§ "Ten" shall be substituted for "five" as the number of Development Commissioners who may be appointed under Section three of the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909, and one Commissioner shall retire every year, instead of every second year as provided by the said Section.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH moved to omit the word "Ten" and to insert instead thereof the word "Six."
§ I am not moving this Amendment for the purpose of opposing the Bill. The time for opposition to this measure has gone by. However much we may disagree with the principle it embodies, that principle is an accepted fact, and I move merely for the purpose of amending a Bill which is practically already on the Statute Book. Naturally, I would have preferred to have inserted "five" instead of "six," so as to have reverted to what was originally intended, but I am precluded by the Rules of Order from doing so, and I therefore move to substitute "six" in order to elicit from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a little more information as to the reason why he has multiplied the number "five" by two and said there shall be ten Commissioners instead of five. We have been endeavouring for some months past to elicit information with regard to these Commissioners, but we have been unable to obtain any information whatever either from the right hon. Gentleman or the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was asked in the last Parliament to state the names of the Commissioners, and he stated 378 that they would be given before the Bill finally left this House. The Bill finally left the House last Session in October, but we have received no information from the Prime Minister carrying out his undertaking. We are in exactly the same position now. The right hon. Gentleman last night exhibited a spirit of reticence, and was under no circumstances willing to tell us the reason why he had augmented the number of Commissioners to ten, or the names of the Commissioners. This is an additional and conclusive proof of the position which the private Member occupies in this House at the present moment. A few years ago it would have been possible, by moving the adjournment of the House, to have compelled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have given us the information we require, but he knew the Rules of the House protected him, and consequently he sat on the Front Bench and was unwilling to give us the information we desired. The reticence he exhibited last night naturally makes us believe that there must be some sinister purpose behind this. I sincerely hope he will elucidate the mystery, and tell us for what reason these five Commissioners are increased to ten, after the House has accepted the proposition that there should be five. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that there was a provision which enabled the Treasury to add to the number of the Commissioners, but an Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for the Oxford University, and it was accepted by the considered judgment of the House, that the Treasury should not have the power to increase the number of the Commissioners from five. Now, without any reason whatever being given, we are told that it is the considered judgment of the Executive that the number should be increased from five to ten.
§ The object of having a Commission of five was, I take it, that it should be of an independent character. I believe it is possible for a body of five Commissioners to exercise more independence than a body of ten. It was also the intention that those five should be appointed by His Majesty, and not by the Treasury, so that they should occupy a more independent position by reason of their appointment in that way. The right hon. Gentleman has been told that certain action on his part was attributable to his good nature. Will he continue that good character and give us the information we are asking for?379
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
I think I explained very fully the other night my reasons for proposing to increase the number of Commissioners. I told the House it was impossible, with the number limited to five, to get together such a body as would in my judgment discharge the very varied functions to be submitted to them. I therefore thought it necessary to add a few more names in order to make this a good working, efficient Commission. I had no other reason. I had no sinister or other motive. I have explained why I could not give the names of the Commissioners.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
I should have thought the reason was obvious. Of course no Minister has the right to assume that the moment it tables a Bill the House of Commons is bound to accept it. That seems, however, to be the assumption. I have just piloted a Bill through the House of Commons in regard to which the complaint against it was that there were so many Amendments to it. Therefore I cannot assume that the House of Commons will pass a Bill in its original form. Supposing the House of Commons reduced the number of this Commission from ten to six, if I had ten names I should have to cut out four of them, and I say that to publish these names throughout the country and eventually to have to cut some of them out would be a very invidious thing to do. There is a great difference between giving the names to my hon. Friends privately or to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and publishing them. [Mr. BELLOC: "None whatever."] If my hon. Friend really thinks that I do not think any argument would convince him. I certainly must have some knowledge that this Bill is going through in this form before I publish them, and that is why I said that if there was an undertaking that the Bill should go through in this form I should be happy to submit the names. There is an obvious reason why I cannot submit them to-night, but I hope I shall be in a position before the Bill comes on to-morrow night to give the actual names to the House as well as to the country. These are the reasons which led me to exercise the reticence which I have done, and it is no sinister motive at all. In order to show that it was not a sinister motive, I said I was quite willing to show the names to any Member as long as they were not published.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
It is not that I make any distinction between the front Bench and any other Members of the House. Not at all. What I object to is giving publicity to the names when eventually I may have to cut two or three of them out. I now come to the other point. The Noble Lord asked me why we did not announce the names before the Bill passed out of our hands. At the end of last Session there was a great Constitutional fight, and we were face to face with a General Election. It is much more-difficult to get a Commission like this together than the Noble Lord seems to imagine. We have to weigh and balance all sorts of considerations. You may ask certain Members and find they cannot possibly accept the position. Then there is a question as to whether one or two leading Members will take part, and then there is the class of man you wish fro have All these things take time, and I could not, and the Prime Minister could not, attend to them when we were on the eve of a General Election. That is the answer. I really did not apply myself to the question of the consideration of the names of the Commission until we came back, and when I began it I found it was impossible to do it without increasing the number, and I am, as the result of that experience, inviting the House of Commons to double the number. The Noble Lord feels himself that there is very little difference between five and six, and if we do leave it alone it would be left at five. One point I could not appreciate. The Noble Lord seemed to think that five would be independent and ten would not be. I cannot appreciate that view. If you can get five independent men you will get ten, and I have no doubt that when I give the names to the House of Commons it will be realised that the Government have done their best to secure ten perfectly impartial and independent men, and men whose names will, I think, command the confidence of the House as a whole. These are the reasons that I ask the House of Commons to assent to the alteration.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman says he has endeavoured to meet the House fairly with regard to giving the names. It is not very often that I stand up in defence of the right hon. Gentleman, and when I do so I am animated by a sincere desire to support 381 him. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to carry out the bargain to which he came with the House last night. He has offered to submit to any hon. Member confidentially the names of the Commissioners he desires to appoint, and I do not know what he could have done more. If the hon. Member had gone to the right hon. Gentleman, he would no doubt have been given the names of the proposed Commissioners, but what advantage would he have gained by that? The arguments that we intend to address to the House will probably influence hon. Members opposite, who are only influenced by a desire to do the right thing; who listen to the arguments in order to be swayed by them, and do not care in the least for the official whips. I am sure the hon. Member (Mr. Belloc) will agree that that description applies to him. Under the circumstances I do not think the hon. Member has anything to complain of.
As to the Amendment, my Noble Friend (Viscount Castlereagh) wishes to make the number six instead of ten, and says it will be impossible to make it five. I do not think it impossible. I have an Amendment to make it five, but I am going to support my Noble Friend because I am not sure that I shall carry my Amendment later on. Half a loaf is better than no bread, and six members are better than ten. The reasons which the right hon. Gentleman has given for increasing the number of Commissioners to ten were not the reasons which he gave last night. The reason he gave last night was that he could not find a sufficient number of Commissioners to represent the different interests which desired to be represented if he confined the number to five, and it was because we object to any particular interest being represented upon a judicial body that we objected to the number being increased. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he was extremely occupied during the last months of last year, and was unable to give the names to the House. Personally, I do not attach very much importance to the names of the Commissioners. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long), that they will probably be gentlemen to whom no one would take exception until we know what they do, and then we shall find perhaps that they are rather worse than the gentlemen who are ordinarily appointed to such offices. The Committee stage of the original Act was concluded in September 382 last. The Report and Third Reading stages were taken almost immediately, and the Bill became an Act in October. That is six months ago. Why has not the right hon. Gentleman in these six months appointed the Commissioners?
The proceedings in Committee were closured because we were told it was necessary to get the Bill through. I left that Committee because I thought there had been a breach of an arrangement—I do not say there was a breach—by which the Prime Minister undertook that we were not to sit in Committee when the Finance Bill was under discussion in this House. We were told it was urgent that the Development Bill should become law, and the Committee were forced to sit till five and six in the evening while this House was sitting on the Finance Bill. There was no urgency, for although it is six months since the Act was passed, the Commissioners have not yet been appointed. Now the eleven o'clock rule is suspended, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that this amending Bill must be got through on account of urgency. If we had been allowed sufficient time to discuss the original Act last year, it would have been unnecessary to introduce an amending Bill. Now we are pressed to rush through this alteration before the original Act has come into operation. No arguments have been adduced to show that it is necessary to alter the number of Commissioners from five to ten. The right hon. Gentleman put no number in his original Bill, but five was the number which he himself brought in in the new Clause which he had carefully considered, and which was not brought before the Committee until the whole of the Committee stage had been taken. An Amendment was moved by Lord Robert Cecil to the first Clause, but in deference to the right hon. Gentleman Lord Robert Cecil withdrew his Amendment in order that the right hon. Gentleman might bring forward a Clause on his own initiative expressing his own views. This was brought forward at the end of the Committee stage, and in that Clause the right hon. Gentleman named five as the number of Commissioners. In this he was supported by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), who did not even stop there, but brought forward an Amendment to a certain extent identical with the Amendment now before the House. He said that certain interests ought to be represented, but he was convinced by certain arguments that were advanced, and he withdrew his 383 Amendment; and when he had withdrawn his Amendment another Amendment was proposed by the Noble Lord the Member for Chorley (Lord Balcarres) who for once made a mistake. The hon. Member for Merthyr voted against that as, in his opinion, five was the proper number.
The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University has said that the extension of the number of Commissioners from five -to ten was not a very important matter. But it is very important because it alters the whole character of the body. Do you desire to have a judicial body who shall investigate the schemes brought before them impartially, with no interest in these particular schemes? Or do you desire to have a body which shall be appointed for various interests, and who shall be each desirous of advancing the interests of the people who have put them upon that Commission? I do not desire that, and I do not believe that the majority of Members desire that, I believe that the majority of Members desire that it shall be a body free from all prejudice of any sort or kind, and free from all pressure, political, municipal, and trade unions, Free Trade, or Tariff Reform—I do not care what it is—free from all those particular influences, and who shall simply say, "We consider that the particular scheme brought before us is for the good of the country, and therefore we will recommend it to the Treasury," or "We do not consider that that is a proper scheme, and we will not recommend it."
It was not in the principal Act as originally introduced, and there is in that Act a power which will enable the Commissioners to introduce schemes themselves. This makes it all the more important that the Commissioners should be free from bias, because if you are going to have ten Commissioners, each of them desirous of advancing some particular object, the Commissioners, I suppose, being only human beings like ourselves, may agree among themselves, and those interested in a particular object might help the other Commissioners in order that in turn they might attain their own objects. My point is that, being human beings—right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not care about bargains—might make arrangements to promote each others interests. That is not what we desire to see in future. For many days we debated this question in Committee and in this House, and an Amendment by the hon. 384 Member for Oxford University was accepted not only without a division, but without any argument—in fact, he had only to move it and it was accepted—that the number of Commissioners should be five. Under these circumstances, I think the least the right hon. Gentleman can do is to accept the Amendment of my Noble Friend. I am inclined to make a bargain with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will make it openly so that there cannot be any mistake about it—of course, I can only make it for myself—if the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment of my Noble Friend and also accept my Amendment with regard to the quorum, I will assist him in getting this Bill through.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
I heard the hon. Baronet talk about bargains. I know he is a business man, and is most admirable at keeping bargains. I have seen a good many of them, and he has no reason to complain of them.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
No; quite the reverse. The Minister who drives a bargain with him goes away feeling very small. As to the first part of his bargain I really would not assent to it. For his own particular Amendment I think there is a good deal to be said. If he will allow me to say so, I think it is a very much better Amendment than the Amendment which he so chivalrously tried to drag into his bargain. I do not think it is possible to constitute the Commission effectively otherwise than is proposed. I agree that my words about representing interests were unfortunate. I did not mean representing interests in the sense of the Commissioners being chosen to represent various interests. What I meant was, that we wanted men with rather more varied knowledge than we could possibly get with only five Commissioners. I agree absolutely, if I may say so, with the hon. Baronet, that you must not have representation of interests in the ordinary sense of the term. With regard to the number, I am afraid I must adhere to it. When it comes to the question of a quorum, I am rather disposed to think he has reason on his side. The original quorum was three, and as the Noble Lord said last night, if you are going to increase the number of Members from five to ten, the quorum of three is not adequate, and therefore you ought to increase it.
385 I rather think the suggestion of the hon. Baronet is that the number for a quorum should be doubled. Here I would appeal to his experience, that a quorum of six out of ten is not a practical quorum. If he is disposed to close with five of a quorum, I will agree with that, so much importance do I attach to getting him out of the discussion. Although he says, as he is very modest, that he cannot speak on behalf of the rest, I really think he is worth purchasing at that price. I think six would be too large out of ten, and that the Noble Lord last night said that five would be an admirable quorum. When we came to the question of discussing an arrangement, I think the only point he pressed was that of a quorum. [Lord HUGH CECIL: "No."] If he says that was not the case, I am perfectly willing to assent. I make that suggestion to the hon. Baronet, and if he will accept it in the spirit in which I make it I think we will be able to make some progress.
§ Mr. BELLOC
I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have misunderstood the point which I made. Neither I nor anybody present could possibly object to the keeping back of the names of those gentlemen under the circumstances. The point is not that at all. The point was that about twenty minutes to one last night, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was somewhat hard pressed by the Protectionists—and I saw the movement, beginning on the Back Benches and from which the Front Bench stampeded—he then said that he would be willing to communicate them privately as a matter of courtesy to the Chiefs of the Opposition, and which were not to be given to private Members. If he will deny that I will accept it to-night. When the names come out we shall all say how admirable, how just and wise the selection. If he will cast his eyes over the past and remember the time when I and the younger Radicals had an admiration for him as a very independent Member, he will be the first to admit that there is such a thing as the party system, the party pressure, and the rewarding of men who have served the party, and when we saw, we who regard that system as the root of all our political difficulties, when we saw what has all the appearance of a bargain between the two Front Benches, we simply made our protest last night, and to make my position quite clear I rise again this evening.
§ Viscount MORPETH
The point raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Belloc) is really 386 immaterial; we attach no importance whatsoever to the names. Nobody supposes that the executive could tolerate for a moment that the House should alter the names they put forward in the discharge of their duty. The House has practically no power to alter the names, but it has power to alter the Bill. The Bill is before the House, and it is open to us to amend it, to substitute five for ten, or even to diminish the number to three, which I think would be a great improvement. I only refrained from putting down an Amendment to that effect because I have no desire to continue the controversy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday that certain Members on this side had persistently opposed the Bill in the past and would doubtless do so in the future. The Bill we opposed is now an Act, and no opposition on our part will affect it in any way. What we are opposing is not the Act of last year, but this Bill, which we consider involves an important departure from the principles of the measure of last year. That Act met with strenuous opposition, and many Members even on the other side of the House were very doubtful as to the wisdom of the machinery set up, agreeing with us that it might open the door to grave danger of corruption.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, with that open mind which he brings to bear in these matters, accepted a proposal made by Lord Robert Cecil. I think he will not deny that we admitted frankly that he had improved the Bill, and much modified our attitude during the remainder of the proceedings in Grand Committee. But the alteration now proposed renews some of the objections which we urged then. Irish Members had Amendments down advocating not only that Ireland was entitled to a Commissioner, but that money should be allocated to Ireland, and, indeed, that the whole sum should be allocated to the different parts of the United Kingdom. The Government opposed that suggestion, I think rightly, but the present proposal to a large extent goes back on that position. Undoubtedly a large part of the pressure of interests—although the right hon. Gentleman now repudiates the word "interests"—is the pressure of national interests. In this House at any rate—I do not know what the private pressure has been—the pressure has been partly from Ireland, partly from Scotland, and there have been questions put by Members 387 from various parts. It may not be that pressure to which the right hon. Gentleman has yielded. He said yesterday that five was not enough, because, in the first place, we wanted a Civil Servant, and In the second place, a business man—not a business-like man. The Cabinet consists of nearly twenty Members, but there is not a single business man among them, although there may be business-like men. There is not one that can be described in the ordinary sense as a business man. I am quite sure that the Government do not think that the affairs of the Empire suffer in the absence of business men. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to put on this Commission representatives of every interest, profession, and business, you will find it quite impossible to set up a Commission, however limited. You will require forty or fifty members at the very least—a small Parliament—to carry out the duties of the Commission. I still hold that the proper Commission would have been a Commission of three— permanent people, working regularly, and it would have been economical to pay them a good salary. I believe a Commission consisting of two paid men and eight unpaid men—amateurs—eight honorary appointments will be very bad economy. As a matter of practice the work will be done by the two paid Commissioners, who, I presume, will be Civil Servants; and the others will drop into the Board room at no stated times, but when it suits them, or when a subject is to come up that specially interests them or takes their fancy. I think it is very regrettable that a Commission of this magnitude is not going to be put where I think it ought to have been put, into the hands of a competent body instead of the Commission, as stated in the present Bill.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I shall not intervene long in this conversation, because I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite, representing agricultural constituencies, are very desirous of getting the Bill through, judging at least by the way they are pressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the grant promised to that industry by this Bill. Nor do I intend to oppose the enlargement of the body of Commissioners. In Committee upstairs I supported a proposal of this kind. My object in view now is to express the hope that since the original idea of a small impartial Commission has been abandoned, 388 and interests are now to be recognised on the Commission, one interest will not be overlooked. I refer to the working-class interest. The land-owning interest will certainly be represented. There will be no mistake made about that. Other interests will be too. Surely then, all sections of the House will recognise, whether they agree with our opinions or not, that we at least do represent an "interest" in the community. The Commission will, I think, represent nationalties—Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. To that I do not object. I think that the one justification for the enlargement of the body of Commissioners—because, after all, as local committees and local divisions do differ, it is as well that they should be represented on a body of this kind. But the labour interest is one that we ask should also be specially represented on this body.
I gather from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Commissioners have already been practically appointed. I do not intend for one moment to join in the demand that has been made to disclose the names. But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some assurance that the large interests of the working classes will also be represented on this Commission when it comes to be appointed. There are schemes to be approved with special regard to the condition of the labour market, and surely that fact alone, if there were no other, would justify us in asking that the working classes should be represented upon this body. But apart from that special aspect we have always urged, even when the Labour Party was a much smaller body than it is to-day, that in all these appointments, whether they be Select Committees, Royal Commissions, or bodies of the kind we are now discussing, the working classes have a right to representation by members drawn from their own ranks. Otherwise the implication is that they are not sufficiently developed, and have not sufficient intelligence to take a place alongside other sections of the community in arranging these matters, and that implication we repudiate. If the working classes are to be overlooked in the appointment of this Commission, it will be regarded, and rightly regarded, as a slight placed upon their intelligence, ability, and probity by the Government in making the appointments. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some assurance that in this matter the claims of what is after all the largest interest in the State have not been overlooked or ignored.
§ Lord BALCARRES
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that the speech he has just delivered is precisely on the lines of the speech he delivered six months ago, in consequence of which the House modified the original proposals of the Bill. It was on the ground of special interests claiming special representation that the Chancellor of the Exchequer changed the whole basis of the Bill and said, "We will not have interests represented on the "body to be appointed, it shall be purely a judicial body." I do not dissent on its merits from what has fallen from the hon. Member. If interests are to be represented he and his friends have more right than anybody else to representation. He says the land-owning classes are to be represented, font surely if interests are to be represented there is no reason why they should not. There are two million landlords in this country. But that illustrates the whole weakness of the position taken up. The hon. Member claims that labour as such should be represented now that the judicial aspect is abandoned. Afforestation, coast erosion, agricultural education, small holdings, rural transport regulations, foreshores, fisheries, canals, waterways, are all interests that are to be dealt with under a vote of £400,000 a year—
§ Lord BALCARRES
These are some of the great subjects which are to be financed under this very insignificant sum. You have got all these immense subjects to be run by the Commissioners. You must either have the Commission thoroughly representative of them, and not merely of nationalities, or else you have got to have a judicial body. In the last Parliament the Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to admit our case that the Commission should be based upon judicial lines. We gave way because that very largely stopped our opposition. That has now been altogether abandoned, and the whole structure of the Bill is to be changed. He says this change is not proposed on the grounds of nationality, but I differ from him in toto. I know that one member of the Nationalist party told his constituency that the drainage of the Bann would be practically secured by the passing of this Bill. English Members have also asked for assurance that England will have a look in with regard to the good things under this measure. The change which is now proposed materially alters the whole business, 390 and I regret it very much indeed. My objection was largely mitigated by the Amendment which was previously accepted, which to a large extent removed the Bill from the representative basis.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
If this Commission is to be made larger it does not follow that it will be less impartial. The Noble Lord the Member for South Birmingham (Viscount Morpeth), referred to the danger of unpaid Commissioners, but he has had himself a great experience among unpaid work on local authorities, and I cannot help thinking that the unpaid work on this Commission is likely to be as effective as a good deal of the unpaid work on local authorities. I think, in theory, it might have been better to have had a limited number, as originally proposed, but in the working out of the scheme I doubt whether the number of five could have been adhered to. Owing to the immense variety of objects which may claim the attention of the Commission, it would have been better to have had sub-committees, and I think that would have added to the efficiency of the work.
The pressure which it is alleged has been put upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer is probably very much exaggerated. So far as I know, very little pressure has been put upon him from Scotland. I cannot answer for what pressure has been put upon him from Ireland, but I should think that more pressure has been exerted by the agricultural industry, and not altogether unreasonably, because there are an immense number of questions directly affecting agriculture, such as reclamation, afforestation, in regard to which a certain amount of knowledge will be required by the Commissioners. I do not think it is unreasonable, but I think the pressure has probably come move from that quarter than from any other. Hon. Members opposite who are opposing the addition to the numbers might bear that in mind. Everything really depends upon the character of the men on the Commission, and upon their having public confidence behind them. I have never thought that that public confidence would be secured by parties, or by nationalities, or by interests nominating members of the Commission, or using undue pressure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to secure nominations upon the Commission. There might in such circumstances well be logrolling upon a Commission of this kind 391 in connection with the work it has to undertake, and I believe the best security we can have is to leave the Executive a free hand in the selection of the Commission, and to attach the responsibility to the Executive for the nominations it makes. No one responsible for these nominations, to whatever party they belong, can afford to make weak nominations, and the best security the country can have is to attach to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the responsibility of making the nominations and to let him have a free hand.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a conciliatory speech, and everyone desires to meet him in the same spirit, but I do not think he has quite faced the difficulty which has arisen. Originally, this proposal came forward as a matter of repeal, and I myself accepted it, and have been rebuked by my hon. Friends above the Gangway for saying so. They say something much more than additional numbers is involved. It involves the character of the Commission. The Commission henceforth is not to be judicial, but a body in which all sorts of people are to work together in their own interests, pressing their own claims. The right hon. Gentleman has always denied that is to be the character of the Commission, but I think it is not unreasonable that we should have a little more adequate security. We suggested that the disclosure of the names of the Commissioners would give us some security, but the right hon. Gentleman has given good reasons why some of the names at all events should not be given. I cannot, however, understand why he has not taken the natural course of appointing five of the Commissioners. That would be a security that five judicial Commissioners had been appointed.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
I quite agree, had it not been for the second part of the Bill, I might have taken that course, but I could not appoint the five Commissioners without having secured Clause 2 in the Bill.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
No doubt the Commissioners would not be entitled to pensions until Clause 2 passes, but I should have thought such a proposal as that might have been guaranteed by the Government. The speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Bardie) at once arouses the very worst apprehensions entertained. His speech expresses 392 in the most clear and distinct form the idea against which hon. Members and the Government themselves have all along protested.
I think we are entitled to some guarantee that the Commissioners are really going to be judicial persons. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can be surprised at the delay which has taken place in the matter of the non-disclosure of the names. What has fallen from him leads to the impression that there is something to be disclosed which when made known will excite great opposition. I confess that the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman has aroused the suspicion in my mind that there is something behind—not necessarily a scandalous thing—but something which he thinks might lead to discussion. Perhaps I may be allowed to make a suggestion. If it is only a question, as some of us think, of the due representation of all parts of the United Kingdom, I for one do not attach much importance to that. But I think the right hon. Gentleman should give us some assurance that it is not contemplated to put on it members representing different industries or classes, or even local interest in any detail. I hold that they should be judicial persons who are appointed. It is surprising that the right hon. Gentleman should have suddenly desired to increase the number of Commissioners from five to ten, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is treating the House rather with a lack of confidence in the manner in which he is dictating to it. He is asking us to repose in him a good deal of trust, as if there were not grave grounds for our reasonable suspicions as to what is going on. We thought he might have accepted some Amendment which would leave it open to us to raise the matter on the Report stage, as in that case it would have placed us in a position to judge when the names were disclosed whether this is going to be a judicial decision or otherwise. If we found it was to be a judicial Commission there would be no further trouble.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
I am sincerely anxious to carry the Committee with me in this matter. I can quite see the suspicion in the minds of several hon. Members on the other side that I have some sinister motive in withholding information from the House. But I think the best way I can meet that is to point out to the Noble Lord that as the House win be in possession of the names to-morrow, if he then finds that his suspicions are justi- 393 fied, he will be in exactly the same position, as he is to-night. If there is a Report stage, he can raise exactly the same point to-morrow as he can to-night. I said that I knew why the hon. Baronet made the suggestion, and that was in order that the House should be in a position to-morrow to discuss the whole of this point by inserting an Amendment to-night. I have told him that I will accept an Amendment. He has suggested that there should be a quorum of six, and I suggest that he should move it in the form of five, and at any rate then there is an Amendment inserted in Committee, and the House to-morrow will have the whole Question thrown open to it, and it will be in a position to discuss it when I am in a position to announce the members of the Commission to the House.
The Noble Lord will see that I am not yet in a position to do so, but I hope to be in a position to-morrow, and I firmly believe that I may be able to announce, if not the whole of the members of the Commission, the vast majority of the members to the House. The House will then be in a position to decide whether there is any foundation for the suspicion which some hon. Members entertain. I think the Members ought not to be sent there in the sense that they represent a particular industry or class, or particular interests, because they are to be judicial. I have endeavoured to choose men who will command confidence because of their impartiality and their known integrity—men who ought to be free from any party bias, and who will not be dominated by any particular interest. These are the motives of the Government, and I am confident that when the names are given they will be recognised as being those of men of that character. I can quite understand that the Noble Lord feels a certain amount of suspicion, and that he wants to be in a position to-morrow to challenge the whole Bill if he finds his suspicions justified. The suggestion I make again is that the hon. Baronet's proposal should be accepted by hon. Members opposite, and that for the moment they should confine themselves to that, leaving themselves perfectly free tomorrow. If they confine themselves to an Amendment on the question of the quorum that will leave them free to-morrow to deal with the whole question. If that commends itself to them I should be willing to accept the. Amendment.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Sir W. ANSON
I think the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to 394 be a very fair one, subject to this, that if the names of the ten Commissioners are before us to-morrow it would then be open to us to propose a reduction of their number. That would raise a very serious question of principle. I rise to speak on this matter because I was responsible for the Amendment accepted by the Government last August, by which the Treasury was precluded from going beyond five, but under this Amendment the Treasury may be able to appoint a larger number than five. The House then accepted the view that this was to be a judicial body of small size, not representative of any particular interest, but sitting in judgment on schemes submitted by the localities, and making recommendations in accordance with their judgment to the Treasury. If the names of the ten Commissioners are submitted to us to-morrow, will not that put us in a difficulty if it is desired to reduce the number of Commissioners to five or six?
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
If the House wanted to revert to the reduction of the numbers, it would be very undesirable that I should give the whole of the names. I could give six names if it is proposed to move to reduce them to six, and withhold the rest until the question of the numbers is settled.
§ Sir W. ANSON
I think that is a fair suggestion. If the names of ten distinguished persons are put before us, I should feel some embarrassment in proposing to strike out four of them, but if the right hon. Gentleman will limit the number of names which he puts before us to the number, which has been suggested as the proper number, we can discuss the whole question without embarrassment.
§ Mr. G. L. COURTHOPE
I wish to correct an erroneous impression which is likely to be given by the Debate. References have been made to the requests of the agricultural members for representation on this Commission. I have been the channel through which some of those requests have been made, and they were not in the first place for representation upon the Commission, but that the right hon. Gentleman should, without delay, put the Act of last year in force. We agriculturists were perfectly satisfied with the quasi-judicial character of the Commission, and it was only when a few weeks ago the public Press reported statements in various parts of the United Kingdom, 395 particularly in Ireland and Wales, to the effect that those parts of the United Kingdom had secured promises that they should be directly represented, that the agricultural bodies thought it necessary to ask for representation also. Before any attempt was made by the agricultural bodies to secure representation I personally approached the right hon. Gentleman, and he stated emphatically that he proposed that British agriculture should have direct representation on the Commission. I am not going to give the name the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, but suffice it to say that it was a name that would satisfy anybody. It was after that the agitation was started by the agricultural bodies. The right hon. Gentleman received most courteously a deputation introduced by myself, and it appeared then to be admitted that the Commission was to be a representative, and not a judicial body. Since then communications have been going on between agriculturists and the Government. Agriculturists would much prefer that the original arrangement should stand and that it should be a judicial or quasi-judicial body without representation of localities or interests. I think I can speak for most of the agricultural Members. At all events, I myself would be very glad to support the Amendment of my noble Friend because it would tend to have that effect.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
May I now appeal to the Committee. I think I have really gone out of my way to meet the view of hon. Members. I have accepted a suggestion which will leave the House absolutely free to-morrow. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will the Government Whips be taken off?"] There should be no party question in this at all. I make this appeal now to all parties in the House, and I hope I shall be able to meet them tomorrow even further after I have given the matter more consideration.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
The right hon. Gentleman has taken up such a conciliatory attitude that I should not like to take any other course than to withdraw the Amendment. It was for the purpose of 'eliciting the information we have received from him that I moved the Amendment. I think it is not possible to have a judicial body of ten. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.396
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move to add at the end of the Clause: "Five" shall be substituted for "three" in Subsection (4), of Section 3 of the principal Act, as the number of the quorum by which the Commissioners may act.
[In the Act of 1909, Sub-section (4) of Section 3, enacts: "The Commissioners may act by three of their number, and notwithstanding a vacancy in their number, and, subject to the approval of the Treasury, may regulate their own procedure."]
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
I had a similar Amendment down, and I only rise to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the very considerate manner in which he has dealt with the matter.
§ Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Lord BALCARRES
I wish to be quite clear about what the right hon. Gentleman proposes. As I understand once Clause 1, stating the number at ten, has been passed, the House shall be placed in possession of the ten names?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not quite agree with the Noble Lord on this point. To my mind the success of the measure will depend largely upon the composition of the Board of Commissioners, and still more largely upon the chairman who will preside over their deliberations. It would be a great pity to hustle the right hon. Gentleman too much in the selection of the names. He told us last night that it was very important that one of them at any rate should have some knowledge of business, and I apprehend his great difficulty has been in finding that particular man whom, I hope, he will make chairman when he does find him. In all sincerity I think it would be a great mistake to force the right hon. Gentleman too much over the names at this time. I think it would be well worth our while to wait a week or two, or even a month for the chance of getting some really good man who could not be got to-morrow night. I venture therefore to suggest to my hon. Friend that it would be a mistake to press for the ten names to-morrow night.
§ Sir WILLIAM ANSON
As I understand the right hon. Gentleman will have the ten names ready to announce to-morrow night, but for the convenience of those who wish 397 to reduce the number to six he will withhold four until we have decided whether the number is to be ten or six. When that is all settled he will be prepared to tell as all the ten names.
§ Sir W. ANSON
Therefore we are not pressing him unduly in asking him to let us know the names of the whole lot.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
There may be a difficulty about one or two names. There is a great deal in what the hon. Member below the Gangway has said. There are some names which it would be very desirable to have, and if the House of Commons forces me absolutely in the matter. I do not think it will serve the purpose which the hon. Gentlemen has in view. Therefore it is very desirable that we should have men who will command general confidence. I will do my very best to induce them to become members of the Commission, and I hope that tomorrow that I shall have their final answer. There is difficulty about it, and I cannot absolutely promise the whole of the ten names.
The Committee should not be impatient on a Bill of this importance, which has to do with an Act which has been kept back for six months.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
This is a very small point, but it is as well to be accurate about it. The hon. Baronet said that the Act was passed last October, but it was not passed until the 4th of December, and hon. Members know perfectly well what happened after the 4th of December. We really were not in a position to go about hunting for Commissioners, and trying to get the Commission together. The Act was not passed until the very last moment, and we had other matters to attend to.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in what he states, and the point under discussion is a very important one. Personally, if we are to have ten members of the Commission, I would rather have the whole ten names announced to us, for then there would be no invidious distinction between those who are nominated last and those who are nominated first. If we are to have six members then the right hon. Gentleman will give us the six names, but if we are to have ten, then he will give us the names he has in alphabetical order, so that there shall be no reflection cast upon the remain- 398 ing four. I think it most important that the appointments should only be made from among men who are responsible, and who will command the same confidence as the five would have originally done had they been appointed by the right hon. Gentleman. I hold that no one is to blame but himself for delay in this matter.
We came to a definite understanding on the Act of 1909, but owing to the change of front on the part of the right hon. Gentleman we find ourselves at half-past twelve o'clock in the morning, as at half-past twelve yesterday morning, discussing what was settled under the Act of last year, and it is the right hon. Gentleman who is in fault, and not Members on this side of the House. I do not suppose that I occupied more than ten minutes in the discussions on the Act of last year during the many days which it was before the House and the Committee last Session. Yet it is sought to throw the blame for the delay on to this side, and to say that it is we who have kept the Act back. The Act of Parliament solemnly passed through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament, and then it is said that it is we on this side who have prevented it from coming into operation. I protest most strongly against such an assumption. Suppose that any other Act were treated in like manner as soon as it became law, and that when a Minister was not quite satisfied with it, he should, because of some technical objection, hang it up for six months or a year, and threaten the House that if it does not pass a small amending Act they were going to stop a great social legislative measure. It was ridiculous and he was wrong, and on these grounds I make my protest. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman is conciliatory, and he can be conciliatory when he likes. We all acknowledge that frankly.