HL Deb 06 April 1905 vol 144 cc595-609

LORD NEWTON rose to move to resolve "That it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to consider the advisability of carrying into effect the Resolution? relating to Public Business passed by this House on May 25th, 1903." He said: My Lords, I feel that some apology is due to the House from me for again dragging before it this well-worn subject, but I have observed by experience that it very seldom I happens that anybody obtains anything I until he has become an intolerable bore, and I must plead that as my excuse at the present moment. At all events, can assure the House that I do not intend to detain it at any length. The unsatisfactory conduct of business in this House has formed the subject of frequent discussions, or, perhaps, it would be more correct to describe them as frequent grumbles, and these discussions have almost invariably terminated without any tangible result. The result of these debates may, as a rule, be appropriately summed up in those pregnant words with which we are so familiar in this House—namely, that "the subject then dropped." Although, as I say, these discussions have not produced much result, they have, at all events, shown that there is what I may term a healthy spirit of discontent prevailing in this House, chiefly among unofficial Members, as to the state of public business; and when on July 29th, last year, the Government airily announced that the Finance Bill, which was introduced in this House at 3 p.m., had to be passed through all its stages by 5.30 p.m.,. the worm—I might almost say the noble worm—turned, and noble Lords opposite, throwing themselves into the breach, performed the unprecedented feat of talking the Bill out. In some quarters this is not regarded as a very remarkable achievement. In another place it could be done, figuratively speaking, by perhaps one or two Members without turning a hair; but I myself have always felt that a certain amount of gratitude was due to I noble Lords opposite for their attitude on this particular occasion. It not only showed that they were keenly alive to the rights and privileges of this House, but it was a distinct gratification to me to realise that under certain conditions a spirit of obstruction could, if necessary, be invoked even in this Assembly.

Any feelings of dissatisfaction which may prevail in this House as to the way in which we are treated are not likely to be assuaged by the Return which my noble and learned friend, Lord James of Hereford, has just secured. I will quote a few gems from this Return, which is eloquent by reason of its simplicity. I will go no further back than the year 1901. The Factory and Workshops Bill, which was presented in the House of Commons on March 28th, did not roach this House until August 14th, on the same day as the Youthful Offenders Bill, which was introduced on June 20th. In 1902 the Licensing Bill, which was submitted to the Lower House on January 30th, was not read a first time in the House of Lords until July; and in 1903 we had to wait until nearly the end of July before we were called upon to deal with the Irish Land Bill, the principal measure of the session, and the London Education Bill, which were introduced in the House of Commons in March and April respectively. Last year the Licensing Bill was only sent up to the Lords on July 29th, while the Education (Local Authority Default) Bill and the Shop Hours Bill, which originated in the Commons in April, were received by this House on August 10th and 11th respectively. Then there was the particular instance of the Finance Bill of last session. I will cheerfully admit, my Lords, that some improvement is manifest this year, because two Bills of some importance have already been introduced in this House; but I am afraid that this improvement can only be characterised as an act of somewhat tardy—I might almost say deathbed repentance on the part of the Government. Whether that is so or not, I would ask the House to consider what are likely to be our prospects supposing another Government comes into power before long.

I observed just now that the result of these discussions had almost invariably been absolutely fruitless, but there is one particular exception, an exception which I am proud to think was due to my own efforts. In 1903 I induced the House to pass a Resolution concerning business in the House. It was carried by a large majority, and ever since I achieved this triumph I have been inquiring meekly, but persistently, as to whether any steps would ever be taken to carry this Resolution into effect. The answers I have received have invariably been extremely sympathetic, but they have not been productive of any solid results, and I candidly admit I am rather tired of these professions of sympathy, and I now invite the House to take action. This is a matter which does not affect the Government or the two Front Benches. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House not very long ago said— I can assure your Lordships that we do feel that this is not a question between the two Front Benches, but a question concerning, in the first place, the interests of the public in seeing that legislation is properly conducted, and, in the next place, those in this House whose dignity and reputation are involved.

Everybody—and I should be the first to admit it—is perfectly aware of the fact that the noble Marquess has the interests and the dignity of this House at heart, and I have not the smallest doubt that he was absolutely sincere in the expressions of which he made use, but at the same time I should like to point on that all Governments are very much alike, and all Governments are human. What, after all, is the object of a Government. The object of a Government is not to have Bills talked about, but to have them passed. If I were a Minister and happened to be in charge of a Bill—my feeling would be that the less my Bill was talked about the better chance there would be of its passing, and I should like to wait till the last moment, and carry it, if possible, by merely raising my hat. Therefore, supposing the noble Marquess the Leader of this House went to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons and said—" Now, look here, there are some troublesome people in the Lords who are worrying me about the state of business; what is to be done?" I can imagine the Prime Minister replying—" What an unreasonable lot of men you Lords are. Here are we in the House of Commons saturated with talk, and here you propose the same sort of thing in your Hoase, where things are supposed to be conducted in a businesslike manner. Tell your friends you sympathise with what they desire, but sea great difficulty in carrying that desire out." It is clear that the interest of the Front Bench and of the official personages is not as great as the interest of unofficial personages. The remedy, therefore, does not lie with this Government or with any Government, but with the House itself.

There are two remedies before you on the Paper to-day. One is my own, and the other is proposed by Lord James of Hereford. I cannot help thinking that Lord James has taken to heart the advice given by my noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, when a year or two ago he complained that this House was treated, to use his own expression, as a "dust heap," and urged that we should go on strike. That is practically the effect of the suggestion made by my noble and learned friend, Lord James. I admit at once that, morally and logically, there is absolutely nothing to be said against my noble and learned friend's proposal; but I confess I have some doubts as to whether it is tactically sound. This Resolution might be passed and it might be disregarded by the House of Commons, and where should we be then? Personally, I am of an extremely conciliatory disposition, and am anxious to appoach this question in a peaceful way, and my own plan is that we should pass a Resolution in favour of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the question. I urge it upon two grounds. In the first place, it seems to me that there is nothing more futile than to pass Resolutions and take no steps whatever to carry them out. We might just as well talk in our sleep, for all the good we do. if we pass Resolutions and never take any notice of them. The second advantage which I think my plan possesses is that at all events it is an amicable invitation to the Commons to talk this matter over with us and endeavour to come to an understanding. If they refuse the olive branch, then it will be for this House to adopt my noble and learned friend's remedy and pass the drastic Resolution he has placed on the Paper.

With regard to the practicability of my proposal, I know I shall be met, if anybody answers me at all, with the argument that this Resolution is of no value because it only deals with the question of dividing the session into two halves. Whenever I am in want of an argument I am fortunate in being able to quote the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in my favour. The chief argument which was advanced in favour of my proposal to divide the session was that when the month of August arrived, and these Bills came up to us, there was nobody to consider them, and therefore no opportunity for fairly discussing them; but what the noble Marquess said with great justice last year was— The real reason, it seems to me, for a change of this kind is that which my noble friend has stated—I mean the fact that the present system does not enable the House of Lords to perform adequately and efficiently the duties which belong to it under our constitutional system.

I must admit, too, that my object goes rather further than that of Lord James. He is concerned only with the way in which Bills are dealt with by this House. I admit that my ambition soars higher than his. I aspire not only to remedy the procedure of this House, but to-induce Parliament some day to adopt the habits of civilised countries, and, instead of following the preposterous practice of legislating in the summer months, do that work in the winter time.

I do not wish to labour this subject any further. These two questions can obviously be considered simultaneously and concurrently by a Joint Committee, and I think I can sum up my arguments better by again quoting the noble Marquess than by adding any comments, of my own. In February of last year the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said— I have now for a great number of years, watched events in this House, and I am bound to say it seems to me almost a scandal that year after year important matters of business should be crowded before us in the dying moments of the session, when we are all of us more or less exhausted, and when it is quite impossible for this House either to consider, as it should consider, the Amendments which may have been introduced in any measure in the other House of Parliament during the later stages of its progress, or even those Amendments which are put upon the Paper by Members of your Lordships' House. The result, I am afraid, is that a great deal of our legislative work is very badly done, and that we not infrequently place upon the Statute-book, as we certainly did last year in the case of the Irish Land Bill, measures which, in some important respects, do not carry out the intentions of their famers.

I do not think anything I can say will and weight to that declaration, and I submit that it is imperative upon us that, we should do something. If we allow things to go on as they are we are deliberately undermining the authority of this House The present House of Commons may be looked upon as a friendly House as regards its feelings to this Assembly. There is no doubt whatever that a large majority of the Members of the House of Commons are distinctly in favour of a Second Chamber. For that reason I would urge this House to lose no time in endeavouring to come to an amicable arrangement with the other House, because it is within the bounds of possibility that before very long we may find a newly-constituted House of Commons which may not be animated by such friendly feelings towards this House. At all events, if we allow ourselves to be considered as insignificant, if we divest ourselves of our rights under the Constitution, it is not very difficult to see what will happen; and I would, therefore, respectfully urge the House to adopt the extremely moderate suggestion I have made and pass the Resolution I now beg to move.

Moved to resolve, "That it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to consider the advisability of carrying into effect the Resolution relating to Public Business passed by this House on the 25th of May, 1903."—(The Lord Newton.)


My Lords, before your Lordships proceed to take a vote upon the Motion which has just been moved, I should like to point out that the Resolution to which the House agreed in 1903 was to this effect— That in the opinion of this House Parliament ought to rise at the beginning of July, and that the time provided for the due transaction of public business should be provided by Parliament sitting during a longer period of the winter than is customary at present. I take it that if your Lordships agree to the Motion now moved by the noble Lord, that will practically be the reference which will be made to the Committee. I want to point out to your Lordships that besides the public business of the House there is also the Private Bill business, which is of considerable importance, and I hope that no Committee which may be appointed to consider this matter will neglect that somewhat important branch of the question. I am not going to detain your Lordships now by pointing out the difficulties there may be in the way of altering the dates of the Sittings of this House, but there have to be taken into consideration the long vacation, and the habits of all those professional men who practice before the Committees of this House, and I would venture to express the hope that the noble Lord, in considering the reference which may be made to the Committee, if it be appointed, will not confine the consideration of the dates on which the House should meet and adjourn merely to public business, but that he will also take into consideration the necessities of Private Bill business.


My Lords, I certainly shall not criticise in any hostile spirit the admirable speech which my noble friend on the Back Bench delivered just now to your Lordships. If I had been minded to do so, I should have been deterred, I think, by the fact that he did me the honour of quoting several passages from my own observations on this subject—passages which show that he and I are upon many points entirely in agreement. There was really only one observation in the speech of my noble friend which I would at all criticise. He told your Lordships that experience had taught him that no one ever obtained anything in this House unless he established the reputation of being an intolerable bore. I wish well to my noble friend's cause, and as it is utterly beyond my powers of imagination to conceive that he should ever become an intolerable bore, I venture to hope that he has somewhat misapprehended the situation.

I will not waste your Lordships' time by going over the old ground and dwelling upon the inconvenience to which this House has been put by Bills being brought before it in the expiring moments of the session. There is no difference of opinion on that point, and the Return which my noble and learned friend behind me has obtained has, if any justification was necessary, amply supplied a justification of the complaint which has been made. What we have to consider is what measures are within our reach for remedying a condition of things which we should all of us like to change. Two proposals are before your Lordships—the Motion which has just been moved by my noble friend, and the Motion standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord behind me. If I am not out of order, I should like to say, with regard to Lord James of Hereford's proposal, that while I heartily agree with its purport it does not seem to me to advance matters very far. Lord James proposes to enter a protest and to make a declaration of our intention to refuse to consider any Bills unless sufficient opportunities be afforded for the due deliberation of them. That is an admirable sentiment; but unless my noble and learned friend contemplates some further step with the object of defining what constitutes "sufficient opportunity of due deliberation," we shall be left very much where we are at present. If my noble and learned friend proposes to go further and to ask your Lordships to pass a Standing Order, under which this House would decline to accept any Bills unless they come up from the House of Commons by a certain date, that would, of course, be a practical measure and one which your Lordships might think well to consider. But it would be open to this objection, that it would bring us to a deadlock, and instead of having imperfect opportunities of discussing Bills, we might have no Bills at all to discuss.

I pass to the Motion which is really before the House. The proposal of my noble friend on the Back Bench is that a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament should be appointed for the purpose of examining the Resolution passed by your Lordships in 1903 on this subject. That is, I am bound to say, a very attractive proposal, because the matter is one which certainly concerns both Houses of Parliament; and unless the co-operation of both Houses can be obtained we shall not make very much progress. I have, however, made it my business to inquire as to the possibility of obtaining such a Joint Committee of inquiry as my noble friend desires, and I regret to tell him that the best information I can obtain is that in the present condition of public business in the other House of Parliament there is no probability at all that a Motion for a Joint I Committee could be put forward with any prospect of success. The subject is obviously a very controversial one. It would afford ample opportunities for debate; and I am afraid we cannot look forward to such opportunities being supplied, at any rate during the present session of Parliament.

We have to remember that this subject is not a new one, and that it is one as to which the other House has on numerous occasions manifested a very close and jealous interest. I find that there have been no less than four Parliamentary Committees, I do not say dealing with the precise proposal made by my noble friend, but dealing with analagos proposals. There was a Committee in 1848 to consider a proposal that either House should be allowed by Resolution to adjourn the discussion of Bills to a subsequent session. The Committee reported adversely upon that proposal. In 1861 there was another Committee, and the decision was again adverse; and in 1869 a Committee was appointed to consider a proposal which originated with the late Lord Salisbury and which has a very important bearing upon the matter now before the House. The Committee had before it a Bill introduced in this House by the late Lord Salisbury, entitled "An Act to facilitate proceedings of Bills in Parliament," the principal object of which was to enable either House of Parliament to resume in a subsequent session proceedings on Bills which there had not been sufficient I time to adequately consider in the previous session, the desire being to provide for ''a due supply of Bills to be submitted for the consideration of the House of Lords early in the session, avoiding groups of Bills at a later period and spreading the legislative business more equally over the session in both Houses." The Committee, I find, admitted, though with some qualification, the existence of the evil it was proposed to remedy, but no practical proposal resulted from their investigations.

In 1890 there was another Committee, the Report of which was drafted by the present Prime Minister and carried by a narrow majority. That Committee was the only one which produced a practical proposal—that proposal being that there should be a new Standing Order providing for the suspension of Bills partly discussed in the House of Commons and for their resumption in the following session at the point where the discussion of the previous session had left off. The object was explained to be that Parliament should be relieved of the need of repeating in two successive sessions the same debate on the same question. It may interest your Lordships to know that, although the Committee accepted these proposals and embodied them in its Report, it did so with the special reservation that the change should apply only to Bills originating in the House of Commons, suspended in that House, and revived there in a subsequent session, but that it should not extend to Bills originated in one House and subsequently revived in another. I mention this to show your Lordships how jealously the House of Commons has guarded its privileges in this matter, and how extremely difficult it would be to obtain from that House a hurried acquiescence in such a proposal as that submitted by my noble friend.

If your Lordships will permit me to indicate what in my opinion might be a convenient way of dealing with the Motions before you, I would venture to make this suggestion. If my noble and learned friend behind me (Lord James) presses his Motion we shall certainly vote for it, for we desire to affirm the principle which that Motion emphasises; but as to the Motion of my noble friend on the Back Bench, feeling, as we do, that there is no prospect whatever of obtaining the appointment of a Joint Committee of the two Houses, we suggest that the best course would be that your Lordships should appoint a Committee of this House with the object of, at any rate, clearing our own minds and deciding which of the different remedies before us we desire to press upon Parliament—I say which of the different remedies, because your Lordships will recollect that more than one proposal has been made in different parts of the House for dealing with this question. My noble friend himself, I remember, at one moment offered us two alternative schemes. Under one of them the session was to begin in November and be carried on until the autumn of the next year, and under the other the session was to begin in January, the House of Lords session was to be broken off in July, and then there was to be an autumn session to complete the business. So that there are two proposals from the noble Lord himself..

I remember that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh made another proposal, under which the consideration of Bills suspended in one session would be resumed in another. Besides that there have been various minor suggestions, such as beginning the session earlier in the year, and introducing more Bills into this House. With regard to the latter suggestion I was glad the noble Lord admitted that some little improvement had taken place in that direction by the introduction in your Lordships' House of at least two important Bills before Easter this year. I cannot help thinking under these circumstances that a House of Lords Committee could usefully undertake the investigation of this question, and, I am tempted to add, though I do so with many reservations and with bated breath, that it seems to me not inconceivable that such a Committee might find some means of obtaining authoritative evidence as to the manner in which proposals of this kind were regarded by high authorities in the other House. I do not know that such a Committee will thoroughly content those who desire to go the full length which my noble friend desires to go, but it does seem to me that it would be at any rate a step in the right direction, and would place your Lordships in possession of conclusions which would form a useful basis for any further efforts in the same direction.


My Lords, I share with the noble Marquess who has just sat down admiration of the speech of the noble Lord who moved the Motion now before us. His speeches always interest the House, and he cannot be accused of being in any degree a bore. I have voted several times on this question, and have always voted against the noble Lord, for, though I entirely share his desire, I have always realised that there were difficulties in the way, such as those put forward by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees and others. Besides, I have felt that if we were expected to meet always in the autumn, then, instead of having a shorter session, we should have a very much longer session, for we should have the same length session as we have now with, the autumn session added. It is, however, not simply a question for this House; it is a question which belongs more to the other House. I quite admit that this House has very strong reasons to complain of the sending up to it of Bills very late in the session, but our remedy does not consist in merely refusing to go on with those measures. That would be an impossible position for this House to take up. I believe that the responsibility for difficulties of this kind rests more on the Government of the day and the Leader of the other House than with anybody else.

Take this session. We met unusually late. If we had met earlier, there would have been more prospect of our having Bills brought before us in good time. I have more than once strongly complained of finance measures being brought up to this House at a late period of the session, and of our being obliged to pass them through all their stages on the one night. This House, of course, has no right to alter a money Bill, but it has the right to criticise and to refuse to pass a Money Bill. Finance Bills have not always been introduced at so late a period in the session. I instanced last year a great many cases where they had been brought up at a much earlier time, and the House had had every opportunity of fully considering them in their separate stages. It is, therefore, in the hands of the Government to help forward measures and bring them up to this House at an earlier period.

The noble Lord's proposal is that there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider what should be done to forward the views he has at heart, but the answer given by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is conclusive. The other House, I am afraid, would not join in a Committee to carry this out. We now have another proposal made by the noble Marquess himself, that we should have a Committee of this House to sift the different views and proposals to meet this difficulty. If the noble Marquess proposes that, I should not oppose it, but I am afraid it will lead to very little. We shall have the same difficulty with regard to the other House, and it would be impossible for this House to go on with this matter unless it were acting in co-operation with the other House. In the circumstances, if the noble Marquess proposes that Committee, I shall not think it my duty to oppose his proposal, but I am afraid it will not lead to any very practical result. With regard to the proposal made by the noble Lord, which, of course, does meet the difficulty I have mentioned by having a Joint Committee, I think the answer which the noble Marquess has given is conclusive against its being adopted.


who had given notice to move to resolve, "That this House, recognising its duties as a deliberative Assembly, protests against the practice of introducing Bills into it under conditions which afford insufficient time for their consideration,, and declares its intention to refuse to consider any Bill unless sufficient opportunity be afforded for due deliberation thereon," said: My Lords, I feel that with regard to the Motion standing in my name on the Paper I am placed in a position of some difficulty. I do not know whether the House wishes to dispose of my noble friend's Motion first, or allow me to explain at this stage why I wish my Motion to be carried. I will state, as briefly as I can, the reasons why I move my Motion—that is, if it will be regular for me to discuss my Motion on the Motion now before the House.


I am afraid it would not be regular for the noble and learned Lord to do that. As to the suggestion made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, I think it would be quite possible, if the noble Lord (Lord Newton) desired it, to amend his Motion by striking out the words "joint" and "both" and the letter "s" in Houses, and substituting the word "this" for "both."


My Lords, wnilst I recognise the conciliatory tone of the noble Marquess's observations, I cannot follow his reasoning. If we appoint a Committee, what are we going to inquire into? We have been complaining of our treatment for a long time. What, therefore, is there to discover? If we appointed a Committee of this House, I presume we should only examine Members and officials of the House. How would that advance our case? What I have endeavoured to make clear is that this is a question which does not concern the Government

Forward to