HL Deb 04 July 1871 vol 207 cc1077-80

Bill brought from Commons.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 1a."


said, that hitherto only two or three Bills of any importance had come up from the other House, and whereas during the early part of the Session their Lordships had comparatively little business, there was now a prospect of their being so overloaded with a variety of important measures that it would be impossible to give them proper consideration. Were this the only Bill of importance to come before their Lordships he would say nothing; but it was understood that the Government hoped to send up at least two other measures of very great importance, the details of which would require careful consideration, and which would occupy considerable time. He understood, however, that these measures were not likely to come up to their Lordships for another fortnight or three weeks. Now, his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had more than once urged that the complaint on this point was unreasonable, it being the duty of the Members of the House to attend as long as their services were required. He believed that all of their Lordships were prepared to sacrifice their private convenience for the sake of the public advantage; but the evil was that at a late period of the Session important measures could not receive such consideration as to guard against hasty and imperfect legislation. Not only was it difficult to obtain the attendance of their Lordships when the Session had lasted six or seven months, but in the other House it was still more difficult to obtain a proper attendance, so that their Lordships' Amendments might have justice done them. Within the last three or four years important measures had been lost through the impossibility of their Lordships' Amendments being properly considered. To remedy this crying evil some had proposed that a larger number of measures should be initiated in their Lordships' House; but from its constitution that House, with the exception of particular classes of Bills which might usefully begin here, was more suitable for reconsidering and revising than for originating legislation, and he feared no great amount of time would be saved by the introduction of important measures here in the first instance. If, then, measures for the most part were not to originate in their Lordships' House, there was only one other mode of remedying the compulsory idleness of their Lordships early in the Session, followed by the exaggerated demand on their time and attention at the end of the Session. It should be provided that Bills which passed through the other House at too late a period for them to be properly considered here should be reserved for a subsequent Session. The late Lord Derby introduced a Bill providing for the revival in another Session of Bills which had begun in either House, but had not been considered by the other. This Bill passed through this House, but was not assented to by the other; and he (Earl Grey) admitted that the objections to it were by no means groundless. The forms of procedure in both Houses now rested on usage and Standing Orders, and there was a strong feeling against any statutory regulation of the forms of legislation. If, however, the House of Commons was inclined to show their Lordships due consideration in this matter, they might provide that whenever a Bill passed through that House too late, in their judgment, for its due consideration here, it might be suspended till the following Session. In the event of such a decision, the Bill might be re-introduced in the same shape and might by a single vote be re-affirmed and sent up to their Lordships. By this simple expedient the evil now complained of might to some extent be removed. There were reasons for considering the propriety of such a course this year. The Bills to which he had referred were, as he had said, of such a nature as to require great consideration. One of them related to the mode of conducting municipal and Parliamentary elections. It was not confined to the Ballot, but raised a large number of important questions, which required mature consideration. Nobody could doubt that legislation was called for and that abuses existed which should be removed; but the matter was as difficult as it was important. Were such a Bill to come up to their Lordships at the end of this month or the beginning of next, he should hold it their duty—even were he favourable to its provisions, which he confessed he was not—not to consider it at so late a period. He should, however, much regret the failure of such a measure not on its merits, but on account of want of time, and it would be very desirable, were the Bill sanctioned by the House of Commons, that its consideration by their Lordships should be suspended till next year. There was no reason to think a General Election was impending, and a few months of delay would be of no importance. Were it simply rejected here the whole thing would have to be done over again in the House of Commons; whereas, were its consideration suspended, it might be sent up by a single vote, allowing the other House to attend to finance and other matters which always came before them at the beginning of the Session, and giving their Lordships important business to the relief of the end of the Session. The same remark applied to the Scotch Education Bill, to the object of which all were favourable, while there were great differences of opinion as to how it could best be attained. It would raise many important questions, which could not be considered without a fair command of time. He believed that by the course he had suggested legislation would be more satisfactorily accomplished. He asked for no immediate opinion from the Government; but he entreated them to consider whether by such a course a laborious Session might not be prevented from becoming less productive than it ought to be, whereas these subjects would otherwise stand in the way of other useful legislation by the other House in another and, perhaps, several Sessions.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 1a, and to be printed. (No. 237.)