HL Deb 14 November 1928 vol 72 cc118-40

LORD HUNSDON OF HUNSDON had given Notice to move for the appointment of a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament to consider how far it would be desirable in the case where a Bill had passed through the House of Commons but where there was not sufficient time properly to consider it in the House of Lords to carry the Bill over so that in the next Session of the same Parliament, notwithstanding the Prorogation, the consent of the House of Commons given in the previous Session might remain effective, and the proceedings on the Bill be recommenced or resumed in the House of Lords.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Resolution is that a Committee be appointed to consider whether it is advisable that this House, and this House only, should carry over Bills which they have not had time to revise into the next Session of the same Parliament. As your Lordships will see it is an inquiry which is asked for. But the matter is one which affects the procedure of this House and its utility in the country, and, therefore, its influence in the country. It seems to me therefore—and I am sure your Lordships will agree with me—that it is one for the careful consideration of the House as a whole and not for the Government only. Therefore, as some of your Lordships may not be familiar with the subject, I will, with your permission, first refer to the evils from which we and the country suffer under the present system. I will then give your Lordships a slight historical survey of the question so that I may be able to give you the arguments, so far as I have been able to glean them, against the proposal to carry over which have emerged in the debates and the Reports of the Committees which have dealt with the subject.

The evil, which is, of course, fully recognised in your Lordships' House, is the impossibility of giving sufficient consideration to the Bills which come to us from another place at the end of each Session, and when such Bills are closured by compartments in the House of Commons the evil is greatly increased, because then many of the clauses are not fully discussed even there; and, as by constitutional usage a Bill which does not pass both Houses in one Session is dropped, we are faced with the alternative of either rejecting the Bill and thus wasting the time and the labour of the House of Commons or of accepting the Bill without due revision and thereby abandoning our duty as a Revising Chamber. I am informed that no such custom prevails in Australia, or in France, or in the United States, or, so far as I can learn, in any other country, and I have never heard of any evil results as a consequence. I think it is generally admitted that we have passed two Bills of late which come under this category—that is to say, the Landlord and Tenant Bill and the Nursing Homes (Registration) Bill—and certainly at the end of last Session it was a matter, I am sure, of general regret that so little time was available for this House to discuss the Companies Bill.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the dates and stages of that Bill. In the Session before last we passed a Companies Bill, and, as your Lordships know, a great deal of attention was given to it by the late Lord Chancellor and other members of this House and also by expert bodies outside, but that Bill was dropped because the House of Commons had no time to attend to it. They did, however, take up what was practically the same Bill in the next Session and they referred it to a Standing Committee. The Standing Committee made very many and substantial alterations in our Bill. Then the Report of the Standing Committee was considered by the House of Commons right at the end of last Session—to be accurate, on Wednesday the 25th and Thursday the 26th July, when the House of Commons made further substantial alterations and additions to the Bill. On the Friday—that is the following day—the Bill passed its First Reading in this House.

On the succeeding Monday we received copies of the Bill, though I believe some members may have had copies on the Saturday night. On the Monday afternoon we passed the Second Reading. There was no objection to that because there was no question of opposition to the Second Reading. On the Wednesday we had the Committee stage and, by the efforts of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and others, we managed to pass a few Amendments. Then our work stopped. We were unable to do any more, so we passed the Report stage and Third Reading on the Thursday without any discussion whatever. That Bill had 118 clauses and was, I suppose, one of the most complicated and difficult Bills that have ever been before your Lordships' House. Some of our clauses were merged together and there were at least ten entirely new clauses, and, as I estimate, there were about 45 substantial alterations in the subsections. These constituted really an important and difficult Bill by themselves. I would like your Lordships to remember that nearly the whole business of the country is now managed by limited companies, and therefore it was a most important question. From the dates I have given you will observe that we had two days in which to consider the Bill, and one in which to amend it. I will not make any further comment.

Insufficiently considered legislation is a great evil, but in my judgment there is a greater one. Of all political questions constitutional questions are by far the most important, and of all the constitutional questions by far the most important in my judgment is the position and prestige of your Lordships' House. We must admit, as my noble friend the Leader of the House (the Marquess of Salisbury) described it in March last, the authority of this House has suffered by what he called the process of erosion, but its influence in the country is also suffering in the estimation of the public because it passes Bills without that revision which is the duty of a Revising Chamber. I brought this matter forward earlier in the year. That was my opinion then, and I received, as your Lordships generally do in such a case, a number of papers and letters on the subject, and they have all confirmed my view.

I will now turn to the history of this question and to the arguments against the proposals to carry over; and if in my endeavour to make the matter clear to your Lordships I put a strain upon your patience—I am afraid I shall—I hope the importance of the question will be taken as my excuse. Attention has been called to the evil from which we at present suffer, and a remedy has been suggested in this House on many occasions. The first occasion was in April, 1848, and the last in March, 1928, when I ventured to mention the subject. The matter has also been considered by three Committees during that period. The views of the very eminent men who took part in the earlier debates and Committees are now of less value owing to the changed conditions of the present time, the main changes being the weakened authority of your Lordships' House—or, as I may say shortly, the Parliament Act—and the increased output of legislation in another place. But, speaking generally, the debates and the Reports of Committees show that the remedies proposed have all emanated from this House and their rejection has been due to opposition in another place. I must ask your Lordships to remember that, because I shall have to refer to it later.

The history of this discussion may be stated shortly. In April, 1848, Lord Derby moved the First Reading of "An Act to enable either House of Parliament to adjourn proceedings during the Prorogation of Parliament upon certain Bills passed by the other House and to resume proceedings thereupon after such Prorogation." This Bill, upon which all subsequent Resolutions to which I shall refer were based, was referred to a. Select Committee of the House of Commons who declined to recommend it. I have not been able to find their reason, but they did so decline. Thus, your Lordships will see, it is over 80 years since this question was first mooted and nothing has yet been done to find a remedy for the evils of which this House has complained. Your Lordships will observe that Lord Derby's Bill and the subsequent Resolutions to which I have alluded dealt with proceedings of both Houses of Parliament, whereas the present Resolution only deals with the question whether this House should be allowed to carry over Bills. This Resolution only asks that that should be considered by a Joint Committee, and it does not suggest any alteration whatever in the procedure of the House of Commons. However, as the arguments which have been advanced against Lord Derby's Bill seem to me to apply equally to the Resolution which is before your Lordships at the moment, I will set them before your Lordships. They are contained in the Report of a Select Committee of the House of Commons which sat in 1861. That is the only Report which gives any reasons for its decisions, so far as I have been able to observe.

The first argument of the Committee, which should be of interest to those of your Lordships who believe that these proposals would give facilities for in- creasing legislation, is (I quote their words):— That this power of suspension would give increased power for retarding legislation. I submit, however, that this proposal that we should carry over Bills to the following Session would have no effect in increasing legislation, and very little, if any, effect in diminishing it; for the limiting factor in legislation is the time of the House of Commons and this proposal could not occupy less of that time, although it is just possible that, if we were allowed to amend these Bills properly, a little more of the time of the other House might be occupied in considering our Amendments. The real effect of this proposal would be that considered legislation would be increased, and ill-considered legislation would be pro tanto diminished. If Bills which come before your Lordships' House at the end of the Session without sufficient time for consideration were rejected by this House, the present system would retard legislation and the proposal in the present Resolution would increase it, but, as your Lordships know, you do in fact pass these Bills, so that legislation is not retarded but ill-considered legislation is increased.

The next argument of the Committee of 1861 is that there would be much greater facility in altering in a new Session the frame and scope of a measure when it has been extinguished by Prorogation. This, of course, is true, but it is irrelevant, for Bills which are sent up to this House are not extinguished by Prorogation, but are passed by your Lordships. They go on to say:— A Bill sent from one House to another would not be amended during the Recess. It must be resumed as it was left: and all the Amendments, which might then be introduced, could be fully debated in one House only; for the House to which the amended Bill is returned could not recommit it, but must accept or reject the Amendments proposed. This and the preceding argument seem to assume that the House of Commons had sent a Bill up to your Lordships' House the frame and scope of which required alteration. I suppose it might be possible that the House of Commons had passed a Bill as a sort of ballon d'essai and that subsequent discussion in the country had shown that it was un- workable in its existing form. In that case I suppose it would be the duty of this House to reject the Bill or to amend it, and if they adopted the latter course, that is to say if they amended it, it is difficult to see why these Amendments could be fully debated in one House only. But if this objection be sound, it would surely also apply to the Amendments which the House of Lords might pass under the existing system, with the additional disadvantage that ex hypothesi they would not themselves have had time to consider those Amendments properly.

The Committee also stated that:— The proposal to carry over Bills is at variance with the Prerogative of the Crown; because the Crown can now, as it has done in the past, cut short the proceedings on any Bill by proroguing Parliament. As, however, the Crown now only prorogues Parliament on the advice of its Ministers, it cannot be supposed that Ministers would send a Bill to your Lordships' House and then advise the Prorogation in order to prevent it from being passed. Therefore that objection seems somewhat strained, if, indeed, it is not obsolete. The last occasion on which this Prerogative was exercised was in 1831, when the Reform Bill was being discussed and when an Address to the Crown was to be proposed in the House of Lords protesting against a Dissolution: His Majesty King William IV thereupon hurriedly dissolved Parliament.

Then follows in the Committee's Report the only constructive suggestion. They suggest that:— If there is not sufficient time for one House to consider a Bill, they can reject it, and the other House could pass the same Bill again early in the following Session, and so give the first House time to deal with it. But I cannot help feeling that the rejection of a Bill by this House, for whatever reason, might be construed as a hostile act, which should be avoided, if possible; and even if the Commons wished to carry out this plan, the modern desire for fresh legislation is so great that it is doubtful whether they could spare the time to pass the Bill again. Thus, in effect, the rejection of a Bill by the House of Lords would mean its abandonment: unless, of course, it were considered of sufficient importance to call for the exercise of the provisions of the Parliament Act.

The next important debate took place when the late Lord Salisbury brought in a Bill "to facilitate proceedings on Bills in Parliament," and a Joint Committee was appointed in March, 1869, to consider it. They reported that the evils, which they admitted with some qualifications, could only be remedied by general consent, and they thought it unlikely that the House of Commons would alter the opinion which they had expressed in 1848. That Committee of 1869 is the last which considered this question. There was another Committee in 1890, which was appointed to consider the carrying over of partly-discussed Bills, but that, of course, is a different question. The next important discussion, and the last, took place on the Motion of the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, on May 7, 1883. The most interesting feature of that debate was the speech of the late Lord Salisbury. He referred to the well-known disinclination of the House of Commons to entertain the proposal. He also stated that Conservatives thought that there had been too much legislation and that this would increase it; and that Liberals preferred the present system because it "practically disarmed the House of Lords, and Liberals in general had not a full confidence in the entire sympathy of their Lordships' House on all possible subjects." He ended his speech with words to which I would call your Lordships' special attention. He hoped that as time went on the House would feel more deeply how little consonant the present state of things was with its dignity and power; and, when that feeling should have thoroughly pervaded it, he had no fear that any jealousy on the part of the other House of Parliament would prevent its taking a full and effective share in legislation. The Motion was then withdrawn.

As regards this speech, I think I have shown that it would have been wrong to suppose that the present proposal would increase legislation, and I may add that, if Liberals wished to disarm the House of Lords, they have accomplished that object through the Parliament Act, and I suppose it may be presumed that the Liberal Party would now wish that the House of Lords should carry out its powers to the full within the limits which they have themselves fixed. I have a suggestion, with which I need not trouble your Lordships, as to how this carrying over could be made to conform to the Parliament Act. I mention the point only because it is not in my mind or, I believe, in the minds of any who support this Resolution, to endeavour to evade the Parliament Act by any side issue.

There is another argument which, I think, will be put forward—namely, the "thin edge of the wedge" argument. That argument has the merit of being applicable to almost every proposal put forward, but I really believe that it does not apply to this one. We shall be told that, if the House of Lords is permitted to carry over Bills, the House of Commons will insist that this permission shall be extended to both Houses of Parliament. Let me therefore remind your Lordships that the House of Commons during the last eighty years have consistently opposed that very proposal, and accordingly it does not seem to me that they are likely to wish to recur to it. There is another reason even more convincing, and that is that the House of Commons, unlike this House, have no complaint for which this proposal would be a remedy. When we send Bills down to the House of Commons and they have not time to consider them, they do not consider them. The Bills are dropped. When the Commons send Bills to us we do consider them, or else we pass them without proper consideration.

I am afraid that I have detained your Lordships at quite undue length, but I have now placed before you as clearly as I can the arguments against the carrying over of Bills. They may, of course, appeal to your Lordships more than they do to me, or you may have reasons against this proposal of which I have no knowledge, but I hope that you will agree that, however forcible the arguments that I have quoted may have been when they were used, some of them at least have become obsolete, and that in the altered circumstances, after an interval of fifty-nine years, it is time that the question was again considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

Perhaps your Lordships will allow me in conclusion to state in one or two sentences why I feel so much interested in this matter. It is because, since I have had the honour of being a member of this House, I have observed that there is no question, however insignificant or however important it may be, upon which some of your Lordships are not able to speak with intimate knowledge and firsthand experience, and further that, as we all know, many of your Lordships have much to lose by devoting their time to public work and have certainly nothing to gain except the knowledge that, owing to their position, they are able to set a conspicuous example of service before the country. I do suggest to your Lordships that it is a misfortune that such a House should be allowed to suffer in the estimation of the country and should lose therefore some of the influence that is its due; and that their judgment and knowledge should on very important occasions be wasted on account of some custom which, I believe, prevails in no other Constitution and, so far as I have been able to learn from the arguments by which it has been supported hitherto, seems to serve no useful purpose. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That it is desirable that a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament be appointed to consider how far it would be desirable in the case where a Bill had passed through the House of Commons but where there was not sufficient time properly to consider it in the House of Lords to carry the Bill over so that in the next Session of the same Parliament, notwithstanding the Prorogation, the consent of the House of Commons given in the previous Session might remain effective, and the proceedings on the Bill be recommenced or resumed in the House of Lords.—(Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon.)


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon, for bringing forward a matter of this kind, which Cs undoubtedly one of great importance, and also for the admirable way in which he has referred to the history of this question, starting, as he said, more than eighty years ago—a question which, I think, though I have not had time to look up all the records, has been debated more than once, not only in this House but also in the House of Commons. As the noble Lord has said, I think quite truly, opposition to his proposal has come mainly from the other House. The proposal of the noble Lord is for the appointment of a Select Committee of both Houses and, so far as I am concerned, I do not think it desirable to consider any specific proposal or even any specific objection at the present time. If the intention is that the matter should be left entirely open before the Select Committee, we on this Bench will certainly raise no objection to that course. I should like also to say that in a matter of this kind, although it is for the House at large to decide, the House will certainly be largely guided by the advice tendered by its Leader, the noble Marquess opposite, and whatever may be my own view on a question of this kind, I shall certainly be guided, as I think will be those who act with me, by the advice which he thinks it right to give.

There is one other matter to which I might refer. This principle of carrying over prevails at the present time in regard to private business, both in the House of Commons and in this House, and of course it is very important that it should, because otherwise very large expense might be thrown away and a long judicial inquiry might be left half completed. In that case, where everyone is agreed, a special order is made on each occasion, allowing Bills to be carried over which are in process of being heard either in one House or in the other. I do not desire in any way to pre-judge what is the best way of solving this question. I think it is right that a Joint Committee should be appointed, and that we should wait until the Report of that Committee is received before making up our minds further upon this important matter.


My Lords, it is unnecessary for me to use many words in supporting the Resolution of the noble Lord, and I do it the more readily because I think, from what took place in the discussion during the summer, it has the support of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. In agreeing to this Resolution we do no more than express our approval of the question being considered, and do not give any considered judgment upon the merits of the case. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord who moved the Resolution say that there was no intention of interfering with the Parliament Act, but I do think that we ought to distinguish between the two kinds of measures. There are Government Bills and Private Members' Bills.

Take, for instance, the question of the Companies Bill of last Session. I do not suppose that the Government, or the Department involved, would be very ready to postpone for four or five months the consideration of that Bill. If a Bill is urgently needed it ought to be brought into operation at once, and to postpone its consideration for five or six months would mean considerable delay before it was passed into law. Therefore I cannot imagine that the Government, or the Department involved, is very likely to wish the consideration of these measures to be postponed. There is also this to be remembered. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House in my opinion has done so much to improve the procedure of Parliament that to some extent this question is one of less urgency than it used to be. He has taken, as Leader of the House, particular care to see that Bills do reach this Rouse at an earlier period, although I am bound to say that, however early the period at which Bills come to this House, some of your Lordships may consider that there is not sufficient time in which to make the very long speeches which you may wish to make in support of Bills or Amendments.

With regard to Private Members' Bills the position is different. In regard to these Bills, I think probably it would be easier to arrive at an arrangement that consideration by the Committee should only be given to those Bills which reach this House from another place, and not to those which go from us to the other House. So then we must remember, in the case of the latter Bills, that it may be a very convenient excuse for the Government, who wish to shelve the question, to say that there is no time. It is rather like the Scottish verdict of "Not proven." In legislation the Government are able to arrange the time-table of the House in such a way that there is no time for Bills, with the result that they are killed. Considering, however, that the Bills which reach this House from private members are comparatively few and unimportant Bills, I think that we are more likely to find a fruitful field for investigation there than with regard to Government measures. Certainly, having regard to the history of the past, it does seem such a useful and obvious reform that it is difficult to understand why it has not been passed before, and one is led to imagine that there may be reasons against it which have not been urged by the noble Lord who moved the Resolution.


My Lords, I hope that you will not agree to the Resolution moved by my noble friend. He has told us the result of a Committee formed in 1848, and of another Committee in 1869, which pronounced against his proposal. I will not go back so far as that, but I will go back to the time when I first entered the House of Commons, 36 years ago. At that time I was ignorant, naturally, of the rules regarding procedure in the House of Commons, and the first thing I heard was that there were certain members who were desirous of carrying over Bills from one Session to another. Those particular members were extreme Radicals. At first, to an ignorant person, as I then was, there seemed to be something in it, but I had a conversation with Mr. Akers-Douglas, the late Lord. Chilston, who was then Chief Whip, and he told me that he regarded it as one of the most dangerous innovations that could possibly be brought forward. After some years of experience I venture to agree with him. His successor, Lord Waleran, an excellent Whip, held the same view. His successor, Sir Alexander Acland-Hood, afterwards Lord St. Audries, held the same view. His successor, Lord Balcarres, now Lord Crawford, with whom I had a conversation only last week, holds the same view now, and I think I am not misrepresenting Lord FitzAlan of Derwent—he is here and will contradict me if I am wrong—when I say that he holds the same view.

Therefore five eminent Chief Whips in the House of Commons, all men of experience and patriotism, have held that this would be a most dangerous innovation, and the only people in my experience who have ever advocated it, are extreme Radicals. It has not been advocated always by the Liberal Party. I remember the late Mr. James Caldwell, who was Deputy-Chairman of Committees in the House of Commons, saying to me—and this perhaps may interest, Lord Beauchamp as coming from one of his supporters—" All Private Members' Bills are bad." I thought that was rather a sweeping assertion, but to a great extent he was correct.


Even the Dogs Bill?


There are always exceptions to every rule. I see also that Mr. Harold Cox, in an article in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago—and he was an extremely able Liberal Member of Parliament—held that the great majority of legislation passed in the last twenty years had much better not have been passed. With that I agree, My noble friend Lord Hunsdon, I think, does not quite realise what the effect of carrying over would be. He said that under the altered conditions—that is, the conditions which have altered since 1848 and 1869—the evil results which it was then thought would follow from an alteration of this sort, would not follow now. I venture very humbly to differ from him. I say that conditions have changed, but that they have changed for the worse. In 1848 and 1869 there was not all this mass of legislation which is continually being poured into the House of Commons, and which, if my noble friend's proposal were carried, would be increased indefinitely. There are now any number of Bills brought forward by private members in the House of Commons—not because they have any particular faith in them, but because some small section of their constituents, some few cranks or faddists, go to the member and say: "Look here, you must bring in this Bill. I want it." And in order to please his constituents he brings in a Bill, hoping that, for some reason or other, it will go no further. Now comes my noble friend and says: "Oh yes, let all these Bills come in, let them come up to this House and be dealt with in a future Session." But what is my noble friend going to do? Most of them are bad Bills. Is he going to reject them? If he does reject them? is he not going to lay open the House of Lords to the reproach that it always rejects the Bills that come up to it? Far better leave things as they are.

My noble friend wrote a letter to The Times in which he stated that there were two courses, and only two courses, open if his Resolution were not carried—either to reject a Bill or to pass it. But there is a third course. A Bill comes up to this House, we will say, a week before the Adjournment, or before the Prorogation. When somebody moves the Second Reading my noble friend rises, points out that there is not proper time to consider it, and moves the adjournment of the debate. Then the Adjournment, or the Prorogation, comes along, and the Bill dies a natural death. We have not rejected it; all we have done is to say that this particular Bill is sent up at such a late stage that it cannot be properly considered, and that, therefore, we have not considered it. That seems to me to be a sensible course. Now my noble friend says: "Oh, this will not apply to the House of Commons. In 1848 and 1869 the House of Commons rejected that, and therefore they will do so now." Well, the House of Commons is a very different place now from what it was in 1848 and 1869. It is a very different place from what it was such a short time ago as 1900. Does my noble friend suppose that a Joint Committee of members of this House and members of the House of Commons, selected from all Parties, as I presume they will be, will not claim for the House of Commons the right and privilege which this House is going to claim for itself? As certain as I am standing here, if this Resolution is passed and the matter goes to a Select Committee, that Committee will claim that the House of Commons should be put in the same position as this House. The result would be that we should have a vast mass of ill-considered legislation, which would be thrown at our heads, which might occupy us, if necessary, in coming down to discuss it, but which we should have to reject, and which would injure the reputation of this House among the unthinking mass of the population, who, I am afraid, are a very large proportion of it.

My noble friend says it will retard legislation. Well, I have had some experience of legislation in the House of Commons. I never was a member of any Government, I never was an official Whip, but ever since 1906 up till the time of the War, I made arrangements for the conduct of business on behalf of the Conservative Party with the Liberals, who were then in power, and I therefore claim to have some knowledge of what takes place on these matters in the House of Com- mons. And I tell my noble friend that, instead of retarding legislation he is going to facilitate it, he is going to allow every crank and faddist to bring forward his Bills, and to say, when they are produced in this House: "Well, this is a very good thing, it is the House of Lords that has rejected it." My noble friend said that, at the present moment, what happened was that if a Bill had got through all its stages in the House of Commons but did not come here, it could be brought forward in the House of Commons the following year. He does not understand the House of Commons. A private member can only bring that Bill in again if he gets a place in the ballot, because it is quite impossible to bring it in after eleven o'clock at night, and the odds are very much against, his getting a place in the ballot. I was a member of the House of Commons for 31¼years, and I never got a place in the ballot. Therefore the chances are very much against anybody getting a place in the ballot. That particular Bill, therefore, is dead without anybody being any the worse for it, and a great many people are a great deal the better for it. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will not accede to the noble Lord's request.


My Lords, I had some little hesitation, when I saw the terms in which this Motion is proposed, as to whether I should support it or not, and when I heard it suavely blessed by the Leaders of both Opposition Parties, my doubts were rather deepened. Every hesitation that I have ever held has been removed by the eloquent speech of my noble friend on my left (Lord Banbury). So alarmed is he at the possibility that there might be more legislation, and better-considered legislation, passed, that he is against any inquiry into any improvement that can possibly be suggested. Instead of being willing to have the matter investigated by a Committee of both Houses, which will go into all these difficulties, which will consider all these views, which will report and give the two Houses something to discuss, my noble friend says: "Oh, no, slam the door at once, because legislation is so dreadful a thing that, as far as I can make out, the principal utility of both Houses is never to pass any Bills at all." And yet my noble friend passed thirty-one years of a well-spent life in trying to introduce Bills himself. Every year he balloted, every year he was disappointed, and it is only in this House that he has had the opportunity of introducing Private Bills of great merit and considerable acceptance.

Well now, surely it is premature to be asking what the result of such an inquiry will be, it is premature to be considering whether, if the answer were one way, it would help one Party, and if it were the other way, it would help the other Party, and if it were either way, it might help those who do not want to have any legislation at all. We want to be informed about this question. It has been discussed, it has been agitated, and it has been certainly very seriously supported for many years past. Is it nut time that there should be an inquiry? Above all, when your Lordships' House, animated, I am sure, not by any desire to snatch an advantage, but by a sincere desire to see our Parliamentary machinery improved, is asked to support an inquiry into the matter, I should have thought it was a Motion to which the Government would listen not only with respect but with favour, and which I should hope would have received support on all hands, not with fervour, not with a desire that any particular view should prevail, but from the simple conviction that we cannot have too much inquiry upon a matter of this sort. Whips, I dare say, from the beginning of the five years' period to the end of the five years' period, set their faces against anything of this kind, and those who understand the great art of stifling a Bill at one stage or the other of its career, the earlier the better probably, think that nothing better than that could exist. But it seems to me that this is a question which ought not to be put upon the ground that our great object should be to prevent legislation and to leave things exactly as they are.

I have not risen to express an ardent view in favour of any resulting reform. I have not risen to make any complaint of the situation in which your Lordships annually find yourselves about the end of July or the beginning of August. We have often complained of that. We have heard it given voice to by the noble Marquess who leads the House and we have heard it received on his part with sympathetic consideration. That has done all that could be done to soften the blow to us when we found that the Bills had to be passed all the same, The real difficulty is not so much that we do not get enough time, as that we are told when the other House has decided to rise, and that is the time by which our job has to be finished. That, I think, is the galling part of it. Still, we have borne it like men and I hope we shall be able to continue to bear it. It is a grievance which we, perhaps, better endure with patience and dignity. But why we should not ask the Government to cause inquiry-to be made by a Joint Committee into the whole subject, I am sure I am unable to understand. Those who are doubtful of the results and those who are sanguine of the results can equally join now in saying that we cannot do any harm by having an inquiry into this matter.


My Lords, my views on this question are entirely in accord with those expressed by my noble friend Lord Banbury, except on the particular point that we are dealing with at the moment—namely, whether a Committee of inquiry should be set up or not. If there is a Division on that particular point I do not intend to oppose it. But on the merits of the question I am entirely against whit I consider would be a great increase in the facilities for legislation. In my humble opinion there is much too much legislation at the present time. So far as I can recollect, the modern mania for legislation was started after the Election in 1906 by the Party to which noble Lords above the Gangway apposite belong, and from their point of view, quite rightly started. They had been out of office for some considerable time and, naturally, there were many measures which they wished to bring forward and to see passed.

Then came the War. Naturally, owing to the War, a great mass of legislation had to be taken in hand, all the things connected with D.O.R.A. and so on. That whetted the appetite of every Department, with a result that now there is a kind of passion for each Department to compete with the others in producing and bringing forward legislation. From my humble experience I think I am right in saying that a great deal of that Departmental legislation is produced in a very great hurry. The result is that in the next year or the year after it is necessary to have another Bill on the same question to amend what was originally passed. That, naturally, takes time. I must say that I am convinced that if ever a change of the kind proposed is made it must tend to increase legislation and, with all possible respect to the Government, what is wanted in my humble judgment is that more legislation should be introduced in this House in the first instance, instead of it coming from the other house. That can only be done effectually by having more Ministers in this House. I think there ought to be more and then they would be in charge of their own Bills. Though I shall not oppose this particular Motion, if a Committee is set up and reports in favour of a change of this kind I shall certainly oppose it.


My Lords, I feel a special degree of diffidence in addressing your Lordships this afternoon because of the very kind way in which my humble efforts to improve your Lordships' procedure have been treated by two very influential noble Lords opposite. I am very much obliged to them. It is certainly true that I have tried to make some reform as to the way business is sent to us from another place. I wish I had been more successful. I cannot pretend that I feel that the compliments which have bran paid to me are really earned.

The Government propose to accept this Motion; but they propose to accept it entirely in the spirit of the speech which has just been delivered by my noble and learned friend Lord Sumner. We pronounce, as a Government, no opinion at all on the merits of the particular proposal in regard to which it is suggested an inquiry should be held. It would, indeed, be very improper for us to pronounce an opinion upon a Motion for such an inquiry because if we had already made up our minds the inquiry would be unnecessary. Therefore, as I say, we pronounce no opinion as a Government upon it at all. All that acceptance of this Motion will imply is that, like my noble friend Lord Sumner, we consider that the subject is one which is worthy of investigation by a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I do not think I can improve upon the admirable Speech he made and the way in which he put it.

As I say, I shall not go into the merits of the question; but I should like to recall to your Lordships a very interesting debate which took place in your Lordships' House no longer ago than March of this year when we discussed this subject very fully upon a Motion made by the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, and upon an Amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Hunsdon, who is responsible for the Motion this evening. In the course of that debate opinions were expressed in all parts of the House upon the situation in which your Lordships are placed when business reaches you at the close of the Session. There was one observation in that debate to which I must call your special attention. It was made by my noble friend Lord Carson who, owing to indisposition, is not in his place to-day. My noble friend said, in effect, that what we have to consider in respect of legislation is not so mach the rights of the House of Commons or the rights of the House of Lords, but the rights of the unfortunate litigant who was the victim of bad legislation. That is the real matter.

Apart altogether from the merits of this particular proposal, the reason why we are called upon to take action in the matter at all is that we are conscious that the legislation which we turn out from this House, instead of being good is very often bad, and, in the opinion of some noble and learned Lords who have to interpret legislation, exceedingly bad. It is a tremendous charge to make against this great Parliament, that after all the years of its existence and the immense experience we have had in administering the Constitution and passing laws, we should actually find ourselves bound to admit that the legislation we torn out is very often clumsy, slipshod, and incomprehensible, throwing an enormous burden upon the unfortunate litigants who are the victims. Think what that means. It is easy for us to come here towards the end of July and pass a Bill through all its stages in the course of three or four days. It is easy for us to say it is not our fault, it is the fault of another place. A law goes out to the country. Private rights are affected by it. Unfortunate people have to justify their rights; they have to appeal to the law; they have to go to the Courts, and that is extremely costly. Whose fault is it? Who is responsible for it? Not long ago there was a discussion in your Lordships' House over a certain provision in a Bill advocated by the Government which sought to short-cut the obligation of a litigant to defend his own rights by giving power to the Government to appeal straight to the Courts. That provision, upon the advice of noble and learned Lords in this House, was struck out of the Bill.


Hear, hear!


I am quite aware some noble Lords thought it was au innovation which ought not to be admitted. I am not going to discuss it now; it would be quite irrelevant to do so. The reason I reminded your Lordships of it is this. See how this unfortunate litigant, if I may use the phrase, is held everywhere. We are not allowed' to relieve him by taking the responsibility off his shoulders and ourselves, the Government, going to the Courts to get an interpretation of the law. Noble and learned Lords, who are always—all credit to them—the greatest Tories in the world, will not let us do that. Are we then to leave these Bills in this absolutely slipshod and inefficient condition? We are not allowed to help the litigan—he must do it himself. The very fact that your Lordships thought it right to refuse that particular provision and to set a great precedent which would have to be followed in all legislation puts a still heavier responsibility upon you to see, if you can, that this mischievous form of legislation shall be put an end to. That is the thing which presses itself upon me, if I may say so, holding the views I do at this moment, in your Lordships' House. I cannot reconcile it to my conscience to come here, year after year, to urge your Lordships to pass Bills without consideration—I cannot reconcile it with my conscience to do that unless I do something, be it ever so little, to try to remedy the evil of which that is an example.

How, then, am I to treat this Motion? The noble Lord comes to us and says: "I have a remedy in my mind; I think we might achieve this end by carrying a Bill over so that the consideration which the Lords cannot give to it in the present Session can be postponed till next Session, and so the legislation may be properly tested and, if necessary, amended." He conies to us with that proposal, and says: "I do not say that your Lordships ought to agree to it, but I ask you to enquire into it." Then my noble friend Lord Banbury says: "There is no good even in inquiry." We admit the evil, nobody else has proposed any remedy, we want to inquire into the remedy which my noble friend Lord Hunsdon thinks may be found. I cannot agree to take such a cowardly course as not to inquire. There is the remedy proposed. It may be a good remedy, it may be a bad remedy, but by all means let us enquire into it and see whether it is good or bad. For that reason I see no course open to me as representing His Majesty's Government except to accept the Motion which has been made. I earnestly hope your Lordships and public opinion will understand that I am not committing either your Lordships or any member of the Government on the merits of this particular proposal one whit. All I am saying on behalf of the Government is that it deserves the careful consideration of a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.


My Lords, I should like to say a word or two after what has been stated by the noble Marquess. I rejoice that he is going to accept the Motion. I understand him to say that one of the points on which he felt that a good case had been made out was the one which had been emphasized by Lord Carson, who had pointed out that we ought to think of the litigant. I agree with what has been said about the difficulty in which the Judicature is placed in construing sometimes sections of Acts of Parliament hastily passed and not properly revised in this House. The noble Marquess went on to reinforce that argument, with which I agree, by saying that this House had prevented the Government taking a course which would have been in the interests of that procedure and would have assisted the litigant. The ground on which we rejected that clause of the Bill to which he referred was totally different. It is quite plain, if I may respectfully say so, that the noble Marquess has entirely misconstrued and misunderstood the purpose and reason on which a number of noble Lords not unacquainted with the law pressed that that clause should be rejected.

Their reason was this. The Government were taking powers, without any litigant being before the Court at all, to ask in a consultatory way what the Courts thought would be the interpretation of a particular section or sections of a complicated Act of Parliament. It was pointed out that to do that was to withdraw from the litigant the right which every litigant has of having his own case determined upon the facts relating to that case. The object the Government apparently had in mind in Clause 4 of the Rating and Valuation Bill was to enable them to go behind the backs of litigants and, upon certain facts which they presented to the Court, to obtain a decision from the Court which afterwards they could show to litigants, whether or not the facts which litigants would themselves have brought forward were or were not of precisely the same kind and order. Litigants might then be frightened from fighting a Government Department who had already by a short cut obtained an interpretation which was entirely removed from the real facts of a case, and which would infringe the rights of litigants to approach the Courts of Law. There seems to be so much confusion upon that point and I was so surprised that the noble Marquess should use that action of your Lordships in support of the Motion which is now before the House, that I felt bound to rise and endeavour to make some explanation of it, and, if possible, to explain to the noble Marquess that the removal of Clause 4 had no relation, and was not even germane, to the proposition which is now before the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith and requesting their concurrence.