HL Deb 06 April 1905 vol 144 cc609-22

My Lords, after the discussion that has taken place I shall occupy a very short time in moving the Motion standing in my name. I feel I ought to make some apology to the House for occupying such a conspicuous position in relation, to a matter that affects the House generally, but as no other Member of your Lordships House had taken the matter up I thought it right to do so. I do not propose to deal with the extent of the evil; your Lordships will see at once

but concerns this House and the House of Commons, and if we inquire into it till doomsday that is no reason why it should make any impression on the House of Commons. We have stated our case and come to a decision upon it by passing a Resolution, and, therefore, with all deference to the noble Marquess, I feel myself unable to take his advice. I shall press my Motion to a division.

On Question, their Lordships divided. Contents, 8; Not-Contents, 70.

Harrowby, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) Newton, L. [Teller.]
Lauderdale, E. [Teller] Ebury, L. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
Lytton, E. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Canterbury, L. Abp. Waldegrave, E. Harris, L.
Wharncliffe, E, Hylton, L.
Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.) Killanin, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Bangor, V. Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)
(L. President.) Churchill, V. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Colville of Culross, V. Knollys, L.
Devonshire, D. Falkland, V. Lilford, L.
Marlborough, D. Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.) Monkswell, L.
Somerset, D. Goschen, V. Northbourne, L.
Hill, V. Ravensworth, L.
Ailesbury, M. Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore Reay, L. [Teller.]
Lansdowne, M. Robertson, L.
Linlithgow, M. Llandaff, V St. Levan, L.
Ripon, M. Saltoun, L.
Abinger, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Camperdown, E. Alington, L. Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)
Cawdor, E. Allerton, L. Sinclair, L.
Denbigh, E. Alverstone, L. Stanmore, L.
Drogheda, E. Avebury, L. Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Gallouay.)
Ducie, E. Barnard, L.
Feversham, E. Belper, L. Tweedmouth, L.
Hardwicke, E. Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.) Tyrone, L. (M. Waterford.)
Lichfield, E. Colchester, L. Windsor, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Coleridge, L. Wolverton, L.
Portsmouth, E. Dunboyne, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Spencer, E. Ellenborough, L.
Stanhope, E. Farrer, L.

that it does exist by a perusal of the Return which has been placed in your hands. My attention was first particularly directed to this great evil by what took place with regard to the Factory Amendment Act of 1901. That was a most important measure, containing very many Amendments of the law with which your Lordships were well able to deal. That Bill came to this House and was read a first time on August 14th; it was read a second time on August 15th, the Committee stage and Third Reading being taken and the Bill also receiving the Royal Assent on the same day. When the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Rochester asked for the consideration of an important question—namely, whether laundries should be dealt with in the Bill, we were told by the noble Lord in charge of the measure that if it was amended in the smallest degree by your Lordships the Bill could not become law, as want of time would prevent its being passed by the House of Commons. It may be within the recollection of noble Lords present that objection was also taken by the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, by Lord Rosebery, and others, and on behalf of the Government we had to implore those noble Lords not to exercise their right of criticising the Bill, because, if they did, the punishment would fall on the factory operatives by the Bill not becoming law, and not on the Government. Fortunately, they gave way and allowed the Bill to pass, but it was understood that some remedy should be found for this difficulty. In consequence of what occurred, I consulted the late Lord Salisbury, who was then at the head of the Government, and no one could have been more sympathetic than he was in the expression of his hope that some remedy would be found.

hen there was the case of a Bill which came before this House on several occasions—the Friendly Societies (Outdoor Relief) Bill. That measure involved a great principle in the administration of the Poor Law. It came before us in the years 1901 and 1903, and again last year. I was an ardent supporter of the Bill, but there were very strong arguments used against it. The late Lord Northbrook gave reasons why it should not be passed, and the noble Viscount beside me, Lord Goschen, speaking as a political economist, also attacked it very strongly. The most rev. Primate, too, stated objections to the Bill. That Bill was fully considered in this House on July 11th, 1901; sixty-six Members voted against it and thirty-nine for it. In 1903 it again came before the House. I moved the Second Reading, and the Bill was rejected, after full discussion, by fifty-nine votes to fifty. There had, therefore, been a deliberate expression of the opinion of this House on two occasions. Last year the Bill came up again to this House as late as August 12th. The Government had determined that it should pass, and the following day it was read a second time; the voting being thirty-nine for the Second Reading whilst only nine Members of the House were left to say "Not Content"; the Committee stage was negatived and it was read a third time on the 15th, and received the Royal Assent on that day. In consequence of its being brought p at that late period of the session and rushed through its various stages a majority was thus obtained for a Bill which had twice been rejected when adequate opportunity was given for its discussion.

It may be said that the answer is that Members ought to remain in attendance. I can only say, for my own part, I purposely stayed away on that occasion, for although I much desired that the Bill should become law I felt that if the House passed the Bill in those circumstances an exorbitant price was being paid for it. It is said that we ought to sacrifice ourselves and remain till the prorogation. I quite agree that we should do so if there is any necessity for the sacrifice. But I object to Members of the House of Commons expecting us to do the hard work while they are disporting themselves elsewhere. I would ask your Lordships to consider what occurred at the end of last session, when the evil reached a stage almost past endurance. On August 12th the House of Commons sent up a packed parcel of Bills, including the Wireless Telegraphy Bill, the Prisons (Scotland) Bill, the Bishoprics of Southwark and Birmingham Bill, the Anglo-French Convention Bill, and other measures. Those Bills were read a second time upon August 13th; Sunday intervened, and on the 15th the Committee stage was negatived, and they were all read a third time, no opportunity whatever being given of debating them. It is agreed, I think, that something must be done. The noble Marquess asked whether we could accept a binding Standing Order. In one sense I would be prepared to accept it, but I do not think the House could do so. We cannot make our Standing Orders irrevocable; we cannot take away from ourselves the power of suspending a Standing Order. What, then, is to be done? I do not think we can have a perfect remedy or define a positive rule, but I do think we should give notice to the House of Commons of our feeling on this subject. If we do nothing, what has occurred in past years will occur again. If we were to lay down a rule that we would never receive a Bill after a certain date we might find ourselves in a considerable difficulty.

I have no doubt that it is the personal characteristic of your Lordships to exhibit the virtue of suffering in silence any injury offered to you; but you have your duties as a deliberative Assembly, and have also to consider the interests of the public. It is desirable to give the House of Commons notice by a formal Resolution, not by way of attack on that House, but as an intimation that we cannot accept Bills when there is no opportunity of our fulfilling the public duty cast upon us. I hope it will not be regarded that this is anything approaching a demonstration against the House of Commons or those who have charge of public business. We all recognise how great is the difficulty of Ministers in arranging business, but surely we are not asking too much when we ask that some consideration should be shown to us in this matter. If my noble friend the Leader of the House offers a Committee to consider this question as a whole there can be no wish to press the Motion, but what I seek is a practical and sufficient remedy for the evil.

Moved 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."—(The Lord James of Hereford.


My Lords, I largely share the views held by the noble and learned Lord on this subject, but when I examine his Motion, I think it is too crude and not sufficiently explicit. The noble and learned Lord says we can refuse a Bill when we have not sufficient opportunity for due deliberation upon it. Ought not some notice to be given to the House of Commons as to when a Bill can come up and when it cannot? I feel that the words in the Motion as it stands are too vague to be of any practical effect. I therefore prefer the proposal of the noble Marquess to refer the matter to a Committee rather than pass a general Resolution which, as far as I can see, must be, and cannot avoid being, exceedingly vague.


My Lords, I could not vote for the Motion which my noble friend on the Back Benches introduced in such an admirable speech. To have voted against him would not have been consonant with my feeling of admiration for his speech, and therefore I was compelled to take the pusillanimous course of retiring to the steps of the Throne. I could not vote for his Motion after the noble Marquess's intimation that even if your Lordships passed the Motion for the nomination of a Committee, those responsible for the business of the House of Commons would not undertake to make a corresponding Motion there, and therefore we should be in the position of exposing ourselves in too Christian a manner to an obvious buffet from the other House. It is no disparagement to the noble Marquess to say that the suggestion he made came with a strangely familiar ring. It was the peroration I expected from his speech, and perhaps the only peroration possible to one speaking in his position. The proposal of a Select Committee on a question of this kind is the natural method of painless extinction for any public movement of an abstract nature. It is perfectly obvious to the noble Marquess and all your Lordships that a Select Committee will end in nothing. There will be a Report mentioning what is obvious and well known, reciting the facts only too familiar to those who have sat in the House as long as I have, and then the question will drop until with the return of spring my noble friend opposite rises in his place again.

I have not risen to call attention to these notorious facts, but rather for the purpose of indicating a certain danger incident to the Motion of my noble and learned friend, which I think has not escaped the notice of my noble friends on the Front Opposition Bench though delicacy may have sealed their lips. We have now lived ten years under the beneficent rule of noble Lords opposite. During that period we have borne our souls in patience in circumstances which have been recited with almost agonising eloquence by my noble and learned friend. We have taken in the middle of August, at the end of August, at the beginning of August, at a time when our souls were yearning for other things, whatever measures it pleased His Majesty's Government to hand to us in a more or less contemptuous manner. So have we done; so have we borne; so have we endured. Let me remind my noble and learned friend that in his recital of what took place in regard to the Bill to which the most rev. Primate and myself took some objection he did not tell the whole story. If there had been a quorum furnished by the Government on that occasion the efforts of the most rev. Primate and myself would have been entirely futile. That is an integral part of the case which I think he ought not to have omitted.


The fact that there were not thirty Members present left the whole matter in the power of the noble Earl and the most rev. Primate, and we were, therefore, under a great debt of gratitude to them for not persisting in their objection.


It is very kind of my noble and learned friend to say so. I confess I may have rejoiced for the five minutes in my life in which I enjoyed power in this House, but whether that be so or not, the incident stamped itself in a lively way on my memory, and I remember that the leading members of the Government, from the Prime Minister downwards, failed to take that interest in our legislation which would have been shown by their attendance on that occasion. Let me return to my point. We have now been ten years under a Conservative Government. There are indications of all kinds—some even come from fashionable watering places—that within no distant time noble Lords behind me and those on the Front Bench opposite may change places. Supposing that by this time next year my noble friends behind me occupy the bench opposite, this somewhat tardy recognition of the rights of the House of Lords may be used against them, and therefore this Motion has, to some extent, the look of furbishing up a weapon which has not been thought of for the last ten years, in preparation for a change of Government. I only indicate this. I enter a caveat on behalf of my noble friends behind me that when they bring forward Motions at the end of August, as it is quite possible they may do, this Motion may not be cited as an absolute bar or obstacle to their proceeding with them in the usual way. My noble friend behind me said there was a vagueness about the Motion which was not quite fair to the House of Commons, and that he would like more precision of date attached to it. I do not think that was a very astute suggestion on his part. I think it would be better to leave it in the region of the vague. There is a close time for game; and if it were intimated that there was a close time for Bills coming up from the House of Commons, it might bring your Lordships' House into violent conflict with the other House, which I am sure the Motion is not intended to produce. If I might close my remarks in the words of common sense, I would say, "Do not fix your dates too closely, but, on the other hand, if the situation should change in this House, do not press the Motion with cruel rigidity against my noble friends behind me."


My Lords, I was rising, when my noble friend Lord Rosebery went to the Table, also with the political situation in my mind, but, if I may say so, from the very opposite point of view. I think I may, in the first instance, say, being in the confidence of my noble and learned friend Lord James, that I never for one moment had reason to believe, nor do I now believe, that this Motion was brought forward by him in the slightest degree with a view to a possible change of Government this year or next year. I think I can give that assurance to your Lordships. The very fact that it is possible that there may by and by be a change of Government, should induce us before that change comes to give an earnest of that by adopting the Resolution and acting upon it, while there is still time, in order to show that there is no Party spirit whatever in the matter. I think it would be a misfortune for your Lordships' House if, during the reign of the Conservatives, hasty legislation at the end of the session is attempted and passed, and then, the moment a change takes place in the Government, when the Government no longer has a majority in this House, we take what Lord Rosebery has described as the cruel course of refusing to pass Bills so sent up to us. I am sure that whatever your Lordships' wishes may be with reference to legislation, you would not desire that the procedure when one Party is in power should be different from the procedure when another Party is in power. It is precisely from that point of view that I should like to see the noble Marquess the Leader of the House armed, if I may say so, with this Resolution. It is, as has been said, somewhat vague. It cannot be precise, because it is impossible to apply the same principle to Bills of varied importance. Therefore I think some vagueness is necessary; but if this Resolution is passed it appears to me that the Leader of your Lordships' House will have a weapon in his hands which he can and ought to produce to the Cabinet in order to warn them in time that if Bills are brought up without sufficient time for discussion, such Bills will be at all events considered from the point of view of rejecting them unless time had been given. I think it is strengthening the hands of the Leader of the House to pass a Resolution of this kind, and I am glad to hear from him that he proposes to allow it to pass. When it is passed I do trust, in the interests of this House, that he will do his utmost, in conjunction with his colleagues, to prevent the repetition of the practice of bringing up Bills of importance to this House at the last moment when there is absolutely no time for their consideration.


My Lords, I should like to say a single word in support of the Resolution moved by the noble and learned Lord behind me. It seems to me that argument by word of mouth is scarcely necessary, in view of the document which is in the hands of your Lordships, and which was obtained on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord. It so happens that I have been one of the foremost sufferers in the legislation of the last few years as regards Bills in which I have taken considerable personal interest, representing very much wider interests outside. I have been absolutely precluded from giving expression to those outside views at all, for the reason which the noble and learned Lord has stated. It was his own eloquence, on one memorable occasion to which reference has been made, that induced us, sorely against the grain, to refrain from pressing points which seemed to us to be of paramount importance. I venture to think that the vagueness which has been commented upon as characteristic of the noble and learned Lord's Motion is essential to the practical working of the Motion. If it were more specific and definite it would prove unworkable in practice, but with the elasticity that belongs to its wording as it stands it seems to me it could be used in order to bring pressure elsewhere, and for that reason I welcome its vagueness. It would not leave us absolutely compelled to reject a particular measure, but would justify us, in any case when a measure did not come forward in sufficient time, in showing on what grounds we felt it impossible to go on year by year with the farce of giving Bills to the world with the imprint upon them that they were passed "with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal," when that advice in many instances was markedly wanting.


My Lords, the noble Earl on the Cross Benches detected in this Motion some profound machination on the part of those on the Front Bench, a machination not untainted, I think he said, with a particular kind of opportunism; but let me remind the House that neither of these Motions originated with the Front Bench. We had no concern in their preparation. The noble Earl opposite asked me whether I remained of opinion that a Committee of your Lordships' House might be substituted for that asked for by Lord Newton. I suggested a Committee of your Lordships' House because, knowing that the particular proposal advocated by my noble friend was impossible, I wished to suggest to him what seemed to me, to be the next best means of meeting the difficulty, but he has told us distinctly that that proposal does not meet with his concurrence, and, therefore, so far as he is concerned, I do not consider that I am in any way bound by my offer. If that proposal required a further quietus it was given to it by the speech of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches. I therefore' do not propose to renew that suggestion. As to the Motion of the noble and learned Lord behind me, I have already stated that in our opinion it is one which we could not do otherwise than accept. Let me once more say this to the House, that the Motion is not made in the interests of Ministers. It is a proposal which, I believe, reflects a very deeply- felt sentiment shared on both sides of the House—felt, not only on the two Front Benches, but by every Member of this House who cares for the dignity and reputation of the House of Lords; and as the Resolution expresses the feeling I have so long myself entertained I shall certainly go with my noble and learned friend into the lobby if we divide.


My Lords, I am very sorry that my noble friend who has just sat down has abandoned his proposal for a Committee. It is quite possible that the Committee might not have arrived at a very effective result, but it seems to me it would have been much better to have proceeded by a preliminary inquiry before the House adopted the Motion of the noble and learned Lord. That Motion is very likely to be nothing but a brutum fulmen It is almost certain—indeed, I would venture to say it is quite certain—that many Bills in each session will be passed in spite of that Resolution, and the Resolution, if it were turned into a Standing Order, would necessarily be suspended. I do not think that is a desirable course for this House to adopt; I do not think that the House should take this step of resorting to a strike for purposes which may in the end prove impossible to carry into effect. We all of us recognize— ventured last year to say something on the subject myself—the evil that exits, but the foremost mode of remedying that evil is the capable management of affairs in the House of Commons. That is the real solution of the difficulty, and I am very much afraid that you are not likely to have less difficulties this session in the present state of business in that House than we have had before. Therefore, I venture to say that it would be undesirable at this moment to pass a Resolution of this kind, because it is scarcely consistent with the dignity of this House that we should pass a Resolution couched in strong language if we do not intend to adhere to it. Opponents of Bills on either side which come up to this House, if they wish to avoid declaring their real reason for opposing them, will be enabled to put forward this Resolution as their excuse. That again, I think, would be open to objection; and, so far as I can see, we should do much better to abstain from passing a general Resolution of this kind. The discussion which has taken place to-night, and the language used by my noble friend, will give a warning to those who are responsible for the business of the other House of the feeling which exists here, and of the measures which it is possible this House may feel itself ultimately forced to take; but I confess a general Resolution of this kind, involving the assertion that we will not attend to business sent up after a certain date, does not seem to me to be desirable. If it suited the Government and Parliament to put off the prorogation for a certain time, this House would always have the necessary opportunity for discussing Bills before passing them. It is not a question of any physical impossibility of discussing Bills, it is a question of the general convenience of the House; but I do not think we should put this House in a position to enable it to be said that for our own convenience we had refused to consider measures of importance which had been passed after great consideration in the other House.


those of your Lordships who were here on August 11th and 12th of last year will probably recollect what passed at that time. My noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford has referred to one important Bill—the Out Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill, which drove a great hole through the Poor Law. But there were other Bills before your Lordships' House on August 12th, and when they were brought forward I protested against forcing measures of that kind through by the suspension of the Standing Orders. The first Bill was the Shops Bill, which for the first time in our legislation limited the hours of labour of full-grown men. When the Second Reading was proposed on August 12th I moved the rejection of the Bill and ten Members of this House divided with me against it. They did not go to their grouse guns, but stuck to their guns in this House; and I think their names should be known. They were the Duke of Northumberland, the Duke of Buccleuch, Earl Grey, Viscount Hood, Lord Armstrong, Lord Balfour, Lord Glenesk, Lord Iveagh, Lord Sherborne, and Lord Stalbridge. Your Lordships will observe that the name of my noble and learned friend opposite is not amongst the number. Had he been there we should have had a round dozen in favour of the sound principle of dealing with these important measures at a proper time when there was adequate opportunity for their consideration. I have no doubt that my noble and learned friend was more agreeably employed elsewhere. My noble and learned friend is a sportsman, and probably on August 12th his name was Macgregor and his foot was on his hired heath. I had drafted in the autumn a Resolution I intended to move this session, declaring that in the opinion of this House it is inconsistent with its dignity and position as a deliberative Assembly that important Bills of a contentious nature should be submitted to it in the last days of the session, and declining in future to consider any such measure after July 15th. That Resolution was more clear and definite than the one now under consideration, and it would have forced the other House to send Bills of a contentious character to this House in time for their adequate consideration. I apologise for having trespassed on your Lordships' time, but I have given you a bit of history of which I thought it was well the House should be reminded.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.