HL Deb 21 November 1917 vol 26 cc1123-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend the Leader of the House will allow me to make an appeal to him not to persist with the Second Reading of this Bill this evening. I am aware that such an appeal is quite irregular, but, speaking always subject to your Lordships' permission, I make it for the following reasons. The Bill was brought from the Commons but yesterday, and it was only in the hands of the House this morning. Indeed it was not in my hands quite as early as this morning. It is not a Bill of urgency, such as the one with which we have just been dealing; and if it is passed and receives the Royal Assent before the end of this month I understand that that will be quite sufficient. There are certain points that require to be raised upon it which we really have not yet had time to consider, but which I am sure the Government would like to know of before they deal with the Bill. I must not discuss the measure, but I may say generally that it is pre-eminently a Bill of legislation by reference, and it was only with some difficulty that at a late hour this afternoon and with the assistance of an eminent lawyer we ascertained what the Bill really means. Therefore I think there is a rather strong case for not taking the Second Reading to-night. I am aware that I ought to have said this when the Bill was read a first time last evening, but although I was present I did not catch the name of the Bill or I would have made my observations then, when they would have been strictly regular. I make this appeal to the noble Earl, and I am sure he will find that the House generally takes the same view.


I should like to know whether your Lordships generally do take that view, because I am prepared to conform to the sense of the House. It is, of course, a somewhat irregular proceeding, when a Bill has been put down for Second Reading and a Minister rises to move it, that a request should be made to postpone it; but I wish now, as on all previous occasions, to do what the general sense of the House requires. I might point out that, although it is true that the Bill has been in the hands of noble Lords only for a short time, it received no alteration in the House of Commons. It was not amended in Committee there at all. The Bill comes to your Lordships in the exact form in which it was first put before the House of Commons, ten days or a fortnight or more ago; and therefore it was in the power of noble Lords, if they so chose, to acquaint themselves not only with the general character but also with the exact phraseology of the Bill as now placed before them.

I own that I was a little alarmed when my noble friend opposite informed me that he had been consulting a legal friend of great authority, because it seemed to forecast a discussion which I might have difficulty in meeting. The question is whether the points which my noble friend desires to bring forward are points which it is essential to raise on the Second Reading, or whether they should more properly be raised in Committee. If he tells me that they are Second Reading points, I will, of course, if it is the sense of the House, defer the Second Reading. We are bound by certain limitations of time. The last Act passed for extending the life of Parliament terminates on the 30th of the present month, in the middle of next week, and therefore it is essential that this Bill should be passed into law before that date. Of course, if my noble friend presses the point about the Second Reading, I shall take the Second Reading to-morrow, and the Committee on Tuesday next—the same day as we take the Committee stage of the Air Force Bill; but I must take it by then in order to pass the Bill into law within the requisite space of time. Perhaps the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition will give me some guidance, and tell me whether it would be better to postpone the Second Reading or to allow the points to be raised on the Committee stage.


In reply to the courteous invitation of the noble Earl, I may say that I have no knowledge of the points which my noble friend behind me and his friends desire to raise. Personally I have no opposition to offer to the Bill as it stands, and therefore I am not in a position to give advice from more knowledge than the noble Earl himself possesses. But as I happen to have sat in the same place as ha now occupies, I will say that in his position I think I should have agreed to the suggestion of my noble friend behind me, since it is quite clear that if the noble Earl will be willing to take the Second Reading to-morrow there is no reason why the Bill should not pass through the whole of the remaining stages on Tuesday next, which would give reasonable time for it to receive the Royal Assent before the date fixed by Statute. I trust, therefore, that the noble Earl will agree to my noble friend's request.


My Lords, might I venture to say a word? I do not think it is reasonable to hold out any idea that there will be much discussion on this Bill with a view to opposing it. But the point which I would like to make is this, that those who have duties elsewhere than in London find it very difficult to make sure of attending the House unless they know a little more definitely than we do now on what date a Bill is coming on. I confess that when I saw in the newspapers that this Bill had been read a first time last night it never occurred to me that it could be taken for Second Reading as rapidly as to-day. I thought that as a matter of course the Second Reading would be deferred until Thursday, and the remaining stages until next week. I knew, of course, that the Bill would require to be passed before the end of the month, because that is common knowledge. However, I rose more to say this, that I hope those responsible for bringing business before the House will give a little more consideration to the necessities of this House as compared with the necessities of the other House than is often done. I think that our convenience is quite unduly sacrificed, very often by the perhaps necessary difficulties of another place, but in my opinion we suffer much more than we ought to do upon that ground.


I recognise the force of the appeal which the noble Lord has, not for the first time, addressed to me, and I should be the last to argue that your Lordships should not have due notice of the presentation to this House of any important Bill. In putting this Bill down for to-day, I confess it had not occurred to me that there would be either serious criticism or opposition. It was taken in another place almost as a Bill upon which every one was agreed, and it was in that expectation that I put it down for to-day. But inasmuch as I find there is a general desire for a rather longer interval, I will take the Second Reading to-morrow, and ask your Lordships' to agree to the Committee Stage being put down for Tuesday next.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl.

House adjourned at ten minutes past six o'clock.