§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
The Government set up a Select Committee to advise them in respect to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Speeches have been made against that Bill annually for over a quarter of a century, and hon. Members have pointed out the archaic nature of this method of legislation. At length, after many years' protest, the Government agreed to set up a Select Committee to consider it. That Committee condemned this method of legislation, and I should like to know whether the Government has adopted its report, and what steps they propose to take?
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I make that motion in view of the fact that there is no Member of the Government present.
§ Colonel LESLIE WILSON (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
The Minister in charge of the Bill is on his way here, and is expected every second. He did not anticipate that this Bill would come on quite so quickly. In reply to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. MacVeagh), the Select Committee to which he has alluded was set up, and has reported. Its Report is now in the Vote Office and available to all hon. Members, The Bill which has been introduced, and to which we are asking the House to give a Second Reading now, is entirely in accordance with the recommendations of that Committee. The reason why it is very important we should get the Second Reading of the Bill to-night is that most of the important points of discussion upon it will come up on the Committee stage. Therefore I trust the House will let us have the Second Reading to-night, so that we can deal with the Committee stage to-morrow.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
I certainly think, if my hon. Friends persist in their Motion, I shall vote in favour of it. I 813 have been sitting here for an hour, and we have passed some of the most important Reports of Supply and other matters, in which explanations were required and requested by different hon. Members. Not a word has been uttered from the Government Bench in the way of a reply to any of the inquiries made. That is not treating the House with the respect one would have expected, especially as a great many of the questions have not been put in a hostile spirit. Most of them have been directed by those friendly to the Administration, and really such conduct on the part of the Government is reducing the proceedings of the House to an utter absurdity. In the case of the Reports of Supply it may be excused, but now the Government are bringing on Bills. I have known the party to which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury belongs occupy the whole night in discussing different items of this annual Bill. It is a good job the present Opposition are not nearly so cute as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's party would be if they were again on this side of the House. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary must confess that, so far as the business of this House is concerned, he has got a soft match—
—especially with the Opposition. It is a moral certainty that if the Opposition were determined to oppose, they could make it very difficult for the Government to-night because of what seems to be their utter want of respect for the House of Commons in their management of this business.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is in his place. Will he not accept the Motion for the Adjournment, having regard to the fact that the Minister in charge of the Bill is not here?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Baird)
I am quite prepared to deal with the questions which have been raised by hon. Members. If I shall not have exhausted my right to speak by intervening now, I should be delighted to answer any questions that may be put. I cannot tell what may be the points of 814 strong interest to hon. Members unless they put them before me.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
I do not see why the Under -Secretary should suggest to the House that we should put questions to him on the Second Reading of this Bill. Why does he not stand up at the Treasury Box and explain this Measure? Why does he not go over the Schedule of the Acts proposed to be continued, and of those it is proposed to discontinue, and the different sections of the Act? [Interruption.] Some hon. Members have not read the Bill, and consequently want enlightening. I suggest that instead of telling the Opposition that they should ask questions, the Minister in charge ought to explain the Bill; then we should get to know what we were about, and we could either divide on the question that the Bill be read a Second time or allow it to go through.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
The question I put was this. The Select Committee appointed by the Government has recommended that this method of legislation shall be revolutionised and that the passage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which has occurred in a particular way for more than a century, should be scrapped. That proposal comes, not from a Radical, hut a Coalition Government. When they propose a departure of that kind, we might, at least, have an explanation of the principles which guided the Select Committee in advising the Government and the Government in adopting this line of action. It is not the way to deal with this matter for the Under-Secretary to ask that questions should be put to him. He is bringing forward this revolutionary proposal; let him explain it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
An explanation cannot be given on the Motion, "That the Debate be now adjourned." It must wait until that Motion is either negatived or withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and negatived.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Sir J. BAIRD
As hon. Members know, a Committee was set up for the purpose of examining the whole question of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. It has 815 not been the practice in the past for any Minister from this bench to detain the House by a Second Reading speech, and obviously hon. Members who are anxious to get through the business as rapidly as possible have asked questions, which have been answered. There has been a slight alteration in consequence of the Report of this Committee, and if hon. Members will turn to page 4 of the Report they will see this in paragraph 6. Perhaps it will be for the convenience of Members who have not the Report in their hands if I read a portion of this paragraph—Your Committee have inquired carefully into the constitutional aspect of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act and, in particular, as to how far this system of renewing temporary laws can he considered as an effective protection of the rights of Members of Parliament to review the various Acts contained in the Bill. They understand that the limit of a private Member's rights consists in proposing to leave out any Act from the Schedule of laws to be continued or to add any expiring law not included in that Schedule.That is the gist of the whole matter. It proceeds:It is not in order to propose to amend any Act, or to make it permanent; and owing to the fact that the Bill is invariably introduced at a very late period of the Session there has been and can be, in practice, very little discussion. Your Committee are therefore of opinion that the system of extending the duration of temporary laws by means of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act so far from being a safeguard of the rights of Members is, in fact, to sonic extent liable to become a menace to those rights, inasmuch as temporary and experimental legislation is by this means continued from year to year without either suitable amendment or adequate discussion.The result of that was that it was recommended that certain Measures should be kept in the Schedule, and those Measures have, in fact, been kept in the Schedule. I think everything that can be said has been said.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
I do not think that, so far as some of the Acts which it is proposed to continue are concerned, and with regard to some of the Acts which this Committee has proposed that the Government should drop, no great objection will be taken, but there are a few of the Acts which are recommended to be continued permanently to which exception could be taken by some Members of the House. There are one or two Acts which it is proposed to continue perma- 816 nently in which I am interested. There are the Housing and Town Planning (Scotland) Act, 1919, and the Land Settlement (Scotland) Act, and there is an Act in which, if this Bill had been taken in a proper period of the Session, my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) would have been very interested. I refer to the Highlands and Islands (Medical Service) Grant Act, 1913, which it is proposed to repeal. I want to express what I am sure is the feeling of several Members, that we do not endorse entirely the recommendations of the Select Committee as to the Bills which it is proposed to continue as permanent, and as to some of the Bills proposed to he dropped, and if a more fitting time had been found for the discussion of this Bill we should have discussed the subject. I hope if the 4 o'Clock Rule be suspended to-morrow we shall be given an opportunity to put down the necessary Amendments. I am sure we could keep the House going into the early hours of Saturday morning.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I am very much obliged to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for the very lucid statement he gave of a Bill which he did not understand. It certainly left nothing to be desired. I have no complaint to make with the Report of the Select Committee to which he referred. Indeed, there are passages in this Report which seem to have been lifted bodily from speeches I have delivered from time to time in this House. Therefore, I have no complaint to make about it. But there are some points I would like him to explain. I notice there is an old friend of mine, the Sand Grouse Protection Act, in the First Schedule. As I have said again and again, before the Act was passed, all the sand grouse were shot. Not a sand grouse has been seen here since. Yet year after year we have gone on solemnly passing this Sand Grouse Protection Act, and it is now proposed to put it permanently on the Statute Book. I would ask my hon. Friend, who goes grouse shooting from time to time, to tell the House frankly, did he ever see a sand grouse?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Details cannot be entered into on the Second Reading. They should be examined in Committee.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
But on the Second Reading I believe it is allowable to refer, 817 by way of illustration, to the inclusion of the Sand Grouse Act to show the absurdity of the legislation, and it is only to that extent that I am referring to the Act. I want to show the inefficient manner in which the Home Office has dealt with this Bill by leaving in it the Sand Grouse Protection Act when there are no sand grouse to be protected. Why have they left out the Act for the Protection of Grey Seals? I am told it is because there are no grey seals to protect. Then why have they not left out the Act for the Protection of Sand Grouse, seeing there are no sand grouse to protect? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, by the indulgence of the House, will get up and explain these matters. Then there is the Promissory Notes (Ireland) Act, which deals, I believe, with sums under £5. Surely we do not want Parliamentary permission to issue cheques under £5. I believe this matter was brought before the Committee and it was decided that it was outside the scope of the Committee and should properly be dealt with by the Law Officers of the Crown. Yet this Irish Promissory Notes Act is included in the schedule of enactments to be made permanent, although at this moment there is no power to pass Acts applying to Ireland. Then there are the Motor Car Acts, 1903, about which the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) is very much distressed. I believe my Noble Friend has had to appear at the police court on several occasions for furious driving. Can we be told what is the effect of putting the Motor Car Acts into this Bill? I can only suggest that, notwithstanding the setting up of the Select Committee and its elaborate Report, we have still a most extraordinary hatch patch of Bills dealt with here, and it will be necessary to set up another Select Committee to revise the findings of the last Select Committee and to try to give effect to its recommendations—recommendations which are all right in themselves, it being the manner in which they are carried out that is wrong. I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his explanation, which did not carry me any further, and which did not throw any more light on the subject than I already had. But still he was very prompt in replying.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
I appreciate the speech which has just been delivered and I agree in the hon. and learned Member's apprehensions with regard to this Bill. I have not had an opportunity, as he seems to have done, of reading the Report of the Select Committee, and it was only to-day that I noticed, when looking through the First Schedule of this Bill, that the Motor Car Act, so far as it is unrepealed, is included in the list of expiring laws which are to be made permanent. It is said that the Ministry of Transport exists for no other purpose than to pass some sort of Act relating to the use of motor vehicles on the roads, and whenever the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry is asked what excuse there is for the continuance of the Ministry he always refers to the report of some Select Committee which he hopes some day to embody in an Act. We never see the Act, however. All we know now is that it is proposed to include in this Bill the Motor Car Act so far as it is unrepealed. There are many Members of this House who would like to see the Motor Car Act repealed. There are some Members who have gone so far as to advocate the abolition of the speed limit. Is there any one Member on the benches opposite, or even on the Front Bench below me, who does not use a motor vehicle? I think even my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) has been out in a char-a-bane before now. The speed limit for those vehicles is 12 miles an hour, and I wonder how often he has seen that exceeded. There are many Members of this House who have only realised to-day for the first time that by this Bill it is proposed to make the Motor Car Act permanent. There are hon. Members who do not at all agree with the present Act. I am not the only one who disagrees with it, and therefore. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Bill will realise that to-morrow certain Members of this House will require detailed explanations of why it is suddenly proposed, at a moment when the representative of the Ministry of Transport has announced he is going to bring a new Act to repeal the existing Act, to make permanent that Act. I suppose it is only what has happened to a good many other Acts perpetrated by the Coalition, which have eventually had to be repealed. The next thing will be 819 that we shall have an Act repealing the Motor Car Act and then another Act on top of that. I hope the hon. Baronet will give consideration to withdrawing the Motor Car Act completely from this First Schedule. I cannot follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. MacVeagh) in his pursuit of the sand grouse, but I dare say he is equally well justified in that. I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will seriously hesitate before they vote for a Bill which proposes to make another Measure permanent on the Statute Book, when it has been stated by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that that Measure is completely out of date, and has made no advance to keep pace with the experience of modern times. The Parliamentary Secretary has already announced that the lighting laws, as affecting motor vehicles, are completely out of date, and everyone knows that to be the case. I hope that hon. Members will help me in asking why this Motor Car Act is proposed now to be made permanent.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I can understand the Noble Lord's objections from the legal point of view to the Motor Car Act, but I really cannot understand why he wants to repeal that Act, because he has already himself repealed it more than once, and, therefore, from his own point of view, he has got what he wants.
§ Mr. SEXTON
My objection to this particular Bill is that it prevents the House from amending these Acts periodically. Let us take the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act, 1847. Those who are absolutely ignorant of the details of that Act would like to know something about it. Then we have the Sunday Observance Prosecution Act, 1871. Everyone knows that, so far as Sunday observance goes, it is never observed, so that it is surely coming down to the very depths of absurdity to make that Act permanent. There are other Acts of Parliament included in this Bill which, personally, I should like to see repealed altogether. There is the National Insurance Act, 1911. We are told that Section 78 is to be repealed. But we are not all conversant with that, and would like to know really what the repealing 820 of Section 78 means. In the circumstances we shall not have any opportunity of knowing how far these Bills are dealt with. I am certainly opposed to the introduction of a Bill of this kind at such a late hour, and with such a short time available for discussion.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I have no desire to follow the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon), or at any rate compete with him, in regard to knowledge of motor cars and the particular pace at which they should travel, but he referred to the Motor Car Act, and said that probably the Government would introduce another Motor Car Act, and another Act upon the top of that, so that it was most difficult to keep pace with the situation. The matter to which I desire to refer in connection with this Bill is not on those lines. I want to draw the attention of the Government to the desirability of removing an anomaly which at the moment exists owing to the failure of the Government to put into operation certain legislation. The Bread Acts of 1836 have never been altered since that time. The Government have done nothing to bring these Acts up to date. I had some experience during the War of a certain Order issued by a Government Department—namely, the Sale of Food Order. which, if my memory serves me, is Part II, and which will expire on the 31st August. That will mean that the consuming public and the traders in certain cases will be placed in a great dilemma, if that Order is allowed to expire wilthout something being done to give the necessary protection to the consumer. My complaint is that the Government, in bringing in this Bill, have not dealt with this question.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Is the hon. Member referring to an Act, or to an Order made under the Defence of the Realm Act?
§ Mr. WATERSON
I am referring to the Ministry of Food (Continuation) Act, 1920, which is included in Part 4 of the Third Schedule to this Bill; and I should like, if I may, to draw the attention of the Government to Part II of the Sale of Food Order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If that be one of the Acts in the Schedule to this Bill which is being only partially continued, the hon. Member's proper course will be to move in Committee that the whole Act, or such 821 other part of it as may be desired, shall be included in the Schedule.
§ 10.0 P. M.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I, naturally, respect your ruling, and, if I may say so, I some what expected it, but I wanted to make that observation in order to give the Government the opportunity, between now and the Committee stage, to see that that Order is incorporated in the Bill. I take this opportunity, on the Second Reading, to ventilate the views that I hold on this question with regard to the serious position which will be created if this Order expires at the end of next month, and I trust that the Government will not lose sight of that important fact. They with- drew the Bill which they brought before the House dealing with the sale of bread, on the ground that the Session was nearly over. They are omitting to do anything in that regard, and they have neglected to make the necessary arrangements for the continuance of this Sale of Food Order. I felt that this was an opportune moment to raise this question, and to let the Government know that there is a keen feeling in the House that something should be done in that direction.
§ Mr. HAILWOOD
May I point out that there is a keen feeling in the House that the present Expiring Laws Bill goes quite far enough in respect of this kind of legislation? The hon. Member has referred to the continuance of an Order that came into force during the War. Lord Rhondda brought in a particular Food Order for the express purpose of rationing the bread of the people, and for no other purpose whatever. The baking trade loyally carried out that Regulation, difficult though it was, and they have been subjected to a great many prosecutions, because it was an impossible Order to carry out. On its merits, the thing is bad, but in any case there is no reason why legislation should be continued by Orders in Council, and why the War should go on for ever. There is no reason why the baking trade should be particularly singled out to have this legislation imposed upon it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is really not the time or place to discuss that matter. The remedy of an hon. Member wishing to raise the question would be to move in Committee, in Part IV of the Schedule, to insert, in the third column, the words 822 "Part I and." He would then be able to raise the question, and make his speech against the Order. It has always been the custom to take these detailed points of administration during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. HAILWOOD
Am I not in order in pointing out the objections that would arise if the Government listened to the advice of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Waterson), and included this particular Order? I am answering his speech.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I stopped the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Waterson) from going into the argument, while allowing him to draw attention to it. The hon. Member is also quite entitled to say if such a proposal be made, he will give warning to the Government that he will oppose it.
§ Mr. HAILWOOD
I beg to give notice that I will also oppose any extension of the Bill in the manner the hon. Member has pointed out.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir J. Baird.]