HL Deb 19 May 1920 vol 40 cc413-8

LORD STRACHIE rose to ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he would state who informed him that it would be out of order for him to introduce the Agriculture Bill; and whether he is not aware that Bills dealing with Finance are and can be introduced in the first instance in the House of Lords provided the financial clauses are printed in italics.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the other day the Minister of Agriculture informed the House, in answer to a Question by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, that he had been informed that it would be out of order for hint to introduce the Agriculture Bill in this House. I therefore venture to ask him the authority upon which he made this statement, because it is a very startling one, and if it were to form a precedent for Ministers in this House it would practically mean that we should have no Bills introduced here which dealt with money in any way. I also ask him whether he is aware that Bills dealing with finance are, and can be, introduced in this House, so long as the financial clauses are printed in italics. My noble friend, like myself, having been in another place, is aware that even in the House of Commons it does happen that a Bill is introduced with financial provisions in italics, because the House has not thought fit beforehand to pass a Resolution in Ways and Means. Therefore this procedure is common to both Houses of Parliament, and there is no reason why it should not be adopted in this case. There is all the more reason why we might consider that agricultural Bills should be introduced in the first instance in this House, because we are so fortunate as to have the Minister of Agriculture as a member of this House, while the Parliamentary Secretary alone has a seat in another place. Therefore the head of that great. Department. being in this House, it seems only reasonable that measures of his should be introduced here first of all and explained by himself to Parliament and the country.

The other day, I noticed, when this question was being discussed, it was stated that the Bill was to be introduced shortly, and I see that according to the Political Notes of The Times the Bill is to be introduced in the House of Commons tomorrow. Perhaps the noble Lord will inform me whether it is to be introduced under the 10-minutes rule or only in dummy form, because if it is the latter the consequence may be that it will only be printed and circulated next month, and that will give very little time for consideration in the House of Commons and also in the country. I would ask the noble Lord to say whether it is the intention, if the Bill is introduced to-morrow in dummy form, to have it printed and circulated at once. Then Lord Crewe, when the question was under discussion, said he thought it would be necessary to give the House six weeks for the consideration of the Bill on all its stages. If that is so, I do not see what time is going to be left for us, if we are going to take the chance of its getting precedence in another place. Seeing that we were told by Lord Astor yesterday of the enormous difficulties of getting Bills through, I think probably the Bill will he considered at 3 o'clock in the morning, then rushed through upstairs, where there is hardly an agriculturist, and then finished by means of another all-night sitting for Report and Third Reading. So the Bill will probably come up to us in July, or perhaps August, and there will be no opportunity of considering it.

Lord Crewe also said it was desirable that we should have the Bill early, so that agricultural bodies throughout the country might consider it and instruct their representatives in either House. I notice that the Minister of Agriculture said— Owing to the fact that financial considerations are largely involved, particularly in connection with the question of guarantees, it would be out of order, I am informed, for the Bill to be introduced in the first instance in your Lordships' House. All Bills, more or less, have financial clauses in them, and, as I have already stated, if that principle is laid down we shall never see any Bill of importance introduced in this House.

I venture to think from what one is told that this Bill, instead of being a Finance Bill, which might come up with the certificate of Mr. Speaker that it is a Money Bill, is going to be very far-reaching indeed—that it will deal not only with the price of corn but with such questions as fixity of tenure, fixity of rents, greater freedom of cultivation, and generally with contracts between landlord and tenant. In fact, the Bill is more or less to set up Land Courts, although they will not be so called, and it will be very interesting to see if the noble Lord will tell us whether it is the fact that this Bill is going to be very far-reaching—the noble Lord shakes his head—because he put his principal argument on the ground that it was a Money Bill. If it is going to be so far-reaching as to deal with other matters, and generally to alter the land laws of the country, then I say there is all the more reason why it should be introduced in this House when we have plenty of time to discuss it, rather than that the Government should adopt the attitude, which they adopted with very little success yesterday, of throwing the Bill at our heads and asking us to pass it at once. If the noble Lord tells us that the Bill does not contain these provisions, perhaps he will tell us what it does contain, because he says it contains a great deal more than merely financial provisions.


My Lords. I will confine myself as strictly as possible to the Question on the Paper. With regard to the specific question which Lord Strachie has put to me I can only plead that, possibly owing to inexperience of the rules of your Lordships' House, I may have used, in reply to what was a supplementary question at the end of the proceedings, a form of words which was not strictly accurate. When I used the words "Not in order" I used them in a colloquial sense, rather than with regard to the rules and regulations of your Lordships' House, with which I must confess I am not as perfectly acquainted as I shall endeavour to be in the future. Therefore in regard to the second part of my noble friend's Question, I am now aware, having fortified myself by reference to the authorities, that Bills dealing with finance are and can be introduced in the first instance in the House of Lords, provided the financial clauses are printed in italics.

I do not think, however, that it would in any way have affected the main point which I wish to make and that is that, whether in order or not, it would as a matter of fact have had certain inconveniences if this Bill, which is, like the Corn Production Act of 1917, to a large extent a financial measure, were introduced in the first instance in this House. The matter was very carefully considered by the Government, and, as my noble friend is no doubt aware, an announcement was made by the Leader of the House of Commons on behalf of the Government, I think only two days ago, that the Bill would be introduced in the House of Commons in the first instance. I am afraid that that decision, which was taken as a result of full discussion must stand. But I hope that my noble friend's rather gloomy prophesies about the course of events and the time table may be falsified. First of all with regard to the date when the Bill will be available for purposes of study, it will be printed by Friday morning. Its presentation to-morrow will be formal, but we have taken special steps to see that it is printed and circulated to members of both Houses, so that they may have an opportunity of making it their principal study during the Whitsuntide recess.


Will you have it circulated to members of this House too?


My noble friend is, perhaps, no better acquainted with all the Rules and Orders of this House than I am. We are both sinners in that respect. I understand that it would not be in order to print the Bill in this House till it is received.


Can it be circulated to us? That was done in the case of a Bill last year.


Perhaps my noble friend will consult the authorities of the House in regard to that. Having informed your Lordships that the Bill will be available on Friday morning, I cannot accept the tempting invitation of my noble friend to explain its provisions on this occasion. I think he will find that a good number of his forecasts are wide of the mark, but if he will be patient for only a few hours he will be able to satisfy his curiosity in these respects. I recognise that your Lordships have a special right to have ample time to discuss this measure and that it should not be "thrown at your heads," to use the phrase of my noble friend. I hope that the time table which we contemplate will enable the Bill to reach this House in ample time for it to be fully discussed before the normal period of closing the session.


My Lords, I wish to say a word or two in reply to the noble Lord who has just sat down. Although he frankly admits that he was inaccurate in regard to the effect of bringing forward proposals in this House in the first instance, I understood from him that the difficulty now is—or one of his main difficulties now is—that an announcement has been made in the other House that the Bill will be brought in there. But supposing that a change was made in that respect it would not be the only announcement that has been made in that House and subsequently withdrawn and not acted upon, That does not seem to me to be an adequate reason for not introducing the Bill in this House.

The noble Lord himself, with equal frankness, admitted that this is a House in which the subject is perhaps more generally understood than it is in the House of Commons, and that it would in ordinary circumstances be desirable that a Bill of that kind should come forward in the first instance in a House which is so largely interested in the particular subject with which it deals, especially when that might be done at a time when this House is not in the same position with regard to pressure of other Bills as is the case in the House of Commons. I am sorry to have heard the reply of the noble Lord, and I ask whether it is not possible for him to exercise influence, which of course he can exercise as Minister of Agriculture arid the person mainly responsible for the policy that is being pursued, in order to arrange that, instead of the Bill being introduced in the House of Commons because of what appears to have been a more or less casual announcement, that policy may be reversed and the Bill brought in here.