HL Deb 26 July 1918 vol 30 cc1207-19

My Lords, I beg to make the Motion standing in my name.

Moved, That Standing Order No. XXI be considered in order to its being suspended, and that until the adjournment of the House for the Autumn Recess all Government Bills and Notices which are entered for consideration on the Minutes of the day shall, except on Wednesdays, have precedence of other Bills and Notices.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)


My Lords, before this Motion is put, I should like to ask my noble friend a question. I have a Notice on the Paper for Monday. It is connected with the enormous expenditure on the part of the Food Control Department, and I hope to be able to ask the Question and to get the information, although I do not propose to raise a debate. I trust that I shall not be prevented by a whole number of Bills and Notices of the Government from asking that Question, either then or on some other occasion.


My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend the Leader of the House did not give us a few reasons for this Motion, which is not on the face of it—as I need not say anything emanating from my noble friend would not be—unreasonable, but it is very rare. My investigations lead me to the conclusion that a Motion in this form, or more or less in this form, has only twice before in recent years been moved in your Lordships' House. Therefore it requires more than what we used to call in the House of Commons "taking off your hat" to defend it. I hope that my noble friend will be good enough to tell us why he thinks it necessary to vary the almost universal practice of your Lordships' House in this particular.

Perhaps I may be allowed to elaborate this, because some members of your Lordships'House, who have been for a long time members of the House of Commons, are very familiar with this Motion. It is always made in the House of Commons, and very often at a much earlier date than the time at which we have now arrived in the session. I believe that the House of Commons is now working universally under that rule. There is no liberty left in that unfortunate Assembly. But with us it is different. We are perfectly free, and these Motions therefore are necessarily viewed by noble Lords with some suspicion. Of course, the Motion might be easily justified if my noble friend would be good enough to justify it.

But I would like to call his attention specially to the case of Tuesday next, July 30, one of the days involved in this Motion. Upon Tuesday the 30th there are several Motions down in the names of various noble Lords, but two in particular are of considerable importance. One raises the new proposals of the Secretary of State for India for a completely new situation in many respects of the Government of India. That matter is to be drawn attention to by my noble friend Lord Sydenham, and I might, perhaps, not be indiscreet in saying that it is being raised in consultation with several other important members of your Lordships' House. There is also another Motion down for Tuesday next in the name of my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale. That Motion is an important one, though not, of course, anything like so important as the other. But it is important particularly to your Lordships, because it raises the question of a dictum—I think probably a rather hasty dictum—of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who should have an opportunity of explaining, as I have no doubt he will explain, the exact meaning of a particular phrase that he used in reference to a Motion by Lord Wimborne which was recently submitted and discussed in this House. I am not speaking on the merits of these Motions, particularly not with regard to that of Lord Wimborne, with which I do not sympathise. It is a certain dictum of the noble Earl to which Lord Ribblesdale calls attention, and which I think must be discussed in the House, and, like all those matters relating to procedure, must be discussed within a very few days after the occurrence which raises it. I therefore invite my noble friend, if he will allow me to do so respectfully, to say whether he proposes in this Motion—a rare one—to except from its operation Tuesday the 30th. I think that this would meet the wishes of a great number of your Lord-ships.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, will he allow me to make a suggestion? It is not one to which I desire an immediate reply. But would he be good enough to ascertain through the usual unofficial channels whether it may not be convenient to your Lordships' House to meet at 3.30 from now until the adjournment for the Autumn Recess. I believe that to a good many members of your Lordships' House this would be the more convenient course. The only inconvenience might be to the Law Lords, but in these days of constitutional revolution I do not know that the foundations of the Constitution would be removed if they met in the Moses Chamber.

I am a little inclined to follow the example of the noble Marquess who has just spoken, and ask whether some special exception might not be made in the case of the discussion upon the Resolution which has been put down by Lord Inchcape on a matter of very great importance, and one in which I know that a great many noble Lords take a deep interest. I think that it is just possible, if the noble Earl would consider the suggestion that I venture to make, that he might find that the desires of different Members of the House, in so far as they conflict with the convenience of His Majesty's Government, might to a considerable extent be met.


My Lords, the noble Marquess quite correctly said that there are two precedents for a Motion of this sort in your Lordships' House. At any rate, I have come across the two to which in all probability he refers. One was when Lord Morley, who was acting Leader of the House, made a Motion almost identical with my own in 1911. The other was when Lord Lansdowne submitted a somewhat similar Motion at a rather remoter date. These precedents are, of course, of value, and they guided me in my conduct. But when the noble Marquess reproached me for not having accompanied the Motion with some statement of reasons, he omitted to tell us that neither in the case of Lord Lansdowne nor in that of Lord Morley was one single word said either in explanation or in question. Nevertheless, my Lords, I am of course quite ready to answer any questions that any noble Lord desires to address to me on the point.

My object in making this Motion is really the convenience of the House, and no other. The House is anxious to cease its labours at the end of the first week in August, and, so far as the Government are concerned, we have endeavoured to make the most careful arrangements in order that there may be adequate time for the discussion at each stage of every measure between this date and that, so that we may avoid these Motions so far as we can. I will give no pledge upon the point, but it always arouses a certain amount of suspicion and of retort when it is moved that Standing Order so and so shall be suspended with a view to carrying through certain stages of a Bill. At the same time, always having in view the guiding consideration of the convenience of the House, I deliberately excepted Wednesday. That is the day on which, as your Lordships know, Motions and Questions have precedence of Bills, and I thought that it was only right to consecrate that day to subjects that any noble Lord might wish to raise.

Several rather important Questions are down on the Paper for Wednesday; and as regards that sitting, I myself am always ready, although I know that it is sometimes a source of great inconvenience to noble Lords, to sit after dinner if so required. The other day I had the pleasure, amid a rather meagre congregation, of listening to the admirable speeches of my noble and learned friend Lord Haldane and of the two most rev. Prelates upon education, and although I deeply regretted that there was not a larger House upon the occasion, I yet could not feel certain that had those speeches been delivered earlier in the day the Press would have given them that attention to which they were entitled. One of the standing grievances of your Lordships' House is not the way in which we arrange our business here, but the way in which we are treated by the Press outside. That to me is a source of constant vexation, and, I think, of legitimate protest. It is true that we have endeavoured to meet it by the plan under which our Official Report of the debates is published on the following morning—and most admirably, if I may say so in passing, is the reporting done.


Hear, hear.


That, I think, has to some extent alleviated the situation, but it does not alter the fact that your Lordships do not receive the attention to which I think you are entitled. I shall be ready at any time, if any body of noble Lords express the desire, to sit after dinner and to make such arrangements as are possible for that purpose. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, suggested that we might meet sometimes—I think he even said as a matter of regular practice—at 3.30 during the remainder of the present sittings. I should like, if I may, to consult the Lord Chancellor on that point with regard to the convenience of the Law Lords. I fancy that under existing arrangements your Lordships' House will be sitting as the Final Court of Appeal up till nearly four o'clock on most afternoons, if not every afternoon, and I could not, of course, make any arrangement on that point without the consent of the Law Lords and the authority of the Lord Chancellor.

As regards the particular points which were raised, special attention was drawn by the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, to Monday next. So far as I can see, there is nothing in the Order of Business then to prevent him from having the opportunity of making the statement which he desires. The only Government Bills down for that date, which, if this Motion be passed, will have priority, are the Trade Boards Bill (Second Reading), the Asylums Officers Superannuation Bill (Second Reading), the Statutory Undertakings (Temporary Increase of Charges) Bill (Second Reading), and the Public Works Loans Bill. I do not think, therefore, that there should be anything which should stand in the way of the noble Viscount's being heard. I quite agree with the noble Marquess that on Tuesday Lord Ribblesdale is entitled to raise the Question which affects myself and which stands in his name, and I shall be only too pleased to meet him on the point. It is certainly undesirable that any question affecting the conduct of the Leader of the House should remain in suspense. I am as ready to meet the noble Lord as he is anxious to put his Question, and I will undertake that it shall be proceeded with.

As regards the Motion of my noble friend Lord Sydenham, it is really difficult for me to say anything, because the amount of business that has to be undertaken on that day will, it seems to me quite likely, postpone his Motion to a time at which there will not be that attendance to which the importance of the subject will entitle him. I do not know whether Lord Sydenham really regards his Question as one of urgent importance at this moment. When the suggestion was made the other day that there should be a discussion of the Report of the Secretary of State and the Viceroy upon the matter, I indicated, I think amid signs of general assent, that the question was not one of urgency, and that the discussion could equally well take place at a later date. I should have thought myself, being very much interested in the matter, that it was far better to have what is commonly called a full-dress discussion here on that point when we meet again, than to have a halting or inadequate discussion, probably at a rather late hour in the evening, at the present time. Upon that, however, the noble Lord will be a better judge than myself. I feel, therefore, that I could not very well except Tuesday in the manner that I have been asked from the operation of this rule.

I have answered the questions that have been put to me, and I hope noble Lords will accept my final assurance that if they give us the time of the House in this way I will endeavour so to arrange business as to meet their desires. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, alluded to a Motion by Lord Inchcape. That is a matter of first-class importance which all your Lordships will desire to hear Lord Inchcape upon. The idea has occurred to me—I should not like to give a definite promise about it—that if at any time there is difficulty in the present arrangement of business in fitting in some question of that sort which everybody wants to hear discussed, we might, if we were able to meet earlier, make an arrangement by which a certain amount of time—an hour and a-half, or two hours, or whatever time it be—should be assigned to that subject, on condition that the debate closed at such and such an hour, and that the remaining business of the afternoon were taken on that date. I merely indicate this as an idea that I have in my mind to meet exceptional cases that might arise.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be agreed on two points, namely that the noble Earl who leads it has treated this question with great seriousness and with a full desire to meet the wishes of noble Lords, and also that His Majesty's Government as a whole have taken exceptional pains in allocating such time as is left to us under the proposed arrangement for the discussion of particular measures. On the specific point raised, I hope that the Question or Motion made by my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale and put on the Paper for the 30th, will receive the consideration which, as I understand, the noble Earl opposite desires to give it. There is no reason why the discussion upon it should be at all long. The point raised is quite a simple and clear one, but it would, I think, be a misfortune if the proceedings on other measures were so drawn out as to make it impossible for the noble Earl on this particular point to give that explanation which I have no doubt he desires to give.

As to the exceedingly important Motion on the Paper for the same day put down by Lord Sydenham, I do not entirely differ from what the noble Earl has said, with this reservation—that I feel that unless some discussion takes place in one House or the other on the Indian question before the forthcominglongadjournment the action of Parliament might be gravely misunderstood in that country. These proposals are, as we know, of the very first magnitude, and it would be difficult for India to understand how Parliament could adjourn for a Recess of perhaps two months without making any allusion in either House to the subject. What is proposed to be done in another place I do not know. So far as this House is concerned, I venture to state without any degree of arrogance on our part that, considering the experience either of India or the India Office possessed by not a few noble Lords, we are in a far better position to conduct an intelligent discussion on this question than the other House is, through no fault of its own. As it happens, at this moment there are not many hon. Members who have first-hand experience of India: sometimes, as we know, the Indian representation there has been very strong. And therefore, so far as the quality of the debate is concerned, I do not differ from the noble Lord that after the Recess we might be able to have here a debate of the first importance on the subject which it would be hardly pos- sible to attain if the discussion is attempted before we adjourn. But it is always subject to the reservation I have mentioned—that if the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, is not given a day for his Motion here, His Majesty's Government will see the wisdom of allowing some discussion to take place elsewhere.

As regards the important Motion on the Paper in the name of Lord Inchcape, there we should all agree that this House is comparatively less well equipped; there are fewer noble Lords who are able to any purpose to conduct a discussion on finance than there are well qualified to conduct one on Indian affairs. Therefore I think that the proposition of the noble Earl may perhaps be fruitfully carried out, namely, if it is agreed that Lord Inchcape—whose statement on this subject we should be all exceedingly sorry to miss, because it is certain to be of the greatest weight and value—should have a fair chance of ventilating the question, and that a short time should be given for observations by some other noble Lords who may desire to take part in the debate; and His Majesty's Government will probably not desire here to discuss this particular question at inordinate length. I trust, therefore, that the noble Earl will do his best so to allocate the business that these particular matters to which attention has been drawn may have a fair chance of discussion before we adjourn.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Earl who leads the House will make any response to that appeal. But in reference to what he said in regard to Lord Sydenham's Motion, I happen to know that there is a general desire on the part of Peers who have been connected with India that there should be some discussion before the adjournment, for the reasons mentioned by my noble friend behind me. It is obvious that there are other views than those put forward in Mr. Montagu's Report, and it is not desirable that public opinion should concentrate itself merely upon what has been put before it. If public opinion is to ripen at all during the Recess it should ripen with some exposition of other views, which have hitherto not been put before the public. For that reason it seems to me that Tuesday next, which must be mortgaged to some extent by the discussion of Lord Ribblesdale's Question, is an obvious occasion on which we might afterwards take the statements of Lord Sydenham and such other Peers connected with India as may desire to address your Lordships on that subject.

With regard to Wednesday, I would point out to the noble Earl that if he carries out his present programme the discussion of the Education Bill in Committee would be most seriously impaired. There are three Motions before it; and if he desires to have those three Motions debated it will really be an attempt to do by the Education Bill in Committee exactly what was done the other night on the Second Reading—namely, taking up this very important Bill when the House is thoroughly tired, and asking members to begin discussing it at seven or eight o'clock in the evening, a thing which I venture to say, in the longest experience of members of the House of Commons, is not done by a Committee on so important a Bill. Therefore, as between Tuesday and Wednesday, I would ask the noble Earl to consider that the case of Tuesday is the most important, as he has already designated Wednesday for the Committee on the Education Bill. With that view I ask leave to move an Amendment to the Motion of the Lord President, in the last line but one to insert before the words "on Wednesdays" the words "on Tuesday, July 30," leaving it to the noble Earl to cut out Wednesday if he desires to do so.

Amendment moved— After ("except") insert ("on Tuesday, July 30, and").—(Viscount Midleton.)


My Lords, I do not know that the noble Viscount would gain anything by his Motion even if it were accepted. If he will look at the business for Tuesday, which is the day to which he refers, he will find that the Paper already includes a number of Motions, Bills, &c., which must in any case precede the discussion which he desires to see raised by Lord Sydenham. They are not there owing to the operation of the Motion which I have just made, should your Lordships carry that; they are there in the ordinary course of events; and the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, is not suffering—if he does suffer—from any arrangements proposed by me; he is suffering from the accident of his having appeared too late on the scene. Therefore, even if the noble Viscount's Motion were carried I do not think it will at all help him.

I believe, as regards the programme on Tuesday next, that the Motion down in the name of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu is likely to be postponed. I agree with the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition that the discussion on Lord Ribblesdale's Question is not likely to be very long, although it will not be unimportant. Consequently I think there is a chance of getting to Lord Sydenham's Notice at a reasonable time; and I would undertake, if noble Lords desire, to make every arrangement in my power, both as regards dinner and post-dinner arrangements, to secure that the House waits to listen to what the noble Lord and his friends have to say. They will agree that it is essentially a discussion in which the value rests on the weight of the speaker and not upon the extent of the audience which listens to him. At any rate, I feel that point; and if I were speaking on that matter I should be perfectly content to address an audience of ten or twelve persons so long as I had an opportunity of stating what was in my mind. But anything I can do to secure to Lord Sydenham the audience to which as I have said he is entitled, noble Lords may rely on me to do.


My Lords, we are very much obliged to the noble Earl, but I think he will see that his argument is not so conclusive as it appears to be. I have before me the Paper for Tuesday. I do not think that the discussion on the Commons Amendments to the Small Holding Colonies (Amendment) Bill is likely to take long; the Income Tax Bill will not take long, because it does not affect your Lordships' House acutely; and I do not know whether Lord Lytton anticipates a long discussion on the Naval Prize Bill.


There will probably be two or three speeches.


And we know that Lord Montagu's Motion is to be withdrawn. I think, therefore, that there is not likely to be very much in from of the two important Motions to which we are referring. My noble friend has said that he will meet us in this way, that he will try and see that a House is kept after dinner for Lord Sydenham's Motion. Well, the noble Earl the Leader of the House is very powerful. I do not know whether he exercised his full efforts the other night, but I warned him of what was going to happen, though unavailingly.


YOU must not use the word "warned."


Not when you are addressing noble Lords, but you may address it to a brother Peer. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal thinks that he may dictate to your Lordships' House, but I think he will find that he is entirely wrong. As regards the very humble observation which I am making to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, I think there is no reason to complain of it. At any rate, perhaps the noble Earl the Leader of the House will look after himself. I say, therefore, that it will not be a very suitable arrangement for the noble Earl to exercise his powers to keep the House after dinner. I think the House was very much obliged to my noble friend the Leader of the House for saying what he did about the reports of the proceedings of this House in the Press. He well knows that the difficulty of the Press is very much increased after dinner compared with the debates which take place before dinner; and I am very much afraid he will find that, if this important debate takes place after dinner, there will be a very short report. As my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, the importance of the debate in question is its effect upon public opinion. It is not designed in order to affect the votes of your Lordships' House, but in order to affect public opinion, and for that purpose it is really very important that it should have some report in the Press. I cannot think that the noble Earl the Leader of the House, whose knowledge of India is so very great, will wish that any risk should be run by that absence of reference to this important subject for the whole period until after the recess to which attention has been called. I think it is really of vital impotance. After all, is it not the fact that Mr. Montagu's Report is one of the most important things that have ever happened in this country with regard to India almost in ourlifetime? And to ask that a suitable opportunity should be given for debate now in your Lordships' House seems to me not at all unreasonable. I venture to press my noble friend very respectfully to let us have Tuesday, the 30th.


May I ask one other question of the Leader of the House? I understood him to say that the Statutory Companies Bill was also to be taken on Tuesday, the 30th. That is a measure which is likely to lead to a good deal of discussion. I am not quite sure whether I apprehended correctly what he said. Perhaps he will tell us, because it is by no means a measure that will pass without discussion.


My difficulty is, in my desire to meet the convenience of the House, to know exactly what it is that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, wants me to do. He seems to think that it rests with me, by the acceptance of the Amendment of Lord Midleton, or by some other arrangement, to secure that the Bills which were down first for Tuesday, July 30, should be removed from that position of priority, and therefore give to Lord Ribblesdale and Lord Sydenham priority for their Questions. But that is not in my power. It is not owing to the Motion which I am moving that the Government Bills obtain priority, but it is owing to their position on the Paper. If the noble Marquess will look at the Standing Orders, with which he is more familiar than myself, he will find these words— On Tuesdays and Thursdays the Bills which are entered for consideration on the Minutes of the Day shall have precedence of all other Notices. Therefore it is not in my power either to remove or postpone these Bills, and the best I can do is to suggest that by an arrangement with the Lord Chancellor we might meet at an earlier hour, so that by getting rid of these Bills as soon as possible, it might be possible to bring on Lord Ribblesdale's Notice, and then Lord Sydenham's, at a reasonable time.


Could the noble Earl give us a promise that no further Bills will be put down for Tuesday next? We attach no importance to the Bills which are down, which we believe will take no time.


Yes, my Lords, I do not see why I should not give that promise; and if there is any other Bill coming up other than those on the Paper, I will put it down for some other day.


I may say that if the House is sitting for judicial business on that day, we will, of course, meet the convenience of your Lordships' House by adjourning the judicial sitting.


In that case, after the noble Earl's assurance, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.