Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the Report of Mr. Justice Atkin's Committee, and matters connected therewith, and to report what provision should be made by Parliament for defining the meaning of the phrase "end of the War" and other similar phrases occurring in the War Emergency Statutes and for extending in whole or in part or shortening the period of operation of the several emergency statutes and the several Regulations made thereunder."—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move to leave out the words "Select Committee," and to insert instead thereof the words "Joint Committee of Lords and Commons."
In the first place, I do not think this Committee is necessary, and I shall be glad if the Government will keep their promise to the House, and that the Minister in charge will give some explanation of the Motion. In the second place, if there is to be a Committee, I very much prefer a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. As to the appointment of the Committee, there has been Mr. Justice Atkin's Committee, which has gone into the matter from a legal standpoint, and which has presented an unusually clear Report with regard to the legal aspect of the matter. Therefore it does not seem necessary that a Committee of this House should go over that ground again. Yet that is what they are asked to do. They are—to report what provision should be made by Parliament for defining the meaning of the phrase 'end of the War' and other similar phrases.996 I would submit that a Select Committee is not the best Committee to deal with this matter. It cannot sit when the House has adjourned, and, if it does its work at all, so as to receive the slightest notice from the Government or the House, it must spend a great deal of time, in addition to which it cannot conclude its labours before this Parliament terminates. The Titles of the measures they will have to deal with cover five and a half pages of this large issue. They cover almost every important department of life. Hon. Members would have difficulty in guessing any given subject or any class of persons which is not included in the emergency legislation we have passed. I refer more particularly to the principal series of Acts called the Defence of the Realm Acts and to the Regulations issued thereunder. I say nothing about that hideous monstrosity, Regulation 40D, which will have to be reviewed by this Committee. But what about all those Regulations which have led to so much controversy, which infringe upon personal liberty? This is not peculiarly a question for this House as differing from the other. There are Members of the other House of great legal experience, who have given considerable attention to this subject, and who have had a good influence upon the Government and upon public opinion. If this Motion means business at all, we must carry the other House with us and a Joint Committee would save time, and would be more impressive both on the public and on the Government of the day. I really cannot conceive the Government setting up this Committee except to pass the time. When one considers the names of the proposed Committee, it is a selection of good, average, competent Members of this House. I am not going to challenge the names. It is a good serviceable Committee, fairly representative of the Members who come here and of the diligent portion of them. But I cannot imagine the Government leaving it to these people to settle the issues upon which it will fight the next election, and on which, if parties do emerge, the fight will take place. We shall not be having the next election upon Queen Anne, or the Napoleonic Wars, but upon this War, the measures passed during this War, and the outcome of the War. This Committee will be dealing with topics which only the leaders of the parties and the leading statesmen of the country will be expected to discuss. Take the Defence 997 of the Realm Act. Are the Government going to be guided by a Committee of twelve Members of this House? I imagine that the Law Officers of the Crown will want a say. So will the Lord Chancellor, the Prime Minister, and so on, for these are questions which are of daily concern to them, and I cannot imagine them going to any Committee of this House, because a decision will involve their own fate and they will have their own views. I go to two other important questions, in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman in giving an answer to me, was evidently under a wrong impression. The right hon. Gentleman said that this matter did not refer to Home Rule. I think he is mistaken. I had examined the copy of the Suspensory Act relating to Home Rule, and it uses the phraseterm of the WarThat must have escaped my right hon. Friend's attention. It is quite true that when the main Act giving Home Rule to Ireland went through this House there was no war, but in the Suspensory Act these very words are used with regard to its coming into force. Therefore, I cannot see that the answer given me by the Government is a correct one, in fact, if the Government are to consider and act up to this reference, the words themselves will show that I am right. It is a Committee to considerfor extending in whole or in part or shortening the period of operation of the several emergency Statutes and the several Regulations made thereunder.The Suspensory Act with regard to Home Rule was an emergency Statute passed after the War began to meet a situation created by the War. The same thing applies to Welsh Disestablishment, and the whole effect of the War upon that. Probably the right hon. Gentleman will wish to correct his answer. If the Committee is gone on with it would simplify matters very much to have a Joint Committee with the House of Lords. I do not think it would conflict with what my right hon. Friend has in view, but I should like to make a suggestion to him. I should be quite willing to take the view of the Committee. If these twelve gentlemen, when they begin to go into these questions, think they would like to meet with a Committee from the other House, on which such eminent legal gentlemen as Lord Buckmaster, who are not now in office, would be prepared to give the benefit of 998 their experience, and help Members of this House, then the other House might be invited to set up this Joint Committee with us. If they prefer to go on alone, I would bow to the decision of my colleagues, but I should like them to be in a position to say they think good service would be rendered by this Joint Committee. I suppose there are about 200 Acts which they will have to deal with, including the Courts Emergency Powers Act. I take it that it is quite clear that that measure, particularly as it affects industrial insurance companies, will be reviewed by the Committee, which, if it sees fit, will take evidence. The Act has almost crippled the industrial insurance companies. I am not pleading for the shareholders so much as for the policy holders and the staffs. Owing to the operation of that measure bonuses have been passed to the policy holders, and they are not in a position, as an independent Committee has reported, to give bonuses to their staffs.
§ Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present——
§ Mr. BOOTH (resuming)
The industrial insurance companies should be entitled to put their case before this Committee by evidence. I do not want the Committee to be misled or to be prevented from making a thorough investigation. My appeal is rather that it should go thoroughly into it. These companies have been honouring policies in connection with the War for which they are not legally liable, and companies which have seen fit to act in that patriotic way are entitled to simple justice. There are some cases where money has been remitted from abroad and from the Colonies to persons in this country in order to keep up their premiums—that has been going on for years—but a person in this country, knowing that the Courts Emergency Powers Act has been passed——
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir D. Maclean)
I cannot see how it is possible for the hon. Member to discuss the details of the measures.
§ Mr. BOOTH
This is one of the measures which is causing the Committee to be set up, and I am wanting an assurance from the Government that it is included in the scope of the Committee, because, if not, I shall certainly have to 999 put an Amendment down. I wish to show the importance of the point, so that in case the Government says the Act cannot be considered they may agree to an Amendment enlarging the scope of the Committee.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is not possible to discuss that, because the Motion is limited to Mr. Justice Atkin's Committee.
§ Mr. BOOTH
It is not limited to Mr. Justice Atkin's Committee. You may not be aware that when this Motion was first put on the, Paper it contained no reference whatever to Mr. Justice Atkin's Committee, and if I had not stopped it it would have gone through without containing that reference. It was on the Paper for two or three weeks, and there was no mention of that Committee. I therefore consider it right to draw attention to the words "and other similar phrases occurring in the War emergency statutes, and for extending in whole or in part, or shortening the period of operation of the several emergency statutes and the several regulations made thereunder." I want an assurance from the Government that they had this particular statute in their minds. I take it that the Committee will be able to take evidence from these patriotically-minded capitalists. I take it the object of the Select Committee is to receive evidence. There is one other point I wish to raise. Does my right hon. Friend intend the Committee also to consider the emergency statutes now before this House? There are some which are very important. Take, for instance, the Juries Bill. A number of these Bills are very controversial. I do not want, after the Committee has teen set up, that they should find themselves able to deal only with emergency statutes passed before the 16th July, and then afterwards some important statutes to be passed by this House which will not come within their terms of reference. That could only mean either an extension of the terms of reference or the setting up of a second Committee to deal with these matters. I should have thought it would have been more convenient to defer the appointment of this Committee until nearer the end of the War, which is a considerable way off yet. I do not like this policy of working by instalments. It 1000 has a tendency to divert the attention of the Members of the House from subjects which they ought to inquire into.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to second the Amendment, the object of which is that instead of a Select Committee of this House there should be a joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. That, in my opinion, is a very reasonable suggestion, and in view of the names of hon. Members who it is proposed shall constitute this Committee I think the point is a very important one. One can gather from the; names that the Government intend to propose that the Committee shall consist of gentlemen very capable in many ways, but not particularly strong to deal with the difficult legal and constitutional problems which will be submitted to them. I have read through the names, and I thought I should have been able to say who would be the Chairman of the Committee. It is proposed to nominate two right hon. Gentlemen, but I cannot tell which of the two the Government intend for the post.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
We have not arrived at that part of the Motion yet. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the first part. What he is now referring to is a separate question.
§ Mr. KING
I think we should strengthen the Committee which it is proposed to set up by including members of the other House. There you have no fewer than four ex-Lord Chancellors drawing large salaries; they are men of approved public standing, let alone their legal acumen and very marked ability. They are just the men who should be put upon this Committee. There are other men in that House with administrative colonial and public experience eminently suited to deal with the problems which the Committee will have to face. The Resolution of the Government is really very curiously worded, and that, no doubt, is due to the fact that it has been on the Paper for a very long time and has been added to from time to time. Since it first appeared on the Paper the Government have decided to throw in Mr. Justice Atkin's Report, and thus its labours are being extended. The question whether it will deal with future legislation as well as existing legislation is very important, and seeing that these difficulties occur at the outset to a mere layman like myself I venture to suggest-that what is wanted is a very strong Com- 1001 mittee to deal with these legal problems. In order to strengthen the Committee it would be as well to adopt the suggestion of my hon. Friend and make it a Committee of Lords and Commons.
§ The MINISTER for RECONSTRUCTION (Dr. Addison)
The Motion of my hon. Friend, I take it, is not generally inimical to the purposes of the Committee. He has asked a number of questions with regard to the Bills which the Committee will have to deal with, and I think the list which will be supplied will prove that those Bills will certainly be included among those the Committee will be empowered to review. The terms of reference will also bring under review emergency Statutes which may be passed after the setting up of the Committee, and the list of Bills will, I feel confident, convince the House of the importance and difficulty of the question which the Government are asking the Select Committee to deal with. It was considered that, as many of them were concerned with the business and procedure of this House, it would be much better to ask for a Select Committee of the House itself to advise on the matter, and the method of dealing with them, whether in groups or in other special ways, is eminently one which affects the proceedings of the House. There is good reason, therefore, for making a Select Committee of this House. I think that it will immediately arise that when the Committee gets to work with these measures, some of them can be dealt with probably in groups. Therefore it is very proper that there should be a Committee of this House to advise up upon the matter. Another sufficient reason for not proposing that the Committee should be a joint one. There are two or three points which the hon. Member raised as to the other matters the Committee would review. I think they are set out quite clearly in the Report of Mr. Justice Atkin's Committee, and I am sure it would be in the end much more acceptable to the House that this very technical and complicated subject—because it is quite clear that many of these matters will have to be dealt with quite rapidly—should be considered by a Committee of the House itself rather than that the House some day or other should be confronted with a cut and dried proposal from the Government. It is for that reason that we thought that a Select Committee is specially desirable. 1002 I should like also to emphasise what my hon. Friend says as to the high value of these Reports to which he has referred. It is not necessary or appropriate on the appointment of this Committee to go into details of the measures which are referred to, but I think we have seldom been presented with a more comprehensive, closely-reasoned, and able report on any important public subject. I hope, in view of the information I have given, that my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main question again proposed.
§ Mr. KING
May I move at this stage, or at a later stage if it were more appropriate, that the Debate be now adjourned? I do so on the ground that this matter has been on the Paper for a good many weeks. There cannot be any urgency. The Irish Members are returning to this House next week, and I think it unfortunate, to say the least, that, just when their return is announced, and when they might take part, it is proposed to proceed with this Committee.
§ Mr. Anderson, Mr. Brunner, Sir Arthur Fell, Colonel Greig, and Mr. Laurence Hardy nominated members of the Select Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Ronald McNeil be a member of the Committee."
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have not lost sight of the fact that the hon. Member has a Motion on the Paper. It will properly come at the end of the names.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I think that on this name we can first of all raise the point as to Ireland I am sure that none of us would challenge the name of the hon. Member for St. Augustine's as suitable for the Committee, but it is well known he is taken as representing the views of Ulster, although he is not an Irish Member. Therefore, why is there no Nationalist Irish Member upon the Committee?
§ Lord E. TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
This Committee was set up in the usual way. I communicated with the Nationalist party. 1003 They are quite aware of the fact that they are entitled to two members on this Committee, and I told them that any two names they submitted would be added whenever they sent them in.
§ Mr. Neville, Mr. Charles Roberts, Mr. Walter Roch, Captain Albert Smith, Mr. George Terrell, and Mr. George Thorne also nominated members of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move, "That Mr. McKean be another member of the Select Committee."
The hon. Member for South Monaghan is the only Irish Nationalist or only Home Rule Member who attends the House at the present time, and he is willing to serve. I think, therefore, that a man who is willing to do his duty ought to be allowed to do his duty, and I believe that even the Government would allow this amount of latitude to the sense of the House and permit the hon. Member for South Monaghan to be added to the Committee.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to second the Motion. I would not put this name forward if we had any assurance that the Nationalist Members next week will send two names, but I presume they have taken no notice of it. If there was any certainty that they would come next week and that when they do come they would submit two names, one might wait. I think there is something, however, due to a Member who attends, and, at any rate, I think he is competent and quite capable of putting the views of his native land with force and persistence. One might say that if he is added to the Committee he will count as equal to any two average Irish Members. Of course, we must be guided largely by the Secretary to the Treasury, but I think that in the present extraordinary state of things, when any Irish Member shows himself as willing to serve, it would be a very serious thing if he were discarded by the House.
§ Lord E. TALBOT
I am very sorry I must oppose this Motion. I need hardly say I do not do so on any personal grounds, but I am bound to stand by the custom of this House and act in the usual way. With regard to the appointment of this Committee, I communicated—before the Committee was set up—with the officials of the Nationalist party, and they are quite aware that they are entitled to submit two names, which would be put on the Paper immediately, but, until I hear from them, I am sorry I cannot accept the Amendment proposad.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Ordered, "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That three be the quorum of the Committee."
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move to leave out the word "three," and to insert instead thereof the word "five."
Three is too small a number. If two additional members are nominated by the Nationalist party, the quorum would be three out of fourteen members. This is not the usual quorum of a Select Committee, and, in view of the enormous responsibility which the Committee will have in dealing with matters involving the welfare of Parliament, the Defence of the Realm Act, and regulations made under it, I would appeal to the Noble Lord to agree to five being fixed as the quorum.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to second the Amendment.
This Committee only number twelve, whereas the recognised number for a Select Committee is fifteen. I should be glad to see the number sooner or later brought up to fifteen. I think that the legal standing of the Committee might be strengthened and some eminent lawyer might be added, and, if that were done, it would be an additional reason for increasing the quorum to five.
§ Lord E. TALBOT
I cannot accept the suggestion which has been made. Three is a suitable number, and is the usual number.
§ Amendment negatived.