HL Deb 23 May 1848 vol 98 cc1255-9

LORD STANLEY said, that it was his intention to propose several Amendments in the Bill, for the purpose of obviating some of the objections which had been made to it. The noble Marquess had said, that some of the provisions of this Bill would interfere with the prerogatives of the Crown; he, therefore, proposed to move the alteration of certain words in one of the clauses, which would preserve the prerogative of the Crown intact. It had been urged as an objection against this Bill, that should the House of Commons, which had agreed to a certain measure, which measure had been postponed by their Lordships to another Session, have changed their minds on the subject, and be desirous of rejecting the measure, they would have no opportunity of doing so, should their Lordships pass the postponed Bill without Amendments. To obviate this objection, he proposed to introduce a clause, enacting that if a Bill postponed from a former Session should, in a subsequent Session, pass the House in which it might have been postponed, even although it might pass without Amendments, it should be returned to that House in which it had originated, and have the concurrence of that House signified, and should not receive the Royal Assent until such assent should be so signified. As this Bill at present stood, the power of postponement was limited to the ordering a stay of proceedings before the measure to be postponed should have been referred to a Committee. Now, as the alterations proposed in Committee were often most important, he proposed to give the House the power of postponing any Bill even after it should have been referred to a Committee. There were also some minor alterations which he proposed to introduce. It had been suggested that it might be possible so to construe the second clause as to authorise the postponement of a Bill from Session to Session. He proposed, therefore, to introduce a clause depriving the House of the power of postponing a Bill for more than one Session. He proposed to introduce these Amendments in Committee, and then to reprint the Bill, in order to give their Lordships an opportunity of considering them.

LORD CAMPBELL would not oppose the introduction of these Amendments; but, having introduced them, he trusted that the noble Lord would let the Bill stand over, to be considered another Session. He would recommend the noble Lord to move for the appointment of a Committee to consider tin subject, and at the same time to take measures to secure the appointment of a similar Committee of the other House; and if the two Committees met and consulted together, he had no doubt but that they might devise some measure which would be of the utmost importance, and greatly facilitate the progress of public business through Parliament. The only important Amendment which the noble Lord had proposed, was one which would certainly render the measure much less objectionable, but which would, at the same time, render it entirely futile. The provision to which he referred was, that every Bill should be referred back to the House in which it originated, in order that that House might have an opportunity of rejecting it, or of passing it, by way of resolution, instead of carrying it through its several stages. Now, either House already possessed that power. All that this Bill proposed to do might be done by a resolution of the House of Commons without any legislation at all. Surely the noble Lord would not attempt to legislate when every object he had in view might be attained without legislation by resolution of the House of Commons, if the House of Commons should be so minded. All these stages of first and second readings, committee, and third reading, were matters of usage; and it was perfectly competent to the House of Commons to pass a standing order that any Bill sent down by the House of Lords might be passed by resolution without going through all these stages. His noble Friend (Lord Brougham) had gone too far when he had said that this Bill was altogether unnecessary; but certainainly the provision which the noble Lord now was desir- ous of introducing was altogether unnecessary. This Bill if it passed into a law, would create a serious difficulty as regarded the courts of law. In fact, the courts of law would be, by this Act, placed in the same position as the Supreme Court of the United Status of America, which was higher than the Legislature, inasmuch as the Supreme Court inquired whether the laws passed through Congress were properly passed. Now, this Bill proposed that any of those Bills should be postponed which mainly imposed or repealed a tax. Now it would, therefore, be perfectly competent to courts of law, in the case of any law passed as a postponed Bill, to inquire whether it had been properly passed, to decide whether its object had been mainly to impose or to repeal a tax, and thus they would be erecting the courts of law into a tribunal overriding Parliament. It would, therefore be necessary to introduce a clause enacting that when any Bill, postponed from one Session to another, shall have received the Royal Assent, it shall not be competent to any person to take any objection in any court of law, to the effect that such Bill has not properly passed, and is not the law of the land. He hoped the noble Lord would not press the Bill, because he was sure that if they sent it down to he other House of Parliament in its present state, it would not be considered very creditable to the wisdom of their Lordships.

LORD MONTEAGLE hoped that the noble Lord would persevere with the Bill—from which great public advantage might be anticipated—and that he would not consent to the appointment of Committees. The best way to bring about an understanding upon the subject between the two Houses was to lay a definite plan before them. He (Lord Monteagle) then deprecated the effect that would be produced by giving a power if suspending a Bill before one House had pronounced an opinion upon its principle on the second reading.

LORD STANLEY illustrated the probable working of his Bill by supposing, with the noble Lord Lord Monteagle), that the Sanitary Bill would reach their Lordships at a time when it was morally impossible that justice could be done to it. Under his Bill that measure could be postponed, and taken up at the commencement of the next Session, and then sent to the House of Commons, thus avoiding all the delay which must take place under the arrangements as they now stood. The noble and learned Lord had asked him whether he proposed to move that the Bill should be printed with the Amendments for recommittal; but the Amendments which he wished to introduce were so entirely in conformity with the recommendations which had been made from both sides of the House on a former stage of the Bill, and they had been already so much discussed, that he thought it not necessary to recommit the Bill. He proposed, therefore, that the Bill should now go through Committee, and the Amendments be voted; but, of course, it would be competent to the House afterwards to recommit the Bill if that should be thought necessary. The simple question which his noble Friend raised would be as conveniently brought forward on the report as now.

After a few words from Lord MONTEAGLE,

LORD REDESDALE said, that the objection of the noble and learned Lord was certainly one of importance; and it was right that the House should be put in possession of all the information on the subject. In 1843, a Bill called the Schoolmasters Widows Fund Bill originated in that House, passed the House of Commons, and was returned to that House. Some amendments were made in the Bill, and it was sent back to the Commons, from which House it was sent up by mistake to the Lords with a batch of Bills, the assent of the House of Commons not having been obtained to the Lords' Amendments, and in that state it received the Royal Assent. What was done in that case? A Bill was introduced and passed for the purpose of making that Act law; and the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on that occasion referred to two similar cases in which the same course had been pursued—one in the 33rd Henry VI., the other in 1829. These instances showed how careful Parliament was to avoid any infraction of the ancient usage of Parliament; and he looked with great apprehension at any attempt to interfere by legislation with that ancient usage and law of Parliament. The mode of passing Bills depended not upon their Standing Orders, but upon that ancient law; and even when they suspended the Standing Orders for the purpose of expediting a measure, they still always required the first, second, and third reading. The beauty of their present mode of proceeding was its uniformity; and one great objection to this measure was, that it would introduce new and complex regulations. The principle of the measure was that the same Bill might be considered in more than one Session of Parliament; and he disapproved of that principle, because he thought it an unnecessary innovation upon established practice; but if the principle were to be adopted, he should much prefer a measure which simply declared that both Houses of Parliament might suspend any Bill from one Session to another. The Poor Law Amendment Act, and the other great measures which had become law, had been passed in a single Session under the present practice; and therefore he could not see any great necessity for this measure; and he was afraid that it would be found practically inconvenient.

After a few words from the Earl of DEVON,

Amendments agreed to. Bill passed through Committee, and reported.

House adjourned.