HL Deb 30 June 1921 vol 45 cc930-2

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to ask the Government when they think they can announce the number of weeks in the months of August and September in which they will ask this House to continue in session. The noble Lord said: My Lords I will put very briefly the Question which is down in my name. I can assure the Government that I have no desire to increase the difficulties of the situation; but I want to make certain that they are looking the facts of the case fairly in the face and are making arrangements to cause as little inconvenience as possible to us in the circumstances in which we are placed. Since my Question was placed on the Paper I am aware that au announcement has been made in the other House that in no circumstances is there to be an autumn session. I sympathise with that to a certain extent, but I really want to know what is the idea of the Government. How long do they expect us to have to sit during the months of August and September? There are some Bills more or less controversial—two, at any rate—which will have to pass this House.

To those of us who live at a long distance from London the hardship of having to sit through August and September would be really very great. It means that those whose homes are in Scotland are deprived of the possibility of having time to spend a holiday there. One cannot in these days go up and down every week-end, and the inconvenience is really very great. It is bad enough to have to sit through the month of August, but the inconvenience is infinitely increased if the sittings are at all likely to continue into September. Apart from that, the uncertainty of our position is very nearly as bad as knowing that we have to do this work, because we cannot, if there is uncertainty, make any engagements or arrangements without fear of having to put ourselves and others to great inconvenience. I really hope that as soon as possible, if not to-day, a definite announcement will be made as to some limit of time in the month of August, or September, to which Parliament will be expected to sit.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot make a definite announcement to-day, but I can give my noble friend Lord Balfour a general statement of the Bills which it is expected will reach this House. So far as I can learn, everything depends upon the progress of the Railways Bill. At this moment it is before a Standing Committee of the House of Commons, which is sitting continuously in order to make the quickest progress possible with that measure. But it is an important Bill. It is a very big Bill with, I think, seventy-five clauses in it, and it is difficult to believe that it can get down to the House of Commons for the Report stage for several weeks to come. In those conditions it is really impossible for me to guess on what day the Railways Bill will reach this House. Indeed, I do not think it will be possible even to give a general estimate for fully a fortnight.

There are three other Bills which must ultimately reach this House. The Safeguarding of Industries Bill is under an allotted time-table, and it ought to reach us by about July 26. The Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Bill is to be read a second time in the House of Commons on Monday, and it is probable that it will reach this House within about three weeks of that date. There is the Church of Scotland Bid, which will conic here in about a fortnight's time; and there are several minor Departmental Bills, which would not in themselves have any influence on the length of time the House is asked to sit. I might mention two of those Bills: one is a Ministry of Pensions Bill, the other is a Home Office Bill, dealing with registration; but neither of them is, I believe, in any sense controversial.

But, as I said before, the future depends upon the progress of the Railways Bill, and in view of the fact that the de-control of that industry must take place some time about the middle of August, the necessity of securing the passage of that Bill in good time is obvious. I very much agree with what Lord Balfour said about the desirability of being able to make one's plans with tolerable notice, and I shall certainly do my best to fall in with his wishes, and, indeed, with the wishes of Peers generally, to make definite announcements as soon as we can be sure that they are definite.


My Lords, the statement made by my noble friend is one of the usual unsatisfactory character which we are in the habit of hearing at this period, or a later period, of the session. Personally, I always have been a very strong advocate of autumn sessions, and on several occasions I have induced this House to pass Resolutions in favour of them. I understand from the noble Lord opposite that the Government are determined that there is not going to be one this year. My noble friend, the Deputy Leader of the House, is not in a position to say for certain how long we are going to sit, or, in fact, to say with what measures we are going to deal, and the position amounts to this, that, so far as he can tell us, it is quite possible that we may be sitting here until the middle of September or possibly later, and even then I do not believe there is any certainty that we shall escape an autumn session in the long run.

To my mind this question will never be definitely settled until we adopt the principle that autumn sessions cannot be avoided. I do not believe that the country will consent to Parliament adjourning for a period of more than three or four months in any circumstances; and, that being so, it seems to me better that we should understand that an autumn session is looked upon as a definite and invariable event. That would give us a reasonable prospect of certainty, and would also enable us to rise at a more convenient period and to follow the practice of other civilised nations in this respect.


I thank the noble Earl for his reply, but there was, in answer to a Question in another place, a definite announcement in the sense which I indicated; but I do not know that it is a law of the Medes and Persians which cannot be reversed. I venture very seriously to express the view, if we are going to be kept here after the middle of August, that it will be much better for everybody if there is an adjournment and an autumn session, beginning some time late in October or in November.


I cannot add anything more to what I have said, except that personally I take a diametrically opposite point of view from that of my noble friend, Lord Newton.


The majority of the House does not.


I am not certain that the majority of Parliament as a whole would not. I think if we settle that we are going to have normal autumn sessions it is a pure delusion to think that Parliament would rise in June.