§ Colonel LOCKWOOD: In the absence of the Prime Minister, may I ask the Secretary for the Colonies what the business will be for next week?
§ On Tuesday, Supply—Vote for the Board of Education.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
How soon may we expect the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill to be introduced? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Irish people are in a state of utter bewilderment as to what the proposals of the Government really are, and that the only way of putting an end to the suspense is to produce the Bill at the earliest date possible?
§ Mr. O'BRIEN
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication whatever as to when it is coming off, if ever; and is there any objection to at least publishing as a White Paper the precise terms submitted to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College, Dublin (Sir Edward Carson)? Surely there cannot be a different version!
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
There may be a difference of opinion as to the advisability of the last course, but I can assure the hon. Member that it is the intention of the Government to produce the Bill as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
In case the Education Vote discussion finishes at an early hour on Tuesday, is the right hon. Gentleman 564 prepared to put down the Vote for the salary of the Vice—Chairman of the Statutory Committee?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It will not be possible to take that Vote on Tuesday, but another opportunity will be given if the House desires it.
§ Ordered, "That the other Government business have precedence this day of the Business of Supply."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Finance Bill, immediately on its being reported to the House, as amended on recommittal, may be considered, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the interval between the various stages of a Bill relating to Finance."—[Mr. McKenna.]
§ Sir F. BANBURY
This is a Motion to alter the old-established arrangement of the House by which two stages of a Money Bill cannot be taken upon the same day. That is a custom which has existed for many years, and it has a great deal to be said for it, especially at a time when it is impossible to alter any errors that may be made in a Money Bill in another place. This House, having taken upon itself the sole responsibility for Money Bills, should not in my opinion depart from the ancient custom and take two stages on the same day without very great and sufficient reason. I have not heard that any reason has been advanced for this innovation beyond that given by the right hon. Gentle-man last Tuesday that it might be inconvenient for him to wait two or three days for the Finance Bill, as he wanted to get his borrowing powers earlier. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman withdraws his proposal, or supposing the House negatives it, it will only make a difference of one day, and it cannot be said that a difference of one day is going to make any alteration in the borrowing proposals of the Government. I have a very much stronger reason for objecting to this proposal. The proposal is that a custom which has been maintained for something like sixty-one years should be altered, and that the Report stage should be taken immediately after the Committee stage, and the Third Reading on Monday. If that proposal were carried, there would be no further opportunity for consideration. It is a very important Clause. It alters a procedure which has been in existence for 565 sixty-three years. The City article of the "Times" this morning drew attention to this fact, and pointed out that it seemed a novel procedure to make an alteration of this far-reaching effect in such a hurried manner. I have here a statement of the right hon. Gentleman of the 28th June. This is from the OFFICIAL REPORT of that date. The hon. Member for Stepney said:It may not be an answer at all that because the insurance companies are satisfied that this proposed Clause would work fairly as between insured persons.And the right hon. Gentleman said:The Clause is prospective."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1916, col. 897, Vol. LXXXIII.]Therefore, it is only a short time ago that the right hon. Gentleman said that the Clause was prospective, and it was not until Tuesday that anyone knew that the Clause was to be retrospective. On Tuesday the right hon. Gentleman brought forward a Clause which was not on the Paper, which nobody could under-stand, and which proposed to alter the Clause from being prospective to being retrospective. It was not until yesterday, when there was a Debate upon it, that anybody in the country could know that such a Clause was in prospect. Having yesterday for the first time brought down a Clause in direct opposition to his own statement of a fortnight ago, the right hon. Gentleman now proposes that we should to-day consider it in Committee and on the Report stage, and take the Third Reading on Monday. That course is quite indefensible. We must have time after the Committee stage to-day to consider it further before the Report stage on Monday. I am very glad to see the Prime Minister here. I know he is a stickler, or was up to a day or two ago—well, and is still I hope—for all the ancient usages and customs of the House, and especially those relating to finance. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not proceed with this proposal. If he does—well, I am only a humble individual, but I shall certainly divide the House if I can only get somebody to support me.
§ Sir E. LAMB
I want to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) so that there should be at least a protest from this side of the House. This Clause has been introduced at very short notice, and after we had been assured on 22nd June and again on 28th June that it would not be retrospective. It is no answer to 566 say that Clause is being withdrawn and another substituted which is going to be retrospective. There are many hundreds and thousands of policy holders in the country who are not yet alive to the meaning of this Clause, and I very much regret, especially in view of the hurried way in which this Clause has been introduced, that one stage in practice should really be dropped out, because that is what it comes to, by these two stages, to which the country are entitled to look, being taken on one day.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EX—CHEQUER (Mr. McKenna)
For my part I should not, against the general feeling of the House, press for these two stages being taken on the one day, and I can only give the House the reason I ask them to forego on the present occasion a well-established rule. We have borrowing power in this Bill. Owing to the rapid increase in the expenditure the existing borrowing power is almost exhausted, and it really becomes a matter of primary importance that we should get our Finance Bill through as quickly as possible. If I can get the two stages of this Bill to-day, I can get the Third Reading on Monday. Then I can hope to get the Royal Assent on Wednesday. I believe, though I am not quite sure, that I should still have borrowing power until Thursday, but I run a risk, and the question is whether it is worth while running a risk which would be serious for the sake of adhering to a practice, which, however excellent in itself, is not really necessary to be applied on the present occasion. I am asking for the recommital of the Bill in respect to four Clauses. I will deal with the Clause to which reference has been made last With regard to the other three Clauses, I could in each case have introduced these Clauses by Amendments to proposals which were put forward on Report, but they would have been very long verbal Amendments which would have been very difficult for the House to understand and to appreciate or to amend without seeing them in print, and therefore I deliberately adopted what I thought was a far better course and with-drew the Clauses that were then under discussion and introduced new Clauses in the amended form. I could have saved the whole discussion on the recommital in respect to these Clauses if I had adopted the far less convenient but perfectly 567 regular practice of amending the existing Clauses upon the Paper. It is therefore only for the convenience of the House
§ Mr. McKENNA
One of them is a new Clause which I might have avoided by amending the existing Clauses.
The right hon. Gentle-man misunderstands me, he is elaborating these Clauses. There was no Amendment to the other Clause.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I will' deal with the point of the right hon. Gentleman if he will kindly allow me to make my statement. I am dealing with the Clauses upon which I asked the House to recommit the Bill and to take both stages now. With regard to these Clauses, I could have asked the House to have adopted a course which would have been far more inconvenient, and I could have amended the Clauses on Report. There remains only the other Clause. The whole point in regard to that Clause is that we had already in the Bill passed a Clause in Committee dealing with the matter. I will deal with the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised with regard to my statement on its retrospective character in a moment. That Clause was believed in Committee to be possibly not the best way of meeting an admitted evil, and I undertook with the consent of the Committee, to consult the representatives of the leading insurance companies in order to see if we could get a practical scheme which would meet the evil without being injurious to the parties concerned. After much consultation with the insurance companies, we have devised a scheme which they accept in all particulars except one. Therefore, it is only with regard to one single point, which is quite a narrow issue, that there is any difference outstanding. On that outstanding issue, I repeat, I have a perfectly open mind. I am prepared, after I have made my statement, to accept the view of the House, but I should like to make my case first upon that outstanding point as to whether this Clause should apply to existing contracts of insurance or not. The right hon. Gentleman says that on 28th June, referring to another Clause, quite a different Clause, I stated that that Clause would not apply to existing contracts. That is quite true.
§ Mr. McKENNA
It dealt with insurance; the subject matter of the Clause was the same, but the manner in which it had to be dealt with was the matter of difference. I stated that that Clause did not apply to existing contracts. It was a Clause which in no instance ought to apply to existing contracts. In that Clause we purported to take away some-thing which had already proved to be due to the insured person, and therefore we could not make it apply to existing con-tracts. If we had done so we should have taken something to which he was entitled. It ought to be applicable only to con-tracts made in the future. The present Clause is on an entirely different footing, and there is no similar reason why it should not apply to existing contracts as well as to future contracts. That is quite a simple point. I have a perfectly open mind on the subject, and all that I ask is that the House should hear me upon the point. If the general sense of the House is against me, I am prepared to make it applicable to future contracts only. On that simple point, is there any reason why we should not have, for the public convenience, both the stages on a single day? Nobody will object to that if I accept the Amendment making it apply prospectively only. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] I think not. Is there any ground for refusing the Motion which I now ask for, merely because we have not yet decided whether it is to apply to existing contracts or only to future contracts?
§ Sir E. CARSON
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman, with all great respect, has shown any reason whatsoever for breaking through the rules, the ordinary rules, which apply to finance in this House. I really do think it is time the argument should be given up, "Oh, we are so late that if the Government do not get their Bill some great inconvenience will happen." There is plenty of time from day to day to do the important business of this House. On a number of days the House does not sit past seven o'clock in the evening, and I do not see any reason whatsoever shown by the right hon. Gentleman why we should give him the facilities he asks, particularly as he can get his Bill by Thursday, and he has not shown that there will be any difficulty in borrowing up to that day. What 569 is the case of the right hon. Gentleman? What argument has he given? He says, with regard to the insurance provision, that there was a Clause with regard to insurance in the original Bill. When that came on in Committee it was found that it was a Clause which was very much objected to or was not workable; at all events, it was one which he did not persist with.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Yes, I believe it was proposed in Committee and put in. I suppose he had framed that Clause with deliberation. I suppose he had not framed it without seeing some of the people who would be affected by it, with-out taking expert advice and seeing the insurance representatives and others and finding out whether or not it was work-able. But it was found that it was not workable. Then in Committee he agreed to bring in another Clause, and he says that this is an entirely different Clause which he is proposing now. That is our point, that it is absolutely different; the one was not retrospective, as he said, and the other he now proposes is retrospective. What has he done? He has run us almost up to the very last day of the Committee, without the persons concerned having the slightest intimation of this enormous change, because this is an enormous change. We know that the policy holders of the country are not one or two or three or a few wealthy people. Insurance is the main provision made by the vast bulk of people who have smaller or greater incomes in this country, and we had not this Amendment on the Paper until yesterday, and now he says there are special reasons why we should give him the two stages on the one day. I gave the reasons which influenced me in thinking that this is a most unjust Clause as it stands. Let the right hon. Gentleman take away its retrospective action and I am content, so far as I am concerned, and I shall take no more action in the matter. But so far as I consider it, as making it retrospective, I think that we who take that strong view are bound, not only to give no facilities to the right hon. Gentleman, but to take every opportunity we can to try to defeat it. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered our arguments or has thought them worthy of consideration since yester- 570 day. Has he made his mind up as to whether he is going to make it retrospective or not?
§ Sir E. CARSON
I should have thought he might have made up his mind. I have made up my mind since yesterday, and I cannot conceive that he should have a great deal of difficulty. When he was going to make this far-reaching change and people had not time to consider it, he might have seen that they would put difficulties in the way of giving the two stages of the Bill in one day. In a far-reaching matter of this kind, affecting so many people who will be inconvenienced by this Clause, he really cannot expect us to give him facilities which the Rules of the House do not provide. It is exactly a case in which we ought to get all the time we can to allow people to know what it is which is proposed to be done. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman is not able to announce that this Clause is not to be retrospective, so far as I am concerned, if there is a Division on the subject, I shall go into the Lobby against him.
§ Mr. McKENNA
May I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman which may meet both points? Would the House agree to let me take the Report stage on Monday? and also the Third Reading on Monday? I can give my reasons, and that will give time to consider this Clause, and the only outstanding question. Sup-posing I do not agree to apply this Clause only to future contracts, hon. Members would then have an opportunity of debating the subject on Report. We can have that on Monday. I do not say that I am going to agree: I have an open mind on the point. I think it is a case that ought to be considered, but if we take the Report stage on Monday there can be no objection then, and I can take the Third Reading on Monday with the Re-port stage. The House may accept it from me that it is really very important that I should get the borrowing powers by Thursday.
§ Sir E. LAMB
With regard to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, when he uses the expression that he has an open mind and is prepared to take the decision of the House, does that statement carry with it that the Government Whips will not be put on?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have a proposal to make, but I would rather not put it before the House now. I think I shall probably get general acquiescence. If the House will agree to that course, I will agree to withdraw this Motion and to make another Motion on Monday to take the Report stage and the Third Reading on the one day.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I think the new suggestion made by my right hon. Friend has modified to some extent the proposal which he put before the House originally. I do not intend to enter into the merits of the particular Clause. So far as I am concerned the right hon. Gentleman makes a strong case from that point of view. What I object to is the departure from the custom of the House. What ground does he give to make us depart from one of the oldest customs of this House in respect to our powers over finance? We are losing them one by one, and this might be set up by Ministers as a precedent for some future encroachment. We have had warnings ever since the War began of the importance of not passing things too quickly and without due consideration. We all know very well what has happened with respect to the Defence of the Realm Act and other matters. The idea of the Government is simply this: They have now the whole time of the House, they have no Opposition, and we have no means of communication of our wishes to the Government in regard to policy. This House is only sitting four days a week. I do say that they ought to be able to pass all the business without breaking the ordinary rules. If the right hon. Gentleman will bring in another Motion and will give us an undertaking, so far as he is concerned, that he will not repeat the proposal he is now bringing forward, I should certainly be inclined to let the right hon. Gentleman have his Motion, but there was no reason why we should depart from the custom in this particular thing. The Government should not bring forward a Finance Bill on the assumption that the House is going to give them it at the very hour and on the very day that they expect to get it. They proceed on the assumption that we are going to be entirely silent and entirely docile to the Government. They 572 should have brought in the Bill and have asked the House, if necessary, to sit on more days so that they could have had a week to gamble upon and not keep it until the last minute. This is a very bad proposal on the part of the Government. The course put forward is not fully justified, and I hope my right hon. Friend will reconsider the situation.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That could not be given now, because we are not discussing now the merits of the Clause.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I am not going into them either. I quite feel the strength of your observation, Sir. I was merely going to say that we had an opportunity yesterday, when the reason was kept back. To-day the reason is kept back necessarily, because of the circumstances in which we are debating the matter. We are now told that my right hon. Friend will present arguments on Monday which will make us all unanimous. I am afraid about that argument.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I regret to say that is impossible, because I have a conference to-morrow with the Ministers of Finance of France and Russia.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I can only appeal to the House. I shall have to take two stages again on Monday. I ask leave to withdraw the Motion, and give notice that I shall make another Motion on Monday to take the Report and the Third Reading.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.