THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I have given the noble Marquess who leads the House notice that I should put a Question to him at the beginning of business to-day, concerning the business of the House during the next few weeks, and, indeed, until the close of the session. As the noble Marquess very well knows, and as we all know, it is just about this time of the year that Questions of this kind frequently come to be put from the Opposition side of your Lordships' House, and I hope that on this occasion the noble Marquess will be able to give us a full and categorical reply. As we are all aware, there are several measures of great importance—measures which will demand, and as I believe will receive, full consideration in your Lordships' House—but the precise time of their advent here we do not know.
Thanks to the courtesy of the noble Marquess, I have been given to understand that by a quite provisional forecast it appears possible that the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Bill, which will be of much interest to your Lordships, may arrive here in the first week of August. It appears also to have been estimated that the Railways Bill might be expected to arrive here somewhere about August 10, but it is possible, I think, owing to the amount of discussion devoted to that measure in another place, that that prophecy may prove to be somewhat sanguine. And there are, of course, other measures of great moment with which we shall have to deal. There is the Safeguarding of Industries Bill, with regard to which I am not certain how far its character will enable it to become the subject of full discussion in your Lordships' House; that is to say, to what extent it is to be regarded as a Money Bill. That, I suppose, is not yet known even to the noble Marquess himself, but at any rate there is the possibility that it may become the subject of prolonged discussion here.
1194 In those circumstances how do we find ourselves placed? It is the declared intention, as I understand, of His Majesty's Government that all the necessary business should be taken before the House rises; that is to say, that all these measures, and some other smaller measures that I have not mentioned, will come up to your Lordships' House for consideration before any adjournment takes place. I do not think that it is a too pessimistic view to take that in that case there can be no possibility of this House rising until well into September. How is that prospect to be regarded? His Majesty's Government have informed us that, for once in a way, they are anxious to dispense with an autumn session. It is, they say, to the general convenience that we should sit on to the end of the summer in order to conclude business, with the prospect of a prolonged autumn holiday, and, I suppose, the commencement of a new session on a date well on into the following year. That may be an alluring prospect to some.
I have no wish, in putting this Question to the noble Marquess, to discuss the abstract question as to whether autumn sessions in present circumstances are necessary or desirable things. The noble Marquess will remember that in June of last year that subject was fully discussed upon the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and I have no wish to raise that general question now. But I do wish to say, most distinctly and decidedly, that in my judgment it is altogether impossible in this year, 1921, to dispense with a meeting of Parliament in the autumn, if only for one reason—the reason of Ireland. The Irish question has, as we know, reached a more hopeful phase during the last week or two than most people would have ventured to believe during the past months. Heaven only grant that the negotiations which are taking place may have a favourable outcome! If they do, in the course of the autumn it would seem to be entirely impossible that Parliament should not meet to consider the new situation thereby created, and in all probability to have to proceed to the immediate amendment of existing Statutes.
On the other hand, take the darker view, and assume that, after prolonged negotiations, no agreement can be reached, and a return has to be made to the system of arbitrary government which is foreshadowed in the Government of Ireland 1195 Act as it stands. That would mean, not merely a renewal of outrage and crime, but it would mean a definite renewal of civil war. As we know, even before these brighter prospects opened on us, it had come to be recognised—it was almost categorically admitted in one of the speeches of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack—that Ireland was now the subject of a state of actual hostilities between the two countries. If that breakdown occurs, is it conceivable that Parliament would not be called together—would not necessarily sit—in order to give its sanction, if it so chooses, to the new administrative measures which His Majesty's Government would feel compelled to undertake?
On this one point alone I take it to be an absolute certainty that Parliament will have to sit in the autumn months. That being so, is it fair or reasonable to ask both Houses to sit on all through the remainder of this month and all through August? What measures are before Parliament now which are so urgent that they have to be passed, either with or without discussion, in the course of the next three or four weeks? We are told that the Railways Bill is one of extreme urgency, because the Government control of the railways will cease after a certain date—I have heard the middle of August mentioned—and that unless the new statutory arrangements are made nothing can follow but chaos. I do not know by what sanction or authority that statement as to the necessary date for the decontrol of the railways has been made. I am not aware that there is anything in any Act of Parliament which compels it, and unless the noble Marquess is able to give some better reason than the mere convenience of some person or persons for the initiation of the new railway arrangements, we shall continue to think that the passing of the Bill, and the consequent decontrol, could take place just as well later in the year as in August.
Equally with the Safeguarding of Industries Bill. I am not aware that any extraordinary urgency attaches to that measure either; certainly not the kind of urgency which makes it necessary to have this measure, and other measures (many of which, as I know from what I hear from noble Lords, are likely to become the subject of long discussion in Committee here), forced upon a jaded House, with the taunt that, if the House ventures to 1196 consider them, it is keeping hon. members in another place, and keeping officials, who need and desire to have a holiday before the summer is altogether over—the alternative being that we should do as we have often been invited to do, and allow these measures to go through without proper discussion. I hope very much that the noble Marquess will be able to give us some comfort in this direction. I cannot help feeling that further consideration may have caused His Majesty's Government, in spite of the strong opinions they have expressed against sitting in the autumn, to recognise now that their minds may reasonably be changed. I am quite sure that if the noble Marquess is able to tell us that they have changed their minds none of us will desire to twit them with any infirmity of purpose, because, as a matter of fact, the circumstances have undoubtedly changed, especially in relation to Ireland, since they made these observations. I hope, therefore, that the noble Marquess will be able formally to convey to his colleagues the view which I have ventured to express, not merely on ray own behalf but, as I know, on behalf of a great many other members at any rate of your Lordships' House.
There is just this to add— that we are not entirely helpless in this matter. If I am right in supposing that the great majority of your. Lordships' House entertain the same view on this subject as I do, and found it on the same reasoning, we, of course—the noble Marquess will recognise—have it in our power to take such action as will bring about what we desire. The arrangement of the business of the House, of course, lies with His Majesty's Government, and primarily with the noble Marquess, but it is open to a majority of your Lordships' House, when a Bill is brought from another place and comes up for Second Reading, to move the adjournment of the Second Reading debate until a fixed date in the autumn. And while still hoping that the noble Marquess may hold out hopes of a different policy, I will state frankly that I shall have no hesitation myself in taking that course if I find that the general sense of your Lordships' House is in favour of it.
That, of course, would involve what I firmly believe to be the absolute necessity of meeting in the autumn, and would have the advantage of combining with the recognition of that necessity a somewhat earlier adjournment and a much more early 1197 and suitable holiday for those who, I know, the noble Marquess has greatly in mind—namely, the officials in the public service and of your Lordships' House, to whom an October or November holiday, when they would like to take their wives and families to the seaside, is not a very useful or desirable boon. I rust, therefore, that in view of all the considerations which I venture to mention, the noble Marquess may be able to give us some comfort and to hold out the hope of an earlier adjournment than seems to be possible if, like Pharaoh, he hardens his heart and refuses to let us go.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, the debate which has been initiated by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition is one of a class with which we are only too painfully familiar in your Lordships' House in the dog days at the end of July, and which is not rendered more agreeable to those who have to take pint in it by the torrid rigours of the climate which we are undergoing at the present time. The noble Marquess, who has stated the case, as usual, with exemplary clearness, has divided his observations into two heads. Firstly, there was the Question which lie put as to the character of the business which is likely to come before your Lordships in the remaining weeks of the session, as now contemplated. And secondly, there is the larger question raised by him of the policy of autumn sessions in general and, still more, the desirability or; as he urged, the necessity—I think he used the word the indispensability—of having an autumn session in the current year.
I will deal with each of those groups of observations in tune As regards the first category, the noble Marquess, who invited me to give a full and definite reply to the paints submitted by him, appeared, not for the first time, to be fully seised already of the information which he sought from me.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Thanks to the courtesy of the noble Marquess, who very kindly provided me with some figures.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
It. was very gratifying to me to know that my speech should be made by the noble Marquess. It 1198 is a pleasure I do not often enjoy, but it saves me from adding much to what he has said on that point. Setting aside for a moment the smaller and less important measures which will come up from another place to your Lordships before the session ends, he rightly pointed out that the reasons for which, as at present advised, we are asking the House to sit through the month of August consist, in the main, in the desirability of passing into law three Bills. The first of these Bills is the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Bill which, as the noble Marquess said, belongs to a class that excites great attention and, as a rule, are very much improved by their passage through your Lordships' House. That Bill, I understand, will be read a third time in the House of Commons on July 25 and accordingly it should reach us some time next week.
The second Bill about which the noble Marquess spoke in accents of some doubt, was the Railways Bill. He pointed out, as indeed Lord Crawford did when he answered a question upon this subject some days ago, that everything depends upon the progress of that Bill in another place. It is a very big Bill, a very complicated Bill, a Bill that is divided into six parts and has no fewer than 75 clauses. The noble Marquess, profiting by the information which I had given him, informed your Lordships that according to present forecasts the Bill may be expected to reach us somewhere before the middle of August—about the 10th or 12th of August, so far as we cart at present foresee.
Now the noble Marquess, although familiar with the fact that the decontrol of the railways, long contemplated and long necessary, is to take place, according to the arrangements that have been made, on or about August 15, seems to think that it would be a perfectly simple matter to sweep aside those arrangements and, for the convenience of your Lordships or for other reasons, substitute for it some entirely different plan. I doubt very much if that is the case. I am informed that supposing the legislation providing for decontrol is postponed beyond the date that has been fixed something like financial chaos will ensue. I shall be prepared to elaborate that, if required, on a future occasion, but in any case it must be obvious to anyone who regards the matter that there must be involved a very considerable excess of expenditure. Existing arrangements would have to go on; 1199 subventions would have to be paid; money would have to be given out; and your Lordships, if you took the line that the noble Marquess has foreshadowed, would find yourselves, in spite of the fact that many of you are so often preaching economy to the country and to this House, responsible for additional expenditure winch, I should think, might run into millions of money. I think that is a consideration which your Lordships should bear in mind.
There is, further, the point that all the parties concerned in the decontrol of the railways are, as I am informed, urgently pressing that that subject should be proceeded with without delay. We can all understand that the railway companies themselves will require to know what they have to do. They have to make arrangements as regards fares, rates, wages, &c., a postponement of which would be a source of great trouble and anxiety, and, I have no doubt, of great additional expenditure to them. I am informed, too, that the kind of delay which the noble Marquess suggests would be most detrimental in the interests of the men, and, while I used the word "financial chaos" just now, it would not be untrue to say that if there was the kind of postponement of which the noble Marquess speaks so lightly, something like industrial chaos would be the consequence. I would beg him, therefore, to bear in mind that the question is a much more complicated one than he seems to think, and not too lightly to commit himself to the proposition he appeared to favour that, for the convenience of this House, the change which he desires can easily take place.
The third Bill, which, indeed, he mentioned, and which will come before your Lordships some time next month, is the Safeguarding of Industries Bill. That, I believe, is expected about the second week in August, but, as the noble Marquess remarked, it is quite conceivable that it may not occupy any great portion of your Lordships' time, for the reason that it may be decided that it is a Money Bill. If that be the case, as seems probable, it could not impose a very great strain upon your Lordships in this House. Therefore, the legislative programme, apart from the Railways Bill, is not one which, it seems to me, can he regarded as a programme of excessive severity.
Now we come to the second part of the 1200 noble Marquess's remarks, relating to the desirability or necessity of an autumn session. Like him, I will not pursue the question of autumn sessions in general, although I may say, in passing, that I for one would warmly welcome a reversion to the old practice, with which we were familiar in days when most of us were younger, but to which we have been strangers since, I think, the year 1913. By the old practice I mean an ordinary session of Parliament ending some time in August, followed by a reasonable holiday, and a meeting of Parliament early in the succeeding year. The noble Marquess spoke of an autumn session from a point of view natural, I suppose, to a member of the Opposition. He spoke of the absence of an autumn session as entailing a prolonged autumn holiday, and as being what he described as an alluring prospect, and the only body of persons whose interests he seemed to regard—and I do not dispute there is force in it—as closely concerned in the matter were the officials of your Lordships' House.
There are other people who are concerned. There are such people as the members of the Government, and I may be permitted perhaps, for one moment, to say a word about the prospects of an autumn session from the point of view of the members of the Government. I cannot exaggerate to your Lordships the strain under which the work of Government is now being carried on. It not only exceeds, but it exceeds twentyfold, anything that I can recall in the whole course of my public life, and if you are to expect members of the Government not only to endure the labours of prolonged sessions, such as they are now, but to come back here in the month of October or November, as the case may be, you will get tired and jaded and incompetent men; you will get bad legislation; you will get feeble administration; and, eventually, I think, you will get a breakdown of the machine of Government.
Let me take the case of this year alone. Here I speak mainly from the point of view of the Department I happen to represent. I suppose at some time in the month of August I and others will have to go abroad to attend a meeting, or meetings, of what is called the Supreme Council. Those meetings are by no means a holiday. On the contrary, they impose a heavy burden upon those taking part 1201 in them. When they are over, we have before us, in all probability, meetings to be held in conjunction with other great Powers on the initiative, in this case, of America, dealing with subjects of greater importance almost than any that have ever been referred to an international tribunal. Those conferences may part ally take place in Europe, or they may wholly take place in America. In either case they must he prolonged. They must take away, in all probability, the head of the Government and the Foreign Secretary for periods that may occupy some months. To ask us to face this prospect, and at the same time to come down here and conduct the business of an autumn session of Parliament, is more, I think, than human beings can undertake.
There is another matter—certainly not a small matter—which I may be allowed to mention in this context, and it is one in which your Lordships' House is intensely interested. That is the reform of this House. It. has been due, as your Lordships know, to the overwhelming burden of work that the preparations for the introduction of that measure have had to be postponed this year. My colleagues and I who accepted the task were looking forward to some time of relief in the forthcoming autumn which we could devote to a full examination of this subject and to the preparation of the Bill which we want to lay before Parliament as the first Act of the next session. Therefore, my Lords, to be confronted with a menace such as the concluding sentences of the noble Marquess's speech seemed to foreshadow, to be confronted with the prospect, in the midst of all these labours, of having to come here in order to complete the concluding stages of measures which your Lordships may decline to take in the month of August, is something which I regard with absolute dismay. I can only say, when the time comes for making an appeal to your Lordships, if the necessity arises, that I shall make it with all the force and earnestness at my disposal.
It may be, of course, as the noble Marquess remarked, that circumstances themselves will fight on his side. It is not inconceivable, as he pointed out, that supposing the negotiations which have been proceeding with regard to Ireland—and which so far seem, I am glad to say, to be charged with hope—pursue a successful I course, the assent of Parliament may be 1202 required to legislation that would be necessary.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My argument was that it was quite certain, either way, that there would have to be a meeting of Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I was not doing an injustice to the noble Marquess's argument. I was setting aside the second contingency, and I was dealing only with the first. I was saying that in the event of these negotiations coming to a happy issue it is not unlikely that the assent of Parliament may be required to some form of legislation. In such a case as that, what I think His Majesty's Government would like to do would be to summon Parliament, if it is required for the purpose of carrying the requisite legislation and nothing else, and to separate as soon as possible. To postpone the whole of the legislation which is now before us until a later period of the autumn on the chance of that contingency arising, and then to overload us with the work that would, in that hypothesis, be placed upon us, really means that, instead of having a vacation at all for the many good reasons I have described, we should only go away in order to come back at a comparatively early stage in the autumn, and find ourselves sitting here until Christmas.
I beg of your Lordships not to make up your minds upon that issue for the moment. I beg of you, with that consideration for public business which you have never failed to show, to give us your services, as you have so often done without complaining in the past, in the month of August. I will endeavour to alleviate the burden which is laid upon you to the best of my power. I earnestly hope that the situation contemplated by the noble Marquess will not arise, and upon re-examination of the case as regards the Railways Bill, in the light of fuller information, I think he will see that it is a contingency which he ought not to regard with equanimity. I hope I have given the noble Marquess as full and as categorical a reply as was possible in the circumstances of the case.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I can assure the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that none of us will make up our minds with undue precipitation upon the matter to which he has referred. It is, of course, our wish and our 1203 duty to co-operate so far as we can with the Government in getting through the necessary business of the country, and he may rest assured that we shall not act precipitately. I was waiting very sympathetically while he was speaking—for I feel acutely the difficulty in which he and other Ministers of the Government are placed—to hear how he would deal with the Irish dilemma put before him by the noble Marquess. It is not a hypothetical possibility that Parliament may be called together in the autumn. As the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition put it, and, I think, put it accurately, it is practically certain that. Parliament must be called together in the autumn. Either the Irish negotiations break down, or they do not. If they do not break down, it means a very difficult, very controversial and bitterly-fought Bill for the Government of Ireland again. If, on the other hand, the deliberations break down, then, as everybody knows, there will be a state of things in Ireland which must call for the vigilance of Parliament and will, no doubt, necessitate calling Parliament together.
Let us assume that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and I are right in this anticipation. If it is quite certain that there is going to be an autumn session, let the House think of the situation in which the Government places Parliament. They want Parliament to continue in session until the middle of September, or at any rate, the early part of September, and then reassemble again, probably in October. Is that really contemplated? I am not at all surprised that the Government have not faced these things. Prominent members of the Government have so much on their shoulders that they leave to members not so highly placed as themselves small matters of time like this, and the arrangement of business. That appears to be the inevitable prospect.
Having listened to the noble Marquess the leader of the House, and heard him, in accents of most profound sincerity, say how difficult the conduct of the business of Ministers is now, I cannot help asking your Lordships how that fits in with the programme which the noble Marquess himself has suggested. Will it help Ministers to be here until the beginning of September and to re-assemble for Parliamentary business in October Surely that 1204 is the worst possible arrangement. Almost anything is better than that—I mean from the point of view of Ministers themselves, leaving entirely out of the question the position of your Lordships' House and the business of the country. If any words of mine will lighten the weight which rests on the shoulders of the Government, I should like to contribute it. I am quite sure that their plan not only of working the business of government at home and the leadership of Parliament, but of being themselves the primary agents, the actual and executive agents, of conducting the diplomacy of this country, is quite impossible. It was quite right during the great emergency of the settlement after time war, but a state of things under which the most important Ministers of this country have to go away and be away for weeks, and sometimes months, in some foreign capital, doing the diplomatic work of this country, is perfectly new, and absolutely impossible as a system.
There are great advantages, in one sense, to have in Paris or at Washington the presence of distinguished Ministers—and I would like to take this opportunity of saving how profoundly shocked I was at a personal attack, which all of us considered to be entirely unworthy, made upon Ministers. There may be, as I have said, certain advantages in it, but there are also great disadvantages. Ministers are removed from their Offices and their business in this country, and I am not quite certain that even in the business they do in foreign capitals it is an unmixed advantage. With all their great ability and training they are not trained diplomatists, and I should have thought that the ordinary practice which used to prevail, that diplomatic business should be done by diplomatists, just as military business is done by military men and naval business by naval men, was a better system on the whole than the system which has recently prevailed.
Of course, the control of policy rests in the hands of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. They are at the seat of affairs in London, the telegraph is open to them, and they take their part, and a prominent part; but the actual executive work, as a matter of general practice, is better left to the diplomatists and their staffs. Whether I am right or not, the position is one of some doubt, but to throw the task of executive diplomacy on Ministers, as well as everything else, is 1205 adding to their burdens in a way which I am perfectly certain is beyond even the enormous capacity for work of my noble friend opposite.
Let me now go to the actual question which has been raised by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. He has said that it will be practically impossible for your Lordships to discuss these important Bills when they come up to us. I do not want to go into details; but I would make one point as I pass. I notice that the Leader of the House said that, the Agriculture Bill would be read a third time in another place on July 25. I have read in the paper with which he was good enough to furnish me, as well as to the Leader of the Opposition, that there is a little ambiguity and that there is also mention of the 28th, that is, three clays later. That, however, is a small point, and no doubt he, or someone instructed by him, will put it right. There is also another Bill with which he shall have to deal, and which he did not mention; I mean the Licensing (No. 2) Bill. That has to be dealt with before the adjournment.
Then we come to the other big Bills. Primarily, of course, there is the Railways Bill. The noble Marquess said that this Bill must be passed before the adjournment. I do not deny that what he said made an impression upon me But consider what is going to happen with regard to the Railways Bill. It will be here, we arc told, on August 10 or 12. We may safely assume, on these occasions, that it will be the later clay. It is an important Bill, and ought to, be very carefully considered in this House. I do not think that a Bill of that kind ought to pass through this House in less than a fortnight. I do not think the noble Marquess contemplates that for a moment; I think he would suggest, when the time comes, that we should get it through in two or three days. This is a Bill of seventy-five clauses, involving an immense amount of detail—the noble Marquess was good enough to tell us that it was a very complicated Bill; I think those were his words—and also involving to a very large degree the public interests, the interests of the railways, the interests of traders and the interests of the public.
Probably, by this time, it is extremely badly drafted, as it has been knocked about a great deal in Committee in another place. The very Bill that ought to be revised with the greatest care by your 1206 Lordships' House—that is what we are here for, primarily—we shall be asked on August 12 to get through anyhow in three days. I am sure your Lordships will see that I am not exaggerating. There will be an appeal to us not to take more than two or three days about it. Perhaps we shall be asked to suspend the Standing Order. I really think that if we are to be treated like that we had better shut up—
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
if your Lordships' House exhibited any desire to discuss that measure at length—though I hope it will not be for ten or twelve days—I certainly should have no desire to confine you to two or three days.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I said as soon as possible afterwards. Decontrol is to take effect on August 15, and it is obvious that the longer the interval of postponement the greater the inconvenience will be. I do not say it is an absolute necessity.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is the Safeguarding of Industries Bill. Yes, it is another Bill; there are lots more to come. If the noble Marquess says decontrol need not take place on August 15, or that at any rate it would not matter for the few days—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think the noble Marquess spoke, if I may venture to say so, with absolute conviction. He spoke, as indeed he must have spoken, as one who has been told that that was roughly the case, and he has stated it to the House accordingly. I do think that before we are asked to permit what is practically the abrogation of the functions of your Lordships' House upon this very important Bill, there ought to be some means of satisfying us that these awful consequences which the noble Marquess foreshadowed will take place. Would it, upon inquiry, turn out to be the case that there would be administrative chaos; that there would be great loss of public money; that there would be great loss of the railway companies' money? If that is the case, I admit that it is a very strong position.
I was going to make a suggestion to the noble Marquess; I do not know whether he will consider it. I do not know whether, if he is going to make this request to us, he would think that it would be within his duty to allow two or three independent members of the House to meet those who can inform us in detail and satisfy us in private conversation that these formidable consequences will really take place, if we do not curtail our right of discussion and if we decide to postpone this measure for the necessary interval, in order that the Bill shall be properly discussed. I can quite believe that if the noble Marquess were to pick half a dozen members of your Lordships' House who are either influential or knowledgable on these subjects, and were to put them into a room with the representatives of the Ministry of Transport and those who advise them, we could satisfy ourselves whether, in point of fact, it is true that administrative chaos and financial loss of a formidable kind would result from the postponement. If that is so, I admit that the noble Marquess is in a strong position. But it is one more blow at the efficiency of Parliament and, of course, one more step downwards in the dreadful progression towards bad legislation and bad constitutional practice.
He may be able to satisfy us; but, if not, I think the noble Marquess behind me is 1208 fully justified in saying that your Lordships ought to take it into your own hands and see that your functions as a revising Chamber are properly performed. It is not a question of your Lordships' convenience. That is not the point. It is a question of the interests of the country; of whether legislation is to be good or bad. I hope, therefore, that before the noble Marquess, on his side, finally makes up his mind as to the course the Government ought to pursue, he will take into his confidence for this purpose those whom he may think right and wise to honour with it, and may satisfy us, before he makes this demand upon your Lordships' House, that the necessity is really as urgent as he states.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, this is a debate which, as has already been observed, is extremely familiar to this House, and any one with the smallest amount of imagination could without much difficulty have predicted, not only what was going to be said but who was going to say it. But this is a more unsatisfactory debate than usual, on account of the extremely scanty attendance. There is really nothing fresh to be said on this occasion, and I have nothing new to say myself. I merely rise to emphasise the remarks that fell from previous speakers. Under the present system of management, or of mismanagement, we already have, not one autumn session but two. The House of Commons is induced to sit every year until the middle or end of August, on the faith of some vague assurance that they will have sat long enough to make an autumn session unnecessary. What has invariably happened in recent years is that, although Parliament has sat until the beginning, at all events, and sometimes until the middle or the end, of August, an autumn session has nevertheless been necessary. That is precisely what we are likely to experience again this year. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House does not hold out any hope, or, at all events, he does not hold out much hope, that we shall have terminated our business before the end of August; and he himself admits that there is an extreme probability that we may be called upon to meet again at a later period in the autumn.
When the noble Marquess invokes, as is only natural, the excessive strain to which Ministers are put in consequence of these constantly recurring sessions, I cannot help 1209 thinking that Ministers have themselves only to blame if they have to suffer from an intolerable strain, owing to the manner in which they endeavour to force too much legislation through this House in too short a time. I have frequently raised this subject, and, in my opinion, there is only one solution to it. That is that we shall make up our minds definitely that there must be an autumn session every year, and that it cannot be avoided. What I should like to suggest, although it is not much good my doing so, is that the Government should on this occasion cut their losses, so to speak, and allow Parliament to adjourn at a comparatively early period, bearing in mind the extreme probability that an autumn session is unavoidable. Otherwise, what clearly would happen is that as on previous occasions we shall sit here until the end of August and then be told that an autumn session s inevitable. It is always rash to make prophecies where politics are concerned, but I would venture upon this prophecy, that if this legislation is forced through Parliament, as is proposed, say by the end of August, and Parliament does not meet again until January or February of next year, it will, be the last occasion upon which any recess of so great a length will ever be permitted to take place.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I do not think that I can add anything to what was said by the noble Marquess and those who followed him, but with regard to the Railways Bill the noble Marquess suggested that there should be an inquiry as to whether all those evils which were supposed to follow if it were not passed before a certain date, were really going to happen. If they are, I think we should concentrate our attention upon the Railways Bill, and do it thoroughly, because we must not run away with the idea that there is going to be no opposition to that Bill. Before I came into the House somebody approached me and pointed out that there would be very serious opposition to the Bill in Committee. It is a Bill which your Lordships will not allow to be forced, and ought not to be able to force, through the House without proper discussion.
With regard to the other Bills, it is suggested now that the Safeguarding of Industries Bill will probably turn out to be a Money Bill, but, in some form or other, I think your Lordships will find that it will be discussed, and therefore 1210 you will not get rid of it in that way. On the other hand, it is said that Ministers are tired, that the staff is tired, and that everybody wants a rest. Then why not realise the position at once, and say: "Let us have our rest at the earliest possible moment—at the end of the first week in August—and then come back refreshed at the commencement of November." That, I think, is a good suggestion. We should then get a good long holiday, and Ministers would come back better equipped to discharge their duties than they would be if they attempted to force these Bills through the House in a comparatively few days.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, my noble friend has asked me to add one word, and I desire to make it, quite plain that everybody must be conscious of the unreasonableness of protracting, at this period of the year, our discussions, if it be in truth the fact that it will be necessary for us, after all, to resume in the autumn. Your Lordships will accept it from me that there was, and as far as I know there is still, a sincere desire to avoid an autumn sitting. There still is, I believe, in the minds of the majority of my colleagues, a belief that it will be found possible to avoid an autumn sitting. We shall know, I think, more about that in the course of the next few days, but certainly those of us here representing the Government will be very careful to make it plain to our colleagues that there is a strong feeling in this House that if, after all, probability points in the direction of an autumn sitting, we should not be asked to continue our deliberations for a day longer than the imperious considerations of public convenience and advantage require.
I am sure that no body of men at this moment would welcome more a proposal that they should have a month's holiday at the earliest possible moment than would Ministers. The whole matter was most fully discussed some months ago when the decision was taken, if it were by any means possible, to avoid an autumn sitting. The question has been rediscussed,of course, and it is still hoped, by those whose business it is to make a forecast, that it will be possible to avoid an autumn sitting. It is certainly reasonable to say that it is too early at this moment definitely to resign that hope, so long entertained, upon which, of course, action has been based.
1211 Lord Salisbury made a suggestion which seemed to me to be a very reasonable one. He made it plain that he, and all those with whom he acts—and, indeed, the claim could be made by the House as a whole—could not have been induced, and never have been induced, to impede the course of Government proposals where they are satisfied that such obstruction will really result to the injury of the public interest. As everybody knows, no section in this House has ever adopted that course. The noble Marquess therefore intimated that if he and his friends—and, I think, probably everybody on that bench shares his view—can, by discussion, become satisfied of the accuracy of the considerations which led us to the conclusion that the Railways Bill ought to become law at the earliest possible moment, such a conviction might modify the view which they at present hold, or exercise some influence upon their decision.
I am not, of course, in charge of the Ministry of Transport, and I may be allowed to express a modest hope that I shall not be found to be in charge of their latest legislative proposals. But I would certainly say, as an ordinary member of the Government, that I cannot conceive of a more reasonable suggestion than that put forward by the noble Marquess, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will mention it to the Ministry of Transport. If I understood it aright, it is that we should collect from that Ministry two or three experts—even one would he sufficient—to confer with representative members of your Lordships' House interested in this question, in order to arrive at a conclusion as to the necessity of passing this Bill within a stated period of time. I think such a suggestion is, on its merits, fair, and therefore it seems to me that it is one which is likely to be accepted by my colleagues, and I think it is likely to be accepted for quite a different reason than because it is in the power of your Lordships to postpone the business of the House.