§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, That the Lords Amendments be now considered."
In making that Motion I think it will be convenient that I should indicate very shortly the course these Amendments are likely to take. The Amendments are in the hands of hon. Members, and a good many of them deal with small matters of detail proposed in another place and accepted by the Government. To those Amendments I would ask the House to agree. There are other Amendments of a more substantial character which will require some explanation to the House, but as to the majority of them we shall suggest to the House that we should agree with the Lords in their Amendments. There are a few cases in which we shall ask the House to disagree with the Lords Amendment, but I do not think any of the Amendments I have referred to will take any substantial time in this House. There remains, however, a third class of Amendments relating to proportional representation, and to the alternative vote, which I do not doubt will require full discussion here. As to these, I hope that some hon. Member of this House will, 1593 when those Amendments are called on, move either to agree or to disagree with them.
I have no doubt that I shall ask permission some time during the Debate on these Amendments to lay some observations before the House. We do not desire in those cases to take the initiative in moving either agreement or disagreement. May I just add this: I am sorry that the Amendment Paper has not been longer in the hands of Members. Of course, the deliberations in another place were only concluded rather late last night. The greatest possible effort was made by the printers so that the Paper might be in the hands of Members first thing this morning. Unfortunately, that was found impossible, and the Paper was not in print until some time during the morning. It happens that that will not greatly trouble the House, because actually the second Amendment on the Paper is one consequential on the adoption in another place of the principle of proportional representation. Therefore, I have no doubt that it would be in order that the whole discussion upon that most important matter should take place upon the second Amendment on the Paper. If that is so, then, of course, Members will have more time in which to consider the other and less important Amendments, and it will to a great extent remove or mitigate the great inconvenience that we all feel. I hope, after what I have said, that the House will now proceed to consider the Amendments.
§ Lord H. CECIL
On a point of Order. Ought not the Question to be, "That the Lords Amendments be forthwith considered"? Are we not taking an irregular course in considering them without notice?
§ Lord H. CECIL
My impression was that when the House did not consider the Lords Amendments according to Order, or when they did not appear on the Orders of the Day, in accordance with the Orders of the House, that a Motion had to be made, "That the Lords Amendments be forthwith considered," a Motion which can only be taken by general consent, and which is a departure from the normal procedure of the House.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
The House finds itself to-day in a position, so tar as my Parliamentary experience is concerned, which is quite unexampled. The consideration of this Bill does not appear on the Order Paper at all, nor, I suppose, could it. According to the technicalities of our procedure, it does not appear on the Order Paper at all. The Lords Amendments were not circulated. I have only got them myself within the last quarter of an hour, and they occupy something like eighty pages, including an enormous mass of detail, as to which I am quite prepared to accept the assurance of my right hon. Friend that the bulk of them are drafting Amendments, and that when they come to be considered they will be found to be of minor or insignificant importance. It is a matter of some inconvenience that the House should not receive these Amendments until two o'clock in the afternoon, and should not have any opportunity of reading them over. I am friendly to the Bill, and only anxious that it should pass into law—I do not wish to speak in any hostile spirit—but I think it would be impossible to conceive a more inconvenient or more un business like proceeding, and it is one against which I think we should make a strong protest. Apart from that, the House is entitled, as far as my experience goes, on the Motion, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered," to ask the Government to state, at any rate in general terms, what are their views as to the principal changes which the House of Lords has introduced into the Bill. There are two matters, in particular, which engage general attention, and which will excite controversy. One is the question of proportional representation, and the other is the question of what is called the "alternative vote." In both respects the House of Lords has made a far-reaching Amendment in the Bill. I express no opinion as to their merits or demerits, but I cannot help thinking that it would be a much more convenient course if the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, would state in general terms, on this Motion, what course the Government recommend to the House of Commons.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I am sure that we all agree as to the inconvenience of the course which we are now adopting, but I hardly understand against whom the protest of my right hon. Friend was made. As the House knows, we intimated last week that we could not get this measure from the other place until last night, and that we proposed that the House should proceed to-day to consider the Lords Amendments. We made that proposal in full knowledge of all the inconvenience, believing that it was the desire of the House of Commons, as it is of the Government, to proceed with the utmost rapidity, the necessity for which I am sure that my right hon. Friend understands as well as anybody else, because, apart from any desire to have a short interval between the termination of this Session and the beginning of the next Session, the financial business makes it almost impossible to delay the beginning of the next Session beyond a few days. We proposed this in accordance with what we believed to be the general wish and convenience of the House. We quite recognise how undesirable it is, but it seems to me inevitable, owing to circumstances over which neither the Government nor the House of Commons have any control. I hope my right hon. Friend will agree, despite the inconvenience, that it is wise to proceed with the Bill to-day.
As regards the general statement, I do not think it is, at all events, the universal custom that such a statement should be made. If my right hon. Friend simply wishes to know what attitude the Government are going to take on the two large issues which are raised—that is to say, proportional representation and the alternative vote—I can say at once, and indeed I think it was implied from the speech of my right hon. Friend, that the Government do not intend to put on the Whips, but to leave the decision to the free judgment of the House of Commons. I may say, however, that, of course, it will be the duty of the Government to give advice to the House, and my right hon. Friend will state on each of these Amendments the course which, in his opinion; is most convenient, not only on the merits, but—I am sure the House will forgive me for saying it—having in view also the prospect of bringing the Bill into law under difficulties which might arise if it did not now come into law. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be satisfied 1596 with the explanation which I have given. I think the general inconvenience will be largely mitigated by the fact that our discussion to-day must of necessity deal with the general principle involved in one of these big proposals—I mean that of proportional representation. I assume that practically the whole of the discussion to-day will take place in regard to that Amendment.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
On a point of Order. There are no copies whatever of the Lords Amendments in the Vote Office at the present moment. I wish to ask whether it is not possible that copies can be provided in a short time?
§ Lord H. CECIL
May I call your attention to Standing Order No. 43, which runs:Lords Amendments to public Bills shall be appointed to be considered on a future clay, unless the House shall order them to be considered forthwith.I submit that the Home Secretary ought to begin by moving, "That the Lords Amendments be considered forthwith,' and afterwards he should move, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not for a moment agree with that view. I think the word "forthwith" in the Standing Order really means "now." If the Noble Lord will substitute the word "now" for the word "forthwith" in the Standing Order, he will see that it would not really read so well as the word forthwith "—Unless the House shall order them to be considered now.That does not make as good English as to say "unless the House shall order them to be considered forthwith." If it is any satisfaction to the Noble Lord, however, I will put the Question, "That the Lords Amendments to the Representation of the People Bill be forthwith considered."
§ Lord H. CECIL
It is a source of satisfaction to me to see the Standing Orders of the House obeyed, and I confess that I should have thought that in that satisfaction you would have shared. I am very glad that you do propose that we should conform to and obey the Orders of the House, which are superior to the discretion of the Chair and the liberty of individual Members. I desire also to draw attention to the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not responded to the right hon. Gentleman's appeal to explain what course the Government 1597 propose to take about particular Amendments which are important. We have been told about proportional representation, and I understand that the Home Secretary proposes that we should debate the matter on the second Amendment appearing on the Paper. I should have thought that Amendment was merely a drafting Amendment which was not out of order, whether we adopted proportional representation or not.
§ Lord H. CECIL
In any case, I suggest that it would be far better—if the Home Secretary takes the view that it is an indispensable part of the Amendment, and that proportional representation stands or falls with it—that we should postpone the Amendments which are formal till the conclusion of the consideration of the Lords Amendments, and take the main Amendment. That is a course which is very frequently taken in respect of Lords Amendments, and it is obviously more convenient to discuss the matter on the main Amendment than on a pure drafting Amendment, which does not raise the question in any rational sense. I suggest that the Home Secretary should adopt that course, which would be a general convenience.
§ Mr. GILBERT
May I ask whether you, Mr. Speaker, are aware of the fact that the Bill with which the Amendments propose to deal, and to which the Amendments on the Paper refer—Bill 113—cannot be obtained from the Vote Office, but that another Bill, the Bill as amended in Committee in this House, is being given to Members? I want to point out the very great difficulty of following the Lords Amendments when we have not got the Bill which has been amended by the Lords.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
On that same point of Order. The second Amendment on which the question of proportional representation arises refers to the word "constituency" in line 4 of page 2, but line 4 of page 2 of the Bill circulated contain no such words. We shall be in endless difficulties in trying to work from the Lords Amendments to the Commons Bill.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
Before the Home Secretary replies to the Noble Lord, I should like, Mr. Speaker, to ask your ruling as to the effect of the pro- 1598 posed plan of taking the second Amendment on the Paper to cover the whole' question of proportional representation—whether it would be in order—of course, I presume it will be now that this plan has been proposed by the Home Secretary—to discuss, on that second Amendment, the main Amendment and the new Clause,- to secure proportional representation.
§ Mr. LOUGH
My hon. Friend the Member for Newington (Mr. Gilbert) has put a question to you about the Bill, and I would like to repeat it. All these Amendments refer to a Bill which we cannot get. It may be said that it is but a slight difficulty, and that if the word is not in line 4 we may get it in line 6 or 7. But it is not quite good enough for the House to proceed in that way, and it ought to be possible for us to get the exact Bill to which the Amendments refer before we take them into consideration. I would like to ask you whether we are not entitled to have that Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in these times printing is a difficulty. If he would realise that, he would see that it is not possible, in the course of a night, to produce 700 copies of these Amendments and of this Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman ought to be a little merciful towards the Printing Department.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
May I ask you, Sir, for a ruling in regard to my question whether it would be possible, on the second Amendment, to discuss the man Amendment and the new Clause introduced into the Bill to secure proportional representation?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Certainly, it will be open to the House upon that Amendment to discuss the whole question of proportional representation.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
May I ask you, Sir, what hon. Members are to do who are unable to obtain a copy of the Amendments they are about to discuss? There are no Amendment Papers now in the Vote Office, and it is quite impossible for 1599 us to know what is going to be discussed. In these circumstances, does it not seem a little out of order to begin to discuss Amendments of which we know nothing?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The first statement that is made will probably convey to the hon. Member what the point is. We have already been informed that the second Amendment will raise the whole question of proportional representation.
§ Mr. M. HEALY
I wish to appeal to the Home Secretary not to persist in the suggestion that the discussion on this very important question of proportional representation should be raised on the second Amendment. The second Amendment raises a question entirely distinct from proportional representation. It would arise if proportional representation was not mentioned in the Bill. As the Bill stood, in order to have the requisite residence qualification, or business premises qualification, a man must have resided or occupied business premises, either in the constituency or in another constituency within a Parliamentary borough or Parliamentary county which was contiguous to that borough or county. The Amendment made in the Lords gives the vote for residence or the occupation of business premises in an adjoining constituency only. That is an issue wholly distinct from and unconnected with proportional representation, and one might vote on it either way without any reference to proportional representation I voted for proportional representation when the matter was before this House, but I should vote against this Amendment, even if it were an Amendment consequential upon proportional representation. It is true that you can lug in proportional representation by the hair and horns, but it has no necessary connection with the Amendment. It is most inconvenient that two questions wholly distinct should be introduced in that way.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Might I suggest to the Home Secretary that there are really three objections to the course he has proposed. In the first place, it is not really convenient that the House should vote on an important question such as proportional representation, which is of profound importance to the future of this country, merely upon an Amendment which is of a consequential character. It would be much better to 1600 take the Debate and the Division on a Question put from the Chair, winch is a Question of substance. Secondly, there is the objection referred to by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. M. Healy), namely, that the second Amendment on the Paper is not free from complication. It does not raise a clean issue. It also raises a very minor point, but still a point which the House must deal with, and to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. The third objection is that the House is not properly seised even of the first Amendment, which does give rise to some discussion, and on which I shall have something to say. Also the House has not been in possession of the Amendments or the Bill to which they apply for a sufficiently long time to be able to consider them. I, therefore, venture, to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, in view of all these objections, that the most convenient course would be for him to move to postpone the consideration of all the Lords Amendments down to Clause 18. We shall then come straight away to a simple issue with which I am sure the House is prepared to deal and with which it is familiar, raising the straight issue for or against proportional representation.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few further words on the Motion. Of course, we have been anxious to consult the general convenience of the House on a Bill in which we all have an interest, and which we all desire to pass at the earliest convenient moment. I regret very much to hear, for what reason I do not know, that some hon. Members of the House have been furnished, not with the particular edition of the Bill on which the Amendments which appear on the Paper are properly hinged, but some earlier or later copy. That is not true of all Members of the House. It is especially for that reason that I am desirous that, instead of going through the whole list of Amendments that come before Clause 18 we should embark upon the general discussion upon proportional representation, which must take place sooner or later. There are three courses open to the House. One is to take the Amendments in turn and raise the discussion upon the second Amendment, which, with all deference to the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. M. Healy), I believe is contingent upon the adoption of proportional representation. The second is the course 1601 suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel), namely, that we should postpone all the Amendments prior to the main Amendment dealing with proportional representation and take the discussion upon that, a course which, I admit, suggested itself to me. The third course is that we should postpone the whole discussion. I think it would be a great pity to postpone the whole discussion. If it commends itself to the House generally we are quite willing to adopt the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman and to move, after this Motion is disposed of, the postponement of the Amendments down to the one dealing with proportional representation.