HC Deb 18 March 1912 vol 35 cc1544-8

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any statement to make now as to the altered course of business in consequence of proposed legislation?


Perhaps, Sir, it would be convenient I should preface what I have to say by giving notice that I propose to-morrow to move for leave to introduce a Bill to provide for the payment of a minimum wage for persons employed underground in coal mines, and for purposes incidental thereto. I defer any statement either as to the causes or the results of the recent negotiations or of the grounds for the proposed legislation until I have an opportunity of doing so tomorrow, when there will be an equal opportunity afforded to every hon. Gentleman for a free discussion; but, in the opinion of the Government, not only the introduction, but the passing of that Bill at the earliest possible moment—and by that I mean not later than the close of the present week—is very serious, and, indeed, imperative. For that purpose it has been necessary for us to recast the programme of business already announced.

What I suggest to the House as the proper and most convenient course of proceeding in view of these altered circumstances is as follows: To-night my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will introduce the Navy Estimates, and we shall hope to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair. To-morrow I shall move a Resolution asking the House to give to the Government the time on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings of this week, which is at present appropriated to private Members' Motions and specifying the time for the various stages of the Coal Bill and Supply. I may point out that, in order to comply with the requirements of the law, it is essential that the Consolidated Fund Bill should be introduced this week, and that it should pass through its various stages in time to receive the Royal Assent on Thursday of next week, the 28th March. That is the latest day if the requirements of the law are to be complied with, that the Royal Assent can be given.

When that Resolution has been disposed of—and I hope it may be very promptly—I shall move for leave to introduce the Bill, the title of which I have just announced, and I should hope we might take that preliminary discussion, which, of course, would be carried on in the absence of the text of the Bill before it has been printed or circulated, up to 8.15. We should then ask the House, during the remainder of the evening to-morrow, to dispose in Committee of the Navy Votes A, 1, 2, 9, 13, 14, and 15, upon the understanding, of course, that it is only in order that they may be included in the Consolidated Fund Bill, and that the time which would have been given, and which was promised will be given at a later, and I hope a very early date.

On Wednesday we shall propose to ask the House to take the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill, and after that again, rather as a formal matter, the Report stage of those Navy Votes necessary to include them in the Consolidated Fund Bill.

On Thursday we should hope the House will agree to the remaining stages of the Coal Mines Bill, and the Report of one or two outstanding Supplementary Votes, and I think the Report of the Committee of Ways and Means. If that were done, the Consolidated Fund Bill could be read a first time at the end of that evening. I am rather embarrassed in the allocation of this Time Table by the fact that Friday has for a long time past been consecrated by general expectation, and indeed by the rules of the House, to the discussion of a Bill connected with the Enfranchisement of Women.


Postpone it.


Personally, I should be very glad to do so—not indefinitely, but for a short time; but, on the other hand, I know it would interfere with an enormous number of arrangements that have been made by a good many people if there were a disturbance of the programme for that particular day. We might, of course, if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen prefer it, take the Supplementary and Ways and Means Reports after Five o'clock on Friday and introduce the Consolidated Fund Bill and read it a first time. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I am only throwing that out as a suggestion. I do attach great importance to the possibility of our passing through the various stages, as far as this House is concerned, and completing the remaining stages of the Coal Mines Bill on Thursday, in order that the House of Lords may have an opportunity of considering it on Friday; and, if possible, that it may receive the Royal Assent before the closing of the week. I am not going into controversial subjects, but that is a highly important object for us to attain. That is the reply to the right hon. Gentleman's question, and that is the altered programme which I suggest for the business of the week.

4.0 P.M.


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that, assuming this Bill has to go through, I agree with the Prime Minister in thinking that no unnecessary time ought to be lost in getting it through. At the same time, serious as is the crisis, I think everyone in the House must recognise that the measure proposed by the Government is also serious, and it does require adequate, though that does not mean necessarily, prolonged discussion. I would, therefore, make three definite suggestions to the Prime Minister, His proposal about other business seems to me extremely drastic, but for the reason I have given we wish to meet him as far as we reasonably can. As far as the Navy is concerned, I think it is hardly necessary to take quite as many Votes as he has put down, and I would suggest the number should be reduced. In addition to that, if the House agree to this very drastic treatment of the Navy Vote, I think it is not unreasonable for us to ask him that the general discussion on the Navy, which we do not have now, shall come immediately after Easter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Before."]—or before, so that no undue delay should take place in regard to that. As regards Friday, if it is necessary to take up the time of the House in this drastic way, I do not think—although I do not take exactly the view on the subject which comes up then as the Prime Minister—there is any reason why it should be treated in a special way, and I can see no objection to another day being given later for the discussion of it. As regards the Bill itself—the Bill dealing with the coal crisis—it seems to me hardly possible that we can adequately discuss the Second Reading the day after we have seen the Bill for the first time. I repeat I do not wish to put any unreasonable delay in the way of the Prime Minister. This is a measure the effect of which we cannot judge until we have seen it in print, and more than that, for the great bulk of us, we cannot judge it until we have had an opportunity of consulting with those who know what its effect will be. I am sure, therefore, we cannot have adequate discussion without an interval of at least twenty-four hours between the printing and the Second Reading Debate. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will think I am not unreasonable in the claims I put forward, and I sincerely trust he will meet us in regard to them.


I can hardly complain of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I think it is very reasonable, and well deserves consideration. I will deal with the specific points he has raised. First of all, with regard to the possible reduction in the number of Navy Votes, I will consult my right hon. Friend, and if it is possible we will do this.


May I ask one question? I do not quite understand whether the Resolution that is going to be proposed to-morrow is a guillotine Resolution as regards all the business or only deals with private Members' time.


I had much rather it was done by agreement. We must take private Members' time, but as to the rest I hope we may come to some agreement. As regards what the right hon. Gentleman said with reference to the reopening of the Debate on the General Navy Estimates, I think we can arrange for that before Easter. Tuesday, the 26th, is the day set aside for the Committee stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill; that is usually a formal stage, and we might very well devote the Government time that day to the continuation of the general discussion on these Votes. With regard to the Women's Suffrage Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, so far as I am concerned, is pushing an open door. There is some pressure from the other side. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman it is a necessity we should have a careful consideration of the principles of the Coal Mines Bill. But I should be very sorry, personally, that the House of Lords should not have that Bill before them as early as Friday. There are important interests very well represented in that House who are well competent to speak on this matter, and it would be rather hard on them if they were forced to discuss it at a Saturday's sitting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] We do not like Saturday sittings here. I will carefully consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope it may be possible to come to a general arrangement as to the amount of time and number of days which the various stages will take.


May I ask whether before the Prime Minister makes any definite arrangement about Friday's business, he will consult the promoters of the Conciliation Bill?


The Noble Lord may be sure I am surrounded by them.


Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to suspend the eleven o'clock rule on the days that he is taking.


Yes, I think we must.


Is there any reason why the Bill should not be printed and circulated before it is introduced?


I think it might be very convenient, but I do not know how far it is possible. I will consider it.