 should have been obliged to sacrifice a large part of the Session, or go without Grand Committees at all. The only course we could take was to propose a renewal of the Grand Committees, exactly on the old lines, with a view to the enlargement of the experience obtained from that trial so as to place the House in a position hereafter—probably next Session—at all events, I hope, at an early period—to judge what shall be its final determination with regard to this enormously important question of the Grand Committees, in which I find, and in which I am glad to see the hon. Member finds, the best and the most hopeful, if not the only possible, instrument of restoring the House to a condition of due efficiency. It is, perhaps, enough to dwell upon this single proposition that we have no option, and cannot be parties to an endeavour to amend, in this or that single particular, the system of the Grand Committees at the present moment. The only thing we can do is to ask the House to again make a trial to enlarge its own experience, and then, when it feels the ground well under its feet, the Government might be asked to make a final proposal. I hope I have made good to the hon. Gentlemen opposite that the position of the Government is already defined for it, and that for us to accept an Amendment of this kind would be a total abandonment of our ground, and would be attended with great disadvantages to the Business of the House, and would be specially injurious to the views of those who regard the experiment of Grand Committees with favour on the whole.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, the Prime Minister had said very much what he (Sir George Campbell) had intended to say, and he rose to subscribe almost every word that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. He thoroughly agreed with what the Prime Minister had said as to its being necessary and desirable that some part of the system of Grand Committees should be devoted to local legislation; but he could not agree with the last portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he gave his reasons for not proceeding at the present time to carry out the views he had so clearly enunciated. He humbly adhered to the view of the Prime Minister that the Business of the 1919 House would never be efficiently perfected till they had a complete system of distribution of labour, and it seemed to him that the devising and carrying into effect of a system of that kind was a great work, and the most pressing at the present moment. He was, therefore, disappointed that the Prime Minister had not proceeded at once to give effect to his views on that subject. Life was short, and Parliaments were shorter, and if they did not do good work by means of those Grand Committees this Session, Heaven know when they should do it. After what the Prime Minister had said, it was hopeless for the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) to go to a Division with his Amendment in the exact form in which it stood; and he hoped the hon. Member would amend it by leaving it to the House to determine of what Members the Grand Committee should be composed. He would not, under the circumstances, propose his Amendment for the appointment of a Grand Committee for Scotland. They hoped they should shortly obtain a Minister for Scotland, and the proper complement of that Minister would be a Grand Committee for Scottish affairs. He did not believe the system would ever be effective till they had such a Grand Committee. If the hon. Member for the City of Cork pressed his Amendment, he should move the following addition:—That all questions relating' to Ireland shall he put to the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in that Standing Committee, and not in this House.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, the hon. Member for the City of Cork's proposal that Local Business should be referred to Local Committees was one from which he would totally and absolutely dissent. It would be to break up that principle on which their great Parliament rested—namely, that local prejudices should be tempered by the general common sense. The Prime Minister had virtually conceded all that the hon. Member asked for, and a great deal more; only, like doctrinaire parents giving presents to good children, he pleased to keep it back for the domestic anniversary to make it more valuable. In promising its Grand Committee to Ireland, he added that if there was to be a Grand Committee for Ireland, why should there not be one for Scotland, 1920 another for Wales, and possibly others for other parts of the country? That was sufficiently alarming; but the Prime Minister went on to say that these Local Committees must not be composed simply of Members connected with the locality. The argument of the Prime Minister amounted to this—that the Business of the country was becoming so overwhelming that the old practice of legislating by means of Bills passed by the Whole House must give way to a system of General Committees. He could not accept that view of the matter. An experiment was made last year of appointing Grand Committees to deal with the special subjects allotted to each. They had a Committee on Trade and another on Law, and when that system was extended they might have Grand Committees on all social questions and foreign questions and various other subjects. The hon. Member for the City of Cork now plunged in with a counter-proposition for Grand Committees based on a geographical principle. The Prime Minister breathlessly accepted the idea; so it came to this—that the Business of the Empire was to be conducted, not by the House of Commons, but by two parallel series of Grand Committees, co-existent and inconsistent, one series to be based on the rule of subjects, and the other based on geographical considerations. The House only consisted, when full, of 658 Members, it must be remembered, and if such a system as this was carried out the present block, even in the blackest days of Obstruction, would be only a joke compared with the inevitable confusion of the future. The hon. Member appealed to the local and general legislatures of Canada and the United States; but the reason why the system of local legislation succeeded in these countries was that the local legislatures were in existence first as the governing bodies of independent Colonies or foreign States, and were subsequently united for certain purposes by a Federal scheme. But it would be a very different thing to break up the old Parliament of an ancient and consolidated Realm by attempting to create a "pinchbeck" imitation, which would be the first note of National decay and ruin. The prospect opened up by the joint agency of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and of the Prime Minister would, if carried out, 1921 only lead to an era of confusion, compared with which the one they had just advanced through would be peace, Paradise, and progress.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, that for months he had had a Motion on the Paper to the same general effect as that of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, but he did not think it desirable that hon. Members from English and Scotch constituencies should be altogether excluded from the Irish Grand Committee. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) ought not to object to such a Committee, as the Land Laws of the two countries were wholly different; the landlord in Ireland occupied a wholly different position from the English landlord. Again, there were laws with respect to religion in Ireland which differed from the English laws. It could not be contended that if a Standing Committee were granted for Ireland it must be granted also for every county in England. The right hon. Gentleman did not desire that the English system should be assimilated to the Irish; and the institution of a separate Grand Committee for Ireland was a rational proposal. But the hon. Member for the City of Cork would apparently exclude all English and Scotch Members—even the Prime Minister himself, the author of the present Irish Land Law. [Mr. PARNELL dissented.] He was glad to find that the hon. Member for the City of Cork did not carry his proposal so far; and in so far as the hon. Member only asserted the general principle he agreed with him.
§ MR. GREGORY
thought that the Grand Committees of last Session had done good work; but he did not think the distinction between Trade and Law could be maintained, as the legal question and the necessity of the presence of lawyers were equally prominent in one as in the other. But the success of the experiment depended on the exclusion of political or controversial matters. There had been none such in the Committees which passed the Bankruptcy and Patent Acts, and the Committee which dealt with a subject which did involve controversial matter broke down. On that ground he was opposed to the Amendment of the hon. Member for the City of Cork; any attempt to introduce national questions would necessarily introduce political and polemical conside- 1922 rations, which were eminently unsuitable for such Committees.
said, the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) based his objection to the Amendment on the ground that its adoption would lead to putting before the Grand Committee contentious and political matter. But, as he (Mr. Dick-Peddie) understood the hon. Member for the City of Cork, his intention was that only Bills of a non-contentious character should be sent to the proposed Committee. He supported the Amendment of the hon. Member; but he would have done so more heartily had the form of the Amendment been different, and had it proposed to introduce the element of English and Scotch Members into the proposed Committee. He thought, too, that the hon. Member should have embraced Scotland in his Amendment; but he supported the adoption of the Amendment in the hope that if it were adopted the system it proposed to introduce would be applied to Scotland as well as Ireland. Great benefit, he thought, would follow from the appointment of Committees on Scotch and Irish matters of a non-contentious nature. Not only would a great deal of the time of the House be saved, but Bills would receive far more adequate discussion than they now did. So far as Ireland was concerned, indeed, he did not think the change was so much required as it was in the interests of Scotland. The Irish Members were more numerous than the Scotch, and the Party of the hon. Member for Cork City was well trained to act together, and the result was that Irish measures generally obtained pretty full discussion. But it was quite otherwise with Scotch measures. The Scotch Members were few in number, and they had no union among themselves. He repeated it, they had no union, and the result was, that Scotch Bills were crowded into the end of the Session, and passed through rapidly without adequate discussion and often without any discussion whatever. They saw that in the case of important Bills at the end of the Session before last. He advocated the proposed change chiefly in the interests of legislation for Scotland and Ireland. The Prime Minister said if they extended the principle of Grand Committees to the affairs of Ireland, why not extend it to those of 1923 Scotland and Wales, and of the large counties of England? There were, he thought, obvious reasons why the system, if extended to Scotland, should not, on that account, be extended to Devonshire, or Yorkshire, or other English counties. He must remind the House that Scotland was in an entirely exceptional position. As had already been pointed out by his hon. Friend the Member for Sal-ford, the whole system of law and the national institutions of Scotland were quite different from those of England or Ireland, and hon. Members outside of Scotland neither understood nor cared for Scottish affairs. On those grounds he was prepared to support the Amendment; and if it were carried, he would move a similar Amendment with regard to Scotland.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he did not think anyone present would regard this Amendment in a very serious light, or attach any considerable importance to it. He bad been observing during the evening how many Irish Members had waited in the House to listen to the discussion of what was really an Irish subject. On one occasion he noticed that there were only 17 Irish Members present out of 103 who had seats, and at the present time the proportion was still smaller. This, as he had observed, was an Irish question, introduced by an Irish Member of considerable influence; and the state of the House showed clearly enough that it did not attract much interest. He heard the speech of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, which was delivered with all that plausible manner and that attractiveness of arrangement which the House was becoming accustomed to; but he did not consider that anything had been presented which suggested a solution of what were called the difficulties of legislation at the present time. The hon. Member said he proposed, by his Amendment, to deal with matters peculiarly Irish, to produce a large machine for dealing with Irish Bills of a non-contentious character; but who had ever known of any difficulty arising in that House in dealing with Irish Bills of a non-contentious character? But he would go further back. Who had ever known of a non-contentious Irish Bill? They had one illustration suggested to-night—namely, the Labourers' Act of last year, an illustration of a Bill which 1924 the new invention of a Grand Committee could have worked at with effect. He asked the House to remember that no one took any part in that discussion but Irish Members. They were allowed to work—it was not for him to say—their wicked will, but they were allowed to work their benevolent intention on that Bill, and to endeavour to mould the machinery into form; and no one but Irish Members spoke upon it, except, perhaps, the Representative of the Treasury, who thought it necessary to say a few words. A glance at Hansard would assure anyone that, with the single exception he had quoted, no English Member took part in the discussion. They had heard there were mistakes in the Bill; but, if so, the errors were certainly not the fault of the English or Scotch Members, but the Irish, so that that did not very much advance the discussion; and the House would see that it was not impossible for Gentlemen, so clever even as Irish Members, to make mistakes. He regarded the proposal of the hon. Member for the City of Cork as one for the furtherance of Home Rule, notwithstanding that it was said to be necessary only in order that the people of Ireland might know what were the views of their Representatives on the various subjects relating to the country which were brought forward; but he would appeal to the hon. Member whether he thought the Irish Members in that House were so given to taciturnity as to leave any man living who took an interest in the matter in doubt as to what their views were on every conceivable subject? That, he was sure, was not the intention of the Amendment. He listened with much attention to the speeches of the hon. Member and the Prime Minister; but it seemed that they had forgotten one point, which was that the Committee constituted in the terms of the Amendment would have to deal with almost every Bill which was introduced, for they all applied to Ireland, unless that country was specially excluded. He supposed, however, that the hon. Member meant Bills which applied solely to Ireland—[Mr. PARNELL: Hear, hear!]—and, as that was not enough, he would exclude Bills of a contentious nature. But a great number of these non-contentious Bills, as they were called, were Bills which the Treasury, in some 1925 way or other, had an indirect interest; and was it intended that such Bills should be dealt with exclusively by Irish Members without the Treasury having any voice in the matter, or without a Representative of the Treasury being present, when they were drawing their blank drafts on the Exchequer for the requirements of Ireland? [Mr. PARNELL: The Chief Secretary.] The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was not the Representative of the Treasury. No doubt, that right hon. Gentleman would occasionally be very pleased to give considerable sums for Irish purposes; but his benevolence was interrupted by the Treasury. This was, he believed, not a new proposal. The hon. Member for the City of Cork told them that Mr. Butt introduced the subject, and he (Mr. Gibson) had no doubt it was clearly and distinctly dealt with then. The only reference, however, he had been able to make to previous discussions on the subject, in the short time at his disposal, had been to the time when it was supported by the hon. Member for the City of Cork in the Autumn Session of 1882, on which occasion a Motion was made by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), supported by the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy), who did not think much of its object. The hon. Member for the City of Cork then made a well-considered speech, and the Prime Minister dealt very clearly with the matter. He said the hon. Member's Motion might be very useful as a ventilation of opinion, but that it could hardly be taken seriously. He might point out also that its principle was wrong. Grand Committees were constructed on broad bases, upon agreement of principle, and not on geographical limits, or according to the views of particular Parties or cliques. Why, if it were granted to a section of the Representatives in that House, should it be withheld at the request of the Representatives of other sections? If Ireland were granted a Grand Committee, why should not Scotland and Wales each have a Grand Committee for the transaction of its Business? They had already Grand Committees on Trade and Law, and there was full representation on each for the various sections and Parties in that House. If special local knowledge was required, the Committee had power to add to 1926 their number such Members as would supply that deficiency. The hon. Member had disclaimed any reference to Home Rule; but others might interpret it as a Home Rule Motion, and if the House assented to it, that assent would be liable to misconstruction. He was opposed to anything like Home Rule for Ireland, expressed or implied; and because he thought that the proposal now before the House would not do any good to Ireland he should oppose it.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the proposal made by the hon. Member for the City of Cork was a very moderate one. One of the features, perhaps, of that debate had been the extraordinary difference of opinion shown to exist between: the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) and the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), although both sat upon the same Bench" The right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge minimized the effect of the proposal, which he thought indicated no danger of "Home Rule," and was but a very moderate departure; whereas the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin appeared to think that the understanding of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge was defective. The former had been so badly off for an argument that he remarked upon the absence of Irish Members, of whom he (Mr. Sexton) believed there was a substantial representation both where he was and on the Government Benches, whilst where the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University sat there was not an Irish Member except himself. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had invited the House to believe that there were no non-contentious Irish Bills; but he (Mr. Sexton) believed that the Labourers' Act of last year, which had been referred to, was emphatically a Bill of that character, as it was supported by Representatives of all schools of thought; yet in consequence of the hurried manner in which it had been passed into law in a defective state it had since been found unworkable, and had entirely failed to effect its purpose in Ireland, to the great loss of the poorest and most helpless class, simply because it had not the advantage of being considered by a Grand 1927 Committee. As to the effect which it was said this proposal would have on Home Rule, the House ought to consider the Amendment on its own merits, rather than with reference to a question which was not before it. Then, as to drafts which might be made on the Treasury, surely it was open to the House, when a Bill came from a Grand Committee, to revise it from the point of view of right hon. Members opposite. It was not proposed that all Bills, even of a non-contentious character, should go before a Grand Committee. The proposal was, that any Bills which the majority of the House thought it advisable to refer to a Grand Committee should be so referred; and the House would have complete power over those Bills, both on the Report stage and on the third reading. The Prime Minister laid great stress on the argument that if the Government assented to the proposal they would abandon the ground which they had taken up. But if the ground was good ground, the acceptance of the proposal of the hon. Member would not lead to the abandonment of the ground, but would rather strengthen, extend, and fortify it. He was not sure, however, that the experiment of the Grand Committees had been so successful as to entitle them to take a very sanguine view with regard to them for the future. The Bills on Trade, owing to the great tact of the Minister in charge of them, had no doubt passed into law; but of the two Bills on Law which had gone before the Grand Committee, one had been returned to the House too late to be passed into law, and the other had been abandoned at an early stage in the Grand Committee itself. And there was one great drawback attending those Committees. Hon. Members from the country, who had seldom before opened their lips, acquired such a habit of speaking in the Grand Committees, that they returned to the House having developed powers of speech of a most portentous character. One effect of the Grand Committees, therefore, was to raise up a tribe of orators who might make the glut of Business more embarrassing than ever. As to the argument of the Prime Minister, that if Ireland had need of a Grand Committee, Scotland and Wales might also put in similar claims, he could only say that he did not see why they should not; and if Scotch 1928 and Welsh Members supported the Irish Members in this proposal, the Irish Members would support their claims in return. He thought the Prime Minister would find that he had made a great mistake in refusing to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, which, he submitted, would tend to relieve the Business of the House, conciliate national feeling in Ireland, and make legislation more efficient.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
remarked, that the objection raised by the Prime Minister seemed to be founded entirely upon the form and not upon the essential character of the proposal of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. In voting for that proposal he should regard it simply as an abstract Resolution; but if it had been a substantive Motion, he should have voted for it, because he thoroughly believed in the principle which it enunciated. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) intimated that he could not support such a proposal if it were interpreted as sanctioning a tendency towards Home Rule. That was a very unsatisfactory method of dealing with a serious question. It would be impossible for the House to arrive at a practical conclusion on any subject if proposals were always tested in that manner. He thought that while their experience of the working of these Committees had not been entirely disappointing, it still had not been sufficient to justify the sanguine hopes which they had entertained. He thought the proposal of the hon. Member for the City of Cork was merely renewing the Resolution of last year, and making it more likely to be successful when the Committee was composed of those best qualified from their local knowledge to deal with the subjects to be considered. These Standing Committees necessarily exhausted a good deal of the energies of those who worked upon them, and diminished their capacity to take part in legislation. The feature in the Foreign Legislative Assemblies which, at the very outset, struck them was the limited number of hours the House was called upon to devote to Public Business. Thus in Austria four or five hours daily were found to be sufficient to devote to the Public Business, simply because during the first days of the Session most of the work was done in sections under Com- 1929 mittees. The Imperial responsibilities of the Empire were extending from day to day, and if Parliament was to be made a sufficient engine for the transaction of Business, and for the successful management of difficult Imperial affairs, it could only be done by means of a large and comprehensive measure of devolution. He hoped the hon. Member for the City of Cork would bring this matter forward by moving a distinct Resolution, if he failed to win the support of a majority on that occasion, so that they might be able to devise some means whereby sectional Representatives might be trusted to deal with sectional affairs, while they were all united in that House by a common desire to facilitate and properly transact the affairs of a United Empire.
§ MR. RAIKES
desired to call attention to the latter part of the observations which fell from the Prime Minister. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Mover of such a Resolution seemed to have some obliquity of mind. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Not obliquity.] He thought the right hon. Gentleman might be mistaken in making that emphatic repudiation. To-day the Prime Minister came down, and unreservedly—as far as he could do anything without reservation—accepted the principle of locality as constituting a proper basis for a Legislature. But in so doing he had clearly shifted ground, because, in the course of a debate upon the Rules in the short Session devoted to them, in speaking against an Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for the City of Cork which proposed a Committee to consist of Irish Members, the Prime Minister said the proposal might be a good one for the ventilation of opinions, but if it were meant seriously it implied obliquity of understanding to think that it could be entertained. [Mr. GLADSTONE: What was that proposal?] It was a proposal similar to the proposal now in dispute—namely, for a Committee consisting of Irish Members. If the present Amendment did not argue great obliquity of mind in the Mover, its acceptance would argue great obliquity of mind in the majority of the House; and he (Mr. Raikes) hoped the House would reject it. The right hon. Gentleman had entirely shifted his ground when he said that geographical limits might be a sufficient justification for separate branches of 1930 the Legislature—a principle which would involve Home Rule for each part of the British Empire. It was a saying of Mr. Canning's, or of some of the great men of his day, when the question of the Repeal of the Union was in the first instance ventilated—"You might as well restore the Heptarchy." If the Prime Minister was not prepared for the Repeal of the Union, he was willing to restore the Heptarchy. He had expressly admitted the claim not only of Ireland, but also of Scotland and Wales; and he did not know how much further he might be disposed to go—perhaps to the Isle of Wight, and perhaps to the Isle of Ely——
said, that on the occasion referred to he carefully guarded himself by saying that he spoke only his own opinion, and not for the Government.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he did not see that that much altered the case. It was well known that the right hon. Gentleman was Her Majesty's Government—that when he expressed his opinion he expressed that of his Colleagues and the great majority of his followers. The right hon. Gentleman's disclaimer could hardly be accepted on this question. It was to be observed that the wording of the Amendment excluded the right hon. and learned Members for the University of Dublin. ["No, no!"] Then it was considered a borough; but that was not evident, at first sight, to the ordinary English mind. It was said that the unfortunate Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland could not be left on the proposed Committee to bear the attacks of Irish Members of three Parties, and that he would require to be supported by the Prime Minister, whose energies and time were too valuable to be spent in this way. In all seriousness he hoped the House would speak with no uncertain voice on this Amendment. He hoped Members would not adopt the view of the Prime Minister, but that they would take more emphatic and decisive ground, and that they would not consent to Home Rule by instalments, and establish an Irish Parliament at St. Stephen's or at College Green. When the House, with doubt and hesitation, accepted the Standing Committees, they did so upon the express assurance that they should be confined to matters like consolidation, 1931 codification, and non-contentious details, and that they should not assume any general responsibility for Imperial legislation.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
wished to state why he was constrained to oppose the Amendment. This was an inconvenient method of raising the question of Local Self-Government, and if the Amendment were carried it would have the effect of leaving a large number of Irish questions which were Imperial as well as local to a Standing Committee, and this would seriously prejudice the general ground on which Grand Committees stood, while it would not facilitate the settlement of the questions themselves, which would be sure to be re-discussed in the House.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, that if the proposed. Committee were to consider "all" Bills relating to Ireland there could be no restriction to non-contentious subjects, and substantially the proposal was the same as the former Motion to appoint a Committee to consist of Irish Members, as to which the Prime Minister was reported to have said that he doubted whether Parliament would sanction anything of the kind, as it involved an enormous Constitutional innovation. It was, therefore, impossible to say that the Amendment would bring about a simple continuance of the experiment of last year. It was really a development which had been distinctly repudiated by the Prime Minister himself. He had no great faith in Grand Committees, but the acceptance of the Amendment would destroy all the good which they were intended to effect. He resisted the Amendment as being contrary to the principles which had always governed that House.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, that it seemed to be forgotten that it was the House itself which decided what measures should be dealt with by a Grand Committee. He distinctly recollected two instances which showed the necessity of the Amendment. One was a Bill dealing with cattle disease in Ireland. The right hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), when he was Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under the late Government, held a conference with Irish Members of all Parties on the Bill, discussed its details with them, and by that means brought the Bill into such a 1932 condition as to be acceptable to Irish Members, and suitable to the requirements of the case. The other case was that of the Tramways Bill. They had only two hours to discuss the details of that Bill. He had himself several Amendments to propose, upon which he found it impossible to obtain the judgment of the House. The consequence was that, though the Act was a well-intentioned measure, it had been found impossible to work it effectually. The Bill might have been made a really effective measure if it had been discussed in detail by a Grand Committee. He pointed out that Bills would have to pass their second reading before being referred to the Grand Committee, and if that Committee altered the principle of the measure it would be open to the House to reject it on the third reading.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that in supporting the Amendment, he had not changed the opinion which he entertained when, two years ago, he introduced an Amendment to the same effect when Grand Committees were established. Nothing surprised him more than the idea expressed by hon. Members that the proposal was of a Separatist character. In his opinion, the weakness of the Amendment was that it was of a distinctly anti-Separatist character; and when he made his proposal in October, 1882, he distinctly guarded himself from advocating the appointment of a Grand Committee as anything else than a temporary expedient. There was no final power in a Grand Committee, and the relegation of Irish Business to such a Committee would be an affirmance of the principle of Imperial legislation for Ireland, which would certainly fail in the long run. What could be the objections to the constitution of a Standing Committee consisting of Irish Members, for the consideration of Business at one stage relating to Ireland, always sup-posing, for the sake of argument, that the Imperial Legislature wished to rule Ireland according to Irish ideas and Irish wants? All that was asked was, that in the Committee stage of the Bill, which required, above all things, local knowledge and sympathy with local wants, Irish Members should deal with the measure. The Bill would still have to be reported to the House, and English and Scotch Members would have the power, in the last resort, of deciding 1933 with that sovereign indifference to Irish ideas against the Irish proposals. Where was the danger in this to Imperial unity; where was the danger, except to the Imperial ignorance of Irish affairs? If a moderate proposal of this sort was to be met by stout refusal, it was pressure from outside, as in the days of the Land League, and not argument inside Parliament, which would affect the consciences of English and Scotch legislators for Ireland.
§ MR. WARTON
said, the House was not yet in a position to pronounce a decided opinion that the Grand Committee system had succeeded. In his opinion, the Grand Committees had failed; and the only thing they had done was to agree to the principle of certain measures upon which the majority of Members were already agreed. He need hardly say that he should oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for the City of Cork.
§ MR. FINDLATER
said, as an Irish Member, it was his intention to support the very fair and reasonable proposal of the hon. Member for the City of Cork.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 160: Majority 120.—(Div. List, No. 22.)
§ MR. O'SHEA
moved the following Amendment:—Provided also that one Standing Committee be appointed for the consideration of all Bills relating to Labourers' or Artisans' Dwellings, which may, by Order of the House, in each case he committed to it, and the procedure in such Committee shall he the same as in the two Committees appointed under the above-mentioned Resolutions of the House of 1st December 1882.The hon. Gentleman said, that the same objections would not apply to this Amendment as had been urged against that upon which they had just divided, because it did not ask for any exclusively National Committee. The fact was that, owing to the want of a Standing Committee of this kind, an Act which was passed last year—the Labourers' Dwellings Act—was passed in a manner which had rendered it almost unworkable in many of the Unions of Ireland. He believed if Her Majesty's Government consented to accept this Amendment that a great deal of trouble would be saved, and it would be altogether unnecessary to include Ireland in the scope 1934 of the Royal Commission which had just been appointed. Of course, there was an objection that the Standing Committees were originally established for certain definite purposes, among which such a proposal as this could not be numbered; but the arrangements under which Standing Committees were originally formed were surely not governed by any law of the Medes and Persians. If there was any logical reason, as he believed there was, for extending the scope of these Committees to such a case as that which he had now put before the House, he thought it would be a misfortune to exclude it, and run the risk of doing over and over again in Irish remedial legislation what was done last year. The Royal Commission need not be extended to Ireland if Her Majesty's Government would accept this Amendment; because, however defective in detail the measure might be, the principle of the Labourers' Act was good, and, when properly amended, it could be applied to artizans' dwellings in the towns. At the present moment, however, it was impossible to work the Labourers' Act in Ireland for two or three reasons, one of the chief being that the questions of title and the cost of transfer rendered the expense enormous. A great many attempts had been made to carry that Act into operation; but, unfortunately, owing to the defects in the details, of which so much had been heard that night, and which must befall almost every kind of Irish legislation, unless there were some means of taking Irish opinion quietly in a room upstairs, he was very much afraid that many very useful pieces of legislation would be wasted when it was attempted to put them in practice. The question he proposed to put before the House was one which involved no subject beyond that upon the Paper. There was certainly no question of Home Rule contained in it; and, under those circumstances, he appealed to Her Majesty's Government to extend the operations of these Standing Committees at least as far as was covered by his Amendment.
At the end of the Question, as amended, to add the words "Provided also that one Standing Committee be appointed for the consideration of all Bills relating to Labourers' or Artisans' Dwellings, which may, by Order of the
House, in each case be committed to it; and the procedure in such Committee shall be the same as in the two Committees appointed under the above-mentioned Resolutions of the House of 1st December 1882."—(Mr. O'Shea.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, there was not, on the average, more than one Bill dealing with the subjects mentioned in the Amendment introduced in the course of three or four years; and it was not, therefore, to be expected that such matters would be the subjects of annual legislation. If Bills dealing with these subjects were prepared with proper care, anything like annual legislation would be unnecessary. That, he thought, was a sufficient reason why the House should not agree to set up a Special Committee for the purpose proposed. With regard to the illustration given by his hon. Friend, and upon which his hon. Friend relied for proving the necessity of the Amendment—namely, that of the Labourers' (Ireland) Bill of last year, he could only say that an amending measure had already been prepared by some of the Irish Members, and be could only hope that it would be passed in the best possible form. He was sure that it would be the desire of the House to pass, without any great discussion, a private Member's Bill for such a purpose. He knew the difficulty which had been found in working the Act, and be was quite sure that the House would pass an amending Bill as readily as they passed the original Bill. Under those circumstances, he thought the Amendment moved by his hon. Friend was unnecessary.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
wished to endorse everything that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that any Bill introduced for the purpose of amending the Act which had been referred to—any Bill introduced with the real and bonâ fide object of amending that Bill—would receive every consideration on that side of the House. He need not remind the House that a Committee sat for two years upon the subject, in 1881 and 1882, and made a Report, which contained very valuable suggestions. Those suggestions were put into an Act of Parliament last year; and he had 1936 been of opinion that the recommendations of the Committee presided over by the First Commissioner of Works would really have settled most of the difficulties which had arisen in carrying out the existing Acts. As far as the working of the Act went, all the Bills that were necessary to carry it out were dealt with by Provisional Orders; and, of course, the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment knew that such Orders were matters that were dealt with in a special way without troubling the House. With regard to the amendment of the Act on the general question of the dwellings of the poor, a Royal Commission had now been appointed, and all the facts were to be thoroughly investigated, he hoped for the last time for a long time to come. If any further legislation were found to be necessary, of course it would be based upon the amending Bill; but, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board said, they must not expect too much in that direction. He believed the Act, if properly worked at the present moment in the large towns, would carry out all that was absolutely necessary; and be gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was of the same opinion. No doubt, in regard to the country and some of the smaller towns, there was a great deal more to be done; and he trusted that everything that remained to be done in the country and in the smaller towns would be included in the recommendations of the Royal Commission, upon which the right hon. Gentleman had been good enough to ask him (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to serve. He felt it was quite time that these matters should be seriously taken up; and he hoped that before long the law which affected the small towns of the country would be brought into conformity with that which applied to the large towns. He ventured to repeat what he had said in 1875, and what he believed to be perfectly true and proved by experience—namely, that in the large towns the existing evils bad been the growth of centuries; and they could not expect to remove all those evils, which had been growing up for so long a time, in the course of two or three or five years. On the contrary, it must be a matter of considerable time; a matter of considerable expense, and, to some extent, a matter of degree; and the real question was, how it could be done as 1937 cheaply as possible, consistently with what was due, and nothing more than what was due, to the requirements of the case? He had always held that property had its rights, and that those rights ought to be defended; but he bad also held quite as strongly that property had its duties as well as its rights. The object of the Royal Commission should be to see that, while the real rights of property were fully protected, the duties which attached to it, on the other hand, should be completely discharged.
§ SIR JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG
said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) would not press the Amendment. The matter the hon. Member proposed to deal with was now under the consideration of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The Metropolitan Board had brought in four schemes under the amended Act, which were now being carried out; and there was every hope that the result would be satisfactory, and that hereafter bad dwellings for the artizan classes would be prevented. At the same time, he must say that if an Amendment of this kind were adopted, it would aggravate and intensify the expense of future schemes, and it would be much hotter to leave the authorities to carry out the arrangements as they best could under the existing law. The Metropolitan Board of Works had tried in every way to grapple with the question; and he thought the hon. Member would be astonished if he were shown the figures and put in full possession of the facts. He (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) believed that the Metropolitan Board of Works would succeed in carrying out their intentions; and, in the meantime, he trusted that the hon. Member would not press the Amendment, which would interpose difficulties in their way.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he thought that the Amendment of the hon. Member was intended to apply to Irish Bills, and especially to the Labourers' Act of last year. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member that the machinery for carrying out that measure was defective, and that the measure itself was practically unworkable. He was, therefore, glad to hear from Her Majesty's Government that there was a probability of the Act being amended; and he should be ready to support any 1938 Amendment that would substantially carry out the objects for which it was originally introduced. He believed that if the Labourers' (Ireland) Act were referred to a Committee composed principally of Irish Members, it might be so amended as to be rendered a perfectly workable Act. He had had some experience of the operations of a Committee appointed upon a similar principle in connection with a purely Irish Bill—namely, the County Courts Bill. That Select Committee was composed principally of Irish Members, and they came to the consideration of the matter with a practical knowledge of the nature of the work before them. The result was that the Committee were able to make the Bill a thoroughly workable measure. Whenever a Bill for amending the Labourers' Act came before the House, he, for one, would be willing to support any proposal in the direction of referring it to a Select Committee composed principally, if not entirely, of Irish Members.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he was obliged to the right hon. Baronet the President of the Local Government Board for the assistance he had kindly promised to the Irish Members in amending the Labourers' Act of last Session. But what he was anxious to provide for was this—that in the event of a Bill being proposed, and turning out to be satisfactory to the Government and the House generally, upon this question, there should be some chance of passing it through the Committee stage. He was afraid that the course suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for the County of Dublin (Colonel King-Harman) would not secure that object; but, on the contrary, it would certainly insure that the Bill would not be passed into law during the present Session, because they all knew from experience that when a Bill was referred to a Select Committee it was about the last that was seen of it in the House for that Session. The result, therefore, of referring the coming Labourers' Bill to a Select Committee would be to shelve it for the rest of the Session. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) fairly asked Her Majesty's Government to say that if they found themselves in a position to agree to the second reading of the proposed Bill for amending the Labourers' Act of last Session, they 1939 would afford facilities for getting the Bill through Committee. The labourers of Ireland had been subjected now for many years to successive disappointments in regard to this matter. In the first place, they had the Act of 1870, which proposed to do something for them. Then they had the Act of 1881, which also proposed to do something for them. And last Session they had the Act of 1883, which proposed to do something still more for them, and in reference to which expectations were largely excited. Nevertheless, all these Acts had turned out to be useless, and of no practical importance or avail for the object in view. He, therefore, thought it was of the greatest possible importance that some means should be found by the House, if not those suggested by the hon. Member for Clare, by which the Government might see their way to holding out some hope and affording some means, in the event of an amended Bill being introduced, of carrying it through all its stages. It was a matter which would not take very much time, even supposing that the measure was referred to a Select Committee, coupled with a promise on the part of Her Majesty's Government that they would give it facilities when it came back from the Select Committee. In that case there might be some chance of seeing it passed into law in the course of the present Session.
said, the Government could not agree to the proposal of the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) that a Standing Committee should be appointed for the consideration of all Bills relating to labourers' or artizans' dwellings; but he thought, in answer to the appeal of the hon. Gentleman, that he might say this. The hon. Gentleman was aware of the spirit which animated the Government last year in regard to the Labourers' Act. They would be prepared to act in exactly the same spirit in regard to an amending Bill, and would assist, as far as possible, in seeing that the necessary provisions for carrying out the Act effectively were introduced. They would even be more desirous of taking that course now than they might have been in the first instance in obtaining the original Act, because it was most desirable that the whole question should be put upon a satisfactory basis.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he thought that the engagement made by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Local Government Board, coupled with the promise which had just been given by the Prime Minister, would render the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Clare unnecessary. He therefore hoped that it would be withdrawn. In regard to the observations which had been made by the hon. and gallant Member for the County of Dublin (Colonel King-Harman), he thought the reference made to the County Courts Bill was somewhat unfortunate, seeing that, from some circumstance or other, that measure had not been carried out, owing to an omission on the part of the Clerks of Unions to send out notices in the spirit in which the Act was intended. He hoped in any new Bill that some provisions would be inserted to require the Castle officials to do their duty.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ MR. WARTON
moved, at the end of the Resolution, to add the words—Provided also that neither of the Standing Committees shall sit while the House is sitting.The hon. and learned Member remarked that it might be said the object he sought to carry out was, to a certain extent, provided for by the Rules of the House. He believed that it was distinctly understood, when the question of Standing Committees was before the House, that those Committees should not sit while the House was sitting. But they all knew what occurred last Session. They knew that, somehow or other, the Government found it necessary to pass a certain Bill through the House; and in order that this might be done the Standing Committee passed a Resolution directing the Chairman to obtain leave from the House to sit while the House itself was sitting. He forgot the exact time the Committee sat in that way; but it was occupied in its labours for a considerable time after the proper hour. He thought that was altogether unjust to hon. Members who were 1941 required to serve upon Standing Committees. It was quite enough that, in addition to their labours upon the ordinary Committees of the House, they should be called upon to serve upon a Standing Committee at all; but it was highly objectionable to require them to sit upon a Standing Committee upstairs when the House itself was engaged in discussing important Imperial questions. It was the right of every Member of the House to be present during the whole of the time that the Public Business was being carried on. Indeed, it was the duty of every Member to be in his place; and if it was the pleasure of the Prime Minister to force these Grand Committees upon the House, the right hon. Gentleman ought not, at any rate, to deprive the Members of such Committees of their rights as Members of the House of Commons. In the interests of Members who might be appointed upon Grand Committees, he asked the House to agree to his proposal that no Standing Committees should sit while the House was sitting. He thought it absolutely necessary that they should guard against the danger he had pointed out, and that there should be a clear and unequivocal understanding as to the time at which the Standing Committees should sit. No doubt they had already had an understanding; but he wanted something more satisfactory than the understanding arrived at the year before last. What he wanted was that in some clear and regular terms—such as those embodied in his Amendment—the question of the sitting of the Grand Committees should be defined without necessitating a reference to other Rules and Regulations, which only tended to embarrass the action of the Committees. It was quite possible now, if any hon. Member objected to sit when the House itself was sitting, for other Rules and Regulations of the House to be referred to, and for those who objected to be told that it was provided in Rule 45, or some other number in conjunction with some other Rule, or Standing Order, that the Committee had power to sit. It was possible at present for all sorts of arguments to be made use of in support of that theory; and he wanted to have an unmistakable Rule laid down by a Special Resolution, in order to make it impossible that any Standing Committee could sit while the House was 1942 sitting. It was only due to the House itself—and the Members of the Grand Committees also—that this course should be taken. The effect of the uncertain state of the existing Resolutions was that in more than one case every Member of a Grand Committee was compelled to remain in attendance upon the proceedings of the Committee upstairs, because an attempt was being made to carry an objectionable Amendment or Resolution. The consequence was that such Members were prevented from taking part in the Public Business of the House. Under those circumstances, he begged to move his Amendment, with the utmost confidence that it would receive the approval of the House; and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would be able to accept it, although, no doubt, the astute mind of the right hon. Gentleman would enable him to find a flaw in it.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
seconded the Amendment. He was of opinion that it was most desirable that no part of the House should be sitting on a Grand Committee while the whole House was engaged in transacting its ordinary Business. At the same time, he did not think they ought to put upon the Committee the responsibility of refusing to sit, if there happened to be an important question for the consideration of the Committee. He knew personally, in regard to the Sittings of the Standing Committees last Session, that many of the Members of those Committees came to the House jaded and tired, when they ought to have been fresh and fully prepared to discharge the duties they were called upon to perform. It would easily be understood that when an energetic and powerful Minister in charge of a Bill had submitted a Resolution to continue the Sitting, hardly any Member of the Committee would like to be the first to shirk the work, however indisposed he might be to continue it. Every Member of the Committee, therefore, felt himself called upon to vote for continuing the Sitting, and the Committee would unanimously pass a Resolution authorizing the Sitting to be prolonged beyond the proper hour. He thought that was placing upon the Committee a responsibility which it ought not to bear, and that it was for the House itself to undertake the responsibility of saying that under no circumstances 1943 should a Grand Committee sit while the House was sitting. It was only by the adoption of a fixed Rule of that nature that the House would enable the Members of these Grand Committees to do justice, not only to themselves, but to their constituents.
At the end thereof, to add the words "Provided also that neither of the Standing Committees shall sit while the House is sitting."—(Mr. Warton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he hoped that the proposal made by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) would receive favourable consideration, or that the House would have some assurance from Her Majesty's Government that they would not, in the coming Session to which the Order extended, propose that the Grand Committees should sit during the sitting of the House. There were some strong objections raised last year to the proposition that these Committees should sit at any time during the sitting of the House, and certain words were inserted in the Standing Order to guard, as far as possible, against that course being taken. He was quite sure that the experience of those hon. Members who had sat upon the Grand Committees during last Session would have increased very much their objection to the imposition of double work of this kind upon Members of the House. He was of opinion that what had actually occurred showed that the Standing Order, as at present framed, hardly met the necessities of the case; because, as the hon. and learned Member for Bridport had pointed out, the President of the Board of Trade had actually suggested to the Committee on the Bankruptcy Bill that their Chairman should apply for leave to sit during the sitting of the House, although he did not proceed to carry out his intention, because he found the opinion of the Committee was so strong against it. The Law Committee was never asked to take that course at all. Now, what was the Standing Order on the subject? It referred to Standing Order No. 56, which provided that Committees should have leave to sit on Wednesdays and other Morning Sittings during the sitting of the House, and so far excluded 1944 Standing Committees from the operation of that Order as to enact that an Order of the House should be necessary to enable them to sit during the sitting of the House. Any hon. Member who had served upon a Select Committee knew how easily such an Order was obtained. If a Select Committee desired to sit during an Evening Sitting of the House, all that was necessary was that some hon. Member should come down to the House at an early period of its Sitting, and a Motion was made, without Notice, that the Select Committee should have leave to sit during the sitting of the House. That Motion was put and carried as a matter of course, and leave was accordingly given. He must say that any proceeding of that kind on the part of the Chairman or of any Member of a Standing Committee would be open to great objection, and yet such a proceeding was permitted by the Standing Order. If Her Majesty's Government could not accept the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend, he trusted that, at any rate, they would say that it was not their intention, as far as they could foresee, to move in the course of the Session that a Standing Committee should obtain permission to sit during the sitting of the House; and that if any unforeseen circumstance should arise which induced either of the Standing Committees to agree to sit during the sitting of the House, no Motion for Leave should be made without due Notice having been previously given to the House, in order to secure that the matter should be fairly considered, and the real judgment of the House taken upon it.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he was afraid that he was unable to assent to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet. He had been really at a loss to know what the object of the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport was. He did not know whether it was intended to be a repetition of the provision already contained in the Standing Order, or if it was to be something that was to be in conflict with it.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he now understood from the hon. and learned Member that the Amendment was intended to be a modification of the provision of the Standing Order; and all he had to say was that it appeared to him to be both 1945 unnecessary and undesirable for the House to agree to such an Amendment. These Standing Committees were expressly prohibited from sitting during the sitting of the House. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had already pointed out that the Standing Order of the 21st of July, 1856, which gave Select Committees leave to sit on Wednesdays and during other Morning Sittings of the House, did not apply to Standing Committees. It, therefore, appeared to him (Mr. Dodson) that the matter was fully provided for; and he remembered that a discussion took place upon this very question when the propriety of appointing Standing Committees was discussed in the Autumn Session of 1882, and the words quoted by the right hon. Baronet were inserted, in order to meet the objection that it was undesirable for the Standing Committees to sit during the sitting of the House without the express leave of the House in each case. So far as his recollection went, the words which were now taken exception to were inserted for that purpose. If they were now to strike out the words "without an Order of the House," would it be a proper way of dealing with the subject to amend the Standing Order thus? They would still find themselves unable to bind the House not to give leave. It would still remain in the power of the Committee to make the application, and in the power of the House to accede to it; and the only effect would be that it might make the proceedings somewhat more difficult. All purposes were completely answered as the matter now stood. As a matter of fact, he did not think that a Standing Committee sat last Session while the House was sitting.
§ MR. WARTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken. A Standing Committee sat constantly during the sitting of the House.
§ MR. DODSON
said, that he was a Member of the Law Committee, and he had no recollection of its sitting during the sitting of the House; but he would not say whether the Bankruptcy Committee did or did not. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was the Chairman of the Bank- 1946 ruptcy Committee, and would be able to say.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that also was a mistake. The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was not the Chairman of the Committee.
§ MR. DODSON
said, his right hon. Friend was in charge of the Bankruptcy Bill, and it was the impression of his right hon. Friend that that Committee did not actually sit during the sitting of the House. If, however, it had done so, it was not very frequently, and only after the leave of the House had been first obtained, and that leave would not be requested except by the wish and at the desire of the Committee itself. The object of inserting the words in the Standing Order was to give a Select Committee power to sit with the leave of the House, if, on any special occasion, it might seem to them to be expedient that they should do so. He must say that it appeared to him undesirable to fetter the Committee and the action of the House itself by providing that a Standing Committee should be unable to obtain the leave of the House on a special occasion. He considered that such a course would be most objectionable.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he remembered, to wards the end of last Session, the proposal being made that the Bankruptcy Committee should sit during the sitting of the House; but he and other Members of the Committee objected. He hoped the House would receive from the Government some assurance that they, at all events, entered into the spirit of the opposition to the sitting of these Committees during the sitting of the House. There was no doubt a good deal of discussion upon the subject in the Autumn Session of 1882, and it was after that discussion that the words of the Standing Order were settled. If the Motion were now adopted, he was afraid it would be in direct conflict with the Standing Order; and the proper way of amending the Standing Order would be to omit the words" without the leave of the House." Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson) said, the House was omnipotent, and could at any time order a Committee to sit if it was so minded. His (Mr. Sclater-Booth's) objection, as he had said before, to the sitting of the Grand Committees 1947 during the sitting of the House was not on the ground of the convenience of hon. Members—although that was not to be lightly regarded—but it was upon another ground altogether. Hon. Members who served upon Private Bill Committees and other Committees during the sitting of the House must take the consequences; but he thought that the object of appointing these Standing Committees was to substitute them for a Committee of the Whole House; and if it was intended that they should give satisfaction to the House in discharging an important and a permanent part of the work of the House, there was nothing more likely to prevent that consummation from being realized than the practice, at the instance of the Government, in order to pass some Bill in which the Government were especially interested, of breaking down the general Rule that these Committees, composed of so large a number of Members, should not sit simultaneously with the House. Such a practice was one that ought not to be countenanced or thought of. Therefore, notwithstanding what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he still hoped to hear from the Government that they would, as far as possible, avoid what he could not help regarding as the fundamental mistake of appointing Committees to consider the most important public questions, and then encouraging them in sitting during the sitting of the House. He was quite certain that such a practice would greatly militate against the future usefulness of Grand Committees.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he was afraid that hon. Members opposite did not understand what took place in reference to this matter; and as he was answerable for the misunderstanding caused by a remark of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson), he would at once say that it was not the case that the Committee on Trade sat during the sitting of the House last year, and he wished to give an explanation. He had had an opportunity of conversing with his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell), and he was now in full possession of the facts of the case. In the first place, no Resolution was come to, either by the Government or anybody else, that the Grand Committees should sit during the sitting of the 1948 House; but when the Morning Sittings began, it was thought that as the Committee would sit for so short a time, once a-week, it was desirable that they should meet at 12, and extend their Sittings until half-past 2. A proposal was made, as a matter of fact, by an hon. Member on the other side of the House—although he did not admit that there were two sides of the House upon the Trade Committee—a proposal was made that the Chairman should apply for the leave of the House to sit during the time of Business up to Question time, and accordingly the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) did make that proposal to the House. It was assented to by the House after a discussion, and in consequence of the leave thus obtained the Committee sat during the latter part of their work until half-past 2 o'clock on Morning Sittings.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that was not so; they only gained half-an-hour, or until the time when the Questions were usually reached, and the practice only extended over a portion of the time the Committee sat. He had now, he believed, placed the House in full possession of what occurred in the Committee on Trade; and he thought it would be rather hard to ask the Government to exclude future Committees from doing the same thing if, as on the occasion to which he referred, it was done with the assent of every Member of the Committee. He would give the House an assurance that there was no intention or desire on the part of the Government to press any proposition of this kind. They would not think of doing it, unless with the general wish of the Committee, and then only to the extent to which it had been carried before.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he was of opinion that the statement they had just heard from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was the strongest argument to show that the matter would not stand on a satisfactory basis unless some alteration of, or addition to, the Standing Order were made. He had heard the last words of the right hon. Gentleman with great satisfaction—namely, that it was not the desire of Her Majesty's Government to allow these Committees to sit fit the same time the House was sitting. 1949 Upon that point he thought they would all agree; but the preceding portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman only demonstrated the fact that whatever the wishes and good intentions of the Government might be, they were but ill fortified by the powers already possessed. The same intention and desire existed last year; but the stress came on late in the Session. The stress was that very stress which the House foresaw in the Autumn of 1882. Although some hon. Members were believers in the utility of these Standing Committees, he confessed that he had never believed in them. He had foreseen that the stress would come at the time when there was a collision between the sitting of the Standing Committees and the Morning Sittings of the House. He ventured to say that the House, by a preponderance of conviction, if not unanimously, intended in the Autumn Session to provide against the sitting of the Grand Committees during the sitting of the House; but in the difficulty and hurry-scurry of the legislation which took place in that wretched Autumn Session in November, words thrown out by the Prime Minister were adopted in the Resolution which made it possible for the intentions of the House to be frustrated; so the compromise then entered into, as compromises were apt to do, happened to break down. And what was the reason why the right hon. Gentleman said they did so? Some Members of the Trade Committee discovered that they had some private arrangements which made them unwilling to go in for the slight change of day which would have set matters right, and that was the reason why the right hon. Gentleman would not press on the Committee an arrangement which ought to have been made. But he must say that he saw no sufficient reason for adhering to the mistake of 1882. It showed that the settlement did not stand on a satisfactory basis. The House had declared very strongly what its wishes and desires and intentions were. The right hon. Gentleman had very fairly and clearly ranged himself on the side of the same intentions; and yet, by an unfortunate compromise, they found that where the stress was strongest the resisting power was weakest, and that the evil complained of might be perpetrated over and over again of the Standing Committees con- 1950 tinuing their work while the House was sitting. He considered that a case had been made out for an alteration in the Rules, in the sense of greater stringency, and making them really preventive of the evils in question; and he thought it would be a mistake to part with the question before the House before the remedy was reached.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER (LORD MAYOR)
said, as a Member of the Standing Committee on Trade, he was present when the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was moved; and he ventured to say on that occasion that, in his opinion, it was unnecessary that the Members of the Committee should be present in the House when the Questions were being put. His point was that Members of the Committee could arrange to put down their own Questions for days when it was convenient to them to be in their places in the House, and that they could continue to sit upstairs until the real Business of the House commenced. For those reasons, he had ventured to suggest that they should sit until 3 o'clock. His view, however, was not carried out, and the result was that it was decided to adjourn at half-past 2 o'clock. On the application of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Goschen), who was not then in his place, the House gave leave for the Committee to sit until that time; and, if his memory was right, it was also arranged that they should meet an hour earlier. He was sorry to differ from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) and other Gentlemen on that side of the House. He could not on this occasion go into the Lobby with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport, because it certainly seemed to him undesirable that in this matter the House should commit itself to a hard-and-fast line. It would, he presumed, be for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), or any other Gentleman presiding over a Grand Committee, to come down and ask leave of the House as to the hour at which the Committee should cease its labours. That he regarded merely as a formal matter; because when any Gentleman who presided over a Standing Committee, fortified by the unanimous opinion of the Committee, came down to ask leave of the House, 1951 he did not think it likely that such leave would be refused. When the House appointed the Standing Committees it had confidence in them, and in the Gentlemen who presided over them; and, therefore, he repeated that, in his opinion, it was not well that the House should adopt a hard-and-fast line in this matter, which might in future fetter its action. He was aware that the experience of hon. Gentlemen who served on the Standing Committee on Law was very different from that of Members of the Standing Committee on Trade; and he was bound to say that the former Committee seemed to have fully justified the expectations and wishes of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the establishment of Standing Committees. For the reasons stated, and differing with very great regret from hon. Gentlemen with whom he usually acted, he should be unable to support the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend if he thought it necessary to divide the House upon it.
§ MR. ECROYD
said, he would press strongly on the right hon. Gentleman opposite the policy of giving such an assurance with regard to this question as would make it unnecessary for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport to carry his Amendment to a Division. He could himself testify to the great inconvenience experienced by willing workers on the Bankruptcy Bill last year, in consequence of the prolonged hours of sitting of the Standing Committees complained of by his hon. and learned Friend; for all hon. Members would know how many matters demanded the attention of Gentlemen representing large constituencies at the commencement of the daily Sittings of the House. If the Standing Committees were hereafter to be made permanent, he thought it would be good policy on the part of the Government to make the small concession asked for, and to give a positive assurance that the Standing Committees would not be required to work when the House was in Session.
§ MR. PULESTON
said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. R. N. Fowler) that it would be very unwise to establish any hard-and-fast rule in respect of the time during which the Standing Committees should sit. He was, however, bound to point out that 1952 one cause of the unpopularity of the Standing Committees, notwithstanding the way in which they had worked so far, was that many hon. Members felt that their constituents were practically disfranchised, because their Representatives were excluded from participation in Parliamentary work, and the remedy for this must be the appointment of a number of Standing Committees on something like the system in the American Congress, where every subject had its appropriate Committee, and every Member was occupied on one or other of those Committees. Thus the House was saved the discussion of useless measures, and was able to concentrate its efforts on the result of the action of its Committees.
§ MR. DIXON-HARTLAND
said, the Standing Committee of which he was a Member was asked to sit a great many times when the House was in Session. He pointed out that a Member who took a great interest in the subject brought before a Standing Committee, and attended the Sitting from 11 in the morning till half-past 2 o'clock in the afternoon—as was the case on the Standing Committee on Law—came down to that House fagged; and if there was no interval between the rising of the Committee and the sitting of the House, he was certainly not able to do his duty in respect of the Business of the House. For his own part, he had never missed a Sitting of the Committee of which he was a Member; he was present from the beginning to the end of the Sitting; and he certainly found it a great strain upon his powers to have to rush from the Committee Room to take his place in the House. He cordially supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Bridport, and trusted the Government would see their way to adopt it.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, it was the understanding last Session that the Standing Committees should not sit during the sitting of the House, except on special occasions; but when a certain period of the Session was reached the Committee on Trade sat constantly when the House was in Session. The leave of the House, which was supposed to be the safeguard of Members, was asked, not every time it was necessary, but once for all. He and his hon. Friends did not say Her Majesty's Government were not adhering to the letter of the Rule, but they were certainly not adhering to 1953 the spirit. He had said, in the discussion of last year, that the proposal of the Government was a dangerous one; it was contrary to the understanding upon which the Grand Committees were appointed. He certainly preferred having these words left out of the Rule altogether, unless some understanding were arrived at. If the Government meant that the Standing Committees were to sit during Morning Sittings of the House, it would he better that they should say so at once—they had better take out the words from the Standing Order, and not leave the matter in this doubtful and shadowy condition. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) said—"We sat last year until the time when the Questions began;" but when he made that statement he seemed to have been under the impression that the Questions began at Morning Sittings at half-past 2 o'clock; but, as a matter of fact, they began immediately the Private Business was disposed of, which was very often the case at 10 minutes past 2 o'clock. The House was at present in a complete state of mystification on this subject; and he repeated that it was his opinion that if the Government intended to adhere to the precedent of last year, that the Committees should sit during the Morning Sittings of the House, it would be better to say so at once, and put an end to the uncertainty which existed on this subject.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ MR. MONK
said, if he had had the opportunity at an earlier period of the evening, he should have wished to point out some of the causes of failure in respect to the Grand Committee on Law, which reflected but too accurately many of those well-known features in that House which had for so long impeded and prevented legislation within its walls. But as the Government had, in his opinion, wisely limited the experiment to one year, it would not then be necessary for him to take up any length of time in discussing the subject. His object in rising was to ask for some further declaration on the part of the Government in reference to the announcement made by the noble Mar- 1954 quess the Secretary of State for War when he introduced the present Resolution. The noble Marquess on that occasion said that last year it was understood that none but Government Bills should be referred to the Grand Committees; he said that was an engagement which the Government would be quite willing to renew if the House desired it; but in the event of a private Member's Bill reaching its second reading stage, the Government would not raise an objection to its being considered by a Standing Committee, if there were a general wish on the part of the House to that effect. Now, it was well known that the greater number of Bills dealing with banking and commercial matters were introduced into that House by private Members; those Bills were frequently read a second time; but it was absolutely impossible that they should be considered in Committee of the Whole House. Many of those measures might, with great advantage, take their place in the Statute Book; and he, therefore, wished to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would not give an undertaking to the House that they would not oppose the sending of such Bills to the Standing Committees after they had been read a second time?
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, that, before any answer to this appeal was made from the Treasury Bench, he should like very much to ask for some undertaking or pledge from the Government with regard to the much more serious question which was raised by the action of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General at the end of the last Session of Parliament. He was sorry they had not had an opportunity of hearing at greater length the observations of his hon. Friends opposite on the subject of the Grand Committee on Law. Those observations would have been interesting and improving, no doubt; but the most interesting thing which had happened in regard to the Law Committee was this. Two measures were referred to it—the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill and the Criminal Code (Indictable Offences Procedure) Bill—and, by direction of the House, the former, when passed, was to be incorporated with the latter. The Court of Criminal Appeal Bill passed through the Committee after a certain number of Sittings, which were well attended, 1955 considering the enormous pressure the work of the Committee was upon those who were naturally made Members of it. The Bill passed through the Committee, and then it was hung up in consequence of the Committee addressing itself to the other subject, which it was obvious it could not possibly deal with—namely, the Criminal Code (Indictable Offences Procedure) Bill. The Court of Criminal Appeal Bill was brought back to the House very late in July, and the Attorney General one day announced that he intended to ask the House to strike out the alterations which had been made in it in the Grand Committee, and to restore it to the condition in which it was brought in by the Government, in order that it might be passed in the following Session. That appeared to him (Mr. E. Clarke) to be a great violation of the understanding upon which the Grand Committees were appointed. The very meaning and purpose of the Grand Committee was to substitute for the unwieldy and, to a certain extent, uninstructed body of the House, a body that might be able, with all the authority of the House, to deal with the matter, and put the measure in a condition proper to be passed into law. The object of the Grand Committee would be entirely defeated if the Government, after sending a measure down to it, and so withdrawing that measure from the cognizance of the House during the greater part of the Session, brought it down again in July, when, from the nature of things, they were the absolute masters of the time of the House, and sought to restore it to its original position. As he said, that course was attempted in the case of the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill, but it had failed. Now that the House was asked to re-appoint the Grand Committee they had a right to demand from the Government an assurance that they—the Government—would pay that respect to the Committee which was demanded of the House when those bodies were originally proposed. It should be understood that when the opinion of a Grand Committee had been deliberately taken on a particular measure, the Government would not use their July or August majority to reverse the decision arrived at.
§ MR. DODSON
In answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), I must say I 1956 think he rather misunderstood the statement of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). My right hon. Friend said this——
§ MR. DODSON
I may then at once say the Government do not propose to sup port the proposal for referring to these Grand Committees the Bills of private Members. Of course, if they are over ruled by the House, that is another matter; they will be bound by the decision of the House; but they do not, of their own motion, propose to support such projects. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down asks for an assurance that it is not the intention of the Government, after a Bill has passed the Standing Committee, to refer it to a Committee of the Whole House——
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
No, no; that it is not their intention to undo what has been done in the Grand Committee on Report.
§ MR. DODSON
Very well. I can give no definite pledge that no Amendments will be introduced on Report; but this I can say—that it is intended that a Bill coming from a Grand Committee shall occupy the same position and be entitled to the same respect—neither more nor less speaking generally—as a Bill which has passed through Committee of the Whole House. As we know, it is sometimes necessary to propose Amendments on Report that may in a manner differ from what has been done in Committee in the case of Bills that have passed through the Committee of the Whole House. The same thing may have to be done in the case of Bills coming from the Standing Committees; and I do not consider that in so doing we shall be treating those Committees with the smallest amount of disrespect.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That the Resolutions of the House of the 1st December 1882, relating to the constitution and proceedings of Standing Committees, be revived; Provided that no Bill reported from such Standing Committee shall be first taken into consideration by the House at any date in the Session later than the first of August.