HL Deb 16 March 1900 vol 80 cc1049-52

My Lords, when I placed my question on the Paper—namely, "To ask the Lord President of the Council why the statutes made for the University of London by the Commissioners under the University of London Act, 1898, which were laid on the Table on the 16th February, have not yet been circulated"—the statutes made for the University of London had not been circulated, but I have now to ask the reason of the delay in the circulation of the statutes which were laid on the Table on 16th February, and which were not in the hands of your Lordships until 15th March. The matter is of no importance if the statutory period during which the Statutes may be examined by Parliament is made to run from the time the documents are circulated, but it matters a great deal if that statutory period runs from the time the documents are laid on the Table. I understand that the highest authority in another place has ruled, on March 28th of last year,* that the Paper must be laid in full upon the Table. I suppose that in this House the same practice will have to be adopted, otherwise it would be in the power of the Stationery Office to limit that statutory period. If the Statutes are laid on the Table on February 16th and only circulated on March 15th, then the period of forty days is virtually altered into a period of fourteen days, which makes a great difference. The Code Regulations for Day Schools were laid on the Table on February 27th, and were only to be obtained yesterday, the remaining period allowed in that case being less than half the month prescribed by the Education Act of 1870. I may, perhaps, ask the noble Duke whether he considers that the statutory period runs from the time the Papers are laid upon the Table, or from the date when they are accessible to Members of the House.


My Lords, before I answer my noble friend's question I ought to remind him that the Privy Council have absolutely no responsibility in this matter. Their duties were fulfilled when the Statutes were laid on the Table of your Lordships' House. I have, however, endeavoured to ascertain the facts of the case. The direction to print is stated by the printers to have been given on 16th February, but the officials of the House do not appear to have informed the Stationery Office that copies were required from the standing type until the end of February, and, owing to some misunderstanding at the Stationery Office, the order to the printer to throw the type into Parliamentary form was not given until March 6. Since that date the printers have pressed forward the printing with the utmost despatch, and the Statutes were circulated yesterday. I cannot answer the question the noble Lord has put to me, which is not on the Paper. I do not conceive that the ruling to which he has referred, which was given in the other House, would be * See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxix., page 647. applicable in this case, and I presume that the statutory period would date from the time when the Statutes were laid on the Table. I may be allowed to point out that the non-circulation of the Statutes at an earlier date can hardly have been the cause of any practical inconvenience, as a notice was inserted in the Gazette of February 16th pointing out that copies could be obtained by any person or body directly affected at the office of the London University Commission. The same was done in the case of the Regulations, which were laid on the Table on March 1st.


I can quite understand that the noble Duke has really no power in the matter, but I should like to know who is responsible for the delay, because it is scandalous that important papers should not be obtainable at the Vote Office when they are wanted. No doubt the noble Duke and the noble Marquess at the head of the Government are quite aware that this delay is constantly occurring, and I cannot understand why some remedy has not been applied. We on this side of the House are absolutely powerless in the matter, but I cannot believe that noble Lords on the other side are without some power to insist upon a remedy for this great abuse. Although, as the noble Duke says, there was a means of obtaining a copy of the Statutes, I do not think Members of this House should be compelled to go to some institution to obtain Papers which, as Members of this House, they are entitled to have as soon as they are printed. I therefore hope the noble Duke, or the noble Marquess at the head of the Government, will endeavour to procure for us reasonable facilities for obtaining these Papers.


The noble Earl, with a rash hand, has unveiled one of the mysteries of the British Constitution. In the course of a considerable Parliamentary life, from the very beginning of it, my earnest ambition has been to emancipate ourselves from the tyranny of the Parliamentary printers, but never from that day to this have I been able to discover who was the person responsible for the action of those printers, or who possessed the precious privilege of com- pelling them to do their duty. If the noble Earl could help me in the matter, I should be glad, but, short of sending them to the Tower, which is an antiquated remedy, I know of no method to force them to do something which they have taken it into their heads not to do.


I may mention that printed copies of the important telegram from the Presidents of the South African Republics and the Prime Minister's reply there to were obtainable in the House of Commons the night on which they were announced, whereas in this House they could not be obtained until about forty-eight hours afterwards.