HL Deb 12 December 1906 vol 167 cc261-7
The LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of Ripon)

My Lords, my noble friend opposite, Lord Lansdowne, asked me the other night to state what were the prospects of bringing the session to a conclusion before Christmas. That is a question which it is really much easier for noble Lords opposite to answer than far myself, because it depends entirely on the length at which they may think it necessary to discuss the various measures that may be presented to them. And there is also another element of uncertainty connected with the Education Bill. It is quite impossible, not knowing the intentions of noble Lords opposite in respect to that measure, to say how long it may occupy your Lordships' attention when it comes back from the House of Commons. It may I go back from one House to the other more than once, and it is, therefore, quite impossible for me to pledge myself as to the length of time the business likely to be before the House will occupy; but I can assure my noble friend that His Majesty's Government are quite as anxious as any noble Lords opposite can be that the session should be brought to a conclusion before Christmas, and that no effort will be wanting on our part to bring about that most desirable conclusion. I am bound to say that while I hope—I make no prophecy, because that is impossible—but while I hope that that result may be produced, it will be impossible to do so unless your Lordships are willing to sit on Friday next from 12 to 3 o'clock, and on the following Friday in the same way. Therefore I repeat the notice which I gave the other day, that at the conclusion of business to-morrow I shall move that this House do sit on Friday at 12 o'clock.


My Lords, the noble Marquess suggests that it is rather for us to decide whether the business of the House shall be got through before the Christmas holidays or not. That is, if I may say so, only a half-truth, because, although no doubt it will be in the power of your Lordships to delay the progress of business by prolonged discussion, it is, on the other hand, in the power of noble Lords opposite to prolong that business indefinitely by bringing, as they have done, fresh measures before us in the last days of the session, measures which we certainly had no reason whatever for believing were included in the Ministerial programme. Then the noble Marquess says with great truth that something must depend upon the fate of the Education Bill, and the amount of your Lordships' time which may or may not be occupied by that measure. There it is quite impossible for me to come to the noble Marquess'sassistance. That Bill is before the House of Commons, and until your Lordships know in what shape it will come back to this House it would clearly be most improper that any intimation should be made by us as to the manner in which the Bill will be dealt with. But, my Lords, the point of the noble Marquess' observations was directed to the claim which he means to make upon our Fridays during the time that will pass between the present date and the Christmas holidays. As to that I venture to adhere to what I said the other evening, that in my belief noble Lords on this side of the House, even at the cost of considerable inconvenience, would be ready to sit on Fridays, but I added that it seemed to me that that sacrifice was one which they ought hardly to be asked to make unless there was at any rate a reasonable prospect of despatching the remaining business before the Christmas holidays begin. In spite of what the noble Marquess said at the beginning of his remarks, it does seem to me that it rests rather with noble Lords opposite than with us to decide whether that business shall be so got through or not.


My Lords, might I repeat a Question which I put the other day, and to which I hope I shall now be successful in getting an Answer. The Question I desire to ask is, What Bills, if any, other than those which are now before the House, does the noble Marquess intend to bring up? The noble Marquess said a good deal depended on Peers on this side of the House as to whether the session can be concluded before Christmas, and he said that for that purpose he intended to ask the House to sit on Fridays. No doubt the House will, as has been intimated by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, when it is so asked, agree to that, if there is any use in agreeing, but if there are to be brought up any more Bills than those now before the House, I do not see how it is possible even if your Lordships sit also on Saturdays, to complete the task before Christmas. I have been a great many years a member of your Lordships' House, but I never recollect a demand made on the time of Parliament like that which has been made on this occasion. Nobody has expressed any impatience, and I am sure no one can say that any undue amount of attention has been given to any Bill before the House; but I think the time has come when any noble Lord would be perfectly within his right in moving that after a certain date we should decline to give consideration to any fresh Bills. Suppose two or three Bills are brought up at the end of next week, is Parliament expected to sit on for an unknown length of time in order that they may be able carefully to consider them? Or, on the other hand, is the House of Lords expected to pass those Bills without any consideration or any reference to the importance of the principles which they involve? I am sure the noble Marquess the Leader of the House would be most unwilling to adopt any course of that kind, because no one has a higher respect for the rights and privileges of this House than he has; but I must say that if anything of that kind is intended, it seems to me that a very serious attack would be made on the rights, and, moreover, on the duties of this House.


My Lords, before the Government reply I should like to say that I associate myself entirely with what has fallen from the noble Earl below the Gangway, and especially if we are to be expected to pass measures without discussion and then to have the taunt afterwards levelled at us that we have acquiesced in them. If we reject a Bill, certainly we do not acquiesce; but if we pass it reluctantly, however, we are told afterwards, as we were told the other evening by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, that we are particeps criminis, and that we have acquiesced in everything that has been done. I think the taunt the other day makes it absolutely necessary that we should have full and adequate opportunity for discussion. I should like to ask the Government, assuming that the House will sit on Friday, what the business will be.


May I ask, before the Government reply, whether there is any prospect of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries being in his place to-morrow, and, if not, whether the Land Tenure Bill; will be taken in his absence?


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord who has just sat down, we hope that my noble friend Lord Carrington will be in his place to-morrow, but I understand that in the unfortunate event of his not being able to be here the Bill will still be taken, the charge of it being in the hands of some other member of the Government. As to what was said by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I do not remember having levelled any taunt against him with regard to the passage of Bills.


The noble Earl told us, when we were objecting to breaches of contract, that we were responsible equally with noble Lords on the Ministerial side of the House in passing a measure which involved a breach of contract.


I am not sure that it was I who made the observation to which the noble Lord refers. I did not intend to level any kind of taunt at the House, nor does anybody on this side expect that measures should be passed without adequate discussion. So far as the business of these autumn sittings has gone, I do not think it is possible in turn to level a taunt by saying that measures have not been adequately discussed. Last night a very important and complicated measure— the Merchant Shipping Bill— received, as we thought, an extremely adequate measure of discussion being dealt with in great detail by your Lordships. Now, as regards the question asked by the noble Earl, there are two measures which have not yet reached the House, and which I think I mentioned in reply to him the other day—the Workmen's Compensation Bill, and the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill—which are no doubt in their different ways of considerable importance. The Third Reading of both of those measures is expected to take place in the House of Commons within the next day or two, and, therefore, I think it is safe to assume that there is no measure, at any rate of anything more than a formal character, which will come up from the House of Commons towards the end of next week. On the general question, my noble friend behind me was, I think, perfectly justified in saying that to some extent it must necessarily be a matter for noble Lords opposite to decide whether or not it is possible for us to rise before Christmas. What my noble friend was anxious to avoid doing was to give an absolute pledge that if we sat on Fridays it would be possible to wind up the session before Christmas. It really was not in his power to make a promise of that kind, and what specially makes it impossible is that nobody knows as yet in what manner the discussion of the Education Bill on its return to this House will take place, or how long a time it will occupy. That fact alone makes it impossible for my noble friend behind me to give an absolute pledge on this subject.


May I ask the noble Earl what is the business for Friday next?


The business which we have put down provisionally for Friday, in addition to the Third Reading of some Private Bills, is the Report Stage of the Town Tenants (Ireland) Bill, and the Report Stage of the Merchant Shipping Bill.


My Lords, there was, I think, an understanding in the House yesterday that the shape of a very important clause in the Town Tenants (Ireland) Bill depended on the shape which a similar clause might take in the Land Tenure Bill. It is perfectly possible that we may not conclude the Committee Stage of the Land Tenure Bill to-morrow, and in that case I presume the noble Earl would not proceed with the Town Tenants Bill on Friday.


I hope that will not occur. I trust we may finish the Committee Stage of the Land Tenure Bill to-morrow, but, if not, there are, I think, three small Bills awaiting Second Reading which are of a non-contentious character, but which no doubt in each case would need a certain amount of explanation. I think it would be well to put those down for Friday.


As I am partly responsible for manning our desolate Benches on this (the Ministerial) side, I should like to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House whether twelve to three o'clock on Friday is to be an arbitrary limit or not, or whether it may mean that at a pinch we may sit, as we did last night, till five minutes past midnight.


I confess that when a shot is fired into me from behind I am in a very difficult position all I can tell my noble friend is this, that I propose that the House should sit from 12 to 3 p.m. I believe that that is the most convenient arrangement, or, perhaps I ought rather to say, the least inconvenient arrangement which I can propose with regard to the matter; and I will say at once, knowing that your Lordships will be put to much inconvenience by sitting on Friday, that I do mean that the business should be brought to a conclusion at three o'clock.