§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE DEPARTMENT (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I want first to call your Lordships' attention to a very serious misprint which makes nonsense of one of the clauses. In line 21, after the word "peace," all words till line 32 are in the wrong position, and they ought to be inserted before the word "referring" in line 10.
The object of this Bill is to provide a definition of what the termination of the war means. Your Lordships may remember that a Committee was set up under Mr. Justice Atkin in order to give a definition of what the termination of the war really meant—to decide it for the purposes of Acts of Parliament and contracts, and so on—so that there might be no doubt upon the subject. The recommendation of this Committee was that the date of the ratification of the peace treaties should be taken to be the end of the war. That definition was further approved by a Committee of the House of Commons to which the matter was referred. They, indeed, suggested that legislation should take place on these lines.
This Bill is introduced to set this matter at rest, if possible. But I have to call your Lordships' attention to this, that of course the term "ratification of the peace treaties" is in itself an ambiguous term, and in this Bill, therefore, the definition is itself defined; that is to say, power is given to 276 His Majesty in Council to proclaim and announce when the end of the war has come. That date will be conclusive for all purposes of Acts of Parliament containing references to the end of the war. For Orders in Council, for Proclamations, and also—and perhaps that is one of the most important things of all—for contracts. It uses the words "expressly or impliedly, and in whatever form of words" reference is made to the end of the war. Your Lordships, I dare say, are aware of the fact that there are something like over thirty different forms of phrase referring to the end of the war which are used in various commercial contracts, and this clause is so drawn as to embrace all those particular forms of words under the definition which will be made by the declarations under the Order in Council.
There is a special provision, too, in Clause 1 with reference to certain Acts. These Acts can by Order in Council be declared to be at an end before this general declaration that the end of the war is come, if it seems advisable that they shall be brought to an end before that general date. But there is some limitation, as your Lordships will see, upon the Order in Council, because this general declaration that the end of the war is come must be fixed with regard to, and is not to be later than, the date of "the exchange or deposit of ratifications."
There is a further and important subsection, sub-section 3, which applies to the ease of particular States. It may be of great advantage, supposing that a treaty was arranged with one of the belligerent States, that the end of the war should be declared to have come with that particular State, without referring to this general declaration, because, of course, there is a considerable number of arrangements, or Orders, or disabilities, on British subjects and on the subjects of the corresponding States which might just as well be removed at as early a date as possible. It would be convenient, therefore, that the Order in Council should declare the war at an end between this country and that particular State before the general Order in Council is proclaimed saying that the war itself is at an end.
Your Lordships will see that there is an immense convenience to have this date definitely stated. A certain elasticity is allowed in this Bill as to the time when that declaration should be made, but I 277 think probably your Lordships would approve of that elasticity, because it is very difficult to foresee all the different situations that may arise as to whether there is one definitive Treaty of Peace, as to whether there is any delay, let us say, with the ratification, and for the purposes of Acts of Parliament and the purposes of business it is essential that that date of the termination of the war should be made absolutely clear and should be defined in this way by Order in Council I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the necessity for the introduction of this measure has been recognised by your Lordships on many occasions. At the present moment there are a large number of Statutes, grouped together under the head of emergency Acts of Parliament, each of which contains references to the period of their duration, and very few of them fix the period by the use of the same phrase. The greatest possible confusion would undoubtedly arise unless some clear and definite date were fixed by which those Statutes might receive interpretation.
I have one or two comments to make upon this Bill. The first is that the date mentioned in the Bill as the longest period for which these Statutes can endure is a date which in itself appears to me to be uncertain and vague. What is meant by the "date of the exchange or deposit of ratifications of the treaty or treaties of peace"? The phrase is alternative: deposit of ratifications of the treaty is one of the occasions on which the war is to end; the exchange of treaties is another. By whom is the deposit to be made? Is it the deposit by ourselves, or is it the deposit by our enemies? Does it mean the deposit of the ratification of peace with all the different Powers, or will the deposit or ratification with one be sufficient? Because the last subsection does not deal with that, but enables independent provisions to be taken with regard to settlement treaties.
I do not think that the Government has defined with the exactness that the importance of the subject deserves what is the period which, in the absence of an Order in Council, will be the period for the termination of hostilities—the end of the war, or the making of peace, or whatever the 278 phrase may be—in the many Acts of Parliament which will be covered by this Bill. No one can be more anxious than I am that emergency legislation should at the earliest moment cease. It was introduced for special purposes; it ran counter in many ways to well-accepted principles upon which laws should be passed; it no doubt interfered in a very serious manner with a great many of the commercial arrangements and bargains, the maintenance of which is of the greatest possible importance for our future; and, it never could have been looked upon with favour but for the extreme conditions in which the country found itself. I say all this about that legislation because I dislike it. But at the same time, while I recognise that it was important in the first instance, so also I recognise that it may not be wise that the whole of that legislation should automatically be ended by a period which, if I apprehend the provisions of this Bill rightly, cannot possibly extend beyond the date which is mentioned by the deposit or the ratification of these treaties.
Some of these measures it may be of the utmost importance to continue. I am by no means certain that some of the powers, with regard for instance to the control of food, the control of supplies, and many similar matters, will not of necessity have to be continued for a very long period past the date that is referred to here. If this Bill passes it will become necessary for all these provisions to be re-enacted by independent Statutes. I agree that this is a very wise and desirable method of proceeding, but I look forward to the next Parliament being filled to the last moment of its time with urgent important legislation of all kinds. I think that it is a matter to be considered whether steps might not have been taken in this Bill to have relieved them of the necessity of considering again which of these Statutes it will be necessary to reenact, and to enable some greater elasticity than this Bill provides for the continuance of these emergency measures which in the national interest it may be found necessary to continue. I cannot help thinking that the wiser plan would have been to have adopted a totally different course, to have provided periods of time for each Act of Parliament, to have had a Schedule in the Bill and fixed the dates with reference to each one instead of doing what is attempted to be done by this Bill—namely, to have one date, the furthest possible limit, made 279 inflexible and applicable to all the varying matters which those Statutes cover.
Finally, may I express my sense of relief at the explanation of subsection (3) given at the outset by the noble Viscount? I began to wonder whether it was that something had affected my reason, or whether the drafting of Bills of Parliament had assumed a new form. As it stood the subsection was unintelligible, but it is now plain.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I would ask the noble Viscount whether he will explain to your Lordships the urgency of this Bill. I understand that the termination of the war, whatever date His Majesty fixes for it, will certainly not be until the Treaty of Peace has been settled. I do not believe that the Treaty of Peace has even begun to be settled. It will take weeks, probably months. But a new Parliament will be in session in six weeks time, though it will be in being much sooner; therefore I fail altogether to see the urgency of this Bill. No doubt, however, the noble Viscount will explain that when he gets up to reply. I should like to be clear that I understood the noble Viscount aright. I understand that under Clause 1, subsection (1), it is to be one uniform date for all purposes; that it is not proposed to take power to fix the end of the war for one Act of Parliament at a particular date and for another Act of Parliament at another date; or for one Order in Council at one date and for another Order in Council at another date; that they are all to be one uniform date except in so far as that is modified by the proviso which immediately follows. Is that correct?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Yes. The proviso, of course, is applicable to Acts of Parliament, and provides for bringing them to an end before that date.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes, that I understand. But otherwise it is to be a uniform date for all purposes?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I imagined it was so, but I wanted to be quite clear. I should like to make one observation in respect of that now that I understand it is to be a uniform date. The termination of the war is important 280 with respect to all those emergency Statutes of which the noble and learned Lord (Lord Buckmaster) has spoken. That no doubt is the primary object which the Government have in view in fixing the date of the termination of the war. But there are two very famous Statutes which do not belong to the emergency class, the date of whose operation depends upon the exact definition of "the termination of the war." I refer to the Government of Ireland Act and to the Welsh Church Act. Both those Acts, under the Suspensory Act of 1914, come into force, as I understand, upon the termination of the war. Those are a very different class of Act of Parliament, and very different considerations arise with regard to them; because in respect of the emergency Statutes the general desire of the public and of your Lordships' House is that they should be brought to an end as soon as possible, and therefore in their case the sooner the technical "termination of the war" can conveniently take place under this Bill the better everybody will be pleased. We all want to return to normal conditions; we want to get rid of all these special emergency powers which are altogether foreign to our ordinary system.
But when you come to deal with the two great Statutes of which I have spoken, very different considerations arise. It is perfectly clear, I should have thought, that in the case of both of them very important decisions must be taken by the Government and by Parliament before they are allowed to become operative. I should therefore like to ask my noble friend whether the Government have thought of that in drafting this Bill. Your Lordships will follow the argument. There is to be only one date for the termination of the war. That date in respect of the emergency Statutes ought to be as soon as possible. But it will also affect these other great Statutes; and there, although the wish of the public and of those concerned is that it should be as soon as possible, many of them desire that a reasonable interval should be allowed to elapse in order that the Government may have time to consider very important matters which have to be settled before they operate, because the persons concerned have to make very important provision for the objects which they have at heart before these Acts become operative. I need tell your Lordships that I am thinking especially in this connection of the Welsh 281 Church Act. Those who are interested in the Welsh Church are in profound financial difficulty. I do not know what they can do; they must do their best, but they evidently must have time; and moreover not only must they have time, but it is clear that the Government themselves are considering a modification of that Act, for we know from public sources that this is part of the policy of His Majesty's Government. Therefore for all these reasons I beg to ask my noble friend whether the Government which he represents have considered the effect of this Bill upon the operation of those two important Statutes?
THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Marquess for having been good enough to mention the case of the Welsh Church. I want to tell your Lordships what was the impression left on my mind when I read this Bill. It seemed to me that it gave power to the Government by a simple Order in Council to declare the war to be at an end. What would be the effect? I do not think I am exaggerating when I state these figures. I think about a hundred clergymen would on that day be told that their stipends ceased automatically on no notice whatever, that their income would cease at once; there would be just the Order of Council passed and all these gentlemen's stipends would cease. That is the effect on my mind. I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess, but I hope we shall have some information on this point.
Speaking of this, may I trespass on your Lordships' attention to remind you of what took place. In 1915 it was felt that the war was inflicting a special hardship on the Welsh clergy. An arrangement was come to, I think very much under the auspices of the present Prime Minister, and a Bill was passed through this House with an implied promise that it would be passed through the other House very soon. That Bill provided that six months grace after the termination of the war should be given before the Act should be put into operation, in order that there might be time, in a moment of less stress, to make such arrangements as were absolutely necessary for the carrying on of the Welsh Church. It was found when that Bill came to another stage that it would provoke a very undesirable controversy in the state of public affairs then, and it was withdrawn, the Government appealing 282 to us—and, of course, we accepted their assurance—not to press its passage, because although they felt that it should be passed, they did not wish to raise controversy at that particular time. While quite accepting the necessity of the case I did appeal to the Government—the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, was then sitting there—and there was a kind of idea that when the time came the position of hardship which the Welsh Church was put into should be sympathetically considered. What one does wish to be assured of is that this definition by Order in Council of the termination of the war, which will automatically bring in the date of Disestablishment, will be such that it will not take us too much unawares and inflict unmerited hardship.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
There were one or two points raised by your Lordships on which I think I ought to say a word. The noble and learned Lord opposite raised two points. The first was that the actual date of the exchange or deposit of ratification of treaty or treaties was in itself an indefinite period. I think that is inevitably so, and I did point out, when I introduced the Bill, that obviously under the Bill a certain elasticity was to be allowed to the Government to declare by Order in Council when the end of the war had actually taken place. Because it was obvious that if the end of the war had taken place and some of these treaties had been exchanged, it was important that the declaration should be made.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
What power is there in this Bill for an Order in Council to declare that the war is ended on any date except a date prior to the ratification of the treaty?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It would mean the ratification of the general treaty. It is possible that there might not be one general treaty, but several treaties between specific States. I do not want to go into too much detail, but there may, for instance, be several new States, and we might have a series of these arrangements for ratification.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I wonder whether the noble Viscount and the House will permit me to explain the position. I desire to have this Bill made as workmanlike as possible. As this Statute is drawn, it is impossible to fix by Order in Council 283 the date of the exchange or the deposit of ratification. That cannot be made definite by any Order at all; it is a period fixed by the Act, and the Order in Council can only operate after that date. It also has, it appears to me, as the Bill is drawn, a provision that the termination of the war might be held to have taken place under a treaty of peace which was deposited or exchanged with any one of the belligerent Powers. There is no means whatever by Order in Council to vary or alter that, or make it more definite.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I presume that means all the treaties, Supposing there were sets of three or four treaties, it would be possible to declare the date to be after one set of treaties had been exchanged but not after the whole set had been. There is another point which the noble Lord raised with respect to exchange or deposit. The question is what these processes make. I imagine that the noble Lord is fairly familiar with them, but I understand the process of exchange refers to the process of exchange between two Powers, but where treaties are made between several Powers I understand the practice is that it is not exchange but deposit; it is a technical distinction used by the Foreign Office, but not, I think, of very great importance.
The noble and learned Lord raised the further point as regards all these Acts coming to an end at precisely the same time. He thought there might be some inconvenience in that. I do not think that question is particularly affected by this Bill. It is decided that there must be some particular date on which the war comes to an end, and I think I may add this reason to my statement, that there is now in fact a Committee of the House of Commons which is charged with the duty of dealing with this matter, and also that of defining which Statutes are suitable to be prolonged and which ought not to be. That Committee presented an Interim Report, and in that Interim Report they said it would be hardly possible for them to go on with their duties until a Bill like this was passed defining what the date of the end of the war was to be. It is rather unfortunate in that sense that this 284 Parliament is coming to an end, because, of course, the Committee also will come to an end and will not be able to discharge its duties beyond saying what Acts ought to be carried on, and what Acts ought not to be carried on. It must be obvious that some of these Acts and Orders will have to be carried on, and of course there will have to be legislation, no doubt in the coming Parliament, to decide which those should be.
Then there was a further point raised by the noble Marquess with reference to the Welsh Suspensory Act. The terms of the Suspensory Act must come to an end at a time not being later than the end of the present war. Therefore the noble Marquess says that this Bill defines the period at which the war does come to an end, and therefore, in a sense, it puts an end to the Suspensory Act. It does not really alter the position of the Suspensory Act, because under the terms of that Act it comes to an end when the war comes to an end. Really all this Bill does is to define that precise period. I am afraid that the only answer I can give to the noble Marquess is that it is another matter which must be dealt with by legislation. It cannot be dealt with in this Parliament, but must be dealt with in a subsequent Parliament. Whatever Government is returned will have to deal with the matter. That is all the answer that is possible.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I am afraid I am not able to follow the argument of the noble Viscount that this must be dealt with by legislation. It seems to me that what was said by the Bishop of Bangor just now is perfectly true—that, according to the wording of the Bill as it stands, an Order in Council might be passed during the recess, when we know nothing about it, and we may find on a particular morning that the war has been declared to have come to an end some time before the Order in Council was issued. How that would depend on legislation being introduced I do not understand. I do feel the point to be a most grave one as regards the incidence of the Bill, if it becomes an Act, on the Welsh Church generally, where immense considerations depend on the falling of the guillotine on a particular day. That does not seem to me to need further legislation, and this Bill leaves the matter in utter confusion as regards the Order in Council which may possibly 285 decide the day without any notice to anyone at all. I press the point merely because the noble Viscount has said it will require legislation. What will be the nature of the legislation?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
An Order in Council does not require further legislation, of course. I only said that obviously any dealings with the Welsh Church would require legislation; that the Act to suspend the operation of the Welsh Church Act comes to an end at the end of the war; and that all this particular Pill does is to define when the end of the war takes place.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
It does not define that. It says it is to be done by Order in Council.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
As I think I explained, that Order in Council is limited. That is to say, it must have reference to the time when the Peace ratifications take place. Under this Bill, as I understand it, an Order in Council could not be issued to-morrow, let us say, stating that the war had come to an end, because clearly that date would not be fixed with regard to "the date of the exchange or deposit of ratifications of the Treaty or Treaties of Peace," and would not be in accordance with the terms of the Bill.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR
Will the noble Viscount explain more clearly? I understood the Act to say that at a date not later than the ratification of peace—that is, a date some time before—the Government might, by Order in Council, declare the war at an end. The date when the war ends becomes automatically the date of Disestablishment. Disestablishment has been deferred by Order in Council to the end of the war; therefore, with the arrival of that date Disestablishment automatically takes place, and all these hundreds of clergy lose their incomes on that day. So far as I can understand it, this date may be delared before the actual ratification of Treaties.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think the suggestion in the mind of the right rev. Prelate is that this Order in Council might be issued to-morrow or in a few days. I thought I had pointed out that that could not be so because, if the right rev. Prelate will look at the terms of the Bill, he will see that 286 [...]the date so declared"—that is, the date of the termination of the war—"shall be fixed with regard to, and shall not be later than, the date of the exchange or deposit of ratifications of the Treaty or Treaties of Peace." Obviously until the Peace Council is settled, until the Treaties have been arrived at, it will be impossible to fix any day with reference to "the exchange or deposit of ratifications." Nobody can possibly say when the date of the ratifications will be. That, obviously, may be a period which is rather remote. It would be impossible to fix that day, as is suggested, next week or the week after, because it would not then comply with the terms of the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.