§ MR. J. A. PEASE (Essex, Saffron Walden) moved that the order for going into Committee on this Bill be read and discharged, and the Bill withdrawn.
§ MR. COURTHOPE
said he should like to make an energetic protest against this proceeding on the part of the Government. [MINISTERIAL laughter.] It was all very well for hon. Members to laugh, but possibly occasions might arise in the future 2171 when they would be in a similar position, and when a Bill which they valued might be recklessly destroyed in this way. He thought he was justified in accusing His Majesty's Ministers of breach of faith in this matter. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] Yes, breach of faith. There was a definite pledge given so recently as July last by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade to a deputation of hop-growers that not only would the Bill be introduced, but that every effort would be made to place it on the Statutebook, and the only qualification that was made was that there should not be violent opposition from the Opposition side of the House. The opposition had come entirely from the supporters of the Government, and he thought he and his friends were justified in accusing the Government of a breach of faith in withdrawing the Bill merely owing to the ridiculous opposition—[MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh!"] He would substantiate that word—the ridiculous opposition of a small section of their own supporters who smelt protection in everything. He should like to ask those hon. Gentlemen—or some of them at all events—who supported the Miners' Eight Hours Bill, how they could justify their support of that measure if they saw protection in the Hops Bill. Surely the same arguments would hold good in both cases. He did not wish it to be understood from the protest he was offering now that the Hops Bill was everything which the hop growers desired. It was not. A drowning man, if he could not reach a lifebuoy, would grasp at a straw. The hop growers had not received fair treatment from the Government, but they were willing to substitute the straw. He felt that he could not allow the Bill to be withdrawn without making a vigorous protest about this latest failure on the part of the Government. Speaking at the National Liberal Club last week, the Prime Minister said they were met to celebrate a failure. He fancied that the hop growers would celebrate this failure in a striking fashion when the opportunity occurred. The seats of the hon. Members for Faversham and Tonbridge had simply been given away by the right hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.] The Prime 2172 Minister laughed, but he would find that that was so when the time came. This would not be forgotten by those who were dependent upon this struggling industry. He thought the Members of the Liberal Party held themselves up as the laughing stock of the country when they talked about the action of the other House. They were not able to rule in the other House, but they had shown that they were not able to carry a Government Bill in this House.
§ MR. ASQUITH
was sorry the hon. Member had allowed himself to use such language. His charge of breach of faith was absolutely unfounded; the Government had carried out their undertaking in letter and spirit. They introduced the Bill and tried to get it through, but he said most distinctly that unless it were treated as non-contentious it would be absolutely impossible to pass it. Now there were five pages of Amendments—
§ MR. ASQUITH
said it was no matter where they came from; he said it could only pass if accepted in all quarters as a non-contentious measure. He did not agree that it was a protectionist Bill, but some of his friends did, and he was not in a position to dislodge that conviction from their minds, and still less to treat their opposition as ridiculous. It was an opinion they were entitled to hold and, it being held by so large a number of Members, he being responsible for the conduct of business, found it impossible that the Bill could pass.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
agreed that it was clearly understood from the Prime Minister that he would only proceed with the Bill if it proved to be non-contentious. Of course, it did not matter from which side the opposition came.
§ MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
said many hon. Members opposite welcomed the Bill as a first step towards tariff reform. [Cries of "Name."] He would 2173 not mention names, but the tariff reform Press had certainly welcomed the Bill as the first step towards tariff reform. They might be right or wrong, but if it was in accordance with free trade let the Bill be fully debated. In the circumstances the Government were fully justified in dropping the Bill.
§ * SIR W. J. COLLINS (St. Pancras, W.)
regretted the language of the hon. Member for Rye, who was a useful member of the Committee. The Government had in no way been guilty of a breach of faith in the unfortunate action they had asked the House to take. The Committee had made a deliberate, exhaustive inquiry, and he regretted that it had not borne fruit in regard to the particular proposals embodied in the Bill. He reminded the House that the Committee, as the outcome of their deliberations, arrived at three conclusions. In the first place, they found there was no case for protection in the shape of a 40s. duty—the Report fully disposed of that proposal. Incidentally the Committee found that hop growers had two legitimate grievances, namely, that the use of hop substitutes was not prohibited here as in some foreign countries and in some of our own Colonies, and that foreign hops were accordingly imported unmarked, and in some cases mixed, while home-grown hops were not allowed to be so treated. For these two grievances the Committee recommended remedies. Lastly, they recommended that the Board of Agriculture should adopt a practice followed by the Department in the United States and give information to growers as to what was going on in other parts of the world, and information as to scientific cultivation and processes for the eradication of disease. He had been informed that it was the intention of the Board of Agriculture to take action in this direction. One result of the labours of the Committee was to dispose of the notion that an import duty would in the long run help hop growers, and he deeply regretted that time had not permitted the opportunity for disposing of the impression that this Bill had a protective character. He 2174 hoped that opportunity would be given early next session.
§ MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
said he did not blame the Government or think the Bill had anything to do with tariff reform. It would, if passed, have been a step in the direction of temperance, and if it had thereby been a benefit to hop growers, he was sure it would have been welcomed. He hoped the Government would carry it through next session.
* MR. DUNDAS WHITE (Dumbartonshire)
considered that the Government had taken the right course. From its introduction the Bill had been rather unfortunate. It was not introduced until a late period of the session. It was given a Second Reading on the assurance that there would be full opportunity for discussion in Committee, but there had been no time for that. No member of the Government had justified it on its merits. The justification appeared to be simply that it carried out the recommendations of the Select Committee. He ventured to say that a measure like this coming before the House ought to be considered on its merits. There were only two operative clauses. The first was designed to prevent the use of what were called hop substitutes, and it was to be observed that the description of those substances was intended to cover everything which could be used as substitutes for hops, whether they were used in substitution for hops or in addition to them. If it had been proposed simply to prohibit the use of deleterious substances, he should have been glad to support it. But that was not what the Bill did.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
said this was not an opportunity for discussing the merits of the Bill. If the hon. Member wanted to do that, they must go into Committee.
* MR. DUNDAS WHITE
said that under the circumstances, as there had been no opportunity of discussing the Bill, he thought the Government had acted very properly in taking the course they had.
LORD K. CECIL
said his hon. friend the Member for Rye complained of the action of the Government in withdrawing this Bill, saying that he understood that the Government were pledged to pass it into law. Hon. Members opposite took it that his hon. friend was referring to the statement which the Prime Minister made a few days ago in dealing with the business of the session, but that was not the statement that was referred to, but one made very far back in August. He had not seen the statement, but he understood that it was of a much less, conditional character than that made by the Prime Minister lately. For himself, frankly, he might say that he did not see his way to supporting the Bill in its present form. Although he did not think, strictly speaking, that it was a protective Bill he thought it would not be for the public interest that it should be passed as it at present stood.
§ MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said that the hon. Member for Rye complained that Amendments were put down by Members on that side of this House, and seemed to imagine that His Majesty's Opposition were the only persons who could legitimately place them upon the Paper. Members sitting on that side of the House, however, were entitled to criticise the Bill, and put down Amendments, and the measure ought to be fully discussed. They might, perhaps, be convinced by the Prime Minister or the hon. Member for Rye, and the Bill might be passed, but to push through a Bill of this kind, to which strong objection was taken, at that stage of the session, and at the eleventh hour, seemed to them to be improper. Therefore, they had insisted upon putting down Amendments, and, for his part, he was very glad that for this session the Bill had been withdrawn.
§ Order for Committee read, and discharged.
§ Bill withdrawn.