§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the matters which are dealt with in the Bill which it is my privilege to submit to the House this afternoon will not be unfamiliar to your Lordships, for this Bill, or rather its immediate predecessor, was fully debated in this House last year The original Bill was introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, as Secretary for Scotland fin the Conservative Government, just before that Government left office in 1924. It was re-introduced by the Socialist Government, and was read a second time in April of last year on the Motion of the then Lord Chancellor, Viscount Haldane.
Before proceeding further I should like to say how deeply we all regret the absence to-day of Lord Haldane, not only on account of the domestic anxiety which is the cause of his absence, but because Lord Haldane is one of those who have principally contributed to the happy state of affairs to which we have now attained in this matter. The Report of the Departmental Committee which bears Lord Haldane's name is the foundation of this Pill, and it would have been only fitting that he should have been here to-day, on the important occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill, in order to give the Bill his approval. In a letter which I have from the noble and learned Viscount he has asked me to mention to your Lordships that, had he not been prevented from attending by the circumstance to which I have referred, he would have been in his place to-day in order to support the measure.
Your Lordships will recollect that, between the Second Reading of the Bill in April last year and the Committee stage, an agreement was arrived at between the representatives of the Church and of the heritors, whereby there was 311 substituted for the compulsory redemption of stipends, which was proposed in Lord Haldane's Report, an arrangement by which the commuted value of stipends becomes a legal first charge upon the land. Amendments giving effect to that agreement were inserted in the Bill during the Committee stage, and, thus amended, the Bill passed through the remaining stages in your Lordships' House, but its further progress was prevented by the dissolution of Parliament. Substantially the same Bill was introduced in another place by this Government on coming into office, and that is the Bill which is before your Lordships to-day. Such changes as have taken place I will deal with in a moment.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, on the occasion of the Second Beading last year, with that knowledge and authority which are unrivalled in these questions, not only dealt with the history of matters leading up to the introduction of this Bill, but also entered fully into the mysteries of the teind system, which forms an important part of the Bill. It is therefore unnecessary for me to attempt to cover the whole of the ground which was then traversed, and I may confess that I regard that as a fortunate circumstance, not only for your Lordships but for myself. For, even had I the legal knowledge necessary, and I have not, I have noticed that both legal and ecclesiastical matters—and this Bill partakes largely of both—have one characteristic in common, and that is that controversy in regard to them is as enthralling to those who engage in it as the recital of those matters is tedious to those who are not personally or intimately concerned. I will, therefore, only trouble your Lordships quite briefly with a few facts of history which lead up to the present position.
First, I would remind your Lordships that the great secession from the Church of Scotland which took place in 1843 had to do, not with the principle of establishment, but with what was called the doctrine of non-intrusion; that is, the non-interference of the civil authority in the internal affairs of the Church. And ever since the Disruption, as it was called, a movement towards reunion of the Presbyterian Churches has been taking place. There was in 1847 the constitution of the United Presbyterian 312 Church by the union of various Presbyterian churches outside the Church of Scotland. In 1900 by far the larger part of the Free Church joined with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church of to-day. That union had as its sequel litigation, which was followed by the Act of 1905, which I mention to-day only in order to remind your Lordships that there was inserted in that Act, at the request of the Church of Scotland, a clause which gave the Church of Scotland greater freedom than she had hitherto possessed in the matter of her formularies.
Negotiations in the direction of union followed between the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland, and extended over a period of years. Necessarily, delay was brought about by the intervention of the war period, but by 1919 a basis had become evident on which the union of the Churches would be possible, a basis upon which the ideal could be realised of a united Church which would be both national and free. But before that basis could be established it was necessary that two things should be done. In the first place, it was necessary that the spiritual freedom of the Church should be recognised in unmistakable fashion by the State; and, secondly, it was necessary that the property of the Church of Scotland should be dealt with in such a way that the Church of Scotland would have the same freedom to enter into union as is possessed by the United Free Church. The first of these essential preliminaries to union was accomplished by the Church of Scotland Act, 1921; the second is the subject of the Bill which is before us to-day.
The absolute necessity for this Bill, which deals with the temporal side of spiritual freedom, is to be found in No. 4 of the Articles declaring the spiritual freedom of the Church, contained in the Act of 1921, to which I have referred. In that Article it is declared, among other things, that the Church has the right to define the spheres of labour of its ministers, and that control would remain entirely inoperative if it were not for this Bill. As matters stand to-day parish boundaries cannot be altered, surplus revenue cannot be diverted from one parish to another, and churches which have become 313 unnecessary cannot be given up and the revenue devoted to the starting of new churches in industrial areas, for instance, where they may be very urgently required. Herein lies the answer to the argument which has been used by some opponents of the Bill and which has been described as the "loaves and fishes argument." It has been made a reproach by these people against the Church of Scotland, and also against the Government, that there is nothing in this Bill but matters relating to property. It has been said that it is a division of the spoils and that there is no religious matter referred to in the Bill.
Of course, the Bill deals with property; that is the whole object of the Bill, and if the Act of 1921 is to be made effective the Bill must deal with property. Besides, I need hardly remind your Lordships that the property of the Church which is dealt with in this Bill is not owned in any selfish right. That property represents a trust held by the Church on behalf of the people she serves. It is a trust which has been faithfully administered in the past, and it is the object of this Bill to render it possible for the Church to carry out that trust more efficiently in the future. Moreover, it is worth emphasising in this connection that the Church of Scotland was under no obligation whatever to come to Parliament for the re-settlement of the funds and properties of her own which she has enjoyed for so many years. If she has done so it is simply and solely to enable the great national purpose of Church union to be accomplished.
There is, in this matter of the control of property and of parish boundaries, an excellent reason for passing this Bill, apart altogether from the question of Church union. The argument is one which becomes much stronger when union comes into view, with the greater redundancy of churches that will require to be dealt with. But, by itself, as I say, even without union, it is a good reason for passing the Bill. Again, apart from union, the commutation of stipends which is effected by this Bill will, in effect, be a simplification of the system of land tenure in Scotland, which will be of benefit to every member of the community. It is of 314 a value which I do not think can be overestimated, though I need not stay to elaborate it to your Lordships to-day.
Turning now to deal with the changes which have been made in the Bill since it was last before your Lordships' House, while there are a considerable number of minor changes and additions, I am able to assure your Lordships that no leading principle of the Bill has been affected, nor, indeed, has its main structure been altered. In these circumstances I need only trouble your Lordships quite briefly with three new points. These have to do with the quoad sacra parishes, the burgh churches and the question of small heritors. The Bill, as it stands, with a new clause, No. 34, now contains provisions with reference to the quoad sacra parishes. Originally the Bill dealt only with the old or original parishes of Scotland, but it was represented to the Government that it would be a matter of practical convenience to the Church if she could deal also in the same way with the quoad sacra parishes, and the Government had no difficulty in accepting the Amendment. There is, of course, the important difference, that in the quoad sacra parishes the complication of relations with the heritors does not arise.
Then, with regard to the burgh churches, these churches have to be handed over by the town councils concerned to the General Trustees of the Church, and while the town councils did not oppose the transfer of the churches as a whole, they felt that it would be right that they should retain the reversion to the site of any of these churches which, in the course of time, might become unnecessary owing to some movement of the resident population which might take place. The potential value in such a case might be considerable. Amendments, therefore, were agreed between the Church and the town councils and accepted by the Government. Broadly speaking, this is the arrangement: that in the event of one of these churches becoming unnecessary at some time in the future the town council will be able to take it over from the Church on payment of such a sum as will provide a new church within the burgh, in the event of such a church being required. If no such church is required, then it 315 is on payment of a sum equivalent to the money spent by the General Trustees of the Church on the building over a period of years. That is an arrangement which the Government considers to be both fair and businesslike.
With regard to the small heritors, the Government attach considerable importance to the Amendments made in their case. Your Lordships will recollect that by the Amendments introduced during the Committee stage last year the commuted stipend was turned into a charge upon the land; but the provision remained that where that stipend was of an annual value of £2 or under, redemption remained compulsory and had to be effected at, eighteen years' purchase, either by a lump sum or by instalments spread over eighteen years. The agreement which was come to between the representatives of the Church and the large heritors, who were represented in this House by my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch, was recognised by everyone as not having taken into account the interests of the small heritors. The noble Duke was particular to call attention to that matter and the interests of that class, accordingly, were left to the Government to look after. In those circumstances the Government have introduced Amendments which it is thought meet that case satisfactorily.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
Will the noble Lord tell us in what clause that is to be found?
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Certainly. It is in three portions which are contained in different clauses. In the first place, an alteration is made, which is given effect to in Clause 14, that instead of the dividing line being £2 it shall be £1. That will have the effect of transferring a number of heritors automatically from the small class to the large, and they, therefore, escape from the liability of compulsory redemption. Secondly, in reference to what may be called the class of smallest heritors, Clause 15 provides for the extinction of liability for stipend not exceeding 1s., and any one whose liability is 1s. or less will escape altogether as from the final completion of the teind roll. In that case, and I think in every other case under the Bill, life interests are protected.
316 There is a third point, in rather a different connection, in which the interests of the small heritors have been safeguarded. That is in connection with what are known as ecclesiastical assessments. These assessments are levied in connection with the repair of the fabric of churches and manses, and from the fact that they are levied at irregular intervals a good deal of friction and difficulty has arisen in the past. It is perfectly true that as a result of the operation of this Bill these assessments will disappear altogether, but under Clause 28 of the Bill there may be made a final assessment to take effect before the churches are handed over, and, to meet again the point with regard to the small heritors, the Government have introduced a new subsection—subsection (6)—which provides that in making these assessments £30 shall be deducted from the rental in respect of which the assessment is made. That, as your Lordships will see, will have the effect of cutting out any one whose rental is under £30. The heritor whose rental is over £30, and is, say, £35, will pay on £5, and so on. These concessions for small heritors will undoubtedly entail a certain financial loss to the Church, and it is right to say that when the Government approached the Church on this matter they were met with a spirit of helpfulness and good will. It may be hoped that any loss which the Church sustains will be compensated for, not only by the avoidance of difficulty and expense in the collection of small sums, but also—and this is mach more important—by the elimination of friction and the promotion of harmony and good will.
I will now deal in a word with the objections which have been raised against this Bill, for, as your Lordships are no doubt aware, it was not allowed to pass in another place without a certain objection from a section of members. The objections may be summed up, I think, in two words. They came entirely, or almost entirely, from those who desire to see either the disestablishment of the Church or the nationalisation of the land. With regard to the principle of establishment. I have only this to say. There have been those in the past who have seen in disestablishment a way to Church union. To-day there has been found a better way. With regard to the land nationalisers, their opposition, I believe, 317 was based on the apprehension that if this Bill were passed it would be an additional obstacle in the way of the fulfilment of the policy they desired. I think that the principal obstacle in the way of land nationalisation is the difficulty of obtaining the consent of Parliament to that course, and I also think that it will be some time before that difficulty can be overcome, but if in some future time the people of this country should make. up their minds that nationalisation of the land is desirable, then that decision can be given effect to quite as easily after the passing of this Bill as it could have been before. The interests in the land will have to be dealt with somehow. If you are going to confiscate you can confiscate still, and if you are going to compensate you will still be able to compensate.
Again, there has been urged against this Bill—and this is the strangest plea of all—that there is no desire for it in Scotland. As evidence of that we have been told that it was not made an issue at the last General Election. The reason for that is simple. When everyone is agreed about a thing, and everybody wants the same thing, it is not easily made a subject of political agitation. What has happened with regard to this Bill? In the first place, the Coalition Government passed the Church of Scotland Act of 1921, and were pledged to the further legislation which is now before the House. The Conservative Government introduced the Bill, actually carrying out the pledge by introducing it. The Socialist Government passed the Bill through all its stages in this House. It is a decided issue, and the fact that nothing of it was heard at the last General Election is, in my opinion, very much more evidence in its favour than evidence against it. In this connection it is worth noting that there were four Divisions on this Bill in another place. Taking the votes of the Scottish Members alone in those Divisions, not only was there a majority in favour of the Bill in every one, but the majority on every single occasion was not less than two to one in favour of the Bill.
The feeling in Scotland about this Bill not only is not one either of hostility or of indifference, but is a feeling of growing impatience that the necessary delays have been so long. The national interest is Church union. Here we have two great 318 Churches, which embrace within their membership more than 95 per cent. of the Presbyterians in Scotland. There is no divergence between them in doctrine, in worship, or in Church government. Union will bring practical advantages from the redistribution of farces that it will allow, and the economy of energy which will result, but I think the greatest gain to the spiritual life of the country will be from the healing of division itself. If there is a danger to-day of the Church losing her grip or of spiritual things being overshadowed by material things, nothing could contribute more powerfully to that than the continua Lion of division, when there is no reason for division to exist. It is over eightly years since the Disruption. Since then, in times past, controversy has been carried on in a spirit of violence and acrimony which was unworthy alike of the matter and of the men who engaged in it. That spirit has changed, but the breach remains, the building up of which this Bill will render possible.
With the passing into law of this Bill we shall be able to look forward to a time when those eighty years, and all that they have contained, are nothing but an incident in the history of the reunited Church. The two Churches are gathered to-day in their respective Assemblies in Edinburgh, and they await the decision of Parliament in this matter in order to enable them to go forward to union. The passing of this Bill will be a notable milestone upon that road which we can discern stretching back into Scottish history, and which now we can confidently hope will lead us forward into a future which is bright with promise for the spiritual welfare of the Scottish people. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I am happy to think that there is nothing controversial in this measure any longer. In this House there has been nothing controversial on this subject since the moment the matter first came before us, and I think we may now feel that to a large extent controversy, both in Scotland and in England, has been removed. There may be a little residuum in certain quarters, but it is probably exceedingly small. I should like to congratulate the 319 noble Lord on the way he has introduced this measure and made clear what were doubtful or ambiguous points. I should also like to thank him for the words he used with regard to the gain of reunion, which I hope is an immediate prospect. The noble Lord alluded to a criticism which I have also heard—that the measure is one which deals only with very prosaic questions and has nothing to do with the spiritual life of the Church. But it is in the same sense as a man having a house which enables him to do his work, his intellectual and spiritual work, better.
The business part is the basis on which must rest the possibility of carrying forward in the right way the manifold and various work which belongs to the Church's life as a whole. There is nothing strange, indeed, there is something advantageous, in keeping as a separate measure that which deals with such prosaic but essential factors as income and the manner in which it is derived and applied. There has been much difficulty in dealing with this question, and great consideration has been shown in Scotland by those from whom the money is to be derived that is to be paid for the spiritual work of the Church, and as to the manner in which the spiritual independence of the Church is safeguarded all through. It has not been an easy matter to combine the two things—the spiritual independence, which recent measures have emphasised to a degree not emphasised before, and the securing of perfect fairness towards those from whom the money conies which is to be applied in the spiritual work of the Church. These difficulties have been carefully and systematically met by the care of the noble and learned Viscount whose absence we deplore to-night, and by others, both in Scotland and in England, who have been working on this subject. A basis is now given for steady progress on the lines which the noble Lord has indicated towards a reunion which we hope will not be wasteful or controversial; not wasteful because of overlapping or controversial by having rival denominations covering the same ground.
To many of us there is a pathetic side in the fact that the noble Lord who has introduced the measure is carrying on the hereditary work of one whom we all respected and admired—his illustrious 320 father. I can speak after the closest intercourse with him for more than twenty years, and I know how thankful he would be, perhaps is, to know of the stage which has now been reached in the carrying out of a measure for which he wrought so strongly, so steadily and so long. To me it is a matter of real interest that it should be his son who is now putting this measure before your Lordships' House. It is a measure which would have been in the hands of his father had he lived, and upon which we should have heard his wise words of abundant knowledge and counsel which were always so helpful. The noble Lord has said with truth that there was a time when, on this subject, the controversies were carried on with violence and acrimony. That has long ceased, and not less because of the lifelong labours of the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who devoted himself to the subject for so many years. It is because of his labours that we are now in peaceful waters. I believe that by the passing of this Bill an immense gain will come to the whole life of Scotland, and that it will form a satisfactory, although prosaic, basis on which the higher and deeper things can be rightly carried on in the educational and spiritual field.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, a year ago I troubled you at considerable length on the original Bill, but I do not intend to do so on this occasion. I should like to associate myself with what the most rev. Primate has said. It is very gratifying to Scotsmen in this House, and particularly to those who had the privilege of knowing his illustrious father intimately and of working with him for many years, that this Bill should be entrusted to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. It is a great satisfaction to all of us and, speaking on behalf of the Scottish Peers, and many other Scotsmen, I hope he will follow his father's example and devote himself largely to the interest and welfare of Scotland. The noble Lord said he had no legal knowledge, but that his task was not difficult. His task, undoubtedly, is an easy one because there is no real opposition to the measure, but if there had been any opposition, if the task had been difficult, I think he would have carried out his duties equally as ably as his father did on many occasions in your Lordships' House.
321 It is very desirable that this Bill, if possible, should pass into law in the course of a week or so. There are certain difficulties, however. It is a large Bill and it was only circulated on Saturday, so that it has been impossible for those interested in the measure to go through it carefully and see if any amendments are required. So far as I can ascertain at present, the probabilities are that it will not be necessary, on behalf of those I represent—the heritors—to move any Amendments to the Bill. There may not be many new features in the present measure, as the noble Lord said, but there is a great deal of extra printing. In the present Bill there are forty-four clauses as against forty-one in the Bill of last year, and the present Bill covers fifty-six pages as against forty-two last year, so that the Bill has increased in hulk by considerably over twenty-five per cent. But, as has been already stated, the changes are not of great importance. They may, however, be important in this way. Many of the new clauses and the alterations in the present Bill, as compared with the Bill of last year, are probably absolutely necessary for the smooth working of the measure when it becomes an Act. I think it is fortunate that the Bill of last year did not pass into law, because many of these points might have been overlooked, and there would have been considerable difficulty and expense in carrying out that Bill in practice.
Last year I drew your Lordships' attention to the fact that the small heritor was not represented in the agreement between the Scottish landowners and the Church of Scotland, hut the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, at a meeting in Scotland, said that the Government would look after the interests of the small heritor and that they would be carefully considered by Mr. Macmillan, the Lord Advocate. The proposal in the present Bill is that nothing under 1s. is to be paid. It is obvious that the expense of collecting 1s. annually from individuals would be more than it is worth. The other so-called advantage to the small heritor is not quite so certain. It has been said in another place that the large heritor has been treated much better than the small heritor, because the large heritor has not been compelled to redeem, whereas certain of the small heritors are 322 so compelled. The conditions, however, are very different. According to the Report of Lord Haldane's Committee, the large heritor was to be compelled to redeem on the basis of Consols, which might be anything over twenty-four years' purchase. In the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Novar, he is compelled to redeem at twenty-two years' purchase, whereas under this Bill the small heritor will be able to redeem at eighten years' purchase, which, of course, is very much more favourable. I have no hesitation in saying that, if a basis of eighteen years' purchase had been offered to the large heritors by the Church, the opposition to compulsory redemption would have entirely disappeared. The Church, however, did not consider that they could afford to make that offer, and the present Bill is the result.
What has happened is that, in the Bill as it left this House last year, all heritors who paid less than £2 a year were compelled to redeem at eighteen years' purchase. As your Lordships will see, the majority of people who have to pay from £1 to £2 a year will much prefer to redeem, if they can possibly do so, rather than go on paying. Everybody knows that these small payments are most inconvenient, and most people like to get rid of them. But, although we have the concession that only those who pay under £1 a year are to be compelled to redeem, if any of those who pay between £1 or £2 wish to redeem they have to pay twenty-four years' purchase or more, instead of eighteen years' purchase. In other words, the heritor paying £1 to £2 would, under the Bill as it left us last year, have had to pay a minimum of £18 and a maximum of £36, whereas under the present Bill he will have to pay a minimum of £24 and a maximum of £48. Accordingly, I am a little doubtful if some of the small heritors will be altogether inclined to thank their advocates in the House of Commons for making this change. In my opinion, if they had asked for a reduction from eighteen to fifteen years' purchase, it would have been very much more satisfactory to the small heritor, and I do not suppose that the Church, who have acted very well in this matter, would have objected. What I want to point out is that it is quite incorrect to say that the small heritor has been treated worse than the large heritor; he has been treated 323 better, for perfectly obvious reasons, and quite rightly.
Another point that has been alluded to is the very considerable concession on the part of the Church with regard to assessment. Heritors will now, so far as I understand it, after the passing of this Bill, be subject to only one levy. There has been a great deal of feeling over this matter. In many cases the expense of collecting has been very great, and in some instances, I believe, the collection could not be made in the case of a number of small sums. Under this Bill no one with a rental of under £30 will be assessed for this purpose. In such a case, of course, the assessment would probably not be very large. As a similar concession to those with a rental over £30, they will not have to pay on the first £30. This is, I think, a concession which will be appreciated, arid one for which the Church deserves the credit.
There is one point that has not been dealt with in this Bill, and that is the very difficult question of the standardisation of teinds. The stipend has been standardised, but I do not intend to trouble your Lordships upon this question, which is very complicated and which I am possibly not qualified to discuss. We have these Courts, known as Teinds Courts, which fix the teinds, and which are most cumbersome and expensive. Under the part of the Bill that concerns the fixation of stipends these Courts will gradually disappear, because, whenever there is a vacancy in an incumbency, the stipend will, practically speaking, come, on to the fixed sum. The Courts will have to continue, however, until all the incumbencies have been vacated and new appointments have taken place, and even when that is done, the teinds will have to be settled by these cumbersome and expensive Courts, which will still continue. I hope that this Government, or some other Government, will before long bring in a Bill to standardise teinds, so that these Courts may gradually disappear and a large amount of money be saved.
Before concluding, I think that it is only right to say that, in drafting this very complicated Bill, His Majesty's Government were very fortunate in the two gentlemen, Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Watson, who successively occupied the position of Lord Advocate. This is an extremely difficult Bill and covers what is 324 probably the most complicated law question in Scotland, though many Scottish law questions are complicated enough. Those of your Lordships who sit in legal cases in this House will recognise the difficulty of this Bill. The present Lord Advocate has the great advantage of having made, perhaps, a wider study of these questions, having acted for the Church for many years, than any one at the Scottish Bar, if it had not been for this, I think that we should have met with great difficulties, but, as such expert attention has been given to these many complicated clauses, I think that your Lordships would be quite justified in passing this Bill through all its stages as soon as possible. It is as good a guarantee, I think, as we can have. Otherwise it would have been only reasonable that a considerable time should have been given for the Committee and Report stages of this Bill, and, if the usual time were taken, it would be impossible to pass the Bill before the adjournment for the Whitsuntide holidays. I agree, therefore, with the view that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House outlined the other day, that this Bill should be passed as soon as possible. The Churches also, I believe, are very anxious that it should pass quickly.
If the Bill passes, it is impossible to prophesy what will happen in the future, but, as soon as it becomes an Act of Parliament, the Church of Scotland will have been treated by Parliament with a generosity which is, I think, unparalleled in the history of the Churches. These funds, which have been looked upon in the past as national funds, although belonging to the Church, will be given to that particular Church, other Churches having the privilege, if they desire, of joining in. I think that this is a great advantage to the religious life of Scotland, and a great opportunity. After Parliament has done what it can, it now remains for the Churches to do what they can, and a very great responsibility lies upon them—a greater responsibility, perhaps, than they have ever had before. I hope, and I feel confident, that they will rise to the occasion; but they have this great responsibility and, if this Bill is passed into law, great confidence will have been shown in them by Parliament. I hope that they will realise thoroughly their responsibility and will show that 325 the confidence that has been placed in them has been more than justified.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, it is always a very bold man who, coming from the South of England, intervenes in any discussion concerning Scottish questions, and he is a bolder man still who interferes in Scottish ecclesiastical questions, but the boldest man of all would be one who said that on a Bill dealing with Scottish ecclesiastical law there was not likely to be some difference of opinion on the part of ecclesiastical lawyers in Scotland. That leads me to the point raised by the noble Duke who has just sat down—namely, when the farther proceedings on this Bill should be taken. Before saying anything on that question, may I be allowed to associate myself with previous speakers in congratulating the noble Lord who introduced this Bill upon the fact that it should fall to him to introduce it? I remember speeches made by his father upon this question, in days gone by in this House, and therefore can well imagine what satisfaction it must have been to the noble Lord opposite that it should fall to his lot to introduce the Bill, to-day.
I hope, however, he will allow me to say that the length of his speech shows the importance of this question. The more than half an hour which he took to explain the provisions of the measure shows that it is not a Bill which should be passed too lightly; that, indeed, it is one which is very likely to arouse feeling on the other side of the border, although I am glad to hear from the noble Duke who has just sat down that it is a matter on which there is not likely to be any very serious difference of opinion. I am quite sure that my friends and I are anxious to do all we can to assist in this matter. I understand that the Assemblies are sitting in Edinburgh next week, and that it is important that the Bill should be passed without delay.
Perhaps the noble Marquess will allow me to say that in days gone by I have myself been accustomed to saying that a Bill must be passed without delay, and that the delay of a day now may mean the loss of a year in further proceedings. I have said that, and I hope with justification, but it is possible I may have said it without real justification, but only because of slackness on the part of the Government, or the representatives of 326 the Government, in another place. I hope on the whole that, generally speaking, I have been justified in making that assertion in the past, but I confess that when I hear that argument to-day I am not perfectly certain that my own sins are not being repeated by other people. Therefore, when I hear addressed to me an appeal that we should immediately pass this Bill, for fear that we may do great harm if we do not, I cannot help asking myself whether the delay in bringing the measure before the House is not partially due to some neglect on the part of those responsible for the measure itself.
The noble Duke who has just sat down has told us that the Bill contains forty-nine clauses, and that it was only circulated last Saturday. Certainly, if this Bill is fortunate enough to receive universal approval in Scotland, I am sure that it is the first Scottish Bill of so great a length which has ever received universal approval on the other side of the border. I venture to ask the Government, anxious as I am not to prevent the Bill from becoming law in time for it to be considered in the Assemblies, whether it would not be possible to consider it in Committee on Thursday next, and to take the Third Reading on an early day next week. On the whole, I agree with what was suggested some time ago—namely, that we should sit on Mondays now. Whether that will be convenient for next week I do not know, but so far as I and my friends are concerned, we will fall in with any suggestion which may be thought desirable. There is, I know, a Motion on the Paper by Lord Banbury to-morrow. It is of some importance, and I know that several Peers, including my noble friend Lord Inchcape, wish to take part in the discussion. It will not be easy to get through that debate in one day, and therefore it may be desirable to sit on Monday and finish it, and also to take the further discussion on this Bill. However that may be, I will end by saying that we on these Benches are only too ready to do what we can to get this Bill through in time for its discussion by the Assemblies next week.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for the assistance which he has promised in carrying this Bill forward, but I hope your Lordships will believe 327 me when I say that, upon a Bill of this great importance, nothing would have induced me to suggest the shortening of the intervals between its stages unless it were done with the general consent of the House. I do not think that upon a Bill of this kind it would be an appropriate method of legislating to have only two days between the Second Reading and the Committee stage, unless your Lord ships were generally willing to take that course. Therefore, although I think I trace an innuendo of criticism occasionally in his observations, I am grateful to the noble Earl and his friends that, so far as they are concerned, they will not object to the Bill being taken rapidly through its stages. It remains for me only to ask the Leaders of the Opposition, who are not very numerously represented at this moment, but are still adequately represented, whether they would consent to that course.
As I understand, the suggestion is that we should take the Committee stage on Thursday and the Third Reading on an early day next week. I understand that it is very unlikely, notwithstanding the hints of the noble Earl, that there will be any Amendments moved in Committee. In that case there would be no Report stage and the Third Reading alone would remain. The noble Earl said he was not sure which day next week would be convenient. I understand that there is a very strong feeling among those responsible for the business of the Assemblies in Scotland that it is desirable to have this Bill through by Monday. The reason is obvious. Tuesday is the last day on which the Assemblies will be sitting to debate this question, and therefore, unless this Bill is through on Monday, it cannot be considered as an Act of Parliament, or rather as a virtual Act of Parliament, because it may not receive the Royal Assent on that day. In those circumstances, as the Session is now getting on, I do not think it would be out of place if your Lordships consented to meet on Monday for the purpose of dealing with this Bill and with any other business which may be necessary. As the noble Earl has said, Lord Banbury may find that the discussion which he is to initiate may not be completed to-morrow, and he may wish it to be adjourned until Monday. There may also be other business. 328 Therefore, with the general consent of the House, I should propose to put this Bill down for Committee on Thursday, and Third Reading on Monday.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, no one has so far intervened in this debate from this Bench, because the position was clearly explained by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, and a statement was made by him with regard to the position of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, and the reasons for the absence of that noble Viscount, who has been in a very special degree associated with this Bill. So far as we are concerned we most certainly acquiesce in the suggestion of the noble Marquess, and indeed, if I may say so, our position with regard to the desirability of the Bill being placed upon the Statute Book speedily had already been made known through the usual channels. I think Lord Beauchamp will also recognise the fact that although the Bill is a lengthy one and is not in the same form as last year, at the same time it is by no means a new Bill; it has been discussed before. And therefore I do not think that in the circumstances any undue speed is involved in the proposals which the noble Marquess has made.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.