HL Deb 24 June 1919 vol 34 cc1044-51

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to ask the President of the Council whether it would not be expedient to arrange that the House should meet four days in each week for the rest of the session.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I desire to ask the noble Earl the President of the Council whether we ought not to revert now to what has been the long established practice of the House and sit four days in the week. I am not quite certain when that practice was given up, or exactly what authority regulates the course of procedure. It has been the custom of the House since January to sit on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. That is not a very convenient practice, because on Wednesdays Notices of Motion take precedence, and if there is only one day in the week for Notices, and that day is often taken p long periods in advance, it may happen that owing to illness or some other cause the noble Lord who has put down the Motion for a Wednesday does not move it, and the sitting is wasted. I think it would tend to the general convenience if we could have two days in the week for Notices and two for Bills, and the suggestion I venture to offer is that we should revert to the practice of sitting four days in the week—namely, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies to the Question of my noble friend, perhaps I might be allowed to intervene for a moment. Some of your Lordships way remember that when this subject of public business was under discussion I ventured to ask the noble Earl whether it might not be wiser to take the course which my noble friend has now suggested—namely, to make Monday, as it used to be, a regular sitting day, assuming (as I did) that from the point of view of most of your Lordships Monday world be a more convenient day to sit than Friday. Therefore I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give an affirmative answer to my noble friend, for the reasons which he has put forward.

Perhaps I may be allowed also to ask the noble Earl at the same time whether be has anything to state about the course of business for the next week or so. The business on the Paper appears to be quite straightforward for this week. On Tuesday next, your Lordships will remember, it is proposed to proceed further with the Enabling Bill of the most rev. Primate. I do not know whether the noble Earl has any further intimation to make about that measure, which it appears may occupy more than the one afternoon which was contemplated for it; and also he may be able to tell us whether it is at all probable that during next week it will be his duty to make any statement on foreign affairs in view of the recent news from Paris. Of course, I do not desire to press the noble Earl to tell us anything which he is not in a. position to make public at this moment, but no doubt it would be convenient for your Lordships if he is able to give us some information.


My Lords, I will do my best to answer the Questions put both by the noble Lord and by the noble Marquess. I have always been quite ready myself to revert to what the noble Lord has described as the time-honoured practice of this House of sitting on Mondays. That practice was, I under- stand, only temporarily departed from with a view of meeting the convenience of noble Lords during the war; and on the last occasion when I was questioned on the subject at this Table. I said I thought the occasion would before long arise when we should have to resume it. I think the position of business and the arguments of the noble Lord conclusively establish that the occasion has arisen, and I believe I shall be acting in accordance with the general sense of the House if I propose that we do sit four days in the week, in the manner suggested, during the remainder of the session.

The noble Marquess went on to ask whether I could say anything about the order of business during the few weeks that lie before us. I will state to the best of my ability the arrangements that are in view. To-day we have taken the First Reading of the Forestry Bill. To-morrow we shall ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Restoration of. Pre-War Practices Bill, and to the Disabled Men (Facilities for Employment) Bill. On Thursday of this week—the 26th—the Lord Chancellor will move the Second Reading of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Bill, a measure, as your Lordships know, of the first importance, which is likely both on that and subsequent stages to receive a good deal of attention at the hands of your Lordships.

Now with regard to next week. A little while ago I was asked whether an opportunity would occur to those interested in the proposed changes in respect of the Government of India to state their views in this House before the proposed Joint Committee was set up, and I answered that question in the affirmative. The Motion for the setting up of this Joint Committee and the laying of the names of the, suggested Peers before your Lordships' House will provide that opportunity. I therefore suggest that on Monday next we, should take the debate upon the question of the Government of India, when I shall move, "That it is expedient that the Government of India Bill be committed to a Joint Select Committee of Lords and Commons," and submit the names of the, noble Lords who it is proposed shall be appointed from your Lordships' House.

As the noble Marquess has said, on Tuesday of next week we propose to take the further debate on the Second Reading of the Enabling Bill. I am told that a considerable number of noble Lords desire to speak on the subject, and that the debate is likely to last over at least two days. It. may be, therefore, that your Lordships will not be in a position to divide on the Wednesday. It is very important indeed that we should obtain in the course of next week, before the week comes to an end, the Second Reading of the Forestry Bill, to which I have referred and which has been introduced to-day by my noble friend Lord Crawford. It is a matter of considerable urgency, the importance of which is known to many of your Lordships. I will therefore propose one of two arrangements. The Enabling Bill will occupy your Lordships' attention on the Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. If you have not finished the debate and desire to continue it beyond Wednesday evening, your Lordships sitting presumably after dinner both on Tuesday and Wednesday, I suggest that you should either close the debate at an early hour on Thursday, say at 5.30 in the afternoon, so as to enable us to proceed to the Second Reading debate on the Forestry Bill, or that you should take the Forestry Bill on that day and that your Lordships should sit on the Friday and have the whole of that day for finishing the Enabling Bill. I am rather inclined to think, from communications which I have had with noble Lords opposite, that the former of the two arrangements will be the more suitable, and that after two full days' debate you will be prepared to finish the discussion on the Enabling Bill and have a Division, say, by 5.30 on Thursday afternoon. No doubt I shall hear from your Lordships which of the two arrangements is on the whole the more convenient. That takes us through next week

Then we pass to the week commencing July 7. In that week I will propose that the Committee stage of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Bill and of the Forestry Bill be taken; and if I may project my gaze so far as the following week, commencing July 14, I would suggest, as at present advised, that that week might be devoted to the Second Reading of the Ministry of Ways and Communications Bill.


That Bill has not yet passed the other House.


Of course, presuming it has passed the House of Commons; and if its passage through another place is not delayed, we anticipate that it will reach your Lordships' House by the end of next week. It is possible that the Housing, Town Planning, etc. (Scotland) Bill may have come up from the other House in time to allow the Second Reading to be taken that week also. Further ahead I do not think I should look for the moment. It is quite clear that we have a very heavy programme before us, which is calculated to occupy every hour of your Lordships' time up to the end of a normal session, and then it may very well be that other subjects of first-class importance may supervene, demanding a day or perhaps more of your Lordships' time.

To the particular question of the noble Marquess about a statement on the peace terms at Paris and the international position, I should perhaps do well not to reply till I have seen the Prime Minister; but I think it more than likely—I think it almost certain—that when he comes back from Paris he will feel it part of his duty to make a statement in another place, and, if that is so, your Lordships may feel certain that a corresponding statement will be made here. I have answered the Questions of the two noble Lords and given a forecast as far ahead as I can reasonably be expected to do.


My Lords, I am sure we shall all agree that the noble Earl has given an account as full as can be expected of the business which lies before us. For my own part I am very glad that he has agreed to sit on Mondays. I was always rather reluctant that Mondays should be given up, and I am certain that it will help us to get through the business if we add one more day to the working week.

I only rise to make one comment upon what the noble Earl said with reference to the Enabling Bill, in which great numbers of your Lordships are interested. I think he has met those who are promoting that Bill and other noble Lords very fairly in the arrangement of business which he has suggested, but I should like to make two comments. He foreshadowed, rightly I think, that the discussion of the Bill will extend over next. Tuesday, and will therefore have to be taken on subsequent days, and he said he proposed that it should be taken on Wednesday. That, I think, considering the importance of the Bill and the immense interest taken in it both in this House and outside, is proper. But I would point out to the noble Earl that there has appeared recently on the Paper a Notice* for the Wednesday, and perhaps he will use his influence, or if necessary something stronger than influence, in order to clear the Paper so that the Enabling Bill can be taken on the second day as well as on the first. That can be done, and is very often done by your Lordships in the case of a Bill of first-class importance, in order that the discussion should not be interrupted, and that the interest which is excited in the Bill should not be broken off but should be continued from day to day until the Bill is finished. I presume, therefore, that that will be done.

But supposing that it should happen—which is possible—that the discussion on the Enabling Bill is not finished on the Wednesday, then the noble Earl offered us one of two alternatives, either that the further proceedings on the Second Reading should be postponed till the week following—


No, till the Friday.


Till the Friday; or should be taken on the Thursday. Personally I have no hesitation in expressing my humble view that your Lordships would not wish to sit on the Friday for this purpose, and that it would not be a suitable day to have a Division on a Bill of first-class importance. Therefore there is the alternative of the Thursday, and. the noble Earl says that if we sit upon the Thursday he hopes that the House will consent to bring the discussion to a close at an early hour on that afternoon so as to give time for the Forestry Bill. It is quite possible that the House will be willing to bring the discussion to a close early on Thursday afternoon, bat I do not think it will be possible to bind the House on a matter of that kind. It must depend upon the number of noble Lords who desire to speak, or rather on the number of noble Lords whom the House desires to hear, which is a more appropriate way of putting * The Notice referred to was in the name of Lord STRACHIE, and was as follows: "To move to resolve, That an inquiry by an independent authority should at once in held, and to report immediately on the discrimination made by the Ministry of Food between she price of milk fixed for producers in Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, and Dorset, and the rest of England, whereby such producers lose 2d. a gallon on their milk. it. There may be noble Lords who are anxious to speak whose speeches the House would not wish to miss; and of course the House, if it holds that view, is supreme in a matter of that kind. I do not think, therefore, that it would be possible to enter into a binding engagement of that type, but I frankly admit that the noble Earl has met us most generously in the matter. I need not say that we shall do all in our power to co-operate with him.

I do not know that I have anything further to say except with reference to the last passage in the noble Earl's speech. He said that he expected there would be an opportunity for a discussion of the Peace terms, but that he would wish to postpone any definite statement on the subject until the Prime Ministers return. When may that be probable? Has the noble Earl any reason to hope that as soon as the German Peace is signed the Prime Minister will return?


I know that it is the Prime Ministers desire to do so, but any definite arrangement on the point has not yet been made.


Perhaps I shall be saying what most people think when I state that as soon as the immense obligations which rest upon the Prime Minister in Paris are mitigated it would be an excellent thing for the country at large, and for the Government in particular, if he could return to his duties in England.


Perhaps with your Lordships' leave I may make a brief comment on two points raised by the noble Marquess. The first is as to the Motion on the Paper next Wednesday, July 2, in the name of Lord Strachie, which the noble Marquess suggested might be removed in order to enable the debate on the Second Reading of the Enabling Bill to proceed through its course. I hope that my noble friend Lord Strachie may follow the hint put forward by the noble Marquess. I myself should be quite prepared to use any influence I may have with him in that direction, important as is the subject that he proposes to raise. But the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who is interested in both matters, sent me a draft of a letter he had already written to Lord Strachie on the subject, which was of so persuasive a character that I felt that I could add nothing whatever to its effect. I would therefore wait to see what influence Lord Selborne has been able to exercise before I enter the field myself.

As regards the second pint—namely, the proceedings on Thursday of next week, when I hope to be allowed to ask your Lordships to end the debate on the Enabling Bill and to proceed to the Second Reading of the Forestry Bill—the noble Marquess will bear me out when I say that in discussing with him the arrangements I mentioned just now I always said that they were subject to the convenience and necessity of the Government in respect of any Government measure. Therefore, without asking your Lordships to enter into any absolutely binding engagement, I have not a doubt in my own mind that after you have had three full days' debate on the Enabling Bill you will, in order to meet the convenience of His Majesty's Government and the House, be willing to conclude that debate at half-past five on Thursday afternoon, and allow my noble friend Lord Crawford to proceed with the Forestry Bill.