HC Deb 20 July 1926 vol 198 cc1190-5

Order for Second Reading read.

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


I need not tell you, Mr. Speaker, that I am not going to deal with the details of the Schedule. No doubt, when the Committee stage is reached, those details will be examined, but I want now to deal with the general principles of the Bill. The method of continuing temporary Acts of Parliament by means of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill has not always been a feature of our Parliamentary procedure. I think it is about 60 years since it was first introduced, and for a long time it went on until it became a positive abuse. The Government first passed a Bill under the plea that it was only to be a temporary Act, and then made it in effect a permanent Act by including it in the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance. Bill. So great did this abuse become, that this House four years ago appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of General Seely to examine the whole procedure, and among other recommendations of that Committee was one that a triennial Committee should be appointed to examine the Schedule to this Bill. Accordingly a Committee was appointed last year under the Chairmanship of the hon. Member for East Cardiff (Sir C. Kinioch-Cooke).

What we should consider on the Second Reading of the Bill is how far the principles which were laid down by those Committees have been followed by the Government, and ail examination of this Bill will show that, in fact, we are in danger of drifting back into the old mistake of loading the Schedule to the Bill—only in a small degree at present, but there has hardly been time to do much harm—with all sorts of enactments, which should be allowed to drop as being of no further service to the State, or else, if good, should be made a permanent part of the Statute Law of the land. General Seely's Committee pointed out that, so far from this procedure being of assistance to private Members of this House, it might, indeed, become—they used strong language—a menace to the rights of Members, and they proceeded to lay down certain principles, which should govern the conduct of the Government in drawing up the Schedule to the Bill. The first of these principles was that nothing should appear in the Schedule which was not properly the subject of annual review; the second principle was that legislation which was passed during or immediately after the War, and which belonged to the category of wartime legislation, was not proper legislation to be included in the Schedule to the Bill; and the third principle was that the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill must not be made a device for making permanent Acts which the House of Commons intended to be temporary.

Let us examine this Bill with a view to seeing how far those principles have been observed. I find, for example, on page four of the Schedule, the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, 1914. This particular Act was, in fact, examined by the Committee of 1925 and the following conversation took place between the Chairman and Mr. Ram, the representative of the Department:


134. This Act has been continued only so far as it relates to Orders made by any Court before 31st August., 1922. The Lord Chancellor's Department considers further continuance unnecessary, and the Scottish Office concurs. Have you anything to say on that, Mr. Ram?—No.


135. Then this Act will lapse if everybody agrees.

Recommended to be discontinued."

But, in spite of that, the Government brings in this Bill exactly in the form in which it was examined by the Select Committee set up by this House. That Committee recommended that it should not be included. Then take the case of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and the Ministry of Food (Continuance Act), 1920, which are in this Schedule. These are clearly war-time Acts. I am not dealing with the merits of these Acts, although a good deal might be said on that topic. But the Committee specifically laid down that Acts of this kind should not be included in the Schedule and here is the Government, which have the Report of a Committee set up four years ago and of another Committee which was set up by them last year, and yet they ignore the recommendations of both these Select Committees. Further, I find that two new Acts have crept into the Schedule and that shows that we are in fact again being driven into the position of crowding into the Schedule Acts of Parliament which the Government cannot decide as to whether they should be permament or whether they should be dropped. In time if this goes on, a Parliamentary scandal will arise such as existed before the Committee of 1922 was appointed. We have the Canals (Continuance of Charging Powers) Act, 1922, and the National Health Insurance Act, 1924, Section 54. These Acts occur for the first time in the Schedule. If we come to the Second Part of the Schedule, we find it is remarkable that the two Acts-the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, and the Agricultural Rates, Congested Districts, and Burgh Land Tax Relief .(Scotland) Act, 1896-which were recommended for continuance for one year only by the Committee of 1925 are now in the Schedule, and they will be continued, owing to their position in the Schedule, until 31st March, 1928. That will be for three years since the Committee recommended that they should be continued for one year only. The 1922 Committee referred to both these Acts, and said that they ought not to be in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill at all. I submit the point I have raised is a point of Parliamentary importance in its own sphere, and I ask the Financial Secretary, who is in charge of the Bill, to tell us now whether it accepts the principle laid down by two important Committees, and whether he intends to follow this principle.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman has reminded the House that a Select Committee some years ago recommended that from time to time over periods of three years a Select Committee should examine the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and should make recommendations so as to avoid possible congestion of the Schedule, that certain Acts should be put on a permanent basis if they were to be continued at all. In pursuance of that recommendation, the Select Committee last year—1925 was the period recommended—examined the Schedule and made certain recommendations which were carried out. Particular Acts were recommended to be made permanent, and others were continued in the Act of last year. Now the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks whether certain principles which the Committee laid down are to be followed and he complains that in some respects they have been violated. He began his speech by saying that he had no intention of dealing with the merits of the particular measures to be found in the Schedules because he is far too old a politician not to know that it is out of Order in this Bill to discuss the merits of the measures in the Schedule. Under the cover of discussing the general principles he very adroitly introduced a discussion, or wished to lead me into a discussion, on the merits for the Acts to which he has referred. The proper time for making the complaint which he has made will be in Committee on the Bill, when it will be open to him to say whether the details of the Schedule show any violation of the principles laid down by the Committee.

The Government have shown their desire to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee in general. I am not going to argue that in some minor detail there is some Bill included in the Schedule which comes under the general character which the Committee thought ought not to be included in the Bill All I can say is that the Government are not absolutely bound to follow in the minutest particular every recommendation the Committee has made. It has followed it on general lines. They are bound, of course, by considerations of Parliamentary convenience and so forth, and even if it could be shown that the Committee would not have authorised the inclusion of some of these measures, the Government of the day, whether this Government or any other Government, rather than introduce special legislation must look to considerations of time; and that we have done. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has any real ground of objection he can no doubt raise it.


I desire to draw attention to Part I of the Schedule, in which reference is made to the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1883, which it is proposed to continue for another year. Since the Act was passed, there have been 15 or 18 amending Acts. If so many Acts have been found to be necessary to improve the original Act, do not the Government think it is time to introduce a consolidating Bill to incorporate them?

Then there is the Act that succeeds it, namely, the Seal Fisheries (North Pacific) Act, 1895. It is about time we had some sort of reason given why it should be necessary to continue this Act for another year, as it has been continued. Is it not about time the Government discovered whether it was necessary or otherwise to deal with the seal fisheries of the North Pacific?


I would remind the hon. Member that it is a rule that we refrain from discussing details on the Second Reading of the Bill, and leave them to the Committee stage.


I appreciate that point. The same argument applies here which I have put forward in the case of the other Act. Since this Bill requires to be continued from year to year, should not the Government have discovered whether a consolidating Bill ought not to be brought in dealing with this case? I should like the Financial Secretary to reply on these two points.


Might I suggest that the Financial Secretary should make full use of the discussion later to reply to the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I understood him, for instance, to point out that a Select Committee had recommended that certain Acts should not be continued under the Expiring laws (Continuance) Act. I see in his place the hon. Member who was Chairman of this Committee and who, by a specific question to one of the witnesses, brought out this point. That ruling by the Chairman has been overruled by the right hon. Gentleman. It is possible that in Committee such a point will be ruled out of Order by the Chairman, and I submit it is only on the Second Reading that we can get from the representatives of the Government the answers to these questions, which are really questions of principle—that is, whether they will accept the principle that Acts which are in the nature of war-time legislation should not be continued under the Expiring Laws Con- tinuance Act, and that Acts which were in their nature known to be temporary and have become quasi-permanent should also not be continued. I do not think those points of principle have been answered.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. R. McNeill.]