§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I must apologise to the House for not being present yesterday on the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill. Had I been here, I should certainly have associated 1064 myself with the protest made by the noble Marquess on this Bench (Lord Salisbury); had it been at all possible to induce him to do so I should have incited him to divide against the Bill, because personally I think it is the most ridiculous and absurd Bill that has ever been presented to Parliament. I never thought for a moment that the Standing Order would have been suspended and the First and Second Readings of the Bill taken on the same day; and as I was detained in Scotland, this is, therefore, the only chance I have of making my protest, and I will do so in a very few words. It seems to me that it was a most unusual course to have taken the First and Second Readings of the Bill on the same day, and that really the Standing Orders of this House are not of much more regularity and validity than the movements of the sun and the British Constitution, which were both alluded to in the same sense yesterday.
I know quite well that it is hopeless now to oppose the Bill. I congratulate myself that at any rate it is ostensibly a Bill only for the duration of the war, and that the chief reason put forward on its behalf is that there will be a certain economy and saving of light and of coal during a portion of the year. I sincerely hope that it will be recognised on all sides that it is put forward as a temporary war measure, and that if we do not oppose it strenuously on this occasion it is because we trust that before it becomes a permanent institution of the country a real opportunity will be given of considering it. In my humble opinion I prophesy—we will see whether my prophesy comes true—that it will be a very serious burden on the, in the Parliamentary sense, least articulate portion of the population. I believe it will do an immense amount of injury to the women of the working classes. They will have to get up an hour earlier in the morning than they do at the present time, and although the clock will decree the ordinary hour of going to bed when it comes to evening I believe that the children for whom they are responsible and the male population will be sitting up later owing to the length of daylight, and that they will have their period of rest curtailed. I think this is very hard upon the women of the working classes, and I believe this will be one of the evil effects of the Bill. And I do not myself for a moment believe that children will go to bed before daylight ends; they, too, will be deprived of a certain part of their rest.
1065 I have had a good many representations from those engaged in agriculture in Scotland, showing that so far as Scotland is concerned this is a foolish measure. In harvest time it is often difficult to lead crops from the fields into the stack-yard on account of dew or mist which has not cleared off in the morning. Many a time have known in my own part of the country framers unable to get on the land for that purpose until eleven o'clock in the day. Under this new arrangement it will be twelve by the cock, and that is half the working clay of the farm. The result will be that they will have to pay for extra time or they will have to spread their harvest over a longer period, with the risk of the corn being damaged. All these things are prophecy. I know that it is hopeless to attempt to oppose the Bill at the present time, but I do not believe that it has been half thought out, and I am confident that there will be a great many unforeseen difficulties.
I will mention one difficulty which has been suggested to me. Some of your Lordships will no doubt think it almost of a comic character, but I should like the lawyers in the House to consider what the effect of it will be. I ask your Lordships to carry your minds forward to the night of October when the clock is to be set back. At one o'clock the clock will be put back to midnight. Supposing some unfortunate lady is confined on that occasion with twins, and one child is born at ten minutes before one o'clock. If the clock is put back, the registration of the time of birth of the two children will be reversed, and the second one will be born fifty minutes before the other child born before it. Your Lordships laugh. I fully expected it. But, just think for a moment, if some remedy is not found, of the difficulties in regard to property, to title to sit in your Lordships' House, it may be, conceivable under this alteration. I know it is a chance in a thousand or in two thousand that such a thing should happen, but I venture to think it is worth considering that these sort of things are possible under the provisions of this ill-considered and hastily-passed measure.
My Lords, I have been in favour of this amendment of the law from the time that it was first brought forward, and I was, in fact, going to suggest to the Government to-day, although I fear that there is no real opportunity for 1066 amendment, that the Bill should be amended so as to make it possible to continue it in force without passing a fresh Bill. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 at present provides that—His Majesty may in any subsequent year, by Order in Council made during the continuance of the present war, declare this Act to be in force duringthat year.I was going to suggest to His Majesty's Government that they might take out the words "made during the continuance of the present war." The Act could still only be extended by an Order in Council, and no difficulty would be experienced in ascertaining the sense of either House of Parliament as to whether or not such an Order in Council should be made in any subsequent year. If, however, it were desired to secure that Parliament should have an opportunity of intervening, the Bill might be limited in time and be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act if it was desired to continue it. But after the speech of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I feel that any suggestion to extend the Bill or to make it more permanent might not be favourably received. Those who support this change will probably have to wait for the experience which we shall get to show how it works. My own belief is that after we have had one summer's experience of it we shall all be enthusiastic in its favour and wonder why the change was not made before. If the only argument against the Bill is the exceptional case of the midnight twins, I think there will be no difficulty in the registrar, by orders of his own, prescribing for that event.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I learn with great concern that my noble friend Lord Balfour regards this measure as one of the most ridiculous which he has ever encountered during his Parliamentary career; and I only say, in reply, that if he is inclined to pour ridicule upon it, there are a great many other people whose influence is by no means negligible who are of an entirely different opinion. The fact, at any rate, remains that this Bill passed through the House of Commons without a dissentient voice, and that it is supported by a very large body of business opinion out of doors from quarters some of which I described to your Lordships when I addressed you on the subject last night, I admitted then, and I admit now, that there probably will be cases in which the change may produce a certain amount of 1067 inconvenience to industries carried on under somewhat exceptional circumstances, and it is quite likely that in the case of agriculture inconvenience may arise, and for the reason that my noble friend mentioned—namely, that there are some agricultural operations which cannot be carried on at a very early hour in the morning. But that point has been considered, and I am able to say that the Scottish Board of Agriculture and the Board of Agriculture here are both supporters of the Bill with a full knowledge of all its effects. I will not pursue seriously the extremely humorous suggestion made by my noble friend in regard to the possibility of the arrival of midnight twins at the particular moment when the clock was going to be put back again. Solvuntur risu tabulœ I do not think we need take that as a very serious objection. But I am able to reassure my noble friend to this extent, at all events, that we put forward this Bill and ask to have it passed hurriedly through Parliament upon the ground that we regard it as a measure especially valuable at this time, when the country is engaged in a great war and is consequently obliged to husband its resources as much as possible. The Bill, as my noble friend is aware, is a Bill which can be renewed de anno in annum, but only so long as the war lasts. I am inclined to think, with the noble Earl on the Back Bench, that when the time comes people will be by no means desirous of going back to the old order. But for the present we are quite content to propose 1068 this measure as a temporary and experimental one, justified by the special circumstances of the time.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Bill reported without amendment: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill read 3a, and passed.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.