§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON moved "That the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months." He did not wish at that late period of the session to oppose legislation which the House of Commons really desired to pass, but he would remind the House that this Bill had been before Parliament for no fewer than eleven years. Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles said when it was originally brought forward that it was a very badly-drawn Bill and one that was very difficult to understand. The same objection applied to some previous Post Office Acts. It was said with regard to a clause in one of the Acts that only two gentlemen in the Post Office understood it, and these two gentlemen disagreed as to its contents. There was one 1723 other reason why he wished to oppose this Bill. Their able Postmaster-General, who wished to do so much to improve the postal laws of this country, had written a number of letters to him in whish, among other things, he expressed regret that the Post Office Consolidation Bill now before the House prevented him carrying out reforms which were of great moment. He had pressed those reforms on the right hon. Gentleman, and it was because various grievances were not redressed that he moved the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. BOWLES
thought the House would feel that it would be a great misfortune if the Motion of the hon. Member, who was, at any rate, admitted in all parts of the House to be an authority on postal matters, were allowed to fall to the ground for want of a seconder. Although, for his own part, he did not profess to have any detailed knowledge of the Bill, he was glad to be able to second the Motion, and on two grounds. In the first place this was a consolidation Bill, and his belief was that all Bills of that kind were innately mischievous. They were always represented to the House as Bills which ought not to be opposed, because their only effect was to consolidate the whole of the existing enactments, and he should not be in the least surprised if the Postmaster-General got up in the course of a few minutes to explain that this Bill ought not to be opposed for precisely that reason. He made bold to say that this Bill, like all Consolidation Bills, was not by any means merely a Bill to consolidate the existing laws, but it did effect in important particulars radical alterations in the law as it stood. Those alterations were to be found, as hon. Members would admit, if they looked at the complicated nature of the Bill, under circumstances which made it almost impossible for any body save great experts to detect them. It had never been denied, however, during the years for which the Bill had been before the House, that the alterations which were made in the law were of a radical character, and the House ought not to pass the measure simply because it was a Consolidation Bill. His second objection was this: As was frankly said in 1724 the Memorandum on the face of the Bill, this was a Bill which had been before the House for many years. It was first introduced in the House of Lords in the session of 1896, and therefore it was twelve years ago since the proposals to which they were now asked to assent were drafted. He understood that year after year, in almost unbroken succession, the Bill had been brought before the House, and every year the House in its wisdom had seen fit, if not to reject it, to refuse to proceed with it unless more time was devoted to its discussion than the Government of the day could afford to spare. He should be very much astonished if the right hon. Gentleman would assert that the business of his great Department carried on as it was under the existing Statutes had in any way suffered, or could in any way suffer, through the failure of this ancient and moss-grown measure to become law. For his part, he disliked all Consolidation Bills, but he particularly disliked this one, and under those circumstances he had the greatest pleasure in supporting the Motion of his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury, in order that the Postmaster-General might inform them what was the real object of the Bill, what were the changes it would effect, and whether it was essential that it should be passed into law.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Henniker Heaton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
The hon: Member for Norwood was quite right in his supposition as to the line I should take on this Motion. The argument which I shall venture to use is the argument which he anticipated, namely, that this is a Consolidation Bill, and that it makes no changes in the law. I can refer him to the Report of the powerful Committee, which contained not only representatives from the Opposition side of this House, but also noble Lords sitting on the Opposition side in another Place, which went very carefully into the whole question of consolidating the laws relating to the Post Office. 1725 That Committee came to the conclusion that the Post Office Consolidation Bill should be allowed to proceed, and they amended it in accordance with the views they formed during the inquiry. The hon. Member for Norwood has asked me what is the object of this Consolidation Bill, but I must point out to him that the time is too late to go into the subject at length. I will simply answer that it is a very great public convenience to anyone who has to deal with Acts of Parliament of this description to have all those Acts brought together in one comprehensive short Act, instead of having to go and look up a whole number of what are termed musty Acts. With regard to my hon. friend the Member for Canterbury, who has, I freely admit, taken a very active interest in postal affairs, though, perhaps, occasionally with a little exaggeration of activity, I understand his objection to be that this Consolidation Bill does not include other Amendments in the postal law which he would desire, and some of which I also desire. That, however, is not a point which should affect the progress of this Bill. The matters which he desires to see dealt with are matters for consideration on their merits. From time to time I have passed Acts of Parliament dealing with questions in which my hon. friend has expressed great interest, and I hope to have the opportunity of passing others. But I submit that this is not the moment at which those questions can be raised, and, therefore, I hope my hon. friend will not insist on this Motion, because I can assure him that from the administrative point of view, great advantages will accrue if this Bill is passed.
§ Amendment negatived.