§ LORD NEWTON
, who had the following Motion on the Paper—viz. " to resole that in the opinion of this House Parliament ought to rise at the beginning of July, and that the time required for the due transaction of public business should be provided by Parliament sitting during a longer period in the winter than is customary at present," said: My Lords, the Motion I am about to submit is one which, as far as this assembly is concerned, possesses the doubtful merit of novelty, but I lay absolutely no claim to originality because it is word for word the identical resolution which has been moved on several occasions in another place and which upon the last occasion was defeated by only two votes. The superficial observer might, perhaps, be inclined to think that as time occasionally does not appear to be of much value in this assembly, it is not a matter which concerns us at all, but one which solely concerns the House of Commons. I hope to convince your lordships, or some of you, at all events, before I have done, that this is an erroneous impression. I start with the assumption that no reasonable person wants Parliament to sit longer than is necessary, and I fix a period of seven months as a maximum which I do not think in any case ought to he exceeded. The question is how those seven months are best to he apportioned.
I will, however, briefly recapitulate what happens under the present system. Under the present system Parliament habitually meets about the middle or end of January. The proceedings open with a Speech from the Throne containing a long and imposing list of measures which it is hoped will become law before the end of the session. This speech is debated in this House for an hour, or, perhaps, a couple of hours. We then adjourn for ten days or a fortnight, and from that period until Easter we find absolutely nothing to do except to discuss such proposals as are brought forward by irresponsible persons. We depend, in short, upon the spasmodic activity of these irresponsible persons. In the House of Commons, on the other hand, the Address is debated at considerable length, the big measures of the session are introduced, some progress is made with Supply, and private Members have their fling, with the result, not infre- 1578 quently that they are counted out. Then comes the Easter recess, which is the end of the first portion of the session. When the Easter recess is concluded and this House re-assembles, our sittings are rather more frequent, and the Private Bill Committees get to work, but at the same time very Little public business is effected. In the House of Commons, on the other hand, public business begins to show signs of congestion, and private Members' privileges begin to be withdrawn. Then comes the Whitsuntide recess, which forms the second period of the Parliamentary session, and upon re-assembly after Whitsuntide it is invariably quite clear that the elaborate programme shadowed forth in the Speech from the Throne cannot be carried out. Thereupon the operation which is commonly described as the " massacre of the innocents" takes place. The Government takes the whole of the time of the House. The various measures are passed somehow or other, and, finally, Supply is carried with a rush. Then, and not till then—that is to say towards the middle of July—the Bills which have been passed in the House of Commons come up here. They are, so to speak, flung at our heads. We are ordered to pass them in the shortest possible time, and without making any material alteration in them, so that Parliament may be adjourned at a reasonable period in August. This year it is possible that that period may be later than usual, because, as your Lordships know, we met at a later period than is customary.
Here, I think I may say that this House has a genuine grievance—a grievance upon which, however, personally I do not wish to dwell too long. But I should like to quote the opinion of a man who exercised great influence in his day, the late Lord Russell, who, when examined by the Joint Committee on the Despatch of Business in Parliament in 1869, expressed himself as follows—The conduct of public business, and more especially the legislative business of Parliament, suffers from the late period of the session at which Bills reach the House of Lords. While there are two Houses of Parliament, it is desirable that each should have the power of considering the principle and examining the details of every measure before it becomes an Act of Parliament, but if measures are sent to the House of Lords in the middle of July, when Members of both Houses are hastening out of London, it is impossible that due deliberation can take place. The Lords are therefore placed in the dilemma of refusing to consider 1579 Bills which may be of great public utility, or of not performing the functions which the Constitution has entrusted to them.I will only quote two flagrant instances. One was the Bill relating to factories and workshops which came up here two years ago; the other was the Vaccination Bill of 1898, and I should like to remind your Lordships that that greatest legislative disgrace of modern times— the conscientious objector—obtained his existence owing to noble Lords not being willing to attend here at the time and vote him out of existence. I think I may say that this House is not treated in a very dignified manner. So far as I am concerned, I do not object to being treated in an undignified manner if it is not inconvenient to me, but, when indignity and inconvenience are combined, then I think the meekest-spirited individual may be justified in raising a protest.
I do not think any one could have sat long in this assembly without noticing the extraordinary waste of time which prevails at the beginning of the year. I said just now that no public business is done before Easter, and it is perfectly true, because nowadays no important business is introduced in this House. Not only is no public business done, but no Private Bill business is got through. Take the present session. We met this year on 17th February. The earliest possible date for a Private Bill Committee to sit was 12th March. The result was that only one Committee upon Private Bills sat before Easter. What is the natural consequence? I do not know what the natural consequence will be this year, but the almost invariable result in previous sessions has been that private business, like public business in this House, is congested towards the middle or end of July, and towards the end of July you may see the unedifying spectacle of leaders of the Parliamentary Bar, earning Heaven knows how many thousands a year, rushing breathlessly from one Committee to another, vainly endeavouring to do justice to their clients, and effecting the complete bewilderment of the Chairman under whose supervision private business is conducted. One argument, I understand, against my proposal is that it will be impossible to get Private Bills finished by the beginning 1580 of July. It is said that to advance the date of the deposition of Parliamentary Bills will be inconvenient to promoters. I should think that very likely it would, but, after all, why should our convenience be sacrificed for the convenience of promoters of Private Bills? It is with great deference that I make any suggestion with regard to such a difficult subject as Private Bill legislation, but I do venture to suggest to the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, that the date of the deposition of Private Bills should be advanced, that the various formalities which are now obligatory before a Bill can be discussed should be shortened and abridged, and, if the noble Earl is unable to obtain the requisite number of Peers to serve, either that he should reduce the number of Peers who serve on Committee from five to four, or else exercise the powers conferred upon him by the Rules and Standing Orders of drawing on the large reserve of Peers who never serve on Private Bill Committees at all. I know, from information supplied to me by the Chairman of Committees, that the whole of the work upon Private Bills Committees is discharged by between eighty and ninety people, very much on the same principle as we conduct the naval and military defence of this country.
It will he observed that my Motion offers, with what I venture to term some generosity, two alternatives to the Government. The first alternative, and for my part this would appear to be the ideal arrangement, is that Parliament might meet, say, in November; it might sit for a month or six weeks and do a great deal of work in that time; it might then adjourn for five or six weeks for the purpose of the Christmas vacation, and it might then resume work and conclude by the beginning of July. That is one alternative, but I recognise that there are technical difficulties to be faced. The other alternative is that the House should meet early in January, not later than January 15; that, as I have suggested, the private Bill procedure should be shortened; that the Whitsuntide recess should be cut down to the shortest possible limits, and that we should adjourn at the beginning of July, reassembling in November to finish off such work as still remained over. These are the two, alternatives which are suggested by my Motion.
1581 I do not think it is in the least necessary for me to enter upon elaborate arguments in favour of spending the fine and warm months of the summer in the country in preference to London. I think it will be sufficient for me to point out that we are the only people, I will not say in the civilised world, but in the whole world, who deliberately spend the best months of the year in town—a practice which, to my mind, is about as sensible as turning day into night, which is only done by lunatics as a rule. I do not think it would be possible to quote a single people, who, when the hot weather arrives, do not do their best to fly from the town and resort to the country. We alone, who pride ourselves on being common-sense people, reverse the process. We reserve our highest political energies for July, _and our chief social functions for the same month. In the latter part of June, in July, and even in the beginning of August, we gasp and suffocate, not only in the Committee rooms upstairs but in theatres and ballrooms; we sit down in artificially-lighted rooms, as if we were in Monte Carlo, to ponderous banquets, and we even go so far as to listen to ponderous speeches on ponderous subjects, and this we do in the middle of the dog days and in deference to a hoary superstition which I hope to destroy before I have concluded my remarks. I said I would not indulge in any arguments in favour of spending the summer in the country in preference to London, and I think, therefore, it would be better to confine myself to what I imagine will be the arguments of my opponents, if there are any. When this proposal was brought forward in 1859, Lord Palmerston succeeded in getting it rejected on the ground that if Parliament met in November or December so many Members would have colds or coughs that they would make such a noise that nobody would be able to hear anybody else speak, and I think he added that it was extremely dangerous, because a number of Members would come down, would get their feet wet, and would go home and die, and the Government would be placed in a minority. .That is a sample of the arguments with which this proposal was met 1582 many years ago, and it was considered good enough for the House of Commons of those days. I think that something more substantial is needed at present in order to refute my proposal.
I will deal first with what I will assume to be the Ministerial argument. The Ministerial argument, I imagine, will take this form, that I shall be told that if my Motion is carried there will be no time for the preparation of Estimates and Bills. I entirely fail to see the force of this argument myself, because I do not propose to increase the length of the session, and therefore there will be just as many months available for the framing of Estimates and Bills. Although I have the highest respect for the ability and industry of Ministers, yet when they ask me to believe that they spend the whole of the recess in preparing Estimates and Bills, that is making rather a large draft on my credulity, because, as we all know, there are such persons as permanent officials, and I do not think that it is altogether uncharitable to assume that a large part of the preparation of this work devolves on the permanent officials, and the work which devolves upon the Ministers, I expect, in many instances, consists in elaborating those rhetorical periods with which they recommend those measures to the House, and which are to secure their imperishable fame. I would like to point out with regard to this argument that Cabinets do meet in the autumn, and the legal and judicial business is transacted here at that time, and therefore a certain number of persons in both Houses would have to be here in any case. Then there is what I may term the subordinate official argument. I have been assured by the Whips that it would be impossible to secure the attendance of Peers or Members of Parliament in the winter months. A friend has furnished me with some statistics on the subject, and I find that in the month of July last year—July being our busy month—the House sat for eighteen days, and there were 1,475 attendances of Peers, giving an average attendance of eighty-two per day. In December of last year, however, when the House only sat for thirteen days, there were 1,283 attendances, giving an average attendance of no less than ninety-eight persons per day.
1583 I will pass from what I term the official objections to the unofficial objections, and the natural objections that will arise to everybody's mind are the so-called sporting objections. I have been told that if my Motion is carried in some mysterious way the prospects of first-class cricket will be seriously injured. Well, if any action of mine could make what is now essentially a dull amusement a little more lively I should consider myself a public benefactor. Personally, I almost think I would as soon sit here and listen, say, to a debate in Committee on a Scottish Bill than be forced to sit out a season of first-class cricket matches played under the present circumstances. I confess I entirely fail to follow this argument. 1 pass from cricket to another sporting objection—the shooting objection. I have been indignantly accosted by various Members of both Houses since this Motion was placed on the Paper, and they have inquired of me, "What do you mean by endeavouring to stop my shooting in the autumn?' I have replied, meekly but firmly, that I had not the slightest intention of doing anything of the kind. If the House adjourned on the 1st of July it would still be open for anybody who wanted to, to shoot very nearly as much as he does now. He could begin, I believe, on 1st August; he could begin shooting ducks, and he could shoot all August and September, all October, the greater portion of November, the greater portion of December, and the greater portion of January, not to mention week-ends. I confess that I think the shooting argument is very much overdone. There is a sort of superstition which still exists, that the English country gentleman, including the Peer, still consists of a kind of modified Squire Western, and that he cannot be happy unless he is killing something. This is, of course, a delusion.
I pass from the shooting objection to the hunting objection, and whenever I have suggested my proposal to any thoughtless person who had not considered the subject, or to any person who is not interested in the subject at all, he has invariably said to me. "You are only wasting your time; you are embarking on a perfectly hopeless task, because the hunting men will never 1584 allow anything of the sort." For generations the proceedings in Parliament, social life, and everything else have been governed by the theory that Parliament, and more especially the House of Commons, is composed of hunting men. Well, this is the hoary superstition to which I recently alluded. There may have been justification for this theory under it we have groaned, or, per- haps, it would be more correct to say, under which we have perspired, for generations, but there is certainly very little ground for it now. I can illustrate that by one simple -fact. During the present session an endeavour was made to organise a point-to-point race for Members of the House of Commons. How many entries do you suppose were received? Just five. I have taken the trouble to examine into the hunting theory, and I cannot find that there are fifty men in the House of Commons, not who are hunting men, but. who go out hunting; and I must confess, although it seems a hard thing to say, that I believe there is much less cruelty involved in preventing a middle-aged gentleman from going out hunting than is generally supposed. But the best argument I have against the hunting people is that my noble friend opposite, Lord Ribblesdale, who is a well-known figure in the hunting world, is one of my warmest supporters, and I might add that I have obtained promises of support from masters of hounds sitting on this side of the House.
So much for the sporting arguments. I now come to what I may term the social arguments. It is said that if the Motion is carried I shall spoil the London season. Well, my Lords, I must admit frankly that my ambition is not limited solely to improving our procedure here, but to effecting an improvement in the London season. Lord Beaconsfield once wrote—If we could only so contrive our lives as to go into the country for the first note m the nightingale. and to return to town for the first note of the muffin-bell, existence might be more enjoyable.I am not going to the length advocated by Lord Beaconsfield. I do not wish to, drive anybody into the country when the first note of the nightingale is heard. If I am not mistaken, the nightingale 1585 will have finished his song before I propose that the House should adjourn. But under the present arrangements the early months of the year are not only wasted politically but they are wasted socially, and social congestion sets in concurrently with political congestion in the month of July. I contend that the natural months for social enjoyment are March, April, May, and perhaps June. I have already pointed out that our practice is the reverse of every civilised nation, and I contend, if my proposal were adopted, that existence, in the language of Lord Beaconsfield, would be more enjoyable than it is at present. There is to my mind only one objection which need seriously be considered, and that is the question of whether, supposing this Motion is carried, the session would be prolonged or not. I began by assuming that nobody wanted Parliament to sit longer than is absolutely necessary, and I am sure nobody wishes that it should sit longer than it does at the present moment. Shortly stated, one session is very much like another. Every year we see the same thing. The Government endeavours to pass as many Bills as possible, and the Opposition endeavours to prevent as many Bills as possible from being passed. In former days, this contest resolved itself solely into one of endurance. The House of Commons used occasionally to sit far into September, and when it had arrived towards the end of September a bargain had to be struck with the Opposition in order to obtain Supply. Those conditions have been much improved latterly under the new rules.
Under the new Jules there is now practically a fixed day—approximately the 12th or 15th of August. What, in effect, I propose, is that we should substitute what would practically be a fixed day six weeks earlier; and, although there are certain authorities upon Parliamentary procedure who believe that this is impracticable, I cannot help thinking that if an autumn session were practically a certainty, the motive for obstruction would be less than it is as long as the prospect is uncertain. As a matter of fact, whatever Government may say, I am convinced that autumn sessions will be the rule in the future instead of the exception, and it always 1586 will be so as long as Governments persist in overloading their ship. But when I consider the objections which are raised on this score, I cannot he p calling to mind the prophecies of evil which I have heard indulged in whenever any suggested change was made in Parliamentary arrangements in the House of Commons, and therefore the objections which, no doubt, will be put forward on this ground, are less terrifying to me than they would be if I had had no Parliamentary experience. I think I have more or less exhausted my arguments, and I trust that, at the same time, I have not exhausted your patience. I should like to conclude by assuring you that what I propose to do is nothing startling or rash, and that this Motion is not the offspring of a disordered imagination. This proposal is to be supported by many Members of this House who have considerable acquaintance with Parliamentary procedure. It is warmly supported by the only noble Lord who sits in this House who in former days was a Speaker of the House of Commons. I know that many Members of this House are in sympathy with my object, and I know that many Members of the other House are in sympathy with it. I know also that it would be hailed with gratitude by everybody connected with this House, not only 'by the officials and everybody else, but also by the unhappy individuals whose fate it is to record our utterances. In asking you to give it your sanction I would merely suggest to anybody who has not finally made up his mind on the subject, that he should be actuated, not by his feelings at the present moment, but by what his feelings are likely to be if he is called upon to come here in the middle of August to wrestle with the intricacies of an Irish Land Bill or an Education Bill.
Moved to resolve. "That, in the opinion of this House, Parliament ought to rise at the beginning of July, and that the time required for the due transaction of Public Business should he provided by Parliament sitting during a longer period of the winter than is customary at present." —(Lord Newton.)
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, in rising to say a few words in support of my noble friend's Motion 1587 I will endeavour not to traverse any of the ground which he has covered. He has mentioned to your Lordships that we are about the only people whose Legislature sit during the hot months of July and August, and I should like to remind the House that even this practice is one which has only grown up during the last fifty or sixty years. If you search back through the records of Parliament you will find that, with the exception of some exceptional occasions, on which some urgent public business caused it to be done, it was very rare for Parliament ever to sit after the end of June. The argument that I feel will tell most against this Motion is that, after all, the decision of it lies in a great measure with the House of Commons, and one would have felt that this was rather a serious objection if it had not been that the House of Commons themselves, when recently they set to work to rearrange the order of their business, opened a hope to us in establishing the sanctity of the week-end, and we trust that the grace they have accorded to the golfer, the motorist, and the other week-ender may be extended some day to establishing the principle, which is so venerated in the legal profession, of a long vacation. My noble friend has mentioned that the average attendance in this House from day to day is somewhere about eighty, and it is curious to observe that in the reign of Henry VIII., when the Members of this House numbered not more than one third of what they do at present, the average attendance was almost precisely the same. I know that this is explained in the words of the poet—Somemen to business, some to pleasure take.But I am sure that it would be a libel on the Members of your Lordships' House to suppose that they are less capable of business and more addicted to pleasure than they were in those days. I wish to urge this Motion for your acceptance as much as anything on the plea of the business of our own House. You have already been reminded of the way in which we come down to this House to transact, in the course of five months, what we could perfectly easily do in the course of five weeks, and that into one week is compressed the business of two or three weeks. As evidence of how the business of this House might be profitably re-arranged, I would like to remind 1588 your Lordships of an incident that occurred in 1893–4, when the session ran on late into February. The House of Commons adjourned on the 12th January and assembled again on the 12th of February. During that interval your Lordships' House met from day to day. The attendances were above the average, and the business transacted was a model to any business assembly. If by any means we could curtail the business of this House into a more limited period, it would be far easier for your Lordships to arrange to be present in greater numbers, and it would enable you to transact business in a way which would be beneficial to the country and dignified to yourselves, instead of in the long drawn out agony in which it is at present done. After the speech of my noble friend, who has pointed out to you many of the advantages and the flimsy nature of the difficulties which stand in the way, I hope this subject may be taken into serious consideration. I cannot say that I entertain for a moment very great hopes that we shall at once come to any satisfactory conclusion, but I hope that in the course of time we may see an effort made in this House, as well as in the House of Commons, to transact our business on more business principles.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I am sure we are very glad that my noble friend Lord Newton has exercised what he called the activity of an irresponsible person and has brought this subject before your Lordships to-night in so fresh and able a speech. With much that the noble Lord said I think we must all agree. I think most of us will agree that it is a deplorable thing that this House should have such small opportunities of exercising its talents and of transacting business. We should all agree, too, that we should like to be able to spend our Julys and Augusts in the country, and to be tied to London in the fine summer weather is extremely unpleasant; but I must confess that my noble friend had at any rate some nerve in raising this discussion in your Lordships' House, because really it is a question that little affects your Lordships. Your Lordships' sittings are brief in the extreme, the number of noble Lords who attend those sittings is not very great, and T think that everybody will agree that should any noble Lord desire to be away from town for sport, pleasure, or 1589 business, either in the summer or in the winter, he is very well able to do so, and make his arrangements so that he is able to be in your Lordships' House whenever any important business has to be transacted. This subject is one that must be dealt with from the point of view of the other House of Parliament and not from the point of view of this House. A great deal has been said in this debate, and has on former occasions been said, with regard to the inconvenience caused to Members of Parliament and to Peers, as to the arrangements which should be made to make things easy for them. I do not think that the question of inconvenience or convenience is of much mement. At any rate it is not on the grounds of the personal convenience or inconvenience of Peers or Members of Parliament that this question should be settled. There are in the two Houses of Parliament I think but 1295 men altogether, and we have been chosen, or the Members of the House of Commons have been chosen, and we are ourselves placed here, for the purpose of doing the business of the country, and we must look at this question from the point of view of whether the business of the country is best to be transacted under the conditions that at present prevail, or whether it is desirable that those conditions should be altered.
When you take my noble friend's proposal and come to its root principle, it will be found to be nothing else but that Parliament is every year to have an autumn session. My noble friend was perfectly frank and admitted it to be so. He said you may either have your autumn session as an appendage to the regular session or as a preface, but an autumn session you should have. I think the question of the time that Parliament should sit must be a question for the executive Government of the day. It must rest with the executive as One of its most important functions to decide at what time of year it is necessary that Parliament should sit, and for how many months of the year Parliament should be called together. Having put aside the question of convenience or inconvenience and considerations of sport, which I look upon as being very subsidiary, and, indeed, matters to which little attention should be given, I would ask you to look at the question 1590 from this point of view. Would this change to a regular autumn session be of advantage to the transaction of public business, and would it also be to the advantage of the House of Commons in the way of encouraging men to come into that House who are best suited to transact the business of the House of Commons? Let us look at, it in the first place, from the point of view of the transaction of the business of Parliament. My noble friend has justly described the present procedure. Parliament meets at or about the 1st of February, or a few days earlier or a few days later. It sits on normally till the early days of August, with two breaks at Easter and Whitsuntide. Now, what is Parliament called together for? It is called together for the ventilation of grievances, for the discussion of Supply, and for passing legislation; and what we have to secure is that while abundant time is given to the first of those purposes the necessary business of the country should be transacted fairly rapidly and completely. I maintain that in order to secure this you must sit pretty continuously; that if you break up your session into small portions coming arbitrarily to an end you will take away many of those motives and weapons which enable a Government to get their business through.
If you introduce a regular normal autumn session, and if that is the regular condition of things, I want to know what security you have, if you meet at the end of January or at the beginning of February, that the business of the House of Commons will be brought to a close by the early days of July, and if you do forcibly bring it to a close in the early days of July, that the business will be completed in the six or eight weeks that you are going to sit before Christmas? We had an experience of that in the year 1893. We met in January of that year and sat on steadily with but a few breaks till, I think, the 3rd or 4th of March, 1894. We met again then, after about ten days used for the reconstruction of the Government, and sat on till August. That shows what is possible. It does seem to me that if you start with assuming that an autumn session is necessary you will put a great weapon in the hands of those who wish 1591 to obstruct public business, or, on the other hand, that you will put a great weapon in the hands of Governments who are anxious to get more work done than perhaps they reasonably have the power behind them to carry through. What pressure can be brought on Members of the House of Commons now to get business through? It is perfectly well known that one of the most effective forms of pressure is the threat that holidays will be curtailed, and the statement that by certain days certain business must be got through or else the House will be kept sitting longer. That is done twice or thrice every year, and I maintain that the power held back by the Government, the power they always hold up their sleeve, so to speak, of calling Members to assemble for an autumn session, does have very great effect indeed in bringing business to a close at a fairly reasonable period in the middle of the summer. Further, so long as you have not an autumn session as part of Parliamentary procedure, you have the autumn session to fall back upon in cases of emergency. Then there is another point—the effect that an autumn session will have on the men who come forward as candidates for Parliament. I think we will all agree that the men we want to see in the House of Commons are those who are engaged in every sort of business throughout the length and breadth of the land. We want men as far as possible to belong to the places which they represent. We do not want to see too many men elected who make their business in London, and who, because they live in London, can conveniently give their time to the House of Commons. If you adopt this system of an annual autumn session, you will make your period for the sittings of Parliament synchronise almost exactly with the legal sittings, and you wil more and more make it convenient for the lawyer, who has to be in London during the time the Courts are sitting, to sit in the House of Commons, and I do not think that, distinguished as are many of the lawyers who sit in the House of Commons, their number should be largely increased. I have often had to discuss the matter with gentlemen who are desirous of becoming Members of Parliament, and I have often been told—
1592 "I cannot afford to come up to London and leave my business alone. I must have certain time to give to my business down in the country." It does make it to some extent possible for gentlemen who have businesses in various parts of the country to serve Parliament and attend to their businesses also if the Parliamentary session is taken very much en bloc and the holidays very much en bloc. A man is free then for four or five months of the year continuously, and he can give those months either to his business or pleasure or travel. For these reasons, then, I should be sorry to see the Motion of my noble friend adopted. I do not quite know how, if it were adopted, effect could be given to it. I do not know whether he would propose to introduce a Bill to say that Parliament should sit on a certain day until a certain day, and reassemble on a certain day. It seems to me that that question is one that must be left to the executive, but I am sure that if this plan were adopted, the business of Parliament would not be furthered, and I am sure, also, that it would tend to lower the quality of gentlemen who would come forward as candidates for the House of Commons.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I do not think that I ever listened to, or entered upon a more innocent discussion than the one on which we are engaged, and I think we shall always remember it chiefly for the very entertaining and delightful speech by which the subject was introduced to our notice by my noble friend Lord Newton. I am afraid it was innocent, because I confess that there is no getting over the general argument that this matter will have to he threshed out in the House of Commons unless the House of Lords is prepared to make a stand of which I have never observed symptoms during my long connection with this House. He has pointed out that this Motion has very often very nearly been carried in the House of Commons; and I do not know that there is anything in the House of Commons as at present constituted which should debar it from taking a less favourable view than on former occasions. Let me say at once that whatever view I take of this Motion 1593 I am wholly unable to enter into the reasons on which my noble friend behind me opposed it. He has said that if this Motion is carried we shall introduce too many lawyers and keep out a desirable class of Members from the discussions in the House of Commons. I think that if the lawyers mean to get into the House of Commons nothing will prevent them except the sternly expressed will of the constituencies. I think if we have no more formidable argument to meet in regard to altering the time of year than the great objection of having lawyers in the House of Commons we may regard this Motion as being almost on the verge of being carried.
My noble friend went on to point out the objects for which Parliament meets, and these he stated very clearly; but I do not understand the argument which he drew to point out why these objects could not be carried out as well under the proposal of my noble friend, as they are under the present arrangement. He said that Parliament met for three objects. One was Supply. I am happy to say that he laid no stress on the question of Supply, because from want of experience of the House of Commons I should be absolutely unable to grapple with any argument founded on the custom of Supply. He said next that Parliament met for legislation. I know that is the theory. I do not know how far it is carried into effect; but I really am not aware that there is anything in the proposal which would prevent Parliament carrying out legislation as effectively or as ineffectively as under the present system. The third branch of the speech was this —that Parliament meets for the ventilation of grievances. If Parliament meets for the ventilation of grievances, all I can say is, it could not perform its function more imperfectly under the proposal of my noble friend than it does under the present system. I am quite certain that there is not a member of the Opposition in the House of Commons who has not at least a score of grievances which they would like to ventilate, and that there is no member of the Irish Party who has not 100 grievances which he would like to 1594 ventilate and which he is debarred from ventilating under the present system. I am not at all sure that Parliament might not devote more time to the ventilation of grievances and less time to legislation rendered abortive by the present system, than it does at present.
I am afraid that the present system has come down to us with a very illustrious parentage. It was Mr. Pitt, on first coming into office, who changed the date of Parliament meeting. Before that time, under the administration of Lord North —and someone has discovered a fanciful resemblance between his Government and the present —it was the practice to meet early in November with holidays at Christmas and Easter, and to carry on business to the King's birthday, which was the 4th of June. I confess that that is the system which most recommends itself to me. I did not know until I heard the speech of my noble friend that duck shooting began on the 1st of August. I do stoutly maintain that according to every law of nature it is more natural to inhabit the Metropolis in November and December, in the winter months when we have admirably lighted streets —particularly in my own borough of Westminster, where they have recently altered the whole system of lighting at vast expense —admirable shelter from the winds, and all the resources of civilisation to enable us to combat our horrible climate, than to live in it during the hot summer months. At this time we miss all pleasure of the country; and I am not at all sure that if the deprivation of the pleasures of June and July were held as a penalty it would not act as effectually as a curb on debate as do the prospect of holidays in August at the present time. After all what puts an end to debates in the House of Commons is the exhaustion of debaters, and that exhaustion must come whether the session began in November or in February. It is, after all, a matter more for the House of Commons than the House of Lords. I think that the House of Lords has a grievance of its own. The other day, in reading a volume of letters by the Duke of Wellington to his niece, I came on a passage in which it is shown that in the last year of William IV. this subject was being mooted in Parliament. The Duke 1595 of Wellington, writing to Lady Burghersh, said—I should think that Lord Melbourne must be aware that in these times he cannot get rid of Parliament one day earlier in summer, assemble it when he may in winter. There are some things which must be done before Easter; and he should assemble Parliament at so early a period as to afford time for them. The duration of the session does not depend upon its early commencement. To Brougham and others whose amusement is in Parliament and who have nothing else to do than to attend there, the early commencement of the session is important; but not so to Ministers who have something to do.One serious objection to this Motion is that, however early the session begins, the rhetoricians would insist on going on.
The House of Lords has a grievance of its own, and that grievance is copiously illustrated in debate every year about the month of August. I think the speeches of Ministers here in August might almost be stereotyped. The House of Lords at the end of the session is treated as a dustheap by the other House, and it is expected to gasp through a London summer only to be refreshed with a flood of Bills at a time when the House should be duck shooting, and when we are wholly unable to give them that deliberate consideration which as a Chamber of revision we are supposed and entitled to do. On the last occasion when a Bill, the Education Bill, reached the House of Lords at the last moment, it was treated in a way which showed that it was considered this House was not worth reckoning with; but we were worth reckoning with, because we added half a million to its charge. But that was an occasional outbreak which is quite an exception. The process by which the House of Lords meekly swallows the measures sent to it fro n the House of Commons, and thereby reduces itself to a legislative nullity is much more the rule than the exception. I should like to see a strike of the House of Lords. I should like to see the House of Lords take its courage boldly in its right hand and adjourn at the time it thought fit—the time suggested by my noble friend—and that it should come back in two or three months time and discuss, more at leisure, the Bills sent up to it. I am quite certain that is the only real remedy for the present state of things. As long as you are prepared to submit meekly to the 1596 impositions of the House of Commons and the arbitrary manner in which it sends its measures up to you, it is only human nature to suppose that you will have to submit to them. I suppose there would be some objections on the ground of Private Bills to such a course as I propose, but I think it is the only effective one. The House of Commons sits for several months discussing Bills, and the moment the Bills are out of the House of Commons its Members are anxious to see what effect they will have in the country. If the House of Lords were to adjourn from the month of July, and the Commons found that their Bills would not be considered until October at the earliest, I think we should have more Bills sent up to us in a more timely way than at present. I entirely agree with the suggestion in the Motion of my noble friend, and I hope he will use his influence in the House of Commons, which is, I believe. consider able, to ventilate the subject there, and call on his friends to quote the discussion in this House as showing the natural innocent taste of this House, as well as the intolerable sense of oppression under which we groan.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The' Earl of MORLEY)
My Lords, my noble friend, in the very amusing and able speech with which he introduced this Motion, made some reference to the effect it would have on the private legislation of this House. On that ground I venture to address a few words to you. Speaking generally, I can assure my noble friend that, so far from regarding his suggestions as the offspring of a disordered imagination, I admit that the proposals he has put before us are of a very tempting character. I think we should all agree that to spend July in the country would be in every way preferable to spending it in London, but I am somewhat afraid that if my noble friend's Motion were carried the only result would be that we should have an autumn session, and also have the ordinary session carried to its usual length. We have autumn sessions, but at very rare intervals, and it is admitted on all hands that, however necessary autumn sessions may be on certain occasions, they cause a considerable 1597 amount of dislocation of business in the country. The noble Lord said it would be very easy to expedite the private business in the early part of the session, and I must say that I entirely agree. I think there are stages in the early part of the session where the progress of Bills might be expedited so that they would come before the Committees at an earlier period than they do now, and I am considering the matter with my right hon. colleague in the House of Commons with a view to ascertaining whether and in what manner the intervals between these stages may be shortened. But when it comes to putting forward the period for the deposition of Bills, I think there are a good many objections to be urged. You must remember, whatever you do here, that our national custom is that there should be holidays. Even Ministers must have a holiday at some time of the year, and I think you will find that all Ministerial bodies and all promoters of Bills will have their holidays, whatever you may do, in August or September, and to cause them to deposit their plans or Bills before the end of November would be extremely difficult and inconvenient. But that does not prevent the other stages being, as I have mid, in some measure shortened.
I think my hon. friend was rather misleading when he drew attention to the average attendance of Peers in the House of Lords in the month of July and the average attendance last December. He said that last December there was an average attendance of ninety-eight, and that the average throughout the eighteen days of July was ninety-two. But your Lordships must remember that during the month of December last we were engaged in the discussion of an extremely interesting and absorbing Bill, and it is not at all fair to compare the attendance of Peers on an occasion of that kind with the ordinary attendance in July. Then my noble friend spoke of the attendance of Peers on Committees. I think in that he was accurate. About ninety Peers serve on Committees every year. This year he complains that our Private Bill Committees began at an extremely late period. So they did, but your Lordships did not begin to sit; until 17th February, 1598 and it takes four or five weeks after the House meets before a Bill is sufficiently matured for a Private Bill Committee to sit upon it. The pressure was also increased this year by the fact that Easter came somewhat early. As a rule, a great deal more private business is done before Easter than was done this year, and even although only one Committee sat before Easter I am pleased to say that at the present period the business is fairly well advanced. My noble friend was not correct when he said that there was great congestion of private business at the end of the session. There is great congestion of public business, and in that I heartily sympathise with my hon. friend, and with Lord Rosebery. I should be glad if he or any other noble Lord had really the courage of his opinions and resorted to the heroic measure of moving the adjournment of the House and leaving the legislation sent up from the House of Commons. to stand over. But I am not quite sure that that heroic measure will be taken. In fact, I think I shall live a good many years without seeing your Lordships take that step. I have very little to say with regard to the private business. I am quite sure you could not get it done completely before the beginning of August, and I think it would be extremely inconvenient to prolong it into an autumn session. I fear that, if my noble friend's Motion is carried, however alluring the prospect of July in the country may be, the result will be that you will have an autumn session and have your ordinary session prolonged as at present.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I think everyone will agree that Lord Newton has clearly made out his case that public advantage, and, as I think, public convenience, would result from the change he has suggested, and he has received the support of Lord Rosebery and other noble Lords. I do not want to go over any ground which has already been traversed, but I must say a word or two with reference to what fell from my noble friend behind me. I understand the noble Lord (Lord. Tweedmouth) to be actuated by that sort of conservatism of custom which always dislikes any change, but in this 1599 particular case it is just possible that he has dressed up the conservatism of custom in an attire which is very natural to him, having held the distinguished office of Whip in the House of Commons. There is no doubt that his appeal to you was that to keep people sitting late was the only way to get business done. I shall not go into the many considerations urged in support of this Motion. The noble Lord appealed to me particularly as a representative of the human family which is known as the hunting man. He asked me what I thought about his proposal from the hunting point of view. I speak only for myself, but I believe he is quite right in saying that a change of this kind would make very little difference to the number of people who hunt, and what little difference would be made would be to the advantage of hunting as an institution I would remind you of that celebrated character in " Handley Cross"—Captain Doleful, who was in the habit of saying that hunting was the only thing worth living for. I believe that the Captain Dolefuls in Parliament are comparatively few, and most of us who like to go hunting also desire, as far as possible, conscientiously to attend to our Parliamentary duties. But here, again, I quote from Mr. Jorrocks that London is one of the very best places you can hunt from. He said that the best of everything came to London, and why not the hunting. At the London railway stations will be found the best cover hacks, and I can assure you, crede experto, that it is perfectly possible now to vote in a Party division in this House, miss all your trains, and yet have an imperial crowner about half-past eleven the next morning; and as for people who want to hunt nearer London, they can amuse themselves very well on the Hampshire hills or the Surrey heaths. I was interested to hear what the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees said about private business. I think one advantage which would accrue from our meeting on a fixed date, say on 15th January or somewhere about then, would be that it would enable Private Bills to be considered before Easter, however early Easter fell. I hope your Lordships will give your vote in favour 1600 of the Motion, which I regard as an extremely reasonable and business-like one.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I venture to hope that the noble Lord will not content himself with having made a very able and interesting speech, but will also take the sense of the House on the question. It is quite true, as has been said, that Parliament cannot meet at a different time without the consent and the approval of the House of Commons, and that perhaps in this matter, the opinion of the House of Commons is more important even than the opinion of your Lordships' House. But, on the other hand, I can see no reason whatever why your Lordships should not declare your opinion on this subject. The noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, told you that we live in a state of oppression, but having done that he advocated a very heroic remedy, a much stronger remedy than is proposed by my noble friend; but he said that that was the only adhesion he was afraid he could give to the Motion. I hope, at all events, and I do not think we really heard anything from the noble Earl which did not justify us in hoping, that he will give his valuable vote in support of the Motion. There is only one matter which I wish to impress upon your Lordships, and that is the scandal that annually occurs in the last three weeks of the session. I have been in this House longer than most of your Lordships, and my universal experience has been that important Bills come up to your Lordships at a time when it is absolutely impossible to consider them properly, and they are always thrust down our throats, generally with promises that the thing won't occur again; but still we have no time to consider them, and the result is that your Lordships do not bestow the amount of time and consideration upon important Bills which you ought and which you would do, I believe, if the time of the session was more convenient. What I support is this, that the House should meet in the autumn, not for the purpose of beginning a session, but of ending it. I feel sure that if we met, say, at the end of October or the beginning of November to consider the one or two important Bills that there are, much more consideration would be given to 1601 those measures and a much better result would accrue for the country. More than that, the House of Commons would then have a better opportunity of considering any Amendments which your Lordships might make.
The suggestion of Lord Rosebery that we should adjourn would have a very drastic effect indeed; it would have the effect almost of coercion, because then the House of Commons would be obliged to consider our Amendments and to meet, and if they did not choose to meet at that time the result would be that the important legislation would have to be dropped. But what always seems to me the greatest scandal in the occurrences of the last three weeks of the session, is that almost any individual Peer could stop the whole business of Parliament. The rule of your Lordships' House is that unless thirty Peers vote in a division the Bill must he postponed and brought up again. There is extreme difficulty in getting thirty Peers together when you are getting far through the month of August, and I remember last year I myself went over to the Government Bench and said that I thought I would stop the Bill then before the House for a day or two, and I was appealed to not to do anything so ill-natured. I believe that at that time I could have made the House sit for a week longer, and it would have been necessary to bring up sufficient Peers to override me. At the same time, I admit that that was the thing which, properly speaking, ought to have been done. This House is reduced at that period of the year to a state of absolute impotence. I am sure that if the course proposed by the noble Lord opposite, or that suggested by Lord Rosebery, were adopted, very great benefit would be conferred on the country. Your Lordships need not be afraid of a revolution in this matter. When it comes to a revolution your Lordships are not such bad revolutionists. I remember that some time after I became a Member of the House, your Lordships used to meet at the hour of half-past five. A noble Lord generally got up at half past five and moved a Bill, speaking till about six o'clock. Then two Members, one from each Front Bench, rose and spoke between them till a quarter to seven. They never 1602 failed to say they were particularly anxious that the junior Members of the House should speak, and that opportunity should be given for rising young men; but the result was that when a quarter to seven arrived if any Member of the House got up, he was regarded as a public enemy. Not merely was that the consequence, but it never used to happen in those days that we concluded the business on the Paper. I have known business to go over day after day, and there was not the least certainty when a particular matter would be reached. A Motion was made that we should meet at half-past four. The execrations with which that proposal was greeted were marvellous, but after hearing the whole of the discussion, your Lordships adopted the Motion without a division. That is what I hope you will do with regard to the Motion now before the House.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Duke of DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, I need hardly say that I do not rise for the purpose of expressing any strong opinion on the part of the Government on this question. As has already been mentioned, it is a question which has been discussed on more than one occasion in the other House; and on none of those occasions has the Government attempted to give to the discussion a Party character or to exercise any pressure on their supporters on the subject; and there is no reason, so far as I know, why the Government should not at the present time keep, at all events, as open a mind on the subject as different Governments have on previous occasions. It has also been stated that this is a question on which, although it is of very considerable interest and importance to us, and one on which we have a perfect right to express an opinion, we are ourselves obviously incompetent to give any final decision. It is one in which the other House is interested to a far larger extent than we can possibly be. The demands made upon the time of the other House so vastly exceed those made upon ours that I do not think any of your Lordships will doubt for a moment that the opinion of that House must be the predominant one in deciding such a question as this. 1603 There is one matter which has been referred to by Lord Newton, and still more pointedly by Lord Rosebery, which does greatly affect the character of the proceedings of your Lordships' House, and that is the unfortunate manner in which a great part of the business in this House has to be transacted either in the month of August, or, as recently happened, in the month of December. If it were probable that any change such as that advocated in this Resolution would make any material difference in that respect, that would be a consideration which would entitle your Lordships to express a very strong opinion in the matter. But I do not feel that this aspect of the question is one which is greatly affected by the Motion, which only deals with the times at which Parliament is to sit. I am afraid that until some method is devised by which the other House can be induced to dispose of its business and to send us our business in a more convenient manner, it does not very much matter whether the session terminates in August or in December.
One remedy that has been suggested is of a very drastic character. I understood the noble Earl to suggest that we should ourselves adjourn in the month of July, informing the House of Commons that we should meet again at a more convenient time to discuss any business they might have ready for us to discuss. I do not think the noble Earl quite foresaw one, at all events, of the reasons which make such a proceeding on our part almost impossible. If we were dealing with legislation only that course might be open to us; we might inform the other House that we should leave the consideration of measures of legislation to some time in the autumn. But it is not a matter of legislation only. As long as the House of Commons does not complete the consideration of Supply until some days into the month of August, and does not send us the necessary Bills connected with Supply until that time, it would be impossible for us to take the course suggested without suspending the whole business of the country. I should like to point out to the House exactly, as it appears to me, the real effect of the suggestion which has been made to us. The noble Lord has suggested, as a 1604 plan by which we might secure an adjournment early in the month of July, that Parliament might begin in November. To that plan I think there are very serious objections. It is difficult to bring into operation for the first time. If the Parliamentary session lasted into the month of August and it was proposed to begin the next session in November, there would be no time for preparing the Estimates and the Bills of the Government. That might be got over, perhaps; but it is extremely probable that, even if Parliament did meet in November, the sitting would be protracted during the whole of the summer.
The noble Lord has neglected to observe that the business of Parliament has now become so vast that it would be almost impossible to bring it to an end, even in the course of a whole year, if it were not for the interposition of some date which brings the session almost automatically to a close. That date is now roughly provided for us by some date in the middle of August. I do not attribute the importance that I know is attributed by some people to the magical 12th of August; I do not believe it is the necessity of going grouse shooting which really brings the session to a close some time in the middle of August. The fact is Members of Parliament have by that time become thoroughly exhausted, that the temperature and atmosphere of London have become almost intolerable, that the social attractions of London have entirely disappeared, and that everyone who feels that he must have a holiday thinks his holiday must begin then or he will not have it at all—it is the combination of these conditions which, under ordinary circumstances, brings the session to a close in August; and all these conditions would not exist at any earlier period. Therefore, I say, the experiment of meeting in November with the hope of being able to rise in July without prolonging the session to the following autumn would be altogether a delusion.
The alternative plan suggested to us seems to me a much more practicable one, that we should make up our minds to an autumn session as part of our 1605 ordinary arrangements, meeting as early as may be in the new year, and sitting till the beginning of July. In my opinion, there is a great deal to be said for such an arrangement as that, if it commends itself to the other House as well as to your Lordships. I entirely agree with those who think it far better to sit for some weeks in November and December to attend to the business of Parliament than to sit in July and August. There are, of course, certain objections to it. In my opinion, the effect of such an arrangement would be that Parliament would sit on the whole for a longer period than it does now, probably three or four weeks longer; for there would not be that pressure, from the conditions to which I have referred, which would bring the session compulsorily to a close. There would also be the objection that there would not then be the long and continuous holiday which we usually get now. In ordinary years we have from the middle of August until the beginning of the following year, and that is a period of time which enables members of both Houses to make long journeys, to visit India and the colonies, and to engage continuously in other forms
§ of work. The proposed arrangement would not allow that opportunity. There is also the objection, which must be felt by those who have had official experience, that it would to a considerable extent interfere with the Government in the preparation of their business for the ensuing session. The preparation of measures would, under such an arrangement, necessarily have to be carried on during the time when Parliament was still sitting. There is also the possibility that it would be found difficult to wind up the session before Christmas. I think, however, that by the exercise of judgment and discretion the difficulties might be overcome; and I certainly think that if the experiment should receive the support that it has received on former occasions in the other House, it would be quite possible for us to consider it. The matter, of course, is one not primarily for this House to decide. Without in the least endeavouring to influence the vote of any of your Lordships who support me, I shall give my vote in favour of the Motion.
§ On Question, their Lordships divided: Contents, 88; Not-Contents, 26.1607
|York, L. Abp.||Goschen, V.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Devonshire, D. (L. President.)||Hampden, V.||Farrer, L.|
|Bedford D.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore)||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Powerscourt, V.||Grenfell, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Sidmouth, V.||Heneage, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)|
|Zetland, M,||Chester, L. Bp.|
|Abingdon, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Lilford, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Avebury, L.||Manners of Haddon, L. (M. Granby)|
|Carrington, E.||Balfour, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Barnard, L.||Mount Stephen, L.|
|Dartrey, E.||Battersea, L.||Muskerry, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Napier, L.|
|Egerton, E.||Belper, L.||Newton, L. [Teller]|
|Feversham, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Burghclere, L.||Ribble-dale, L.|
|Lathom, E.||Calthorpe, L.||Robertson, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Carew, L.||Rosmead, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)||St. Levan, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Chaworth, L.(E. Meath.)||St. Oswald, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.[Teller.]||Sefton, L. (E. Sefton)|
|Romney, E.||Sherborne, L.|
|Rosse, E.||Colchester, L.||Ventry, L.|
|Rosslyn, E.||Congleton, L.||Wandsworth, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Crawshaw, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Stamford, E.||Davey, L.||Wenlock, L.|
|Stanhope, K||de Ros, L.||Windsor, L.|
|Westmeath, E.||Denman, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Dunboyne, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Spencer, E.||Hatherton, L|
|Waldegrave, E.||Hawkesbury, L. [Teller.]|
|Wellington, D.||Herries, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Pembroke and Montgomery, E. (L. Steward.)||Cross, V.||Leigh, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Lyveden, L.|
|Clarendon,E.(L.Chamberlain.)||Ardilaun, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Ashcombe, L.||Mostyn, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery)||Tweedmouth, L.[Teller.]|
|Morley, E.||De Mauley, L.|