HC Deb 16 November 1925 vol 188 cc89-96

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."


I gather that it is not wished to have any lengthy discussion upon the Second Reading of this Bill, but there are one or two differences in the form in the Bill this year, and I think we ought certainly, before we proceed to pass it, have some explanation from the Government benches. It is true that the drafting of the Bill has probably been affected by the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1922, and the Select Committee which reported this year. The thing which must appeal to Members of the House of Commons to-day is that for, I think, the first time this Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill contains a Schedule which is divided into three parts. The first Schedule is divided into two Sub-sections, one of which contains the enactments made permanent, and the other of which contains enactments continued permanently in force. The second Schedule is on the same basis as the Expiring Laws (Continuance Act) of previous years.

I should like to ask what exactly is meant by the change in the wording in Clause 3 (Amending Enactments) of the Bill? When I look back to 1923, I find in Section 1 (4) the following: Any unrepealed enactments amending or affecting the enactments continued by the Act shall, in so far as they are temporary in their duration, be continued in like manner whether they are mentioned in the Schedule to this Act or not. The corresponding Clause in the present Bill states that: Any unrepealed enactments amending or affecting the enactments made permanent or continued by this Act, shall, in so far as they are temporary in their duration become permanent or be continued in like manner, whether they are mentioned in the First or Second Schedule (as the case may be) to this Act or not. It may be said that this is merely a drafting Amendment to cover this new procedure under the Schedule. But there is so much depending upon the whole series of laws which may, from time to time, be continued in the Schedule, that I think we ought to have a very definite assurance, from whoever is in charge of the Bill, as to what that Clause means.

Then, Sir, I should also like to ask, if it be within your ruling a fit subject for question upon the Second Reading, as to what basis has been adopted by the Government in deciding which Act shall be brought forward under this Bill for permanent inclusion, or to be continued permanently in force, or to be continued temporarily only? Some of us, for example, are interested in a number of Acts appearing in the Second Schedule, and think that in view of the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1922, these Acts have all gone through a sufficiently long experimental stage for them either to be permanently rejected or permanently continued. They are still on the temporary list. We should like to know exactly what has led the Government to select in this Bill those Acts which are put down for a permanent place in the Statute Book, and those for a temporary place?

There is one other question. I do not know whether the Government has had any direct recommendations made to them for the inclusion of another Act in the Schedule. We have before the House at the present time a Bill which has passed through the Committee Stage which deals with the future settlement of tithe. Whilst it would be quite out of order to discuss that Bill to-night, some of us think that it is rather unfortunate that there is such a very strong body of opinion on that particular Bill before the House which it is deemed necessary to pass to make permanent, from the 1st January, on a proper basis, the tithe assessment. The Government, quite rightly from their point of view, introduced the Bill, but there is such a strong body of opinion among many sections of the community, among farmers, and others who hold certain ecclesiastical views, that the Bill ought to be recast; and that this present Bill should provide in the Schedule for the continuance of those Acts which provide for a continuance of the existing Tithe 'Acts. Would it not be better, therefore, even if we get the Second Reading of this Bill to-night, that the Government should seriously consider whether the Committee stage of the Bill should either be postponed, or at least not completed, until those that hold the view that the Tithe Act should be brought into continuance under this Bill see what is the attitude of the Government on the Tithe Bill on Thursday next?


As to the inclusion of the Bill referred to by the hon. Member, if the House does not desire it to be included, the matter can be raised on the Committee stage. That is the proper place to raise it.


Might I point out to the hon. Member who has just spoken that the proper procedure in the case he states would be to put the three Bills which expire on 31st December into the Committee stage, and then insert them in the Schedule. There is no reason for delaying the Bill on that account. That could, and should be, done to-morrow, if the Government consents. I quite agree in every way with what has been said about the position. When the Bill was in Committee everybody opposed the postponement of it for a year. Now every single interest wishes for a postponement of it for a year. Various interests, including the clergy, and now at the last moment the landed interest who published their opinion the other day want a postponement. If these are walling that there should be postponement for another year, the matter is one which would seem to require consideration, and perhaps a different Bill. The rich are affected by it and very much more the poorer clergy are very seriously affected, and everyone is now agreed to allow this matter to stand over for a year. I hope the Government will consider what has been said. I would put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this Bill is likely to cost the country £292,000. Therefore, that money will be saved if the postponement be agreed to.


I think what has fallen from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) really ought to give pause to the Government. We are discussing the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill. But is it not possible that we can postpone the Committee stage of this Bill, which is down for tomorrow, till after the Tithe Bill has been dealt with on Thursday? I quite agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that all the interests now are asking for a postponement of the Tithe Bill. If the Bill is postponed till next year, the Government will profit to a tune, not of £290,000, but probably something more likely to be three-quarters of a million. In addition to that, if the Government pursue the course of trying to pass the Tithe Bill into law this year, they will find that there will be a very vigorous opposition in this House, and that the whole of the next six weeks will be taken up with a discussion on the Report stage of this Measure and another Measure which we will deal with later and that they will not be able to get their business through. For all those reasons I think we might have a statement now, in order to make it clear in the first place that the Government are prepared, under the new circumstances, to withdraw that Bill, and, secondly, that they are prepared to insert in the Expiring Laws Bill, when we get it into Committee, those three Acts under which poor parsons benefit to-day. I hope we may have a statement from the Government, so that we may know what to expect on Thursday, and what to insert as an Amendment in the Bill after it has got its Second Reading.


I do not desire to repeat the arguments put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), but I wish to say in a sentence that I, and also. I know, some of my Friends, most heartily support the appeal which is made to the Government.


With regard to the last point raised, I do not think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) would expect that at this particular moment, at all events, I should be in a position to respond to his appeal.


But you can tell your predecessor.


The House will understand that my responsibility in connection with this Bill is a more or less formal one, being concerned with the general form in which the Bill is presented to the House. The point that has been raised is, really, a matter of policy, and I think it will be unreasonable to expect that in the case of a suggestion of that sort, dealing with a very important Bill, any member of the Government, certainly not a subordinate member like myself, should stand up and say at a moment's notice that the Government will accept or reject the proposals made. I have not the slightest doubt that more important members of the Government than myself, and those who are responsible for the Business of the House and for questions of policy, will consider the suggestions that have been made, and I have no doubt that an answer to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and those who agree with him will be given in good time. Let me just refer to a point raised by the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) with regard to Clause 3. He was a little puzzled by the change of wording in Clause 3. I think I can explain it to him. If he will look at the fourth paragraph of the Preamble, he will see there these words: And whereas it is expedient that the Acts mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act should be made permanent or continue permanently in force. I admit straight away that there is in substance no difference between those two phrases. The variation has been introduced in order that the facts of the case should lie on the surface of the Bill. If the hon. Member will refer to Part II of the First Schedule, he will see certain Acts set out there. In two Acts of Parliament recently passed dealing with real property there was, I suppose by an inadvertence, a repealing of legislation which went beyond what was intended and beyond what is convenient and possible. What is done in the case of the three Acts referred to in Part II of the Schedule is that the repealing of them is repealed, and they are put back upon the Statute Book. It is to emphasise that this is not the ordinary procedure to which we are all accustomed in the Expiring Laws Bill that the variation of phrase referred to was introduced.

Then the hon. Gentleman asked why certain Bills are made permanent and others continued merely for a year. He will no doubt recollect that some time ago a promise was given that a Select Committee should inquire, at intervals of three years, into the legislation to be dealt with in this Bill, with a view to removing any Acts that were no longer required, and, generally, to exercise a sort of weeding out process upon the Schedule. The Bills which appear in the Schedule to be made permanent or to continue for one year only are there in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee set up in the early part of the present year. If my hon. Friend will refer to the report of that Committee he will find that its recommendations have been carried out almost, if not entirely, without exception. I think those are the only points on which he asks for information. If there is anything else he is in doubt about, I shall be glad to answer him; but I think that, apart from the one exception, he will agree that this annual Bill is in its usual form.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down used the phrase which has brought me to my feet. He said that the question of dealing with the Tithe Acts in the Expiring Laws Bill would be dealt with "in good time." I rise only to make this point. As I understand it, the Committee stage of this Expiring Laws Bill is to be taken to-morrow. Unless, therefore, the Government are going to make a decision to-night, or at any rate before to-morrow, on whether they are going to continue with the Tithe Bill or not, we shall be in this position that, when the Tithe Bill comes on for Report and Third Reading on Thursday, it will be impossible to continue those Tithe Acts in the present Measure, because the opportunity will have gone by. If the Government are willing to meet all the different interests concerned, and to postpone the Tithe Bill, whether the representations be made to them on behalf of the land, or of the priest, or any other interest, it is essential that the matter should be considered immediately, to-morrow morning, in order that we may put down Amendments in Committee to-morrow when the Expiring Laws Bill comes on. If the Government wish to help in the direction which we think most helpful, they should be in a position to tell the House tomorrow afternoon that they are prepared to accept our Amendment, and to continue the Tithe Acts as they exist for another year. They can do that if the expression "in good time" means within the next 12 hours, but if it means what it sometimes means in Parliamentary language, then there will be cause for very great complaint.


In answer to what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, there is, of course, very little time. I cannot give any pledge in the matter at all. I think there is sufficient time to make that change if the authorities concerned are willing to do so, but I can give no pledge.


I would like to ask a question with respect to the Schedules of this Bill. It is as well that on the Second Reading we should get any explanations that are possible, because, as I understand it, on the Committee stage of this Bill we are not allowed to discuss the details of any Bills referred to in the Schedules.


It is just the other way round. On the Committee stage, the hon. member can discuss the details of the Bills in the Schedule, but not on the Second Reading.


That is what I wanted to find out. Having found it out, I am going to put a question now, so that, according to the answer that is given, I shall be the better able to go into the details of one of the Bills I have in mind when the Committee stage comes on. There is in Part II of the First Schedule a reference to 34 & 35 Hen. 8, c. 20. An Acte to embarre fayned recoveries of Landes wherein the Kinges Majestye is in reversion. What is proposed in this Schedule is not to continue this Act for another year, but to make the whole Act permanent. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, or the Law Officers, why it is that an Act which has been continued almost from year to year with, I think, the exception of the first 20 or so years after it was put into operation, has now been discovered to possess merits which require that it should be placed permanently upon the Statute Book. This is an Expiring Laws Bill, and as we are being asked to continue it, this Act must evidently be in process of expiring. If it is not an Act to be continued from year to year or from period to period, it should not appear here. If it has been an Act that has had to be renewed periodically, I want to know why the Government have suddenly discovered virtues in it that require them to continue it permanently.


That is a question for to-morrow rather than for to-day. The hon. Member can raise the virtues of the legislation of Henry the Eighth to-morrow.


I am not concerned with his virtues, I do not think anyone could be, they were undiscoverable, but I thought if I could get information as to the reasons for continuing it it might alter my attitude towards it in the Committee stage to-morrow.


That would necessarily raise the merits of the Act, which is a proper thing to raise on the Committee stage but not on the Second Reading.