HL Deb 18 February 1890 vol 341 cc551-63

Moved, That two Standing Committees be appointed, the one for the consideration of Bills relating to law and courts of justice and legal procedure, and the other for the consideration of all other Public Bills, that may be committed to them by the House, and that the first of such Committees be designated "the Standing Committee for Bills relating to Law, &c.," and the second of such Committees "the Standing Committee for General Bills."—(The Viscount Cranbrook, L. President.)


My Lords, I gave notice last Session upon the Motion for the re-appointment of these Committees, that if such a proposition were made I should move an Amendment. I desire to say a few words to your Lordships upon the subject. When these Committees were first proposed I pointed out that the House of Commons having appointed Standing Committees because they had too much business, your Lordships were recommended to appoint them because you had too little business to transact; and I remarked at the time that there must be some strange virtue in this remedy if it were suited to every complaint. My opposition has been entirely borne out by experience. In this respect the House has already practically disfranchised itself, and will again disfranchise itself, by the appointment of these Committees, unless you choose to enact that every Member of your Lordships' House who desires shall be a Member of those Committees, and have the opportunity of attending their sittings if he pleases. In that way the hard-working Members will be able to take an interest in, and have a share in dealing with, the subjects which come before your Lordships' House. A noble Lord may be very much interested in certain Bills, which come before one Committee, and in other Bills which come before the other Committee, and if he is not a member of both Committees, he is virtually disfranchised as regards those Bills which come before that Committee of which he is not a member. This is no mere idea, but an absolute fact, because your Lordships will remember at once, from the proceedings last Session, that the discussions on Bills which take place in Commitee virtually supersede their discussion in this House. Noble Lords who wish to object to Bills which have been before a Committee of which they are not members feel themselves in a disadvantageous, position. Another point with regard to the transaction of the business in this House is that in the public Press the proceedings of the Committees are generally not reported, so that the belief has been, and will again be, induced among the public that your Lordships do less business than you really do. My Lords, I do not venture to set my opinion against the array of talent on the Treasury Bench, still less do I venture to set it against the opinion of my noble Friend at the head of the Government, whose absence I greatly regret; but there is one thing to which I beg to call special attention. Last Session it happened again and again that the Grand Committees were meeting upstairs and considering Bills at the very time that your Lordships were sitting in this House. What was the consequence? I remember on one occasion my noble and learned Friend Lord Herschell, who is an authority in this House, and who always brings to the discussion of every subject a weighty and sound opinion, had charge of two Bills, which at one of their stages he had to leave in other hands because he was at that moment engaged as Chairman of one of the Standing Committees. My Lords, let us minimise this evil. Do not let us have the scandal—for it is really little less than a scandal—that while your Lordships are meeting here solemnly going through the farce of reading through a few Bills, a large number of those who would otherwise take part in the discussion of those Bills are attending Standing Committees upstairs, where their labours are shut out from the knowledge of the public. My Lords, I should not venture to oppose the unanimous wish of the Government; in the first place, out of respect to them, and in the second because I know it would be perfectly useless. I do not object, therefore, to the appointment of Committees, but I think it would be well to add words to the effect that such Committees "shall not sit during the time the House is sitting without the special leave of the House."

Amendment moved To add the words ("and such Committees may meet at any time except during the sittings of the House, but not without special leave during any sitting of the House.")—(The Lord Brabourne.)


My Lords, I think there is great force in what has fallen from the noble Lord. I do not think that the Grand Committees, administered as they were last year, were in any sense a success. On the contrary, I think they diminished the efficiency of the legislation in your Lordships' House; and I certainly think it is anomalous that Committees should be sitting upstairs at the same time that this House, which is too often but thinly attended, is sitting below. That system withdraws from our deliberations many noble Lords who would take a part in them with great benefit to both the House and the country, and I think if such a suggestion as that made by the noble Lord were adopted great advantage would flow from it. The position of affairs here is very different indeed from that which prevails in the House of Commons; and I cannot think that measures which facilitate the despatch of business in the House of Commons are of equal advantage in your Lordships' House. I therefore trust that the Government will be able to give practical effect to the suggestions of my noble Friend.


My Lords, I feel quite unable to agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken, that the Standing Committees do not contribute to the deliberations of your Lordships' House. They have, I think, the contrary result. I believe that no change which has been made in the procedure of this House at any time has contributed more to increase its efficiency for legislation than the change made in the creation of Standing Committees. I say this having, I suppose, as carefully as anyone attended and watched the proceedings of these Committees. When these Committees were first suggested it was felt that circumstances rendered it more than ever necessary that this House should pay close attention to the details of legislation, both in Bills coming from the other House and in Bills originating here. I am not going into the circumstances which have occurred which have led to the alteration of procedure in the other House, nor am I going into the merits of the alterations which have been made; but anyone who has had experience of the proceedings of the other House must be conscious that the changes which have taken place in that House are calculated necessarily to lead to what I will call the smaller legislation—that is, the legislation which is otherwise than general, and certainly the greater part of the measures of the year—being less considered than in times gone by. Whereas formerly measures passed only after discussion in the other House, and (although it might be at a very late hour of the night) very solid and thorough discussion, at the present time it is impossible for a Bill to pass at all unless it can pass without discussion. And how is the object obtained? A Bill is brought in, and there is opposition to the details of it: it is known very well that if that opposition continues the Bill can never pass into law, and the necessary consequence is that the Mover of the Bill has to go to its opponents and put in one thing to satisfy one objector and strike out something else to satisfy another, and the Bill is ultimately passed in the form in which it reaches your Lordships' House—a condition very often the reverse of satisfactory. Now, it has always seemed to me that one of the most important functions of this House is the revision of legislation; that you can in that respect do a work which will arouse no opposition, the utility of which will be recognised by everybody, and which, if not done by your Lordships, will remain undone. You can mate legislation, in the general object of which there is a common concurrence efficient for its purpose which otherwise would remain inefficient. You can see that the measure takes such a shape that litigation will be avoided, instead of created and fostered, and it seems to me those are functions which your Lordships ought to discharge in the best manner possible. Experience has shown that those functions are not well discharged if Bills are considered, as they have been in the past, by Committees of the whole House. I say, without the slightest hesitation, and with means of knowledge, that the legislation of last Session, by means of the Standing Committees, assumed a better shape than it would otherwise have had a chance of doing if it had not undergone the revision, to which it was thus subjected. Surely, my Lords, that is a matter of great importance, but I admit that importance has often not been sufficiently recognised. The fact that the proceedings were not so fully and amply reported as they would have been if they had taken place in the House has, no doubt, tended to keep the public in ignorance of what your Lordships have done. But surely it is necessary and better for your Lordships to do the work you have to do as efficiently as you can do it. It is unfortunate that the public do not recognise it, but it is better that you should do it well. My noble Friend seems to think it more important that we should rather be seen at work legislating in this House than that we should take steps to make our work efficient. My noble Friend shakes his head. At all events, I say that has been the result. I am not going into the details of the measures which were passed last Session; but I can quote chapter and verse to show how much that legislation was improved by means of those Committees—an improvement which never could have taken place from discussions in Committees of the whole House. I will refer to only one measure of last Session, and that is the measure for the Prevention of Cruelty lo Children. A great deal was heard of the alteration which was made in your Lordships' House, which some people thought made the-Bill less satisfactory than it would have been, namely, the provisions with regard' to children between seven and 10 years of age. Your Lordships altered that Bill in the direction of making it much more effective, and the result of several hours' discussion in the Standing Committee was, I say without hesitation, to more effectually carry out the object which that Bill had in view, and it became a far more efficient measure than it was when it left the House of Commons, or than it would have been if discussed here in Committee of the whole House. Surely that is a matter of very great importance. And the same observations apply to the measures which originate in your Lordships' House, because if there can be little or no discussion of them when they go to the other House, owing to the Rules of that House, it is surely vital that we should send them there in the best form that the case admits of. Therefore, my Lords, I assert that the result of the appointment of these Standing Committees has been to enable your Lordships, to discharge one of your most imperative duties in a far better and more efficient manner than they have been discharged heretofore; and it has also resulted in this, that the measures, coming from the other House, and which have been passed into law, have been far better measures than they would have been if this course had not been adopted. And certainly at a time when the existence of your Lordships' House—the existence of a second Chamber at all—has become a matter of public discussion, it is of the utmost importance for us to show that we are doing good work, and that we are taking such steps as we can to make that work as efficient as it possibly can be made. Now, with regard to the objection made by the noble Lord as to the Committees sitting at the same time as the House sits. I quite feel, as I have always-felt, the force of that objection; but the difficulty arises in this way: that if the House sits each day in the week at the time it is accustomed to sit now, it is impossible for those who are engaged down to a quarter to 4 o'clock on four days in the week on the judicial business of your Lordships' House, and who on the other days very often have other public engagements, to tike part in the deliberations and work of those Committees; and I am sure your Lordships will agree with mo that if you were to eliminate from those Committees all the Law Lords who are engaged on work of your House of another description those deliberations would, at all events, be deprived of some elements which assist in the constitution of your Lordships' House—I will not put the matter higher than that. But, my Lords, I do not think the difficulty is an insuperable one. I have looked into the time during which the House has been occupied in its public sittings, and I find that there is really ample time, between the ordinary hour of sitting and the ordinary period of rising, for the work to be done. We only require to re-arrange the hours to meet the necessities of business here; and the suggestion I would throw out is this, as we have now some experience of the time needed for this purpose, that on one day a week the judicial business should close at half-past 3 o'clock, and that the House should not meet that day till half-past 5 o'clock. That would leave two hours for the discussions of the Standing Committees, which would be sufficient for the consideration of the measures pending before them at any particular time. If such a practice were adopted by your Lordships' House the probability is that upon those days measures only of special urgency, or of a formal character, would be put down for consideration in your Lordships' House, so that in the result possibly that particular day might be reserved for the work in Committee. I throw out that suggestion roughly for your Lordships' consideration, and I think it would remove the difficulty pointed out by the noble Lord, the force of which I quite feel, and would still leave time for work to be done which is not of that description, or not perhaps so valuable in its character. My Lords, I think there is another danger to be guarded against; and though it cannot be provided for by any rule, it can be guarded against by the practice of your Lordships' House. The discussion in Standing Committee should not supersede the debate on second reading. I think it is mischievous that because a Bill goes to one of those Standing Committees it should not undergo upon second reading a full discussion of its effect and character, so that any objection may be taken which would have been brought forward if there had been no Standing Committee in contemplation. I think it is in the highest degree desirable that a full discussion should then take place, and I am quite sure it would be an excellent means of assisting the efficiency of the new arrangement; because a full discussion on second reading clears the air very much, and shows what the concurrence of opinion is on the subject: and it would assist enormously in settling the details of the Bill to have the general light and guidance which such a discussion would afford. Therefore, I trust that, in future, second reading discussions will be as ample as though no Standing Committee were concerned. I have in my mind one occasion in particular when the result I have indicated did ensue; and I hope in future the discussions in your Lordships' House will be as full and, as ample, although the Bill is going to Standing Committee, as they would have been if no such Committee had been in contemplation. Then, my Lords, another matter to which I would refer is the reporting of the proceedings of these-Standing Committees. In that respect, probably, there is nothing that the House can do. It must rest with those who consult the desires and tastes of the public in making those reports. But there is one small change which I think they might make-without any great difficulty, and which I think would be felt to be a great public convenience. There have been reports given of proceedings in Standing Committees sometimes of considerable length, but appearing in a part of the newspaper entirely detached from the ordinary Parliamentary report. If those who afford information to the public of what goes on would be good enough to insert at the end of the proceedings of the House such reports as they desire to furnish to the public of what is done in Standing Committee, I think it would be a convenience to the public, and of advantage to themselves. I think that would be distinctly of advantage both as regards the proceedings and the public who take an interest in them. There is only one other matter which was alluded to by the noble Lord opposite to which I will advert. He said that a Member of this House, though not on the Committee, may nevertheless feel an interest in some matter before it to which he would desire to call the attention of the House where he is not satisfied with the course taken by the Committee. I do not think there ever was the slightest disinclination in the House, when Bills have come back from Standing Committee, to discuss any point which noble Lords desired to have discussed. On the contrary, we have discussed, when Bills have come?back to this House, matters in which particular Members were interested; and I am not at all sure that we should have had a better and more satisfactory discussion in this House if there had not been a full and thorough discussion in the Standing Committee previously. I doubt very much that the discussions became less effectual on that account. I think they are rendered more, and not less effectual by the fact that there has been a controversy in the Grand Committee. I trust your Lordships will take no step which would limit or hinder the scope and operations of the Standing Committees; but that you will rather carefully support those Committees in their work, which I believe has been, and will be, of great public advantage.


I do not know whether my noble Friend wishes to take a division on this question, but I hope he will do so. It strikes me that the suggestion that the House should meet at half-past 5 o'clock on one day in the week, and that the legal business should, on that day, be concluded at half-past 3, is a very admirable one. I trust, therefore, if I may be permitted to suggest that course, that my noble Friend will take a division on the question whether the Committees should sit at the same time as the House itself is sitting, in case the Amendment should be allowed. At the same time, I should like to point out, with regard to the efficiency of these Committees, that what has been said can only apply to the Bills which come before your Lordships' House in the earlier portion of the Session. All the important measures of last Session, which came up to this House at a later period from the House of Commons on every occasion, instead of being fully discussed in the Standing Committees, were passed through the House after the Government had moved the suspension of the Standing Orders.


I beg to add, in answer to the appeal which has been made to me by the noble Earl, that if such an arrangement as I have suggested were made, I do not think there would be any great objection to the noble Lord's proposal, though I should think that in that case it would become of very minor importance, and practically the proposal would be defeated altogether.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has so ably and clearly stated both the recommendations and objections which can be put forward in regard to the appointment of these Committees that there is very little left to be said; but as I had the honour to be Chairman of the Committee under whose recommendation this appointment was made, I may be allowed in a few words to endorse everything that has fallen from the noble and learned Lord. I do so the more willingly, because while the noble and learned Lord showed to the House the advantage which has undoubtedly accrued to our proceedings from the appointment of the Committees, he did not appear to me to have shut his eyes to certain inconveniences, possibly amounting to defects, which have been found to exist in the present system of Standing Committees since they have been appointed in this House. I cannot agree with all that fell from my noble Friend Lord Brabourne, who moved the Amendment, in his critical remarks upon these Committees. In the first place, in regard to that phrase which he has used to-night, not for the first time, namely, that noble Lords are in some way disfranchised in consequence of the fact that measures have passed from this House during one of their stages, and have been submitted to the Standing Committee. I cannot concede that he is right. It is perfectly clear that if noble Lords who are not members of a Standing Committee, and who are not therefore able to deliberate upon a measure while it is before that Committee, wish to take part in the discussion upon it, they have the opportunity of doing so in the discussions on Report, as has been said by the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Herschell). My Lords, there are certain considerations which induce me to express the wish that more care and discretion may be exercised during this Session in the selection of those Bills which are to be referred to the Standing Committees. I can easily understand that in the want of experience which we had during the past Session of the working and objects of those Committees, it may not have been clearly apparent to noble Lords in charge of Bills which Bills were and which were not of a nature and character requiring the consideration of Standing Committees. I hope that in future greater care will be taken, and that the discretion which can be exercised under the Standing Order will be exercised. Then I wish also to endorse what fell from the noble and learned Lord with regard to the discussions which take place on Bills during the second reading. I have taken part in the deliberations in Committee upon Bills, and I have been much struck by the fact that in the course of those discussions noble Lords found themselves on nearly every occasion discussing in the Standing Committee the principle of the Bill, which ought to have been settled in the House on the second reading. I trust, therefore, that noble Lords in charge of Bills will not on future occasions think that because the Bills of which they are in charge will probably be referred to a Standing Committee, it is therefore unnecessary that the House should decide upon the principle of those Bills upon the second reading. With regard to the Amendment which has been moved, the necessity for which I believe was admitted by the noble and learned Lord, upon the question of the hours at which these Committees should sit, I venture to say that I entirely agree with my noble Friend behind me that not only is it exceedingly desirable that an alteration should be made for reasons of convenience, but that it tends to weaken the working powers of this House for the Standing Committees to sit at an hour when the House itself is called upon to assemble. Therefore, my Lords, I would endorse the principle upon which my noble Friend has moved his Amendment; but I would venture to suggest that it is hardly necessary that such an Amendment should be passed at the present time. I am not aware that there is in our Standing Orders any regulation of the hour at which the Standing Committees should sit; and it appears to me it is quite within the province of the House to fix the hours at which the House and the Committees should sit respectively. Of the two proposals, I confess I prefer that of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Herschell). I think the idea that on days when Standing Committees are appointed to sit the House itself should meet at half-past 5, whereby we should secure the services of noble and learned Lords both on Committees and for the deliberations of the House, is one which ought to be acceptable to the House, and which ought to result in a proper and adequate consideration of the business before the House. I did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Amendment of my noble Friend; but I would submit to him that no such Amendment is necessary. The discussion of this evening has shown us that there is practical unanimity on both sides of the House in favour of so arranging the hours for sitting that Standing Committees should not sit at the same time as the House sits; and I think after such an expression of opinion we might leave it to the House so to regulate its proceedings as to carry out the wishes which have apparently been so unanimously expressed this evening.


In answer to the appeal of my noble Friend, I may say that I am very unwilling to divide the House on this occasion; but what I wish is that this House should stand in the same position as the other branch of the Legislature. I contend that my Amendment leads up to the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord; and I think that Standing Committees should not, except by special leave of the House, be allowed to sit during the sittings of the House itself. It is all very well to say that what I have pointed out will not be likely to happen, but it did happen last Session again and again. In order to avoid that, it appears to me that the best way would be to pass simply, as an Amendment, the words I have read—that these Committees being appointed, they shall not meet at the same time as the House is sitting, except by special leave.


Might I read out to your Lordships one of the Standing Orders, because I think my noble Friend really means by his Amendment a regulation which should take the form of a new Standing Order? It would hardly come really as an Amendment upon the appointment of the Committee. I would, therefore, call his attention to the Standing Order No. 7, page 33— No Motion shall be granted for making any new Standing Order or for dispensing with any Standing Order of this House unless it shall have been given in the Minutes to consider of the said Motion. I am not quite sure whether the Amendment of my noble Friend does not take the form of a new Standing Order; and, if so, I would suggest that he should give notice of it.


It is hardly necessary, when it is simply a Motion upon the procedure of the Committee following upon the appointment of a Committee.


The original Motion was that the Committee be appointed, and the effect of the Amendment is that of a new Standing Order; but I cannot say that I think the Amendment is out of order, because it is an Amendment upon a Motion which is certainly in order, and the Amendment appears to me to be very relevant to the Question I can hardly say that it is out of order to move a relevant Amendment upon a Motion which is regularly before the House. At the same time, I certainly should assent to the objection that the effect of it is, though by a circuitous process, to make a new Standing Order.


My Lords, after that expression of opinion by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack I could not think of asking the House to divide, and I will therefore withdraw the Amendment, and move a Standing Order to the same effect.

Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Then Motion agreed to.