HL Deb 27 July 1921 vol 43 cc25-33

My Lords, desire to put to the noble Marquess who leads the House a Question of which I have given him Private Notice, as to whether he is able, especially in view of what was stated in another place yesterday about the course of public business, to give us in this House some further information on the subject. The Leader of the House in another place, as your Lordships will have seen from the newspapers, announced a list of measures, a long list, with which His Majesty's Government desired to proceed, a shorter list of measures which would be proceeded with if some agreement could be arrived at about them—that is to say, if they were declared to be noncontentious—and a quite short list of measures which it was proposed to drop.

The statement generally confirmed what was said by the noble Marquess on the last occasion when this matter was discussed—namely, that the probability was that the Railways Bill would reach us somewhere about the end of the second week in August. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) made a suggestion, to which I cordially agreed and which I think was also cordially accepted by His Majesty's Government, that two or three noble Lords should confer informally with those representing the Ministry of Transport, in order to ascertain whether the statement which has been made was in fact correct—namely, that from the public point of view it was of supreme importance that the Railways Bill should become law as soon as possible, at any rate towards the middle of August, or a little later. We were not informed of what I have since ascertained to be the case—that the decontrol of the Railways automatically ceases in the middle of August by Statute. Some of us had been under the impression that it was merely a declaration of intention. But I am now given to understand that it is a statutory obligation, and that fact, of course, gives great weight to the contention that the Bill should become law as soon as possible.

I understand that the noble Lords who conferred with the Department reached the conclusion that in the interests of the public, and in the interests of the railways themselves, it may be taken as generally proved that it would be disastrous, or at any rate unfortunate, if the Bill were postponed until a later period of the year. I need not say that I do not attempt to contest that view, which was arrived at by those most competent to reach it after full inquiry, and the noble Marquess may therefore assume that so far as my friends and I are concerned, we shall throw no obstacle in the way of the consideration of the Railways Bill taking place before the adjournment or prorogation.

But there is a very long list of Bills, some of them of great importance—I do not propose to trouble your Lordships by enumerating them at this moment—which we shall be called upon to consider. One important measure, the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Bill, is already before your Lordships, and is going to be taken into consideration next week. But there are several others of great importance to be considered, altogether apart from the Safeguarding of Industries Bill, which is, in itself, in a peculiar and, as I stated last time, a still somewhat dubious position. We are not yet assured as to whether the Safeguarding of Industries Bill is or is not to be regarded as a Money Bill within the terms of the Parliament Act. Supposing it is so declared, your Lordships will remember that it is a provision of that Act that a Money Bill, to be considered as such by your Lordships' House, has to come here a month before the close of the session; if not, it ceases to be, I take it, a Money Bill within the meaning of the Parliament Act. Supposing the Safeguarding of Industries Bill to be a Money Bill, it throws a rather lurid light on the probabilities of a long continued session. On the other hand, if it is not a Money Bill, I have no doubt that it will be considered at great length, and clause by clause, by your Lordships' House, because in the minds of some of us it is a measure of the first importance, and one which it may be assumed is likely to occupy a great deal of your Lordships' time.

That being so, I appeal once more to the noble Marquess as to whether His Majesty's Government cannot reconsider the decision at which they appear to have arrived. That decision, I take it, is that the session shall continue until all the legislation which the Government think necessary has passed your Lordships' House, according to the hopeful view expressed in another place, by some date about the last week in August, or, as I think your Lordships will admit, possibly by a considerably later date. That long summer session is likely. also by the admission of His Majesty's Government, to be followed by a meeting of the House—whether it be the close of this session or the beginning of a new one does not appear to me, I confess, to matter a brass farthing—some time towards the end of November. That prognostication destroys the hope of a long vacation with which the noble Marquess allured the House on the last occasion when this matter was raised. If we are going to sit far into September and to meet again late in November, those—apart from His Majesty's Ministers, with whose needs and position I entirely sympathise—to whom a holiday and some repose away from London is necessary, will not get the opportunity of enjoying that repose at the most favourable time of the year: but in the case of some of them, their holidays will have to be remitted to late in October or till November.

I therefore appeal to the noble Marquess whether, on further consideration, and in view of what may be taken to be the certainty that if we sit on till the end of August there will be no chance of enjoying a holiday until right up to the New Year, it would not be to everybody's interest—that of the noble Marquess himself, that of his colleagues, that of the officers of the House, that of the Civil Service generally, and also (although the noble Marquess may think it less important) to the comfort and interest of members of both Houses of.Parliament—to agree to rise as soon as the Railways Bill has been passed through Four Lordships' House, leaving such other legislation as 'nay be in any degree contentious, and therefore likely to take some period for discussion in your Lordships' House, until the autumn; and, as you know you have to meet at the end of November, meet earlier in November, give two or three weeks for the discussion of those measures here, and then start the following year with a clean slate.

I may put this further point to the noble Marquess. He hopes, as we all do, that it may be necessary to bring in some amending legislation to set the seal of Parliament upon an agreement between the different Parties in Ireland. That legislation, it may be presumed, would be introduced by the Prime Minister in another place, and, while it is being discussed there, we here should be able to conclude those other matters which, in my judgment, and I think in the judgment of many others of Your Lordships, can well be allowed to stand over until that date. I will not pursue the matter further now, but I will ask the noble Marquess if he is able to give us any comfort in the direction which I have endeavoured to indicate.


My Lords, when the noble Marquess, with his usual courtesy, let me know this morning that he was going to ask a question about the course of business this afternoon I had no idea that he was going to address to me the particular appeal to which we have just listened. The noble Marquess stated his ease with his usual moderation and force, and, indeed, he endeavoured to depict himself as acting in a purely altruistic spirit; the only people whose interests he was really considering were those of myself, incidentally, those of the whole of my colleagues, the officers oh this House, and the Civil Service in general. I am very grateful to the noble Marquess for considering all our interests, but I confess I am disposed to think that the interests of other people linty also have figured to some extent in the background of his mind.

However that may be, let us see the situation: as it now stands. When I spoke the other day, I informed the House that to the best of my knowledge a situation would arise involving a good deal of financial and other dislocation and trouble if the Railways Bill were not proceeded with and passed into law in the month of August. That remark caused some surprise on the other side, but it produced the very natural, and, as we at once realised, very reasonable suggestion, that the Government, if they held that view of the ease, should convince their opponents that it was true. I understand that these communications have passed in the interval, and that my noble friend, Lord Muir Mackenzie, and others who acted with him, have been convinced that the statement I made was well founded, and (as the noble Marquess himself said just now) that if the Railways Bill were not passed into law at some date soon after August 15, on which date decontrol is to commence, the results world be, if not disastrous, at least very unfortunate. 'I cannot help congratulating myself that we have convinced noble Lords on that point, and I am grateful, therefore, to the noble Marquess for the observations he made in that respect.

The next Bill to which he turned was the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Bill, which has passed another place, and will be in the hands of your Lordships next week. I hope that there will be adequate time to discuss that, and, indeed, I did not gather that the noble Marquess made any complaint in that context. Then we come to the Safeguarding of Industries Bill, and here the noble Marquess depicted to us two alternatives. He said, in the first place that if this B is decided by the authorities in another place to be a Money Bill—which I am told, though I cannot speak with any authority, is not unlikely—we must remember that under the law as it now stands, it will have to come to your Lordships' House, under the terms of the Parliament Act, a month before it is passed over our heads, if that be the decision to which we are driven, and, in the other case, if it is not pronounced to be a Money Bill, he rather foreshadowed a long and somewhat dismal prospect of close and almost meticulous criticism by noble Lords in this House who are not in favour either of the principles or details of this Bill.

Upon those observations I would make only two remarks. The first is, let us wait, in the first place, to see whether it is or is not going to be declared a Money Bill. In the second place, even supposing it is not, is the. Bill really the bogey and the spectre that the noble Marquess seems to indicate? I am afraid I am too busy to follow these things very closely, but, from such examination as I have been able to direct to the matter, the Bill seems to me to be rather a harmless and innocent one, and one which, if passed into law, will not alter the whole course of world events, hut, as time goes on, will pass into an atmosphere of general acquiescence. Therefore, as regards that Bill, venture to say there is not sufficient cause for arriving at the kind of decision which the noble Marquess asked me to take at this moment.

We therefore come to a consideration of the case as it is affected by the general convenience of your Lordships, through the likelihood of the session ending next month or the beginning of September, and by the prospects of such Irish legislation as we may require to introduce. The case is put rather differently to-day from the form in which it was put the other day. Then we were led to think that if an arrangement was arrived at in Ireland an autumn session, in the ordinary sense of the term, commencing in all probability in October, would be required, and if such a session was obligatory—and I at once realise the fact—it was asked, why not cut this part of the session short, why not meet again for that great purpose in October, and finish the rest of the business which we were invited to postpone just now? But that is not the ease to-day. I think it was stated in another place yesterday that the preliminary negotiations, or whatever you like to call them, in respect of Ireland are likely to occupy no inconsiderable space of time, and that even supposing they fructify, as we hope they may do, they will still require a good deal of consideration by the Government and those concerned in putting them into legislative shape, and that in all probability the so-called autumn session will really turn out to be a winter session, meeting, let us say, in the concluding days of November or in the opening days of December, and discharging, as I hope it would, its business approximately by Christmas.

Therefore, when the noble Marquess, framing his scheme and schedule of the future, says that the hope of a long vacation has already been irretrievably destroyed I venture to disagree with him. Let us suppose that we are able to get through this programme substantially by the end of August. There then remains September, October and November. That is a prospect that fills me with almost delirous delight. I regard that not only as a vacation, but as a prolonged vacation, something I have not known for years, and I am shocked that in the altruistic spirit to which I have referred the noble Marquess proposes to deprive me of that modest solace.

Certainly, I cannot give him the assurance for which he asks. It is not for me to predict what your Lordships may do in this month. I am sure you will behave with the consideration and moderation which you have always exercised, and which fortunately it is more easy to exercise in the month of August than in any other time of the year. There are climatic conditions which render a conciliatory spirit almost obligatory on all of us, and I doubt not that if we show a spirit of due humility on this bench it will be unconsciously reflected on the benches opposite. Therefore, I am disposed to go ahead with the programme of business as it now stands, see what we can do in the month of August, take the frugal measure of holiday then open to us, and, if our Irish proposals eventuate in anything like success, ask your Lordships to come together later in the year in order to give legislative sanction to them.


My Lords, I have not always the pleasure of acting with the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition in regard to business of this House, but on this occasion I do most cordially agree with him. I am very sorry that the Leader of the House has not been able to meet us in a different spirit. No one hearing him speak with that confident eloquence which is so becoming would have dreamt that the Government were making almost unprecedented demands on your Lordships' House. Really, one would have expected an attitude of apology rather than the friendly and somewhat jocose style with which the noble Marquess dealt with the subject. Seriously, he does not seem to me to have grappled with the arguments of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. I am not going to repeat them, but I would remind the noble Marquess the Leader of the House of one argument which he absolutely passed by.

I do not know what is going to happen in respect of Ireland, but I assume that an Irish Bill will be required in the autumn. If that is the case, as the noble Marquess pointed out, that Bill will be one of great complexity, certainly very polemical, and will be introduced in another place. While it is being discussed there your Lordships' House, according to the programme of the Government, although bound to be in attendance—I mean all the officials—will have nothing to do. Their time will be completely wasted. The Lord Chancellor will have to be here and the officers and attendants will have to be in their places, but, according to the Leader of the House, they are to have nothing to do. He will not allow the business which we cannot do now properly, but which we could do very properly then, to go over in order to fill up that time; he is going, if he can induce your Lordships to assent, to keep us here until a late day in August or September and then, when we come back for the winter session, we shall have nothing whatever to do while the House of Commons is going through all the stages of the new Irish Bill.

I think that argument, by itself, is almost conclusive, and I hope he will not look upon the conversation this afternoon as final. If we can co-operate in passing Government business—a spirit which has characterised us all through—I hope lie will allow us to make further representations. The method by which the Railways Bill is to be saved this session entirely originated with us; it was our proposal. We made the suggestion under which it has been possible to convince independent members of your Lordships' House of the necessity for passing this Bill. The necessity should never have arisen, and it was due to the way in which the Government managed the business that it did arise. We have helped the Government, and now when we ask: "Are you going to keep us doing nothing, kicking our heels, through the winter," the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has nothing to say and does not address himself to that argument. I hope that on a future occasion we shall be more successful.


My Lords, I think that in the interests of the country the position of the Lord Chancellor, the Law Lords, the Attorney General and the Solicitor-General, should be considered in relation to this question. Are these distinguished and hard-working officials of the Government to be deprived of their long vacation? If there is any one who requires a rest I am sure it must be the Lord Chancellor, the Law Lords, and the Law Officers of the Government. Outside the question of the Railways Bill it has not been proved that there is any necessity for prolonging this session, and as the Committee which has considered the matter say that it is necessary to pass the Railways Bill, then let us concentrate the whole of our attention upon it and get away as quickly as we can. The observations which have been made this afternoon confirm me in that view. We shall be wasting time if we prolong the session unnecessarily.