HL Deb 22 November 1917 vol 26 cc1127-9

My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether he is able now to give us any information as to the course of business for the remainder of the session. We are now within a month of the time at which, in ordinary circumstances, we should be taking an adjournment. The measure which naturally interests us most in this regard is the Representation of the People Bill, which is pursuing its course in another place, but has still a stage or two to go through before its completion there. This measure will naturally demand the closest examination by your Lordships' House, and I have no doubt there are many noble Lords who will desire to take part in the discussions upon it. I am certain His Majesty's Government will agree that it is not a Bill which it would be reasonable to hurry through this House. In these circumstances we should be grateful if the noble Earl could give us some general indications, even if they cannot be absolutely definite in point of fixed dates, as to what the course of business is likely to be before Christmas.


My Lords, I will endeavour to the best of my ability to answer the question which has been put to me by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, although I cannot, owing to the still prevailing uncertainty as to the exact proceedings of another place, be very precise as to dates. No Bills, I understand, are likely to come up from another place to your Lordships' House next week. The Bill in which the noble Marquess pointed out your Lordships would be chiefly interested—the Representation of the People Bill—has been, as he hinted, somewhat delayed in its later stages of progress through the House of Commons, and I am informed that on the whole it is unlikely that it will be in your Lordships' House for another fortnight. This seems to be the most reasonable forecast that I can offer. I quite agree with the general proposition put forward by the noble Marquess, that a Bill of that character will require very careful and thorough examination in your Lordships' House, and I shall endeavour to secure for you the means to give it the full scrutiny you desire. There is another Bill, the Coal Mines Agreement Bill, that ought to come up to us about the same time. There is a second category of Bills of, perhaps, minor importance which will come up to us at a later date, although the date itself I cannot fix. They are the National Health Insurance Bill, the Non-ferrous Metal Industry Bill, the Imports and Exports Bill, and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. There are two other Bills on the programme of the Government which I am afraid we shall not be able to proceed with this session. One of these is the Midwives (Ireland) Bill and the other the immensely important Educational Reform Bill introduced by my right hon. friend Mr. Fisher in the other House. Your Lordships will have seen the statement made there to the effect that the Government, having regard to the conditions of time, have no hope of proceeding with that Bill this session, but that it is intended to give it a very prominent place in the next session of Parliament. That, I think, is all that I can at present say about the date at which Bills will reach us, but I shall be quite ready to supplement this limited information at a later date as soon as fuller information is in my possession.


May I ask the noble Earl whether he thinks it possible to pass these Bills through all their stages in this House before the end of the year?


My Lords, I hesitate to express any definite opinion on that matter; but if the noble Lord asks my private opinion, I should think it is doubtful whether we shall be able to complete that programme before Christmas, and an adjournment may conceivably be necessary in order to take some of it at a later stage.


I think, my Lords, you will have heard with great satisfaction the last remark of my noble friend opposite in reply to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Some of us are apt to be frightened at the weight of business which might be expected of us before Christmas, and indeed it is very difficult to believe that we could by then get through all the Bills which my noble friend has mentioned, if we are to do justice to them. I earnestly hope that we shall be asked to do justice to these Bills, and especially is that the case with the Reform Bill, which is a measure of the first importance. I understand that the Reform Bill is not likely to reach your Lordships' House until December 4 a bare three weeks before Christmas Day. I am sure my noble friend and the Government are aware of the very large number of topics of importance which are included in that Bill. It is almost impossible to believe that we shall get through that Bill rapidly. There are the great questions of proportional representation, woman suffrage, and redistribution, and any number of details as to the machinery of the Bill which your Lordships are probably familiar with and will be more familiar. I am very glad, indeed, that my noble friend has hinted that it may be necessary, instead of proroguing at Christmas, to have an adjournment; and in that case a great weight will be taken off the minds of many of us.


I should like to submit to the noble Earl that ample time should be given to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. It is a Bill which may well be very carefully considered in your Lordships' House.


I hope that adequate time will be given to the consideration of all these Bills; and I quite agree, with regard to the particular one mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, who is a great authority on the question, that the fullest opportunity should be given to consider it in detail.


I am much obliged.