§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, before public business begins may I ask the noble Marquess who leads the House whether he has any communication to make regarding business before the Prorogation?
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, we are within measurable distance of the Prorogation and I have therefore made myself fully acquainted with all the details of the business that yet remains to be transacted. Your Lordships are aware that we meet to-morrow at 11 o'clock and the principal Bill to be taken will be the Agricultural Credits Bill, on Report, together with other Bills which your Lordships will see upon the Paper, most of them Bills of a more or less formal, or at any rate non-controversial, character. On Monday the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Bill and the Marriages (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Bill are down for Committee and there are lesser Bills. On Tuesday the Racecourse Betting Bill stands for Committee and the Finance Bill for Second Reading.
As your Lordships are aware we do not generally discuss the other stages of the Finance Bill, but the Second Reading does give an opportunity to noble Lords to discuss the financial policy of the Government, of which they occasionally avail themselves. At any rate, that Bill will be put down as the second Order Tuesday and on the same day the Rating Bill will be taken on Report or, if there are no Amendments in Committee, Third Reading. On Wednesday, if there is a further stage of the Rating Bill, it will be taken on that day, and the Racecourse Betting Bill will be down for Report or Third Reading, as the case may be. But, with certain exceptions that I shall mention in a moment, those are the principal Bills that remain to 1347 be discussed, apart, as I have said, from smaller Bills, like the Naval Prize Bill, which do not generally give rise to any discussion.
In addition, there are two Bills, one of which is an important Bill, that has not reached your Lordships' House. I refer to the Companies Bill. I say that it is an important Bill but it is an old friend of your Lordships. I think it has already been through this House twice. Of course we have not yet seen the form in which the Bill will reach us from the House of Commons. It was introduced in the Commons in the form in which your Lordships agreed to it last year, but there have been certain modifications of a more or less substantial kind. I say this because I am anxious not to mislead the House. On the last occasion I said that the changes were trivial, but I have ascertained that they are not trivial but substantial alterations, though not, I think, controversial. In order to be quite honest with the House I make that little correction of what I said on the last occasion. The Bill has undergone certain modifications, though not in its main structure, and certain things have been put in. I propose to take the Second Reading of that Bill on Monday.
What is to be the fate of that Bill? There will remain, of course, the rest of next week for its discussion and really I am in the hands of your Lordships. I will invite those noble Lords who are interested in the subject to examine the Bill, and if they consider that public service is very much prejudiced by its passage, I will not make any promise but certainly I would consider with my colleagues any representation that they might make to me. I believe that arrangements might be made that would be suitable to all Parties. At any rate, without making any promise, I would say in my capacity as being responsible for the business of your Lordships' House without respect of Party, that I would ask the leading Peers in all parts of the House to consider that Bill. It is a Bill of great importance of which the business community are eagerly awaiting the passage. That is absolutely true and, as I said before, it has been considered in great detail by your Lordships I think on two previous occasions, certainly on one. Its main structure remains the same as when you dealt with it.
1348 There is another Bill, the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Bill which has been read a first time in your Lordships' House but has not yet been read a second time. I propose to put down that Bill also for Second Reading on Monday. The observations that I have made in reference to the Companies Bill may be repeated in respect of this Bill. I ought to say that it is a Bill that is eagerly awaited by the registrars whose conditions of service are the subject matter of its provisions. It is, of course, not a Bill of anything like the importance of the Companies Bill, but it reaches us on a very late day in the Session. There again, I would, if I may, very respectfully invite your Lordships in all parts of the House to consider that Bill and consider whether it is so little controversial as to be suitable to be dealt with by your Lordships rather than that the interests which are involved of those persons whose positions are dealt with should be allowed to stand by. There is one last Bill but with that I do not think you will find any difficulty. It has not reached us. It is called the Superannuation (Diplomatic Service) Bill and is mainly a Money Bill. It has to do with the proper treatment of pensions and superannuation of the members of the diplomatic service and I do not imagine that it is the least controversial in any respect. I hope, therefore, that that Bill will be treated as a matter of course. I hope I have been sufficiently candid to your Lordships and I will leave myself in your hands.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, we on this side thank the noble Marquess for his candour and lucidity. He has told us what his wishes are with regard to future business before the Prorogation. There are only two Bills on which I would like to say a word. I do not know how far the Companies Bill has been reconstructed in the other House. The noble Marquess is quite right in saving that it has been very carefully considered in this House on, I think, two former occasions, but could he say how soon he thinks we shall be able to get a print of it? If it is to be put down for Monday and there have been substantial alterations of course we would like an opportunity of considering them before the Second Reading. I am not suggesting that there may be any 1349 difficulties but I do not know what is the nature of the alterations which have been made and I am sorry to say that our common friend, if I may so term him, Lord Muir Mackenzie, is not very well and will probably not be here on Monday next. The Companies Bill is rather in his care and he has asked me to take care of it if he is not able to be here himself on Monday, but until we are able to see the alterations which have been made it is not possible to give any definite answer as to the future course the Bill. I should not think that there would be any difficulty with regard to the Registration (Births, Deaths and Marriages) Bill. As to the Superannuation (Diplomatic Service) Bill that, I suppose, is a matter of money. I therefore think the statement of the noble Marquess is satisfactory. I may add that there may be a matter which we should like to discuss before the Prorogation and if we come to the conclusion that we wish to discuss it we will give the noble Marquess notice. The noble Marquess did not say on what day we are likely to prorogue.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, for my own part I should like to say with how much satisfaction I have listened to the statement of the noble Marquess. On previous occasions I remember Leaders of this House asking for permission to advance a great many more than one Bill through its various stages and I think it is a testimony to the care which the noble Marquess has taken to see that Bills do reach this House in due time that there should be such a short black list. So far as the Registration (Births, Deaths and Marriages) Bill is concerned, I, like the noble and learned Lord, anticipate no difficulty, although I do not think that that Bill has been before your Lordships on a previous occasion.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
Still, it is a comparatively unimportant matter and we always allow some latitude to the Government at the end of the Session. With regard to the Companies Bill I 1350 regret a little bit that we have not some method of procedure by which we can shorten our proceedings in regard to that Bill. It has been before your Lordships on previous occasions, we have approved of its principles and have been through it with great care and made a certain number of Amendments, and it does not seem necessary to go through all the formal procedure of considering it again. I wish we had some method by which it would be possible to confine our attention to the alterations which have been made since the Bill was before this House on the last occasion. However, there is nothing in our Standing Orders which allows us to do that, although I hope that when the Bill comes up for discussion noble Lords who speak will confine themselves to those points which are different rather than traverse the ground which has already more than once been traversed in this House.
There are two other things which I will say. Although I have no objection to offer to the sitting to-morrow, may I ask, or venture to hope, that on another occasion we shall be given something like a fortnight's notice of a Friday sitting? After all, it is very much better to be warned and then have no sitting than to find within the last few days that there is to be a sitting. Many of your Lordships are accustomed to make engagements in the country and a fortnight's notice would be of assistance. I would also be very glad if the noble Marquess could give us any definite information with regard to the next meeting of Parliament. Being one of those who look well ahead, it is important to me to make engagements several months in advance, and I shall be very glad of the earliest information which he is able to give.
My Lords, I would like to say one word with regard to the Companies Bill. The noble Marquess recognises that this Bill is of great importance to the business community, and is eminently of the character of Bills on which the revising powers of this House can be usefully employed. I know the noble Marquess sympathises with the view that it is unfortunate that we should not have ample time in which to consider it, and I am not going to make any complaint, for it is not his fault, but can he tell us when we shall be able 1351 to see a copy of the Bill in its final form, because it looks almost as if we should only have twenty-four hours, or perhaps two days, for considering possible Amendments. Everyone would regard it as a misfortune if the Bill were not passed, but it would be unfortunate if this House were not able to exercise such revising functions as it is able to exercise, through want of time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I say in the first instance that I will make a careful note of the request that Friday sittings should be subject to as long notice as possible. I think the noble Earl might have been quite certain from long experience that we should sit on the Friday before the Prorogation. I do not remember in the last fifteen years a single Session in which that has not happened, but I will take care to make a note of his wishes in the matter. With regard to the Companies Bill I understand we shall be able to circulate a copy of the Bill as it reaches us so that it will reach your Lordships on Saturday morning. That will be the earliest time because it will only be read a first time here on Friday. It is a lengthy Bill, and it will involve a little trouble. I had desired to take the Second Reading on Monday. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, might perhaps criticise that as rather short notice if the Bill is only circulated on Saturday. But may I say that any points which your Lordships desire effectively to raise are eminently Committee points. The general structure of the Bill is agreed between the two Houses, as the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, said just now. There really is no reason except that it is so prescribed in our Standing Orders why we should spend much time over the Second Reading stage. The Committee stage is important, and I hope that if your Lordships are good enough to read the Bill a second time on Monday we should not require to take the Committee stage until Wednesday, so that there will still be forty-eight hours more in which the noble Earl will be able to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the new provisions, so far as they are important, of the Bill.
I want to correct one thing which the noble Earl [Lord Beauchamp] said. I did not say that the Registration Bill 1352 was unimportant; I should not like that to be said. There are certain elements of opinion which are hostile to it in the country. It is not unimportant but it only affects, comparatively speaking, a very small number of people. Of course, your Lordships quite understand that I did not intend to give a complete catalogue of all the Bills. There will be the Post Office (Sites) Bill and that sort of Bill which we have to get through but your Lordships do not generally take very much time over such Bills.