§ Order of the Day for Second Reading read.
§ *THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I may state that the Bill is of quite a non-contentious character. Its object is really to obtain statistics of our home production. At the present moment, we have no idea whatever of what is going on with regard to our home trade. As your Lordships are aware, very ample statistics are published regarding the exports and imports of this country, but that is not the case with regard to the home trade. In America since the year 1850 such statistics have been published and in some States, such as Massachusetts, statistics of the kind now asked for have been, issued from an even earlier date. It is not intended to make the inquiry anything like as inquisitorial in this country as is the case in the United States. It is intended to leave out any detail not absolutely necessary for the purpose of the Return, and as regards the schedule which it is intended to draw up we intend to invite representatives of the various trades to come to the Board of Trade before the schedule is actually decided on in order that they may be asked whether they agree to the proposed form or not, and if there is anything to which they do not agree, the Board of Trade will do its best to change it in such a way as to meet the views of the traders. As your Lordships will see, Section 6 makes it quite impossible that the business transactions of any particular firm should be in any way 1230 divulged, and it will be impossible to identify the particular profit or gain of any given firm. The Board of Trade have consulted the representatives of all the trades concerned, and they have come to an agreement on the form of this Bill. I may say that this Bill as presented to your Lordships' House is entirely an agreed Bill, and for these reasons I sincerely trust that your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Granard.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
This Bill is undoubtedly a non-contentious measure, and is indeed a very remarkable Bill, because it is about the only measure upon which all Members of this House, who hold all sorts of opinions on the fiscal question, can cordially join hands. It is undoubtedly an important Bill, and I sincerely hope your Lordships will pass it into law. The noble Lord, in moving the Second Reading, has implied that unless carefully administered, the Bill might be open to the charge of being of an inquisitorial character. That undoubtedly is the fact, and perhaps the clause which, one views with the least satisfaction is the Rules clause, under which the Board of Trade have very wide powers for making regulations for carrying the Bill into effect. But I have such confidence in the discretion of the Board of Trade that I am convinced they will not use the powers under that clause in other than a proper manner. It would perhaps have been a better arrangement if the Rules provided under that clause had not been merely laid before Parliament, but laid before Parliament for a definite period in order that either House might have an opportunity of exercising some control over them. I am sorry to say that in my experience of Parliamentary life a mere direction to lay Rules before Parliament does not amount to very much. There is a process, with which I think the Under-Secretary of State for War is not unfamiliar, of laying things "in dummy" and when things are laid "in dummy" they sometimes do not arrive at a more perfect condition until very 1231 shortly before the Rules are put into force. That is undoubtedly a great abuse, and I should like to ask the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade so admirably in this House whether, at any rate, the first Regulations cannot be laid upon the table for a sufficient period to give Parliament a real control over them before they are brought into force. If we can have an assurance of that kind, it will not be my painful duty to move any Amendment upon the clause.
§ *THE EARL OF GRANARD
I think I can give that assurance. There will be no objection to lay Papers on the Table a sufficient time beforehand to allow of ample opportunity for discussion in both Houses of Parliament before any further census after the present one is taken.
§ Read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.