HL Deb 06 August 1913 vol 14 cc1643-50

My Lords, before your Lordships proceed to the Public Business which appears on the Paper I wish to call attention to some of the Bills which it is proposed to discuss. I do not refer to the first four Orders on the Paper which stand in the name of Lord Granard, the Lord Chancellor, and Lord Dunmore. But with regard to the six Bills which follow I desire to call your Lordships' attention to the circumstances under which they appear on the Paper. Those Bills came to this House, I believe, last night, and it was moved that they be printed. But not one of those six Bills had been circulated this morning, and at two o'clock this afternoon not one of them was in print. I submit to your Lordships that that is not treating this House with proper respect, because this House is, it has frequently been said, a House whose duty it is to revise Bills. In fact, that is supposed to be our main duty. I ask, How can we revise Bills which we have not seen? That we should be asked to read a second time to-day Bills which came to this House only last night is, I venture to think, rather a farce. One of these six Bills, the Local Government (Adjustments) Bill, is a Bill of some importance with regard to which something will be said. I do not know what is in the other five. But I venture to think that a Bill such as the one to which I have just referred cannot be said to be a Bill of no public importance; it is a Bill of considerable public importance. I am speaking not merely with regard to the six Bills which appear on the Paper. I cannot help anticipating that we are going to have a perfect avalanche of Bills, many of them important Bills, in the course of next week which it is expected that your Lordships will discuss and revise. In these circumstances it is impossible for your Lordships to do your duty as a revising House. And with regard to important Bills, how is it possible in this short time to amend them and properly consider them? Fault is frequently found with this House on the ground that it does not do its duty. My Lords, it is the Government that are to blame. They are to blame for this reason, that they appear to pay more regard to the quantity of legislation than to the quality of it. We have plenty of instances of that in the large number of Amendment Bills which are always found necessary. But it seems to me that to pursue this practice of asking the House to read Bills a second time which have not even been printed is placing this House in a very unfair position.


My Lords, I think we must all feel that the complaint of the noble Earl is not an altogether unfamiliar one at this period of the session. I can hardly remember the approach of the last week or two of a session when a similar complaint has not been made; and although I agree in the general proposition that it is not fair to submit to this House for consideration Bills which there has been no opportunity of studying, assuming those Bills to be of a kind which require any degree of study, yet the noble Earl's complaint has been of a somewhat wide and sweeping character. I think it will be found that the smaller activities of the House of Commons during the present session have been of a very useful and practical character. The small measures which are now coming up to us represent in each case a distinct, though not an ambitious, legislative improvement.. I am not altogether acquainted with the exact hour at which the six measures on which the noble Earl's complaint is based were obtainable by those who desired to obtain them. My impression is that at any rate some of them—the Bills of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, for instance—although not generally circulated were obtainable at the Bill Office at a tolerably early hour this morning.

I am not quite certain what course the noble Earl would desire us to pursue. We cannot, of course, interfere with House of Commons business in a direction which would cause these generally unopposed measures, which are taken at eleven p.m. or later in another place, to appear here before the closing weeks of the session. Nor am I quite certain whether the noble Earl desires to convey some reprobation on the printing department of this House for not producing these Bills at an earlier hour in the morning. We have known cases in our experience, as the noble Earl must well remember, where it has been generally suggested that needless delay has taken place in the printing department of the House and the serious attention of that department has been called to the fact. Whether the noble Earl desires that that should be done again in this case I am not quite clear, or whether he desires simply to content himself with blaming His Majesty's Government for not doing what I venture to think is the impossible—namely, postponing for three or four days at this period of the session each measure as it comes up. I am afraid, therefore, that I have no nostrum to offer which can be regarded as a complete cure for this complaint, which, as I venture to think, always has been an annual one. I do not blame the noble Earl for drawing attention to the fact, which does cause us from time to time inconvenience. But in the particular circumstances and having regard to the nature of these particular Bills, I cannot think that on this occasion the grievance can be regarded by the House as very serious.


My Lords, there can be no doubt that my noble friend behind me had a very strong case to put before the House. Our treatment in respect of these six Bills is almost scandalous, and the noble Marquess opposite really took no pains to defend it. The noble Marquess, of course, had ready to hand a very convenient rejoinder, and one which has been very often made use of on similar occasions. He told us that these things had constantly happened before. His argument virtually was that we were so much inured to suffering of this kind that we need not very much mind it. But may I respectfully point out to the noble Marquess that circumstances have changed a good deal since the days when these protests used to be made and these defences attempted. In those days your Lordships still had substantial powers of dealing with legislation, and having real powers it was, perhaps, not unnatural that we should not be quite so tenacious in regard to our rights of revision. But the substance of power has been taken away from us, and we have been left with nothing but the right of revision. The burden of your song now is that this House has the right of revision, and that it is a real right and one which ought to be insisted upon. Therefore the noble Marquess must not be surprised if we are more extreme to mark occurrences of this kind than we were.

As to the remedy, I confess I am almost as much puzzled as the noble Marquess opposite. These Bills, so far as I am aware, are not of a very contentious character, and I doubt whether your Lordships would be prepared by way of protest to say that they should not pass this House during the few days which stand between us and the close of the session. But I think it would be a fair thing, if my noble friend presses his objection, that the Second Readings should take place let us say tomorrow or next week. On the other band, my noble friend having made his protest may be content with that protest, reserving to himself, as indeed we must all reserve to ourselves, the right of saving what we may have to say upon these Bills at a future stage when we have had time to consider them.


My Lords, with regard to the last Bills on the Paper, we are asked to make a precedent to-day which I never heard of before. I saw those Bills down on the Paper and I came to the House and tried to get copies of them, and even at half-past four this afternoon, after the House had begun to sit, copies were still unprocurable. I think that is a very real scandal, and I certainly suggest that in regard to the last two Bills—the Education (Scotland) Bill and the Education (Scotland) (Glasgow Electoral Divisions) Bill—it would be much better not to make a precedent by passing them to-day. They are short Bills and I have read them now, and I do not know that there is any objection to them, but precedents are always used against this House. I say that it is monstrous to ask us to give a Second Reading to-day to Bills of which we could not get copies at half-past four or later this afternoon, and I do not think it has ever been suggested before that we should give a Bill a Second Reading in these circumstances.

As to the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Consolidation Bill, which is to be taken to-day, and the Mental Deficiency Bill which is down for to-morrow, we have had very short notice about both of them. The Mental Deficiency Bill is an extraordinarily intricate measure, and has been the subject of a great deal of change in the other House. It is very difficult for those of us who are living in London and have Scottish correspondents to really get the points of any Amendment moved in such circumstances. What one asks is that the Bill as printed for this House should be subject to comment, but what happens is that one or other of the editions of the Bill as passed through the House of Commons is sent to us, but when the Bill comes up here the paging and lining of the suggested Amendments are entirely different and you have not time to send the Bill to Scotland as printed for this House to get put right perhaps a simple suggestion which it is desired to be made. It is hard on those of us who come from Scotland that this hurry should take place at the last period of the session, because you cannot get under forty-eight hours after a Bill as amended is reprinted a suggestion from a technical adviser in Scotland. The Bankruptcy (Scotland) Consolidation Bill consists of 200 clauses. It is supposed to be a Consolidation Bill, but my opinion is that it goes beyond consolidation. One of the most difficult things to check is whether a Bill is consolidation purely, or whether it contains amendment as well as consolidation. Very often it is convenient that there should be amendment along with consolidation. This House has machinery which was set up by the ex-Lord Chancellor, Lord Loreburn, by which there is a Joint Committee to go carefully into these Consolidation Bills. I understand that the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Consolidation Bill has not gone through that machinery. I say it is absolutely impossible for those not skilled in the law, like myself, to even attempt to consider a Bill of 200 clauses; and even when suggestions on technical points are sent up to one from friends in Scotland, how can one judge whether or not they should be brought up on a matter of this kind? I am told that some really hard cases could be shown to arise under the proposed provisions of this Bankruptcy Bill. I say that we have not had time in which adequately to discuss the Bill, and I join most heartily in the protest which my noble friend Lord Camperdown has made.


With regard to the last two Bills mentioned by the noble Earl—the Education (Scotland) Bill and the Education (Scotland) (Glasgow Electoral Divisions) Bill—I can assure him that I have no objection to taking them to-morrow in order that your Lordships may have time to consider them between now and then. We fully admit the existence of this grievance, but I venture to think that the people against whom the criticism should be directed are really those who are concerned with printing and circulating these Bills. We have said this before, and it really is so. Yesterday when these Bills had been read a first time, we put them down at once during the course of the sitting for Second Reading to-day. As your Lordships know, that must be done during the sitting of the House; and when that was done we had no reason to suppose that the printers would not print and would not circulate the Bills, which are neither long nor complicated, and which in the ordinary way would be printed and circulated in another place without the least difficulty of any sort or kind whatever. There is, I think, some difference in the way in which our printers treat us, which is a legitimate subject of complaint. But as far as the Bills which are down in my name are concerned, I should have no objection whatever to putting them off till another occasion. I repeat that if we had had any reason to suppose, at the moment when I put them down for Second Reading for to-day, that they would not have been printed and circulated immediately by the printers, I should have taken that into consideration and put them down for a later date.


What the noble Earl has said with regard to the unnecessary delay in circulating these Bills is perfectly true, but if he will inquire a little further I think he will find that it is not due to any wickedness on the part of the printers, but rather on the part of the Treasury, who do not allow the printers for this House such good terms as they do in the case of the House of Commons printers. I have had occasion to inquire into this matter, and that, I think, is what really is at the bottom of it. If the noble Earl would persuade his colleagues at the Treasury to take the necessary measures, I think your Lordships would have no cause for complaint in the future.


As this question has been raised, there is another subject to which I want to draw your Lordships' attention, with regard to the printing of the Debates in your Lordships' House. In the House of Commons the Official Report of the Debate of the evening before is printed and circulated the following morning, but I notice that there is a difference between the House of Lords and the House of Commons in this respect, and that the Official Report of our Debates is circulated a week afterwards. There are occasions when a Debate extends over two nights—very rare I admit—when one would like to read the following morning what had taken place the previous day, but that at present one cannot do. If your Lordships are going to take the question of printing into consideration, I suggest that this is a matter which should be dealt with at the same time. With regard to what the noble Earl said as to the printers, perhaps the delay is not so much due to the printers as to those who give the printers instructions. I should suppose that there ought to be no more difficulty in getting the printing done for this House than there is in the case of the other House.


Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a word in reply to one or two questions which the noble Marquess put to me. First, with regard to the question just put from the Back Bench opposite, it was asked why the Debates in this House are not printed and circulated the following day, as they are in the case of the House of Commons. That question has been raised before in this House, and the reason is this, that proofs of the speeches are sent round to the Peers who have made them in order to give them an opportunity of revising them.

It is all very well in regard to there Bills to take refuge behind the printers, as the noble Earl did. The noble Marquess asked whether I meant to blame the printers. No, I did not. I want to blame the Government, and for this reason—that a large number of Bills, not merely Bills like these but important Bills, are showered upon this House by the Government in the last ten days of the session. For the last six years I myself—and I believe the same may be said of many of your Lordships—have very nearly eaten my Christmas dinner in London because of the inordinate amount of legislation which the Government insisted on cramming into the end of the session, and they then blame your Lordships if it is not all passed. I shall content myself with the protest I have made, and personally I shall not object to proceeding with the Second Reading of the Bills on the Paper. I may, however, find it necessary hereafter to renew my protest, and perhaps in a stronger manner.