HC Deb 08 February 1917 vol 90 cc92-109

I beg to move, "That, until the House otherwise determines, and so far as the House does not otherwise determine, no Public Bills other than Government Bills be introduced and no Ballot be taken for determining the precedence of such Bills."


I would like to appeal to my right hon. Friend in regard to this Motion. I should like to ask him if it is in the same terms as the Motion moved at the beginning of last Session and whether he does not think that the circumstances are rather different at the beginning of this third year of the War from what they were when this Resolution was originally passed. I believe that this embargo on the activity of private Members, which arose from the feeling that during the War there would not be any necessity or any desire on the part of the House to proceed with serious legislation. I think it is clear now that there are some large legislative proposals, and there is a feeling both in the House and outside which may assist us in passing very useful measures. For instance, there is no party feeling in the House or outside, and this allaying of party feeling does create an element in which useful measures might be put forward by a private Member or by the Government, and the Government is taking- advantage of it to bring forward proposals not connected with the War. At any rate, we hope they will take advantage of it, and I might particularly mention one in which you, Mr. Speaker, are interested, and in regard to which we all feel greatly indebted to you; I mean the proposals with regard to enfranchisement, most valuable proposals, but not directly connected with the War. Take, as an example, the suggestions about proportional representation which they contain. I want to appeal to my right hon. Friend—not in any hostile spirit, because there is no feeling in my mind but a desire to assist him—whether he does not think the time has come when a little further liberty might be given to the House in regard to this matter. Nothing assists the Government better in legislation than the proposals of private Members, and I think the very strict rules which were laid down two years and a year ago are a little out of date now; and I venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he might not either postpone the Motion till Monday or Tuesday, so that the House might consider it a little further, or whether he might not a little relax the strict rules which have been imposed on private Members since the commencement of the War owing to these special circumstances.


I would like to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman as one who is always an unofficial Member. I do not like to describe the Motion now before the House in any extreme terms, but it reminds me of a noxious poison that has the effect by paralysing or prolonging the existence of the patient. This is the application of the principle of curare to the House. The right hon. Gentleman is anxious to prolong the existence of Parliament, while at the same time he paralyses it. A Motion of this kind is a glaring invasion of the rights of unofficial Members, and likewise of the rights of Parliament itself. I protest against this Motion. Perhaps I might be open to a compromise, which savours of English statesmanship, but I protest against this Motion as one who has been in Parliaments which have suffered from the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect very well indeed all the repeated questions I have asked that certain legislation should be introduced in this House affecting two per- sonages who are Peers of the Realm, and have the highest honours of this country, and who are enemies at war with us, in the field against us. What occurred is this: On 27th July, after some sixteen months' incubation, the late Prime Minister stated to me—I remember the very words—that "the sense of the country and of the House is such that legislation will be introduced"; and, he added: "In a few days, as the Lord Chancellor will have to consider the technicalities." From July to December I never said one word. I always believed, or tried to believe, that the word of a Prime Minister was as good as his bond, and I never said a word about it. Then I renewed it, and I obtained promises that the late Prime Minister would introduce a Bill immediately—at least three. In order to facilitate it, I even gave him a Bill of my own, and here it is. He did not accept it. Are we to have the same number of promises this Session— or more promises? Or am I myself to be allowed to introduce a Bill? Or shall we have a compromise? Let the Government introduce a measure within ten days. It is really very wrong to paralyse our energies in this way. Are we a legislative Chamber, or have we merely to give our assent to measures proposed for our good by the Gentlemen who constitute the Government? They must be taught their lesson—a very difficult lesson it may be— or they may sooner or later realise the fact I have indicated, be they in the Cabinet many or few.


I should like to reinforce the speeches of my hon. Friends on the opposite side that if we cannot have the promise asked for that private Members should have the opportunity of introducing Bills, and moving Resolutions, that at least we should have some statement of the intentions of the Government with respect to the questions referred to. There is not merely the question of the Franchise. We are now coming to the State and Parliament and the country when we are looking forward to proposals for reconstruction. Those proposals for reconstruction are of the greatest importance. We ought to know whether the Government are going to introduce measures to deal with all these questions during the coming Session. If they themselves are not going to introduce legislation to meet the difficulties which will have to be faced then at least private Members should have the oppor- tunity of doing so. With respect to the observations of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down I should like to reinforce his plea that either he or the Government should deal with the question—one to which he has so often referred. Personally, I do not attach much importance to the fact that the two enemies he referred to are Peers of the Realm; but I do think that it is a disgrace to the country that they should be allowed to remain so. I really cannot understand the dilatoriness of either the late or the present Government in a problem of the kind. I should like, as I say, a statement from the Government as to the Franchise question, and on the great and important question of reconstruction, with which the House must deal during the coming Session.

Commander WEDGWOOD

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has emphasised the fact that the War—as we all hope—is drawing to its close, and that it is of the utmost importance that we should face the great reconstruction problem. Schemes have been placed before the country by those who believe that their schemes are well-founded. They have pressed them upon the Government by means of their energy, and sometimes their position, and some have managed to get the Government to consider the practicability of these schemes for After-the-War Reconstruction. Some are trying to get Canada made into an Empire Farm. All these schemes, with the interests of their promoters, as well as of the interests of the country, would be much better discussed in this House. In that way we shall get that exchange of views only from which well-thought-out measures can possibly proceed. The argument used in the old time—I mean at the beginning of the War— against allowing private Members to bring in Bills or propose Resolutions—I think quite a fair one-was that it would impose additional labour upon the heads of Government Departments who should be left absolutely free to conduct the War. There is still a certain amount of force in that; but if it is still a reason for the course previously taken, we should, I think, have a full statement of the case from the Government. We have at present a Government which is different from the old Government in two respects: In the first place, it is far more numerous. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Quite rightly, too. When you socialise and organise the whole Government you must have more officials. But with so many the work of the individual is less exacting than before. Take the particular case of the Minister of Education. We welcome him to the House. But we do want to hear his views. We also desire the opportunity of putting the views of the House before him. In doing so we shall not in the least hamper the prosecution of the War. If we are going to have a really sound system of education after the War we cannot possibly do better, particularly before the new Minister comes to a decision, than to let him hear the views of the different parties in this House. Many of us have very strong views on education. We have a perfect right to put these before the new Minister. It is not only a right but a duty. Another point. Not only are there more Ministers, but we have also—I think we may fairly say—the foundation of a National Government, a National Government which has in it the germ or foundation of a new party. It is of enormous importance that that new party should know where it stands in the House. Many of us do not know ourselves where we stand until we have had an opportunity of finding out what are the views of the National Government, and that can be done without in the least hampering them in the War. By giving private Members the opportunity of bringing in Bills or moving Resolutions, I believe there would be far more co-operation between the Government and the representatives of the country than there can be at the present time. Therefore I shall support my right hon. Friend opposite if he goes to a Division, though I hope the Government may pay attention to our requests.


There is one anomaly— or so it seems to me—in the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, though I do not know that I shall carry my objection to this particular proposal to voting against the Government, because I feel the Government ought to be supported.


Take the sense of the House.


I should like the right hon. Gentleman to explain the relation between or difference between private Bills and Bills of private Members. It strikes me in this light: If 400,000 persons, electors, desire to call attention by a private Member's Bill to the enormous waste of public food by the use of feeding stuffs for certain purposes—I will not indicate the thing more clearly—and desire to take upon themselves the obloquy of a Bill which the Government may not desire to bring in, they are debarred; but if a private company desires to spend £150,000 in widening a thoroughfare, or a small borough desires to lay down a new sewer, these people representing 20,000 population, or the other representing shareholders, may come—as last Session—and engage the attention of Parliament for days. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in no vexatious or carking way, whether he has issued instructions that the doorway through which private Bills come should be jealously watched, and that things which are not of urgent and pressing importance should stand aside, if private Members are not able to bring Bills which they think of importance before the House.


This is obviously a case in which the House of Commons must decide. The last thing that any Government would suggest would be that a Resolution of this kind should be carried against the view of the House of Commons, or that they should attempt to carry it against the view of the House of Commons. But I must say I personally did not quite sympathise with, and indeed I did not understand, the spirit of most of the remarks which have been made in connection with this Motion. My right hon. Friend opposite said that we have now been thirty months at war, that the whole position is changed, and that precautions which were necessary at the beginning of the War are no longer necessary. I take exactly the opposite view.


I did not say "precautions"; I said "restrictions."


That restrictions which were necessary in the early stages of the War are not necessary now. Well, I take exactly the opposite view. I think this country is now come to the very crisis of its fate, and that the House of Commons, like every other body of citizens, should feel that for the moment the one thing they ought to think about is the War, and I must say I should be greatly surprised if the House of Commons itself would tolerate the sort of discussions on private Members' Bills, which we are glad to have in ordinary times, but which I should think very much out of place now. I say that with full sympathy for the position of Members of this House. Many of them, who have great capacity for service, and who have been sent to this House because they have that capacity, have not found opportunities in which they can engage in connection with the War. It is natural that those who are the supreme authority in this House should feel that they should not act as a cypher while the War is going on. I thoroughly sympathise with them; but, after all, the House of Commons in this respect represents the nation. It is bent on one thing, and I believe myself that the country outside would be horrified if it found we were returning to the old notions, and were going on as if there were no war. The hon. Member for South Donegal (Mr. S. MacNeill) said that this Government had been formed without the sanction of the House of Commons, or some words to that effect, and it was necessary that we should be taught we were dependent on the House of Commons.


I said it was necessary you should be taught to realise you are the servants of the House of Commons. You have been appointing each other without regard to the House of Commons.


I do not complain of the hon. Member, but I do say that the present Government, perhaps more than most Governments, realises it is absolutely dependent on the House of Commons. This is not perhaps a suitable lime for discussing points like this, but from the very nature of this Government, and from the change which has been made in our previous habits, it is quite evident that this Government cannot exist unless it has the support of the House of Commons. In my belief it could not last a week—at all events, it could not last many weeks—if the ordinary methods of party fighting were adopted, and, so far as I am concerned, I would not attempt for a moment to carry on the Government in that kind of way. Therefore, the House of Commons knows that we are absolutely dependent on their support, and the Government becomes impossible the moment we find that that support is not given. The hon. Member for South Donegal wanted to make a compromise with regard to one particular Bill. It is easy to make a compromise with regard to particular Bills, and in this case I do not want to make a compromise. I am going to tell the House what we are going to do. One hon. Member behind said that the Government had been dilatory in that matter. I think it was not a matter of first importance. It is of importance, but it is not the kind of thing that is going to end the War very soon. But I gave a promise at the end of last Session that it would be looked into by this Government, and that there would be no delay in dealing with the matter. A Bill has been framed, is ready, and will be introduced as soon as possible—probably within the next week or two. So far as that particular problem is concerned there is not any great difficulty.

But now there is a bigger question than compromise about any particular Bill. I remember that my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister when he first introduced this Resolution, and when I was Leader of the Opposition, gave this promise that obviously, since the Government was taking the time of the House of Commons, it must be ready to give opportunities for discussion on any subject on which there was a general desire that such a discussion should take place. I am perfectly prepared to give the same pledge with regard to this Government. We will try to meet the wishes of hon. Members, whenever there is any general desire to discuss any subject, and find time for it. Although I do not object to a Division being taken on this matter if hon. Members think it worth while, I hope that there will not be a prolonged discussion, and I myself think it would be a very bad thing indeed if now, in the very crisis of our fate, the very measures which at the beginning of the War we thought were necessary for the proper prosecution of this War were to be set aside.


I think on an occasion of this sort those of us who are distinctly private Members ought to give our view to the Government. I am quite in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that the primary essential is to remember that we are at war, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the bulk of us get up with the War in the morning and go to bed with it at night. It is always in our thoughts. It is as much in our thoughts as it in those of any hon. or right hon. Member on the Government Bench. The fact that the War exists has a great influence with us in our desire at the moment to have our liberties left to us to introduce private Bills, if we so choose. I will put a point from the point of view of Scotland which I think my right hon. Friend cannot controvert. My right hon. Friend knows when the War is over the Government have schemes of land settlement for soldiers both in this country and in the country which I, along with others, represent. There have been during the past few months negotiations going on between the various Scottish Members in this House with a view to getting rid of some of the legislation which prevents land settlement in Scotland. If, therefore, we, the private Members in this House, could come to a decision on a subject of that kind, and could introduce that as a private measure, surely the Government would never dream of objecting to that.

I remember the late Prime Minister on one occasion, when this same discussion was raised, leaving open the question, I think, till Easter, with the idea that if any Bill did emerge which was of importance the Government might consider if it should be brought in. What happened? No Bill was put down, and I believe that if my right hon. Friend kept this open no Bill would be put down which had not the object of getting on with and finishing this War. What my right hon. Friend seems to forget is that the House of Commons can be trusted. I do not know of any substantial reason why this Motion should be moved, unless it be that there are so many Members in the present Government that it does not matter whether the rest of us have any rights left to us at all, and that the Motion affects so few Members that it is really of no importance. Let me remind my right hon. Friend what happened last Session. The Government, of which he was a member, brought in a Pension Bill which was the practical outcome of their intelligence on the pensions' question, and they took it back because the private Members of the House wanted a different Bill. They brought in what the private Members wanted, and passed it as a Government Bill. So that all the wisdom of the House of Commons does not reside on the Government Bench. If we had this opportunity is possible within the Rules of the House to arrange the time without coming into conflict with the Government. After all, Friday was the private Members' day. The Government do not propose to take Friday, but sit on four days a week, so that there is a day which would not interfere with Government business, which would not require the attendance of the Members of the Government, although they do not even now attend particularly well even when Government business is being discussed. During the Debate on the Address many important questions have been raised to which no replies have been given. I beg the House to remember that there are on the Order Paper of the House Motions in the name of the Government which prevent us today discussing those questions on the Address—blocking Motions by the Government on pertinent questions of public interest relating to the War. As a private Member I protest against all our opportunities being filched from us in this way without any justification. If the Government could stand up and say that in past Sessions any private Member had attempted to delay the business of the Government there might be some justification for this Motion, but there has been no occasion on which a private Member has attempted to do that, and to pass this proposal is sheer injustice. I beg of my right hon. Friend to trust the private Members, and leave this night perfectly open, and he will find that no Bill will be put down with which he has any reason to interfere.


I hope my hon. Friend will press this matter to a Division, because this Motion is nothing more than another attempt to take away the powers and the prerogatives of the House of Commons. The advisability of pushing this matter to a Division has been emphasised by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said this afternoon. He referred to a Bill which had been promised and which he now says is being prepared. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that again and again on the floor of this House various hon. Members, including the hon. Member opposite and myself, have pressed for this Bill for years, and more time has been occupied by representatives of the Government in refusing this particular Bill and in giving reasons why it should not be brought forward than would have been necessary to pass the Bill into law. Therefore, I cannot get rid of the conviction that, so far from this being an unimportant matter, there was no real or definite reason for refusing the Bill. With regard to education, already I have questions on the Notice Paper. There are few members of the Government whom I regard with more interest than the Presi- dent of the Board of Education, and to some extent I may also add that I regard him with suspicion, because I believe that he has it in his power, in laying down the great broad lines of a new educational scheme of education, to give the whole nation, the whole condo-minions, a new yeast of national life. On the other hand, I have little personal acquaintance with the President of the Board of Education, although I know that he has a high reputation for intellectuality, except with regard to one of his publications which I had the honour of reviewing and which gave me a very bad opinion of his reactionary ideas, which are all the more dangerous in a reactionary sense, because they come in the guise of that kind of high virtue or vice which is so greatly esteemed by this House—that of compromise and smooth sailing, and looking both ways, and all those smooth negative virtues will finally place a man on the Front Bench.

Then there is the position of Ireland, which is very critical at this moment, and I look forward with the greatest apprehension to what may happen in Ireland within the next few weeks. I shall be happy in deed if, when those few weeks have passed, we do not find ourselves face to face with a grave crisis amounting almost to famine. Responsible Members of this party have put forward valuable suggestions which have been carefully thought out after consultation before the responsible Minister, and they have been ignored. Are we also to be deprived of the right of bringing forward the condition of Ireland? This is practically a Motion for the abolition of the House of Commons. I would go so far as to say that in time of war that might be a good proposition, for my ideal form of Government in time of war is that of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had two responsible and very capable assistants I should have much less objection to this proposal if we could see in the present Prime Minister some representation of the First Consul of Europe. The Prime Minister may have the necessary ambition, but it does not follow that he has the necessary power. What the nation needs most at this crisis—I said months ago that the nation was about to be tested at its very entrails—is not a man of the type of Gambetta, but a man with the great and powerful engineering mind of Carnot to organise victory. This Government up to the present time has filled me with disappointment——


That has nothing whatever to do with this Motion.


Perhaps I shall have an opportunity later of referring to that subject.


The Leader of the House has not replied to the specific questions put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). He raised a definite case which I think deserves the attention of the Government, and he took as an illustration land legislation in Scotland. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that for various reasons land legislation by this Parliament has been brought to a standstill and an effort has been made by different groups of Scottish Members acting together to reach a concordat on that question, and those attempts have now brought about a concrete result. I think in these circumstances the Government might give us an assurance that if the Committee representing the Scottish Members put forward a definite legislative proposal it would receive facilities from the Government even if it was not made a Government measure. I do not see why that could not be done in the present Session before Easter. I can well understand that the right hon. Gentleman may say in the present state of Government business it would be quite impossible to find any time for legislation introduced either by the Government or private Members, but might not the right hon. Gentleman follow the example of his predecessor, the late Prime Minister, who when this question was debated a year ago, said he would leave the matter open until Easter and if representations were made to the Government before Easter as to the desirability of relaxing this rule, he, as the representative of the Government would consider favourably the question of its relaxation. I think that is a fair proposition to put before the Government. There are other questions besides land legislation, upon which there is considerable feeling, not only in this House but also in the country. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been recently in Scotland, and I know that he has now first-hand knowledge of the strength and depth of feeling in Scotland on the subject of prohibition. I suggest that the Government should itself grasp the nettle; but if there were a sufficient body of private Members willing to put forward a legislative proposal, surely the Government might welcome it as an opportunity of eliciting the opinion of the House as a whole. The problem is a very different problem in Scotland from what it is south of the Tweed, and in these circumstances it is only fair surely that a body of Scottish Members should have the opportunity of putting forward a legislative proposal. Both these subjects, the future of land legislation and the future of temperance legislation, which are really war questions at the present time and deserve the attention of the House of Commons, and which may be questions with which it is impossible for the Government to deal, engaged as they are exclusively with the more immediate administrative tasks relating to the War might well be delegated to the House of Commons as a whole. The only way in which they can be delegated is by a relaxation of this rule, a relaxation which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will favourably consider in the period after Easter, when the demands upon the time of the House and of the Government will not be so great as they are at the present time.


I rise, as an old Member of this House and as one having had some experience many years ago of the few privileges which the private Member then enjoyed, to support the appeal of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). Apparently, at the present time the private Member is regarded rather as a voting machine—when he gets the opportunity of voting. Private Members have practically no opportunities whatever of bringing before the House of Commons any grievance which may affect their Constituents or a large number of the community. We live under a kind of autocracy of the Cabinet. The Cabinet determines what measures will be brought in, and the private Member is completely shut one. He really has no voice in the House of Commons except in the Debates which are initiated by the Government. I remember the time when Fridays were given to private Members, and really it would not cost the Government any time if the rule were brought in again, and we had Friday as a private Members' day. We must recollect that outside the Government there is some kind of intellect in the community. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but under the present condition of things the Government apparently think that they enjoy a monopoly of all the knowledge—social, political, and financial. The private Member is absolutely shut out from voicing his views, except when the particular matters in which he is interested are under discussion. I regard the rights of the private Members of the House of Commons as most important. We are practically living under a state of closure. The Government simply do what they like with the Members of the House of Commons. I would urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to listen to the appeal which has been made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, and to restore to private Members at least some of the rights which they used to enjoy.


Since I have been in the House I have always been disposed to defend the position of the private Member as against the Government, and there has always been opposition to him, whatever Government has been in power. There have been several references to the number of new Ministers who have been created and to the new methods which have been adopted. I should like to know how many Ministers there are in this Government, and how many there were in the last Government. I have some difficulty in finding any co-ordination in the observations of the Ministers. We were told, when this Government was formed, that there was to be a small and powerful War Council. It was to meet every day, and two or throe times a day. It was to be in continuous Session. What has happened? We have had the Prime Minister himself in Italy for a long time.


That has nothing to do with the Motion before the House.


I will not refer to that point further. May I point out that different Ministers have already separated themselves from the policy of the Government? The Secretary of State for War has told us that he has nothing to do with War policy, that he is not on the War Council, and that advice is given to the Government on the War by a military man and not by the Secretary of State. Equally the President of the Board of Agriculture has told us that he is innocent of the responsibility for the policy of his Department.


The hon. Member, I think, has not looked at the Paper to see what is the Motion now before the House. His remarks have no relevance to it whatever.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer why he does not think that now is the time to send the House of Commons away for a short holiday so that the National Government can carry on its own business. The opinion in the country is that there is far too much talking and not enough action, and now that the question of the organisation of labour is being dealt with, I would suggest that those Members who are not serving in the Army or Navy might offer their services under that scheme.


May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he withdraws this Motion for the time being and give himself and the Government time to announce to the House of Commons what business the Government propose to bring forward during the coming Session. If yesterday the right hon. Gentleman had only outlined what the Government intend doing in connection with certain questions which directly and greatly affect the workers of the country, questions such as whether we are going to have compulsion in industrial service, he would not have had the opposition which he is now having to his Motion, and in the interests of the Government, and not merely of the nation, I would ask him to reconsider his decision, to withdraw the Motion for the time being, and to give himself time to announce what the Government propose to do on the important matters which have been referred to by the various speakers.


I think it would be most unfortunate should we begin this Session by wasting our time and the time of the Government if by any means we can help on some of the questions which, although they have no direct connection with the War, have a very strong indirect connection with it, and will probably become questions of primary importance before the War is over. Cannot we make some real use of our time by devoting ourselves to these in a non-party spirit on which no one would wish to take up more time than is necessary? For instance, with regard to Scottish measures, I would say there are undoubtedly three questions which absolutely not only require dealing with, but are very largely responsible for the position we find ourselves in. The first of these is the land question, which immediately affects a large section of the population. What is the one question we are being asked to consider and are in fact considering in every part of the country? It is the question of our food supply. What is more essential to the question of food supply than going into the principle of land occupation? Then, again, there is the temperance question, which may also be described as a burning question.

Finally, there is the question of education. When the War is over, and even before 'that, we shall require the best system of education to be provided. I think English Members will agree that education in England is not a patch on education in Scotland; yet we are all of opinion that in Scotland the education question wants dealing with on a comprehensive plan. We want to help forward the movement for developing that greatest asset in the British Empire—the brains of the generation growing up. I do hope we shall try to arrive at some definite conclusions on these three most important questions, which affect not only Scotland but the whole of the country, and, indeed, the Empire. I have no intention of voting against the Government on this Motion, but I do sincerely ask the right hon. Gentleman, who himself is a Scotsman and who knows Scotland very much better than most people, if he cannot give us some understanding that these questions which are calling out for treatment apart from the conduct of the War, shall be taken up, seeing that they are burning national and Imperial questions.


I should like to point out that the questions to which reference has been made are of such importance that, though we should like to discuss them, we must remember they are questions which are controversial. The great object we have in view, not only in this Resolution, but in the action one is trying to promote, is to bring this War to a conclusion, and to do that we are bound to support the Government and thereby enable it to carry out its duty. It is necessary, therefore, that there should be shown in this House a united front, and, however important these questions may be in themselves, it is most desirable that they should not be brought forward if there is any likelihood of their sowing dissension. For that reason I think the advocates of those measures have rather proved the case against themselves by showing how important and how contentious they are.


I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as a good House of Commons man, sympathises with the desire of private Members to retain their rights in this matter so far as is practicable, and I am confident he will agree it is a very desirable thing that the old practice of this House with regard to the introduction of private Members' Bills should be restored, if it be possible to do so, without distracting the Government from its very essential preoccupation with regard to the conduct of the War. I want to make one suggestion. Last year I think the Prime Minister agreed, while insisting that a Motion of this kind should be carried, to reconsider the matter about Easter if cause were shown with regard to any particular subject. I would suggest it is possible—I will not go beyond that—that some subject may crop up on which procedure by a private Member's Bill might, in the view of the Government, be a desirable method of going forward. We recently had on a controversial subject a conference of private Members presided over by Mr. Speaker, and that conference has had a most remarkable result. I do not want to make any special reference to the subject-matter of that conference, but it is possible that some of the subjects which are too controversial for the Government to devote their attention to at the present time are, at the same time, subjects on which the Government might agree that legislation would be desirable if it could be entered upon without controversy. It is possible that on one or two of these subjects the Government may be of the opinion that it would be well to proceed with the matter in the way I have suggested. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) has mentioned one such subject. I am not quite sure what he has in mind, but he seemed to suggest that, on the very controversial subject of land legislation in Scotland, especially with a view to land settlement in connection with the War, it might be possible there would be found certain agreed proposals. I would suggest that between now and Easter, on this subject or on any other, representations might be made to the Government, and the Government might consider them, and then if it thought fit it might be willing to relax this Resolution, not generally, but with regard to some specific subjects. Without binding themselves, I think perhaps it would facilitate matters if they would undertake to consider that point before Easter.


I would appeal to the House to bring this discussion to an end. It must be quite obvious from the speeches which have been made and the references to the subjects which it is desired to discuss it would be impossible for us to give the time which would be required, and I may say, in my own opinion, that is the chief objection next to to the fact that it would occupy the time of the officials if that course is to be adopted. It is the chief objection to the discussion of these subjects in this House at all during the War that they must be controversial whether the Government take part in them or not.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That, until the House otherwise determines, and so far as the House does not otherwise determine, no Public Bills other than Government Bills be introduced and no Ballot be taken for determining the precedence of such Bills.—[Mr. Bonar Law.]