THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying His Majesty to make an Order in Council under the Military Manœuvres Act, 1897, a Draft of which was presented to this House on the 21st February last.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, the noble Lord has moved a Motion to which I believe there will be universal assent, but I desire to make one or two remarks upon it. I myself am prepared to give him the heartiest support in this matter, but I wish to point out the great advantage of the procedure which the noble Lord has gone through this evening. This Bill was pressed upon the House of Commons by the last Government, and much pressure was put upon the Government of the day from the Opposition side of the House to introduce this particular provision into the Bill—that military manœuvres should not be carried out except after an Order in Council had been made and that Order in Council had been the subject of a Motion of this character. I do not think it will be beside the question to point out that this particular provision, inserted at the instance of those who now form the Government, is one which your Lordships have asked for on more than one occasion in much more important Bills, in order to check much wider powers given to a Minister than those which the noble Lord is putting into force on this occasion. Not only so; there is an intermediate stage. It is quite possible to put into an Act of Parliament, and it has been done in many Acts of Parliament, the provision that an Order in Council should be made and should take effect if no Motion adverse to it is raised within forty days. That action has been pressed for on many occasions, but has been refused to us by those who now form the Government; and all we have been allowed on several occasions when it was necessary to make some concession was that the Order in Council should lie on the Table without any power to your Lordships' 714 House or the other House of Parliament of checking it.
I think it is important, in view of recent legislation, to call attention to the extraordinary divergence between precept and practice on the part of those who are now responsible. Last November your Lordships pressed upon the Government that the enormous powers which were given to the President of the Local Government Board to over-ride the elected representatives of the ratepayers in a number of matters which might run to millions of money should at least have the check upon them of being laid on the Table and made the subject of a possible Motion within forty days in your Lordships' House or the other House of Parliament. But that was refused—I must say I think unreasonably refused—and I would ask the noble Lord to tell us whether there has been any occasion on which obstruction has taken place or any attempt has been made in either House of Parliament unreasonably or vexatiously to use the time of the House in order to discuss a Motion of this character. I myself had to carry a similar Motion on several occasions, and I found that it was received in an admirable spirit. I realise that in the great pressure of Parliamentary business it is necessary that much wider powers should be given to heads of Departments than have been given hitherto, because it is impossible to carry an annual Bill on many points which have hitherto been the subject of annual Bills; but, if you do give this power, I think the provision which the noble Lord is putting into force to-night is the negation, and the necessary negation, of the bureaucratic powers which strike at the whole popular control if they are to be in the hands of Ministers in charge of Departments without this sort of salutary check. I have only ventured to call your Lordships' attention to this because I think that this provision is an illustration of the sounder views which prevailed among noble Lords opposite when they were not responsible for the Government of the country.
THE LORD PRTVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, the noble Viscount is entirely within his right in calling attention to this particular provision, but I do not know that he is altogether justified in drawing from this provision the conclusion which he 715 appears to draw, that on practically all other occasions in which an administrative discretion is given to a Department that discretion should be subject to possible review on the part of either or both Houses of Parliament. In this particular case leave to hold manœuvres in a particular part of England is a matter of importance, and I think it is one which is very properly subject to Parliamentary control. As various Bills come before us there may be other subjects of which the same may properly be said; but at all events there are subjects of a different class and of altogether minor importance, in which we think, as we have shown once or twice during the past two or three sessions, that it is not necessary to trouble Parliament with their review. Each case, I think, must be taken on its merits. This case we should all agree is one where the mere discretion of the Department is not sufficient. As I say, there may be many other such cases; but we are not prepared, both on the ground of principle and on the ground of general convenience, to accept the proposition that all administrative actions ought to be subject to some control.
On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly: The said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.