HL Deb 15 August 1921 vol 43 cc551-60

Your Lordships will remember that, last week, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack intimated that he would make a statement upon Ireland on Tuesday, but since then, of course, a very important correspondence has been published in the newspapers, and I think it would be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if I were to ask the noble and learned Viscount what his intentions are with respect to making a statement to-morrow.


My Lords, as the noble and learned Marquess has very justly stated, the situation has largely altered since I made that announcement, and the object of the statement at that time contemplated was to apprise the House of that which has since been published. If the noble Marquess will not think it inconvenient, I should be glad if he would address a Question to me a little later in the day, because I wish to get information from the House of Commons.


Of course I will pursue that course, but I should like to put a question to the Leader of the House. He has upon the Order Paper a Motion to suspend certain Standing Orders for the remainder of the session. That seems to be a proper Motion to make at this period, but I think it is highly probable that your Lordships would wish to have a discussion upon Ireland before the Prorogation, and I imagine, having regard to the momentous character of the news in to-day's newspaper, that if a request were put forward, the Government would make every endeavour to enable it to be carried into effect. There is a Question standing in my name for next Friday, to which the Government have promised to give precedence. That has become entirely out of date now, because in it I ask the Government to do the very thing which they have now done—namely, reveal the correspondence between themselves and Mr. de Valera. It does not, however, make it less important, probably, that there should be a discussion on the Irish situation before the Prorogation. Before, therefore, the noble Earl moves his Motion, or, if he wishes, when he does move it, your Lordships would wish to know what the attitude of the Government would be with regard to such a discussion, because I am sure the noble Earl would not think it unreasonable if I say that the House could hardly agree to his resolution unless some engagement of the kind were entered into by the Government.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON) had given Notice to move "That Standing Orders Nos. XXI and XXXIX be considered in order to their being suspended until the House adjourn for the recess, and that until that date Government business have precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day."

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, no more than anybody else in your Lordships' House can I anticipate with any exactitude what will happen as regards the negotiations which we have entered into with the Irish representatives, but I fully appreciate the desire of the noble Marquess, not to lose any opportunity that may present itself, before the rising of Parliament, to discuss that which is obviously a matter of absolutely first-class importance. Without committing myself to any particular day or hour, I will certainly bear in mind the views of the noble Marquess, which I doubt not are shared in every quarter of the House, and endeavour to make arrangements to provide the opportunity which is desired.

In making the Motion which stands in my name upon the Paper, for the suspension of the Standing Orders, I may perhaps be expected by the House to say a word or two about the method in which we would propose to ask your Lordships to discharge the business which still remains. You will note that the concluding part of my Motion provides that Government business shall have precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day. I would propose, if your Lordships agree, that that should not apply to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. That is not a Government measure, but I think your Lordships, viewing the importance of the matter, will not desire to remove it from the place which it occupies on the Paper at this moment, but will be disposed to take it in its order rather than remit it to the end of the proceedings to-day. However, in that respect I am in the hands of your Lordships.

As regards the Licensing Bill, which is down to-day for the Report of Amendments, I hope that your Lordships may be willing, after taking the Report stage, to give us the Third Reading, and I will state the reasons which have been supplied to me why it is of importance to expedite the passage of this particular Bill. It is very desirable that the Royal Assent should be given to it by the night of Wednesday next. The reason is this: By Clause 22, subsection (3) of the Bill the Act comes into operation at the expiration of fourteen days after its passing. The Orders of the Liquor Control Board will cease to operate at the date of the termination of the War, that is midnight of Wednesday, August31. It will be clear, therefore, that if the Board's Orders expire before the new Orders come into force, there will be a hiatus, in which licensing matters would go back to the condition of things existing before the war; in other words, something like chaos. I hope, in view of this consideration, your Lordships may be willing to give us the Third Reading as well as the Report stage of that Bill to-day.

Then, as regards to-morrow, we propose to take, as you are aware, the Committee stage of the. Railways Bill, and on Wednesday the Report stage of the same Bill, and, with your Lordships' consent, the. Third Reading, in order to give the Commons time to consider any Amendments that you may desire to introduce in the Bill. On Wednesday, also, we would ask you to take the Committee stage of the Safeguarding of industries Bill, of which we are going to take the Second Reading to-day; and—inasmuch as, in the circumstances of the case, the power of amendment is taken away from your Lordships, the Bill having been declared to be a Money Bill—the Third Reading also of that measure.

On Thursday there will remain the opportunity for considering the Commons Amendments, if there be such, to the Lords Amendments of the Corn Production Bill, and also any Commons Amendments that may have been made to the Railways Bill. If there were not time to take the latter on Thursday then we might have to hold a sitting on Friday in order to carry through that stage. There would thus remain for the Irish discussion, which the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) desires, the possible opportunity on Thursday, and, if we miss that, on Friday; so that, in any case, the noble Marquess will, I think, gain the opportunity that I understand the House, in common with himself, desires.

These proposals are, as you will have noticed, to some extent dependent upon what passes in another place, and therefore my statement is necessarily of a rather provisional character, but it is the best arrangement. of the programme that I can suggest at this moment.

Moved, That Standing Orders Nos. XXI and XXXIX be considered in order to their being suspended until the House adjourns for the recess, and that until that date Government business have precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day. —(The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston.)


My Lords, I have certainly no desire to oppose the Motion, but I must make one or two observations on what has just fallen from the noble Marquess. His arrangement is not only provisional, but it is a very closely packed arrangement. In the first place, I had better say la once that, in my opinion, unless the discussion on the Safeguarding of Industries Bill is to be curtailed to a very undue extent—that is to say, by making it impossible for some noble Lords who intended to take part in the debate to do so—I do not see how we can conclude.the debate on the Second Reading to-night. The speeches on a measure of that kind cannot be very short. It must be obvious, I think, to the noble Marquess that both the noble Viscount who is going to move the Second Reading of the Bill and my noble friend opposite (Lord Emmott), who is going to move its rejection, cannot develop their arguments in a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. There are a good many noble Lords who will desire to take some part in the debate, and it may not be altogether easy for them to make their speeches matters of minutes.

The measure, although declared to be a Money Bill, and therefore not subject to final rejection by your Lordships, is yet one which, by the practice of the House, and also by the full intention of the Parliament Act, needs close examination and discussion; and there is also (which the noble Marquess appeared to forget) the possibility of putting forward Amendments, which, assuming they were passed and agreed to by the House of Commons, would in no way delay the passing of the Bill, but, if they were not agreed to by the House of Commons, assuming that they were passed, would involve the sitting of the House for a further period. It was also one of the declared intentions of the Parliament Act that an opportunity for discussion of this kind should be given.

In those circumstances I cannot help feeling that, as regards this particular Bill, the programme of the noble Marquess is an unduly hurried one, and I hope he will consider whether some time, as, for instance, on Wednesday—supposing tomorrow to be entirely occupied—might not be given for the conclusion of the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. Because I must remind the noble Marquess that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, which is to be taken to-day, has arrived rom another place with some substantial Amendments made there, upon which, I conclude, some discussion is likely to take place. There are also, I think, points still to be decided on the Licensing (No. 2) Bill, and therefore the Second Reading debate on the Safeguarding of Industries Bill will not commence for some little time, although, of course, one assumes that it will go on after dinner.

As regards the proposed debate upon Ireland, one can well understand that it will he the desire of everybody to say something regarding the momentous announcement which has appeared in the Press today. Whether a debate on that subject—unless something further transpires in the meantime—would be of great practical value or assistance to the cause of a settlement, may be another question, but undoubtedly it would seem strange if the Prorogation of Parliament were to take place with no allusion being made here to a matter of such supreme importance. I cannot help once more repeating that, in view of the condition of these negotiations, the fact that it is proposed to prorogue instead of to adjourn the sittings of Parliament appears to me to be an exceedingly unfortunate one.


My Lords, with regard to the Amendments to the Corn Production Bill, if they come back with any alterations from the House of Commons, may on behalf of those who are interested in that Bill, ask the noble Marquess whether he could say why the understanding which was arrived at through the ordinary channels in this House, that they would be taken on Wednesday, is to be departed from, and why they are now being taken on Thursday?


My Lords, might I suggest to the noble Marquess that, in view of the very considerable congestion of business this week, your Lordships might be invited to sit at an earlier hour in the day, certainly not later than three o'clock. I anticipate that every effort is being made to terminate the business on Friday, and possibly on that day we might sit at an earlier hour, because undoubtedly the difficulty does arise later on that business may be conducted in a thin House.


My Lords, let me say one more word about the Irish debate. The noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, has questioned whether such a debate would be advisable. If, in the course of the next few days, it should appear that such a debate is inadvisable, we can, of course, reconsider the subject, but, as at present advised, I must say I agree with him in thinking it would be exceeding strange if so great an event should take place without discussion in Parliament. My noble friend the Leader of the House says he will give opportunity for discussion, and in that connection I should like to ask him two questions. In the first place, will he not require, in that event, to modify the form of his Motion? The Motion says that Government business is always to have precedence, and, unless he is prepared to say that the Irish debate shall be Government business, he is precluded from giving to it the opportunity he desires. That is one question.

The other one, which is nearly allied to it, is whether I am to understand that if a debate of this kind is going to take place it would necessarily take place as the first Order of the afternoon. It would be ridiculous to call a debate on the condition of Ireland at a quarter past seven in the evening or at half past nine at night. I think everybody in your Lordships' House will agree that when my noble friend states that there must be a debate if anybody wishes it, he means by that a debate at a reasonable hour; that is, as the first substantial business of the afternoon. That is all I have to say on the Irish debate, and I think it will require some words to modify the noble Marquess's Motion, unless he is prepared to say that the Irish debate shall be Government business. Subject to that, I hope he will give it a good place.

Then I desire to say a word about the Railways Bill. That Bill, if I may use such a familiar phrase, is not one of my subjects. But I had occasion, with one or two of my friends, to look through the Bill this morning, and I must say that I think the hurry with which we arc asked to discuss it amounts to a condition of things which is very scandalous indeed. There are many clauses in the Bill about which it is impossible, without questioning the Government, to understand what they mean, or why they have been inserted in the Bill.



Therefore, in Committee, those questions will be put. Suppose the answers of the Government are unsatisfactory, either because they themselves do not understand why the provisions are put into the Bill, or because they cannot satisfy the House that they ought to be put into the Bill, then, of course, Amendments will have to be prepared. How in the world are Amendments to be prepared in such a way that your Lordships can properly consider and discuss them, if the Report stage is to be taken on the very next day? I think the Government must see that this is a proceeding which is so absolutely unprecedented, even in this House—and that is saying a great deal—that the Government will shrink from it. I do not, of course, make these observations except as a humble remonstrance.

I am aware that your Lordships decided by a considerable majority that the Government would have control of the business of the House for the remainder of the session; I mean, in effect your Lordships so decided, and of course we entirely bow to that decision. But surely it does not carry with it the consequence that the Railways Bill is not to be properly considered at all even in the few days in which we are allowed to consider it. I would suggest, therefore, that the Government should keep their minds open, and if it appears in the course of the discussion on the Committee stage that there are substantial points which want reconsideration before the Bill finally passes into law, that they will not insist upon the Committee stage being taken one day and the Report stage the very next day.


My Lords, I will endeavour, with the consent of the House, to reply to the supplementary points that have been put. The first is as to the hour of meeting. I assume that your Lordships will be disposed to sit after dinner to-night and to-morrow night, and, if necessity arises, on any subsequent night of the session. The Government certainly will be prepared to make a House for that purpose, and it seems to me indispensable that we should do so. Next, as to the point that has just been raised by the noble Marquess—namely, as to the Committee stage of the Railways Bill—about which he has urged considerations by no means lacking in importance—


What about meeting earlier, at three o'clock?


I beg your Lordships' pardon. I think the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, was a very sound one, and I am quite disposed, for my own part, to meet at three o'clock on any day or on every day, if required, for the remainder of the session. As regards the hour of meeting on Friday, I would like to hold that over for the moment in order to see how we dispose of the business in the interim.

I was dealing with the point of the noble Marquess about the Committee stage of the Railways Bill.


It really is the Report stage, not the Committee stage. The Committee stage is fixed for to-morrow.


I know. The Committee stage will take place to-morrow. The noble Marquess then urged that it would be rather hard to ask the House to take the Report stage on the succeeding day.


I ask the Government to keep their mind open upon that point.


I will; I will keep my mind open upon the point, but I should not like to give any pledge at this moment. Then my attention was called to the undertaking, of which I was unaware, which was alleged to have been given that the consideration of the Commons Amend- ments to the Lords Amendments of the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Bill should be taken on Wednesday rather than Thursday.


Yes, on Wednesday.


If that undertaking has been given we will endeavour to take it on Wednesday. I do not know that it makes a very great difference, but if it does, and if the undertaking has been given, we will endeavour to comply.

Then, the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition spoke with some feeling about the discussion that will be inaugurated this afternoon on the Second Reading of the Safeguarding of Industries Bill. I can assure him that I do not desire to put any limit to the flow either of eloquence or of argument with which noble Lords may be disposed to favour us upon that measure. But considerable experience has led me to believe that, although a good example is not always set by the front benches, your Lordships possess a power of compression of speech which is almost unknown in another place. Therefore, I am not without hopes that, even upon that measure, exciting the strong feelings which it does, the opportunities which we are providing may be adequate.

As regards the discussion on Ireland. I heard with a shudder one remark from the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, to the effect that everybody in your Lordships' House would desire to express their feelings upon the situation. I earnestly hope—


No, I do not think that I said that.




What I said was that everybody agreed apparently with both the noble Marquesses that a discussion of that kind was necessary.


Oh no, that would have been a perfectly innocent remark, and I should not have drawn attention to it. Unfortunately, the noble Marquess, speaking, I imagine, for those behind him, said that everybody would desire to express their opinions upon the matter.


No, I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. I did not say that. The noble Marquess has misunderstood me.


Anyhow, I hope that some measure of restraint will be exhibited in certain quarters of your Lordships' House. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was I think quite right in saying that the decision as to whether the discussion takes place or not, and when it takes place, must be largely governed by the public interest. I am certain that neither he nor anybody else would wish to inaugurate a discussion or to say anything which would be in the least inimical or dangerous to the settlement we all desire. Subject to that observation, I adhere to the proposals I made just now.

The noble Marquess made a further point that if the Motion which I have made is passed in its present form a discussion upon Ireland might be precluded from having the precedence to which its importance would entitle it. We can meet that point, which is a genuine one, in one of two ways—either by inserting words in the Motion which I am now moving to meet the case, or else by a general understanding that by leave of the House the arrangements here made should be departed from with a view to giving the first place to that discussion. I will do whichever the noble Marquess likes. If he would like the terms of the Motion to be altered, the concluding words of my Motion would run as follows— and that until that date Government business have, except with the consent of the Government, precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day. That would give the noble Lord the opening he desires, or we can do it by tacit agreement.


You had better put the words in, I think.


Then I would propose to move the Motion which stands in my name in that form.

Moved, That Standing Orders XXI and XXXIX be considered in order to their being suspended until the House adjourn for the recess, and that until that date Government Business have, except with the consent of the Government, precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day.—(The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.