HL Deb 30 June 1921 vol 45 cc870-81

My Lords, I beg to make the Motion which stands in the name of the noble Earl the Leader of the House—"That Standing Order XXXIX be suspended for this day's sitting in order to take the remaining stages of the Unemployment Insurance Bill." There was some conversation on the subject yesterday and I think your Lordships are aware of the reason why we are asking that the remaining stages of this Bill should be concluded this afternoon. Lord Clarendon explained that July 4 is the date on which the new insurance year begins, and as it is necessary to carry out very extensive reorganisation in consequence of the amendments proposed by this Bill, it is desired that the measure should be passed into law, if possible, to-day.

Speaking yesterday on an analogous Motion which I had on the Paper in regard to the First and Second Readings of this Bill, Lord Salisbury said that his experience led him to believe that Departments, in these matters, were inclined to strain points and exaggerate the necessity of prompt legislation. I am rather inclined to think that in many cases the noble Marquess is correct, but I fancy that in this case I am correct. On hearing Lord Salisbury yesterday I made it my business to cross-examine closely the officials of the Department, and they really made out what I think is a very good case for passing the Bill in time to allow them to carry out the necessary changes before July 4. That, of course, does not touch the Parliamentary point to which Lord Salisbury and Lord Selborne alluded; though that is not the fault of the Department, but of the Government. I have already expressed my regret that such a course should be necessary at this stage, but I can assure you, on my personal responsibility, that the case for this Motion, from the point of view of the Department, really appears to me to be unanswerable.

Moved, That Standing Order No. XXXIX be suspended for this day's sitting in order to take the remaining stages of the Unemployment Insurance Bill—(The Earl of Crawford.)


My Lords, no one can complain of the tone in which the noble Earl has made this Motion, but he has not availed himself of the invitation, which I extended to him yesterday, to tell your Lordships the history of this Bill in the House of Commons. I have not the same means of making myself acquainted with that history as has the noble Earl, but I have spent a certain amount of time in making the necessary investigation. I find that this Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on June 8. Why it was not introduced before I cannot conceive. If time pressed, why should not the Ministry of Labour have found out how urgent this matter was before June 8? They have asked Parliament to deal with a very complicated measure in a very brief period. The first question I put to the Government, therefore, is: Why was it not introduced earlier? However, it was introduced on June 8, and the House of Commons had three weeks in which they considered it; three weeks, your Lordships will observe, whereas we are not to be allowed more than two consecutive days. The Bill was not in your Lordships' hands until yesterday, and it is suggested that it should pass through all its stages by the end of this afternoon.

What was the history of the Bill in the House of Commons? It was introduced, as I have said, on June 8. It was read a second time on June 15. The House of Commons, therefore, had a week between the introduction of the Bill and its Second Reading. We were not allowed even five minutes between those two stages. On June 15, then, the Bill was read a second time. It was not suggested that the House of Commons should go into Committee immediately. Three or four days were allowed to the House of Commons before they were called upon to consider the Bill in the Standing Committee. It took three days in the Standing Committee to discuss this Bill—not a whit too long. If your Lordships have had time to read the Bill in the very brief period allowed to you by the Government, you will have observed its character, and will agree that three days was certainly not too long a period in which to consider it.

The Bill was, as a matter of fact, considered almost entirely from one point of view—namely, the point of view of those members of the House of Commons who, very legitimately from their own standpoint, were anxious to have the terms made more generous to the waking classes; that is, to the insured persons. That is what we should all like to do, if we could do it. Even in those three days, the Bill was not really thoroughly discussed, either from a drafting point of view or from the point of view of those who want more carefully to safeguard the taxpayer in these anxious and strenuous times. After it had been in Committee three days, it was reported to the House, not immediately after the Committee was concluded, but on June 27. One day was allotted to the Report stage—I do not mean a whole day, but no other stage was taken that day, so far as I understand—and the Bill was not read a third time until June 28.

The Government were quite aware of the difficulty in which they would place your Lordships' House, because the Minister of Labour very properly called the attention of the Grand Committee to the fact that, unless the Bill were passed by the House of Commons last week, the House of Lords would be put in a very difficult; position this week. As I hastily read the Report of that Committee, it was persuaded by his representations and by those of the Chairman to sit almost continuously. I believe there was one day's interval in the course of the Committee stage, but, on the whole, the days on which the Committee sat followed one another. It was evidently the intention of the Minister that the Bill should be sent to your Lordships' House last week. It was not sent here last week. For reasons of which I am not aware, the Government did not deal with it as the Minister had wished. It was not dealt with in the house of Commons until the early days of this week, and, finally, it did not reach your Lordships' House for effective discussion until yesterday.

I think that, even as I have stated the case, your Lordships and the country have a great grievance on the ground that the Bill was not submitted to them earlier. I say your Lordships and the country, because it is becoming increasingly evident that Bills are not being, and cannot be, properly discussed on those terms. I would ask your Lordships, not to read through the Bill this moment, but to glance at it and see what kind of Bill it is. It is immensely complicated. It deals with every conceivable legislation by reference, and it is almost impossible to understand it without a very great deal of care. Your Lordships' House, the House of revision, the House whose special duty it is, apart altogether from the main merits of the question, to see that bad legislation in detail is not passed, are not allowed to have any opportunity whatever—I make no exception—of considering this Bill in detail. You would certainly have thought that, if a Government came with such a bad case to the House of Lords, the Bill would at any rate have been, from their own point of view, in proper order when it arrived. I am not speaking of your Lordships' duties, but of the Government's own point of view. An important Amendment on the application of the Bill to Ireland is going to be moved from the Treasury Bench, which shows that they actually have not thought out their own Bill, let alone asked Parliament to do so, before they invite us to violate all the proper traditions of Parliament in order to deal with it.

The Amendment of which I speak is not one of drafting, but of substance. It was evidently forgotten, in the drafting of the Bill, that in consequence of the Government of Ireland Act a special clause would be wanted for Ireland, which it is now proposed, at the last moment, to insert. If the Government have managed to discover a fault of that description in their Bill only in the last forty-eight hours, I leave your Lordships to imagine how many faults may be concealed in the complicated drafting of this Bill. We have some experience of this sort of thing. I remember a very important Bill, in which I took a great deal of interest last year, the Increase of Rent Bill. I had been a member of the Committee upon whose report it was introduced. That Bill was not hurried as this Bill is being hurried. Of course not; but it was hurried through much more rapidly than it ought to have been, and, of course, when it came to be operated, it was found to contain all sorts of faults. Naturally; what could you expect? I had not been properly looked at by the House, or properly drafted by the Government, and bad legislation was the natural result.

I hope that if your Lordships are going to make a stand at all you will make a stand now, upon this Bill. Unless the whole of the revising function of your Lordships' House is to be treated as, a farce, it is your duty now to say that you will not, in consequence of that which I am not using too strong language in calling the mismanagement of business by the Government and the House of Commons, abrogate your functions, but will insist on having proper time in which to look at this Bill. I do not suggest even that we should take anything like adequate time, but that, at the least, we should have some time in which to read the Bill and be able to understand its provisions before we are asked finally to pass them. For these reasons, and because the Government have not dealt with the Parliamentary case at all in the speech of my noble friend, I ask your Lordships, with great respect, not to agree to this Motion.


My Lords, this Motion is often made, and it always meets with a protest from these benches—a protest which certainly has no relation to the political colour of the people who occupy these scats. It is, I think, a right and proper objection for an Opposition, as an Opposition, to take to a Motion that asks this House completely to disregard the true functions that it ought to exercise, and to pass, practically without comment and certainly without examination, a very important measure. I believe that every member of this House, and even those who represent the Government, would agree that that is a very undesirable thing, if we are to exercise co-ordinate functions with another place. If we are not going to consent to have our deliberations regarded as of no consequence, we certainly ought not to assent to a Motion of this kind, excepting upon some very extreme and urgent representation.

It frequently happens that these Motions are made, and that in the end the opposition is withdrawn. I myself more than once, when speaking against this Motion, have withdrawn my opposition because I know that to embarrass the Government is a thing which nobody desires, and that to reject the Motion might be to cause a confusion that would be far greater than the benefit that would result from the maintenance and assertion of a proper protest. It is that which has caused me to intervene this afternoon. I want to know what is the real extent of the confusion and the disturbance which it is suggested will ensue if this Motion be refused. I found myself rather unable to gather that from the observations of the noble Earl. That the Department will not like it may be safely accepted. That they may find themselves in sonic difficulty may also, I think, be accepted. But the mere fact that there is going to be Departmental difficulties does not seem to me to be adequate.

I want to know whether anything serious is going to happen if the Motion is rejected. If there be, I understand quite well that the representatives of the Government here are not responsible for the carelessness of the Government in another place and their entire disregard of the duties of this House. I should, therefore, be very sorry indeed, in such circumstances, to insist upon my opposition; but unless I am satisfied that there is something which we ought to avoid, and which will most certainly occur if the Motion is successfully resisted, I shall join the noble Marquess in doing my best to prevent the Motion being passed.


My Lords. I think I shall be expressing the sentiment of the Government when I say quite clearly that it is with the deepest possible regret that your Lordships have been asked to hurry over this particular Bill. But, if I may, I should like to carry your Lordships back to the trouble which really gave rise to the necessity for the Bill. Your Lordships will recollect that about thirteen weeks ago the stoppage in the coal industry took place. It became apparent to the Ministry who were responsible for this Bill, that they could not carry on with the power given them of raising the sum of £10,000,000, after the coal strike had been proceeding for six weeks. The moment that period was over, and it became settled that the coal stoppage would be protracted over a still longer period, the Ministry set to work to prepare the Bill which is now before the House. That necessarily took up considerable time. As the noble Marquess who first spoke in this debate pointed out, they had to consult previous Bills. That took some time, and, in addition, they had to consult the Government actuaries. After those two courses had been finished the Bill had to go before the Cabinet for approval. That took a period of something in the nature of four weeks, making ten weeks in all from the time the stoppage in the coal industry arose.


Does the noble Earl mean that the Cabinet took four weeks?


No, I mean that was the time occupied in examining previous Bills, in actuarial calculations, and in getting the Cabinet approval. The Bill then came to the House of Commons on June 8, as mentioned by the noble Marquess, and I should like to say that I am willing to agree that the Bill is an excessively complicated one. I myself have had little time to study it.

With regard to the time in which the House of Commons dealt with the Bill I would point out that it was under discussion by them for only 26 hours, spread over a period of five days.


It is twenty-one days since it was introduced in the House of Commons.


That is true, but I am speaking of the time during which it was under actual consideration by the other House. In answer to Lord Buckmaster, I should like to point out that it is urgent that this Bill should go through in the time allotted to it in this House, for the simple reason that if it is not passed through all its stages in the two days, it will cost the country half a million of money, because, by the provisions contained in this Bill, the benefit is reduced in the case of men and women, as from Monday next, July 4, whereas if your Lordships take longer in discussing this Bill, and its various stages are prolonged into next week, it means that the benefit will have to be paid on the old scale rather than upon the new. I hope that I have given sufficient reasons to show that it is urgent that this Bill should be passed through all its stages to-day, and become law at once.


My Lords, the real and only case that the Government have put up is that unless this Bill is scamped by your Lordships' House, and. passed without any proper consideration, it may cost the country half a million of money. I am not wholly satisfied that, that will be the case, but if it were the case, then I say without hesitation that the responsibility would not rest upon this House but upon the Government in the House of Commons. And there is another aspect to this matter. There are tremendous interests involved in this Bill. I myself have put down an Amendment on behalf of all the banks of the United Kingdom, and of the employees of those banks, representing one of the greatest interests in this country.

Nobody had the slightest idea till yesterday that the Bill was to be hurried through to-day, and there has been no opportunity of letting all those who are deeply interested know that this matter, so vital to them, was going to be dealt with to-day. This is not the proper opportunity on which to argue my Amendment, but I can say that it is of vital consequence to the vast number of the employees of all the banks, who are just as much entitled to consideration as any other class of His Majesty's subjects, and who are definitely penalised in a manner which, I think I could show your Lordships, is unjust and unnecessary, by the particular provisions of this Bill. Therefore, the matter is not really disposed of merely by saying that, if the Bill is not passed to-day, it may cost the Treasury more money, because the stake at issue for those for whom I speak is, according to their means, a very serious one. I hope that your Lordships will not agree to this Resolution, but will insist on taking that necessary time which alone can enable you to understand the provisions of this Bill or give to those who are interested an opportunity of attending to it.


My Lords, I should like to make only one point, and that is that the difficulties suggested could readily be put straight in the Bill itself when it becomes an Act of Parliament. The Treasury difficulty which is suggested—namely, that there would be an overpayment on July 4—is a matter which could be put right in the Bill itself quite easily.


My Lords, I cannot help thinking that your Lordships have a very real grievance in this matter. I think that case is made out. One ought, however, to remember, not in complete excuse, but in palliation, that it does not quite exhaust the whole situation when one says that on such and such a day the House of Commons discussed it on the Motion for the Second Reading, and then they had three days, and then they were allowed four days; because those of your Lordships who have been accustomed to business in the House of Commons know very well that those opportunities are very frequently not the result of deliberate concessions, but spring from the situation that there are other matters which imperatively claim the time of the House. In other words, it is the exigency, and the pressure, and the competition of other Parliamentary business which, in another place, is the true explanation of this delay.

But it is, of course, absolutely true that any revising Chamber, to which a proposal of this kind is made, has a real grievance. That the necessities felt in another place, which lead to this kind of request upon the House of Lords, are of a real character is perhaps illustrated by the circumstance, to which Lord Buckmaster, I think, referred, that the fault has not been found to lie either with one Party or with one Government in this House. Whatever Government has been in power has found itself driven by the difficulties in the House of Commons to make these unpalatable proposals, and whatever Opposition has sat where the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) sits to-day has found it its duty——


No doubt, all Governments are sinners, but I do not think any Government has sinned so much as this one, or anything like it.


I do not really feel disposed to rack my memory in order to establish equations of this kind. But I do not remember that the reproaches which were heard on earlier occasions were much less violent than those which the noble Marquess has addressed to the House. As we are about to take, I suppose, a somewhat important Division, I would urge your Lordships to consider very carefully what has said by Lord Buckmaster. The noble and learned Lord is another critic who, like the noble Marquess, finds no difficulty in concealing any admiration which he may feel for the present Government. But, at the same time, he has surely called attention to the real question here. It is not whether we have been badly treated, because I think everybody is convinced that we have been. It is whether this is the particular occasion which we should select to make, with its admitted consequences, this particular kind of protest. It is not, and I believe it cannot be, seriously disputed that the result of that which it is proposed that your Lordships should do will be to cause to the taxpayers a loss of £500,000. Lord Selborne says that if that consequence does follow the real responsibility will be the responsibility of the House of Commons, and not the responsibility of the House of Lords. It may be so. I confess I derive particularly cold comfort from the reflection, if the £500,000 is to be lost, that I should have the satisfaction of saying, when still another burden is added to the many we carry on our backs to-day —"It was not our fault but the fault of the House of Commons."

There is another method, after all, by which we can deal with this, without taking a decision so very serious in its consequences. Your Lordships, without voting against the Motion which the Government makes now, can surely proceed to the consideration of this Bill, because if it were really found that you could not deal with the very important points which Lord Selborne has in charge in the time available, there are always Motions which can be made which would bring the matter to an end and secure any necessary postponements. And, of course, it would be in our power—and I suppose it would not be a very considerable sacrifice in order to save £500,000—to sit a little later to-night. As a rule we conclude our deliberations by seven o'clock, and that House of Commons which has been so justly upbraided by the noble Marquess to-day has, at least, in comparison with us, sat through three whole, long nights, and continued its deliberations on a summer morning within the last month. I am not suggesting any course so extreme to your Lordships, but if we found that by debating the Bill till eight o'clock we were not able to give reasonable examination to the matter, it is possible to dine here, and, if we did so, to sit until ten or eleven o'clock, by which time I do not think any reasonable person could doubt that we should reach a conclusion.

At any rate, why not make a start; why not begin the discussion of this matter, and begin it in the spirit of men who will set a high example to the House of Commons, and will convince them that it is possible, without the human frame flagging or our intellectual powers sustaining any visible decline, to sit until eight o'clock. That would give a complete vindication of the desire for economy which both Lord Buck-master and Lord Salisbury have so often eloquently advocated in this House, by proving that, if it be really necessary, this. House, in its devotion to the public service, would not shrink from its desire to save £500,000 by even dining at the House of Lords.

On Question, Whether the Motion should be agreed to?—

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 46; Not-Contents, 43.

Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.) Powis, E. Gisborough, L.
Sutherland, D. Glenarthur, L.
Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.) Hylton, L.
Ancaster, E. Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Monokton, L. (V. Galway.)
Bradford, E. Peel, V. Newton, L.
Chesterfield, B. Riddell, L.
Clarendon, E. Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.) St. John of Bletso, L.
Craven, E. Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]
Lucan, E. Cochrano of Cults, L. Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Onslow, E. Colebrooke, L. Wavertree, L.
Pembroke and Montgomery, E. Cozens-Hardy, L. Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)
Salisbury, M. Carnock, L. Gainford, L.
Denbigh, E. Chalmers, L. Hemphill, L.
Mayo, E. Charnwood, L. Inchcape, L.
Midleton, E. Clinton, L. Lawrence, L.
Northbrook, E. de Mauley, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Selborne, E. [Teller.] Denman, L. Monson, L.
Desart, L. (E. Desart.) Muir Mackenzie, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. Dynevor, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Falmouth, V. Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.) O'Hagan, L.
Goschen, V. Pentland, L.
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Elphinstone, L. Phillimore, L.
Emmott, L. [Teller.] Rotherham, L.
Airedale, L, Erskine, L. Southwark, L.
Aldenham, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Strachie, L.
Askwith, L. Faringdon, L. Stuart of Wortley, L.
Balfour, L. Farrer, L. Sydenham, L.
Buckmaater, L. Fingall, L. (E. Fingall.) Terrington, L.

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

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

[For report of proceedings on the further stages of the Bill, see column 909 et seq.]