HL Deb 21 November 1918 vol 32 cc357-63

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read,.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Vicount Peel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to determine date of termination of the present war.

1.—(1) His Majesty in Council may declare what date is to be treated as the date of the termination of the present war, and the present war shall be treated as having continued to, and as having ended on that date for the purposes of any provision in any Act of Parliament, Order in Council, or Proclamation, and, except where the context otherwise requires, of any provision in any contract, deed, or other instrument referring, expressly or impliedly, and in whatever form of words, to the present war or the present hostilities:

Provided that in the case of any such Act, conferring powers on any Government Department, or any officer of any Government Department, exerciseable during the continuance of the present war, if it appears to His Majesty that it is expedient that the powers shall cease before the date so fixed as aforesaid, His Majesty in Council may fix some earlier date for the termination of those powers.

(2) The date so declared 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:

Provided that, notwithstanding anything in this provision, the date declared as aforesaid shall be conclusive for all purposes of this Act.

(3) His Majesty in Council may also similarly declare what date is to be treated as the date of the termination of war between His Majesty and any particular State.

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY moved, at the end of subsection (2), to insert a new proviso. The noble Marquess said: Here, again, I shall not trouble your Lordships by repeating the observations which I ventured to make to the House yesterday. The point is that as subsection (2) of Clause 1 stands, the date is left in hopeless mystery. That is the first difficulty, because the words are— The date so declared 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. What in the world does that mean? How can you fix a date with regard to a particular event. One does not attach any real meaning to it at all. What makes it additionally puzzling is that when the date is fixed they will not know if the ratifications are going to be exchanged; and therefore you are asked to fix a date with regard to an event which is in itself uncertain. That is a very confused piece of legislation. It does not greatly matter with regard to the great mass of legislation which will come to an end at the termination of the war, because the only desire of your Lordships' House and of the House of Commons and of the public generally is that this emergency legislation should all come to an end as soon as possible. They will not greatly care how the words "with regard to" are interpreted, but believe that the sooner the better.

But this is not the case with two particular Acts. There are two celebrated Acts—the Government of Ireland Act and the Welsh Church Act—which are in a very different category. As your Lordships will remember, these passed into law just at the beginning of the war and their operation was at once suspended until the end of the war, by a special Act called the Suspensory Act of 1914. We always knew, those of us who took an interest in these questions, that before the end of the war some kind of definition would have to be made as to what was to be regarded as the end of the war for the purpose of these Acts. The time has arrived apparently, in the opinion of the Government, when that definition should be made. They have tabled and brought before your Lordships a Bill which does attempt to fix the end of the war. What are the considerations which must govern the technical end of the war so far as these two Acts are concerned? Clearly there must be little time. That argument applies to both Acts.

I am not going into controversial matters—I mean controversial in the strict sense of the word—but it is perfectly clear that the Government of Ireland Act cannot be brought into force as it stands. Everybody admits that. There is nobody who denies it in any part of the United Kingdom. That is true, equally true really in our judgment, of the Welsh Church Act. I do not say it cannot be brought into force, but I do not think it ought to be brought into force as it stands, and I gather that the Government do not think so either, judging from the recent communication made by the Prime Minister. In any case—and this is all that requires to be said for my argument—time must be given to the Church in Wales after the termination of the war before these drastic proposals become effective.

Therefore, some special arrangement must be made in respect of these two Acts, and I have put down an Amendment which gives specific power, or rather a specific direction, to the Government not to fix the termination of the war, so far as respects these two great Statutes, until January 1, 1920. That gives ample time. I do not want to prejudge anything; I only want to give Parliament time. I should have thought the Government would have welcomed such an Amendment, which would give a perfectly free hand to whatever Government is in power. At any rate, it does not prejudge anything at all. It merely prevents the end of the war coming suddenly upon us, when neither the necessary amendments of the Government of Ireland Act nor the necessary action under the Welsh Church Act can have had time to be carried into effect.

Amendment moved—

Clause 1, page 1, line 23, at end insert: Provided that for the purposes of the Suspensory Act, 1914, His Majesty may declare a special date to be treated as the termination of the war, which date shall not be earlier than the first day of January nineteen hundred and twenty."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


The noble Marguess, as he has stated, wishes to introduce into this Bill, as regards the fixing of the termination[...] of the war, a special exception or exemption as regards the Suspensory Act. His Amendment says there shall be "a special date to be treated as the termination of the war, which date shall not he earlier than the first day of January, 1920." Obviously it may be a great deal later, so that the effect of his Amendment would be indefinitely to postpone the date on which the Suspensory Act should take effect.


No, no; not indefinitely; but to give power to the Government.


I agree, but that power is quite indefinite.


Quite so.


I am going only by what the Amendment says. Presumably, the Government may not deal with the matter for four or five years after January 1, 1920, although the date must not he earlier than that. What, in effect, the noble Marquess is doing is this—not so much to amend this Terminatien of the Present War Bill, but to amend the Suspensory Act itself; and I put it to the noble Marquess, Does he think that on the last day of the session he should, as it were, fling this controversial matter on the floor of another place when he does not deal directly with this Bill, but deals with another Act altogether—namely, the Suspensory Act?

Let me say a word on the extent to which the Suspensory Act and the Welsh Church Act are affected by the particular Bill now before the House. I am dealing only with the Welsh Church Act and not with the Irish question, which I do not think the noble Marquess rasied. The Suspensory Act carries on the suspension of the Welsh Church Act only until the end of the war. Now what is the end of the war? There may be of course, several interpretations. It may be the Armistice—


No, no.


Especially when the Armistice is declared to be almost a capitulation. My noble friend says "No," but anyhow it may be the signing of peace by the plenipotentiaries. I think the noble and leaned Lord will agree that is possible. That is the earlier date, but the Bill takes as the end of the war the last possible date that can be taken—that is to say, the exchange of ratifications.


It only says "with regard to."


I am coming to the exact interpretation in a moment. At any rate, it does take the last possible date—that is to say, the exchange of ratifications. It makes it, therefore, from the point of view of the Welsh Church, the most favourable date that can be taken, but it is quite obvious that these matters will have to be dealt with in the next. Parliament. I ask the noble Marquess not to insert into this particular Bill an Amendment which entirely alters the effect of the Suspensory Act.

The noble Marquess says that the date is to some extent uncertain, because the words are "The date so declared shall be fixed with regard to, and shall not be later than, the date of the exchange or deposit of ratifications." I think that was the point he raised. I should like to remind the House that the noble Marquess, although he had the opportunity, has put down no Amendment to alter that. His present Amendment is a stage later than that particular date. I can only repeat if there is any doubt about it—I cannot do more than I said yesterday—that there was this difficulty, that there might be several days for the exchange of ratifications between the different Powers, and therefore it was necessary, in order to avoid ambiguity, that the Order in Council should define which date was the actual date of peace. Of course, there is a limitation, which I told you about yesterday; that the Order in Council cannot say that any day, tomorrow or a month hence, shall be the date of the peace; it must be fixed in regard to the date of the exchange of the ratifications. But there must be power left to the Government in order that the date may not be ambiguous, because the noble Marquess knows what enormous considerations depend upon the fixing of the date.

With regard to the Amendment which he moves, I have shown that it really would not be possible, on this last day of the session, to introduce so important, a change into the Suspensory Act when, by the actual terms of this Bill, the most favourable interpretation possible is given to the terms of that particular Act. I am afraid, therefore, I have to decline the Amendment.


My noble friend has used the phrase in his observations that I have not availed myself of the opportunity to attempt to amend the words as they stand in the second subsection.


I do not complain; I only mentioned it.


It is not a matter of complaint. The noble Viscount has been extremely courteous and civil in helping as much as he can. I do not know whether the noble Viscount, for the Government, would accept some better word, than "with regard to." so as to prevent the ambiguity. Would they accept "the date declared shall be as near as may be." or some such words? I would rather that the Government framed them themselves. I think the words "with regard to" are impossible. They would leave it so vague that neither those interested in the Irish question nor those interested in the Welsh Church question would know when the end of the war is likely to be. It is true that we have passed the point now, but there will be a Report stage directly.


There is only one argument I can add. I cannot imagine anything which the Goverment would less desire than to revive these two first-class controversies at the moment of signing of the Treaty of Peace. It might be one of the most inconvenient things that could ever happen.


I think it is quite clear that we could not accept the Amendment as moved. But if the noble Marquess thought fit, he could, on the Third Reading, move an Amendment such as he has indicated.


I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed, to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) it was moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Peel.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.


Upon this stage I think I can, with the leave of the House, move an Amendment to leave out from subsection (2) of Clause 1 the words "with regard to," and substitute "as near as may be."


Leave out also the word "fixed" and the words "not be later than" and insert, after "shall be," the words "as nearly as may be the date of the exchange…" That will be controlled by the later words.


I am very much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. I move the Amendment in that form.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.