§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I desire to draw the Government's attention to the great inconvenience caused to Members of this House by having a Bill of the importance of the Established Church (Wales) Bill taken so often on Fridays. I do not suggest that the Government made any pledge that they would not take the Bill on Fridays, but undoubtedly in the course of the discussion on the Guillotine Resolution they did indicate that it was their hope that it would not be taken on 964 Fridays except perhaps to get to the end of some stage of the Bill after Wednesdays and Thursdays. I am not putting it as a pledge, but that was the effect of the Home Secretary's argument on the Guillotine Resolution. May I point out that we have already had the Bill taken on four Fridays and the Guillotine Resolution on one Friday, and next Friday will be the sixth Friday devoted to the Bill?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
It was an extra-day, but even so it was a Friday. The question whether it was taken on a Friday does not depend on whether it was a guillotine day or not. Of the other days four were at the end of the period of the Session which preceded Christmas, and were the last days before the adjournment. No doubt those days would have to be occupied with some business, but it is not usual, and I venture to think the Prime Minister will agree, to take very important Bills, or one of the very important Bills on the days preceding Adjournment. There remain two other Thursdays, which were perfectly fair days. I quite recognise that the Government have made their arrangements with regard to next Friday, and I have no doubt it would be difficult for them to upset those arrangements, but I think we who are very much interested in this Bill have the right to ask the Government that we shall be treated not only 965 with fairness, but with some generosity under the circumstances. We think that this Bill, which excites very strong feeling, should not continually be treated as if it were a Bill of no importance and taken on Fridays, which are recognised to be the least fitted for serious discussion in this House. [HON. MEM-BEES: "No, no."] I speak in the hearing of many much older Members, and I think I am right in saying that Fridays are generally recognised not to be the best fitted days for the discussion of the most important topics. A Bill of this importance ought not, as a rule, to be taken on Friday, and I certainly hoped during the discussion on the Guillotine Resolution that that was the intention of the Government. I trust that the Prime Minister may be able to indicate that in future more care will be taken in reference to the feelings and sentiments which actuate those who are opposing this Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I can assure the Noble Lord that I have every intention to show all possible consideration for the views which are not only his own, but are entertained by a large number of Members on both sides of the House. The actual difference in time between a Friday sitting beginning at Eleven o'clock and a sitting on an ordinary day is three-quarters of an hour. I am told by those who advise me that on the whole the Opposition fare better on a Friday—I do not know why.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will not say that. But I am told that on the whole the Opposition do not fare worse on a Friday than on other days. I think I have kept steadily to the pledge or so-called pledge given by my right hon. Friend, that we would not have an isolated Friday on this Bill. On every occasion when it has been taken on a Friday it has been taken on successive days. If the Opposition desire it I am quite prepared that the same course shall be followed this week, although I think it would be for the general convenience of the House that the seventh day on the Irish Bill should be taken on the Monday and the Welsh Bill on the Tuesday, as that would allow an interval of a day between the last day of Report and the Debate on the Third Reading of the Irish Bill. But I am entirely in the hands of Members in this respect. If they really prefer that we 966 should take the Welsh Bill on Monday next instead of on Tuesday, I will gladly agree. As regards the general proposition of the Noble Lord, I do not think it actually arises now. It may arise next week when we come to consider Friday then.
§ Mr. L. HARDY
I do not think that the Prime Minister's offer is really worth anything. The House has never contemplated as a continuous Debate a discussion carried over from Friday to Monday. That is really only a device by which the Government are trying to get round the undertaking of whatever sort it was that they gave. Everybody understands a continuous Debate to be a Debate carried on on successive days in the current week. The real desire is to continue the argument whilst it is fresh in the minds of the House. It has always been the practice not to take important Bills in this haphazard way, but to take them on successive days in the same week. No complaint was made by my Noble Friend as to the difference in time. It is, however, a curious fact that nearly all the really important Clauses of this Bill have come on on Fridays. The difficulties in which the Government have found themselves, or, at all events, found themselves not in a pleasant position, have come on the Friday.
§ Mr. L. HARDY
If the Prime Minister says that the Opposition seem to be best on Fridays, it is merely that they have had the best case on Fridays. The Government have given them the worst day for their best case. I do not think there is a single hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite who will not say that this is by far the most important Clause yet. You have two large questions, whatever anybody may say, which require careful comment—commutation which is raised by the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters, and the important question of the unbeneficed clergy raised from this side of the House. Both questions will undoubtedly take time. Both of them are questions which ought to receive due consideration, and, indeed, everybody who knows what is usual in the matter of Friday debates will see that the Clauses which come up are those which ought not to be fixed for Friday.
§ Mr. ALFRED LYTTELTON
I think it is quite useless shutting our eyes from what are really the facts of Friday. It 967 is a most inconvenient day for all those people—and they are many—who have other occupations apart from politics. This House contains many such men. There are a great many lawyers whose assistance we will require. This Bill is one of extraordinary complexity. It requires consideration from ecclesiastical lawyers, and there are very few ecclesiastical lawyers in the House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that they can all get here next Friday: the Courts will not be sitting.
§ Mr. A. LYTTELTON
That is not so. I must protest against this continual practice of taking this Bill on Fridays. It is not well to pursue this great topic in this isolated way. It was admitted by the Home Secretary, when I made my speech on the Guillotine Resolution, that this Bill ought not to be taken on isolated days. I should not be wrong in saying that to take the Bill on the Friday and again on the Monday is to take it on isolated days. It is futile to say the opposite. We are shutting our eyes to the true facts of the case and to the contempt by which the Government have treated the convenience of the House in this matter; and it is well to say so frankly.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the course that has been adopted of taking this Bill on Fridays has not been adopted as showing any indifference to the sentiments of the Opposition in reference to this Bill, nor from any desire to minimise the importance of the Bill itself. It is inevitable in the circumstances of the case. Parliament has been summoned to deal with three Bills this Autumn Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] That is not the point. Parliament is summoned to deal with three Bills. A pledge was extracted from the Government by the Opposition that one of the Bills should not be taken on Fridays, but Friday has got to be occupied, and occupied with Government business. Either it has to be occupied with the Welsh Disestablishment Bill or with the Franchise Bill, or else Friday must be dropped out altogether. There is no suggestion on the part of the Opposition that we should not sit on Fridays. Then I really cannot imagine why there should be all this feeling about Fridays, and especially about next Friday. As 968 far as next Friday is concerned the Courts do not sit, and therefore all the lawyers can be here. After all, there is only a difference of three-quarters of an hour between Friday and any other sitting, and from the point of view of publicity a Debate which begins at Eleven o'clock and ends at Five has very much more importance attached to it than a Debate beginning at Four and ending at half-past Ten. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the newspapers now go to press very much earlier than they used to do, and Debates ending at 10.30 o'clock do not assume anything like the same importance as Debates ending at four or five in the afternoon, and from the point of view of presenting a case to the country Friday afternoon is invariably a more important occasion for discussion than debates leading up to half-past ten. I assure the Opposition that it is not from any disinclination to meet their wishes, but simply because Friday has to be devoted to Government business and has to be given to one of the three Bills, that the Government take this course.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think the right hon. Gentleman has rather missed the point. This is not a question of three-quarters of an hour, more or less; it is a question whether Friday is a good day to get a full attendance of both sides of the House. I remember when Wednesday was made into Friday by my right hon. Friend the senior Member for the City of London I voted against the change on the ground that we would not get Members to come down to the House on that day. It was then said that, after all, it was only a private Member's day for private Bills, and it was not so very important that Members should come down to the House. I remember the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said on that occasion that owing to the habit of week ending Friday was practically a dies non. The fact remains that Members do not come down to the House on Fridays, and unless I am much mistaken I saw in the papers last week that the Prime Minister left town on Thursday to spend a weekend in the country.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I say I saw it in the papers and living down in Wiltshire I naturally have an interest in the Prime Minister's movements. But that does not touch the point of the argument. It is perfectly well known to the Prime Minister 969 and Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is very difficult to get Members to come down to the House on Fridays. They have to attend to other things; they have their trains to catch, and very many trains leave town at four o'clock or half-past four. The other argument of the Government is that things being as they are we must take something on Fridays, There are other Bills. The right hon. Gentleman might take the Railways Bill; there have been a great many pledges about the Railways Bill. Friday is a bad day, and if hon. Members will look at the Division lists they will see that the Divisions on Fridays have always been extremely small.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not agree with the latter statement made by the hon. Member, but supposing there had been one hundred Members in the House and fifty the other -way, that is not at all a large number out of 670. It goes without saying that the attendances on Friday is always very small. As we are advancing towards the end of the Session, might I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a small concession, and, after next Friday, assure us that he will not take an important Bill on Friday. I think he might meet us on a small point like that.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I do not agree with the hon. Baronet's definition of a Friday. His experience is surely that too many Members have turned up. What I would say is that Friday is freer in one way, because there are no Committees or questions. Take the case of the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil). He and I sat on a heavy three days in the week, but that Committee does not sit on Friday, and the Noble Lord is able to come here in good trim and splendid spirit on Fridays, whereas on the other days he gives a good deal of attention to other matters, and he therefore cannot come in the same spirit to these Debates on other days. The difficulty about Friday is not as the hon. Baronet puts it, but because hon. Members are anxious to catch early trains to go away. I suggest that it does not meet the case. To meet at eleven o'clock is much more popular and it allows hon. Members 970 to get away earlier. I protest against the hon. Baronet appealing for these minor Bills to be taken. Does he not see that it is quite possible, if he appeals for these minor orders, that we cannot get the Mental Deficiency Bill taken to which he and I strongly object. I am prepared to give time for the three main measures of the Government because I was returned to support them, but I do not understand the hon. Baronet's appeal for the taking of these minor measures except that he does not feel at liberty to join in the Debates on Home Rule and Disestablishment; because he thinks he might have a field day on the minor measures.
§ Lord BALCARRES
I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to explain his comment that unless one of these three main Bills before us is debated on Friday the day would be wasted. That is scarcely a respectful word to apply even to a Friday. The Railways Bill was promised in August the year before last, and that might be taken on Friday. There is a Bill in which the Labour Members are very much interested and that might be taken on a Friday.
§ Lord BALCARRES
Apparently there are two matters in which hon. Members below the Gangway are interested which might be taken on Friday. I was making a remark about this very next Friday. I do not think it ought to be devoted to the Welsh Bill. I cannot discuss it now, but I wish to repeat what I put this afternoon in the form of a question about the seat of the hon. Baronet the Member for White-chapel (Sir Stuart Samuel). On 23rd November last the House appointed a Select Committee to inquire whether the hon. Member had vacated his seat. That Committee had half a dozen meetings or more, and went fully into the question and reported to the House that it was unable to form an opinion on the subject committed to it by the House of Commons; and, instead of giving judgment upon it, it said that owing to reasons, which the House, I daresay, has fully appreciated, "we do not propose to offer an opinion, but, on the other hand, suggest that an opinion should be obtained from a quarter which, at any rate, is more authoritative." That was on 23rd November. The Courts meet next week. The right hon. Gentleman indicated just now that the first three 971 days of next week will be devoted to Home Rule and to Welsh Disestablishment. That will bring us to 18th January. Then I am told that several days are necessary before the ease can be brought before the Court of Law, counsel having to be instructed and so on. Assuming that the Court of Law takes two or three or four days to give its verdict or judgment, you will be getting quite to the end of the month before the question is settled. I submit to the Prime Minister that is not right by the House as a whole, which referred this question to the Select Committee, and it is not right by the hon. Member himself, who, I am sure, is entitled to claim from the House 972 and from the Government that the minimum of delay shall be incurred. I submit it is too late now to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, in deference to the House as a whole, and out of respect to the hon. Member, that next Friday shall be devoted to this purpose. Nevertheless, I beg leave to state that it seems inevitable the decision of the case is practically deferred till the end of the present month.
§ It being Half-an-hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without question put.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.