§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
rose to call attention to the list of measures enumerated in His Majesty's gracious Speech on the occasion of the opening of Parliament; and to ask whether His Majesty's Government were able to give any information as to the time at which those measures, or any of them, were likely to be brought before this House.
The noble Marquess said
My Lords, I make no apology for addressing to the noble Marquess opposite the Question which I have put upon the Paper. I need not say that I ask it from no idle 173 curiosity, nor do I ask it merely in the interest of this House. I ask it on the broadest public grounds. I have said in my Notice that I will call attention to the list of measures enumerated in the gracious Speech from the Throne at the beginning of the session. Let me remind your Lordships what those measures were. That part of the Speech in which legislative proposals are dealt with begins with the announcement that His Majesty's Government—have under consideration plans for improving and effecting economies in the system of government in Ireland and for introducing into it means for associating the people with the conduct of Irish affairs.Immediately afterwards comes the statement that—the social and economic conditions of the rural districts in Great Britain require careful consideration;and that —inquiries are proceeding as to the means by which a larger number of the population may be attracted to and retained on the soil.And we are told that these inquiries will be completed at no distant date. These statements stop short of a positive announcement of legislation. They are, if I may say so, of a somewhat nebulous character; and I shall assume, unless the noble Marquess opposite contradicts me, that neither of the measures thus broadly sketched out is, so far as this year at all events is concerned, likely to be heard of in Parliament.
I pass on to the list of measures which are categorically promised. First comes a Bill for amending the existing law with regard to education. Then Bills are promised dealing with trade disputes, with the amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, with the further equalisation of rates in the Metropolis, and for amending the Unemployed Workmen Act. We are also told that the attention of Parliament will be called to measures dealing with the Merchant Shipping Law, to measures for amending and extending the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act, for amending the Labourers (Ireland) Act, for checking commercial corruption, for improving the law regarding certain Colonial marriages, for abolishing the property qualification required of County Justices in England, and for the prevention of plural voting in Parliamentary elections.
174 That is, I think I may say, a momentous programme of legislation for a single session of Parliament, and it is interesting to consider how many courses of this great legislative feast have up to the present time appeared on the Table of your Lordship's House. The measures which I have enumerated are, I think, a dozen in number. I should say, roughly speaking, that seven of them are of first-rate importance, and the other five, though certainly not without importance, are rather of the second rank. During the five months that have passed since we met at the beginning of the session, your Lordships' have had before you only three of those twelve measures, all three belonging to what I ventured to describe a moment ago as the second rank. I refer to the Bill dealing with commercial corruption, the Bill dealing with Colonial marriages, and the Bill dealing with the qualification of Justices of the Peace. We have also had before us a Bill not mentioned in the gracious Speech dealing with the important question of criminal appeal. The position is this: There still remain two of the measures of lesser importance, and the whole of the seven larger measures, none of which has so far come near this House: and my object in asking this Question is to endeavour to elicit from the noble Marquess what opportunities of considering this long series of important Bills the House of Lords is likely to be given during the course of the present year.
We have not infrequently had complaints of the manner in which business has been brought before this House. I have felt myself bound to admit with the noble Marquess opposite, that on frequent occasions the House of Lords has been put into a very undignified position owing to the practice of bringing up important Bills in the last days, or even in the last hours of the session, when it was quite impossible to examine them as they deserved to be examined.
But, my Lords, what have been the reasons which have made this unfortunate practice to some extent inevitable? I think there have been three reasons. In the first place, it has always been usual to introduce important Bills in the House of Commons; in the next place, the House of Commons has, as years went by, shown a greater and greater desire to spend a considerable time in the discussion of such 175 Bills; and, in the third place, the difficulty has been occasioned by the universal desire of Members of both Houses to get away from London when the summer weather became hot and unpleasant. I put it upon that ground because I desire to dispute the correctness of the time-honoured theory which explains the date of the prorogation with reference, to the commencement of the grouse shooting season. I have an idea that the Houses of Parliament will be found to contain a large majority of gentlemen who perhaps have never seen a grouse, and who certainly would not hit a grouse if they saw one; and it is entirely erroneous to ascribe our hurry to terminate our proceedings to a desire to take part in that admirable field sport.
This year, my Lords, that difficulty does not arise, for we are to have an autumn session. I, for one, am certainly not going to complain of the decision of His Majesty's Government. I have always believed that there was a great deal to be said in favour of habitual autumn sessions. To my mind the only serious objection to them is that they encroach upon the one period of the year when hard-worked Ministers and hard-worked public officers are able to devote themselves steadily, and without interruption, to the preparation of the measures which have to be considered in Parliament the following year. But, so far as what I may call the lay members of this House are concerned, I do not believe that many of us would object to autumn sessions, but upon one condition, and I upon one condition only, and that is that at the end of the autumn session we should not be placed in the same embarrassing and undignified position as we have sometimes been placed in at the end of the summer session. We have, therefore, I venture to think, a right to ask His Majesty's Government what steps they are taking in order to secure the work of this House being properly distributed during the months that lie before us.
Now, may I be permitted for a moment I to take stock of the work that lies ahead of us. There is, in the first place, the Education Bill. The noble Marquess, the. Leader of the House, has been good enough to intimate privately to me that we cannot expect- to take that Bill until, the 31st of this month. We shall receive it, so to speak, red-hot from the House 176 of Commons. We shall have very little opportunity of considering the alterations which it may have undergone during the last days of its discussion, and we shall have to choose between a very hurried debate in the early days of August and a prolongation of the session further into that month. The first Question, therefore, which I wish to ask the noble Marquess is this: Are we to take it that July 31st, is really the earliest day on which we can have the Bill, and, in addition to that, may we understand that we shall certainly have it on that day, and that we shall not find at the last moment that the date of its consideration is still further relegated into the month of August?
The second Question which I desire to ask is whether there is any prospect of any other Bills beside the Education Bill coming to us before we adjourn for the summer holidays. In the third place, I wish to ask whether His Majesty's Government have yet decided at what date in the month of October they desire to call Parliament together again. The fourth Question which I have to ask is, I think, more important still—namely, whether His Majesty's Ministers have formed any idea or can give any sketch of the manner in which the remainder of the session, including the autumn session, is to be turned to account.
I will assume for the sake of argument that we meet in the middle of October and sit until the middle of December. That would give us, roughly speaking, about thirty-six Parliamentary days according to the ordinary custom of this House. Has the noble Marquess conferred with his colleagues in the House of Commons, and is he able to tell us with any confidence that during that time, or approximately that time,, there is any prospect of each of the two Houses of Parliament being able to deal satisfactorily with the long series of important measures which I enumerated to the House just now? Even if it be assumed, and I do not know whether I am right in assuming it, that His Majesty's Government intend to take up the whole time of the House of Commons after the holidays, I would still like to know where the House of Lords comes in.
If we try and project our minds into the autumn months, the prospect seems to me to be of the most appalling character.
177 Take the Education Bill. It is quite clear that the Second Reading debate, for the reason I gave a moment ago, must be in some respects a somewhat hurried and unsatisfactory discussion, A considerable number of the provisions of the Bill will come here without having been discussed at all in the House of Commons. Now, is it not perfectly obvious in these circumstances that if the House consents to read the Bill a second time it will be the duty of the House of Lords to examine it and to discuss it very thoroughly indeed? I go further. It seems to me inconceivable that a Bill, the Parliamentary history of which has been that which I have just attempted to give, should pass through this House entirely without amendment. We should abdicate our position as a chamber of revision if we did not discuss the Bill with the object and with the intention of amending it wherever amendment might prove to be necessary. Is it not also conceivable that there may be some want of agreement between the two Houses as to Amendments so inserted, and, if so, does it not follow that that Bill at all events will make a very large inroad upon the Parliamentary time of both Houses?
I will merely refer in the fewest possible words to the remaining Bills. The Trade Disputes Bill has not yet been through Committee of the other House. I may remind the noble Marquess that with the support and approval of His Majesty's Government a Second Reading was given to a rival Bill dealing with the same subject; so that there is not one Bill, but two, which will have to be examined and considered. The Work men's Compensation Bill is of a highly technical character. It took three days for the First and Second Reading, and was no less than twelve days under examination before the Standing Committee on Law. It has not yet been through Committee of the House of Commons. That obviously is a Bill which must take some time to discuss. The promised Bill for the equalisation of rates has not even been introduced. The Merchant Shipping Bill has not yet been through Committee of the House of Commons. That Bill is one in regard to which, as we have seen from the discussion that has just taken place, we may expect important debates. The Plural 178 Voting Bill has not been through Committee of the House of Commons I understand that the drafting of the measure has been very severely criticised, and it is at any rate one of an extremely controversial character. The Crofters Bill has not been introduced, and the Labourers (Ireland) Bill has still to go through Committee.
Then I come to the Unemployed Bill. That Bill has not been even introduced, but I understand that a statement of the policy of His Majesty's Government upon the subject is likely to be made before long in the House of Commons. I want to say one word, and, if I may, to strike a note of warning with regard to the Unemployed Bill. I do trust that that Bill will not be thrown upon the Table of this House late in the winter, at a time when it would be impossible for us adequately to examine it. That would be a moment when, if there is any serious amount of unemployment and any apprehension of difficulty during the winter, it would be most unfortunate that this House should have the appearance of obstructing or putting difficulties in the way of a Bill dealing with the subject of unemployment.
I have said nothing of so called Departmental Bills, of which I presume there must be a certain number; nor have I made any allowance for any private Members' Bills which His Majesty's Government may determine to take up; but I ask your Lordships whether the resume of the situation I have given is not one which may well give us some cause for apprehension. I therefore do beg the noble Marquess opposite, if he can do so, to give us some information as to the plan which he and his colleagues have before them for the remainder of the session. The noble Marquess has always been a vigorous champion of the rights of this House, and I would venture to remind him of a discussion which took place here two years ago when he complained, not without reason, I think, of the treatment of this House, and made suggestions for the improvement of a state of things which we all admitted to lie unsatisfactory. The noble Marquess then suggested, in, the first place, that more Bills ought to originate in the House of Lords —an excellent suggestion—and he went on to say that, in his opinion, Government Bills were kept on the Order Paper of the House of Commons long after they had 179 any chance of passing, and his advice was that the Order Paper should be cleared earlier of such Bills. I trust that the noble Marquess will maintain the principles he advocated in 1904, and apply them to the present situation. I hope he will give us the information which we seek, and that he will, at any rate, be able to tell us that we shall not be asked to superimpose upon an ordinary session of the usual length a second session in the autumn, only to find that at the end of it we are called upon to discuss precipitately and with indecent haste measures which it has been impossible for us to consider properly. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess OF RIPON)
My Lords, I am glad my noble friend who has just sat down recognises that I have always been a champion of the rights of this House; but the noble Marquess must recollect that I have always been very pessimistic in the matter. On the occasion to which he has alluded I did not express any large hope as to the possibilities of greatly altering the condition of affairs of which we were all inclined to complain. One of the propositions which I made on that occasion—namely, that more Bills should be introduced in this House—I distinctly said could only be carried out by a Conservative Government. I did say that when the Conservatives were sitting on this side of the House they could introduce Bills here in the first instance which it would be impossible for a Liberal Government to introduce. I adhere to that opinion, although I spoke on that occasion to the winds, and did not observe the slightest inclination on the part of noble Lords opposite when they sat on this side of j the House to take the advice which I humbly tendered to them.
I am quite ready to answer, as far as I can, the Question which has been put to me by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. I am not surprised that my noble friend should put this Question, and I make no complaint whatever of his having done so. At the same time I do think that his inquiries would have been more appropriate if made, not at the end of a part of a session, but at the real end of a session, when the prorogation is pending. As regards the Education Bill, I quite agree as to the import- 180 ance of that measure; and I am quite as desirous as the noble Marquess opposite is, and as anyone in this House can be, that the Bill when it comes here should be carefully and fully discussed. I am sorry that the Bill cannot get here before the 30th of this month. That, I believe is the arrangement in the House of Commons in connection with what is called the guillotine—an institution of which I am no admirer, but which I am afraid has come to stay amongst us. I am afraid that the Education Bill cannot be read a third time in the House of Commons before July 30th.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
It cannot be read a third time in the House of Commons until the 30th, and I desire to confer with my noble friend as to what would be the best course to take with it when it has passed the other House. I have looked into the course which was pursued by noble Lords opposite when they were in office in 1902. They then had an Education Bill. That Bill was finally discussed in an autumn session. The course taken with regard to it was this: it passed the House of Commons at about midnight on December 3rd. A few Members of this House—unhappy victims-—sat here until after midnight to enable the Bill to be brought up. The Bill was introduced and read a first time at about a quarter past 12 o'clock that night. The Second Reading was taken on the following day. There were two days debate, on December 4th and 5th, and the Second Reading was then passed.
I confess that that is not a rate of proceeding which I should be inclined to propose to this House. I think it was very rapid. It gave very little time to this House in which to consider a very important measure. But if it should be the pleasure of the House that we should follow that precedent, if it should be the pleasure of the House that the Bill should come up here at midnight on July 30th and then be read a first time, and that the Second Reading debate should be commenced on Tuesday, July 31st, I shall not offer any opposition. But I should not think of proposing such a course. If, however, it would meet the wishes of noble Lords that that course should be taken, and if my noble 181 friend opposite, on consideration, thinks that that course would be most convenient to the House, I certainly shall offer no opposition. I desire that the Bill on Second Reading should be fully discussed. My colleagues and I are perfectly ready to sit here until the Bill has been—that is, if your Lordships are pleased to read it a second time—until the Bill has been read a second time; but we are all mortal, and share the feelings of noble Lords opposite. If we are going to have an autumn session in October we do not wish to stay here any longer in August than is necessary; but, whatever time may suit the convenience of the House for a full and adequate discussion of the Bill on Second Reading, that time we are prepared to give.
I now come to the other points. My noble friend has gone through the list of Bills that were mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. With regard to the preliminary matters, which cannot be spoken of as measures, I will say nothing. But, in respect to the Bills, I am quite ready to answer my noble friend's inquiries. I will take the Workmen's Compensation Bill. That Bill has passed through the Standing Committee. I do not expect that it will be in this House before October. That is a Bill upon a subject which was dealt with in this House last year. The late Government had a Workmen's Compensation Bill, and that Bill was discussed very fully in your Lordships' House, but it was withdrawn by the then Government in the House of Commons. Then, with respect to the Merchant Shipping Bill, I expect that measure will be in this House before the adjournment. I am told that it is likely to be here about August 2nd. Of course, your Lordships will not be asked to touch that Bill before the adjournment. Then with regard to the Marine Insurance Bill. That Bill is making progress and may also be in this House before the adjournment, so as to be quite ready when we meet again in October. The Prevention of Corruption Bill originated in this House, and is under discussion in the House of Commons. The Labourers (Ireland) Bill is not likely to be in this House before October, but that is a Bill in a very peculiar position, because it is blessed alike by the Nationalist Members and by Colonel Saunderson, and, therefore, it is just possible that it 182 may not create a great deal of opposition in this House.
Then we come to the Trade Disputes Bill. There is some chance—I will not go further than that — that that Bill may come up to us before the adjournment, and may be ready for consideration; whenever we choose to take it in October. Then there is the Plural Voting Bill, which will not come up to this House before October; and, although my noble friend stated that that was a very contentious Bill, it is, at all events, very short, and not likely to occupy any very great length of time when it does come up. The Colonial Marriages Bill has gone down to the House of Commons,, where I have no doubt it will be passed. With regard to the Equalisation of Rates Bill, I am inclined to think that that Bill is not likely to be introduced at present. As to the Unemployed Bill, my noble friend does not really expect me to say anything at this moment. He has rightly mentioned that a statement is about to be made by my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board at an early date; and it would be entirely out of place that I should in any form anticipate the statement which Mr. John Burns will then make. As regards the Crofters Bill, it. is intended to introduce it, and, if possible, to pass it during the present session. The County Justices Bill has been passed. That is the present state of affairs. No doubt there will be several important Bills offered to this House for consideration during the two months of the autumn session, from early in October to the middle of December. I hope they will be here in time to receive full consideration. I can give no pledge on that subject, because the uncertainties of Parliamentary discussions are well known to all of us. I quite agree with my noble friend that the Education Bill in Committee will take a very considerable time, but if you read the Bill a second time before the adjournment you can proceed with the Committee stage at once when you meet again, and you can go through the Committee stage, as I hope you will, steadily until you have brought it to a conclusion. It will take some time, but it will not take two months. Therefore, I still venture to think that, important as these measures are, looking at them altogether, looking to their nature, 183 looking to the fact that some of them have been considered beforehand in this House, your Lordships will be enabled to give a reasonable amount of attention to them within the limits of the autumn session. I can say no more. No man can say with certainty what may be the fate of any measure in either House of Parliament as to the matter of time, but I can truly say to my noble friend that my desire that this House should have every opportunity of discussing every Bill which is submitted to it is just the same as it ever has been, and anything I can do to facilitate the arrival of these Bills here in time to be discussed will certainly be done.
§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
My Lords, I I hope the noble Marquess will excuse my asking another question—namely, whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to support a Bill which is now passing through the House of Commons, and which will give rise to a great deal of discussion in this House—I refer to the Land Tenure Bill. It is a measure which was introduced by a gentleman after being a fortnight in the House, but whose seat is now vacant. Much interest has been shown in that Bill by members of the Government and by the head of the Administration, and I wish to ask whether the Government propose to support the Bill and bring it into this House when the House of Commons have finished with it.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is satisfied, but to my mind the reply which has been given by the Leader of the House is singularly unsatisfactory. In the first place, it is couched in the old pot-and-kettle vein, if I may be allowed to use so vulgar an expression, into which debates on this particular subject usually descend. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition enumerated a long list of measures which still appear on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. As far as I could gather from the statement of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, only one of these measures is to be dropped—namely, the Equalisation of | Rates Bill, and that is balanced by the statement which the noble Marquess let drop that another Bill which had escaped the notice of my noble friend the Leader 184 of the Opposition is coming up—namely, the Marine Insurance Bill.
What, I take it, was really in the mind of the noble Marquess who raised this discussion was this. As everybody knows, the House of Commons will be occupied with the Education Bill until practically the end of this part of the session. Whether we are going to read the Education Bill a second time before we adjourn or not nobody appears at this moment to know; but what is fairly obvious is this, that our discussion of the Education Bill in Committee will occupy the greater part of the autumn session, for, as the noble Marquess pointed out, there will only be thirty-six Parliamentary days available. What is going to happen in the other House meanwhile? Our time during the autumn session will be almost entirely occupied with the Education Bill, and what I feel curious about is this—What other measures out of this long list are going to be forced through by means of the gag, the guillotine, and the other instruments of torture which are available to the Government?
I have always been in favour of autumn sessions myself; yet our position is apparently not going to be very materially improved. The only difference will be in point of temperature. We shall have to discuss these measures, and presumably will be expected to pass them, within what appears to be an extremely limited period of time; and, if it is only a question of time, it does not make very much difference whether that time is taken in August or October, though personally I prefer the latter alternative. But the principle remains precisely the same. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has before now supported me in those feeble and ineffective protests which I have occasionally made against the way in which business is conducted in this House. The noble Marquess gave us to understand plainly that, if he ever had the management of affairs, the rights and privileges of this House would be more carefully guarded than they appear to have been during recent years.
Now, what is the result? So far as we can see, our position is not going to be improved in the very smallest degree. I confess, after the statements to which I have alluded—the statements which have. 185 been so frequently made, not only by the noble Marquess opposite, but by his colleagues who sit beside him—I am greatly surprised to see him adopt this attitude, and the more so in view of the fact that, in consequence of the high respect he has for this House and by his advice, a large number of new .Members have recently been added to it. I submit that, if only out of respect for the newly made Peers, the noble Marquess might make some honest effort to see that our rights are better safeguarded. From that point of view, at all events, the statement elicited from the noble Marquess is of an extremely unsatisfactory nature.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
My Lords, it must be confessed that the noble Lord who has just sat down takes an altogether too pessimistic view as to the course of the Education Bill during the autumn. I can hardly conceive that, with the best intentions, we should spend nearly two months in discussing the Committee stage of that Bill and on Third Reading. I also think that my noble friend—I am sure quite unconsciously—misrepresented the statement of my noble friend the Leader of the House when in Opposition. I never remember hearing my noble friend say what he would do when he came into power with regard to the usual proceedings at the end of the session. I have, however, heard the noble Marquess make a speech which closely resembled that made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and I have not the slightest doubt that when once more the wheel of fate goes round and we find ourselves sitting on the Benches opposite, we shall hear the noble Marquess the present Leader of the House make a similar speech to that which has been made to-night by the noble Marquess opposite.
But I do not rise to lament over the congested state of business which, unfortunately, obtains in this House at the end of every session. I rise merely to endorse what I have always held to be the most practical suggestion With regard to the alleviation of these difficulties—a suggestion which has the approval, I understand, of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. I refer to the suggestion that more Bills should be introduced into your Lordships' House in the first instance.
186 I do not take the same pessimistic view as the noble Marquess the Leader of the House as to the fate of Bills so introduced in the event of a Liberal Government being in power. I believe that many of the Bills would be fully and fairly discussed here, and the criticism of your Lordships upon them before they went to the other House would be of considerable advantage A saving of time and, I venture to think, an increase of efficiency would be brought about in this way. When these Bills were sent back, as they inevitably would be, at the end of the session with the opinions of the other House upon them, the attentions of your Lordships would be focussed upon the two or three points of difference, and we should be able to give those points full and fair discussion. I venture to think that such a course as this might be taken, if not with regard to a large number of Bills, at any rate with regard to some of the Departmental measures which are at present introduced in the other House. I agree that it is, perhaps, necessary, in the case of Bills of premier importance, that the heads of Departments should themselves introduce and support those measures.
The Department of my noble friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the Admiralty, which is represented by my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth, are not offices from which many Bills proceed; but there is one Department which is happily represented in this House by its head, namely, the Board of Agriculture, and I do think that some of the Bills which appertain to agriculture might well be introduced in the first instance in this House. I have said on many occasions that your Lordships are most qualified to discuss matters relating to agriculture. We have many practical farmers amongst us; we have many landowners; we have no agricultural labourers, it is true, up to the present time; but we have many noble Lords here who have taken great interest in allotments and small holdings, and I do think that Bills from the Board of Agriculture might be introduced for the first time in this House. There is a measure now before the House of Commons which is not of primary importance—the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Bill — but it is a measure of considerable interest to the agricultural community. That Bill is highly technical 187 and highly difficult, and had it been introduced here, as it might well have been, it would have saved overburdening and overtaxing the House of Commons, and the discussions upon it in your Lordships' House would have undoubtedly assisted in passing this very useful measure into law.
There is another measure before the House of Commons. I know it is a private Member's Bill, but rumour has it that facilities are to be given, and that when it comes up to your Lordships' House it may be supported by the Government. The measure I refer to is the Land Tenure Bill. I think it would have been far better, if His Majesty's Government are going to support that Bill, if it had been introduced on their own authority in the House of Lords. We should then have known what the opinion of His Majesty's Government was on that matter without having to glean it from the Amendments moved in Standing Committee. When that Bill had passed your Lordships' House, as I have not the slightest doubt it would have done, possibly with some slight alteration, it would have been sent to the Commons. We should have had it returned to us, perhaps, at the end of the session, but we would then have been able to concentrate our attention on the points of difference between the two Houses, instead of having to wade through the whole Bill practically at the point of the bayonet. I think that if His Majesty's Government would consider the advisability of introducing Bills for the first time in your Lordships' House it would be of considerable advantage. My noble friend who leads the House knows that I make these suggestions in no hostile spirit. I am sure that he, of all men, is most desirous of maintaining the efficiency of this House, and of seeing that its proceedings are conducted in the manner best calculated to promote the dignity of Parliament
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
My Lords, my noble friend opposite has raised an interesting point, but, while admitting that it is a very important one for future discussion, I think it rather undesirable that we should be led away at this moment from the point which is really occupying our attention — namely, the situation into which we have drifted, or apparently 188 are going to drift during the autumn session. Though I would not wish to put an unfavourable construction upon what fell from my noble friend the Leader of the House, I cannot say that his statement was at all reassuring. He made one observation which was very important—namely, that he is an enemy of the guillotine, though he believes it has come to stay with us. I venture to lay it down as a general proposition, that the more the guillotine is exercised the more should the functions of this House be preserved. In cases of extreme complication and extreme importance, the more the House of Commons through the difficulties of its constitution is denied the power of criticism, the more ought all parties to combine to maintain for this House in undiminished strength that power which it is our duty to exercise— namely, the power of revision as well as of legislation generally.
I do not think it will be denied that there are some functions which we ought to exercise, and I am sure the majority of your Lordships desire to know to what extent in the coming autumn session we shall be able to exercise the power of revision over Bills, upon which it is clear the guillotine must fall in the other House, if they are to be passed at all. In that respect, I think we are in an exceptional position. I do not remember that there has been so large a group of Bills striking at fundamental principles reserved to come up within the short compass of a few weeks for discussion. It is from that point of view that I trust His Majesty's Government will reconsider the position, and that at all events we may be preserved from that undignified position— a position which this House would be bound to resent—of having the pistol put at our heads in the last days of December, and being called upon to pass Bills which have been guillotined in part in the House of Commons and which we have not had time to review.
It would be most unfair to this House, it would be dangerous to our reputation as a legislative assembly, if the group of Bills which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has placed before us should not be properly discussed. Whether they can be properly discussed I do not know. I doubt whether my noble friend the Leader of the House knows himself whether it is possible for 189 them to be discussed. Might I, at all events, make this appeal to him, that in the conduct of the business of the House of Commons the Government will consider what is to be the course of business in this House. There are two methods in which the business might be conducted. Frequently it happens that a number of Bills are taken at the same time, so that you have them almost in the same stage in this House. If that should be the course of business in the autumn session, then there will be an undesirable rush of business in the last days of the session.
I would press on my noble friend that he should exercise his influence so that when the Government begin to deal with these Bills they will deal with one first, pass it, and let us have it early in the autumn session, so that we can take it as soon as convenient after the Education Bill. Does my noble friend think it would be possible seriously to consider this matter with his colleagues for the avowed purpose of securing the privileges and the performance of the duties of this House? Will he consider whether, in the conduct of business, this question cannot be before the minds of the Cabinet —Can we manage to get this Bill into the House of Lords at a time when it will be possible for their Lordships to perform their duty in regard to it?
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Marquess who leads this House is going to make any reply to the Question addressed to him just now by Lord Newton. I will venture to repeat that Question, and I hope I may be more successful in eliciting an answer from the Government Bench. The noble Marquess after going through the list of Bills which were mentioned by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, said there were other Bills that might be brought before the House. I venture to hope that if there are any such Bills, the noble Marquess will tell us their names. I do not know anything about fertilisers and feeding stuffs, but it seems to me that your Lordships have been promised an ample supply of feeding stuff to last you from October till the middle or the end of December; and if there are any other Bills to be introduced, I venture to think His Majesty's Government 190 ought in fairness to tell the House the names of those Bills.
Consider what is going to happen in October. This House is to engage in the discussion of the Education Bill in Committee. Well, my Lords, what is going to take place during all this time in the other House? Is the House of Commons going to take up a number of other important Bills, to pass those Bills, and then send thorn up to this House to add to the number of important measures which we are to be called upon to pass? This is a most important question. The Land Tenure Bill has been alluded to on both sides of the House. I should like to ask what sort of Bill that is. There are a great many Bills of that kind, and it is impossible to say whether they are private Members' Bills or Government Bills, or what they are. With regard to some of these Bills we see this course adopted. One of His Majesty's Ministers receives deputations, takes up the Bill, and in speaking upon it assures the House that the Government approves of the Bill. The result is that we do not know whether the Bill in really a Government Bill or a private Member's Bill. In a somewhat lengthy experience of Parliament I never remember until this Session seeing that course taken by Members of His Majesty's Government. I hope that if there are any other Bills to be brought before this House beyond those which he has mentioned, the noble Marquess will be able to give us their names.
My Lords, I should like to ask for more information from the noble Marquess the Leader of your Lordships' House. So far as private Members of this House are concerned, we have received no more information than we could have obtained by looking at the Order Book in the Lobby of the other House. We are not told precisely when the Second Reading of the Education Bill is to take place. We do not know whether we shall be able to get away at the end of the first week in August, or whether we are to be kept till the end of the second week. The only information we have received is that three Bills will be brought up to this House before the adjournment—the Education Bill, the Workmen's Compensation Bill, and the Merchant Shipping Bill. Then, with regard to the meeting of the House in 191 October, we are not told anything like the approximate date on which we shall meet. We are informed that the House will meet early in October. Some of us hope that it will not be so very early in October. If we are to remain here till about August 6th or 7th, I cannot think that we shall be desirous of coming back again by October 6th or 7th. Therefore, I think it is only fair that we should have some idea as to the date that will be fixed for the re-assembling of Parliament.
There are many Members of your Lordships' House who take a very active part in duties in their respective counties, and I think we ought to have some idea as to when we can safely make arrangements for meetings. I hope we shall receive some information on that point, and also on the point that has been raised by my noble friends Lord Camper-down and Lord Newton. It is clear from what we have been told that the three principal measures of the session will not be before the House of Commons in the autumn, and, therefore, there is the possibility that they will be passing further legislation. We are certainly not going to deal with private Members' Bills and ill-considered measures brought in to redeem idle pledges given at election time, and passed simply because the House of Commons wants work to do while we are considering the Education Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think His Majesty's Government must have appreciated the fact that your Lordships are not entirely satisfied with the very courteous, but not very informative, speech which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has addressed to us. I do not think that the noble Marquess showed in his remarks any appreciation of the fact that the present state of things is entirely unprecedented. There was one noble Lord (Lord Burghclere) who supported the Government, and he said in his breezy way, " This is always the sort of language which the Loader of the Opposition uses as to the treatment of your Lordships' House." The fact is that the present state of things has never occurred before in the whole history of Parliament.
Do the Government realise that, so far as your Lordships' House is concerned, 192 the whole business of the session is thrown over till the autumn? That is a state of things which I do not believe has ever occurred before. When there have been autumn sessions on previous occasions it has been usual for the Government to explain that the state of things was very unusual, and that they asked for unexampled powers in respect of very special measures. Previous Governments have recognised fully that it was asking a great deal to ask Parliament to reassemble in the autumn, and a programme has been submitted. As the noble Marquess knows, when we were responsible for affairs in 1902, the autumn session was called specially and entirely to discuss one particular measure of great importance. That was all that was done. Compare that with the present state of things. Compare that with the long list of measures which my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has read out.
How many of these Bills are the Government going to proceed with? That is a question which I should like the noble Marquess or one of his colleagues to answer. Are they going to proceed with the whole of the list? The Government know as well as I do that that is a perfectly ludicrous proposal. If they are going to ask Parliament to re-assemble in the autumn the least they can do is to tell us what measures they intend to proceed with. What did Mr. Gladstone do when he had autumn sessions? Did he enter into an autumn session with a light heart and with a long list of thirteen or fourteen Bills? Not at all. When he asked for power to adjourn until the autumn he explained to the House of Commons that the Bills he intended to proceed with were Bills of especial urgency and were very necessary. I looked up just now what Mr. Gladstone said on one occasion. He said—We have considered many urgent claims upon the time of the House, and what we feel is that our only choice is to select the best and most urgent claims among many which are both urgent and good.Therefore, Mr. Gladstone recognised that it was only one, or perhaps two, of the important measures of the session which should be dealt with in the autumn. Speaking later, he said—The case is wholly presented to the House as a case of urgency, and a case, generally speaking, of necessity.193 That was the spirit in which the great Parliamentary Leaders of the past asked Parliament to vary its usual procedure and sit in the autumn; but the present Government seem to have had entered into this autumn session with the idea that it was very ordinary, and that there was nothing simpler than to pass thirteen or fourteen measures between the middle of October and the middle of December. It is obvious that that cannot be done.
In the same speech which I have quoted, Mr. Gladstone said—It is a matter which hardly admits of absolutely mathematical precision, but in these cases it usually happens that the expectations as to time are more apt to be exceeded than to allow of any economy.That observation was applied to two Bills—the Parish Councils Bill and the Employers' Liability Bill, which were the two measures Mr. Gladstone selected. He was perfectly right. Parliament did not sit only, as he expected, until Christmas, but right on into the New Year. I want to know from the Government whether they intend to sit on into the New Year. It really is for the convenience of your Lordships' House to know exactly what is before you. Are the Government going to give up not only that part of the autumn which is so important for the departmental work, and to which my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition referred, but also the whole of the winter months to discussions in Parliament? If so, the probability is that the programme which they will lay before Parliament in the next normal session will be of the most jejune and unsatisfactory character, and in the meantime the great departmental offices will suffer very much from the pressure which will be thrown on the Ministers to discharge their Parliamentary duties. When the House of Lords is asked to take this exceptional course, we are entitled to a full statement as to exactly what is before us. Supposing it to be the fact, as I cannot help thinking it is, that the noble Marquess opposite has not consulted his colleagues in the Cabinet as to the reply he should give, I would suggest that we might be allowed to raise this question again, and that he should in the meantime consult his colleagues so as to be able to to give us a reply at length on another day. I contend that we are entitled to a reply. I am confident that the only result of this drifting on from 194 one day to another, and from one month to another, will be that a great many of the Bills which are put forward as serious Bills will have to be dropped and there will be great disappointment both here and in another place with regard to those measures. I earnestly hope that we may have a fuller reply from His Majesty's Government.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Goschen) that it is very far from our desire in any way to curtail the discussion of any measures which may come before your Lordships' House. I can also assure him that, in consultation with our colleagues elsewhere, we shall use every effort to see that the course of business may be so arranged as to bring about the full discussion in this House of all measures which come up from another place. The noble Marquess who has just sat down struck a somewhat different note from that which was struck by the Leader of the Opposition in the Question which he asked. The noble Marquess who has just sat down appears to regard it as a matter of some complaint that we are going to have an autumn session at all.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Well, the noble Marquess produced quotations and made observations of his own to the effect that an autumn session ought to be reserved, so to speak, for State occasions, and he appeared to think that this was not a year in which an autumn session might reasonably be held.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I never said it was a year in which an autumn session ought not to be held. I said that if we are going to have an autumn session we are at least entitled, this being an exceptional proceeding, to know exactly what is in store for us.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
The noble Marquess the Leader of the House gave an exceedingly clear account of what the order of business would be during the autumn session. I think I might, however, before saying a word upon that, be allowed to point out that when the noble Marquess who has just sat down speaks of our proceedings as unprecedented, he forgets that the circumstances under which we met were, if not unprecedented, at any rate very unusual. What happened? The late Prime Minister, Mr. Balfour, resigned on December 4th of last year, and the present Prime Minister's Government was approved on December 10th. The general election began on January 8th and terminated, speaking generally, on January 31st. It is perfectly obvious that during the whole of that time it .was impossible for members of the Government, who had to fight for their seats, to go into the consideration of important measures, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been thought out and considered in the previous autumn. Parliament was not able to meet until February 13th, and consequently there is no doubt—I frankly admit it—that the whole of the Parliamentary session has been pushed back to some extent; and it became obvious, therefore, that an autumn session was absolutely necessary.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Newton, seemed to consider that it was unlikely that we should be able in the autumn session in this House to deal with much beside the Committee stage of the Education Bill. I have sat for a good many years in this House, and if this measure is going to take in Committee, I will not say thirty days, but a very much smaller number of days than that, it will be utterly unlike any measure which I have ever seen. The Education Act of 1902 was considered in this House for three days in Committee, and a considerable portion of the first of those days were taken up by several speeches which ought to have been made on the Second Reading, but were allowed to be made on the Motion to go into Committee. So far as points in dispute are concerned, there were quite as many points in dispute in the Act of 1902 as there are in the measure which will come up to your ' Lordships' House at the end of this 196 month. I am very far from suggesting that your Lordships should confine the consideration of that measure to three days; but there is a considerable difference between three days and thirty-six days, and I hope it may be found possible to strike some mean which will give time for the consideration of other measures.
Then the noble Lord seemed to think that while we were discussing this measure in Committee the House of Commons would sit either kicking its heels doing nothing, or devising dangerous measures of some kind which would be brought up to your Lordships' House at a later stage. I venture to think that if noble Lords had followed closely the statement of my noble friend the Leader of the House they would have seen, from the account he gave of the stage which important Government Bills have now reached, that there are two or three of those measures the later stages of which would, in the ordinary course, be taken in the House of Commons while we are discussing the Education Bill in Committee here. I do not dispute that the work in this House during the autumn session will be arduous and continuous. I am sure none of your Lordships would wish to make a complaint of that fact. But so far as we are able to judge, the order in which the measures will come up from another place will be such as to leave very few gaps, and at the same time, we hope, to give the ordinary adequate degree of discussion which measures of that importance are accustomed to receive in your Lordships' House.
I may say, in reply to Lord Camper-down, that so far as I am aware, there are no measures of what could be called importance, no measures of the character of those mentioned in the King's Speech, which are likely to come up for consideration beside those already known to your Lordships. I cannot say offhand what Departmental measures may appear; but, so far as what are called important measures are concerned, I can venture to reassure the noble Earl on that point. As regards the Land Tenure Bill in another place, I am instructed that in its amended form His Majesty's Government view it with general approval, and would be glad to see it passed; but, further than that, I 197 am not in a position to give the information for which the noble Earl asks. I think I have covered most of the ground .raised by the noble Marquess, but if there is any point I have omitted I have no doubt noble Lords will raise it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Can the noble Marquess tell us on what date in October he desires that we should reassemble?
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I cannot give the exact date, but if my noble friend will ask me the question another time, I will give him the earliest information in my power.
§ House adjourned at half-past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.