HL Deb 16 September 1915 vol 19 cc821-9

Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to Order).


Your Lordships will remember what occurred towards the end of July when this Bill was last before the House. At that time the debate was adjourned, although we on these Benches deprecated that course since there were certain parts of the work with which the Bill deals which in our opinion ought to be proceeded with at once. The House, however, took a different view, and the whole subject has therefore stood over. I have no doubt that so far as possible throughout the country efforts have been made not to let those who are the subjects of the work in any way suffer by that delay, and I trust that those efforts have been not otherwise than successful. During the interval which has occurred a number of conversations have taken place between the Government and those who are specially interested in, am I informed about, the question. I am greatly indebted to my noble friend behind me, Lord Lansdowne, who has been so good as to make himself exceedingly busy in this matter, and has, indeed, done more of the work than I can claim to have done, although I have been placed in charge of the Bill.

Your Lordships will remember that there were certain points of no little importance on which particular stress was laid by those who desired to see the debate adjourned. In the first place, there was the question of the size and the composition of the Central Statutory Committee which is to be the final authority for dealing with these questions; and you will also remember that the representation upon that Committee of the voluntary bodies who have shown such praiseworthy activity in the work was one of the matters which was strongly pressed and to which we gave our agreement. As regards the local committees through whom the work was to be done in the various districts, there again sonic questions arose as to the composition of those committees, to the extent to which the local authority should control them, and also to the extent to which the voluntary societies of which I have spoken should be represented on them or conceivably have a preponderating voice in directing their affairs. Then there was a third point to which special importance was attached by two noble Lords neither of whom is in the House at this moment—one the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who I am sorry is prevented by a domestic cause from being here to-day, and the other the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn—namely, as to the degree of Treasury control which would be exercised upon the financial arrangements of the central body. Those, I think, were the three principal points of discussion between ourselves and the critics of the Bill, and I hope that it may be found, when we come to discuss the Bill in Committee, that proposals which we shall be able to put forward touching all these three points will show that at any rate a considerable measure of agreement has been reached as the result of these conversations.

I do not think it would be at all to the advantage of the discussion—indeed, I think it would be the contrary—if I were to attempt; now to enter into any detailed description of the methods whereby we propose to deal with these several points. It is exceedingly difficult to engage in any discussion of this kind before the Amendments are tabled, and it is, of course, impossible to present them to the House until the Bill has been given a Second Reading. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will agree, without any detailed discussion, to give the Bill a Second Reading this afternoon, after which we will produce forthwith the Amendments as we have prepared them, and it will be open, of course, to any noble Lord, either after he has seen our Amendments or before, to suggest alternative Amendments on his own account. In that case it would probably be well to allow a short interval to pass before we attempt to take the Committee, and subject to what may be said by any noble Lord before this debate closes we should propose to take the Committee stage on Thursday of next week. If it should happen that this is not an adequate interval of time, it could be prolonged. But subject to what any noble Lord may say, I should propose to put the Bill down for Committee on Thursday next. I do not think that at this moment any useful purpose would be served by my attempting any further discussion of the main subject. I will therefore only once more express the hope that your Lordships will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading to-day without any prolonged discussion.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will share the regret expressed by the noble Marquess at the absence of Lord Midleton, and more especially at the reasons which have necessitated his absence. Some rather hard things have been said as regards the conduct of your Lordships' House in holding up this Bill. But from inquiries I have made I am more than ever convinced that we were justified in doing so. The Bill when it came to us was an ill-considered measure, and I am sanguine enough to hope that after it has passed through all its stages here it will be very greatly improved. I forbear from entering into any discussion on the merits of the Bill. I will only say that I feel certain we shall all give the utmost attention to the Amendments that are to be laid on the Table by the noble Marquess, for there is a disposition on the part of everybody to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this question. As regards the Committee stage, so far as I am concerned Thursday of next week would be a suitable day; but I would suggest, with a view of getting through the Committee stage, if possible, at one sitting, that it might be advisable to meet on that afternoon at 3.30 instead of at 4.30.


My Lords, I think we are entitled to take to ourselves the satisfaction that the prognostications which were uttered by the noble Marquess at the time we decided to hold up this Bill have not been realised, and that, on the contrary, the assurance was given in the House of Commons by Mr. Bonar Law that no injury or harm would happen to any soldier or sailor or any dependant in connection with the holding up of this Bill. Pensions and separation and other allowances have gone on being paid the same as usual. Therefore we are entitled to put it on record that no harmful results have accrued from the step that we took in the last days of July. But I am conscious of the fact that a changed feeling has come over this House since the adjournment for the recess. We went away, if I may so express it, full of determination not to allow this Bill to go through until it had been fully considered, properly sifted, and freely amended. The noble Marquess has been frank enough to tell us that in the meantime there have been a series of conferences, which have arrived at the inevitable result that such conferences generally achieve; and now, instead of finding the House in the spirit and temper which it was in at the end of July, there appears to be a disposition, I will not say in all quarters but in most quarters, to allow the Bill placidly to receive its Second Reading.

The noble Marquess in his speech to-day referred to what he deemed to be the points of most acute controversy between us when we last discussed the matter six weeks ago. The one he first mentioned was that of representation on the Statutory Committee. That, of course, is important, and no doubt in Committee we shall have full opportunity of expressing our views. But really the most important criticism, if I may venture to say so, in relation to this Bill was in regard to its financial provisions. The Bill, as Lord Cromer said at the time, had assumed an altogether different aspect from that in which it was first introduced into the House of Commons, because the financial expectations of the Minister in charge of it, Mr. McKenna, had been altogether dissipated. What were those expectations? With a confidence characteristic of him, Mr. McKenna made quite sure that the National Relief Fund was going to hand over a prodigious sum of money—the amount suggested was no less than £3,000,000. He also said that the National Relief Fund Committee had made advances to the extent of £2,000,000 through the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, which moneys really were the responsibility of the War Office, and he anticipated that these moneys would be refunded and that this new body would start out with a large capital sum, approximating to £5,000,000, derivable from the sources to which I have referred. We also had it stated in the House of Commons upon the word of Mr. Hayes Fisher, who was practically in charge of the Bill, that no less than £5,000,000 would be required to enable the Statutory Committee to discharge the obligations cast upon it under the various clauses of this Bill. As I took the liberty of saying in the previous debate—and my statement was endorsed by several other speakers—the Bill without implementing some money provisions, which at the present moment it does not contain, is worthless and quite incapable of carrying out what it professes to do. If, however, I can get any satisfaction on this point, I am prefectly agreeable to join with others in allowing the Bill to have an easy passage to-day.

If your Lordships will refer to the Preamble of the Bill, you will find that it is there described as a Bill— to make better provision as to the pensions, grants and allowances made in respect of the present war to officers and men in the Naval and Military Service of His Majesty and their dependants, and the care of officers and men disabled in consequence of the present war, and for purposes connected therewith. That is what the Bill professes to do; but I submit that it falsely raises hopes in the breasts of those who are to be the beneficiaries, for there is not a single copper provided in the Bill for any of these purposes. I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether he can give us any illumination on this point. Surely as custodians of the interests of those who are eligible for these benefits we are not going to be parties to allowing a Bill of this kind to go through until we get the fullest possible assurance from the Government that, inasmuch as their hopes and expectations of deriving funds from voluntary sources have disappeared, they will themselves provide the moneys from public funds. I do not wish in any way to destroy the harmony of to-day's proceedings, but I think we are entitled to some sort of response on this point, and I would urge on the noble Marquess that it is his duty to satisfy us in this particular.

The error that was made in another place was that the assumption on which Mr. McKenna proceeded was accepted whole-heartedly by the House of Commons. It is the only time in my recollection—and I had nearly twenty years experience there—that the House of Commons have taken a thing of this kind on faith. They have always wanted to see the necessary accompaniments to a Bill of this kind before endorsing it. Mr. McKenna practically promised the House of Commons that if he was disappointed in his expectations he would come back to the House and ask for the necessary financial provision to be made. This Bill contains one financial provision which has gone through the form common to the House of Commons of a Money Resolution. What is that Money Resolution to do? To provide a salary out of public funds for the chairman or vice-chairman of the new Statutory Committee. All that cumbersome but necessary formula was gone through for that purpose. Yet when £5,000,000 is wanted—and this sum has been declared by Mr. Hayes Fisher to be necessary—no provision whatever is made. Mr. Hayes Fisher stated in the House of Commons that if that House did not find the money, they must look to the other House to see that they got it. This is the other House, and it is our duty to see that this £5,000,000 is forthcoming. I do not know that we are entitled to accept a mere statement that it will be forthcoming. We are placed in this difficulty in this House, that we have been shorn of our privileges in connection with all financial matters, and a mere promise given here—I am not going to dispute that any promise given would be made good; of course it would—would have no validity whatever in strict Parliamentary procedure. As your Lordships know, it is necessary to pass a Financial Resolution in another place before any money can be voted.

I venture to suggest, if an undertaking is to be given that this money, now that the expectations from voluntary sources have failed, is going to be found by the Government, that the proper way to proceed is to discharge this Bill, start a new Bill in the House of Commons, and get the proper Financial Resolution according to practice. Then we should have the Bill vivified with the necessary provisions. I apologise for detaining your Lordships on this occasion, but I can be no party to allowing a Bill of such far-reaching importance to take its Second Reading practically in silence when it is lacking in the only essential element that can make it a success—a money provision.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down called so pointedly for a reply to his observations that I feel bound to say a few words. I will not take up the time of the House in attempting to consider whether any serious harm was done by the postponement of the Bill until Parliament met again yesterday. I regretted that postponement, not so much on account of my anticipation that any of the people affected by this Bill would greatly suffer by the delay, although I think there was a chance that suffering of that kind might arise, but because it seemed to me that the action of the House in refusing even to give a Second Reading to a measure of this kind was calculated to provoke misrepresentation of a nature to which this House is very often exposed, and to which it has been exposed in the present instance. It is quite true that since we were last here there have been discussions which have been useful although quite informal and without prejudice, and I hope that the result of those discussions will be that the Amendments which we have prepared and which will be in your Lordships' hands very shortly, will meet at all events some of the criticisms which this Bill encountered when it was first discussed here. That we shall be able to meet all the criticisms I am not by any means convinced, because upon some points I think there is a somewhat fundamental difference between those who favour the Bill and those who do not, but I am sanguine that it will be recognised in all parts of the House that we have made an honest effort to meet criticism so far as it was reasonably possible for us to do so. Clearly the most convenient course will be that your Lordships should see our proposals and that we should have an opportunity of seeing those which may be made by noble Lords who are not satisfied with what we have to suggest.

May I say one word with regard to what fell just now from the noble Lord behind me, who complained very bitterly of the finance of this Bill, or rather, as I suppose he would put it, the absence of proper financial backing for its provisions. It has always seemed to me very difficult to insert in this Bill any definite financial proposals. And for this reason. The whole scheme of the Bill is founded upon the assumption that these grants and allowances are to be derived partly from private sources and partly from the Exchequer. It is impossible to say to what extent in the days which lie before us it will be possible to rely upon private benevolence. Private benevolence has responded marvellously, I think, during the last few months to the many calls which have been made upon it, but whether it will go on so responding I do not think anybody can take upon himself to affirm. With that unknown quantity in the calculation, surely there must be another unknown quantity. If we do not know how much is to be expected from private benevolence, neither do we know how much the Exchequer will be expected to provide. But upon that point the language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of other Ministers has, I think, been sufficiently explicit. The noble Lord referred to Mr. McKenna's statement in the House of Commons that to whatever extent it might be necessary the shortcomings of private efforts would be supplemented from public funds. I am not able to say what sum His Majesty's Government have in their mind—it would be impossible for us to make any estimate of the sort—but I am able to repeat, and to repeat emphatically, the assurance which was given in another place, that we shall see to it that the necessary funds are forthcoming for the finance of this Bill. Therefore although it is quite true that so far as its text is concerned there is not, as the noble Lord said, a single copper in the Bill, it certainly does not appear to me to follow from that that the pledges which have been given by Ministers with regard to the Bill can be properly described as worthless. I think, on the contrary, they are pledges by which this Government and any Government—


The benefits under the Bill are to be discharged from resources in the control of the Statutory Committee. Therefore if they have not the funds the benefits will not accrue. The wording of the Bill will have to be changed if the Government are going to undertake, in the event of private moneys failing, to step in and themselves supply the funds. The character of the Bill as it at present stands would not permit of their doing so.


If when we get into Committee the noble Lord will call attention to that point we will undertake to consider any words that he may desire to bring forward. I have only one other observation. The noble Lord spoke of the changed feeling which he thought he detected in the House. I have never believed that on either side of the House, or indeed in any part of it, there was any feeling of hostility to this Bill. I believed, on the contrary, that every one recognised that some Bill of this kind was necessary. What the feeling which prevailed in the House amounted to, so far as I could detect, was strong objection to being called upon to deal with this Bill in the very small limits of time which remained to us when it came here between the date when the Second Reading was first discussed and the date of the adjournment for the recess. I have known your Lordships' House for a very long time, and that dislike of being hustled in the expiring days of a session has been always felt in all parts of the House. The changed feeling, so far as I understand, is due to the fact that we have now ample time before us for you to examine our proposals and for us to examine yours, and I trust that we shall take advantage of that time in order to come to a satisfactory arrangement.

On Question, Bill react 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.