HL Deb 18 August 1921 vol 43 cc987-97

Message from the Commons: That they disagree to the Amendments made by the Lords to the Safeguarding of Industries Bill for the following reason: Because they infringe the sole and undoubted right of the Commons to impose taxation, and the Commons consider it unnecessary to offer any further reason, hoping that the above reason may be deemed sufficient.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reason for disagreeing with the Lords Amendments be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that your Lordships do not insist upon your Amendments. I understand that when the House of Commons disagree on the ground of privilege it is the usual practice of your Lordships not to insist on your Amendments.

Moved, That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendments.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I think the noble Viscount is quite right in stating that where an objection is taken in another place to Amendment made here, on the ground of privilege, it has not been the habit of this House to insist upon its Amendments. Perhaps I might just say this—that in declaring that these Amendments constitute a breach of the privileges of the Commons that House is pursuing a course which it has pursued during the whole of Parliamentary history, and their action has no relation whatever to the Parliament Act. I think that may be taken as beyond any possibility of dispute. It is quite true that some Amendments which we send down do, technically, constitute a breach of privilege, or, at any rate, the one for which I was responsible would undoubtedly have increased to some extent—nobody could say to what extent —the charge on the public revenue; that is to say, that certain sums which would have been brought in by the proposed taxation would not have been brought in if my Amendment had been accepted. Consequently, the Amendment technically —as I was well aware all the time—constituted a breach of privilege.

But that does not by any means imply that your Lordships' House was wrong in carrying that Amendment. To admit that no such Amendment should ever be carried would mean that where, in another place, a course had been taken which we believe to be wrong, or wrong-headed, that course must always be persisted in, whatever arguments may be adduced in favour of its reversal. The House of Commons is well aware of that, and many instances could be named in which, when there has been what technically constitutes a breach of privilege, the House of Commons has waived its privilege and admitted an Amendment made here. Consequently, I am very glad that we have had these discussions. I only wish that the arguments which we used, and which impressed the great majority of your Lordships, had had a similar effect in impressing the majority in another place. That, however, has not occurred, and it is clearly impossible for us to complain formally of that, or to pursue the matter further. Therefore, I have no objection whatever to offer to the noble Viscount's Motion that your Lordships should not insist on your Amendments.


My Lords. as I was responsible for having asked your Lordships to insert one of the Amendments with which the Commons disagreed, I desire to take the opportunity of emphasising what has just fallen from the noble Marquess. I had the privilege of a seat in the House of Commons for twenty-six years. During that period I heard continually eases arise at the end of the session in which the Speaker of the day had to advise the House of Commons as to whether or not a breach of privilege had been committed. The wise decisions of Mr. Speaker Peel I commend to the noble Viscount who is in charge of this Bill. On many occasions he took the opportunity of impressing upon the members of the House of Commons that while certain Amendments made by the Lords might technically be a preach of privilege, they were in accordance with the spirit or the policy of the Bill, and he advised that privilege should not be pressed on such occasions. And on many such occasions—several of them I recollect—the Leader of the House took the advice, and the House of Commons followed it.

That was not the procedure of Mr. Speaker Lowther. He used privilege as against this House to an extent that no other Speaker has ever done. I could give instances on the Old Age Pensions Bill, and. on other measures at that time, which were largely responsible for the difficulties which arose between the two Houses afterwards. And I deeply regret that the present Speaker is following in the same course. No member of your Lordships' House has risen to justify the Certificate which was given that this Bill, which is not in any sense a Revenue Bill, was a Money Bill. Not a figure has been given us, not a suggestion has been made that the resources of the country are in any way going to be jeopardised by the action we have taken. And what the pretensions of the House of Commons now amount to is that this House should not merely be debarred from dealing with questions of taxation, but that we should be elbowed out of all powers with regard to commerce and trade. And still more do those observations apply in regard to this particular Amendment dealing with agriculture, about which subject there is a degree of knowledge in this House to which the House of Commons has never been able to pretend.

I think that the course which has been pursued is a most unfortunate one. I am very glad that the Amendments were put in by your Lordships in order that we should bring the question to a head; because, unquestionably, when, as was promised by the Government, in the next session of Parliament we are to consider the constitution of this House and the relations between the two Houses, the entire absorption of all questions which have to do with the trade, commerce, and agriculture of the country in one hand must be considered and, as I hope, must be repaired. I agree with the noble Marquess that under the system of procedure which your Lordships have followed in the past it would he unwise to insist on these Amendments, and I certainly shall not ask your Lordships, with regard to the one for which I am responsible, to take that course. At the same time, I think it would be impossible to allow the occasion to pass without entering our earnest protest at the way in which the House has been treated.


My Lords, I should not have said any word in this brief discussion, more especially as the noble Marquess and the noble Earl following hint have advised this House to take the only action which is, I think, wisely open to them in the circumstances of the case; but I must rise to say a word of deprecation of the, as it seems to me, most unusual course which the noble Earl has just adopted. He is entitled, of course, to have his own opinion of the action that has been taken by high authorities in another place, but I do think it is a novel and, in my judgment, a most undesirable precedent to set that a noble Earl of the authority and position of Lord Midleton should rise in this House and speak in the language that he did of the judgments that have been given by the highest officers of another House.

He was good enough to throw theagis of his approval over that great speaker, Lord Peel, under whom he and I sat for many years. But he spoke of the decisions of his successor, Mr. Speaker Lowther—certainly one of the greatest in a long line of Speakers, a man of exceedingly balanced judgment as well as of great courage—in tones of animadversion by which I was exceedingly surprised. And, passing on from that, he went to the present occupant of that great Chair, a man who has recently taken up that office, and he endeavoured be his remarks to shake the public confidence in him, to discredit him in what, I doubt not, has been the perfectly honest discharge of his duties. I deprecate that language, and I hope the practice will not be perpetuated in this House, if we disagree with any ruling that has been given by the Speaker in another place, of taking advantage of the great liberty that we here enjoy to express those sentiments with the freedom and want of restraint which the noble Earl has exercised.

As regards the question itself, I will not, of course, raise the question as to whether your Lordships were right in the action that you took. I have no doubt that you satisfied yourselves, and that the noble Marquess satisfied himself, that you and he were acting entirely in the best interest. I am quite ready to believe that. To-day he has accepted the position that this is a breach of privilege, having been so declared in another place. He has yielded to what, I believe, will be the general sentiment of the public in the matter, and I think, my Lords, that the matter had now better conclude.


My Lords, the matter would have concluded just now had it not been for the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House.


My speech would not have been delivered at all had it not been for the speech of the noble Earl.


Perhaps the noble Marquess will allow me to continue my observations. The noble Marquess leading the House has thought fit to reprove my noble friend, the Earl of Midleton, for a perfectly legitimate protest which he made on behalf of the conduct of this House. The noble Marquess seems to think that because the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, has risen to differ with the conduct of business in another place, and with a decision of the occupant of the great office of Speaker, he is speaking disrespectfully of the Speaker Nothing of the kind. We desire in your Lordships' House always to speak of him with profound respect, and the fact that we do not quite agree with the Speaker is surely not a matter for which we need apologise. After all, this is public life. Everybody, of course, is open to criticism—not in their private character, not in their reputation, but in their judgment. I do not desire to yield, for a moment, to the noble Marquess in my appreciation of the great qualities of Mr. Speaker Lowther. He has been a very great Speaker, but he is not infallible. Is it to be the practice, when there are differences of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament, that a decision of the Speaker in another place which affects your Lordships is always to be passed over in absolute silence? Why should that be so?

Let me put a case to the noble Marquess. He is, or ought to be, the guardian of the privileges of this House. Supposing the Speaker—I will not say the present Speaker, for whom I have very great personal regard, or the ex-Speaker—were to extend by successive rulings on privilege the authority of the House of Commons as against your Lordships' House—are we to say nothing? Are we to allow privilege gradually to advance further and further until our usefulness and our responsibility to the country are sapped by those decisions? The noble Marquess will rise in his place, and in his most magnificent manner will reprove us, I suppose. Now, my Lords, we are Peers here. We are not to be treated like schoolboys by the noble Marquess, and if we think it right to make our respectful protest it is not because we do not treat the office of Speaker with reverence, or that we want for a moment to say one word against the late Speaker or the present Speaker, for whom we have the highest regard. Least of all do we want to do anything lacking in proper feeling towards the House of Commons, which we acknowledge to be the greatest Assembly in the world. Nothing of the kind. But we do think that it is our responsibility and duty, when we consider that the doctrine of privilege is either too far extended or is exerted in a manner which is not conducive to the interests of the country, respectfully to say a word in reference to the fact.


My Lords, my recollection does not go back to Mr. Speaker Peel in the House of Commons, only to Mr. Speaker Gully, but in the absence of Lord Ullswater, I am probably the only member of your Lordships' House who as locum towns for the Speaker had occasionally to deal with similar matters from the Chair of the House of Commons. I have not infrequently had to say whether an Amendment sent down by this House was a privileged Amendment or not. I would venture to suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, and to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that it would probably be a not very wise departure on the part of the Speaker of the present day, or not a very wise action on his part, to give any opinion in the House of Commons which, by its character, would appear to be an attempt to influence the House on a subject of controversy between political parties.

I would venture to ask whether the Speaker is not doing his duty in the best possible way by stating whether, according to the rules of the House and according to previous precedents, the actual Amendments which he has to consider are or are not privileged. I know, on the few occasions on which I had to deal with such matters —and I dealt with them occasionally without having spoken to the Speaker at all; I was simply sitting for him and had to act for hint at the moment in the best way I could during the period of storm and stress that always comes at the end of every session, do what we will I had to decide whether these matters were privileged or not, and my duty seemed to be entirely discharged by simply saying whether the Amendment was privileged. For the Speaker to go further than that, and to give any kind. of hint as to whether the Amendment should be accepted or whether privilege should be waived, or not, would bring him, I think, into very great danger of appearing to adopt a political role, which certainly would be most unwise in the occupant of an office that, because it has been so impartially carried out for so many years, has heroine a very great office in the State.

On the particular matter before your Lordships, may I say that I am very glad of the discussions that have taken place in this House. Whether of malice prepense or not, I do not know, but this Bill was drawn in a form which led to its being certified by Mr. Speaker in another place as a Money Bill. Yet though in form a Money Bill, it marks, so far as it goes, a new departure in regard to foreign and internal trade. Even the Preamble of the Bill—it is not before me at the moment, but noble Lords are perfectly familiar I with it—says that these taxes are being imposed for the purpose of protecting industry. That goes far outside a mere taxing purpose and, as the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said, with the greatest of justice, we in this House are being elbowed out of any chance of dealing with commerce. All we can do is to draw attention, as we have done in this case, to certain injustices that will happen as between industry and agriculture in a measure of this kind.

May I say, in reference to other debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House, that in spite of the Parliament Act, although I am a comparatively young and humble member of this House, I would venture to say that the reputation of this House has not often stood much higher than it does to-day, and I finely believe that in our discussion of this Bill we have done a real service to the State.


My Lords, at the risk of detaining your Lordships for a few moments longer, I would like to say one word from the point of view of the industry which has been affected by this decision of Mr. Speaker. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present last night, when Amendments were moved by my noble. friend opposite. Had I been present, I. should have voted for them. What I want to say is that I have not observed from those two members of the Front bench on this side who represent the Government—namely, time noble Viscount and the noble Marquess who leads the House— one word of sympathy for the industry which, in my opinion, has been adversely affected by the ruling of Mr. Speaker, which does not allow us to submit these proposals for the consideration of the House of Commons. I see from time OFFICIAL REPORT that my noble friend Lord Peel last night, on the Motion of the noble Marquess opposite, remonstrated with my noble friends on the other side of the House. Why, he asked, should the agricultural industry expect to get its plant below the cost price?


Or any other industry.


Why, he asked, should it expect, more than any other industry, to be able to procure its plant below cost price in this country?


From a foreign country—that makes all the difference.


I will take the cost price in the foreign country. The noble Viscount has only to cast his mind back a very short time, and he will remember the disability under which agriculture was put during the war. It was compelled to take less than the world price for what it produced. At any rate, it is a cause for sympathy that you are forced by Mr. Speaker's ruling to withdraw the Amendments moved by the noble Marquess opposite. In this situation not one word of sympathy is expressed for the agricultural interest; not one word of sympathy was expressed last night, if I have read the journals aright. Why should not the agricultural industry have the advantage of world competition? You are not pretending, I suppose, that this is a key industry. Do you pretend that the manufacture of agricultural machinery is a key industry? The key industry is agriculture itself, not the machinery which the agricultural industry uses. You are refusing for that key industry the advantage of world competition. Let it go out to the agricultural industry what you failed to do last night. It is within your power to express some word of regret for the ruling of Mr. Speaker, and you do not do so. Mr. Speaker has done what he thought was right, but there is nothing to prevent you saying that you regret very much the effect of that opinion.

I have been nearly fifty years in Parliament, and my experience of the professed interest in, and sympathy for, agriculture of every Party is that it is absolute humbug. I have never known any Government, except one of which the late Lord Salisbury was the head, which gave half the rates back to the land, that has done anything for the land. With all their professed anxiety, mouthed abroad in the loudest terms by Mr. Lloyd George, what have this Government done for the agricultural industry? Here is the end of it all. We have the dropping of the Agriculture Act which was to encourage agriculture to do its best to produce the most necessary food for the people; and then every disability possible is put in its way.


My Lords, I do not know whether, as I have been so unfairly attacked and so terribly misrepresented by the noble Lord, I may be allowed to say one word in reply. I was astounded to hear my noble friend speak in this way. As a very old member of this House, he has often protested when speeches have been made which were wholly irrelevant to the subject matter under discussion. The only question now before your Lordships is whether or not you disagree with the attitude of another place. Instead of confining himself to that, the noble Lord has thought fit to make, at the beginning of his speech, a personal attack upon myself, on the ground that I had not expressed any sympathy with the agricultural industry. What sympathy does the noble Lord extend to the agricultural industry? Why does not he come down here at the proper time when the matter is being discussed, and reply to me then, instead of attacking me at a time when my hands are tied. Why does he not come down into his place when there is some opportunity for voting or speaking? He leaves your Lordships in the lurch when the question of agriculture is being discussed, and comes down here when he knows his actions can have no influence whatever on the course of this Bill.


What Notice was given?


The usual Notice. I must say one word on the misrepresentation, by the noble Lord, of what I said. I never said that the agricultural industry in this country was only to depend on supplies in this country. What I said was that neither the agricultural industry nor any other industry could be permanently successful by relying, or could expect to rely, on the supply of goods coming from other countries at less than the cost of production in those particular countries, and that they would have far greater security if some opportunity at least were given to the industries in this country to produce machinery not at an unfair price, but at a price which would not be cut to pieces by this dumping competition from other countries. As to my not expressing one word of sympathy with the agricultural industry, I expressed myself at great length, I thought, in sympathy with that industry. But, after all, perhaps I need not show any indignation on that point. The noble Lord entered into a general disquisition on the attitude of Governments to agriculture. My small personal share in the conduct of this Bill becomes diminished almost to nothing when the noble Lord attempts to charge all Governments, whether Conservative or Liberal, with gross inattention to the agricultural industry. Under the shadow of that general attack, I think I may return to my own humble position.

On Question, Motion agreed to.