HL Deb 18 November 1908 vol 196 cc1186-91

rose to move, "That Standing Order No. XXI. be considered in order to its being suspended, and that on and after Wednesday, the 2nd day of December next, for the remainder of the session, the Bills which are entered for consideration on the Minutes of the day shall have the same precedence which Bills have on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I ought to commence the very few remarks that I shall make on the Motion which I have placed on the Paper with an apology for venturing to raise the subject at all. But I spoke privately, both to the noble Earl the Leader of the House and to the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, on the subject at the close of the sitting of the House before the summer adjournment, and it has more than once been borne in upon my mind that it would probably be for the general convenience if at these periods of the session, when the House is obliged to undertake the consideration of a large number of Bills, precedence were given to Bills as opposed to Motions on all the four days of the week on which the House sits; and I thought the best way to raise a discussion upon the subject was to put down in a concrete form the Motion that would be necessary to accomplish the purpose.

Your Lordships know that, by the Standing Orders, on Tuesdays and Thursdays Bills take precedence of other matters of business, and that on the other days of the week—it used to be Mondays and Fridays when the House sat on Fridays instead of Wednesdays, but is now Mondays and Wednesdays—notices, whether of Bills or Questions or abstract Motions, take precedence in accordance with the priority with which they are placed on the Paper. I think it must be within the recollection of many of your Lordships that sometimes when the House has been generally anxious to get to the consideration of a Bill a Notice has been on the Paper, concerning, perhaps, a subject of considerable interest, but not always of the great interest which may be centring upon the particular Bill; and it is often convenient, when the. House is in Committee upon an important Bill, that the Committee stage, if not finished on the one night, should be taken on the following day while matters are fresh in the minds of noble Lords. On such occasions, if the House wishes to get precedence for the Bill, a special Motion has to be made the night before, and it appears on the Paper on the day on which the discussion should take place. That has sometimes caused personal inconvenience to noble Lords, who on the faith of the Notice Paper, believe that the business appearing thereon the day before will be taken. Perhaps they may have come up from the country for the purpose of taking part in the discussion, and find themselves forestalled by a Motion of which they could have no notice. If my Motion is carried, such an inconvenience as that could not follow.

I have inserted in the Motion Wednesday, 2nd December, but there is no principle in that particular day; it may be Wednesday, 9th day of December, or any other day in the month; but it seemed to me wise to raise a discussion a few days before the day on which it was suggested that the rule should come into operation, so that noble Lords might have full notice of any change if change were to be made. I have no personal feeling in the matter. I have put the Motion down in the belief that it would be for the convenience of the House at any rate to consider it. If it is not generally accepted, probably the wise course will be to leave things as they are. I have no desire to press the matter unduly.

It may be said that this would work to the benefit of the Government more than anybody else. I do not think that is so. No doubt the Bills which come up at this period of the session with any hope of being passed into law are mainly Government Bills; but, after all, the subjects dealt with in those Bills are usually those which at this period of the session are likely to attract the largest number of your Lordships to the House and to cause the greatest amount of discussion. In conclusion, I have to say that my sole object is to endeavour to contribute to the general convenience of the House, and I can assure your Lordships that if the Motion is not generally accepted I shall be quite willing to withdraw it.

Moved, "That Standing Order No. XXI. be considered in order to its being suspended, and that on and after Wednesday, 2nd day of December next, for the remainder of the session the Bills which are entered for consideration on the Minutes of the day shall have the same precedence which Bills have on Tuesdays and Thursdays."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I waited before rising to see if any other noble Lord was likely to speak, because, like the noble Lord who has introduced this suggestion, I was anxious to know the general feeling of the House on the subject. The noble Lord will bear me out when I say that this is no collusive action between him and His Majesty's Government; but, so far as we are concerned, we are perfectly willing to agree to the suggestion he has made. The House will remember that at an early period of this autumn session I did make an appeal to noble Lords who desired to raise debates on subjects of general interest unconnected with Bills to put down those notices at an early date. I think that appeal has been very fairly and considerately acceded to by noble Lords. We have coming on in the course of the next two or three days, one or two important discussions on matters of current interest not concerned with Bills. I should hope, therefore, that the object of this Amendment is not so immediately important, because probably the list of those general discussions may have been pretty well exhausted before the date which the noble Lord has suggested for his Motion coming into effect. But, of course, the matter really is one for the convenience of the House. If there are certain Government proposals, as there always are towards the end of a session in your Lordships' House, to which a certain degree of consideration has to be given and there are only a certain number of days before we desire to adjourn, it is quite clear that any discussion on a Motion of a purely academic character takes one day away from the days which might properly be allotted to Bills, and therefore may involve a somewhat longer session. The matter is, as I say, far more one for the House than for His Majesty's Government; but, so far as we are concerned, we shall naturally not put any obstacle in the way of the noble Lord.


My Lords, speaking for myself individually I object entirely to the days on which private Members of Your Lordships' House can raise discussions which they consider of importance being interfered with in the way proposed. The noble Earl stated that there were a great many important measures to come before your Lordships' House. I quite admit that. I do not think that we should be holding an autumn session unless for the purpose-of disposing of important Bills carried forward from an earlier part of the session; but, at the same time, I think it is a somewhat autocratic proposal to take away those days which have always been regarded as the days when private Members were privileged to raise questions of public interest. I gave notice, at the commencement of the autumn session, of my intention to raise the question of the state of Ireland, and I did so. I consider the state of that country so serious at the present time that I should feel myself entitled to raise the question again at any moment; but, if the noble Lord's Motion were carried, the Government would be able to avoid the discussion of that matter merely by blocking my Motion by putting down for the same day, say, the Committee stage of some Bill. I therefore strongly object to private Members' days being taken away. I am sure the Government will experience no difficulty whatever in persuading noble Lords who have Questions on the Paper on days that may be required for Government Bills to postpone those Questions. But to take every single day away from private Members would be an act which I should be very sorry to see done, and one which would create a dangerous precedent.


My Lords, this is, as the noble Earl opposite truly said, a matter for the body of the House rather than for the two front benches; and I confess I was rather surprised when, after my noble friend Lord Balfour sat down, no Peer rose on either side from the back benches to raise his voice for or against the proposal. I agree with my noble friend in thinking that we do not infrequently arrive at a moment when it is necessary, in order that our business may be carried on in a continuous fashion, that some sacrifice of the private Member's rights should be asked for. On the other hand, I am bound to say that in cases of that kind, where a private Member has possession of a certain day and where that day is wanted for the continuation of the discussion of a really important Bill, there has hardly ever been found any difficulty in inducing that private Member to give way in order that the business may be carried on in accordance with the general convenience of the House. I ask myself whether we really have arrived at a moment when it is desirable to invite what I may call the rank and file of the House to make this sacrifice. Upon the whole I am inclined to come to the conclusion that we have not, and that there is no necessity yet for taking so heroic a step as my noble friend behind me proposes. The attendance of your Lordships to-night is not very numerous, and I have been made aware, from private sources, that there are a considerable number of Peers who take the view which my noble friend Lord Londonderry has expressed. I therefore would venture to suggest to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who has explained to us very frankly that he desires to consult the convenience of the whole House, that it might be convenient that he should not press his Motion for the present, leaving the matter entirely open for further consideration at some future time.


My Lords, it is quite obvious, after the appeal made by the noble Marquess, that it would be idle to press the matter to a division at the present time. But I venture to hope that the raising of the discussion and the remarks of the noble Earl the Leader of the House and of the noble Marquess on this side will facilitate the withdrawal of abstract discussions at times when it really would be for the convenience of the House to go to the merits of particular Bills. With the leave of the House, I am perfectly willing to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.