HC Deb 28 June 1897 vol 50 cc667-70

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [17th May,], "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, Etc." Debate resumed.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

opposed the Motion on the ground that it was a. departure from what had been the settled practice of the House for many years. The First Lord of the Treasury had been the greatest champion in the House of the principle that controversial Bills should be kept within the area of the House itself, and should not be committed to Standing Committees upstairs. He thought no one would deny that this was a controversial Bill, and therefore it should be kept within the scope of the House itself. There was another reason why this Bill should be kept within the scope of the House. This Bill represented one of the great social Measures which the Government placed before the country at the last General Election, and in view of the importance thus given to the matter, the constituents ought to be in the position to see exactly how the proposal was received by the House, and to have the opportunity of considering the merits of the various Amendments that might be moved from different sides of the House. Then, again, the period of the Session at which they had arrived told strongly in favour of keeping the Bill in the House. They were now practically at the beginning of July, and in view of the work which the Grand Committee had already transacted, and of the very important Bills that were still waiting for its consideration, he thought this Bill ought to be dealt with by the House itself. They had had no reason given for sending the Bill upstairs, and as they were not too busily employed there they ought to keep it in the House.

MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)

said he found himself in agreement with his hon. Friend on this matter. On this Bill there arose a question which, though a matter for Committee, was one of such great importance that he did not think it could be adequately discussed except in Committee of the whole House. This Bill proposed to shut out goods produced in foreign prisons under whatever conditions they were produced. If they were produced and put on the market, not at a low price, but at the full market price, then they were to be shut out just as though they were put on the market and competed for at a low price and under conditions which would interfere with other producers. That was a question that affected them very closely in this country. Those of them who had taken an interest in prison reform—and he was a member of the Committee which reported upon this subject—felt most strongly that they would never adequately improve the prisons unless they offered opportunities for the men sent there to practise at a trade, acquiring habits of industry, and leaving the prison better men than they went in. This was a subject in which there had been difficulties with the trades unions in days gone by. What they had said was that these goods were put on the markets at low rates and under conditions—


Order, order! The hon. Member is discussing the merits of the Bill itself to an extent beyond what is admissible under this Motion.


said he had transgressed unwittingly. He was referring to this by way of illustration of the fact that there would arise in the Committee stage the very important question whether the Bill should apply so as to shut out goods, under all circumstances, that were produced in foreign prisons. If it did, it would be to put an immense difficulty in the way of those who had the cause of reform in British prisons at heart. Ho would therefore join in the appeal of his hon. Friend to the Government that they would take this Bill under circumstances when they could examine this question fully.


joined in the appeal which had been made to the Government to leave the Bill in the hands of the House. This was a controversial Measure, and one, moreover, which involved very great and important principles; it would result in a form of protection—he did not say it would be mischievous—and entail the adoption of completely new methods. In future the Board of Customs would have to go into the origin of a thing, and instead of being Commissioners of Customs they would be a sort of prize court. It was a tremendous alteration, one so large that no Committee upstairs ought to be empowered to consider it and decide upon it, but it certainly ought to be left to the House as a whole. He had no confidence whatever in the Standing Committees upstairs, and he for one would hesitate to leave it in the power of a Committee upstairs to say whether the very important new principles contained in the Measure should or should not be applied. The Standing Committees were originally intended to deal with matters of secondary importance and of great complication and detail. They never were supposed to be bodies to whom the House should hand over the settlement of great principles. This Bill was essentially one of principle, and therefore it ought to be committed to a Committee of the whole House.


said he was not sure he entirely concurred in the description of the Bill which had just been given by his hon. Friend. The hon. Member had used very strong adjectives in describing the enormous magnitude and importance of the principles which, in his view, were involved in the single clause of which the Bill consisted. He thought his hon. Friend had rather over-magnified the novelty of the departure the Bill constituted, and, if this were the occasion on which to argue the doctrine the hon. Gentleman had laid down, he believed he would be able to show the hon. Member had somewhat inflated the importance of the problems the Bill raised. In suggesting that the Bill should go to a Grand Committee, the Government had no desire to in any way violate the principles which had been laid down by successive occupants of the place from which he was now speaking with regard to the functions and duties which should be thrown on Grand Committees. He thought the hon. Gentleman who initiated the Debate went rather beyond the mark when he said that this was a Bill which divided Parties, and he was also of opinion that the hon. and learned Member for Haddingtonshire had slightly exaggerated the bearing of the Measure. But he frankly admitted that when three Gentlemen from different parts of the House brought forward different sets of arguments which appealed to them and all of which converged upon the one conclusion—that the Bill was not of a character that ought to go to a Grand Committee—he did not know that there was anything in the condition of the business of the House which should require the Government with undue obstinacy to adhere to their suggestion. ["Hear, hear!"] As there appeared to be a general feeling that the House themselves would prefer to discuss the Bill in Committee, and as they might hope the discussion in Committee would not be of a very prolonged character, he would be glad to assent to the committal of the Bill to a Committee of the whole House.[Cheers.]

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY moved that the Bill be put down for Committee to-morrow.


hoped it was not intended that the Committee should be taken to-morrow.


It shall not be the principal business to-morrow, but the second Order.


pointed out that no Amendments had been drafted with a view to going into Committee to-morrow.


thereupon named Thursday for the Committee stage.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Thursday.