HL Deb 04 December 1919 vol 37 cc599-602

My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can tell us anything definite about the course of business during the remainder of the session. There are two particular points on which I think the House would be glad to be informed. In the first place, whether the noble Earl is able to confirm what I understand is the belief in another place that the Government of India Bill will quite soon be concluded there, and that we may hope to see it in this House within a very short time. The other point refers to the Electricity Supply Bill, of which the Second Reading was adjourned yesterday. Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us whether or no it is proposed to resume the discussion of that Bill at an early date. There was a suggestion, as I understand—I was unable to be in the House yesterday—that the Bill might be read a second time and then referred to a Select Committee. Whether the noble Earl is also able to give us any prognostication as to the probable date of rising of the House I feel uncertain, but I have no doubt that he will do so if he can.


My Lords, I think that I am in a position to answer both the general question put by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, and also the two particular questions to which he drew attention. It is the hope of the Government to prorogue Parliament on Tuesday, December 23.




Yes, to prorogue Parliament on Tuesday, December 23, with a view to taking a Parliamentary recess which it is hoped will last until the beginning of February. In these circumstances your Lordships have to consider the amount of business that you will be able to discharge between this date and December 23. The bulk of the important measures which it is desired to pass in this session are already in your Lordships' hands, and several of them have reached an advanced stage. The only Bill of first-class importance which has not yet come to us is the Government of India Bill, to which my noble friend specifically referred. That Bill, I understand, is expected to leave another place to-morrow. It will then be printed and circulated to your Lordships, so as to be in your hands on Monday morning. I propose to take the First Reading of the Bill on that day. Your Lordships will require to meet on Monday in order to continue the adjourned debate on the Electricity Bill, to which my noble friend also referred, and which was adjourned from yesterday. That, therefore, will be the business on Monday. As regards the proposal to refer the Electricity Bill to a Select Committee, it is one, I think, which the Government would be very much indisposed to favour. Then, to pursue the career of the Government of India Bill, I propose to put it down for Second Reading on Thursday of next week and to take the debate upon it on that afternoon, and, if one day is not enough, to continue it on Friday. There may be one or two smaller Bills that will still come up to us from the House of Commons. The remaining measures that are before you are, I think, of a character, and have already reached a stage, which will enable us to dispose of them before December 23. I cannot at the moment think of any other point that arises, but if any is suggested by any noble Lord I will do my best to meet it.


My Lords, the noble Earl has been very kind in giving information to your Lordships as to the proposals of the Government for the remainder of the session. The first point that I should like to note is that the noble Earl very specifically said that the Government intended to prorogue on December 23, which disposes of the rumour that what was in the mind of the Government was an adjournment over the Christmas recess with the intention of finishing the present session of Parliament next year. I take it that that is a definite decision so far as matters stand at present, though, no doubt, it is open to modification if necessary.

Then the noble Earl went on to speak of two Bills. He spoke of the Government of India Bill reaching us—on Monday, I think it was—and the Second Reading being commenced on the following Thursday. I do not know what view your Lordships may take of the Government of India Bill when it comes before you. It has not been discussed in your Lordships' House up to now. The appointment of the Joint Committee was discussed, but your Lordships' right to discuss the Bill absolutely de novo was expressly reserved at that time. Therefore until your Lordships are in possession of the text of the Bill as it leaves another place it is quite impossible to form a conclusion as to how long that measure may take here. I am sure that the Government would be anxious to meet the wishes of your Lordships in respect to a matter of such colossal importance.

A very important but a relatively much smaller matter remains—namely, the Electricity Supply Bill. That is a Bill of considerable importance. I am sorry that the noble Earl, for a very good and sufficient reason, was not able to be in his place when that Bill was discussed last night, or he would have had the opportunity of hearing a very important contribution to the debate delivered by a noble and learned Lord (Lord Moulton) who is probably the greatest living authority on the subject. That was a very severe criticism of the Bill, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack took note of how serious was its effect, and with that ready appreciation of the feeling of your Lordships which the noble and learned Lord has displayed, he was very ready to grant an adjournment so that we might further consider the Bill.

It is almost impossible across the floor of the House this afternoon to say definitely what conclusion those noble Lords who were here formed of that speech and of the criticisms then made, and what conclusion will be formed by those of your Lordships who were not here but will have the opportunity of reading the speech. The OFFICIAL REPORT, of course, was only circulated this afternoon, and will not be in the hands of the House generally for several days. In those circumstances I am quite sure the noble Earl will understand that so far as we have any authority in the matter—an authority very secondary to his own—we cannot enter into any arrangement without further consideration as to what our proceedings on that Bill will be. It appears to have been, very insufficiently considered up to now, and to raise matters of very great importance. We have not yet been informed, among other things, of what urgency there may be for the passage of the Bill. All those are matters very important to consider before we arrive at a final judgment, and I hope the noble Earl will understand why I speak with so much reserve.

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