THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
rose to call attention to the present state of public business in Parliament. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I venture to think that, being as we are in the middle of July, and things being as they are, your Lordships will not be surprised at having your attention directed to the present state of public business. So far as the session has gone the conduct of public business by the Government appears to me to be not only novel and strange, but entirely without precedent. The King's Speech is generally supposed to represent the deliberate intentions of His Majesty's Government with regard to the legislative proposals which are to be made during the session. Will anyone say that, looked at from this point of view, the King's Speech has in any way been carried out by the business which has been laid upon the Table of the two Houses? Nearly all the principal Bills which were mentioned in the King's Speech have either not been introduced at all, or else, after being introduced, have been withdrawn. There is only one Bill— the Army Bill— which has been proceeded with, and it is the only measure of importance which has leached your Lordships' House.
The first Bill mentioned in the King's Speech is the Licensing Bill. Where is that Bill? Who has ever seen it? The noble Earl the Lord President was asked whether that measure would be introduced in this House, and he told us that as it was the Home Secretary's Bill he thought the right hon. Gentleman would prefer to introduce it himself in the other House. If the noble Earl had taken this House in to his confidence he might have gone on to say that the Bill had not been agreed upon in the Cabinet, and, further, he might even have told us that the Bill was not in draft. The next Bill was the Irish Council Bill, which was for the purpose of further associating the people of Ireland with their domestic affairs. That Bill, indeed, was intro- 270 duced, but an interval occurred; there was a great meeting in Ireland, Mr. Redmond blew his trumpet, and down fell the walls of the Government Bill as flat as the walls of Jericho, and the Government did not venture even to propose that measure for a Second Reading in the House of Commons. My Lords, I question whether there is a parallel to this in the history of Parliament.
What was the next Bill? The Irish University Bill. That, again, is another instance of unprecedented procedure. The late Chief Secretary for Ireland, who | had just been appointed Ambassador to Washington, could not depart upon his new errand without giving in very full detail all the particulars of the Irish University Bill. Your Lordships will remember that his proposal was that Trinity College should be absorbed in a new University of Dublin. My Lords, where is that Bill? Has anybody heard of it since? What is the reason of its not being introduced, and, if it was not to be introduced, why did the late Chief Secretary make any mention of it before leaving this country? There was another Bill called the Education (Special Religious Instruction) Bill. That Bill was not promised in the gracious Speech from the Throne, but it was introduced. Now it has been withdrawn. Why? If it was to be withdrawn, why was it introduced? I venture to say there is no instance, certainly none of which I have ever read or known, in which a Government absolutely departed from nearly all the important measures which they foreshadowed in the Speech from the Throne.
This failure in respect of these measures is undoubted. It is not denied. The Government admit it. What are the excuses for it, and who is to blame? I think there is no source so authoritative to which one can apply as the Prime Minister, and I am going to trouble your Lordships, for reasons which I will give you presently, with the excuses which the Prime Minister has put forward for the failure of the Government in respect of their programme. There are two or three other Bills which were foreshadowed in the Speech and which have not been introduced, but they 271 are of less importance, and I wish to concentrate your Lordships' attention on the more important part of the programme. The Prime Minister had to make excuses for his Government, and this is the general excuse he made on 3rd June—Undoubtedly we have not dealt with some of the Bills we have undertaken to produce, and I do not hesitate to state that it was due to the long autumn session of last year. Undoubtedly there are great evils when the House is kept in active legislation up to the days immediately before Christmas. The draftsmen and officials are occupied in watching and assisting in correcting legislation, so that they cannot devote their attention to the Bills that should be ready for the next session.Was it not certain that that would happen? The Prime Minister, with his great official experience, must have known as well as anybody that when he demanded that there should be an autumn session, which, necessarily, was very prolonged with the important Education Bill for consideration, it implied a great waste of time and of energy on the part not only of the draftsmen but of His Majesty's Ministers. If he did not know it he was warned most specifically in both Houses of Parliament that that would be the case. Let me read what ray noble friend who leads the Opposition in your Lordships' House said on the subject. The noble Marquess said—To my mind, the only serious objection to an autumn session is that it encroaches 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 in the following year.The noble Marquess saw that that would not only be felt by the draftsmen but by the Ministers themselves, and that its consequences would be reflected on the legislation of the next year.
Well, what is the excuse for not in- traducing the Licensing Bill? This is what the Prime Minister said—The first measure mentioned in the Speech was a Bill for the reform of licensing, and the fact that it occupies the first place is the proof of our earnestness—he might have added "the only proof"—and of our desire to proceed with it, with as little delay as possible. But this is precisely one of those measures which have suffered from the autumn session. The introduction of this Bill has been so long delayed that 272 although very great progress has been made in sketching a number of provisions which might be constituted into a Bill, it has been practically crowded out this session. I promise that this shall be the very first measure of next session.It is quite clear from that excuse what has happened. Progress has been made, we are told, in "sketching a number of provisions which might be constituted into a Bill." Your Lordships will observe that it is not the tired draftsmen who are in fault on this occasion; it is the tired Ministers who either have not had time to consider the matter in the Cabinet, or else have difficulty about it and have been unable to prepare a measure. Those who are very anxious in the cause of temperance have naturally pressed their request very urgently on the Prime Minister that a Bill should be introduced, and he has endeavoured to soothe them with these words—I wish that we could have seen our way to passing a thoroughly good Licensing Bill. That is what I hoped—what, indeed. I promised—but it was impossible. I admit that we overestimated our powers, but the Bill which will see light next year will be a better Bill and a more effectual Bill than we could have submitted this year.Let us take the next Bill—the Irish Council Bill. Why has that Bill been so suddenly withdrawn, and what is the result? The Prime Minister said at Plymouth on 7th June—We took what steps we could to ascertain Irish feeling, and we had good reason to believe that our Bill would receive a most favourable reception, but the moment we were undeceived, of course it was all over. A measure which was pronounced to be out of accord with the wishes and ideas of the Irish people was not a measure which the Liberal Government could proceed, with, and therefore, although with regret and reluctance, we had to abandon it.Mr. Birrell, the present Chief Secretary, gave a slightly different version. He said—I was certainly disappointed and surprised; but betrayed, I distinctly was not.Now, what is important to Parliament. is not who was or was not betrayed; what is important to Parliament is that this Government introduced an Irish measure which they very shortly found was an entirely mistaken measure and in no way in harmony with Irish feeling and which they were compelled to with -draw. I would point out that that is a capital blunder for a Government to make. They said they had good reason 273 to believe the Bill would be well received. Good reason from whom? Who told them that their measure would be well received? I think that very likely even some of those who sit on this side of the House might enlighten them as to one of the reasons why the Bill was not well received, and that was that, among other things, they proposed to confer upon this Irish Council authority over education. Your Lordships well know that the Irish hierarchy will never, if they can avoid it, allow education to pass into lay hands; and although we did not hear much of them in connection with the opposition to this Bill, yet depend upon it their special representatives in Parliament opposed this Bill most bitterly.
says he was not betrayed. Well, Mr. Birrell is a very peculiar Minister. There is one theme which seems to be occurring to him continually, and that is his legislative misfortunes. Mr. Birrell cannot go to any public function without explaining his legislative misfortunes. If for the word "misfortunes'' he had substituted "want of success," then I think we should all have been able to agree with him. But his reasons are most peculiar. At the Canadian dinner he said—Reference has been made to the somewhat short lives of my statutory efforts as compared with my books. My books are my own; my Bills are the result of other people's labours.I only hope, from regard for my noble friend on the Front Ministerial Bench who is now leading the House, that he, at all events, did not assist Mr. Birrell in the composition of these Bills. I am sure that we all expect and believe that when we get anything from him it will, be something which is more likely to pass. Mr. Birrell went on to say—If I were only allowed, like the Secretary of State for India, to be somewhat of an autocrat, my legislative efforts would live far longer than ray books.I think that is very probable. But those words have this true Radical ring—Make me an autocrat and then I will carry such legislation as I choose, and I will teach the people what is for the people's good, even though they may be foolish enough not altogether to agree with me. That is not only Mr. Birrell's position. It is, as we all know, the position of the Prime Minister. His idea of a mode 274 Parliament is a Parliament in which the Prime Minister of the day, being possessed of a majority, is to have absolute and uncontrolled power to pass any legislation he likes into law without any hindrance or delay from any other persons or bodies whatever.
Then there is the Irish University Bill. Why has that Bill not been introduced? Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman says—No practical results can be expected to follow from the introduction during the present session of a Bill of that magnitude. During the autumn recess the Chief Secretary purposes, in Ireland, to devote time and personal attention to this question, and my right hon. friend, whom we know to be of a cheerful, even sanguine disposition, believes that it is possible and even likely that there may be established or discovered a harmony among the jarring interests and opinions on the subject in Ireland.If this is so, if the Chief Secretary is going to inquire in to this matter in the coming autumn, what was the reason for inserting this Bill in the King's Speech; and, being in the King's Speech, why is it not being gone on with? Mr. Birrell does not quite agree on this point with the Prime Minister, because ! he tells us very clearly that we are going to have no University Bill next year.
Mr. Birrell says—The Roman Catholics and the representatives of Presbyterians acquiesced in Mr. Bryce's scheme, and he was therefore entitled to put it forward. Whether Mr. Bryce was altogether wise in entering into the details, as he did, was another matter altogether.Can your Lordships imagine that one Minister just quitting office should make a long speech giving all the details of a Bill which is to be brought in without having obtained the consent of the Minister who was going to succeed him? To me that seems a very strange state of things. Mr. Birrell, referring to what chance there would be of securing a solution in the next session of Parliament, said—The next session does not occupy a very cheerful position to an eager legislator who wishes to see himself immortalised in the Statute Book. Matters of great importance will be before the House, and there are certain forces and elements in my own Party which lead me to ask what chance there is of the Government being able next session to solve this question unless they have at all events done their very best to come to something like a friendly conclusion upon it.It is quite clear from that statement what the position of affairs is in the Party. 275 The Nonconformists are opposed to endowing a Roman Catholic university or college, and that is the difficulty which has prevented the introduction of this Bill, and which probably will prevent its introduction in the next session of Parliament.
Now to revert to Mr. McKenna's Bill, which has been dropped. Why, I ask, was it introduced? I should be very curious to know the object of introducing a Bill of that kind if you were not going to persevere with it. The Prime Minister said on 3rd June—The Government, after much hesitation, and much regret in many respects, have determined that it is not desirable to go further with this measure. The course of business and the prospects of next session have been considerably modified since this Bill was introduced, and we see our way to propose that we should undertake next session the great task of putting the educational system of the country in order. We shall deal with this question on broad lines, which will be our own lines.That is a year hence, and many things may happen before that time. What, I ask, was the object of introducing this small Bill if you had made up your minds that you were going to deal with the whole question?
I must apologise for having read so many extracts, but I desired that it should be clearly understood both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere to whom this undoubted failure is unquestionably due. I have quoted the words of the Prime Minister and of Mr. Birrell for the purpose of showing, as I think their words have shown, that this failure proceeds from the blunders of His Majesty's Government, and His Majesty's Government alone. The members of this Government pride themselves very much on being clear thinkers, but with reference to the Bills I have mentioned the question is, Have they thought at all? I am inclined to doubt it, and I will tell your Lordships why. There was another Bill—the English Valuation Bill—promised in the Speech from the Throne. Why was that Bill not introduced? This is what the Prime Minister says with regard to it—As to valuation in England and Wales, I may be allowed to remark that this is not so simple or straightforward a matter as in Scotland. In England the machinery and assessment system are complicated and defective.…I would only say that this 276 makes it, of course, difficult to speak positively as to the introduction of this Bill and its passing into law during the present session.What person is there who has the slightest knowledge of local business in England who does not know that the system of assessment is complicated and defective? Has the Prime Minister and have the Government made that discovery for the first time, or, if they knew it before, why did they promise a Bill on the subject this session?
The Government need not try to shift the responsibility for these failures on to any other shoulders. The favourite device of the Prime Minister when in a difficulty is to draw a herring across the trail, and he generally does it by attributing the failure to your Lordships' House. Ho did it only the other day. The Welsh Members who support Disestablishment for Wales are by no means pleased that temperance reformers and educationists have got before them, and they waited upon the Prime Minister and asked when he was going to introduce a Welsh Disestablishment Bill. The Prime Minister, in his reply, said very little about Welsh Disestablishment, but, alluding to your Lordships' House, he said—Think of that House; that is what prevents me bringing in these Bills''In what way your Lordships are in anticipation to be blamed in this matter passes my wit to understand. The programme of legislation which was promised by the Government at the beginning of this session was altogether too ambitious. Do not let it be supposed that this is merely the observation of one who is politically opposed to noble Lords opposite. Let me quote theDaily Chronicle, which, after all, is not unfriendly to His Majesty's Government. With reference to the withdrawal of Bills just after the Whitsuntide recess, this newspaper said—The King's Speech was very much overloaded. It was not a sessional programme at all; it was more like a Newcastle programme. The spinning of such programmes at large in Speeches from the Throne is a pastime in which all Governments are wont to indulge, but it is of very doubtful expediency.The Prime Minister and the Government received another warning from the noble Earl (Lord Rosebery) who sits on the cross benches. Addressing a meeting of the Liberal Imperial League, of which 277 several of His Majesty's Ministers are members, the noble Earl said—My fear is that the Government may make too many impossible promises and so provoke inevitable disappointment and reaction. It is not possible to effect too much at a time. The Government has pledged itself to the impossible this year. Do any of you who have had experience of Parliament believe that any such programme as this is possible or is likely to end in anything but disappointment and reaction?The noble Earl never said truer words in his life. As we have seen, there is plenty of disappointment; whether or not there is going to be any reaction is a matter for the future. The fact is, the Government Party is a divided Party, and is split into several portions. By repeating over and over again that they are more solid and harmonious than ever the Prime Minister thinks he will prove what he desires to prove; but what is the use of speaking in that way in face of such facts as the recent by-election at Jarrow? There you had the Irish Party, who are presumably part of the Liberal Party, and also the Labour Party opposing the official Liberal candidate. Their one anxiety was that the official Liberal candidate should not get in, and the Irish candidate has since boasted that at all events he taught His Majesty's Government a good lesson.
So much for legislation up to the present time. Now let us take this House. What Bills have we had? The earliest Bill was only introduced the other day—I refer to the Bill making women eligible to sit on county and borough councils. The noble Marquess who leads the House, and who, I regret, is not present to-day, was asked why that Bill was not introduced three or four months before, and he gave no answer at all. All he said was that for his part he would not care to introduce any Bill in your Lordships' House. That Bill is proceeding. With regard to the Army Bill, which has passed through some of its stages here, we know that there was considerable discussion and a great deal of closure in the other House. That Bill, I will undertake to say, was not examined in the other House with anything like the accuracy and thoroughness with which it has been examined in your Lordships' House. We have in this House a number of commanding officers of Militia and Yeomanry who are second to none in their knowledge both of the 278 principle and the detail of the management of those forces, and some of them took perhaps the rather unusual, but very effectual, course of writing out catechisms for my noble friend the Undersecretary, and I will undertake to say that the noble Earl is very much obliged to them.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
That course certainly enabled an amount of information to be added to the noble Earl's previous knowledge of the Bill, and the detailed information which he has given in reply to my noble friends has been of the greatest possible value to this House and I believe also to the Army. What has been the result so far of the discussions on that Bill? It is that in the opinion of your Lordships' House the Bill is a great experiment, and that it is doubtful whether you will be successful in getting the men. With regard to the cost, it is conclusively proved that the Government have never made any estimate, and even now have not the faintest conception what the cost will be; and with reference to some of the details, it is clear that if the Government do not make more changes their scheme will break down. There are further stages of this Bill, and no doubt further valuable information will be imparted to the House, but with regard to the scheme itself this House has no intention whatever of shifting the responsibility for the Army Bill from the Government. Their scheme it is, and whether it is a success or failure will rest with them.
Now what Bills are coming up to this House, and when will they arrive? That is a point on which I am sure we are all anxious for information. I trust that we are not going to have a repetition of what happened in 1906, though I greatly fear that we are. Let me remind your Lordships what happened in 1906. In the first days of August the Education Bill was brought up to this House, and the House agreed to an autumn session for the special consideration of that measure. The noble Lord could give us no definite information as to what other Bills would be taken. The Government were asked especially whether they intended to forward the Land Tenure Bill, 279 which was at the time a private Member's Bill in the other House. They could give no answer. They never alluded to the Town Tenants (Ireland) Bill, also a private Member's Bill, which in October or November they took up. The result was that during the last days of the consideration of the Education Bill there came up a succession of important Bills from the other House.
There was the Trade Disputes Bill. That was a most important Bill, and it is unnecessary for me to say anything further about it except this, that it was a Bill which was disliked originally and opposed by the Law Officers in the other House of Parliament, and with the exception of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, who told us he had always been in favour of the Bill as it subsequently came up to this House, the lawyers in the Cabinet had declared against it. What happened? That Bill was read here a second time on 4th December, and it was finally passed, practically without alteration, on 14th December. Next came the Land Tenure Bill, which the Government did not finally decide to take up until the month of October. That Bill altered the tenure of land in England and Scotland. It is true that it left out of consideration many material changes, but that was the effect of it. That Bill was read a second time on 5th December, and we passed it on 19th December. The next was the Town Tenants (Ireland) Bill, which had also been a private Member's Bill, and which altered the whole position of town tenants. That Bill was read a second time in this House on 6th December, and passed on 18th December. Then there was the Workmen's Compensation Bill, which was read a second time on 14th December and passed on 19th December. And finally there was the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill, which involved a very important principle, and would have been fully discussed by your Lordships if there had been time. We read that Bill a second time on 19th December and passed it on 20th December. There were, therefore, five important Bills involving weighty principles which your Lordships took up after the beginning of the month of December and at the end of an adjourned session, and this House decided to pass every one of those Bills. I hope that when the 280 Prime Minister and noble Lords opposite speak upon this question they will remember that in the year 1906, at the end of an adjourned session, your Lordships passed with very slight notice indeed, and with very little consideration, no less than five Bills involving most important principles; and yet this House is said to be entirely hostile to every measure brought forward by a Liberal Government. The Return which, on my Motion, was ordered to be printed on 6th May last, proves that in the year 1906 this House passed more important measures in less time and with less consideration than at any time during the preceding twenty years.
I trust we shall receive some information as to the Bills that are going to be brought up to us during the remaining weeks of the session. It is quite safe to say that whatever Bills come up will be in a very sorry condition. Owing to the alteration which has been made in the whole course of business in the other House, Bills of importance do not now go through Committee of the Whole House. They are sent to a Grand Committee, where there is no record of the proceedings except short accounts in the news-papers, and the feature of which is the enforcement by the Government of the closure. The Grand Committee system and the liberal use of the closure, therefore, place on your Lordships' House the duty of a more thorough and more critical examination of Bills.
I wonder whether any representation has been made to the Cabinet with regard to this House and the business which is to be brought before it. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has often said that he desires to uphold the dignity of the House. We are all certain that in intention the noble Marquess does so desire, but what I want to know is, Has he or anybody else made any representation in the Cabinet as to the position of this House with regard to legislation? Has he pointed out that, in ordinary fairness to your Lordships, Bills ought to be brought up here in time to enable them to be fully and thoroughly considered? The Prime Minister says that he is not an extreme revolutionary, but that he has no dislike to formidable changes. I do not know exactly where the distinction between those two epithets would be drawn, but even formidable 281 changes surely are of sufficient importance to require that they should be thoroughly examined into in this House of Parliament, at all events, if they had not been in the other. I apologise to your Lordships for having detained you so long. I feel that we have a right to hear some statement from the Government as to the Bills which are going to be submitted to your Lordships' House in the remaining portion of the session, and I hope the noble Earl will not do two things—in the first place, that he will not attempt in any way to minimise the importance of the changes which the Bills that are likely to come up involve; and, in the second place, that he will not forget that your Lordships have a right to duo and full consideration at the hands of His Majesty's Government.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I confess I am a little surprised at the line of argument adopted by the noble Earl in view of the terms of his notice. We have heard very little from him about public business, but a great deal about the public and party responsibilities of His Majesty's Government. Under a sort of sheltering screen of suitable extracts from speeches of His Majesty's Ministers on all sorts of different occasions and at different places, and assisted by one extract from theDaily Chroncile, the noble Earl has made a general attack upon His Majesty's Government. He began his speech by saying that the conduct of its business by His Majesty's Government was novel, strange, and without precedent. If I had not listened to observations on nearly thirty Speeches from the Throne in this House I might say what uncomfortable words are these. But I confess that, having heard statements from both Parties when in opposition as to how far Ministers have discharged promises given in the Speech from the Throne, I was not very much startled by hearing them again.
When the noble Earl really did come to the business of the House, I must say I was much in agreement with a good deal of what he said. But I regret that he couched his observations on distinctly Party lines, because my own idea is that all your Lordships are interested in this question, not as Liberals or Unionists, but as ordinary practical men of business concerned in the efficient 282 and decorous discharge of our duties as members of a branch of the Legislature. The noble Earl stated that one of the mistakes which the Government had made in its novel and fantastic conduct of business was that more measures were not initiated here.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
The noble Lord did say something about the initiation of measures here, and on that I should like to observe that your Lordships can hardly expect, things being as they are, to use the phrase adopted by the noble Earl, to see measures initiated in this House, especially measures of a Party complexion or involving questions that would be likely to give rise to Party controversy on matters of principle. It is quite clear that on some points the Bills would be sent down to the other House containing Amendments—possibly wise and improving Amendments—and in a form quite different from what His Majesty's Government had led the electorate to expect would be passed. There would thus be no saving of time, because the Bills would be sent back to your Lordships, leading in the end to a lot of bother.
I would like to give your Lordships from my own experience an illustration of the improprieties to which the noble Earl has called our attention as regards the hurrying through of Bills in this House at the end of a session. I will take your Lordships no further back than 3rd August, 1906. On that day I was asked to take charge of the Local Government (Ireland) Act (1898) Amendment Bill, Lord Denman, who was representing the Irish Office in your Lordships' House, being absent serving with the Yeomanry in a pleasant southern county at the time. The Bill was passed through all its stages without even being printed or circulated. It dealt with a readjustment of county and city boundaries and with a rate able adjustment. Both Leaders in your Lordships' House took part in the debate; it was eagerly discussed at every stage by the occupants of both Front Benches, and with a slight interval for refreshment, during which I went to consult Mr. 283 Cherry, whom I had not seen before, it passed through all its stages in about twenty-five minutes of Parliamentary time.
What happened was this. An Irish Member of Parliament of the old-fashioned Nationalist sort came to me in great agitation. He thrust a few manuscript letters in my hand, gave me a rather bewildering idea of the points at issue, and left hurriedly for Euston and Holyhead. What followed was worthy of" Iolanthe" and of Gilbert and Sullivan's insight into the way we manage our public affairs. I had been told that it was an unopposed Bill, but that turned out not to be the case. I began badly, because I said that the bridge was at Kilkenny, and Lord Ashbourne, whom I do not see in his place to-day, at once got up and told me he thought I must be under some misapprehension, because the bridge was at Waterford. Having an ear untrained to Irish geographical exactitudes I thought I had made a mistake, and I at once sent a fleet messenger to hale Mr. Cherry here to enlighten me further. He came to the Throne, and though he encouraged me with occasional gestures they were such as I did not understand, and, at the suggestion of my noble friend the Lord President, the proceedings were adjourned so that I could learn more about the Bill. But, whatever the details of the measure were, I had to face the music played in varying cadences but with equal clemency towards myself by Lord Ashbourne and Lord Salisbury. Lord Ashbourne, in the course of the proceedings, remembered that there had been a great fight at Kilkenny over a bridge, and from having been a critic he became an unexpected ally. He said he remembered the bridge well. It was, he declared, more like a corkscrew than a bridge, and he proceeded to describe the vicissitudes which traffic had to undergo in crossing it and which would have entitled it to a place in the most troublesome part of the Pilgrim's Progress. In this case, perhaps,de minimis non curat lex, and no great harm was done.
I agree that the Legislative machine must learn to stand sudden tests of urgency. But given the urgency, which was the plea in this particular case, I submit that in all essentials very much 284 the same thing must have happened at that time, that is on the lees of the session, had it been a Bill, let us say, for defining where the responsibility of the occupier or owner begins and that of the executive ceases in the protection of grazing lands from cattle drives—a Bill which, in view of the serious condition of parts of Ireland in this respect, a serious condition which to my mind has been fully recognised by His Majesty's Government, and also in view of Mr. Birrell's rather enigmatic reply to a question on the condition of affairs which was given some weeks ago in another place, is not altogether of a hypothetical character, and which would, perforce, introduce novel conditions and possibly new interpretations of the existing law. It might by just reason of urgency have been closured in the House of Commons and forced through in the last days of the session here; and I think I need not further labour the inconvenience, to put it gently, of such a proceeding.
To tighten up a little what I have to say, and to make room for others, it may easily occur that a measure may be closured in the House of Commons and forced through this House on perfectly just and reasonable grounds of public need and urgency. But it may also be that a measure may be so closured and forced through here at the instance of Party shifts and exigencies. This, I submit, is a bad state of things. If the Resolution relating to this House which was recently affirmed by a very large majority in another place ever passes into law, it is quite clear that our position as a branch of the Legislature will be most materially altered. But until that does occur I believe that we, as business men anxious to do our duty, will do well to see whether something cannot be done which will reasonably and effectually mitigate the disorders to which my noble friend Lord Camperdown, in his able speech, has drawn our attention.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (The Earl of Crewe)
My Lords, I was rather in hopes that somebody would have risen from the other side of the House to continue this discussion. Our attenuated Benches cannot supply the same force of speakers as those opposite, and I had hoped that, if this discussion was to continue at all, 285 some noble Lord opposite might have proceeded.
We must all agree, I think, that my noble friend Lord Camperdown has made a very interesting speech, although, as was pointed out by my noble friend behind me, it by no means exclusively dealt with the notice which he had placed on the Paper. It was, I think, thirty-one minutes by the clock before he had even mentioned the business of the House, the whole of the earlier part of his speech being directed to a very clear, forcible, and, I have no doubt, to noble Lords opposite convincing, exposure of the general policy of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl showed a singular anxiety to see certain measures which, although mentioned in the King's Speech, have not yet been presented in the form of Bills, particularly I think the Licensing Bill. We shall note the noble Earl's anxiety and we hope, as my right hon. friend the Prime Minister said, to be able to satisfy it at an early date next year.
Then the noble Earl made a particular point; of the withdrawal of the Irish Council Bill. I entirely adhere to the explanation of that withdrawal which was given by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister. In introducing a measure dealing with so controversial a subject as Irish Government, it is absolutely impossible to foretell the precise reception which such a Bill will obtain, and when we found that those whom we had hoped to benefit and to satisfy—and whom, as I believe, our measure would have benefited and might have satisfied—would not be satisfied, it would have been a serious waste of Parliamentary time to have proceeded with that measure. But, my Lords, is this the first occasion on which measures have been introduced and withdrawn? I seem to recollect various adventures of noble Lords opposite into the region of education before they were able to arrive at the Act of 1902.
§ The Earl of CREWE
One, I think was not read a second time. At any rate, the first never reached this House at all, and the second, I think, was with - 286 drawn here, but I am speaking only from memory. On the licensing question, too, I am not quite certain that some attempt was not made to deal with it before the measure of 1903. The earlier part of the noble Earl's speech was directed solely to questions of policy. He made a point, which I fully admit, that various measures were included in the King's Speech with which we have not found it possible to proceed. I admit that, and I regret it. The noble Earl used the phrase that we were too ambitious. I will accept that epithet, but that is by no means a now crime with Governments. If the noble Earl will look back to previous Speeches from the Throne he will find over and over again that there is a great difference between what is promised and what is performed.
When noble Lords opposite were in office, within the last two years it was the fact that out of twelve measures. mentioned in the King's Speech only throe were passed into law. Therefore though I lament the fact, it cannot be said to be a new fact and one due to any special iniquity on our part. Then my noble friend went on to imply that the Prime Minister had accused your Lordships of throwing out measures which had never reached this House at all, and that your Lordships were responsible in some way for the non-introduction of certain measures. I am afraid that is so. It is not difficult, particularly when a measure has been considered in another place, to foresee the reception which it will get at your Lordship's hands. As last session proceeded, we were able,. I think with perfect certainty and confidence, to foresee the fate of the different Government measures by the time they left the other House. If we had made a forecast of what the fate of the different measures would have been at your Lordships' hands I can say positively that it would have been an absolutely correct one.
Then my noble friend went on to speak of the last autumn session. With all that the noble Earl said on the subject of autumn sessions generally I heartily agree. They are bad things—bad for Ministers, and not good for permanent officials or draftsmen. On that account we have decided, under, I admit, difficult circumstances, not to hold an autumn session this year. But, again, we are not 287 the only people who have held autumn sessions. In 1902 no important measure except the Finance Bill came up to your Lordships' House during the summer session, and then, as the House will remember, an autumn session was held at which important measures, such as the Education. Bill of that year and the London Water Bill were passed. As to the autumn session of last year, does my noble friend consider that the measures of last autumn were not adequately discussed in this House? If he thinks so all I can say is that I hold an entirely different opinion. Nobody can say that the Education Bill of last autumn was not fully debated.
What were the other important measures? There was the Trade Disputes Bill, which received all the discussion your Lordships desired to give it. As we know, there were strong differences of opinion about it on the other side of the House, or, at any rate, differences of opinion as to whether it ought to be allowed to pass. Those differences were most fully and clearly expressed, and I do not know that your Lordships required any further time to deal with it. The Workmen's Compensation Act I certainly thought received all the discussion which your Lordships needed to give to it, and I do not think complaint was made at the time that any of its provisions had not been adequately discussed. The Plural Voting Bill, as we know, received an extremely short shrift, but that Bill your Lordships did not desire to discuss. Therefore I do not see what the burden of my noble friend's charge is. If this is an indictment against autumn sessions in present circumstances, I am with him; but I cannot admit that the particular Bills which came up last year did not receive a full and fair modicum of discussion.
My study of the Return for which my noble friend moved at the end of February leads me to think that as between parties in this House there is not much subject for mutual recrimination; I do not know that there is very much to choose between us. And therefore when I mention cases in which measures have come up late to this House, and have been discussed for a short number of days, I do not wish noble Lords opposite to think I am attacking them. I am simply defending ourselves from the 288 attack brought against us by the noble Earl, because the noble Earl said nothing whatever in the course of his speech to indicate that he regarded this as a common offence or common misfortune, but he confined himself simply and solely to our policy and our proceedings.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
What I said was that in the year 1906 this House passed more important measures with less discussion, and in a shorter time, than in any other year that I could find in this Return; and the various stages of the Bills which the noble Earl has been speaking of followed one another as a rule at about a day's distance apart.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I think the noble Earl is inaccurate there. I am under the impression that we gave a fortnight to the different stages of the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
That was not so. The Bill was read a second time on 19th December, and we took the Committee Stage on 20th December. The Report Stage and the Third Reading were also taken on the 20th.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Earl would hardly argue the Bill with the Opposition on the Report Stage, because there was no chance of the Bill passing if we had made any change whatever in it.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I do not think the noble Marquess stated any change that he desired to make. I admit, however, that on that point I am speaking from memory. I repeat that I do not see that as between the different parties there is very much to be said in point of lateness or in point of duration of discussion. My noble friend paid a rather left-handed compliment to your Lordships in saying that last year's Bills were passed without consideration. I thought they received very full and adequate consideration. I look at the noble Earl's Return and find that in 1900 the important Bill of the year was the Companies Bill, and it 289 reached your Lordships' House on 31st July. In 1901 no Bill except the Finance Bill reached this House before 1st August.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
There was the Factory and Workshop Acts Amendment and Consolidation Bill—a Bill of 168 clauses—and it was discussed in your Lordships' House in one day.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
And it was by no means only a Consolidation Bill, for it contained a very considerable amount of new matter. The important Bills in 1902 came before your Lordships in the autumn session. In 1903 the Irish Land Bill was read the first time in this House on July 23rd. Two other important measures of the session, the Employment of Children Bill and the Sugar Convention, were read the first time on August 3rd and August 7th respectively. In 1904 the Licensing Bill came up to your Lordships' House and was read the first time on July 29th. The Local Authorities Default (Education) Bill, an exceedingly important measure, was read the first time on August 10th; and the Shop Hours Bill was read the first time on August 11. The Anglo-French Convention, a matter of the very first importance, was discussed in this House on August 12th. Then in 1905 the Aliens Bill came up on July 20th, and the Churches (Scotland) Bill on July 27th.
This year we have done better than that. Your Lordships have already got at any rate deep into the Territorial Forces Bill, and you have, as I hope, practically passed the Qualification of Women (County and Borough Councils) Bill. Those measures are in a perfectly happy position as regards your Lordships' House. Then, as regards the measures in another place, the Finance Bill is awaiting Report, and I hope will come up to your Lordships' House before very long. The Patents Bill and the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill, two important measures which I am glad to think are neither of them of a very controversial character, 290 although I know the latter contains some controversial points, are also awaiting Report in another place, and I hope they will be here before very long. The Small Holdings Bill and the Small Landowners (Scotland) Bill, which, no doubt, are both measures containing very definite elements of controversy, are well advanced in Grand Committee in the other House. The Valuation (Scotland) Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill are awaiting Committee, and they may be among the last measures to come before your Lordships. That accounts for all the measures that were mentioned by the Prime Minister in another place at the beginning of last month, and those are the measures which in due course will come before your Lordships' House.
In considering the question of the time at which measures reach this House it is important to remember that a measure may be extremely controversial without being complex. On both sides your Lordships have had to complain that measures of a complex character were brought up too late to receive adequate consideration; but whether a Bill is brought up in the middle of June or in the middle of August is not a matter of great importance if your Lordships dislike the principle of the measure and decide not to allow it to proceed. I think I have dealt with the various points that have been raised. I can assure my noble friend that I am very far indeed from denying the controversial character of some parts of certainly four of the measures which we still propose to bring before your Lordships; and I can assure him, speaking, as I am sure he will give me credit for doing, with the most absolute honesty, that I do not think it is at all reasonable to ask your Lordships to consider measures of any difficulty or complexity without giving very fair and reasonable time for doing so. That is, after all, what we are here for—to give a perfectly full and adequate discussion to measures; and certainly my noble friend will never hear from me a word which would lead him to think that I hold a different opinion from what he does on that point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the concluding words of the noble Earl were certainly words that we were glad to hear from his mouth. I am 291 afraid they were the only words contained in his long speech which administered a grain of comfort to us on this side. It is quite possible, I think, that before the session ends we may have to remind the noble Earl of those words and to claim the fulfilment, I will not say of a pledge, but of the personal view that he has so distinctly expressed.
I have more than once endeavoured to plead the cause which my noble friend Lord Camperdown has made his own this evening, but I do not think I have ever had so strong a case as that which he has put before you, and I must say that the time seems to me to have come when this House should no longer be content with theroÔle of defendant which is generally assigned to it, and that we should institute a cross-action of our own in which we should appear as the plaintiffs and noble Lords opposite as the defendants.
What is the situation which confronts us? We are told—I do not know on what inspiration, but I see it constantly stated—that there is no intention of prolonging the session far into the autumn. We are also told positively that there is to be no autumn session. As to that, I certainly applaud the decision of His Majesty's Government for the reasons stated by noble friend. I think it quite conceivable that with a better distribution of Parliamentary time than that which now obtains autumn sessions may become a usual arrangement. But, after a session which has lasted from February until some indefinite time in the autumn months, to call Parliament again in October or November would seem to mo to be the height of folly.
Nineteen working weeks of the session, so far as I can calculate, are now passed, and, adopting the usual anticipation, some six weeks remain. I do not think His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated on the account which they are able to give of their stewardship during those nineteen weeks. The noble Earl seemed to think that we are fortunate in the number of Government Bills which have already reached this House. But how do we stand? Only two measures of any importance have reached us. The noble Earl tells us that the Finance Bill, the Patents 292 Bill, and the Criminal Appeal Bill await report, and that the Small Holdings Bill for England is well advanced—by that, I think, he means in the Committee-room upstairs, for it has not been discussed in detail in the House itself; and the same may be said of the Scottish Small Holdings Bill. Then the Scottish Valuation Bill is awaiting Committee, and so is that dealing with evicted tenants in Ireland. Does it not, then, come to this, that this long series of Bills is likely to be forced upon this House during the last two or three weeks of the session; and is it possible that in such circumstances those Bills should receive the full discussion which they demand?
The noble Earl suggested that there were some Bills which were controversial but not complex. Does he seriously suggest that Bills like the English Small Holdings Bill, or the Scottish Small Holdings Bill, or the Evicted Tenants Bill are not complex measures? They abound with proposals which are not only controversial but of the most complicated character, and which require minute and prolonged examination. Well, my Lords, what alternative remains? His Majesty's Government may lighten the ship and abandon some of the Bills, but a recent speech of the Prime Minister gave us to understand that nothing was further from his intention. The Prime Minister on that occasion was speaking in "Ercles' vien, a tyrant's vein," and he announced that not one of his measures was he likely to give up. So if we sit till even September we cannot escape from an indecent and scrambling mode of debating these important Bills.
What was the reply of the Lord President? It was the oldtu quoque argument — you have done the same thing. Thetu quoque argument is never a very convincing argument upon the merits. But, with all respect to the noble Earl, thetu quoque argument in this case does not hold good. The conditions are entirely different from those which obtained in those years when we from that side of the House pressed certain measures through Parliament in the last days of the session. In the first place, the congestion of legislation is far greater now than it was then. There are more important and controversial 293 measures on the Table of the House than there were then; but what is more important still is that in the interim discussion in Committee of the House of Commons, as we used to understand it, has virtually ceased to exist.
I cannot insist too much upon what I venture to call the educative effect of those discussions in Committee. They were well reported in the Press; they kept the public fully informed; and the result was that important provisions— detailed provisions, perhaps, but yet important in principle—underwent in Committee a process of winnowing and sifting so complete that an unsound proposal was half dead before it was brought to your Lordships' House. All that has ceased now, and the result is that at the end of the session we have thrown at our heads a great mass of crude, undigested legislative matter which we have to deal with as best we may in the scramble of the last weeks, or days, or hours of the session. The gravity of the case is added to owing to the persistent refusal of Ministers to introduce Bills in this House. My noble friend Lord Ribblesdale said a word upon that subject. It did not seem to him that anything would be gained by introducing Bills in to this House; for he said the Kills would go down in to the other House from this House in a different form from that in which they had been introduced, that there would be a lot of bother, and no saving of time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I will not quarrel with my noble friend's description; but what I would point out to him is that if there had been a lot of bother, we should, at any rate, have had the opportunity of placing our views before the public and of obtaining for them full and adequate consideration. And if it did so happen that a Bill was amended or altered in this House it would always be open to the Commons, when the Bill reached them, to deal with our Amendments in such manner as they might think fit.
The question which we have to consider is how long this condition of things is to be tolerated by your Lordships' 294 House. I say that in all seriousness, because, even if it be the case that noble Lords who sit on that Bench and those who sit on this Bench are tarred with the same brush, I feel sure that the time will come when the body of this House, the rank and file of this House, who are not members of the two Front Benches, will refuse any longer to submit to the kind of treatment in which we are expected to acquiesce. The treatment of this House is doubly unfair, because, on the one hand, you refuse us the opportunities, to which we are entitled, of discussing your Bills, and, on the other, you charge us with your failure when you bungle your legislation, as you have done this year, and are unable to make good the expectations which you have held out to the public and to Parliament.
Your Lordships have before you the Return moved by my noble friend Lord Camperdown; and I challenge contradiction when I say that, if you will look at the legislation which emanated from this House during the concluding weeks of the session of last year, you will find that not only was this House not reluctant to facilitate the passage of Government Bills, but that we went unusual lengths in order to pass those Bills in to law. The noble Earl the Lord President seemed to think that we had ample time to examine all those Bills; but if you take the dates given in this Return what do you find? Your Bills—I am not speaking of the minor measures, but of what I will call the major measures—began to come in to this House on 4th December, and between 4th December and 21st December, that is, in seventeen days, we passed, at your instance, five Bills of the greatest importance, and of the most controversial and complex character, and this in spite of the heavy calls upon our time and attention made by the Education Bill. How can the Prime Minister have the face to complain of the House of Lords, and to say that it is we who stand in the way of the legislative enterprise of His Majesty's Government? The fact is that the real complaint against us in respect to the session of last year is not that we rejected Bills that yon meant us to pass, but that we passed a Bill which we were expected to reject.
The Prime Minister dearly loves a simile, and I see that in the speech which he delivered lately he compared this 295 House to a watch dog. He said the watch dog was only off the chain when the Liberals were in power. I rather like the idea of comparing this House to a watch dog, and I would suggest that the watch dog is generally on the alert when persons of a suspicious appearance and demeanour are seen hovering about the premises. But Lord Camperdown has proved by his speech and by this Return that the watch dog, last year at all events, was a most good-natured watch dog, and by no means inclined to be too pugnacious.
And yet I find the Prime Minister saying—and I think the Lord President said the same thing this evening—that it was impossible for His Majesty's Government to make an estimate of their legislation because the House of Lords' power of destruction defied calculation. He said it was like putting obstacles on the line and then abusing the engine-driver for putting on the brakes. Obstacles on the line! Where are the obstacles that we are putting on the line this session? Can the noble Lord point to a single one? If the line is strewed with wreckage, who are the wreckers? Not this House. We have not wrecked these measures, because they have never arrived at the stage of making their appearance as full-blown works of art for us to mar by our temerity. They remain in the stage of sketches—sketches of "a number of provisions which might constitute a Bill." Did we wreck the Irish University Bill or the Irish Council Bill, or that modest English Education Bill which has apparently been put on one side because His Majesty's Ministers find it easier to arrive at their object by acts of administrative persecution such as that which formed the subject of discussion here the other evening? I confess I am sorry that the Lord President supported the, I must say, most outrageous theory that it is the House of Lords which has stood in the way of a more abundant crop of legislation than that which there is any prospect of gathering this year.
There is one other reason which I desire to mention in favour of the view which I so strongly hold, and it is this —I think we have a right to appeal to the present Government for some improvement in the treatment of this House, because His Majesty's Ministers have admitted to the full the necessity 296 of finding some means of adjusting differences of opinion when they arise between the two Houses. If differences are to be adjusted, pray let us not forget that time is essential for that purpose. The old saying, "Agree with thine adversary quickly," is only half a truth. You are not likely to agree with your adversary if your adversary tells you that you must accept his terms by half-past four o'clock the day after to-morrow.
I venture, therefore, to appeal to the noble Earl opposite—I should certainly appeal to the Leader of the House if he were here—upon the ground that they are both Second Chamber men, and, I believe, would do nothing that they could avoid doing which might show disrespect or contempt for the House of which they are such distinguished Members. I would remind them that at this moment proposals are before Parliament of the most violent and subversive character, proposals which, as we all know, give rise to great apprehensions even in the minds of their own supporters; and I say that that being the case, we have a right to claim the amplest opportunity for examining and considering those measures, and for laying before the people of this country arguments which, owing to the manner in which business is transacted in the other House, are too often withheld from the public knowledge.
This debate must, necessarily be an inconclusive debate, but the subject will not have been disposed of when it comes to an end. I would venture to say, as my last word, that, upon the action which His Majesty's Government will take in their treatment of this House must depend the action which this House will have to take, not in the defence of its own selfish interests, but in the defence of the interests of all those who desire that our legislation should be decently and deliberately conducted.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
My Lords, I do not intend to address your Lordships for more than two minutes. The noble Marquess has almost tempted me to speak on a subject which, I think, is not really relevant this evening—the criticisms and the announcements made by the Prime Minister in regard to this House and its action. The time will, no doubt, come before very 297 long when I shall have an opportunity of expressing my reasons for entirely agreeing with the Prime Minister, but I do not think it is to the point on this occasion.
The question is the state of business at the present time; and if I refer to the past experience of this House when the noble Marquess himself was its Leader, it is for the purpose, not oftu quoque, but of showing that the difficulties which confront the present Government also confronted the last Government, that they were treated in the same way, resulting in the same inconvenience, and were condemned by a similar complaint from the House at large. In 1905 a unanimous Resolution was passed condemning the practice which is now complained of, and it was assented to by the noble Marquess, who was then rather in a white robe on the subject; and at the end of that session my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford complained that no less than sixteen Bills had been sent down to the House of Commons, not one of which had obtained a Second Reading there. There must be a common cause for the misfortune which attends all Governments indiscriminately; and it is, if I may say so, not business, it is not quite fair to one Government to treat it as if it were entirely their fault, their blundering, and their numerous misdeeds that led to a result which was as marked and as severely condemned when the noble Marquess himself—who no doubt did his best, as well as we have done ours—with his friends, was in power.
There is some cause at the bottom, and anyone who has sat in the House of Commons as long as I have knows perfectly well that that cause is that the House of Commons is quite unable to discharge all the duties that are put on it. It is the simplest of all reasons, and no one has ever recognised it. When I first entered the House of Commons in 1880 there was no such thing as the closure, and I have no doubt many will recollect the great anxiety and distrust caused in the country among Liberals as well as Conservatives when an attempt was made to introduce the closure. The debate, on one rule alone lasted for eighteen days, so bitter and obdurate was the resistance. But that was only closure by two-thirds majority. That has been changed long ago, and it is not one Party who has changed it, but 298 both Parties. The Grand Committees, which had no existence in 1880, have been encouraged by both Parties, and always because of the necessity of time, and for no other reason. The two-thirds majority became a simple majority, and then the Conservative Government introduced—I am not blaming them—what is now called "the gag" — namely, the appointing of a fixed number of days, after which the whole of the debate is to end, and this has produced results which have been referred to.
What is, if I may say so with respect, the use of shutting our eyes to the real thing that lies at the bottom? It is not resistance by this House that will improve the situation; it is not by being indignant that a sufficiency of time is not left that a remedy will be found. Let us find the remedy by reflection, but let us recognise that that which lies at the bottom of the whole thing is that the House of Commons is overloaded. The course to be pursued, if I may say so with all respect to the noble Marquess, is not to be indignant with the Government because they do what they cannot help, nor to rouse his followers and supporters in this House to resentment or to hasty and fiery action, but to recognise the facts as they are, and then to think whether it is possible for him and other wise and reflecting men to find some means by which that should be done, which I think Milton asked for—tnat there should be a possibility of a reasonable and prompt remedy for acknowledged grievances in Parliament. It is not so now, and it will not be so until we recognise the real root of the evil and apply ourselves in a statesmanlike spirit to endeavour to remedy it.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.