HL Deb 31 July 1924 vol 59 cc186-94

Order of the Day read for the consideration of the Commons Reasons for disagreeing with certain of the Lords' Amendments.


My Lords, the three Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed are all embraced under the same Reason for disagreement, although when the time comes I shall move separately as regards each of them, asking your Lordships not to insist on your Amendment. The Reason of the Commons takes the usual form when the Commons express disagreement on the ground of privilege, and I think it would be to the advantage of your Lordships that I should read the Reason from the document sent here from the Commons: — The Commons disagree with the Amendment made by the Lords for the following reasons: Because it would alter the conditions under which such moneys become payable to those who are entitled to receive them, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting the above reason may be deemed sufficient. That is the ordinary form in which the privilege question is raised and when that is brought forward other reasons are not stated, because we cannot discuss the question of privilege here. It is a question for the Speaker, and the fact that privilege is brought forward is an answer to the Amendments which your Lordships inserted in the Bill, or rather to the three rejected Amendments. The other Amendments wore not touched by the Commons. Privilege is entirely a matter for the Speaker and no one else.

No one doubts the immediate necessity for this Bill. That has been emphasised, and even now we are a day late, and that means that certain persons will not get the benefit to which they would otherwise be entitled. Each day adds to the number of those who will lose their benefits, if this Bill is not passed. I do not assume that any one contemplates for a moment the loss of the Bill itself—I do not suggest that any movement of that kind would come from any source at all. The first Motion I have to make, in order to bring the matter before your Lordships, is that the Commons Reasons for disagreeing with certain of the Amendments inserted by your Lordships in the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons Reasons be now considered.—(Lord Parmoor.)


My Lords, I think this House has some cause to complain of the course taken with regard to this Bill. As your Lordships will remember, the Amendments which are for the moment under discussion were considered at some length in this House, and during the debate no hint was dropped that any question of privilege would be raised elsewhere. Indeed, it is noticeable that the Lord President of the Council him- self had set down an Amendment for consideration in this House, which, if carried, would have been open to precisely the same objections as are now taken with regard to the Amendments which were passed. So I think your Lordships were entitled to assume that you were invited to discuss the clauses of the Bill on their merits. More than that, when the Amendments went to another place, I understand that they were not even printed. Of the ruling of Mr. Speaker, and the manner of it, of course I am making no complaint at all, but it came as a surprise certainly to the greater part of the House and possibly to every member of that House, and no opportunity was given to that House to consider and debate the question whether they should waive the question of privilege altogether. And so, without a word of discussion, the other House disagreed with those Amendments.

I want to say one other thing. This seems to me to push the privilege of the Commons to a very extreme point. We all recognise that privilege, but in this particular case the only effect of the Amendments would be, not to increase by a farthing any contribution from the Exchequer, or from other sources, but to modify, I agree, to some extent the conditions under which benefits will be payable out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Well, that carries privilege very far. It is true, as was said elsewhere, that the ruling of Mr. Speaker in this case followed a ruling of his predecessor on a similar Bill in the year 1921, but I have looked at the discussion which arose in this House upon that ruling, and I am interested to find that a very respected member of your Lordships' House, the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, said that he doubted very much whether the privilege actually applied to a case of that kind, and doubt was expressed in other quarters. So I think that, whatever happens, this ruling should not be treated as accepted by your Lordships' House without protest, or as forming any kind of precedent for the future.

But for one circumstance I should feel very greatly disposed to ask your Lordships to invite the other House to reconsider the question of privilege, and especially of waiving it, but we have been told by the noble Lord opposite that every day s delay in passing this Bill means the loss of benefit, and, I think, the irretrievable loss of benefit, to a certain number of men who are out of work, and, of course, that is a potent consideration. I have made such inquiries as I could make, and I am afraid that, if we did send the Amendments back to the other House, the difficulty would not be immediately solved, and very serious delay might occur in giving a statutory right to these benefits.

Apart from that circumstance, one is very unwilling, if it can be avoided, to create, or assist in, a conflict between the two Houses. And, as to the loss of the Bill, I do not think there is any one on this side of the House who contemplates any such issue. Upon the whole, I would not take the responsibility of recommending the House to insist on its Amendments, and I think that, in present circumstances, unfortunate as I believe they are, the best course in the public interest would be that your Lordships should allow the Amendments to be dropped. At the same time, I think it may be necessary to put on record, if this speech is not already enough for the purpose, the fact that your Lordships do not finally accept the decision that an Amendment of this kind is a breach of privilege, but may have to reconsider that matter at some future time.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Clause 1, page 2, lines 13 and 14, leave out ("he shall nevertheless be entitled to receive benefit,") and insert ("the Minister may in his discretion authorise the payment of benefit to the applicant").

Clause 4, page 5, line 18, after ("belong ") insert ("to a trade union which either by itself or through another trade union or a federation or association of trade is, or")

page 5, line 21, leave out from ("dispute ") to the end of line 26.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for what he has said, and I think it is quite right that the protest should be recorded— probably sufficiently recorded in what he has said—on what I may call, perhaps, a doubtful claim for privilege of this type, although, as he says, in any particular case the decision of the Speaker cannot be questioned. I think, after what the noble Viscount has said, we may take the Amendments altogether. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, in the old days, in the absence of my noble friend, Lord Ullswater, when I had to act as Speaker in another place, I sometimes had to decide these questions. I have no doubt that, on the rigid interpretation of the Commons Resolution, the decision in this case is perfectly right, but I am inclined also to agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken from the Front Opposition Bench that this matter of privilege is really carried too far in the present extraordinarily complicated social and industrial conditions of the country. Of course, the Commons have always insisted that your Lordships should not interfere with the amount or the levy of taxation, or with any lessening or increasing of the allocation to classes and individuals to whom the proceeds of that taxation is supposed to be allotted. But I think that, nowadays, industrial and social conditions are so extremely complicated that the matter of privilege is used to interfere with minor questions of administrative discretion, or genuine attempts on your Lordships' part, be they mistaken or not, to meet cases of hardship, or possible cases of abuse that may arise in regard to Bills of this kind.

This is not a Bill of general taxation, but a Bill which makes a levy on the employers and the employed in industry for a great social object, and to that levy is added by the Government, I think, about one quarter, or one third, of what the employers and the employed together subscribe. I do not know whether it is because of the levy in the industry that this is a matter of privilege, or whether it is because the Government provides a portion of the money. Undoubtedly, owing to the provision by the Government of a portion of the money, this question of privilege does arise. But whilst I have no sort of doubt that the decision of Mr. Speaker is perfectly correct in this case, I do wish that matters of this kind could be dealt with on their merits, and not so as to leave this sense of injustice and hardship that undoubtedly we do feel in the present case.


My Lords, I want to say, in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Emmott, has just remarked, that undoubtedly there does exist on this side of the House a feeling that we have not quite had justice in the matter, and it exists for these two reasons. In the first place, a good many of us, and my noble friend Lord Cave in particular, spent a great deal of time the other day in discussing these Amendments, which have now been ruled out on the ground of privilege. The whole of that time was wasted, and what surprises me is that noble Lords opposite, and the noble and learned Lord himself, who is so familiar with the procedure in the House of Commons, had not taken some steps to ascertain whether our action in this respect was a breach of privilege or not. Clearly he had not done so, or otherwise he would not have taken part in the discussion and have contemplated moving an Amendment himself.

The second point on which we feel a certain sense of injustice is in what passed in the House of Commons. It is clear to any one who reads the report of the proceedings that the House of Commons itself was surprised, and that it did not have the opportunity of considering whether it was willing to waive its privilege—a course which has more than once been taken in that House. So little were people prepared for the decision that the fiat of the Speaker, whether it was correct or not—and, of course, I am not so vain as to dispute it—fell, and all discussion on the matter as to the willingness of the Commons to waive their privileges ceased, or never took place at all.

It was in these circumstances that my noble friend behind me made his pretest, and I am very glad to hear From Lord Emmott, who speaks with so much authority, that he thinks this House was justified in adopting the line that it has done, and that he thinks further that there is a tendency in these complicated matters to be a little over-stiff and over-rigid in the interpretation of privilege. I hope the remarks that have been made will place on record our opinion, and it is not necessary, therefore, to raise the question again in the House of Commons, as, of course, we might, do by insisting on the Amendments. It is really because of the importance of the Bill, and because of the interests of those who would suffer if we do not pass it, that we concede the matter in the way that is proposed.


My Lords, I should like to endorse what has been said on this subject, because those who have followed the proceedings on the Bill will be aware that I opposed these two Amendments being put into the Bill and supported the Government in the matter. In regard to the general question of privilege I do not suppose that any noble Lord, certainly no noble Lord of the Party to which I belong, desires in any way to interfere with the privilege of the House of Commons in regard to taxation and matters affecting it, but in regard to this matter I agree with my noble friend on my right and with the noble Viscount, Lord Cave, that it is a pity that the point should be raised about matters which are really administrative questions and not questions of taxation. The Amendments were really administrative Amendments and not Amendments which affected taxation.

Without any desire on the part of any section in this House to infringe the privileges of the House of Commons, or in any way to curtail them, I think that from the point of view of the House of Lords there should be some elasticity in these matters. In that connection I would venture to point out what happened in regard to an Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Askwith to a clause dealing with strikes and the action of the employer. An Amendment was proposed in Committee in the other House and rejected. It was then moved on Report. It was strongly opposed by the Government, but the House got into a thorough muddle and passed it without a Division, really because they did not know what the Amendment was. Mr. Shaw, the Minister of Labour, pointed out that the wording was so impossible as to make the clause unworkable. The Bill came up to this House and my noble friend Lord Askwith proposed the omission of the subsection because it was incomprehensible. The Lord President also had an Amendment on the Paper which at all events put the clause into decent and respectable English and made clear what was intended. My noble friend moved his Amendment, and in the circumstances the Lord President did not move his.

In this case it clearly would have been better that the Bill should have gone through either with the omission of the subsection in question or the insertion of the words suggested by the Lord President to make the clause comprehensible. Had we put those words in they would have been moved out under the ruling of the Speaker, which nobody challenges; that is to say, the Government's own Amendment to make the Bill workable and comprehensible might have been moved out on the question of privilege. This decision having been given, some of us feel that there is room for misapprehension as to what the House of Lords may do, especially in improving Bills. I think, therefore, this discussion to-day will be of use from that point of view. I think also that there is some force in the contention that there ought to be more elasticity in his matter. Probably when a question of this character comes up again in this House—a question of administration and not one affecting taxation—it will be better considered than it has been on the present occasion.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in reference to what was said by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition. It is very difficult in this House to raise the question of privilege at what I may call a premature moment. There is nothing which this House dislikes more than raising a question of privilege which, as a matter of fact, may never be of importance at all. I understand that one of the complaints in this case—of course, it does not affect your Lordships' House—is that this was a matter of privilege which might have been waived, and that was pointed out by the Speaker himself if any one had moved in another place that it should be waived. But in conducting a Bill of this kind it would not be right, I think, prematurely to raise the question of privilege in your Lordships' House when it may never be raised at all in the other. The Commons have often waived the question, we know. It would have been suggesting a difficulty which, in certain circumstances, might never arise. That is a matter which has to be carefully considered before raising questions of privilege in this House. I do not wish to say any more on the point. I appreciate as much as any one can what has been said by noble Lords opposite as to the difficulty of the case, and I express my grateful recognition of the attitude taken up by the noble Viscount in that respect.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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