HL Deb 15 May 1848 vol 98 cc981-7

LORD STANLEY moved the Second Reading of the above Bill.

LORD CAMPBELL said, that he did not rise to oppose the second reading of this Bill, but he felt it to be his duty to offer some observations to their Lordships with respect to the enactments which it contained. The question was whether the Bill would be a proper remedy for an evil which could not be denied. He must confess, though the Bill was approved of by most of his noble Friends, yet so many difficulties presented themselves to his mind in relation to its provisions, that he could not refrain from stating them then to their Lordships. The Bill would introduce a very important change in the working of our constitution. We must take care, therefore, that we did not cause greater inconveniences by our legislation than those which the measure was intended to remove. He objected to the novel power of retaining Bills from Session to Session which was proposed by this Bill. The proposed change might be sometimes employed as a strong argument in the hands of an Opposition for the postponement of a measure which it might be of the utmost importance to pass speedily; and it was obvious also, that there might be a great change of circumstances in the interval between one Session and another. He admitted that the evil which the noble Lord sought to remedy was one of great magnitude: it arose from the unreasonable jealousy of the House of Commons as to Money Bills, which prevented the origination of measures in their Lordships' House, and from the waste of time in the House of Commons, which was most lamentable, unless it had very much amended its ways since he was a Member of that House. Some specific remedy would, he believed, be found absolutely necessary; and, as in the Congress of America, some limit, he thought, must be imposed upon the length of the speeches, and upon the duration of Committees. He feared that, unless some regulations of this nature were adopted, the public business would be altogether obstructed. He hoped, however, that, ere long, the House of Commons would relax the severity of their rules with respect to money clauses, although he desired that the privilege of voting supplies should always remain with that House; but if they would limit their privilege to some extent, many more Bills might be originated in that House, and much of the difficulty got rid of. For these reasons, although he would not oppose the second reading of the Bill, he doubted whether it would not be desirable to seek another remedy.

LORD REDESDALE felt that there were strong constitutional objections to this measure, which was wholly unprecedented. The resolutions which had been passed of late for suspending Private Bills had been carried to a very mischievous extent; but the mischief of proceeding legislatively was still greater. Hitherto these matters had been regulated most conveniently by ancient usage; and if this door for legislation were once opened, it would never be closed. Legislation ought to be adapted to all periods—as well periods of excitement as of quiet; and it was easy to conceive what serious consequences might follow from a measure of this description in times of public disturbance. Disputes between the two Houses might be greatly aggravated by it. For his own part he did not consider the evil to be so great as other noble Lords did; and the true cause of complaint seemed to him to be not so much the want of time as the lateness of the period of the Session at which the Bills arrived, when many noble Lords had left town, and the House was but thinly attended. The evil rested with the other House of Parliament, and not that House; and, although he did not think that the American regulations suggested by the noble Lord opposite would exactly suit the constitution of the House of Commons, he hoped that that House would seriously consider the inconvenience which resulted from the great delay that occurred in sending up Bills to that House. He should not move their Lordships to reject the Bill; but he felt bound to state the difficulties which he felt respecting it.

EARL GREY said, that the two noble Lords who had last spoken had rested their opposition to the Bill on the most far-fetched objections conceivable; and unless some better objections could be urged against it, he thought that the House ought to agree to the measure. It was said that the present practice was established by long usage; but if it were incon- venient, it was the duty of the House to reform it. He thought that the course which had been pursued with respect to Railway Bills had been attended with great convenience; and this Bill was intended to apply a remedy somewhat similar to public measures. It was no answer to this proposal that the House of Commons might alter and reform its practice; because it was the duty of that House, so far as was in its power, to repair mischiefs which were confessed, and to secure for itself, that of which it was now deprived, ample leisure to deliberate upon and consider all the measures presented to it. In this House they were to consider, not what would be the best law in itself, but what would be the best which, in the existing state of public opinion and of the conflicting interests, the majority of the other House of Parliament could be brought to consider. The measure was not intended to be applicable to all Bills; and he agreed with the noble Lord that there might be some difficulty in being able to know beforehand what measures should be passed, or what might be postponed. He could not agree, however, with the suggestion that a clause should be added, providing that no adjourned Bill should be taken up in any succeeding Session without the distinct consent of the House in which it originated. It was a poor compliment to either House, to suppose that they would pass measures as permanent, which the course of a very few months would show not to be required. In fact, when measures were required which were based on temporary circumstances they were always, as the experience of the present Session showed, passed only for a limited time. On the whole, therefore, he would give his support to the Bill.

LORD BROUGHAM felt that this measure was intended to remove a great and crying evil; but still he must confess he felt considerable difficulties with regard to it, and these were increased by the suggestions which had been thrown out by the noble Lord near him (Lord Redesdale), which would go, in fact, totally to alter the measure. Until, therefore, he should see the Bill in print in some of its later stages, he could not quite make up his mind with regard to it. He thought they ought, as much as possible, to avoid entering into any new course of legislation; but this involved such a change, for it was the first time that it was proposed to regulate by statute the Standing Orders of either House of Parliament. With regard to the remarks of his noble Friend opposite (Earl Grey), he had totally misapprehended the requirement of his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale), who did not assume that either House might act capriciously, but who assumed that circumstances might arise which would alter their opinion, and yet one House would be tied to the expression of an opinion delivered in the former Session, while the other House would be free to form a judgment with all the advantage of prolonged experience.

LORD BEAUMONT said, one objection to this clause would be, that it would give the House of Commons the power, by their objecting to postpone a measure, to force their Lordships to proceed with its consideration, at the expense of other Bills which were of equal or greater importance, though there was less excitement attending them. With regard to the Bill itself, one objection to it was, that it would prevent any great measure from being in future originated in their Lordships' House, and would reduce them to the condition of being only called upon to revise Bills sent up to them from the Commons. This, he thought, was a great evil at the present time, and it would be greatly aggravated by the passing of such a measure as this. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) had urged that their Lordships were to look not so much to what was the best measure in itself, but what was the best which, under existing circumstances, the House of Commons might be induced to pass. Now, he thought that was an unfortunate system. He must confess he thought there was a class of Bills, such as the Sanitary Bill, the Metropolitan Buildings Bill, and others, which, like them, interfered to a large extent with private interests, and which, on that account, were not likely to pass in a perfect form through the House of Commons, which might very advantageously be allowed to originate with their Lordships. It might be that the House of Commons, owing to the influence of private parties, might not adopt the whole of the measures as passed by their Lordships; but there would be this advantage, that the public would have before them what he would call a model Bill, and that, although some portion of it might be objected to at first, yet the other portions would probably be adopted in a future Session. He would reserve his further opinion on this Bill till it got into Committee; and if the noble Lord should then propose any improved method of car- rying out his object, he (Lord Beaumont) would only be too happy to support it; but if it stood in its present form he should vote against it.

The EARL of DEVON was understood to support the Bill, and suggested that when the House of Commons sent up a Bill to their Lordships, they might then signify their assent to its being passed either in that or the next Session of Parliament.

The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE was not disposed to retract the favourable opinion he had expressed when the Bill was first introduced, especially as he felt it would tend to remove the great evil of hasty and hurried legislation which had caused the unseemly practice, grown of late years almost into a system, of bringing in Acts to amend Acts that had passed only the previous Session. There were, no doubt, many difficulties in the way, but there were none which might not, he thought, be overcome. For instance, there was no doubt that the Bill interfered, to a certain extent, with the prerogative of the Crown to put a stop to Bills that were pending before either House by the prorogation of Parliament. This might be obviated, however, by the consent of the Crown being given through Her Majesty's advisers in each individual case, in the postponement of Bills to the succeeding Session, in the way proposed.

LORD STANLEY replied: My Lords, I need hardly say that I receive with respect and thankfulness the suggestions which have been made by noble Lords, intended to further the object which alone I have in view in bringing forward this measure —the facilitating and improving the legislation of the two Houses of Parliament. In the present state of the House, and at the present hour, there is no inducement to discuss the principle of the measure, even if that were necessary—which I conceive it is not; and, therefore, I shall very shortly allude to one or two topics introduced by noble Lords as suggestions, made partly with regard to the details, and partly with regard to the principle of the measure. The last suggestion made by the noble Marquess I anticipated when I opened the Bill to your Lordships; for I admitted that this was, to some extent, an interference with the prerogative of the Crown; and I stated, that as it was practically, or rather theoretically, a diminution of the prerogative of the Crown, it could not properly pass without the consent of the Crown being signified at some one or other stage of the Bill, by Her Majesty's advisers. But the question of prerogative appears to me to be entirely altered, if I rightly understand the suggestion of the noble Marquess, that the consent of the Crown should be taken as a necessary preliminary to every proceeding under this Bill. If that was the case, the practical effect would be, that the Ministers who exercised for the time being the power of advising the Crown, would have the absolute power of putting a veto upon the postponement of every individual measure. I think that would be an inconvenience of no inconsiderable amount. Sure it is, that it is the prerogative of the Crown to stop the progress of any measure by the prorogation of Parliament; and this measure does not propose to touch that prerogative, except in cases where there is a distinct resolution by one or other of the Houses of Parliament that some certain measure or measures shall be postponed. But, my Lords, it would be an extreme case to suppose that when a measure has been passed by a majority in one House, and a majority in the other was willing to pass it after postponement, for the purpose of due consideration, the Ministers of the Crown should seek to interpose the prerogative for the purpose of defeating it. Such an extreme case as this is hardly to be supposed in the present day. But the power would still be left to the Crown if such an extreme case should arise, because if a Bill were adjourned to another Session, this measure required that it should be adjourned to a fixed and appointed day; and the Crown might then interfere, and, by the exercise of its prerogative in proroguing Parliament beyond the day fixed upon, put an effectual stop to the progress of the measure. The objections which were urged to this measure by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Campbell) were of two kinds—technical and constitutional. One of his technical objections was, that this Bill recognised distinctions, such as the second and third readings of Bills, which were not prescribed by law. Now, I do not conceive that this can form any objection to the measure, because, in recognising these stages, we do not give them any validity in law, but simply recognise them as stages through which the measure has to pass. The noble and learned Lord objected to the Bill on the ground of innovation, and that an organic change would be thereby introduced. My Lords, I am of a very different opinion; and I think it would be somewhat odd to see the noble and learned Lord resisting innovation, and myself promoting and pushing it forward. And yet no other argument except one equally futile—that of a danger of collision between this House and the House of Commons—has been urged against this Bill. No system of legislation can be worse than that which is already existing in the months of July and August. I cannot see any difference, however, between postponing Bills from July to February, and postponing them from February to July. It is true, in point of fact, that with respect to the introduction and progress of Bills, one Session of Parliament is regarded as one Parliament. But that is the very reason why it is necessary to introduce this measure. Suggestions as to saving time by restricting the extent of speeches are for the consideration of the other House of Parliament; but I have no desire to see the introduction of an hour-glass or a president's hammer to inform the speaker that his time is exhausted, any more than I have to see an arrangement adopted by which Bills shall after the lapse of a given time, be reported in an undigested shape. The object of the present measure is to give facilities to both Houses of Parliament for the despatch of public business, without in any degree interfering with the powers they now possess; and the nature of the evil to be remedied will be understood from the position of the Encumbered Estates (Ireland) Bill, which, having been introduced into your Lordships' House in the month of June, when Parliament might rise in July, could not well receive that consideration from the House of Commons which its importance demands. In conclusion I beg to state that I shall be happy to adopt any suggestions which may have the effect of improving the Bill.

Bill read a second time.

House adjourned.