HL Deb 31 August 1909 vol 2 cc1018-22

My Lords, I have given private notice to the noble Earl who leads the House that I should ask him whether he can give us any further information as to the course of business during the remainder of the session. Our anxiety on this point is, I think, not unreasonable, and it has been somewhat intensified by the apparent conflict between different statements which have been made on different occasions by His Majesty's Government. May I remind the noble Earl that when we separated on August 5 he told us that it was then expected that the Irish Land Bill would arrive here in the week beginning on August 30, and that therefore it would be possible to take that Bill, if desired, in the second week in September? Since then the noble Earl has very courteously given me private information to the effect that it was probable that the Housing and Town Planning Bill would reach us on September 10, so that we might have the Second Reading on the following week; and he anticipated that the Irish Land Bill would reach this House on September 17, and that we should be able to take the Second Reading in the week beginning September 20. I dare say the noble Earl has noticed in The Times of to-day, in a column the contents of which generally have at least the suspicion of official inspiration, a statement that the Housing and Town Planning Bill is not likely to be finished by the House of Commons so soon as September 10, and that the Irish Land Bill is to be laid aside and resumed by the House of Commons on September 23. It is quite clear that, if there is any foundation for that statement, the information given to me by the noble Earl will require to be very materially modified. The position seems to me to be becoming very serious. The Prime Minister announced the other day in the House of Commons that, besides the Finance Bill, the Irish Land Bill, and the London Elections Bill, which he apparently regarded as undoubtedly measures of a controversial character, there was a series of no fewer than thirteen Bills which he said were in his opinion not of a contentious nature. I will not read the list, because the noble Earl is probably perfectly familiar with them. I may perhaps observe that amongst the thirteen non-contentious measures is included the Housing and Town Planning Bill, which we can scarcely be expected to admit is one of those trifling measures which could be allowed to go through without discussion. Besides these thirteen Bills, there are ten more Bills described by the Prime Minister as uncertain, of which some were to be proceeded with, and your Lordships will have observed that last night no fewer than eleven Bills came up to this House from the House of Commons and were read a first time. I must say greatly to my surprise I find on the Order Paper for to-night that four of those Bills, which first appeared in this House yesterday evening at half-past four, are put down for Second Reading this evening. Those Bills were not even distributed this morning, and I am not using the language of exaggeration when I say that I have, personally, not the faintest idea of what the contents of some of those Bills may be. I must protest against our being harried in that fashion. This great mass of business, business not all, perhaps, of first-rate importance, but still requiring the attention of Parliament, is, apparently, to be got through in the interstices of the three great Bills—The Finance Bill, the Irish Land Bill, and the Housing and Town Planning Bill—which we are not to be allowed to deal with until after the middle of next month upon the most favourable anticipation of events. I make no apology for having brought this matter before the House, and I do desire to add this one observation before I sit down, that, in these days, when Bills even of first-rate importance are passed through the House of Commons with not even the pretence of discussion, it becomes of infinitely greater importance that we in this House should have full opportunity of considering them.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Marquess for giving me notice of his intention of asking this Question. It is quite true that the forecast of business which I gave in the early part of the month has, in some respects, been falsified by the change in the order of business in another place. It certainly was understood at that time that the Irish Land Bill would be the first we should receive, and that it would be followed by the Housing and Town Planning Bill. As the noble Marquess has pointed out, I wrote to him as soon as I was in a position to do so stating what I believed would be the course of events after these alterations had taken place in the House of Commons' order of business. I have no reason to suppose that what I said to the noble Marquess in that letter is not perfectly accurate. I have no reason to anticipate that we shall not receive the Housing and Town Planning Bill here towards the close of next week, and that it may be possible to take the Second Reading in the course of the following week. It is equally the case, so far as I know, that the Irish Land Bill ought to reach us in the course of the week following, and that we should be able to take the Second Reading of that measure in the succeeding week. There are no Notices on the Paper, and, as the Bills which were brought up last night are not of a character, I think, which need detain your Lordships in London, it is not proposed, with the approval of noble Lords opposite, to meet again until Monday, September 13, when the Committee stage of the Trade Boards Bill will be taken, and on that day, possibly, and Tuesday we may be able to get on with some of the small measures which have come up to us from another place. When the noble Marquess talks about eleven Bills having come up from the House of Commons, he did not state that four or five of them are Charity Bills of, so far as I know, a quite ordinary and formal kind, and I do not think there is one Bill amongst those which came up yesterday which need occupy your Lordships' House for an hour, and in saying that I am giving what seems to me a liberal allowance of time, When the Prime Minister in another place spoke of various Bills being non-controversial, and included the Housing Bill in that list, he was, I think, perfectly accurate. It does not in the least follow that a non-controversial Bill may not be a Bill demanding close inspection and even considerable discussion, but certainly the Bill cannot be said to raise matters of acute controversy in the sense that no doubt the, Irish Land Bill and possibly, also, the London Elections Bill may be supposed to do. I have often agreed on former occasions that it is exceedingly undesirable to hurry into the closing weeks of the session a great mass of business from another place. The noble Marquess will do me the justice to say that I have always sympathised with observations which have been made from the Benches opposite on that subject, but I confess that so far as I am able to see, there is no prospect of anything like a real congestion of business in the course of this session. It is impossible, of course, to say how many days your Lordships may wish to give either to the Housing and Town Planning Bill or to the Irish Land Bill, but without attempting to forecast the actual date on which the Finance Bill will reach your Lordships' House, I think it is clear that there ought to be a reasonable margin, with steady work after the middle of September, for giving all the Bills that come before your Lordships' House that consideration which we all agree is their due. I have no reason to suppose that the contrary is the least likely to occur, and I shall feel very greatly disappointed if it does.


My Lords, I am very glad to hear that the noble Earl sees no reason to depart from the information regarding the course of business which he gave privately to the noble Marquess; but I ant rather surprised that he should find his hopes falsified as regards the immediate business to come before the House. After all, the matter is entirely in the hands of the noble Earl and his colleagues, and it seems to me that it would not have been very difficult to make such arrangements that the pledges which the noble Earl gave might have been fulfilled this week and next week. I would point out to the noble Earl and to the House that it is somewhat important from another point of view. Owing to the unusual prolongation of the session certain private Bills and provisional orders which have been put down for consideration in another place have not been pressed forward with that rapidity which is usual in an ordinary session, and, consequently, they have not yet reached your Lordships' House. It is very necessary, when these Bills do come to this House, that we should get Committees together to consider them. The noble Earl proposes that the House should adjourn at the conclusion of to-day's sitting until September 13. I earnestly hope that there will be no further adjournment after your Lordships reassemble on that day, and that the public business of the House may proceed at the same time as the consideration of private Bills.


The noble Earl has made no reply to my noble friend in regard to the four Bills down on the Paper for Second Reading to-day, which only reached your Lordships' House last night and of the contents of which we are ignorant. We suggest respectfully that unless there is some very strong reason, with which we are unacquainted, for taking them to-day, it would be little short of a scandal to ask the House to take Bills which your Lordships have not even read. I hope the noble Earl will inform the House on what date the Second Reading of the Housing and Town Planning Bill will be taken.


I am sorry that I omitted to answer the noble Marquess's question. The four Bills which were placed on the Paper for Second Reading to-day are none of them of at all an important character, except a Bill which the Treasury are extremely anxious to advance—the Superannuation Bill. But if noble Lords opposite think the matter is not one with which they would like to deal at such short notice, we must, of course, fall in with their wishes, and, if the noble Marquess desires it, we can postpone the Second Reading of that Bill and of the others until September 13. The most rev. Primate has a Motion in regard to the Report of the Poor Law Commission down for Wednesday, September 15, and I think it would therefore be safe to say that we can take the Second Reading of the Housing and Town Planning Bill on Thursday, September 16†.