HC Deb 11 July 1923 vol 166 cc1533-8

Order for Second Reading read.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Sir William Joynson Hicks)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a hardy annual, although I do not know whether there can be anything hardy in this weather. As the House knows, there is no possibility under the rules of Order to discuss any particular Act on the Second Reading of this Bill, but on the Committee stage it is open to any Member to move the expulsion of any particular Act from the Bill or the insertion of any act in the Schedule. The Committee stage will be taken early next week, and it will be open to anybody—

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Early in the day?


As second Order, probably on Tuesday next.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

By the "second Order" does the Financial Secretary mean that the first Order will be one that will run till 11 o'clock? That would not be of much use to us. Will it be early in the afternoon?


My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury says he hopes to put it down as the second Order after the East India Loans Bill, which I do not think will take more than an hour, or, at the outside, an hour and a half. That will give full time, and I hope that, as everyone is anxious to get home, it will be convenient to the House—[Interruption]. Very well, in that case I am here as long as anyone likes, and shall be prepared to answer any case that may be made against the Bill. In order to show my desire to meet the convenience of the House, I beg formally to move the Second Reading.


I want to put one question which I think will clear the air. We are now discussing the Workmen's Compensation Bill in Committee upstairs, and are getting on very nicely, but I am afraid we shall not get through the Bill soon enough to get it passed during this part of the Session. We are trying to do so, but in case we are not successful I should like to ask whether the War Additions Act will be included with the expiring laws that are to be continued for the next 12 months?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Bridgeman)

It is not the case that the War Additions Act will continue after the 31st December next. I hope, however, that we shall get through the Committee stage of the Workmen's Compensation Bill after one, or at the most two, more sittings, and I understand from the Patronage Secretary that, if it can be agreed that we should get the Report and Third Reading in one day, we should be able to find time for the Bill before the Recess. There is a great deal to be said in favour of that, especially after we have had 12 or 13 days' thorough discussion in Committee. The Measure runs no risk by not being inserted in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, because I understand a pledge has already been given that, if it is found impossible to get it through in one day and finish it before we go away for the holidays, it will be taken at the earliest possible moment on our return, which will give plenty of time before the 31st December for the new Measure to come into effect.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am somewhat disarmed by the appeal which has been made by the Financial Secretary, and to a lesser extent by the promise as to the hour at which the Bill will be taken. I had intended to move the rejection of the Second Reading and to divide the House, but, with the permission of my hon. Friend who was to have seconded the Amendment, I am not proposing to do that. I do want to point out, however, that last year a Select Committee was set up to inquire into this Bill, and into the scandal of always bringing it on late in the Session, usually late at night, and having what Sir Donald MacLean used to call a "middle-aged lark" by way of sitting up all night discussing important Measures affecting large classes of the community, and not really giving those Measures proper consideration. It was a perfectly respectable Committee. Major-General Seely was the Chairman, and it included no less than three Members of the present Government, namely, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, the Paymaster-General, and the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. They sat for many days, and brought out a lucid and careful Report, which was signed by those three Members of the Government, and from which I will read one or two salient sentences.

They say that, owing to the fact that the Bill is invariably introduced at a very late period of the Session, there has been and can be practically very little discussion of it. Of course, we know that the Chief Whip is always taken by surprise at the rise of temperature in July, when the nights get warm and people want to go home, but he ought to foresee that and bring the Bill on earlier. The Committee went on to say that over a long series of years this system was both slovenly and dangerous, because Measures that were meant to be temporary tended to become permanent, and often delayed proper legislation by a partial solution of the problem involved. How can the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health sit there tranquil, complacent and satisfied, after having signed such a Report, when we again see this Bill brought on late in the Session and late at night? The Committee stated that they were of opinion that, as they had already suggested, the process of continuing temporary Acts from year to year actually afforded, in some cases, an excuse for not dealing with the subject-matter in a comprehensive way. They suggested that there was no reason why the Bill should not be introduced much earlier in the Session, when proper Parliamentary time could be allotted for its discussion. I should like to know whether the Paymaster-General approached the Chief Whip and protested against this practice being repeated. It is a fact that the Committee did weed out the Schedule of the Bill a good deal, but too many important Measures still remain in it. I beg the Chief Whip to take this matter seriously. I understand he has read the Report of the Committee, and I think we ought to have some different system in regard to continuing these Acts, because otherwise great injustice and irregularity may arise. As we have been promised an early discussion on the Bill, I will reserve my remarks as to details until then.


I should like to ask whether the time proposed to be given next week is, in the judgment of the Government, really sufficient, having regard to the fact that the Schedule runs to nearly five pages, every one of which contains Acts of great importance, and that very vital principles are involved. I ask that question especially because of our experience to-day. I notice that one of the Measures included in the Schedule deals with the subject we have been discussing, and upon which we have just been closured. Does the House really consider that part of a Parliamentary day is sufficient for the detailed discussion of all the Measures set out in the Schedule to a Bill which has been introduced practically without discussion on the Second Reading at 25 minutes past 12 at night?

Again, we have been discussing in Committee upstairs, for a somewhat protracted period, a Bill which has some reference to an Act included in the Schedule to this Bill. I should like to ask whether the fact that the Government includes again in the Schedule the Ministry of Food (Continuance) Act, 1920, and the Sale of Food Order made under that Act, indicates that they have decided to give no Parliamentary time to the Bill, the Committee stage of which has just been concluded after 19 sittings? That is a point of substance to those of us who are interested in the matter. We think it is a Bill which ought not to be given Parliamentary time.


That can be raised on the Committee stage. We never deal with these details on Second Reading.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to. Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next (16th July).—[Colonel Leslie Wilson.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Wednesday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-seven Minutes after Twelve o'Clock.