HL Deb 13 December 1917 vol 27 cc125-30

Your Lordships will recollect that a few days ago the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition asked the Leader of the House a question as to the further progress of business during the present sittings and after the Christmas recess. It was represented to the Government by a good many of your Lordships that, should this House be advised to give a Second Reading to the Representation of the People Bill, the Committee stage of that measure should not be taken so early as January 2, which is the date that has been mentioned. My noble friend the Leader of the House promised to take the matter into consideration and to let us know later what view the Government took of that proposal. I think the suggestion then made to the Government was widely held in all parts of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, my noble friend who has just addressed you has referred to what passed in the House a day or two ago, and to the appeals which, from more than one authoritative quarter, were addressed to this Bench. I have considered the matter and have endeavoured to give due weight to the various arguments that were addressed to me on that occasion. It was then urged, supposing that your Lordships gave a Second Reading to the Representation of the People Bill next week, that it would be desirable not to take the Committee stage on January 2—a date which had been mentioned, not by myself, but in the Press. In the first place, some noble Lords thought that a somewhat longer time ought to elapse between the Second Reading and the Committee stage, in order to enable them to consider the various pro- posals that they might wish to put forward. Secondly, some noble Lords living at a great distance from London, notably those who reside in Scotland, represented to me that it would be an inconvenient thing for them to return to London on January 1. Thirdly, it was pointed out that it would be a convenience if noble Lords who desired to put Amendments on the Paper had an opportunity of consulting with each other before the Committee stage was opened. And lastly it was suggested I think by Lord Courtney that it might be desirable to occupy one or two days of Parliamentary time with taking other business before the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill was put down.

My Lords, recognising the weight of these arguments. I have endeavoured to give effect to all of them in the following way. I propose to ask your Lordships to take the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill on the date named by the noble Marquess Tuesday, January 8 and to take it continuously, in so far as that is possible, from that date onwards. At the same time there are certain measures coming up from another place which it is desirable that your Lordships should discuss, and if it be your will, pass into law with as little delay as possible. I will give your Lordships a list of these measures and of the dates at which they are likely to come up to us. First, let me give the names of those Bills which I should like your Lordships to pass before we adjourn for the Christmas recess. They are Bills that are not likely, I think, to provoke considerable discussion in this House. They are the Chequers Estate Bill, the Education (Provision of Meals) (Ireland) Bill, and the Appropriation Bill.

There is a second category of measures that I hope this House will be in a position to take immediately after we return from the Christmas recess. They are the Coal Mines Control Agreement (Confirmation) Bill, the National Health Insurance Bill, and the National Insurance (Unemployment) Bill. Those are the measures that, following the suggestion of Lord Courtney, I would ask your Lordships' House to take immediately after we return; and to meet the convenience of the House I propose that we should meet for this purpose on Thursday, January 3. That will obviate inconvenience to those who do not wish to travel on January 1. I propose that we should meet on January 3, and sit on that day and on the next day, Friday, in order to take these Bills. There would then he an interval of a few days, from the Friday to the Tuesday, in order to enable noble Lords to make their preparations for the Committee stage of the Franchise Bill.

There is a third category of measures, previously alluded to in this House, and likely, perhaps, to excite more discussion than those I have mentioned. They are the Non-ferrous Metal Industry Bill, the Imports and Exports (Temporary Control) Bill, and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. I do not propose to ask your Lordships to take any of these measures until a later stage either after the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill, or, if it be found necessary to interrupt that stage, at some date after January 8. I hope that these arrangements will meet with the approval of your Lordships' House, because they have been designed with the intention, as I have explained, of meeting all the various appeals that were made to me a few days ago.


My Lords, there is one point to which I should like to call the attention of the noble Earl. When last we discussed this particular question I am bound to say I think he met us in all respects in a most reasonable manner. I do not think he could have said or done more than he did on that occasion. But since then one, thing has happened which appears to me to have entirely changed the situation, and which deserves some further consideration. At that time we knew exactly what the Representation of the People Bill contained. We knew the policy of the Government as to a most important part of that measure—namely, what their proposals were with regard to redistribution and representation in Ireland. But all that has gone; the whole position is altered. The Bill which we are asked to sanction by a Second Reading is, in that most important respect, wholly incomplete; and I am bound to say, from a recollection of nearly fifty years of Parliamentary life, this is the first occasion I can call to mind on which a measure of this vast importance, has been submitted to your Lordships for your judgment and approval in this condition—that everything connected with Ireland is, up to the present time, en l'air. We really do not know what we are sanctioning by the Second Reading. All we know is this, that there is to be another Bill (what it may be we have no idea), and that this other Bill is to be presented for the Royal Assent—supposing it is passed, which I observe is taken as a matter of course by the Government—at the same time. I am perfectly aware that a proposal has been made, and a very remarkable proposal it is. It will involve the opinions and decisions of live members of the House of Commons at most. It may be a decision of three, but more likely I should think it will be a decision of one man—namely, the Speaker of the House of Commons. That is a very singular proposal.

We were told that the decisions of the Speaker's Conference were to be embodied in a Bill which was to be an agreed Bill, but we know now, from the course of the measure, that it has been anything but an agreed Bill, and in its later stages it concluded amidst the most violent controversy that has probably occurred for months, or I might almost say during the whole existence of the present Government. All this prompts me to ask, What is the need for hurry in proceeding with the Representation of the People Bill until we really know what it is that we are to have before us and on which we shall have to pronounce our judgment and opinion? I should have thought that, this being the position, we might have had a little longer period allotted for consideration than seems to be the view of the noble Earl, who asks us to come back again on January 3. The reason for this, as far as I understand him, is that we are to have a whole variety of other Bills which he asks us to consider. Some of them may be important, others may not be; but at least we have before us at the present time one of the most important and most complicated measures that I have ever seem. Though to some extent our difficulties have been diminished by the singularly able and lucid speech which was made on the First Reading by Lord Peel—who, I think, showed us on that occasion that he has inherited by descent the qualities of an orator, and an orator of the very highest class we are still in the position (I can speak only for myself, but I dare say I have seen as many Bills as almost any one living and had to do with as many in the course of a very long career) of having before us a measure which, when we do begin it, ought not to be complicated by other measures introduced during its passage, so far as that can be avoided.

I assume that the House of Commons are going to meet again on the same day. If that be so, of course we, shall have to abide by what the noble Earl says. But unless that is so, I really think it is asking a great deal of this House to expect it to come back again so soon for this tremendously important discussion in Committee with endless numbers of details involved, all of them of vast importance. I do not think that I am saying anything that I ought not to say or going too far when I suggest that we might have further time for the consideration of this measure.


My Lords, the position and authority of the noble Viscount in your Lordships' House suggest to me that I should make some brief reply to his remarks. I confess that I was rather disappointed at their general tenor, because I have, in the arrangements that I have suggested for the Representation of the People Bill, done my best to meet the considerations and appeals that have been addressed to me from so many quarters of the, House.

Let me remind your Lordships of what we have done. In the first place, in order to satisfy your Lordships—and for that reason only—my noble friend was asked, on the First Reading of the Bill, to adopt the wholly unusual course of making a detailed expository statement of the features of the measure. And here may I say, not having had the opportunity of doing so before, how cordially I join in the many tributes that have already been offered to him for the conspicuous success that attended his effort on that occasion. Having made that arrangement on the occasion of the First Reading, I then, to meet your Lordships' desires, postponed the Second Reading for the best part of a week. You will take it next Monday. Then the question arose of the Committee, stage, and I cannot help recalling that my noble friend Lord Courtney, in his remarks the other day, asked that, as a special favour, I should give your Lordships at least a fortnight between the, Second Reading and the Committee, stage. My Lords, I went beyond Lord Courtney's wishes. Anxious above all things to oblige the noble Viscount, who is so desirous of devoting his holiday to pensive reflections on this vast change in the Constitution, I gave him, not two weeks, but three weeks; and now I find that he is not satisfied with three weeks but wants a further period for prolonged rumination in the Midlands upon this Bill. Is that altogether reasonable? Admitting the vast importance of and the great changes introduced by this Bill, are we really to believe that your Lordships cannot in three weeks of time master its contents, assisted by the singularly lucid exposition of my noble friend who sits on my left (Lord Peel)?

What is the reason that the noble Viscount puts forward for his request? It is that at the last moment a change has been made in the form in which the Bill is being presented to your Lordships' House. Is that change one which renders it desirable to postpone the Committee stage? Surely, my Lords, very much the reverse, because the proposals to deal with Irish redistribution were no part of the Bill in the form in which it was presented in another place. They were introduced at a later date. They may have been wisely or unwisely introduced. I offer no opinion upon that. But the fact that they were introduced and were afterwards dropped is surely not a reason for postponing the Committee stage, but rather one for accelerating our taking it in this House.

Only one word as to the method that is proposed to be adopted with regard to this Irish redistribution. I have no responsibility for that. It was an arrangement made in another place. Whether it was a good or a bad one I do not say. Whether it is open to the criticism of the noble Viscount I do not say. But at least it was an effort to arrive by general consent at a settlement of a singularly complex and disputed case. That settlement, if it is arrived at, is to be put in the, form of a Bill. That Bill will come up to your Lordships' House. You will have it in your hands to deal with as you please. Your liberty is not compromised. And if the noble Viscount entertains such strong views upon the proposed settlement of the Irish case as apparently he does, he will have the opportunity of placing them before your Lordships at a later date. I submit that in none of these arrangements is there any reason why we should abstain from taking the Committee stage of this Bill on the date named. I therefore hope, even if I have not given satisfaction to my noble friend, that I have adduced sufficient reasons for the course that is proposed, that I have treated your Lordships not unfairly in the matter, and that you may reasonably be asked to take the Committee stage upon the date which I previously named.

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