§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill has given us no explanation of the alterations that have taken place. It may be that the alterations are absolutely necessary, but it is significant that they are Irish omissions. The two omissions are The Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act 1907, and the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Amendment Act 1908. They were in last year's Bill. The first Bill was passed by a Liberal Government; doubtless it was a bad Bill, and the dropping of it may possibly do good. I do not want to put 1379 difficulties in the way of the Government dropping the Bill, and if they are standing in a white sheet I am very glad of it. What about the dropping of the second Bill? Is it because horn Members below the Gangway do not like it, or for other reasons? I am glad to see that the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, has been continued, and that no single Member has got up to protest against it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Oh, there will be! But it appears to me that if I had not got up, Mr. Speaker would have put the question, and the Second Beading would have been passed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not doubt now that having called attention to this matter hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will put up a pretended opposition, but as a matter of fact, if I had not risen there would have been nobody to protest. I accept the statement of hon. Gentlemen opposite of course, but they seem to have rather lost the use of their legs; they were very slow to get up. As far as I am concerned I have no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill, providing always the right hon. Gentleman opposite can give a satisfactory explanation of the dropping of these two Bills.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
In regard to the omission of the two Bills referred to by the hon. Baronet, the Local Registration of Title Act, 1908, was passed to provide for a case where a district council had omitted to register its title to a plot acquired for a labourer's cottage and enabled that title to be registered although the plot had got into the possession of some third party who had notice of the Council's title. The Act was confined to cases of land acquired by district councils before the 1st March, 1908, and was limited to expire on the 3rd December, 1910. The Act was included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill of 1910 on the ground that the county court rules of procedure under the Act were not published until the 8th July in that year. The Act was continued in the Bill of 1911 until the 31st December, 1912, on which date the rules will have been in operation for two and a half years which is an ample extension of time in which to deal with the cases which the Act was intended to meet. The Evicted 1380 Tenants Act is a temporary statute so far only as it confers powers for the acquisition of land and for the determination of tenancies. As regards these powers it was originally limited to expire on the 28th August, 1911, and was subsequently continued up to the 31st December of the present year on the ground that it might still be necessary to exercise the powers referred to. When last year's Bill was before the House of Lords a pledge was given that the powers would not be further continued, and in pursuance of that pledge the Act is accordingly omitted from the Schedule to the Bill. It will be noted that the scope of the whole Act is limited to making provision for evicted tenants who applied to the Estates Commissioners for reinstatement before the 1st May, 1907.
§ Mr. MAURICE HEALY
I suggest that it could do no possible harm and might do some good if the Government continued the Section relating to the Registration of Titles Act to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. It is quite true it was in force for two and a half years but there is a most appalling delay in registration of titles in Ireland. There are vesting orders executed as far back as two years ago which have not been registered yet. I do not make any complaint as to where the fault lies—whether it is due to want of staff or the enormous pressure of work—but the fact remains that there are most extraordinary delays in the Office. I know it is not the fault of the Registrar of Titles who is a most courteous and efficient official, but these delays exist and as long as these delays exist it appears to me that the Section now dropped would do some good and cannot do any harm if retained. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider in Committee Stage whether or not it would not be wise to continue the Section.
§ Mr. BOOTH
In addition to wishing to give the hon. Baronet that right I also wish personally to give him the right of precedence over me. I have often acknowledged his leadership in this House with regard to legislation, but I do not want him to mistake courtesy for lack of courage. I object to continuing all these Acts of Parliament passed many years ago. I do not think that can be defended. There are Acts of all kinds in this Bill on which there has been the keenest controversy. We are required on both sides to vote against our convictions every time we pass this Bill. Very often the hon. Baronet opposite pleads for economy, and I challenge him with regard to the Agricultural Rates Act of 1896, and when this measure comes up in Committee I hope the hon Baronet will tell with me against it.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I shall give the hon. Baronet an opportunity in Committee by moving the deletion of the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896. Then there is the Sunday Observance Association Act, 1871. As far as I know that Act I detest it. It is a relic of bygone days of meddling with private individuals. There are many others. Take the Ballot Act. Why should it be necessary year after year to renew the Ballot Act? Almost every person in the country would say that it was a permanent enactment, and why should it not be made permanent. I am interested because by constituency was the first that had an election under the Ballot Act of 1872. I do not see how any hon. Member can vote for this Expiring Laws Continuance Bill without stultifying his own pledges. Surely our distinguished law officers can find some better way than this system under which we are repeatedly voting for things we do not believe in. I know these objections would come better at the Committee Stage, but even on general grounds lion. Members who are going to vote for this Bill with such glee are going to contradict their own utterances. I protested against this Bill a year ago and I do not think it can possibly be defended. I 1382 should have thought both sides could have agreed to make some of these Acts permanent. If I can get a sufficient number of hon. Members to make a respectable division I shall be inclined to go to a vote and tell against this Bill.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
I know it is not customary on the Second Reading to go into matters contained in the Schedule because that is a matter for the Committee. There are here two Schedules with thirty-four Acts in the first part which are to be prolonged to the 31st December next year and the others are to be prolonged to a still further date. If these laws are reasonable and proper laws and have stood the test of time why should they not be made permanent?
For instance, if you look at the first Schedule you find a considerable number of Acts passed in 1840–1850. We have had sixty years' experience of the working of these Acts and we ask in vain for an intelligent answer to this question—Why, if these Acts have been regularly renewed for sixty years have not the Government come to a decision either to make them permanent or drop them altogether? I will give one instance of the confusion that arises in connection with this Act. Here you have the Locomotives Act, 1865, and when you examine it you find it to be an Act to secure the public safety on highways as against locomotives. By now we have had considerable experience which has proved that mechanically-propelled vehicles can be driven along public highways at a reasonable rate of speed without any very great danger. An examination of the Schedule shows that this particular Act has been amended in small particulars on six occasions yet it is proposed to renew it for one more year in its present mutilated, altered, and improved condition.
Again I look at the Act George V., Chapter 45, Section (1) which I find deals entirely with highways in Ireland, one of the sections of that Act incidentally repeals Section 5 of the Locomotives Act, 1865, which applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. The inconvenience caused to the public by not knowing what Acts of Parliament are really in existence and what the law is with regard to locomotor traffic on highways is enormous. If legislation is required to deal with such an important subject as this surely it should be of a permanent and reasonable description and adapted to the state 1383 of the roads and the advances made in vehicles. By renewing Acts in this way from one year to another inexplicable confusion is caused. I could mention other measures to which these observations would equally apply. I have simply risen to make my annual protest against this system. It is a protest I have made when both parties have been in power. In view of the credit claimed by the present Government for their general dealing with the business of the country I cannot understand why they should bring in an Expiring Laws Continuation Bill of this character. I therefore make my protest with regard to this matter for the eighth time.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I think the Government should make some response to what has fallen from the last speaker. There is a great deal in it. Again and again, year after year, to renew in this way Bills which everybody approves is to my mind undesirable. Take the Ballot Act, why should that be renewed from year to year? Why should it not be made permanent? I am far from saying with regard to exceptional legislation like the Irish Arms Act, that it is undesirable to be constantly drawing attention to it, but the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill has been converted into a kind of magazine into which all kinds of Bills are shot without any real consideration as to the necessity for continuing them. It should only be used for measures of a purely transitory character instead of being made a permanent institution. I think the observation of the hon. Member for Liverpool well advised, and I hold that the Government ought to bring about some reform in this matter.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I am afraid I cannot support the views expressed by two hon. Members who have spoken and who have just held a secret committee meeting behind Mr. Speaker's chair. I am referring to the hon. Members for Liverpool and Pontefract. But I should like to ask the Government if they are prepared to take some steps to do away with this absurd system by which the House is asked to pass for another year thirty-six Acts in one Bill. The Acts to be found in the Schedule may be divided into two classes: those which ought to be permanently on the Statute Book and those which should be done away with because they are practically useless and obsolete.
1384 I may give one instance. The hon. Member for Pontefract said that in Committee he would move that the Agricultural Rating Act be removed from the Schedule. I am afraid I cannot support him, as I happen to represent an agricultural Constituency. Again, I would remind hon. Members there is another good measure in the Schedule, the Act of 1846, which also deals with the rating question and upon which our whole modern system of rating is really based—I refer to the Poor Rate Exemption Act—the exemption of personal property for liability to the Poor Rate. I should further like to point out to the Government that from a merely selfish point of view it would be in their interest to do away with this absurd system, as if there were an Opposition really anxious to obstruct at the present moment this Bill would afford almost unlimited scope for talking and keeping the House sitting a very long time.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Masterman)
Every Member on this bench agrees with the remark of the hon. Member that it is an unsatisfactory method that Acts which have been passed as experimental should be carried on year by year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Every Member would like to see them made a permanent part of our legislation. (HON. MEMBERS: "Not all"]. Well, those which every Member would like to see made permanent. There is the Ballot Act. I do not suppose any opposition would be offered at this stage in the progress of civilisation to that Act being made permanent, although it was originally passed as an experimental measure. If hon. Members will look at the various Acts which are renewed in the Bill, they will see a great number of Acts dealing with groups of questions which when legislation is passed, will henceforth be rendered unnecessary. The whole question is purely one of finding parliamentary time to deal with those subjects.
The House will be glad to know that from time to time we do manage to get rid of the renewal of certain of these Acts through permanent legislation. For instance, there are four less than last year. Three small Irish Acts lapse on account of their work having been carried out, and one Scotch lapses because it is replaced as a temporary measure by a measure of permanent legislation, the Scotch Small Landholders Act. The House would be glad if Acts which were purely experimental and which time has justified could be 1385 embodied in non-controversial legislation from time to time and so removed from the purview of this Bill. I do not think anyone will propose, at this stage of the Session, that such attempts should be made. I shall certainly consider the suggestions made, and see if in the case of any non-controversial Acts now renewed they may be dealt with as permanent legislation another year.
§ Resolved, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—[Mr. Masterman.]
§ Whereupon Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the Order of the House of 14th October, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Adjourned at Ten minutes before Twelve o'clock.