§ LORD CHARNWOOD rose to move to resolve, That is is important for the sake of well considered legislation that Government Bills (not involving any principle which is at issue between political Parties) should as a rule be introduced first in this House in the earlier part of the Session. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should have been very glad if this question were being brought before your Lordships by someone qualified to speak on it with that authority which only official experience in public affairs can give. I confess that for some years I have been expecting that this matter would be brought forward and debated in your Lordships' House, and I have, at last, come to feel that it is time that somebody, no matter who, did invite your Lordships to consider it.
§ Before I come to the terms of the Motion which I have set down may I point out that the question with which it deals is quite distinct from that question about the constitution and composition of this House upon which our views diverge. This House may be regarded, and any Second Chamber may be regarded, as chiefly of interest because of the steadying and restraining influence which it may exercise when legislative questions arise which involve great principles and arouse great passions. But these occasions are rare, and they are likely to become rarer in years to come after great constitutional changes which we have lived to see. Meanwhile, legislative questions of another order become more and more insistent in our civilization—matters requiring businesslike legislation, thrashed out in a businesslike spirit 318 by experienced men. It is no small part of the function attributed to a Second Chamber that it provides more fully for thorough deliberation in regard to legislation of that comparatively humdrum character.
§ Those few of us in this House who from the first supported the Parliament Act and are quite impenitent about it, may have been right or wrong, but certainly we did not wish to see this House less efficient, but more efficient, for the discharge of those purposes which by universal consent a Second Chamber exists to serve. I know that there are members of your Lordships' House who, whenever any question regarding this House arises, think first of the possibility of a stronger Chamber. They may be right or wrong, but to those who hold that opinion I would venture to say this: the question that I am now submitting is one which will still remain whatever further powers you may succeed in adding to the powers now belonging to this House, or whatever changes you may be able to bring about in its constitution. Let there be here in our place the most theoretically perfect Second Chamber that skill can devise, a Chamber such that nobody can possibly cavil at the way in which it is constituted and composed: such a Chamber must nevertheless sink into insignificance and fail to secure any great public esteem and confidence if the public are accustomed to see it, for the greater part of the year, as nothing more than a dignified, debating society and for the rest of the year compelled to perform its functions in a perfunctory and hugger-mugger fashion. No new Second Chamber could command greater confidence, and support from the public at large than does this House if it had to perform its work under the conditions which are from year to year imposed upon this House. Indeed, it is probable that any new Second Chamber, if it were treated in that way, would command far less public confidence and support than does this actual House.
§ It would be entirely my own fault if I should be at all long in submitting arguments for the Motion that I have put down, because these arguments seem to me to be, every one of them, almost self-evident propositions upon which detailed argument is surely superfluous. Admittedly this House possesses a high 319 capacity for deliberation and for counsel such as is excelled by no other Assembly in the world and such as has been equalled by very few at any time. Notoriously this House numbers among its members men of high distinction, drawn from almost every possible walk in life, and besides those men, distinguished in various branches of the public service, there are a great number of men in this House, possibly less conspicuous and less distinguished, who excel by their constant and close acquaintance with the actual working of clinch of our legislation by the local authorities. In that particular respect it is almost in the nature of the case that, greatly as I respect the House of Commons, its members can hardly number among them so many men who are in close touch with our local life as does this House.
§ Such is the admitted capacity and potentiality of this House as a Second Chamber. What is it called upon to do? Year by year we come together and there follow long weeks and months during which our life corresponds, to put it plainly, to the description given in a famous song, in which the poet passes in review a number of crises in our history and in each case closes his summary with the observation that during the period in question the House of Lords did nothing in particular and did it very well. Such is the august rôle with which we are called upon to content ourselves during far the greater part of the year. Then ensue, at the end of every Session, those hurried weeks the conditions of which are so familiar to your Lordships that I shall not detain you for a moment further to describe them.
§ What is the necessary consequence upon our legislation? I need not take examples. We know perfectly well that towards the conclusion of every Session we are called together to discharge work which we cannot discharge to our own satisfaction or to the complete satisfaction of anybody else. We all know this, and we all know the difficulties under which members of this House are placed. We can also, if we stop to think of it, realise the hopeless burden that is thrown during those weeks upon the expert advisers of the Government, upon the draftsmen and the officials of public Departments who have to put into shape and consider in their exact practical bearing Amendments that may be pro- 320 posed to any measure. There is not, I believe, in the Civil Service or among the expert advisers of the Government of whatever sort a single man who would contend that our legislation does not suffer very severely from this notorious state of affairs.
§ There is an obvious remedy for this state of things, and it is the remedy that I have described to you in the Resolution that I am about to move. When I ask myself why that remedy is not adopted, why has no Government—not the present Government alone but successive Governments—taken in hand the problem of making the fullest use that it can of the capacities of this House, I hesitate, because I cannot conceive what sound reasons there may be for the continuance of this notorious state of affairs, and I am reduced to praying and hoping that if there be any good reason, or any valid excuse except that the tradition has grown up and is a survival of past times, the Government will fully and frankly explain their reason to us to-day. I cannot conceive for a moment that the House of Commons is so small-minded an Assembly—I am certain it is not—as to resent anything which may add importance and dignity to your Lordships' House. I conceive that the House of Commons would feel greatly relieved to have their labours and responsibilities lightened by some measures coming to them after having been thoroughly thrashed out, and part of their work done for them, in this House.
§ I can indeed imagine that Ministers of State, who are chiefly members of the House of Commons, might naturally wish that measures emanating from their Departments should in the first instance be introduced into the world by themselves, but that is not a serious consideration to weigh in the scale against the consideration which I have just advanced. I cannot conceive that that is a matter which really weighs with any honorable, reasonable and public-spirited man. I suspect the whole cause is that this is a tradition inherited from past times, when the work of legislation was far lighter than it is at the present day. I cannot conceive that there is any serious obstacle to the introduction first into this House almost every Session of Bills of importance. There are, of course, some 321 definite classes of measures which naturally must be brought in the first instance into another place, but the broad proposition is that many important Bills might just as well be first introduced in this House. I cannot conceive that any man can doubt that.
§ I do not think that I need detain your Lordships longer. Perhaps I ought to say that I do not know whether the precise wording of my Motion is beyond criticism. It is just possible that it might be put into some more uncontrovertible form, and if that be the case, and if the noble Marquess opposite would suggest on behalf of the Government that form, of course I am not wedded to the particular terms in which I have cast a pretty plain general proposition. Perhaps I might be allowed to say this in conclusion: When the thought arises of the great capacities and possibilities of this House, and its high qualities, there are those of your Lordships who might feel embarassed in dwelling upon them, lest they should seem to praise themselves. I am exempt from any such timidity. Nobody who has suddenly, and somewhat contrary to his expectations, found himself a member of this House, can have been here, even for a very few weeks, without conceiving an extremely high sense of the singular capacities of this House, and without beginning to feel a most profound respect and affection for it. To that first feeling a very few years experience adds another, and a sadder feeling—namely, that this remarkable Assembly of such eminent capacity and deliberative power, in the verdict of all observers, this great asset of our Constitution, this potential source of so much added efficiency to the working of our popular government, is belittled and reduced to a condition bordering upon absolute futility. It is with a very great sense of the importance of the question which I am raising that I have in these few imperfect remarks ventured to bring it before you, and I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That it is important for the sake of well considered legislation that Government Bills (not involving any principle which is at issue between political Parties) should as a rule be introduced first in this House in the earlier part of the Session.—(Lord Charnwood.)
§ LORD HUNSDON OF HUNSDON
Lords, I do not rise to criticise the 322 Resolution of the noble Lord opposite, except to say that in my judgment it does not go nearly far enough. I have very little experience of Parliamentary procedure, and therefore I hope you will bear with me in any suggestion which I have to make, but I do desire to propose an addition to the noble Lord's Motion. It is to this effect:—and that any Bill which has been passed in any Session by one House only may be introduced into the other House in the next Session of the same Parliament, and treated as if it had been passed by the first House in that Session.I am well aware that this matter, and similar matters, have been discussed by various Committees, but I am quite unable to find out what reaons they had for rejecting the suggestion. As a very humble member of this House, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I view with growing impatience the fact that at the end of every Session we are compelled to pass Bills in what the noble Lord called a perfunctory manner, and that we, a revising Chamber, should be told that, if we revise, any Amendment which we put forward will cause the Bill to be lost. If I had any influence with this House I should ask your Lordships to reject every single Bill which comes forward in that way, and then I am certain the Government would find some remedy for the evil, if not the one which I have suggested. All I wish to say further is that in a matter of this kind I should certainly defer entirely to my noble friend the Leader of the House.
At end insert "and that any Bill which has been passed in any Session by one House only may be introduced into the other House in the next Session of the same Parliament and treated as if it had been passed by the first House in that Session."—(Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon.)
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I am not so much concerned with the particular form which the Resolution should take as I am with the real grievance which the noble Lord opposite has brought to our notice to-day. Ever since I came into this House, which is now a considerable time ago, I have at the end of every Session protested against the way in which the House has been treated and not been allowed properly to do the business which is put upon it by the Con- 323 stitution of the Realm. Take the end of the last two or three Sessions. We had, three Sessions ago, a Rating Bill of a most complicated character, a Bill which would probably come within the description of Bills referred to by the noble Lord opposite. That Rating Bill has turned out almost a complete fiasco and certainly, as regards the points with regard to which for the last hundred years we who have to administer the law in the Courts have been calling out for amendment, not a single one of them has been touched. Then, last Session, you had a tremendous Bill changing the whole position between landlords and tenants of business premises and allowing compensation and fixing rents—a Bill which everybody in the House admitted ought to be thoroughly examined by a Committee who would go into the whole business. Of course the old answer was given: "We have not time. It took two or three months to examine that Bill in the House of Commons, but you, my-Lords, must examine it in a night or two. That is all the time we can give to it." What is the result? Just like the result of the Rating Bill. Already solicitors have been advising people to have no transaction whatever under that Act until it is explained by the Courts, and estate agents, auctioneers and others are giving exactly the same advice.
In the case of a Bill of that kind have we done our duty? Everybody knows we have not done our duty, and the worst of it is that it is a Conservative Government which is telling us we must not do our duty. I was speaking in the City the other day, at a dinner at which the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs were present, and I was called upon for the first time of my life to reply for the House of Lords. I referred to this matter and told them of the peculiar position I occupied, being a Law Lord, sent here under strict injunctions to take no part in politics, but to spend every morning from half-past ten till four o'clock in the afternoon explaining to litigants, at great cost to them, what was the meaning of the hasty legislation which has been passed by the two Houses of Parliament. And that is really what has happened. In regard to the Bill of last year, I do not think anybody could even make a guess at the number of hundreds 324 of thousands of pounds that it will cost to landlords and tenants, and that will eventually, of course, in one way or other, come out of the different estates in which they are concerned.
But I doubt whether it is possible to get the Government to do anything. The truth of it is that by degrees this House is disappearing from inanition. It is not that there are not men capable of doing the work. Whether this is the ideal Second Chamber or not, I think that by accident you have here as many competent men to revise Statutes as there could be in any Second Chamber that could be set up. But, of course, the House dwindles away for the simple reason that there is nothing to do from one day to the other, and then in the end the best service you can render to your Party is to do nothing. I do not know whether the present House of Commons is a real business Assembly. I only know that they send us up very bad Bills for me and my colleagues to construe in our legal capacity. But would it not be possible to have some joint conference between this House and the other House, at which some scheme might be gone into? My noble friend Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon has suggested one which seems very simple. I never could understand why a Bill could stand over the Summer Recess and yet could not stand over the Winter Recess so as to be brought forward in another Session. That is one suggestion, and there may be many others. But would it not be worth while to make some effort with the House of Commons, so that this House may be made use of as a revising Chamber?
A great many Bills, as the noble Lord opposite said, have nothing whatever to do with politics, but what both Houses forget is that every mistake that is made in a Bill has to be rectified, not at the cost of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, but at the cost of the litigant. That is a terrible grievance. Law is so expensive that it is sometimes made impossible for people to assert their rights at all. If it is possible to institute some method of producing better and more accurate litigation, in the interests of those whose rights and liberties are affected, surely it is the duty of this House and the other House to do all in their power to save the people of this country from the expense 325 that they incur through faulty legislation.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I need not say to those who have long been members of your Lordships' House that this is no new question, and we are all agreed upon a great many points in connection with it. I am sure nobody regrets more than the noble Marquess the Leader of the House the way in which the other House shows a tendency to send up Bills at the last moment every Session, and to give us little time in which to consider them. I should like to pay a tribute to the way in which the noble Marquess, since he has been Leader of the House, has made a point of giving your Lordships more time than we used to have in which to consider Bills. It is not fair to speak on this question without mentioning the great efforts the noble Marquess has made in that direction. In regard to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon—an equally old remedy—that is not a matter on which I am prepared to say anything in particular, and I would venture to say to my noble friend who moved the original Resolution that he had better in this matter accept the advice of the Leader of the House as to whether he should add it to his Resolution or not.
With regard to the speech of the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down, I do think that one remedy for the state of things in this House would be for us to sit later at night and to be more ready to listen to the more junior members of your Lordships' House. I think there is a tendency for the Front Benches to talk too much and the Back Benches to talk too little—and perhaps I may say that as one who is conscious that he addresses the House much too often. It might not be so convenient, but I am sure it would be an admirable thing if we made it a practice to sit later at night and encouraged the younger members of your Lordships' House to address us more frequently. We have excellent speeches made to us at the moving and seconding of the Address, and pious aspirations are then expressed that the noble Lords who have just spoken will continue to address your Lordships, and yet somehow or other they never do. Occasionally we have admirable and brilliant speeches from noble Lords who are 326 experts upon particular matters which come before your Lordships' House, but those are the exceptions, and I wish that we sat oftener and had more speeches from members of your Lordships' House who have more lately joined us.
One thing that I hope will not be said by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is that the Parliament Act is to blame for this state of affairs. If it is the Parliament Act let us remember exactly the situation and what is the effect of that Act upon the proceedings of your Lordships House. There is, of course, the Finance Bill, upon which we have every year what is often a very useful discussion as illuminating generally the financial position of the country. We have a discussion just as we used to have even before the passing of the Parliament Act. The other effect of the Parliament Act is really to prevent your Lordships' House from forcing a General Election in respect of every measure which is introduced by a Liberal or a Labour Government. Surely it was not the intention of your Lordships' Rouse that that should be the result; yet when the Liberal Government came into office in 1906 that was the position in which it found itself. The Education Bill, the Licensing Bill and other things were thrown out by your Lordships and we were unable to come to any agreement upon them. The only alternative would have been to have forced a General Election. It is obviously felt, and your Lordships will not be surprised when I say so, by Liberals, and also I think by Labour, to be unfair that they should be forced to have a General Election every time they wish to pass into law a measure of first-class importance. That really is the second chief effect of the Parliament Act. But surely that is not the reason for the present condition of your Lordships' House and the fact that so few of its members take part in the discussions.
Various remedies have been suggested; but it is obvious, I think, that there are great difficulties in some of the suggestions which have been made. I can imagine Bills being introduced into your Lordships' House when a Liberal Government was in office and the Amendments made here not being acceptable in another place. In those circumstances we should probably find that very little 327 time was saved. On the other hand, there is, I think, a great deal which might be done, not only in the direction, suggested by my noble friend behind me, of measures which are not of first-class controversial importance, but in regard to other matters as well. Take, for instance, the Poor Law Reform Bill. His Majesty's Government has communicated with various public bodies in the country, I believe, and has sent them copies of the Bill asking for their opinion. Your Lordships' House contains a number of people who are intimately acquainted with local government as members of county councils and as chairmen of such bodies, and I think a measure of that kind might very well be introduced into your Lordships' House and given, as it were, a preliminary canter in the year previous to that in which it is brought into the House of Commons in order that it might become one of the chief measures of the year.
The time of the House of Lords is limited, of course, and we find ourselves cramped very often at the end of the Session. That is not always the fault of His Majesty's Government. It is very often the fault of members of your Lordships' House who postpone to the end of the Session the putting down of Questions in which they are interested. It really is unfair very often to the Government of the day that this should be the case. If your Lordships would look back at the OFFICIAL REPORT for last year or the year before, I am sure you would see that a number of Questions were asked which might just as well have been put at this time of year but which were postponed until the approach of the end of the Session reminded noble Lords that there was very little time left. If your Lordships would adopt a self-denying ordinance and utilise Wednesdays for Questions at the beginning of the Session only there would be more time at the disposal of the House for other matters at the end of the Session. Whether the proposals made by my noble friend Lord Charnwood are adopted by His Majesty's Government or not, I am sure that we shall have a very sympathetic answer from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House.
VISCOUNT FTTZALAN OF DERWENT
My Lords, I had no intention of taking part in this debate when I came down to 328 your Lordships' House, but I should like to say that in my humble judgment there are only two remedies for what has been mentioned by noble Lords. The first is single-chamber government. I do not think anybody in this House would advocate that, even from the Front Bench opposite. The only other remedy is that suggested by my noble friend below me; that is, to carry Bills over from one Session to another. My noble friend said that he had never been able to see what were the objections to that course. One objection is that modern Governments appear to be obsessed with the mania for producing more legislation than any of their predecessors, and if the custom of producing such an enormous output of legislation were to be continued, facilitated by carrying Bills over from one Session to another, I confess I should look upon it with some alarm.
A great deal more could be done than is done if only Governments would introduce into Your Lordships' House not only Bills of a non-controversial character, as suggested by the noble Lord opposite, but Bills of a controversial character, some of them big Bills. The noble Earl opposite alluded to the Poor Law Bill as a possibility. The difficulty of that (and I have had experience, of it in another place) is that modern Governments will not allow to this House a proper or full share of Cabinet Ministers. The result is that if a Cabinet Minister in another place is in charge of a Bill he naturally wishes, because he probably knows more about it than anybody else, to have, the responsibility of introducing that Bill himself. Therefore, there is always a difficulty in getting Ministers sitting in another place to allow Bills of their own to be read and dealt with for the first time in your Lordships' House.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, the Government have every reason to be glad of the Motion submitted by the noble Lord opposite and of the debate which has taken place upon it. May I say, in the first place, how much I admired the attitude of the noble Lord who moved and the appreciation he felt—I believe a perfectly well-deserved appreciation—of the high qualities of your Lordships' House, and the evident and single-minded intention on his part of trying to improve the procedure of both Houses of 329 Parliament. I am specially grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, for his contribution to the discussion and, speaking personally, for his very kind reference to myself and the very small efforts I have been able to make towards securing to your Lordships a little time at any rate (I will not put it higher than that) for the consideration of important legislation.
All your Lordships who have addressed the House to-night have shown a spirit of criticism of the existing situation—a criticism which I may say I entirely share. Each one has approached it, perhaps from a rather different angle, and some have been more outspoken than others in their condemnation, but they have all expressed a feeling of unrest, amounting even to indignation, at the wav the House is sometimes treated. There is no doubt that in our lifetime we have witnessed a steady process of erosion by the House of Commons of the power and opportunities of public service of your Lordships' House. I am not attributing any blame; I am merely recording what I believe to be the undoubted fact. Reference has been made to the Parliament Act, and the noble Earl (Earl Beauchamp) has deprecated any responsibility being attributed to the Parliament Act for the present state of things. I quite recognise the delicacy of the noble Earl's position in reference to the Parliament Act, but he never seems to me to address himself to that subject without exhibiting a reluctance, and a feeling that he has something to defend. Never does he address us on that subject with that absolute confidence which generally and very properly characterises his speeches.
The Parliament Act has had many evil consequences, but the greatest mischief which it effected was that it had a tendency to demoralise your Lordships' House. That is what, it seems to me, has never been appreciated by those who are responsible for that Act, by the Liberal party, notably, of which the noble Earl is an ornament. If you come to a body of English gentlemen and say to them: "You have presumed upon your authority; you have made a mistake in thinking you had anything like co-ordinate powers with the House of Commons; henceforth we give you notice that you will be called upon always to defer to the House of Commons, even when the 330 country agrees with you"—if you say that, and say it effectively, as the noble Earl and his friends do, the House of Lords has replied: "We have no desire to push forward our privileges. All we desired was to serve the country. If you tell us effectively, in the form of an Act of Parliament, that we no longer possess the confidence of the country in this respect, we accept your decision, but do not ask us to come up and bother. Why should we come up to vote for things over which we really have no control?" That has been the psychological effect on the members of your Lordships' House, and the result has been a gradual process of deterioration in the self-confidence with which the House of Lords approaches its functions.
I was deflected for a moment into speaking of the Parliament Act, but it is not only in regard to the Parliament Act that this process of erosion has taken place. There has been a general advance of the House of Commons upon the subject of privilege. Privilege has been pushed further and further as against your Lordships' House. Every member of the House is acquainted with what I am saving. I mean the privilege in the definition of what a Money Bill consists of; in how far we ought to be deterred from touching subjects which affect the rates; and so on. Ail that has gradually gone on, apart from legislation, as has been referred to by my noble friend Lord FitzAlan, who spoke just now. The House of Commons has absorbed the greater part of the personnel of the Government, not merely of the Cabinet Ministers, but of the Under-Secretaries too. I am not criticising it; I am merely recording the fact. Most of the Cabinet Ministers, the heads of the Departments, sit in another place, and most of the Under-Secretaries too. The result has been exactly as my noble friend described it, that when legislation comes to be proposed, inasmuch as the legislation is conceived in the brain of the head of the Department, he, of course, wants, and quite properly wants, to explain to Parliament and the country the provisions of the measure, and the reasons which have led him to favour it. That acts inevitably to concentrate the initiative of legislation more and more in the House of Commons. That is another of its results.
Lastly this process of erosion has not only taken place in power and in per 331 sonnel and initiative, but also in time. Gradually the great mass of the effective time—the legislative time of Parliament—has been absorbed by the House of Commons. Perhaps I may pass from a mere historical description to an element of criticism. I do not think that the country would complain of this erosion of the powers and position of your Lordships' House for the sake of the House of Commons, if it were balanced by a corresponding degree of efficiency. Supposing the House of Commons did its work with increasing efficiency, then, as it has absorbed the greater part of the opportunity of legislation, it would not so very much matter from the country's point of view, but I am sorry to say I do not notice that increase of efficiency. I read the Bills which come up from another place, just as my noble and learned friend does, though not with the same technical skill. Even to the uninstructed layman the drafting does appear to be amazing. I am told that there are Parliamentary reasons for drafting of that description. That may be true. Into some mysteries it is better not to probe. But the result is that the Bills, as presented to your Lordships, are in an almost incomprehensible condition. That is not merely due to the original drafting, but to the process which the Bills undergo as they pass through another place. They are the subject of very elaborate consideration, and the compromises which have to be accepted very often render the resultant legislation almost unmeaning.
Bills in that form reach your Lordships, generally speaking, as the noble Lord the mover of the Motion has very properly said, at a very late period of the Session, and we are asked to perform the function of a revising Chamber. In a fortnight it may be, or perhaps a week, even in three days, as I have known in some cases, your Lordships are asked to put an elaborate Bill into some kind of shape. That, of course, is rendered even more difficult, nay, absolutely impossible, if you are told at the same time that Amendments should be avoided. Indeed, the thing becomes laughable. On these occasions there is no defence. Bills, which have taken months in the House of Commons, which either by their original drafting—not, I should say parenthetically, by the fault of the draftsmen, who 332 are most excellent public servants who do their work most admirably—or by the process they have gone through in another place, are sent to the revising Chamber in a condition which beggars description, but with a warning that the fewer Amendments we make (or none at all) the better.
I say there is no defence for that system. It does not belong, of course, to one particular Parliament or one particular Government. It belongs to the working of our institutions. I am not criticising my own colleagues, I need hardly say, nor am I criticising noble Lords opposite. They are all creatures of this system which has grown up. But I do not think that we ought necessarily to accept the situation which is so presented. I do not think it follows that there is no remedy for what I conceive to be an abandonment of the rights of a revising Chamber. The noble Lord who moved this Motion says that the proper remedy is that Bills should be introduced into your Lordships' House. I do not deny that that would be an improvement. As a matter of fact there are a few Bills to be introduced here this year. I have a very small list—so small that I should prefer not to read it—of Bills which will, no doubt, in due time be submitted to your Lordships. But that is neither a complete remedy nor altogether, may I say to the noble Lord, a possible remedy.
There is, in the first place, the difficulty that a great many Bills involve the expenditure of money. I should say more than half involve the expenditure of money. These very naturally are introduced in another place. They require what is called a Financial Resolution in the House of Commons. I do not mean to say that it is not possible by a device to get round that difficulty, but the natural process is that Bills involving the expenditure of money should be introduced into the House of Commons. Then there is the difficulty to which I have already called your attention, that, owing to the process of evolution in our Constitution, most of the Ministers sit in another place. That is the second reason why it would be very difficult. Therefore I do not think that is the full remedy or, as I have said, a possible remedy as a general rule. If the noble Lord asks me whether I do not 333 wish to have more Bills here, I agree with him, and I say that so far as my influence goes I will use it—indeed I have used it—in that direction. But I do not think it would be right for me to assent to a Motion such as the one the noble Lord has submitted. I could not say on behalf of the Government that I thought all non-controversial Bills ought to be introduced in this House. That would be a statement which by its generality would go too far. But I hope, when I say that, that the noble Lord will realise that I have a great deal of sympathy with him.
Now I come to my noble friend's Amendment. That, as Earl Beauchamp has said, is a very old proposal. I think there is a great deal more to be said for it than the noble Earl seemed to consider. I do not mean to say that I am prepared this evening to assent to it on behalf of the Government—that would be going much too far—but I think there is a great deal to be said for it, and I should be very glad if the result of this debate should be that all your Lordships, and indeed all the members in another place, would seriously consider it. After all, apart from the special conditions of the way your Lordships' House is treated, even if those conditions did not exist the present system is very irrational. You may have a Bill going through its various stages in one House or the other, it may have been very carefully considered, an immense amount of work may have been done upon it, and then, when the end of the Session comes, if it should happen that it is not fortunate enough to find a niche of time in which to pass through another place, every atom of work which has been given to it is abandoned and destroyed. That seems to be a most irrational system. Why should that be? Why should it all be rubbed out and everything started as if there had never been a First Reading or a Second Reading, a Committee stage or a Report stage, as if none of the work of the first House had been gone through?
I say that the present system is irrational anyhow, but when it is considered in relation to the kind of situation in which we are now placed, then I must say there is a great deal to be said for my noble friend's proposal. Let us take the case of the Nursing Homes Registra- 334 tion Bill, which came before your Lordships three days before the end of the Session, with at least two or three matters of first-class principle involved in it, upon which there was great difference of opinion in your Lordships' House. The unfortunate Leader of the House—may I call him "unfortunate"?; he is unfortunate only on this occasion, in every other respect he is highly honoured — the unfortunate Leader of the House has to say to your Lordships that here are principles of great importance which you wish to discuss, here is one of the most eminent physicians in England who has several points which he wishes to put to your Lordships, which would lead to Amendments; but you must not discuss any of them. Why? Because we have only got three days, and unless in those three days we can swallow the whole of what the House of Commons has done all the labours of the House of Commons will be thrown away.
And the throwing away of labours in the House of Commons is a very formidable thing. It means that they have to begin all over again, that all those wonderful powers of discussion in the House of Commons, which we know, will begin all over again. The process of what critics sometimes call "obstruction" is recommenced, and every sort of device is employed, such devices, for instance, as preventing a quorum being formed in the Committee day after day. That is the sort of thing as to which I hardly like to use the adjective which I think properly describes procedure of that kind in a serious Assembly. All this will have to be begun all over again. When we are told, as we are told and as the Leader of the House has to tell your Lordships, that if we consider a Bill for a moment or put in a single Amendment the whole of those proceedings will recommence, then I say that the argument in favour of my noble friend's suggestion becomes extremely strong. If there were a process of carrying over to the next Session no harm would be done, the Bill would be resumed in those months just where the House of Commons had left it and the work of the country and of the House of Commons would be preserved.
The present situation is that during all the early months of the year we have 335 nothing to do and during the latter part of the Session we have a great deal too much to do. We have no proper opportunities of performing our functions as a revising Chamber. Such a state of things, I am convinced, cannot continue without some remedy. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon will admit that I have not received his proposal without sympathy, and I may say the same to the noble Lord opposite, but they will recognise that it would be impossible for me to accept either the Amendment or the original Motion on behalf of the Government. We cannot pledge ourselves to introduce all the non-controversial Bills in the House of Lords, still less can I promise on behalf of my colleagues that we could accept without further consideration the expedient of carrying over. I hope that my two noble friends will be content with the discussion that they have raised and that they will realise that at any rate those who sit upon this Bench are not insensible of the evils to which they have called attention, and that we shall be as rejoiced as they if and when an adequate remedy is found.
§ LORD HUNSDON OF HUNSDON
My Lords, I am more than content with the discussion that has taken place. I should like to add that I have heard my noble friend the Leader of the House on other occasions express sympathy with the House on the condition of affairs to which I have called attention, but that on this occasion for the first time he has expressed his sympathy with a definite remedy, and I am exceedingly obliged to him for doing so. I certainly wish to withdraw my Amendment, but I should like to be allowed to answer my noble friend Lord FitzAlan in a few words. He says that he is afraid that, if my Amendment were passed, it would increase legislation. I cannot see how it could possibly do so. When we pass Bills and the House of Commons have no time for them they put them in their wastepaper basket. Nothing happens then. The limiting factor of legislation is, not what we do in this House, but the time of the other House. If your Lordships' House could recall any Bill which the House of Commons has sent up to us and which we have not passed, then there would be force, no doubt, in my noble friend's remark. But as matters 336 stand I cannot see how legislation will be increased in any way. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I am no less content than the noble Lord opposite, Lord Hunsdon, with the course that the debate has taken. Let me say incidentally that for my own part I entirely agree with the view that he expressed in his Amendment. He has withdrawn that Amendment and I am about to ask leave to withdraw the original Motion. There is only one point about this debate which causes me some faint feeling of discontent. I regret that no part has been taken in it by noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench, uniquely qualified as they are to express the working-class point of view towards these constitutional questions. I say this rather seriously, because I do feel that to a very great extent it is an illusion to regard this House as representing merely a narrow class or to suppose that it does not hold a very real place in the esteem of the people of this country. A remark made by the noble Marquess greatly struck me. He referred to the Parliament Act. I am one of the people who seriously believe that the Parliament Act did remove something that was a serious danger to this country, but I am afraid that I must recognise it as true that it had the disastrous by-result of demoralising—I think that was his phrase—your Lordships' House. I was not in your Lordships' House for more than a few weeks before that event, so I do not know, but I can imagine that it is the case that ever since there has been a certain sense of discouragement on the part of members of your Lordships' House as to the position that you really hold in the Constitution.
I appreciate very highly the way in which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has met this Motion. He is well aware that no one in this House who refers to any question connected with the business of the House would do so in any spirit of the slightest complaint or disrespect towards himself. But there are just two points raised by him and by the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, upon which I should like to say a further word. One of the difficulties concerns Money Bills. To some extent the noble Mar- 337 quess answered himself, because he indicated that there might be ways round that difficulty in all suitable cases. I hope he will remember that he said this. There are, I believe, measures technically classed as Money Bills which are only technically so, while there are also, of course, Money Bills in the full and proper sense of the term, which are properly matters for the House of Commons to deal with. I hope that the Government will address themselves to finding some way of getting round the merely technical difficulties which arise in the case of some Bills which are classed as Money Bills. The noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, referred, as I did, to the fact that, quite properly, most of the Ministers are in the other House and they naturally like to have the handling of their own Bills. They naturally know most about them and think that a measure will stand the best chance if introduced by themselves. That might have been expected; but what is the result? The result, which nobody has attempted to deny, is that in the end, owing to this process of legislation, great measures do come through the mill of Parliament in that highly unsatisfactory state which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, has described. Surely that natural desire on the part of Ministers to be in the main responsible for their 338 own Bills, natural and honourable as it is, is one which the necessities of the case require should occasionally be ignored.
I recognise the difficulty of laying down any proposition in the form of a general rule such as I have proposed, but, if I may, I would for one moment ask the further attention of the noble Marquess. Surely the suggestion which has been made by Lord Hunsdon, and which has been made before, is worthy of serious consideration, and it has occurred to me that we might see our way a little further into this question by means of some Select Committee, or possibly a Joint Committee of both Houses, which could enquire into the whole question. It is a rather ludicrous situation that Lord Hunsdon and myself, and the noble Marquess, should really be in perfect and entire agreement, and yet the noble Marquess should be unable to assent to the proposition. I shall, if I may, at some later stage take an opportunity of seeing whether something might not be done to the effect that I have suggested. I will now ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at half-past five o'clock.