HL Deb 06 December 1917 vol 27 cc79-84



May I ask the noble Earl the Lord President whether he is in a position to give us any information as to the course of business up to the Christmas adjournment, in particular when it is proposed to take the Representation of the People Bill; and also for how long the noble Earl proposes we should adjourn at Christmas?


My Lords, a good deal of my time during the last twenty-four hours has been spent in constructing hypothetical time tables of the manner in which your Lordships may be asked to occupy your time in the interval between now and Christmas, based on various calculations of the progress of measures in another place. The situation varies almost from hour to hour, and the kind of time table that I had contemplated putting before your Lordships' House last night and this morning has had to be changed at the last moment. A hope had been expressed to me that the Representation of the People Bill would pass through its final stages and leave the House of Commons to-morrow night, and in those circumstances I was anxious to make arrangements for your Lordships to take the First Reading as soon as possible after that time. But the latest news from another place is that on the whole it is unlikely that the Bill will pass the House of Commons this week. We then have to contemplate a situation in which it will not leave the House of Commons until Monday night next. This leaves at our disposal the whole of next week and the greater part of the, week following, up to the time at which we adjourn for the Christmas holidays.

Ordinarily speaking, the procedure adopted with regard to Bills, as your Lordships know well, is that the First Reading in this House is taken as a matter of form, that the Bill is then printed and circulated, and that a general discussion ensues, very often after no considerable lapse of time, upon the Second Reading. But strong representations have been made to me from more than one quarter that this particular Bill is so complicated in character and has experienced so many changes in its passage through another place that it will eventually reach this House in certain essential particulars in a manner so unlike what might have been anticipated a week ago, that your Lordships may be desirous that the ordinary rule of dispensing with a statement on the First Reading should not be adhered to, and that the Minister in charge of the Bill—my noble friend Lord Peel would be meeting the views of a large number of your Lordships' House if he were to take advantage of the First Reading stage to make a full explanation of what the Bill is and what it means. In a case like this we must not be too particular about precedents, and if there is a case for varying the ordinary procedure I think it may be held to exist in the present instance. That is a preface to what I now propose to say about the arrangements.

My inclination would be to suggest that, if the Bill passes through its final stages in another place on Monday, your Lordships should take the First Reading on Tuesday, on which occasion my noble friend Lord Peel will make a full explanation of the provisions of the Bill. That will not be a Second Reading debate or a prelude to a Second Reading debate. It will be an exposition of the Bill in order that your Lordships may be fully seized of it in its latest form. The Bill will then be printed and circulated on the following morning Wednesday. Your Lordships' House would naturally be unwilling to proceed with the Bill in the course, of that week; you would want some time in which to study it and to make yourselves acquainted with its provisions. I therefore propose to take the Second Reading on the Monday following (December 17). I have no clear knowledge at present how much time your Lordships will wish to spend on that stage of the Bill. I assume that it will be two or three days; something will depend on the arrangements you wish to make as to sitting before dinner and after dinner. Assuming that the Second Reading debate begins on the Monday, I hope to get the Second Reading on Tuesday or Wednesday; and we should then be able to adjourn for the Christmas holidays on the Thursday or Friday.

Your Lordships may ask what other measures are coming before you in the interval between now and that date. The following Bills will probably come up in the course of next week—they are Bills of no great importance the Education (Provision of Meals) (Ireland) Bill; and the Chequers Estate Bill, about which you have read, no doubt, in the public Press, In the week following but not before the beginning of that week, so far as I can anticipate—there are likely to come up the Non-ferrous Metal Industry Bill, the Imports and Exports(Temporary Control) Bill, and the Coal [...] Control Agreement (Confirmation) Bill. I do not think that these measures are likely to excite prolonged discussion in your Lordships' House, and I hope to get them passed through all their stages here before we adjourn for the Christmas vacation.

There remains the last question which the noble Marquess put to me as to the length of the adjournment at Christmas, on which I would ask his leave to take a little time before answering. I should like to have the general sentiments of your Lordships' House upon that matter. We are anxious, of course, to fit in with the arrangements made in another place. It is quite clear that while we are here discussing the Franchise Bill the House of Commons will, so far as that Bill is concerned, have nothing to do. I hope to make a statement on this point at as early date as I can. The Appropriation Bill will pass the House of Commons on Tuesday, December 18, and that Bill has to receive the Royal Assent before January 10.


My Lords, I am sure I speak the sentiments of all who are here when I say that it would be impossible for the noble Earl who leads the House to have made a more conciliatory or reasonable statement as to the matters with which he has dealt, or to have given us a fuller description of the undoubted difficulties with which we have to contend with regard to time and other matters. I am quite sure that the House would be desirous, in all the points mentioned, to help as far as possible and to do everything we can to get business despatched reasonably and satisfactorily. I know something about the controversy with regard to the Non-ferrous Metal Industry Bill, and also the Imports and Exports Bill, which I believe is to a large extent founded upon an interim Report of my Committee; and I should not think, as far as I can foresee, that there would be a great deal of trouble about those measures.

The point which I rose to urge in answer to the desire expressed by the noble Earl just before he sat down to elicit the general opinion of the House—and upon which I want to make an earnest appeal is this, that we should not be brought back again alter the New Year until January 8 or 9. I may mention that the holidays in Scotland are different from those in England. We have no Bank Holiday on December 26; our Bank Holiday is on January 1. If we are to be made to travel upon the 1st of January it will be a matter of extreme difficulty and inconvenience. I therefore make an earnest appeal to the noble Earl that, if possible, the House should not resume its sittings until about January 8 or 9.


My Lords, I should like to add a word of thanks to my noble friend opposite for the way in which he has met the representations made to him. We are very grateful. The method in which he has arranged the business appears to me to be admirable. I would like to add this suggestion, that January 2 is a very inconvenient date on which to meet after the holiday. I do not think that the public service would seriously suffer by a few more days' delay; and, considering that a great deal of preliminary work has to be done upon the Representation of the People Bill between the Second Reading and the Committee stage, Christmas and the day or two following are not, I submit, very good days for that particular kind of work. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will agree that it is not an unreasonable suggestion which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has put before him.


My Lords, may I be allowed to add a word in support of the plea of Lord Balfour of Burleigh. In the West of England we are also far away, and it would be very hard to be brought back during the Christmas holidays. But the immediate point that I desire to press upon the noble Earl is this. I desire to associate myself with those who have thanked him for the admirable way in which he has approached the problem of dealing with our time, but I suggest that alter the Second Reading of the Representation of the People Bill there should be a reasonable interval, because there is a great, deal to be considered and discussed both by those who are supporting the Bill and by those who desire to see it amended, and time would not be lost if they were given large opportunities of meeting together to frame any Amendments which they might consider it desirable to submit. I hope, therefore, that there will be a fairly good interval between the Second Reading and the further stages of the Bill. I should have desired a longer interval even than that which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has suggested. I should have liked a full fortnight. But may I add this suggestion that, if possible, when we meet after the holiday we may not, enter upon the consideration of the Representation of the People Bill immediately, but may first consider some of those other measures to which the noble Earl has made reference. They are not very serious Bills, and are not likely to be much debated; and we might thus allow a day or two to elapse after the re-assembling of the House before we enter on the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill. It is obvious that those who come together very early after Christmas will not have been able to frame Amendments. They can do so only after a good deal of mutual consultation, and I do not think that it is at all unreasonable that we should plead for an opportunity of such consultation after the House is called upon to resume its labours. I think that we ought to have, at least a couple of days in which to put down Amendments for Committee.


My Lords, by the leave of the House I desire to say a word with reference to the very clear statement of my noble friend opposite, which has given, as he sees, great satisfaction in all quarters of the House. I wish to refer to the unusual course which has been proposed of making a statement on the First Reading of the Representation of the People Bill. It has not usually been desired in the past that such a statement should be made on a Bill being brought from the House of Commons, because noble Lords, not being in possession of the text of the Bill, would have complained that the Government were taking the opportunity of stating their case, particularly in introducing a controversial Bill, to which no reply could be made without the text of the Bill. Therefore it has not been the practice of your Lordships' House to have such a statement. But on this particular occasion I agree with the noble Earl opposite that the course is not only legitimate but desirable. As I understand it, the statement will take the place of the explanatory Memorandum which of late years hits often been prefixed to Bills which are complicated in their terms or which cover a great deal of political ground. In these times the preparation of such a Memorandum cannot be altogether easy when everybody is so much pressed, to say nothing of the amount of paper which would be required in order to circulate it to all your Lordships. Consequently in this instance, although I do not think that the practice is one which ought to be frequently followed. I offer no objection whatever—rather the contrary to the proposition which the noble Earl has made.


My Lords, I have only one observation to add, which I forgot to make when I spoke before. I am much obliged to noble Lords for the kind reception they have given to the suggested arrangements. The single observation that I desire to make is that if my noble friend Lord Peel gives the full explanation which is desired on the First Reading of the Bill, I hope that your Lordships will not expect him to supplement it by another speech of similar volume on the Second Reading.

Moved, That the House do adjourn, except for Judicial business, until Tuesday next.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at fifteen minutes before five o'clock.