HL Deb 22 November 1917 vol 26 cc1131-45

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, the title of which has just been announced at the Table. This is the fourth Bill which has been introduced to Parliament in the last two years for the prolongation of its existence. On the three previous occasions the extension asked for and given was, in the first case, eight months; in the second case, seven months; and, in the third case, seven months; and it is the last of those periods which expires in eight days' time. That is the reason why the Government are obliged to come again to Parliament at this juncture and ask them to give their assent to the passage of this Bill.

On the last occasion—in April this year—when I introduced the third of these Bills to your Lordships' House, I stated at some length the considerations which rendered such an extension of the life of Parliament not only desirable but inevitable. I really might repeat what I said on that occasion almost verbatim this afternoon, but it seems to me unnecessary to do so, for this reason. The case is so familiar, and the arguments in favour of a further prolongation are so overwhelming, that it is unnecessary for me to recapitulate a position with which all your Lordships must be thoroughly acquainted.

The reasons why public opinion in both Houses of Parliament and in the country at large is convinced that this fourth extension of the life of Parliament is necessary—foreign though such an innovation is to all constitutional precedent, and, I will admit, to all ordinary propriety—are, it seems to me, four in number, which can be stated in a sentence in each case. In the first place, it is as undesirable now as it was in April last to contemplate a General Election, which in existing circumstances could only be an imperfect, even if it were in substance a faithful, expression of the opinion of the country. Secondly, it will be universally recognised that the sole preoccupation, not merely of politicians and of public men but of the community at large in this stage of affairs, ought not to be in fighting each other—and in any case and at any time a General Election does involve some element of conflict—but ought to be in fighting the enemy. Thirdly, there is the Bill, mentioned by the noble Marquess and myself just now, passing through its later stages in the other House and almost on the threshold of your Lordships' House. That Bill provides for a very large extension of the suffrage, and it would seem to be an absurd and an indefensible thing not to wait for a few months longer until these new voters, who are likely to number several millions, are able to exercise the privilege which Parliament seems likely to confer upon them. And the fourth reason is this—that if this Reform Bill passes through both Houses of Parliament and becomes law, it will be immediately followed by the creation of a Register. This Register, it is contemplated, although it is impossible to predict with any definiteness, will take about seven months to compile. If that be correct, we shall be taken on until the end of next summer, and it is for that reason that the period named in this Bill for the fourth extension of Parliament is eight months instead of seven, as was the case in the last two Bills to which I have referred. Should this expectation not be fulfilled, it is clear that both Houses of Parliament will have an opportunity at the end of July next, when this Bill comes to an end, of reconsidering the matter and of making such dispositions as they think fit. With these few words I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleslon.)


My Lords, may I, in the first place, express my grateful thanks to my noble friend for his courtesy yesterday in postponing this Bill? He has advanced this evening some very cogent arguments in favour of the Second Reading, so cogent that I am sure your Lordships will not desire in any part of the House to resist it. But there are one or two observations that I shall venture, with your Lordships' permission, to make upon the Second Reading. I understand that the prolongation of Parliament is until July 30 next.




This illustrates the difficulty of modern legislation. After all our investigations yesterday we came to the conclusion that the date was June 30, but I dare say we were wrong.


Eight months from November 30 takes us, does it not, to the end of July?


That is quite true, and if the drafting of the Bill had been that Parliament was to be prolonged for eight months the plain man would have understood it. But what the Bill does is to say that there shall be a particular change in another Act of Parliament to which you have to refer, and when you refer to that other Act you find that it only has a meaning if you refer back to a third Act of Parliament, and it is only by a combination of the three that you can arrive at a conclusion. We arrived at the wrong conclusion. Put the matter is of no importance except to show how difficult it is for the plain layman, let alone the trained lawyer, to understand Bills drafted in this way. I do not, of course, say this by way of criticism of my noble friend, who is not in the least responsible for the drafting of the Pill, but in order to justify something which I ventured to say to your Lordships yesterday.

Parliament is to be prolonged under this Bill until July 30, and the first question that I should like to ask my noble friend is, Upon what principle has that date been fixed? Has he a confident hope that the Reform Bill and the Register which will follow its passage into law will be complete in time for a General Election to take place on or about July 30, if it be to the interest of the country to have one at that time? I think we ought not to play about, with this question. If the object is to keep this Parliament in being until the arrangements under the new Reform Pill can take effect, then let us be told at the very outset when that date is likely to be. If the two things hang together, let us understand the method by which the Government have arrived at the calculation which they have now given to your Lordships.

I make no complaint of it, but my noble friend spoke of this Pill as if it were no more than a repetition of the Bill which had gone before it. In one sense he is perfectly right. But there is one particular in which it differs from the previous Bills. This Bill will prolong the existing Parliament to the limit of seven and a-half years. Now, this Parliament was fixed by Statute at five years. It is a considerable thing that it should have been prolonged beyond that time. But it has not only been prolonged beyond that time; it is now proposed to prolong it for a longer period than any Parliament has sat since the beginning of the eighteenth century. That is a very considerable step to take. Broadly speaking, ever since the passage of the Septennial Act in 1715—though I am not historian enough to say whether there may not have been some exceptions—no Parliament has lasted longer than seven years.

While recognising the cogency of the arguments which my noble friend has addressed to your Lordships, one cannot but remark upon the moral authority which attaches to a House of Commons serving under such circumstances as those which I have described; because the moral authority of the House of Commons depends upon the authority given to it by the electorate, and that electorate certainly did not give it for more than seven years. The seven years, I take it, will come to an end about the beginning of February next year. I must say that I draw from that an inference that the legislation which takes place in the period after what I may call the full moral authority of the House of Commons has expired ought to be very carefully scanned by your Lordships. Under the Constitution, if there is one special obligation which rests upon this House, so long as it is allowed to exist, it is to protect the Septennial Act, or whatever Act takes its place. Because it is in the absolute power of any House of Commons to prolong its existence indefinitely. It has merely to pass a Bill to that effect. Of course, I am not desiring to say that the present House of Commons is so perverted that it would wish to do such a thing. But it is in its power, and the only precaution and protection in the Constitution to prevent such a tiling happening is the existence of your Lordships' House. Therefore when we are asked by my noble friend not only to vary the prescribed period laid down by the Parliament Act, but also to vary the period which has been in existence for nearly two centuries, then I submit that it is not quite accurate to say that this Bill is merely a repetition of the Bills which have gone before.

If then we are to look upon this, as I think we ought to, as an innovation of a very serious kind, dictated, it is true, by the emergency of the times and by the necessities in which we stand, we ought to scan very narrowly the legislation which is proposed to us during the period of prolongation beyond the Septennial Act.

Now may I say one word about that? What legislation ought we to let pass? That is a very big question, and I do not propose to answer it. But I will make this comment. All war legislation, all legislation, that is to say, which is necessary for the carrying on of the war, evidently ought to be passed. All legislation which arises out of the emergencies of the war ought to be passed. But when we come to other totally new legislation, legislation upon which the country has not been consulted, then I say, though I am not ruling it out, that this class of legislation ought to be approached with the greatest caution. I do not say that I refer to any Bill which is in a forward state at the present time. The Reform Bill has been before the country for a long time, and I am not in the least saying that that is not legislation which in the circumstances your Lordships ought to consider.

But this appears to be true. If we are to pass legislation so important as the Reform Bill, then we ought to pass legislation which is a necessary consequence of the Reform Bill. It certainly would not be fair upon the electorate to pass a Reform Bill in such circumstances and to leave out what is necessary to complete it. Now, my Lords, there is a measure which is necessary to complete it, and that is the reform of your Lordships' House. I should like to ask the Government to give their special consideration to the necessity for dealing with it. If there had been no reform of Parliament at all, there was something to be said for leaving the reform of your Lordships' House alone. But if there is to be this tremendous change in the suffrage, for which there is a great deal to be said, then I submit that the legislation necessary for the reform of your Lordships' House earnestly calls for consideration and attention. We all know the famous Preamble to the Parliament Act. We all know the hopes—they were rather more than hopes—which wore held out by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith. I forget his phrase; I think it was that the reform of the House of Lords "did not brook delay." How many years ago was that statement made? That pledge—for it almost amounted to a pledge—still remains unredeemed, and the famous Preamble of the Parliament Act has never been fulfilled.

I earnestly hope that if, as is to be anticipated, the Conference which is now sitting on the reform of the House of Lords comes to a conclusion, the Government will consider it a matter of high obligation to bring that conclusion before Parliament. I am not, of course, asking His Majesty's Government to pledge themselves to pass any particular Report which may be submitted to them. I do not like these blank cheques to Conferences. I do not believe in them. But I do think that, if something like a unanimous conclusion is arrived at by the Lords Conference, and if the Government do not see any reason to I disapprove of such a Report, and if public opinion is favourable to it, no plea of "other business" should be allowed to stand in its way. It would not be fair to the country to disappoint a fulfilment of Mr. Asquith's pledge. It would not be fair to the country that a great change in the constitution of the Lower House should take place but that the powers of the Upper House should still remain in their present truncated condition. I earnestly hope that to this matter the Government will give their most careful consideration. For the rest—I speak only as a humble member of your Lordships' House—I trust that the passage of this particular Bill which we have upon the Table will be made easy. I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity of making these observations, and I commend them to his attention.


My Lords, when the first Bill for the extension of the life of Parliament was introduced I am bound to I say that I took the same view as was expressed by Lord St. Aldwyn in those days—namely, that no such Bill ought to have been introduced. I think that subsequent history has more than confirmed the opinion which Lord St. Aldwyn then expressed, because the misfortune has been that since that date there has been no Register provided by which, in the ordinary constitutional way, a representative Assembly could properly be elected.

I recollect asking the noble Earl not long ago when some Register would be provided in order that an election might be possible should it be rendered necessary by the course of public events. The noble Earl did not say much in the way of promise then, because he pointed out that if the Electoral Reform Bill were to become law I the Register would have to be taken under that Bill and not under the present existing Acts. A little later I will deal with what the noble Earl said to-day upon that point. But before I do so I should like to emphasise what was said by the noble Marquess who has just sat down with regard to the distinction between this Bill and the Bills which have preceded it. I hope the noble Marquess will not mind if. I endeavour to add a little to the history which he sketched out.


Correct it, please.


I do not wish at all to correct it. But in the early part of the eighteenth century, when the Septennial Act was introduced, the time for which Parliaments endured under the then existing law was three years. What was done by way of alteration was not to extend the time of a particular Parliament but to introduce a new law which gave a septennial period as against the triennial period. The noble Marquess is undoubtedly right in saying that from that time to this there has been no interference with the septennial period, except the five years period introduced under what is known as the Parliament Act. But when that five years period was introduced into the Parliament Act it was brought in with this reservation—namely, that the House of Commons itself was not to have the same power as regards the extension or alteration of that time as it had with regard to other matters of legislation. In other words, if that House sought to alter the period of time fixed in the Parliament Act, your Lordships' House had its full power as a Second Chamber. That was intended—I think properly intended—to prevent the one House prolonging its own existence whatever the circumstances might be.

It is clear that when we get beyond the seven years period new considerations arise. I think that during the last three extensions the House of Commons has ceased to exist as a representative body. It is nothing more than a statutory body, constituted, of course, by the joint act of Parliament in this House and in the House of Commons. I agree with all that the noble Marquess has said, but I should like to emphasise it a little further. Not only has the present House of Commons none of the prestige and position which attach to new representative bodies, but I think that in times of stress and crisis it is above all other times important that it should have that prestige which it has not under existing conditions. I feel very strongly that the greater the crisis—I have indicated this opinion more than once—the more important it is to preserve all our constitutional guarantees; in fact, to preserve all the constitutional guarantees which have made the character, the courage, and the power of this country what they are. Therefore, although I know that it is no good opposing the passage of this Bill. I intensely regret on constitutional grounds that it should have been introduced, and I fear that it may possibly create a bad precedent for the future.

If the House of Commons is constituted as a statutory body in order that war matters may be carried through in the best form, and if we accept that position, then that House ought not to seek to carry any legislation other than that which is strictly applicable to war purposes. Directly you attempt to carry such other legislation, you strike at the whole principle and root of constitutional representative government. I do not say this on merely theoretical grounds. I believe that in some directions at present the House of Commons is causing intense dissatisfaction in certain regions of public opinion; and when the noble Earl says that public opinion in the country is in agreement with the extension of the life of the present House of Commons, I wish to reply that in my view he is quite unable to ascertain whether that is or is not the fact. The only way of ascertaining what public opinion really is must be by the constitutional method of a General Election. What I am afraid of is that, by the constant suppression of the ordinary method by which in a representative Government people can express their opinions, and by suppressing that expression of opinion for too long a time, you may have tied up your safety valve, and you may wonder, perhaps, when the time comes what the results may be. Still more do I think that is the case if you are going to have the first Election on not only new constituencies and under a Redistribution Bill but on an electorate greater in numbers than the existing electorate itself; and you are going to do all that under the supervision of a statutory body when you cannot say for a moment one way or the other what real public opinion is upon this question.

I should now like to say a word or two on the points to which the noble Earl referred. He says that the conditions are as they were in April last. As I opposed the extension in April last, that would not, of course, affect my own opinion. Then the noble Earl said that our sole pre-occupation should be fighting the enemy and not fighting one another. On the whole I entirely agree with that; but I say that the way you get real and true unity is by the constitutional method of allowing public opinion to have its representative expression. That is, naturally, a matter of principle, but, I think, one of extreme importance. We do want unity. I believe we have unity. But you never have stronger unity than when all classes of opinion have had their opportunity of expression; they may approach national questions from different standpoints, but they have, nevertheless, had their opportunity in a public and constitutional manner.

The noble Earl claimed that the Electoral Reform Bill would be followed immediately by a Register. I want to ask this question. Do the Government intend, if the Electoral Reform Bill becomes an Act, as I suppose it will, that steps shall at once be taken to form a Register in order that the electorate may exercise their vote within the earliest reasonable opportunity? What I mean is this. Are you going under the Electoral Reform Act, as under the old Parliament Act, to make an Election impossible because the Register is neglected? The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, once introduced a very important measure for the reform of the Register in order that we might have a Register on which an Election would be possible. I want to ask the noble Earl, if he will, to say a further word upon this subject—namely, whether it is the intention of the Government, if the Electoral Reform Bill becomes an Act, at once to take steps to make a practical Register on winch, if necessary, an Election can be held? I only enter my own protest. I think it is contrary to all constitutional principles to have a mere statutory body—a mere official body, I should call it—as against a really representative House of Commons.


My Lords, I should like to say a word or two upon this subject, not in the least with a view of opposing this Bill, for I recognise that it has become, an unfortunate necessity, but because I wish the House to recall what has happened. On the first occasion when the life of the House of Commons was protracted an assurance was given that no controversial legislation would be undertaken. The next thing that was done was to destroy the Register, so that it would be impossible to ask the opinion of any House of Commons except that of a House which was elected I some four years before, upon a then four years old Register and upon a perfectly different issue, and of an electorate which was merely a ghost of what it had been before, to say nothing of the absence of so many of our men in foreign climates. In those circumstances I should have thought it was the most absolute duty in honour and in good faith on the part of the Government towards the country and towards us, as individuals in the country, to abstain from controversial legislation, and to restrict the operations of this truncated Parliament to such measures as were necessary for the present emergency. I am not going to reason for a moment upon the merits of some of the changes that have been made. I take one in particular merely as an illustration. It is the introduction of woman franchise. Now, that is one of the most acute subjects of controversy that you can imagine. That subject has never been before any General Election. It has never affected the return of a single member of the present or of any other House of Parliament. It is resisted upon grounds which may be completely erroneous but which are in accordance with the whole history of this country. Yet it has been introduced into a Bill which it is almost impossible for us to refuse, under circumstances in which the most keen resentment would be created, if we were to refuse to accept it, on the part of a good many people, although I believe by no means the majority of the country. I do not know what is the substantive or the adjective that would be appropriate to express the feeling that must be aroused by treatment of this kind in the minds of men who, like myself, entertain strong objection on principle to that measure. That is by way of illustration. The House is well aware that not only upon that occasion but upon others controversial measures have been introduced, and I am afraid we are in danger of more being introduced. Therefore what I would venture to ask the noble Earl is this—whether we may have some assurance that we shall not be asked to make the sacrifice of our convictions upon highly important subjects during the period that Parliament cannot be said to exercise a moral authority which alone justifies it in introducing great changes in the Constitution.


My Lords, I will endeavour to answer the questions which have been addressed to me. The first was put in rather different forms, in the first place by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, and, in the second place, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. It was as to the principle upon which the date that appears in this Bill had been fixed, and as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the creation of a Register. I thought I had, if not directly at any rate by implication, answered both questions in the speech which I delivered just now, but if I did not make myself clear I will repeat in rather more detail what I there endeavoured to say.

I think I mentioned that the periods named in the previous prolongations of the life of this Parliament have been respectively eight months, seven months, and seven months. Following precedent, we should therefore naturally have been disposed to make this fourth extension one for seven months also. Why, then, did we put in eight months rather than seven months? The reason was this, that we were informed by the Home Office that the period that would be likely to be occupied in the drawing up of a Register, following upon the passage of the Representation of the People Bill, would be approximately seven months—anyhow, something between seven and eight months—and therefore we desired to provide for a period during which the Register could be drawn up, and after it possibly to take an Election on the new franchise if created.

This enables me to give a reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. The Government have the firmest intention when the Bill passes into law, if it does, of proceeding at once with the drawing up of the Register, and it will therefore be possible within a period of seven or eight months—it might even be longer—to hold a General Election on the new franchise. But I did point out in my previous remarks that supposing there is any delay, for a reason which we cannot anticipate, both Houses of Parliament hold us in their hands, because we should then be compelled towards the next to come for a renewed extension, and it would then be for Parliament to say whether it end of July desired to grant a further extension for a limited period or to go to the country at once.

The next question was put by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn. He entered upon a rather stricken field when he raised the question as to the controversial legislation which in his opinion has been introduced more than once by His Majesty's Government. I would like to make two observations upon that. The first is not at all in the nature of an excuse, but is, I think, a statement of fact. When the undertaking was first given I do not imagine that anybody contemplated for a moment that the war would last into the fourth year; and at that date—I do not remember exactly by whom the undertaking was given; I think it was a kind of understanding between the Government of Mr. Asquith and the Opposition (if it could be so called) which was at that time led by Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Bonar Law—on both sides an admission, I am sure, would be readily forthcoming that we were thinking of a war that might last a year or possibly into the second year, but certainly not a war that has lasted as long as this.

The second observation I would make is this. If you examine the so-called controversial legislation to which my noble and learned friend refers, you will find that in each case it has flowed in some form or another out of the war itself. Take, for instance, this question of the extension of the franchise. I suppose if any one had asked me or anybody else at the beginning of the war whether the Government were likely to introduce a, great Reform Bill, the answer would have been in the negative. But as the war proceeded two things happened. In the first place, it became more and more apparent that the old Register was obsolete and hopeless, and, as the House will remember, our attempts to create a new one were not favourably received. The second thing that emerged was this—that more and more, as the years went by, were millions of our people being engaged not only in fighting in the trenches or in different theatres of war abroad, but in providing the materials for war at home. There thus grew up an enormous new class of the community demanding and qualified for the vote whom it was impossible to exclude from the idea of having the vote when next a General Election should take place. In this way this great Reform Bill—it is a great Bill, and it will be more far-reaching in its consequences than any of its predecessors—has sprung out of the war. I do not, speaking as a member of the last two Governments, feel that in this case there has been any violation of the pledge about non-controversial legislation to which the noble and learned Earl has referred.

Let me take his other illustration. He says, Why then are you legislating about so profoundly controversial a subject as woman suffrage? Now, my Lords, the noble and learned Earl knows that on the principle of that matter I am in entire agreement with him. I have never changed my opinions. I have not changed them now, and I dare say I shall have an opportunity in your Lordships' House a little later on upon that point of crossing swords with some of my noble friends who sit opposite. But why was it necessary to deal with woman suffrage at all? That, my Lords, sprang in the same natural way out of the results of the Speaker's Conference. None of us outside had the slightest idea of what was going on inside that Conference, and when it reported it was found to have dealt with the question of female suffrage as well as with the larger issues of the extension of the male suffrage and electoral reform in all its various aspects. What were the Government to do? Is it seriously contended that, the Conference having reported, we were to present in the form of a Bill to Parliament those portions of the Report about which there was no disagreement at all, and that those of us who felt strongly against female suffrage, of whom I was one, should have used our influence to cast that out of the Bill? That would have been an impossible position to take up.

Very well, then. What was the course of action that was naturally prescribed to people who held the views that I did? What did we fight for, those of us who remembered that female suffrage was not a unanimous Report of the Conference but only a majority Report, and who held strong convictions on the matter? It was to see that, while it was necessary that a Bill should be introduced giving Parliament an opportunity of canvassing every aspect of the question, this matter should be left open to Parliament, and that in either House of Parliament any one of us—and it applied to myself as a Minister as to any private member—should be at liberty to speak and vote as he liked. I think I have shown, therefore, that it was inevitable. It was certainly due to no act of deliberate intent or a desire to escape from an undertaking on the part of the Government. It was inevitable that the Reform Bill introduced in these circumstances should contain, for the consideration and decision of Parliament, provisions as regards suffrage for women.

I could not help being struck by a certain contrast between the positions taken up by the noble and learned Earl and the noble Marquess who preceded him a little earlier this afternoon. The noble and learned Earl (Lord Loreburn) wanted me very much to reassure the House that there would be no more controversial legislation. A little earlier the noble Marquess had asked me to give a pledge that under conditions prescribed by himself, to which I shall presently allude, the Government would pledge themselves to add to their programme some vast measure for the reform of your Lordships' House in the course of next year. I notice with interest that the noble Marquess has a little changed his attitude from that adopted earlier in the year. It fell to my lot, in connection with the speech that I made earlier in the afternoon, to look up the debate which took place when I introduced the last Bill for the extension of the life of Parliament in April this year, and I came across a little gem associated with the name of the noble Marquess. On that occasion he said that anybody who threw an extra burden on His Majesty's Government by asking them to consider subjects not arising out of the war "would be guilty of high treason." Well, my Lords, had the I noble Marquess lived in earlier days, and had he been guilty of the kind of pressure that he has put upon me to-night, I tremble to think how near he would have been to the block and in what perilous danger we should have stood in this House of losing one of its chief ornaments.

To-night the noble Marquess adopted a different attitude. Instead of saying that any one who introduces legislation of this sort is guilty of high treason, he said—bearing in mind what he was asking us to do at a later date—that we, ought in the case of legislation not directly arising out of the war to approach the matter with great caution. Well, my Lords, I propose to approach with great caution the question to which the noble Marquess referred. What did he say? He developed a long, and if I may say so a forcible, argument about the connection of the reform of your Lordships' House with the passage of a Bill for the wide extension of the franchise and great changes in the constitution of the other House of Parliament. I do not think I would go quite so far with him as Co say that one was the direct and necessary consequence of the other, but I do admit a very close connection between the two. The noble Marquess went on to say that he hoped that, should the Conference which is now sitting on the subject of House of Lords reform have certain results, the Government would regard it as a matter of high obligation to bring those results before Parliament. My Lords, I do not think I should like to give or that the noble Marquees could reasonably press me to give anything in the nature of a pledge when matters are as indeterminate as they are on the present occasion. How indeterminate they are was perfectly fairly indicated by himself. He said, This Conference is sitting; how far it has gone and what measure of agreement has been arrived at he had not the slightest idea; he had no means of knowing."But" (said Lord Salisbury) "supposing this Conference comes to something like a unanimous conclusion" I think those were his words—" and supposing the Government approve of that conclusion, and supposing, again, that public opinion outside is favourable to the conclusion so arrived at and so approved by the Government, I hope that the Government will give some undertaking to bring the matter before Parliament." Well, my Lords, all these are very contingent probabilities or possibilities. I hope myself that they will all be realised. I should like to make it quite clear that the Government did not set up this Conference about House of Lords reform without the strongest possible desire that it should produce a scheme, and without the most earnest intention, if such a scheme is produced and it satisfies the noble Marquess's conditions, to proceed with the matter. Further than that I do not think he would ask me at the present moment to go, and less than that I should not like to say. I think, my Lords, I have now answered all the questions which noble Lords have addressed to me, and I hope you will now be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.