HL Deb 14 December 1926 vol 65 cc1591-611

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time I think it will be necessary for me to give a very short explanation of what it does. It is a Bill not unknown to your Lordships already, and therefore there is no need for me to expatiate upon its provisions. It may be well, perhaps, to give a short history of how this matter arose and of the necessity for this legislation.

In 1912 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the publication of indecent, obscene, and demoralising matter, among other things, and it made a Report from which I will cite only one passage:— It may be necessary for the Legislature to strengthen the law further in the direction of published reports which are deleterious to public morals. After that pronouncement of the Royal Commission naturally this question engaged the attention of many interested in the preservation of public morals, such as they are, and in 1923 Sir Evelyn Cecil introduced into the House of Commons a Bill which was called the Matrimonial Causes (Regulation of Reports) Bill. That Bill was referred to a Select Committee, who made a unanimous Report recommending legislation in that direction. The Bill which had been introduced by the title I have just mentioned was then amended and the title of the present Bill became the title of his Bill. To do him justice, may I say that this Bill which comes before your Lordships is Sir Evelyn Cecil's Bill? It was at his initiation that the proposal of legislation in this direction was made; and the Bill which he drew having no chance in another place at that time, he asked me if I would introduce it into your Lordships' House and that I did some time last year.

Your Lordships will remember, I dare say, that the Bill passed through all its stages in your Lordships' House and then went to the other House. It was introduced there but could not get much further last year, and therefore Sir Evelyn Cecil introduced the Bill in that House in the present year. That is the Bill which is now proposed for your Lordships' consideration, and I want to make it clear that it is almost word for word the Bill which passed this House more than a year ago. I have compared that Bill as it left your Lordships' House last year with the Bill as it now stands. The amendments and alterations are few and of no great importance. The Bill has passed through every stage in another place. It was there sent to the Standing Committee. It has been criticised and commented upon in every way. It is worth while, perhaps, to notice that before it got to that Standing Committee it was given a Second Reading in the other House, the numbers on the Division being 222 for the Second Reading and three against. It was supported on that occasion by the Government, especially by the Home Secretary; it was supported by Mr. Clynes and it was supported by Sir John Simon, and your Lordships will see from the figures that it had the almost unanimous assent of that House. I mention this to show your Lordships that the grave question with which you are asked to deal to-day is one in regard to which the public have manifested their opinion in no uncertain voice.

It is unnecessary, I think, that I should go through the Bill clause by clause and explain to your Lordships what it does. A member of your Lordships' House who sits near me proposes to offer some criticism upon it. If he does so he will, perhaps, explain the provisions to your Lordships and I will not do anything to detract from the interest of his speech. I proposed yesterday to give Notice that I would move the suspension of Standing Order No. XXXIX in order that this Bill might be passed through all its stages to-day.




My noble and learned friend was not hero yesterday to make that remark; but the noble Earl who leads the Liberal Party in this House expressed himself, I think, as astonished at my temerity in making such a proposition.


Hear, hear.


There never was a time when it was more true that "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Had I known better I might not have done that and, possibly, might not now have been addressing your Lordships. However, that Motion has been made to-day by the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the Standing Order which it would have been wrong on my part to attempt to suspend has actually been suspended, and all I desire now is to avail myself of the opportunity so afforded. I desire only to be a humble stowaway in the Government ship and I hope that I may receive the support of your Lordships for this measure. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Darling.)


My Lords, the last thing I should wish to do is to stand between your Lordships' House and my noble friend Lord Weir, who is to move a Motion of great interest in regard to the industrial relations between employers and employed. But I would plead with your Lordships that it is not my fault, but rather that of my noble and learned friend who has introduced this Bill in so disorderly a way this afternoon. He has not even taken the trouble to explain its provisions, perhaps for the very good reason that there are some of them that no lawyer, especially one so competent as himself, could explain to the satisfaction of the House. He has become a sort of Legislator-General in this House, and I dare say a great deal will be taken from him for granted.

So far as I am concerned the only reason I speak is that I have some share of responsibility for the organisation of the newspaper Press in this country and throughout the Dominions, and I do not like this Bill to pass in silence concerning, as it does, not only the newspaper corporations but also a vast class of skilled persons whom they employ. I never realised more acutely than now the wisdom of what the late Lord Morley used to say, that everything in politics is a choice of evils, and I believe myself the balance of evil is in favour of passing this Bill. At the same time, I do not quite accept at the value attached to it by my noble and learned friend the support of public opinion of which he speaks. Public opinion, when we speak of it, is usually our own opinion writ large or the opinion of the clique in which we move. I do not think there has been any striking manifestation of public opinion. I am bound to say, however, that I believe this Bill will be passed with the acquiescence of the public, who are willing to see the experiment of judicial silence tried and proved.

The purpose of the Bill is to cover up our social sores and to hide them from the eyes of man. On the whole I think that is a good thing. I am not prepared to deny that the balance of public advantage is in favour of concealment. It is said that this Bill does not insist on matrimonial causes being tried in camera in future. You will permit me to say that that is a lawyer's distinction. As a matter of fact, speaking with some knowledge of my own trade, I can I think assure the House that matrimonial causes will not be reported at, all, except they are concerned with some persons of general notoriety or of high social place. Then, of course, the names will count and there is no doubt that advantage will be taken of the Bill. There the reporter will find himself in a maze of confusion and difficulty.

But, although these cases will not be reported here, it is perfectly certain that they will be reported as fully as ever in the United States of America and in our own Dominions. There was a divorce case not long ago in which a member of your Lordships' House was involved and there never was a time when the cables to Australia were so much loaded as then. I need hardly say that no restrictions such as the noble and learned Lord, with all the wealth of his experience of the criminal court might be able to devise, can possibly prevent those reports going to America or to the Dominions. They will be published there and I venture to think that a good many copies will find their way to this country. Some of the American papers will get a fresh circulation. I am not saying this because I wish it or approve of it, but it will undoubtedly be the case, as any body who is concerned in newspaper traffic knows very well.

One of the two reasons for which I approve, if I may say so, of the experiment being made, is that I believe the present system is very unjust as between class and class. The Divorce Court is a resort of people of means, or, at any rate, of some means. I firmly believe in Mr. Gladstone's adage: "We are all much of a muchness," and there is not much difference in sexual morality between one class and another. The cases of the poor, as we all know, are tried in the police courts and petty sessional courts and are settled under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts by way of separation and they do not appear in the public Press. On the other hand, divorce cases are largely reported and they give a sinister and oblique view, I believe, of the standard of sexual morality which prevails among the well-to-do people of this country and, therefore, because the system is unjust in its present working, I am bound to say I approve of the veil of silence being thrown to some extent over matrimonial cases.

I believe also that the present practice operates unjustly as between sect and sect. As we all know, in the case of those who are devoted to the Roman Catholic Communion, there can be no question of divorce. I do not believe for a moment that the standard of sexual morality is any higher in the countries where the Roman Catholic religion is not only professed but practised than it is here. It gives an unfortunate bias against this country that all over the world notorious cases of divorce should be quoted and published as if things were any worse here than they are abroad. Probably most of your Lordships will think that sexual morality is a fairly constant quantity. If we read the history of European morals from Lecky downwards we shall be inclined to attribute its proportions rather to material than to moral causes; at any rate, there is no doubt that comparison between countries where divorce is not only permitted by law but is recognised by society and those where it is not is very much to the disadvantage of our own country. But for that reason I do not and cannot believe that there will be any great reformation of public morals in consequence of the passing of this Bill.

Nothing is done to touch the other side of the picture. It is said that journalism is literature in slippers. At any rate, if you agree that journalism is literature, you have here no new censorship of the drama or of the novel. It is common knowledge—and the most rev. Primate will confirm me—that there have been protests, constant protests of late, rightly or wrongly, whether you take the moral or the artistic point of view, against many of the productions that are now being given on the London stage. It is said we have gone from licence to licentiousness. It may be so, but at any rate nothing is done in this Bill to influence it one way or the other. It is exactly the same thing with the fiction of our own time. You have only to read any of the great novelists of to-day to find that they give themselves a liberty of expression and a choice of subjects which possibly may find some precedent in the coarseness of an earlier age but is strangely at variance with the standards of Victorian times. My own belief is that when you shut out reports of matrimonial causes from the newspapers you will increase their currency on the stage and in the novel. What is mysterious will be seized upon with avidity by the writers of our time and used—for reasons that are obvious with actions for libel in prospect—not in relation to the actual persons to whom the incidents are attributed but to the types and characters which they represent.

It is for that reason that I am very doubtful about what this Bill will do, but because I believe Parliamentary opinion is in favour of it almost unanimously I certainly shall not think of opposing it. The Solicitor-General, very absurdly, in another place said it would be a good thing if this Bill brought the proprietors of newspapers more into contact with their employees. There are no newspaper proprietors left in his City. I regret to say I am a melancholy survival of the newspaper proprietor and that I am the only one of my class, so far as I know, in the whole of the Metropolitan area. Therefore the penalties, so far as they are to be visited on proprietors, will fall on my unhappy head alone. But when it comes to the reporters it is a very different thing. The reporting staff may be prosecuted for doing what I do not think any reporter, however competent, ought to be called upon to do

As your Lordships will see if you look at the Bill, it will be unlawful to print or publish in relation to any judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation, certain things and, under paragraph (b), a concise statement of the charges, defences and counter-charges in support of which evidence has been given is alone allowed. Who is to make that concise statement of the charges? The reporter, a man unskilled in the law, for whom my noble and learned friend will, therefore, possibly have some contempt, or at any rate supreme indifference. But it is the reporter who has to make a concise statement and there is no wonder that Lord Darling did not explain these provisions to your Lordships. I hardly think they would have commended themselves to your sense of justice or to your common sense.

The memory of the noble and learned Lord may be very good and the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord, as we know, is very considerable, but the debates in this House are not fully reported. At any rate they would be none the worse for repetition. Your Lordships might have forgotten the noble and learned Lord's arguments, and in any case I do not think he ought to have taken them all for granted. I would only say, in conclusion, that so far as I am concerned I hope this measure will make for the improved reputation of this country for social morality throughout the world, but I doubt it. I think it will only add to the opinion of the world that we are once more indulging in that smug self-satisfaction which so many people believe to be our principal characteristic.


My Lords, there are really, I think, two matters involved in discussion this afternoon—one, the merits of the Bill, and the other, the method by which it is being passed through the House. With regard to the merits of the Bill I am not so lukewarm a supporter as the noble Viscount. I think the Bill will do a great deal more good than he semis to imagine. But there was one remark lie made to which would venture, if I may, to call the attention of the Government. He was speaking on sex morality and equality between the two sexes. I would venture to ask whether the Government will take into consideration the question of having a general inquiry into the legislation of this country as it affects equality between the two sexes in order to see whether something might not be done to remove a certain number of grievances which undoubtedly do exist at the present moment. I only throw that out for consideration. Naturally it is not a matter on which I should expect an immediate answer.

I turn to the other question, which is the method of passing the Bill this afternoon. The noble and learned Lord who moved the Second Reading referred to the fact that yesterday I ventured to utter a word of caution. At that time I did not even know that there were going to be Amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lord. I really do think that it should have been found possible to put down Amendments desired before this afternoon. After all, the Bill was before your Lordships' House last year, it has been in another place most of the Session, there has been considerable discussion in another place and it ought to have been possible for any Amendment necessary to be introduced before the Bill reached this House three days before the end of the Session.

I do not myself propose to take any active step towards preventing the passage of this Bill, although I am bound to repeat that it does seem to me a some-what serious departure from precedent that we should be asked to suspend the Standing Order and take the Bill practically through all its stages to-day with the prospect of the Prorogation to-morrow. It is a Private Member's Bill. It is not even as if it were a Government Bill, nor even as if it were a Bill dealing with finance. It is a matter of acute public controversy, as we know from the speech which has just been made by the noble Viscount opposite. I do not think that in a matter of this kind it is for us sitting on these Benches to do more than make a protest and to say that we think the responsibility in this matter really must rest with the Government. If they are prepared to take the responsibility and say this is in their opinion a Bill which, in spite of the irregularity of procedure, is one which ought to be passed here and now, then I should certainly enter no further objection.


My Lords, I think that in view of the question which has been raised it is desirable that I should reply at once. The noble Earl has asked whether, in view of the procedure adopted in regard to this Bill—which entirely agree is quite unusual in the case of a Private Member's Bill—the Government are prepared to give their approval to what is being done think I may frankly say "Yes" to that. When this Bill was initiated it was submitted to members of the present Government and I think in their view the Bill accords with the views which have been stated in another place by several members of the Government. I have not met one member of the Government who did not express his approval of the proposals of the Bill. I am not going to reply to my noble friend Viscount Burnham, because he is not, as I gather, opposing the Bill.


No, I am not.


Of course he knows this is a Bill consisting really of two parts. The first part is that which forbids anybody to print or publish in relation to official proceedings matter the publication of which will be calculated to injure public morals. I am disposed to think that that is the law to-day, but at all events I do not think there is any one alive, or at any rate any one in this House, who would object to that. The second part is, I agree, more specific and prevents publication—to put it shortly—of the evidence in a case. But it allows publication of the nature of the case, of the charges made, of the summing up or the judgment of the Judge in the case—in which, of course, he refers to the facts—and of the verdict and decision.

What is shut out is that sort of evidence which is not published in the ordinary cases to which my noble friend refers, which is only published in notorious cases, and which I think very few people here would desire to read or to see in the Press. That is the effect of it. I think the enormous majority by which the Bill was carried in another place is evidence that public opinion supports the proposal. My noble friend made an appeal on behalf of the reporter. I do not think he can have read the provision on the second page of the Bill:— Provided that no person, other than a proprietor, editor, master printer or publisher, shall be liable to be convicted under this Act. It does not save him, I agree, but it is a protection to the reporter.


Yes, but the reporter may be discharged for letting in his editor and proprietor. That would be a very likely thing.


That is a wholly different matter. The noble Lord rather conveyed the impression that the reporter might be charged under the Bill. I think I need not go further into the measure because the general opinion is in favour of it. For myself I hope the House will pass the Bill.


My Lords, I am certainly not an opponent of this Bill, but it occurs to me that, the favourite method now of passing legislation in this House is simply to say: "The Bill is wanted, therefore let us pass it in any shape or in any form. That does not matter." That is exactly what I protest against as regards this Bill. The Bill, in my opinion, is a very good Bill—in its principle. But it is a Bill which requires examination, and I am one of those who are of opinion that the House of Lords is a proper revising Chamber. But we are fast getting away from that every day. The last couple of weeks have shown that we have allowed Bills to go upon the Statute Book involving the most enormous changes and the most enormous burdens upon the taxpayers of this country without even a moderate, decent revision of the measures that have been brought, forward.

I hope that we shall not abrogate the position that the Constitution puts upon us. Why is it that we are to be the mere handmaidens of a Conservative Government? That is what brings us into disrepute. I have had I do not know how many letters from people—some of them of great business experience—asking me to put down Amendments as regards various Bills, one particularly in which I took a good deal of interest—Bills like the Electricity (Supply) Bill and the Merchandise Marks (Imported Goods) Bill. If this were really a revising Chamber and we were really doing business here and engaged in realities, I would not mind the sacrifice of any amount of time in trying to make Bills better. But I have written back to all those who wrote to me to say that this was a mere matter of form, as things are at present constituted in this House, and that it was not worth while putting down Amendments or trying to deal with details because the House is so discouraged by the way in which business is transacted, by having Bills brought up and thrown at our heads in the last two or three days of the Session and being told that we must pass them before Christmas, that it-really is not worth anybody's while to give up his time, his attention and his energies to trying to make these Bills any better.

Consider what we are doing to-day. We have suspended Standing Order No. XXXIX, an Order which says that we shall not take all the various stages of a Bill on the same day. Why is that Standing Order there? I assume that it is there because the House in its wisdom thought that a Second Reading was necessary, that a Committee stage was necessary, that a Report stage was necessary and that a Third Reading was necessary. Would it not be far better to change the Standing Order and to say that after a certain date all Bills coming up from the House of Commons shall be read a third time in this House? That is what it really amounts to. There are details in this Bill, as is quite clear from the speech of the noble Viscount below me, which require at all events some examination and which ought to be sifted with calm deliberation. But all this is to come to an end and, though I am quite aware that there may be occasions on which it is necessary to suspend the Standing Orders of the House and allow legislation to be passed rapidly in the interests, for instance, of public order, I do not consider that this is such an occasion.

I notice that in my own country the other day the Free State Government in the Dail passed a Coercion Act through all its stages in one day, enabling the Government to arrest and keep in prison without trial any person they pleased. That was a matter of public order and of emergency. They passed that Act and, no doubt, if it were a question of emergency legislation in this country, this House would do the same, at all events if a Conservative Government were in power. I can understand that. But that a Bill of this kind, dealing with reports which we have had for a long time, a Bill for which the Government do not make themselves responsible, should be brought up to this House and put through all its stages in one day is really, I think, turning this House into ridicule.

I associate myself with the protest that was made by the Leader of the remnant of the Liberal Party in this House. His protest could be applied to a great many other cases and, if you only look round the House at the present moment and at the numbers that attend here from day to day, you will realise that it is not any Party that is trying to abolish the House of Lords but the Conservative Government by its administration of business and by the way it treats this House. We talk every day of reform and of wanting more powers for this House, but the powers that we have, even the ordinary powers of revision, are put an end to when we come to the end of the Session. I do hope that somebody in authority who is able to deal with this matter will take it seriously and will try to make some sort of arrangement of our business so that, so long as we exist, we shall exist not as a farce but as a reality, and so that we may endeavour to impress our views upon the legislation of this country.


My Lords, I do not wish to express any opinion on this Bill—I do not think that it will do much harm, except to assist divorce, and I do not think it will do much good—but I do wish to protest, as I have often protested in years gone by, against taking all the stages of a 1301 in one day. After all, this is a Private Member's Bill. When the Government bring in a Bill we are told that it has been well considered and it is supposed to be a sort of sacred thing against which you must not speak or even divide—or rather, against which you must not divide or even speak. But this is a Private Member's Bill, and a Private Member's Bill which has been objected to in the House of Commons and fought on the Third Reading. It is now to be brought here, without anybody really knowing very much about it or what effect it will have, and passed through all its stages in one day.

I remember a very well-known Liberal Member of the House of Commons saying to me one day: "All Private Member's Bills are bad, but ours are the worst." I do not know whether this was a Liberal Private Member's Bill or a Conservative Private Member's Bill, but I do know that it is a Private Member's Bill, I do know that we have existed for more than a thousand years without this Bill and I do not know that we have come to very much harm. I really cannot see why we should not wait and pass this Bill, if it is really necessary, next year. It is to be earnestly hoped that next year there will be nothing on earth for the Government to do except to administer the country and cut down expenditure. In those circumstances, if they think that this is such a good Bill, they can very well introduce it next Session and bring it to us when we have time to consider it.

I remember, when I first had the honour of coming into this House, hearing a very strong speech by the late Marquess Curzon of Kedleston against forcing this House to legislate hurriedly at the end of the Session, and that speech was supported by the noble Marquess the present Lord Salisbury. And yet, notwithstanding the fact that both the late Leader and the present Leader of my Party in this House had expressed themselves strongly against the habit of bringing forward a lot of Bills at the end of the Session and passing them without consideration, we are asked now to pass a Private Member's Bill which has been opposed in another place by a very prominent lawyer. The chief opponent of the Bill was Sir Ellis Hume-Williams, a prominent lawyer concerned in cases which this Bill affects. Surely his opinion is worth some consideration. I have known him for a great number of years and I never knew him oppose the Government before. If he has opposed them on this occasion I think there is no doubt that he must be right. I do not know if it is too late, but I would appeal to my noble and learned friend, for whom, as he knows, I have a very great personal respect, to allow this Bill to stand over for the present and to let us discuss it in peace and calm two months from now.


My Lords, I entirely sympathise with the expressions that have fallen from the noble Earl and, for once, I sympathise with the expressions that have fallen from the noble Lord, who is not unknown in connection with powers of obstruction, but this measure, after all, is really a measure that your Lordships have passed before. As I read it, it is very nearly in the same shape as the measure that you previously passed, after much discussion. I remember being present and listening to a speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, on this subject.


I have never spoken before on this subject.


I am very sorry. I thought I had heard the noble Viscount speak on this subject. I certainly have heard speeches which might very well have come from him, which is another matter. Really, nobody denies that this is a good Bill. Nobody denies that the evil is enormous. We may or may not be able to check it, but we ought to do our best, and, as an old Judge who has had large experience in these matters, I think I should be wrong if I did not urge your Lordships to pass the measure.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended), it was moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Darling.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:


Clause 1:

Restriction on publication of reports of judicial proceedings.

(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to the publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the Court; or to the publishing of any matter in any separate volume or part of any bonâ fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in Courts of law, or in any publication of a technical character bonâ fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.


I desire to move, with regard to subsection (4) of this clause, an Amendment that is not precisely in the form in which it is on the Order Paper. I would not myself have introduced this Amendment, nor do I think it is very necessary or important, but a public Department has taken the view that some such Amendment as this is necessary, and yesterday I put down the; Amendment as it stands on the Paper. Since then I have been in communication with the official draftsman, and I would therefore venture to move the Amendment in a form very nearly the same as that which is on the Paper, but differing from it and making it, I think, more perfect. It is in subsection (4), before the first "publishing," to insert "printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings or to the printing or."

I ought to explain that these words are supposed to be necessary because it is thought—I do not think so myself—that some printer would be nervous when called upon to print the pleadings and copies of documents to be used in a trial about to come on. I do not think that there is much in that, because proceedings under this Bill can only be commenced on the fiat of the Attorney-General. Still, as it is thought that a printer might take this view, and that it might be that a man would really be committing a crime but would not be prosecuted for it—for that reason, while apologising to the House, I venture to move the words in the form in which I have just read them.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 21, after ("the") insert ("printing of any aleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings or to the printing or").—(Lord Darling.)


This is not a printed Amendment, and it is a little difficult to follow. I should like to ask whether under this Amendment a new liberty or licence is to be extended to the Press, because pleadings are not privileged if printed in the newspapers now.


I am sorry the noble Viscount has not had an opportunity of reading this Amendment, but I think if he had read the Amendment as it stands on the Paper, which he might have done if lie had cared, he would have seen that this confers no new liberty or licence upon the Press. It is intended, as I explained, to relate to the proceedings while they are still going on—to the pleadings printed for the use of the Judge and parties in the case—and not at all to extend the liberty of the Press to the printing of pleadings, which may be perfectly obscene and undesirable for publication in the newspapers.


I would like to ask your Lordships whether it is possible to conceive an instance which would better illustrate the inconvenience of the proceedings in which we are now engaged. There are a number of members of this House who are fully capable of understanding the wording of an Amendment, and capable of appreciating fine distinctions which are not always, perhaps, quite clear to the lay mind, but I would desire to ask in this House, with many learned and distinguished lawyers present, how many there are who could rise at this moment and say that they understand what it is that the noble and learned Lord is now proposing. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that no one really quite appreciates what is being put forward. I am not complaining, of course, of the noble and learned Lord, who has devised something better than the Department of the Government which proposed it.


I beg the pardon of the noble Marquess. What I have moved is exactly what the Department drew up, and I put it forward as being better than that which I, with the assistance of Lord Merrivale, drew up yesterday.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. As we go deeper, so the truth becomes more apparent. Here is an Amendment put down to be passed, and yet those whose business it is to consider the matter immediately put forward reasons why it is necessary to move it in a different form. I say quite frankly that I do not at present understand what it is that the noble and learned Lord is proposing as an Amendment. I do appreciate the words as they appear on the Paper, because I have had an opportunity of reading them, but I do not understand the full effect of the Amendment as it is now moved. I am strongly in favour of the Bill, and I do not wish to take any step which would interfere with the passing of it, although I join cordially and fully in the protest which has been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, especially when we bear in mind that this Bill is a Private Member's Bill and not a Government Bill. It is clearly not a matter which the Government can say is so pressing that it must be passed this Session, otherwise they would themselves have introduced it.

I enter a protest against the course that has been taken, and as I listened to the discussion in this House I have been wondering whether exactly the same procedure would have been adopted if this Bill had come up while another Government had been in power, and that other Government had asked that there should be a suspension of the Standing Order, so that a Private Member's Bill should pass on almost the last day of the Session. I venture, with great respect, and with a due sense of the justice and fairness which characterise your Lordships' House, to doubt whether in that case the result would have been the same.


As I understand it, a Government Department put down the Amendment which appears on the Paper. They only put it down, as I understand, yesterday. Having seen their own Amendment in print they came to the conclusion that it was a bad one and wanted altering.


Not a bad one.


Well, that it wanted altering. How do we know that they will not to-morrow think it wants altering again, and, if that is so, how are we to do it? I am perfectly certain of one thing that the very worst thing that anybody can do is to pass hasty legislation.


My Lords, I only desire to speak on my own behalf, and not for those with whom I act. I must say I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson. I think it is a monstrous thing that a Bill of this kind introduced by a Private Member should be passed through all stages at quite the end of the Session. I am one of those who do not like this Bill; I am not ashamed to say so. I have examined the question very frequently, because I believe that there is a greater safeguard in publicity than in the attempt to obscure publicity under a Bill of this kind. I know that that has not been the view generally expressed.

I was very much struck by the complication of the Amendment moved by the noble Lord. My opinion in that respect has been confirmed entirely by what has been said by the noble Marquess. If the noble Marquess, with all his experience in matters of this kind, is still in doubt as to the meaning of the Amendment, what must be the state of mind of an ordinary member of the House? I suppose I have some knowledge of legal matters, but I confess I am quite at sea as to what is really proposed in this Amendment. We have, of course, the Amendment on the Paper, put on the Paper at the last moment, but there is really no chance of reasonable discussion if that Amendment is itself to be amended. Such a procedure means that, as regards any control over a Bill of this kind, your Lordships are giving up your function entirely.


I do not want to deprive noble Lords of their grumble, which they have enjoyed to the full extent, but I want to make two observations. Lord Banbury seems to think that the Amendment on the Paper is a Government Amendment, improved to-day. That is not so. The Amendment on the Paper is that of my noble friend, which he drafted without consultation, or, at all events without putting the terms to the Home Office; the Amendment which he moves to-day is an improvement, I think, on that Amendment, approved by the Home Office. That is the difference between the two. The second observation is this. The noble Marquess opposite, who understands almost everything, tells us that he does not understand this Amendment as moved. The effect of it is this—and he will understand it at once—to make clear that it shall not be an offence under the Act to print pleadings and transcripts of evidence for use in any action, or to communicate those papers to persons concerned in the action. I am sure it is now clear to the noble Marquess and to other noble Lords.


When noble and learned Lords are unable to agree as to what this Amendment means, what inference is an unfortunate layman like myself to draw with regard to its meaning? And what is our position generally as a House? Here is a Bill which has been before the country for some months, in fact it was passed last year in another place, and then considered by this House, and this year, having already been before another place, it now comes before us at the end of the Session. Let me say at once that I am entirely in favour of the Bill: it is with the question of procedure that I am concerned. We are asked to pass the Bill through all its stages this afternoon. We have agreed to the Second Reading without a Division, and at the very last moment the noble Lord who is responsible for the Bill—for the Government disclaim all responsibility—introduces an Amendment which is so obscure that he does not move his own draft, but proposes it in another form which we have not seen, and asks us to pass it without further consideration.

Although the Government disclaim responsibility for this Amendment, I understood from Lord Darling that this Amendment is practically a Government Amendment, because it comes from the Home Office, so that the Home Office and the Government are responsible for it. I do not think this is treating the House at all fairly, and I agree with every word said by Lord Carson in his admirable speech. I think he showed conclusively that this is just the sort of procedure which reduces the influence and the advantage for good of your Lordships' House. I would ask your Lordships, therefore, whether in these circumstances it is not our duty, without in any sense going back on the Second Reading of the Bill and preventing the passing of the Bill, to vote against this Amendment, because we have no idea of what its effect may be on the Bill and also because a protest should be made against the method in which it has been proposed.

On Question. Amendment agreed to.

LORD DARLING moved, in subsection (4), before the second "publishing", to insert "printing or". The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is that the section shall cover the printing as well as the publishing of the matter referred to therein. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 23, after the second ("the") insert ("printing or").—(Lord Darling.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Report of Amendments be now received.

Moved, That the Report of Amendments be now received.—(Lord Darling.)


My Lords, I am not very well acquainted with the, rules, but would it be in order to move to leave out the words used by the noble Lord and to insert "that the Bill be now read a third time"? It would shorten the farce, which would be a great thing.


It would not be in order to do that.

On Question, Motion agreed to: Amendments reported accordingly.

Bill read 3ª, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.