§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR) moved, That Standing Order No. XXXIX be considered in order to its being dispensed with as respects the further stages of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I hope that the House will have no difficulty in granting my Motion, to-day, for the suspension of the Standing Order, so that the Bill which we have been discussing can go down later to another place. The information which I have is that they are very much pressed for time. I think we have discussed the Bill and that the only question left over is the particular drafting of a subsection to Clause 9 on the Report stage. I do not know whether Lord Halsbury is present, but I have had information that he is quite satisfied with the Amendment which I shall propose when the time comes, and which has been prepared after great consideration by the Government draftsman. I think there is nothing left on the Report stage, and I hope we can then take the Third Reading and pass the Bill, so that it may take its place as soon as possible in the programme of the other House.
§ Moved, That Standing Older No. XXXIX be considered in order to its being dispensed with as respects the further stages of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill.—(Lord Parmoor.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I need not tell you how very reluctant we all are to put difficulties in the way of the Government in the conduct of public business, and I hope I shall satisfy the noble and learned Lord that I am not going to put any difficulties in his way. I would, however, venture to call his attention—and I know he will forgive me, because he has great experience 822 as a member of this House—to the extreme inconvenience of the method of conducting business of which this Bill is an example. If your Lordships will forgive me, I will remind the House that the particular subsection to which the noble and learned Lord has referred is an extremely intricate subsection and very difficult, I will not say for laymen, but even for lawyers to understand. As is very common, when your Lordships were in Committee on the Bill you thought lit to call very serious attention to the obscurity of the language and, finally, the House decided to ask the Government to re-draft this particular subsection. The Government have done their best to meet the views of my noble and learned friend who was the prime mover in this matter. Unfortunately he is detained from the House by indisposition to-day, and cannot be present, and therefore we are obliged to approach the consideration of the subsection without any absolute certainty that he is satisfied with the drafting.
However, I have made it my business this morning and this afternoon to try to ascertain from those who are capable of forming an opinion whether the drafting is adequate, and, so far as my information goes, the report is favourable. I cannot pretend that I have got a competent opinion, because the time has been too short for the purpose; but, as far as it goes, it is favourable, and I am inclined to do my utmost to meet the Government, if I can, and to allow them to carry the Bill to-day. But observe—I hope the Government will realise this—how very inconvenient it is, because normally if the words went in, as they will go directly no doubt, on the Report stage, your Lordships would have an opportunity of considering before they finally parted with the Bill as to whether the drafting was really adequate and satisfactory. That is the normal procedure of your Lordships' House. If I may venture to give an opinion, it reflects the wonderful sense of business competence which our people possess that we should have such forms and such an opportunity of revising, even up to the last moment, the actual forms of our Statutes. But, owing to some unknown pressure in another place, we are to be deprived of that safeguard. As I say, it is very in-convenient for us to insist against the Government upon a particular safeguard, and as they have done their very utmost, 823 I agree, to meet us, we are disposed—at least I am disposed—to risk it on the present occasion. But I do hope the Government will realise how very inconvenient it is, and every time this procedure is shortened I am the more convinced of the unwisdom of the course which is pursued.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I am rather sorry my noble friend has agreed to the suspension of Standing Order No. XXXIX. Standing Order No. XXXIX provides that no two stages of a Bill can be taken on the same day. It is an excellent Order, one which during the time I was in the House of Commons I always supported, and I see no reason why this Chamber, which is a revising Chamber, and which ought, therefore, to have plenty of time to consider whether or not alterations should be made in a Bill, should suddenly be called upon to suspend the Standing Order, especially in the case of a Bill of this sort. The Second Reading was given in one day. The Committee stage also took one day, and there was considerable difficulty—not among lay members, but among learned members—as to the meaning of the subsection. The noble Earl who objected to the clause is not here owing to indisposition. If this Standing Order were not suspended it would be possible on the Third Reading, which might take place to-morrow or the next day, to know whether or not this noble and learned Lord is satisfied, or whether there are any other errors in this Bill.
We are now in the middle of the Session, and there is no reason whatever, as far as I can see, for any violent hurry with the Bill. I feel certain that if this precedent is once granted it will always be held up in future as a precedent for enabling the Government to get through this House all sorts of Bills without their being properly revised. I am sorry to say anything against my noble friend [Lord Salisbury], but, having had thirty-one years' experience in the House of Commons, I know what these things lead to. I regret very much that the Motion has been made, and I should hope still, if my small voice has any effect, that I have converted my noble friend to the view that I have expressed.
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I am very slow to intervene in this matter after what has been stated by the noble Marquess, whom, of course, I am quite prepared to follow in the matter. But I have not gathered what the reason for this Motion is. I have not heard any explanation as to why Standing Order XXXIX should be set aside for this particular Bill. When I sat on the other side of the House I repeatedly in the month of July or August protested against the Government bringing up their Bills at such a time as necessitated our getting rid of the Standing Orders and making a farce of the proceedings of this House. I give some credit to the present Government for bringing a Bill before the House at such a time that it can be properly considered. But what is the reason that now, on December 3, the Standing Order which has been considered as a necessary part of the procedure of this House should be abandoned? You must make out some reasonable case to show the necessity of it.
Let us see what has happened. Was there anything done on this side of the House to obstruct the Second Reading? It is a voluminous Bill, far-reaching, throwing great burdens on the taxpayers of this country. There should have been a debate for several days, I suppose, if the tactics that are sometimes adopted in another place were followed. Then the Bill, a long, complicated Bill, comes into Committee and is disposed of in a most businesslike way. One matter was obscure, and the Government very properly, as I think, reserved it so that they might see what should be done. That was only given out to us this morning. What is the hurry? What is the reason for getting rid of this Standing Order? If we were obstreperous on this side, if we were using our great majority for some improper purpose, and had so prolonged the proceedings until we had reached a date which would make the working of the Bill impossible, then I could understand. But here we have been behaving absolutely reasonably, trying to do our business with the minimum of trouble to the Government. If we are to suspend the Standing Order I think the proper course would be to refer these Standing Orders to some Committee and get rid of them altogether. Why should not the Government come 825 here and say: "We are a very small minority in this House, and you are a large majority, and we ask you to give up the Standing Orders "? What is the good of disputing anything? I really think the Motion that the noble and learned Lord has made is not a reasonable Motion, and I hope the House will not lightly abandon the rules that have been laid down.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I do not know that I can usefully add anything to what has been so very well said by the noble Marquess as to the suspension of the Standing Order, but I shall certainly follow the advice he has given to your Lordships' House, that we do not on this occasion object to the suspension of the Standing Order. After all, if your Lordships will look at subsection (2) of Clause 27 you will see that this Bill is to come into operation on January 2 next. It is obvious that it will take a long time to make the necessary preparations in order that this Bill, which is to confer so many benefits upon such a number of widows in this country, shall be able to come into operation smoothly. It is obvious that a Bill of this description must necessitate a certain amount of preparation on the part of those officers who have to administer it. I do not think a month is any too long to give them so that they may be able to do it. For that reason I certainly shall support the noble Marquess.
One thing only I want to say to the noble and learned Lord who leads the House. I do not think the Government can entirely escape some sense of responsibility in this matter. We were only called together at the very end of October after an unusually prolonged summer and autumn holiday. It would have been possible for His Majesty's Government, in view of the large amount of legislation which they proposed that Parliament shall undertake in the course of the autumn before Christmas, to have called us together at an earlier period. I think that with a little wise prevision on their part they would have done that, and then we should not have been obliged to suspend the Standing Order in the way which is necessary to-day.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I am much obliged for the speech of the noble 826 Earl. I think he has answered the question which was asked, no doubt very properly, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, and which requires an answer. I think it was given on a former occasion and the noble Lord must have heard it. It is necessary to have this Bill now without any further time being expended upon it. If the advantages given to widows and to persons interested under the Bill are to be properly obtained by them at the date mentioned—the end of December of this year—a very large amount of administrative business will have to be done after the Bill has been passed before it can be actively operative as regards all the persons who are intended to benefit under it.
As the noble Earl has said, we might have met earlier. That is, perhaps, an obvious comment. As things are, however, an endeavour has been made on my part, and on the part of those with me, to avoid having all the work foisted upon the House of Lords at a late stage in the Session, so that we should have a natural and normal amount of work extending throughout the Session. Any one who looks at our Order Paper and at what we are doing will see that this is the intention of the Government. In a case like this, although the end of the Session is not yet near, the conditions of the Bill are such that it is of very great importance there should be no delay. Although I am one of those who do not desire to suspend the Standing Orders of this House unless it is necessary, I think the higher consideration both in this House and in another place is that where a public matter of importance—it cannot be said that there is any prejudice in this case—demands that we should make some sacrifice of our normal procedure, it is right that we should do so. I sincerely hope that we shall not have to ask for it again, at any rate for a long time. I thank the noble Marquess and the noble Earl for what they have said.
§ On Question. Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.