HC Deb 04 April 1917 vol 92 cc1325-8

Can the Leader of the House say what are the intentions of the Government in regard to business? Will any business be taken to-day after the Motion for the Adjournment, and can the right hon. Gentleman say what matters will be brought before the House during the week after the House reassembles? Perhaps he will allow me to ask when the Bill embodying the agricultural policy which the Prime Minister proposed to the House will be introduced? I think a suggestion was made some time ago that it might be introduced before the Easter Recess. Is it still intended to do that?


With respect to the Agricultural Bill, we have not found it possible to have it introduced before the Recess, but it is now practically complete and will be introduced immediately after the reassemblnig of the House. If it is possible to-day after the Motion for the Adjournment, we shall take two small Bills: The National Insurance (Part I Amendment) Bill. Committee stage and the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill. It is desirable to get these Bills, if it can be done, before, we adjourn, but we shall not sit late if there is any opposition. When the House reassembles, we shall take on Tuesday, 17th April, the Second Reading of the Parliamentary and Local Elections Bill, which is the Bill for continuing the life of the present Parliament, and if there is time, the Venereal Diseases Bill, Second Reading, the Munitions of War Bill, and the Billeting of Civilians Bill. On Wednesday we shall take the remaining stages of the Parliamentary and Local Elections Bill, and the Report stage of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. On Thursday the Education Estimates.


In view of the widespread interest in the Agricultural Bill, and seeing that the right hon. Gentleman has announced that it is practically complete, can he see his way to have it circulated to Members as soon as it is available, so that we may take the advice of the people in the country as to how its provisions are likely to work?


That would be desirable, but I am afraid it cannot be done. The Bill has first to be introduced before it is circulated.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Bill will be introduced dealing with friendly aliens in this country. Has he any hope that it will be introduced shortly?


I answered a question on that to-day, saying that we were in communication with the Russian Government about it, and that we have every hope it will be settled before we reassemble.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he proposes to-day to respond to the universal feeling of the country that some acknowlegment should be made in this House of the great speech just made by President Wilson?


The House will quite understand that the Government are as anxious as any Member of the House to take due notice of what they think is an epoch-making speech, but until it has been discussed in Congress we are satisfied that it would not be advisable for official notice to be taken of it. In these circumstances, any perfunctory discussion would seem to us quite out of place.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great desire for a statement on the Air Service, and will he consider the advisability of putting down the Air Vote at an early period?


We quite realise the anxiety of the House on this subject, and we propose to put it down at a very early date.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the proceedings on Government Business be not interrupted this day under the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and may be entered upon at any hour although opposed."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]


The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he does not propose to take any other business after the Adjournment Motion if any objection is taken. There are two Bills on the Order Paper which still require to be dealt win. There is the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill, which has only passed its Committee stage, and the National Insurance (Part I.) (Amendment) Bill, which has been read the second time without any Debate. If the Leader of the House would refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday he would find, in column 1217 a long new Clause of nearly one and a half columns, which has only been read a second time, and of which Members were unable to get any notice until the OFFICIAL REPORT was available to-day at twelve o' clock. It is perfectly obvious that only manuscript Amendments can be put down to that Clause, which deals with relief in respect of certain contractual obligations. I have no objection, and I do not think many other Members have, to the Government getting all necessary business through the House, and I respectfully submit to the Leader of the House that if he casts his mind back over the last few days he will agree that he has made a rather large draft on the time of Members. Those of us who are opposed to the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Bill—and I think he knows that a great many of us are opposed very violently to that Bill—did not unnecessarily interrupt the course of the Bill. I think that on Thursday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday we did not give the Government such facilities as the Leader asked from the House, and we did keep our bargain and gave him the Bill last night at 8.15. In regard to the National Health (Part I.) (Amendment) Insurance Bill we allowed the Comptroller of the Household to get the Second Reading last night without debate, and it is asking too much of the House to-night, after the Adjournment Motion, to take the Committee stage of that Bill and the Report stage and Third Reading. I appeal to my right hon. Friend—and I am speaking for a number of hon. Members who are interested in both these measures—that he should say at once that the only business that will be taken to-day will be the Adjournment Motion, and that these two Bills will be put down after the Easter Recess, which, after all, is a short one. I think we are entitled to ask my right hon. Friend for that. By that means he will avoid rushing two or three Bills in the last day of the sitting. That is not the way to do business, even if it is necessary, unless urgency is established. Therefore, I hope he will agree to take nothing but the Adjournment Motion.


I do not think there is any great difference between my hon. Friend and myself. I have already said that if we find that there is opposition to these measures we shall not sit late in order to pass them. But I would like to point out that it is very desirable we should get these small measures out of the way before we reassemble, if we can. As regards the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill, I understand that the long Clause which has so confused my hon. Friend has been on the Paper for two or three days, so that there have been opportunities for studying it. We shall not ask the House to proceed if there is any serious opposition, but I think it would be better to wait and then we can judge whether it is desirable to proceed or not.


The questions arising out of the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill were not questions arising from it provisions, but rather as to matters which some hon. Members believed should have been included in it and have not been included. The hope which I think is entertained by many Members is that if the Bill goes through now, the Government will apply its mind to the questions which have not yet been dealt with and come to a decision, so that if possible there may be legislation upon them at an early date.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, that the proceedings on Government business be not interrupted this day under the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and may be entered upon at any hour although, opposed.—[Mr. Bonar Law.]