HL Deb 07 August 1905 vol 151 cc318-32

My Lords, in accordance with the notice standing in my name on the Paper, I have to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any of the Bills passed through this House and introduced into the House of Commons are likely to become law; and how far such Bills have been advanced in the House of Commons. I may remind your Lordships that, on April 6th last, this House arrived at the following Resolution— 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 Bills unless sufficient time be afforded for due deliberation thereon. That Resolution was agreed to unanimously, and there was reason to feel that it was not a formal Resolution. There had been great sympathy expressed with it when it was moved; but at a prior date, namely, on February 16th, my noble friend the Leader of the House had made a statement of a very practical character. After expressing sympathy with the Motion which was made for a Return for the purpose of founding the Resolution of April 6th, the noble Marquess said— I may perhaps be permitted to say that having made a very careful note of the feelings expressed in different parts of the House last year on this subject, I represented the matter as strongly as I could to my colleagues, and I am able to tell your Lordships that some of the Bills referred to in the Gracious Speech from the Throne will certainly be introduced in your Lordships' House. I may mention, in particular, that the Workmen's Compensation Bill will certainly be so introduced, and I am in hopes that we may be able to make arrangements for also introducing the Valuation Bill in this House. There is, besides, an important Bill which was omitted, owing to an oversight, from the Speech from the Throne—I mean a Bill dealing with the conditions of service in the Militia, which my noble friend Lord Donoughmore will introduce in this House at an early date. There is also a Bill with regard to Crown Cases Reserved, which the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack intends to introduce, and, I believe, another Bill dealing with Corrupt Practices. I hope, therefore, that I have said enough to convince my noble and learned friend that we are sincere in our desire to give the House those opportunities which he is so anxious should be accorded to us. I can assure my noble friend that he did convince me. I have no doubt that the noble Marquess was perfectly sincere in his desire to give the House those opportunities for consideration which were asked for, but we must look at the facts and see how these good intentions of my noble friend have been dealt with. In pursuance of that statement of the Leader of the House your Lordships proceeded to legislate. Sixteen Bills of considerable importance were introduced into the House, considered, dealt with in detail in Committee, and forwarded to the House of Commons. They were Bills singularly uncontroversial, but yet Bills of great utility. They were not political Bills of the first class—it would, perhaps, be inexpedient that such Bills should be introduced into this House—but they were all Bills dealing with the social and economic life of the country and singularly deserving the attention of Parliament.

What happened? Not only has not one of those Bills been returned to this House, but, as far as my information goes, not one step has been taken in regard to them except the formal step of placing the Bills on the Paper of the House of Commons. Not even the compliment was paid to any one of them of being placed on the sacrificial altar of the Prime Minister. They have been put on one side as if they were of no account and as if no one desired that they should pass into law. I should like to know, if I may ask without displaying any impertinent curiosity, what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack thinks of this treatment of two of the Bills for which he was particularly responsible—the Criminal Cases (Reservation of Points of Law) Bill, and the Prevention of Corruption Bill. Those were Bills very deserving of the attention of Parliament and Bills which would, I think, have been highly approved of by the public. I do not think the noble and learned Lord's Bills have always been treated with very great consideration, but here were two Bills which could scarcely have been in the hands of anyone a matter of controversy and dispute, and they have been treated with supreme contempt, and not the slightest notice has been taken of them. Is there any excuse for this neglect of legislation sent down from this House? It is true that Parliament met late, but I suppose that the date was fixed with due consideration of what was required, and it is not rising unduly early. There was a generous recess at Easter and at Whitsuntide, and there was a week, what the late Lord Salisbury would have called the sacred Ascot week, which was employed, not in passing any of these uncontroversial Bills which would have effected good legislation, but in wasting time and losing time in the discussion of the details of a Bill which has never been heard of since. Are your Lordships to go on passing Bills, are we not even to have the courtesy of acknowledgment of them, or is our work to fall as seed on barren soil and nothing more be seen of it?

I desire to ask the noble Marquess another Question, of which I have given him private notice, which represents a serious matter, because, as we stand now, there will be a clear contravention of the Resolution of April 6th. When the Aliens Immigration Bill and the Churches (Scotland) Bill came to your Lordships' House some twelve or thirteen days before the rising of Parliament I certainly hoped that that would give sufficient time for their consideration, but when the Aliens Immigration Bill was before the House I found that I was in error. As it turned out, there was not time for one Amendment to be moved on that Bill. Lord Belper put down certain Amendments which were needed, or he would not have them put down. They were withdrawn. Why were they withdrawn except it was because there was not time to consider them if the Bill went down amended to the House of Commons?

So we proceeded with that Bill with the knowledge that, however meritorious an Amendment might be, it could not be moved. I do not wish to attach any great practical effect to that, because I did not share the view that many of the Amendments that were proposed ought to be carried. But one Amendment moved by the noble Marquess, Lord Ripon, ought certainly to have been made. Who can doubt that if we had had sufficient time to discuss the Bill, this House would have asserted its right and put in a provision that the rules and regulations made on so important a matter as that which affected the immigration of aliens should be brought to the attention of Parliament? Even the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack stated openly that the rules and regulations would be laid before Parliament. I had thought that it would be difficult for them to be so laid if that requirement would delay the use of the rules in the meantime; but the noble Marquess opposite said quite plainly that he did not suggest for a single moment that the operation of the rules should be delayed, but simply that Parliament should have the rules placed before them. There is nothing of that kind in the Bill. We were compelled to let that Amendment drop because we understood that the Government could not and would not accept it, as there were not enough days in the other House to enable the House of Commons to deal with the Amendment. Therefore, it is proved that the Resolution of April 6th has already been broken, and that sufficient time has not been afforded to this House for the proper consideration of the measures brought up to it.

This session has not yet ended, and we have a most important Bill still to come before us—the Unemployed Workmen Bill. That is a Bill which the Members of this House are eminently capable of dealing with. Late on Friday night a provision was inserted applying the Bill to Scotland. I believe there are many Scottish Peers who are desirous of discussing that application. What is our position in regard to this Bill? At this very moment the House of Commons, if I may use the term, is hammering away at the Bill, and a few minutes ago they were dividing upon it. It is impossible, the House of Commons now being only in Committee, that we can have the Bill before Tuesday. I am told that Parliament will certainly not sit later than Friday. Where is now the possibility of our discussing that important Bill? In February last my noble friend Lord Lansdowne said that he had consulted with his colleagues as to this evil. May I ask him if he has during this session consulted his colleagues on this matter; has he placed before them the case of this House and the detriment which it is sustaining, and has he protested against our power of legislation being treated as a nullity? Can there be any excuse for the position in which we are placed? I make no apology for calling your Lordships' attention to this matter. It does not affect the Party in power or any particular Party. It is a matter of great and grievous complaint that is felt by individual Members of this House and the House collectively. We may be told we can do but little; that is true; but we can make our protest against being placed in the position of accomplices in effecting the degradation of Parliament and in lowering the efficiency and credit of this House.


My Lords, whether the noble Marquess will be able to answer the Question satisfactorily or not, I feel bound to state that, so far as I can see, it does not seem altogether fair to blame him for the present state of affairs. The noble Marquess, after all, has done his best to fulfil our wishes. He gave a pledge last year that he would see what could be done, and he undertook to introduce Bills in this House. Well, the noble Marquess has carried out his promise. He did introduce Bills, and, as has been pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, they were Bills of considerable importance. It certainly does not appear to me fair to charge him with the crime of being responsible for the loss of these Bills when they went elsewhere.


I certainly made no such charge.


I quite understood that. I am only anticipating such a charge being made. It occurs to me, therefore, that if there is a real culprit it is no less a personage than the Prime Minister himself. The other thing which is apparent as regards what has passed during the present session is that under present circumstances it is clearly impossible for any Government to pass more than one or two Bills of any first-rate importance.


That is too many.


My noble friend below me says that that is too many. The ideal state of things no doubt, in his opinion, would be that no legislation should be passed at all. We must assume, at all events, that one or two important measures will be passed under ordinary circumstances, and when I observe, as I did the other day, that this somewhat exiguous legislative outcome is jeered at by the Opposition, I very much doubt whether, when they come into office, they will achieve anything more substantial in the way of legislation unless they pass a number of Bills through the House of Commons with the object of getting them rejected here. This annual farce, or harlequinade, with which we terminate the legislative business of the session derives some point on this occasion from the fact that my noble and learned friend induced the House, certainly against my view, to pass what I can only term a sort of blood-and-thunder Resolution in the earlier portion of this session. What is the result? In spite of this Resolution we have swallowed the Aliens Bill practically at two sittings, and I presume we shall be expected to digest the Unemployed Workmen Bill in all its stages in one or two sittings.

I confess, my Lords, I do not think we shall ever do any good by passing Resolutions of this character, for it seems to me that we have not got the courage to carry them out. I have always urged a conciliatory course, and I believe we shall never do any good until we rearrange the session, and the first step preparatory to any change of that kind is to consult with the other House and endeavour, by amicable arrangement, to see if it is not possible for the House of Commons to get through their business in such a way that we may be given an opportunity of expressing our legitimate opinions on such Bills as are sent up to us. A rearrangement of the method of taking Supply would probably make a considerable difference, and it might result—in all probability it would result—in Bills being sent up here in time for us adequately to discuss them.


My Lords, before the noble Marquess replies to the Question which has been put to him by Lord James I should like to say how entirely I endorse every single word that has fallen from him as to the humiliating position in which we are placed in reference to Bills that are politically uncontroversial, but in regard to which many of your Lordships, and not least those who sit on the Episcopal Bench, are keenly interested. I have received in the last few days letters and telegrams from Bishops in different parts of England, and even abroad, stating their readiness to come back at once in order to take part in discussing Bills which we expected to be before us at this time, and I have been in the humiliating position of replying that the Government had intimated that either the Bills were not to be proceeded with or that we were absolutely precluded from moving any Amendments to them. I am not blaming the noble Marquess the Leader of this House. The fault lies elsewhere; but that there is fault somewhere nobody can possibly deny who desires to maintain—I was going to say the English Constitution, but certainly the dignity and honour of the Upper House of the Legislature. I should like to express with all the weight that I can possibly give to the words my sense of the position in which the House of Lords is placed while that Party in the State is in power which is supposed to be especially careful of its honour, character, and reputation, and of the way in which, at this moment, this House is being degraded and its Members deprived even of the opportunity of making their voices heard on subjects of vital importance, except they wish that their words may vanish in the air in so far as any practical effect of their efforts is concerned. I think this deeply concerns the reputation of His Majesty's Government as a whole and of any Government under whom such things can take place, and I hope before another session we shall have this matter placed in a different position.


My Lords, perhaps it will be convenient if I speak before the noble Marquess replies. I feel bound to raise my voice in support of the view which has been put forward by my noble and learned friend opposite. It is an annual matter that I, or anyone who stands in my position, should rise at this time of the year and make a protest as to the manner in which the business of Parliament is conducted. But it is a matter of duty, because we on this side of the House are, I hope, just as tenacious of the dignity of the House, and of the importance of its debates being carried out in an effective manner, as any of the noble Lords who are in office. What we want to try to secure is that this House should not be a mere House to record the decisions of the other House and the proposals of His Majesty's Government, but a real House of Revision. It is of the greatest importance that this power of revision should be maintained, and I venture to think that this House is in great jeopardy of losing that power of revision.

I at once admit, with the noble and learned Lord, that this is not an attack on the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. It is an exceedingly difficult matter, and difficult particularly in this respect, that the business on certain Bills in this House is almost entirely connected with the manner in which business is conducted in another place. It is not for us to go in detail into the question of how the other House conducts its business. I have heard it stated that the Opposition have been responsible for a good deal of the difficulty. If that means that the Opposition, in conducting their part of the discussions in another place, have improperly obstructed the business of the other House, I entriely deny that that has been the case in the present session.

I believe there have been cases in which the leaders in the other House have admitted that during protracted debates there has not been undue discussion, and, therefore, there could not have been obstruction. The noble Marquess engaged to press on his colleagues that they should take steps to remedy this evil by sending up Bills at an earlier period. We have very little doubt, from what we know of him, that he carried out his promise, but I fear he will admit that he has not been in any way successful. The fact, as stated by the noble and learned Lord who called attention to this question, that sixteen Bills have been sent from this House to the House of Commons, and not one of them has come back, is a very serious position of affairs. I think it must be admitted that in consequence of action taken on this side of the House last year on the Finance Bill we have improved the position with regard to that measure. Last year the Finance Bill was brought up as late as July 29th, and, if your Lordships remember, we were told that if the Bill was not passed before August 1st there would be very serious difficulty in collecting the taxes. On this side of the House—though I did not take a leading part in the protest, having to a certain extent pledged myself in the matter to the noble Marquess—there was a very serious protest made by many of my friends, and in consequence of that protest the Bill could not be passed before August 1st. I must congratulate His Majesty's Government upon the fact that this year, instead of the Finance Bill being brought up on July 29th, it was brought up on June 29th, and, therefore, we did not have the difficulty in regard to that Bill which we had last year.

I fully admit that there is always a difficulty with regard to big measures. It is a difficulty which is very much greater with us when we are in office. We have always felt that if we had a great measure which was likely to arouse considerable opposition in this House it would be futile to bring it up before it had the backing of majorities in the other House; but His Majesty's present Government are in a different position To some extent they may wish to have the opinion of the other House before presenting an important Bill here, but still they can carry almost any Bill in this House which they present. A few Bills have been brought forward first in this House this session. We have had, I believe, three important Bills, but none of them have made progress elsewhere. One of those Bills was the Service of Militiamen Bill. That Bill, I understand, has been dropped. You may flatter us by saying that the arguments used against the Bill in this House had the effect of convincing the Government that the Bill should not proceed, but I do not think they will admit that. This is one important Bill which has passed this House but not been proceeded with in the other House. Then there was the very singular debate we had in Committee on the Aliens Bill. That was a measure which the Government thought was of first-rate importance, because it was put forward in front of many other Bills which seemed to the public of far greater importance. It was closured on many occasions in the House of Commons, and some of the most important clauses were not discussed there at all. When it came up to your Lordships' House the Government showed that they considered certain Amendments necessary, for there were several Amendments placed on the Paper in the name of Lord Belper. The Government, however, abstained from bringing forward any one of those Amendments. Then, as my noble and learned friend opposite said, there were several Amendments moved from this side of the House which were merely carrying out the declared opinions of the Government—opinions expressed by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, and by Lord Belper. We only wished to have things clearly understood and expressed in the Bill, and those Amendments were also refused by His Majesty's Government.

It is, I think, a very serious state of things to have a Bill which was not thoroughly discussed in the House of Commons, brought up to this House and closured in the sense that no Amendments were allowed upon it. I wish to protest as earnestly as I can against the position in which this House is placed, and I would urge the importance of impressing on His Majesty's Government in the other House the great necessity of allowing Bills to come up here at a proper time. I do not know whether there will be any serious opposition to the Unemployed Workmen Bill, but there certainly ought to be opportunities of discussing that measure and of bringing forward Amendments upon it. I hope that the noble Marquess will be able to give us some assurance that if His Majesty's Government are in office next session they will take care that measures from the other House are brought up here in such time that your Lordships' House can have a reasonable opportunity of thoroughly considering them and of making any Amendments which they may think it necessary to insert.


My Lords, my difficulty in replying to the speeches which have been addressed to your Lordships this evening arises from the fact that I am very much in agreement with most of the arguments which have been addressed to us. I can say, in all sincerity, that there is no Member of this House who deplores more than I do that our opportunities of taking a useful part in the legislation of Parliament should not be greater than they are. I am glad that it has, at any rate, been admitted that the pledge which I gave to your Lordships' House last year, and again in the beginning of the present session, has been to this extent redeemed, that several important measures were introduced in your Lordships' House, but I am afraid that I must admit that the result has been entirely disappointing. These measures, together with many other measures which have passed through your Lordships' House, have not been further advanced in the other House of Parliament, and I assume that when my noble and learned friend put his Question upon the Paper he was perfectly well aware that I could give only one Answer, and that a most unsatisfactory one, to it. I must say that I do not know that it makes much difference whether these Bills were interred with a suitable funeral oration on the occasion of the annual massacre of the innocents, or whether they have been allowed, as some of these Bills were allowed, to pass silently into oblivion.

Your Lordships should remember that it is not this House alone which suffers from the conditions under which business is at present transacted. If our legislative harvest has been disappointing, the harvest of the House of Commons has not been much better. I am asked what excuse there is for this state of things. I do not think you can lay the blame upon His Majesty's Government, certainly not upon anything that has been done or undone by this House. I do not know whether your Lordships noticed a statement that was made a week ago by the Prime Minister with regard to the manner in which the time of the House of Commons had been occupied during the present session. That statement was a remarkable and suggestive one. It went to show that there were, altogether, ninety days in which Government business had priority; that out of those, owing to the time taken by debates on the Address, on the Budget, on the Finance Bill, and on Supply (which took no less than thirty-seven days), there remained only a balance of twenty days available for the purposes of legislation. That is a very serious state of things, and it is not one which could be mitigated by the addition of a week at the beginning or at the end of the session. The difficulty lies much deeper than that, and it is this state of things which also leads to the fact that even in the case of those Bills which reach this House we are invariably afforded an inadequate allowance of time for the discussion of their details.

My noble and learned friend spoke of the Aliens Bill. Well, my Lords, that Bill was not one of those measures which come up to the House in the last moment of the session, because it was read a first time on July 20th. My impression is that the Second Reading was put off, and also the Committee stage, in deference to wishes expressed by Members of the House, and for the convenience of the House; but my noble and learned friend suggested that when the Aliens Bill came here we absolutely refused to entertain the idea of making any Amendments in it. Now, I think I must say, in fairness to those of us who sit here, that the Amendments which we did object to and against which we divided were in every case Amendments which struck at the very root of the Bill. I take, for example, the Amendment of the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition. He desired that the premises to be provided for the examination of immigrants should be provided at the public expense. That was a question of principle, and we could not listen to his proposal. Again, there were the Amendments moved by Lord Coleridge. Lord Coleridge desired to substitute for the simple and expeditious procedure which we had proposed a Court of summary jurisdiction with appeal to another Court of law. It was impossible for us to entertain that proposal. Then, again, another noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, moved an Amendment which would have obliged us to strike out of the Bill the clause dealing with the question of overcrowding. That, to our mind, was a matter of the greatest importance. I mention those merely to show that if we resisted these Amendments it was not because we had a parti pris against all Amendments, but because we really found that they were of a kind we could not entertain.

The noble Earl said, "Why, then, did Lord Belper not press the Government Amendments?" Well, my Lords, Lord Belper's Amendments were, as he told the House, drafting Amendments, and we were, I think, perfectly within our right to say that we preferred not to introduce those drafting Amendments in order that we might avoid another stage of the Bill, and the delay which would be consequent upon it. Then there was the Amendment moved by Lord Ripon, to which reference was also made. Lord Ripon's proposal was that the rules and regulations made under the Bill were to be laid upon the Table of the House, and an assurance was given from this bench that they would be so laid. That did not quite content noble Lords opposite, who wished that we should insert in the Bill a clause compelling us to lay the rules and regulations on the Table. Surely it would not have been worth sending the Bill back to the House of Commons in order to insert an Amendment of that kind, dealing with rules which your Lordships will remember are published by the King's printers, and are the property of anybody who chooses to look at them.

I was asked whether we should adopt a similar policy in the case of the Un- employed Bill, which is now on its way to your Lordships' House. Obviously, it would be most improper, before a Bill is on the Table of the House, that I should undertake to say how we shall deal with any Amendments which may be proposed. I have said these few words in defence of our conduct in regard to an important measure, but when I say them I do not wish for a moment to suggest that the state of things to which attention has been drawn this evening is not a very serious one and does not demand the attention, not only of His Majesty's Government, but of both Houses of Parliament, because, as my noble friend Lord Newton told us, unless we can get both Houses of Parliament to address themselves to a solution of this problem it certainly will not be solved. I am afraid all that I can add to what I have already said on this subject is that I will take care that the weighty words which have been addressed to the House are duly considered by His Majesty's Government, and, as far as any influence which I possess is concerned, I certainly say that I will spare no efforts to secure the full and careful consideration of this problem in the hope that it may not be beyond our power to discover some solution satisfactory to your Lordships and conducive to the efficiency and dignity of your Lordships' House.