§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I beg to move:That further proceedings on the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Bill be suspended till the next Session of Parliament:That on any day in that Session a Motion may be made, after notice, by a Minister of the Crown, to be decided without Amendment or Debate, that proceedings on that Bill may be resumed:If that Motion is decided in the affirmative, Mr. Speaker shall proceed to call upon the Minister in charge to present the Bill in the form in which it stood when the proceedings thereon were suspended, and the Bill shall be ordered to be printed and shall be deemed to have been read a second time and to have been considered in a Standing Committee and shall be ordered for Consideration, as amended.The object of the Motion is to ask the House to agree to take the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Bill in the new Session at the stage at which it will leave the House of Commons in this Session. The Government would have been very glad if it had been possible not to ask the House to take this course. We are anxious not to set any new precedent in this matter, but, in my opinion, what the House is now asked to do cannot be regarded in any way as setting a precedent in normal peace days. The Title of the Bill itself shows what its nature is, and it is entirely war emergency which makes it desirable, and 1 think almost necessary, that the House should agree to this Resolution. 1 think that from previous Debates the House understands what the position is. By Act of Parliament, as soon as the War is officially determined all powers under the Defence of the Realm Act come to an end. I am sure there is no one in the House who does not recognise that if that occurred something not far short of chaos would result. Whether or not the course which I am asking the House to agree to is absolutely necessary depends, of course, upon the time when the Peace Treaty with Turkey, which will be the last, is ratified. The House knows how great the delay has been, but it knows also from the statement made by the Prime Minister the other day that the Allies are now determined to push forward as quickly as they can. The delay has been deplorable in every way, and it is obvious that it ought to be carried out now as quickly 1292 as possible. I do not suggest to the House that, in my opinion, even with the best efforts it will be completed at a time which makes' this Resolution absolutely necessary, but it is possible it may be completed, and it is against that eventuality that I ask the House to pass this Resolution. If, for example, it were completed by 31st March, I am sure the house would realise that it would at least be very difficult, if it were possible at all, to carry a Bill through all its stages. It could only be done by putting the House to very great inconvenience, the extent of which it is not possible to see in advance. The House meets on 10th February. There will be the Address; there is financial business which must be completed by 31st March; and it is obvious to anyone who has followed the proceedings of the House that it would be extremely difficult to obtain time for any legislation in that period. The House cannot take the risk of not having this provision made at the time the Treaty is ratified.
I am sure it would not occur to any Member of the House that it would be reasonable that we should delay the actual ratification of a Treaty because we had not made the necessary arrangements. It was suggested in the previous Debate that we might delay the Order in Council, but that, I think, would be also impossible. This is settled by an Act of Parliament. The Act of Parliament lays it down that War is to be determined by an Order in Council, which is to be issued as soon as possible after the final ratification of Peace. Suppose we did delay the issue of the Order in Council, in any ease it could be only for a very short time. But I think it would be much worse than that. It might, perhaps, be regarded as acting in the letter of the Act of Parliament, but certainly it would be entirely against the spirit, and I venture to say that to do that would be a far greater breach of all the Rules and precedents of this House than to follow the course I am now asking the House to adopt. I do not think it is necessary for me to say more. When this subject was under discussion before, the Government. made it plain that we were not anxious to have any powers which were not absolutely vital, and I am sure Members who have been on the Standing Committee will admit that the Government representatives have shown throughout that we are anxious to cut it down to the smallest possible limit, and have no desire for anything which is not 1293 absolutely essential. It is an advantage, and it was partly because I thought it an advantage, that I did not ask the House to proceed to the Report stage—it is an advantage that if the ratification should be delayed longer than I hope, then we shall have the opportunity in the Report stage of cutting out anything that is then found to be unnecessary. I quite recognise there is some feeling against establishing new precedents. It is a perfectly legitimate feeling. We often carry that feeling beyond an extent which in wise in the circumstances. This really is as essential a war measure, caused by the War, the result of the emergency of the War, as any of the Acts that were done in the middle of the War itself. I hope I have convinced the House that we are not asking anything unreasonable; that it is something which, if not absolutely necessary, is almost absolutely necessary. In my opinion, it would be foolish of the House in these circumstances to refuse to give us the Resolution I have moved.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I shall try to follow my right hon. Friend in the length of my remarks, because every Member of the House feels that this is not an occasion for discussing serious Parliamentary precedents. The first thing I want to say is that I think we are entitled to protest, and to protest strongly, against this Motion being taken on the day of the Prorogation. After all, the Leader of the House indicates to Members what the arrangements with regard to business are to be, and Members make their arrangements towards the end of the Session with that in view. I know that a number of my Friends on this side had no indication at all that this was to he taken on the day of the Prorogation, and it is—I do not like to use the word discourteous, but it is unfair to the House, when so many Members interested in this measure are absent, to ask us to proceed to a discussion on this occasion. I notice that almost the first argument my right hon. Friend used was a withdrawal from a position that the Government itself has taken up this Session. He said he was anxious not to set a precedent. But we all recollect that it was actually in the mind of the Leader of the House and of the Government to carry over quite a number of the main measures this Session. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but I think a good many hon. Members will recollect the replies that were given to questions with regard to that, and I think I am in the recollection of the House when 1294 I say we all thought that at least three or four measures were to be introduced, have a Second Reading this Session, and be carried over—among them the Irish Home Rule Bill. So that I think I am quite fair in pointing out that, although the Leader of the House to-day has said that he is not anxious to create a precedent, the actual idea was in the mind of the Government to enlarge this practice and to make a precedent of it on this occasion. Although I have not looked up the precedents, I am certain that there is very little, if any, precedent for a course of this kind. I think somebody did tell me yesterday that there were one or two precedents, but certainly they are very few.
We have to bear in mind what the carryover would mean in ordinary circumstances. That might form the subject of a long discussion, which I want to avoid, but I think it is fair to say that no Government is entitled to take advantage of the carry-over for at least three reasons. There is always a change in public opinion. Public opinion alters from time to time, and, from the introduction of many Bills into this House, until they receive the Royal Assent, there is, as hon. Members know, a great difference in the support which may be given to those Bills in the country. There is, further, the fact that unpopular measures may be pressed unduly, and with that my third point is cognate in a sense, namely, that Bills may be introduced into this House, carried over, and eventually made law, on which no Government has any mandate. I am not accusing the present Government. of any particular sin in that respect, because it is common to all Governments who come into this House. It will he within the recollection of the House that. Bills have been introduced, and have become law, for which there has been no mandate, with disastrous results at the ensuing election to the Government concerned. Therefore, my first point is that the carry-over is so big a change in the procedure of the House that a very strong case must be made out before we ought to agree to it. In this case we are dealing with a temporary measure, a measure which has already been discussed in Committee upstairs, and, as I would remind my right hon. Friend, by a Committee probably more sparsely attended than many Committees that have met during this Session, and in which decisions by the barest majorities have been taken. I need only remind my right hon. Friend of the fact that the shipping 1295 control was kept on by the Committee upstairs by the bare majority vote of one member. That fact alone indicates a large volume of opinion in favour of removing all control from shipping, and in these circumstances—and there are many other instances—it is unfair to persist in a Motion of this kind. Further, it is very doubtful whether this Bill is required. So far as I have been able observe, the demand for it is not on the part of the older Departments of State, but on the part of the new bureaucracies which have been set up as a result of the War. It is the Shipping Control, the Food Control, the Coal Control, and new offices of that kind, that are insisting upon these Regulations being kept in force. If that be so, and I think it cannot be disproved, it seems to me that we want much more substantial reasons than those given by the Leader of the House for altering the immemorial practice.
Turning to the measure itself, this Bill proposes to continue the whole of the Defence of the Realm Act in Ireland for twelve months after the termination of the War. That point is dealt with, as my right hon. Friend knows, in Sub-section (4) of Clause 3. I think the House ought to turn its attention for a minute or two to the date of the termination of the War, and see what the carry-over means with regard to Ireland. That has a special significance in view of the policy of the Government outlined yesterday by the Prime Minister. Take the case of Germany. The German Treaty is not yet ratified.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I do not want to quarrel about the technical phraseology, but until it is deposited there can be no termination of the War. It is the termination of the War that has not come into force. That has happened in the case of Germany. The Austrian Treaty may follow the same course as the German Treaty. What guarantee is there that it will not? My right hon. Friend, however much he desires it, and however much we all desire it, cannot give any guarantee that the same kind of trouble will not arise in connection with the Austrian Treaty as has arisen in connection with the German Treaty. The same argument would apply also to the Bulgarian Treaty. 1296 When we come to the other two countries we are in a worse position, because neither in the case of Hungary nor in the case of Turkey have we yet got the length of having the Treaty signed. There is, therefore, bound to be a large efflux of time before we can actually say that the War has terminated. In fact, I do not think I shall be exaggerating if I say that the maximum possibility is another two years. I do not mean two years after the ratification, but this Bill continues the Defence of the Realm Act in Ireland for one year after the termination of the War. The prospect, therefore, so far as Ireland is concerned, is one of two years. What does the Defence of the Realm Act mean in Ireland? The Defence of the Realm Act in Ireland means military rule under a military dictatorship, because that is what we see operating to-day in the sister island.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not entitled to bring in an Irish Debate, which has nothing to do with carrying over the Bill. The hon. Member can show that to carry it over for six weeks or two months would have disastrous effects, and that as an argument might be relevant, but there is no relevancy in his present argument.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I have no desire to embark on an Irish Debate or even to open it up, but my point was this, that the carrying over of this Bill keeps certain powers alive. If we could destroy these powers, we should have a much better chance of it peaceful progress in Ireland, and, therefore, if the Government—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Destroyed in six weeks? That raises a different issue altogether. The fact that we carry this Bill over till next Session still leaves the question open next Session whether we accept the Bill on Report or not. I think that states the case.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I always bow to your ruling, Sir, but my impression was that if we defeat the Government to-day, if that were possible, as it is desirable, and they could not carry over the Bill, it would then not exist, and if it does not exist, then they would require to deal with the Defence of the Realm Act in this country and in Ireland in another way.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that is a confusion of issues. We are not discussing the merits of the Bill now at all. The hon. Member is discussing the merits, and showing reasons why the Bill should be thrown out altogether, but we are not discussing that now. We are discussing whether the Bill in its present stage should be carried over till next Session or whether next Session we should begin again at the beginning.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Well, Sir, I repeat, then, that this is a dangerous precedent to allow to the Government—a precedent which might be repeated and enlarged on other occasions, and this House is well aware that once any Government has set a precedent of that sort, that precedent is followed by the same Government and by Governments that succeed it. We ought to have plenty of time, if the Government arranged the time in the proper way, to discuss these things fully, and I hope the House will refuse the power to the Government to carry this Bill over till next Session.
§ Mr. EVELYN CECIL
I find myself, perhaps rather unexpectedly, very much in agreement with the hon. Member, who has just sat down. I listened with great attention to the remarks of the Leader of the House in introducing this Motion, and they seemed to me apologetic. I think he was conscious that 10 P.M. he had a poor case which it was rather difficult to defend, and certainly they appeared pitched in a minor key There is no question that this Motion involves a very unusual proceeding contrary to the immemorial practice of the House, with one doubtful exception to which I will refer more fully later. My right hon. Friend pleads that this is a war emergency. So it is, in a sense, but I do not think there is any special virtue in the word "emergency." We have only to look at the Order Paper for yesterday to find that one of the Orders was the Coal Industry (Emergency) Bill, and that it is not proposed to carry over. However that may be, I do not think it is a very strong plea... For the reasons which the hon. Member who has just spoken has very conclusively given, it is very questionable whether the Bill is 1298 needed at all. The termination of the War in the technical sense may be a long way off, and the ratification of treaties with Hungary and Turkey might riot in the least require this Bill to be carried over or passed. My right hon. Friend has not really dealt with the much simpler suggestion that the Government might withdraw this Bill and reintroduce it next Session. It would simplify all this trouble, and by means of honourable understanding or agreements which are often arrived at in this House, I should have thought. it would have been quite possible for the Government more or less to ensure that no undue time would be wasted over it in the next Session of Parliament. Surely that would be the simplest solution of the problem, and I for one think it ought to have been proposed.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If my right hon. Friend means that the sections of the House which speak as a rule with authority for the House are ready to say to me, "We will agree to allow the Bill formally to go through the stages to the stage at which it now stands," I will readily agree to accept that.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I wish to say at once to the House that the Government really think the Motion is necessary, and that we might be landed in a very awkward position if we did not have it But I do not want to press it, and I have never found that. any understanding arrived at across the floor in regard to a Bill was broken, and if I can get the assurance that has been indicated I will gladly accept it and drop this Bill now.
§ Mr. CECIL
I do not quite know how far my right hon. Friend wishes me to continue to argue this question, but as far as I am concerned I shall be perfectly willing to give such an undertaking. At the same time, I do not wish to sit down without being assured that something of the kind will be agreed to.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The intimation which the Leader of the House has given is one which is as welcome as it is interesting. As far as I am concerned, of course very regretfully, I was prepared to fight this matter, even if it took some 1299 considerable time to-day, holding the view that a matter of very great. constitutional importance is involved. and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, a very dangerous precedent is likely to be set up. I really do feel an over-riding sense of responsibility for the traditions of Parliament, which, after all, in the troublous days before us, are going to be one of the most useful and valuable checks on any executive, or whatever the party representing the executive may be at the moment. What my right hon. Friend said is this. Be agreed that a precedent. of this kind is one which he would regret to set up, and what I understand he asks from those of us who would undoubtedly take in the future as active a part as they have done in the past in criticising such a measure as this, is what attitude would we next Session in regard to this matter? I can say this on behalf of my hon. Friends who took a very active part in the Committee upstairs, and, so far as I can bind them—my right hon. Friend knows even with his docile following there are occasional outbreaks of independence, and I suffer from a similar difficulty—I should say this, that I should regard it as a very unfriendly act on the part of my colleagues if next Session they did riot treat the Committee stage., which, after all, is a very important stage, as practically a formal stage.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The Second Reading, certainly, I would regard as a matter to be dealt with, although not carried certainly to any undue length. But it is on the Second Reading where the occasion would arise for demonstrating any real difference between then and now. So far as the Committee stage, which really causes delay, is concerned, I would strongly advise my colleagues to treat that as practically a formal stage.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
You mean Second Reading and Committee stage—that would be a Committee of the Whole Rouse?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I can assure the House I should be very glad indeed to arrange something of this kind. It seems it could be done if a general undertaking 1300 were given that we should be allowed to get the Second Reading and the Committee stage on the floor of the House in one day.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
As far as I am concerned, I will do my very utmost to carry the whole of my colleagues with me.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I want to say that, as far as I am personally concerned, I will do my best, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks this is the better course to pursue.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I should like to say one word. I make no complaint on the ground of being brought down here to-day. Some of us curtailed our holiday because we thought a very important constitutional question was to be raised. Again, this arrangement must not be taken as a precedent, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does not wish an agreement of the kind now proposed, supposing the Bill is not brought in till October or something of that kind. It is an emergency condition which, of course, will be granted if the events to which my right hon. Friend has referred happen before 31st March.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have had a good deal of experience of this kind of arrange, ment, and once it is agreed to in spirit, we have never had any difficulty in carrying it out in practice. Certainly it would be a great misfortune to us and to the whole world if by any possibility the Bill were delayed for months after March. But, on the understanding that the Bill will be required in some reasonable time, I am ready to give the assurance asked for.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
A Royal Commission has been ordered for Three o'clock, and I propose therefore to leave the Chair until then.
Sitting suspended at ten minutes after One o'clock. Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair at Three o'clock.