§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I rise for the purpose of asking the noble Marquess the question which appears on the Paper in my name, viz.:—"With reference to the statement made on the 26th instant by the Prime Minister, as to the course of Parliamentary business, whether the Lord Privy Seal will give this House any information, and, if so, when, in regard to the dates at which the measures which His Majesty's Government hope to pass into law during the present session will probably come before this House, and approximately the number of days which, in his estimation, will be sufficient for the discussion of the more important of those measures."
I hope the noble Marquess will not think my curiosity is excessive, but the 733 matter is really one which very deeply concerns your Lordships' House. The Prime Minister has recently made a statement as to the course of business. He has set Parliament a task which I am sure the noble Marquess will not deny is one of extraordinary difficulty and magnitude. He has intimated that the session may be expected to end on 24th August, and he apologised for prolonging it to so unusual a length. The Prime Minister named no less than twenty-three Bills which in his anticipation Parliament might be able to pass within that limit of time. It is perfectly clear that this statement involves both Houses of Parliament, and my object in raising the question this evening is to ascertain on what data that part of the calculation which has reference to your Lordships' House was arrived at. I will not suggest that in making that calculation the Prime Minister for a momeat forgot the existence of this House. The Prime Minister is not apt to forget the existence of this House. This House is in his mind a kind of a spectre which apparently haunts him on all possible occasions. I therefore dismiss that hypothesis. I also dismiss another hypothesis, which is that the Prime Minister could have made his statement without first conferring with the noble Marquess and the noble Earl who sits beside him. If the statement had been made without such previous consultation both noble Lords would have had serious reason to complain of the discourtesy with which they were treated. Therefore I must assume that the noble Lords on the opposite bench were consulted by the Prime Minister, and that the result of those consultations was that the time during the remainder of the session was mapped out between the two Houses. I want to know how our time was mapped out. Of course, mapping out the time of the House of Commons is a comparatively simple task, because we all know the methods by which in that House time can be allocated to particular portions of public business. But those methods, I think, fortunately, do not prevail here, and therefore there must have been on the part of the noble Lords, and who must have advised the Prime Minister on this occasion, some intelligent anticipation of the course of events in this House. I want, with great respect, 734 to ask what the nature of that anticipation was.
The position is really a very serious one. I am given to understand that we are likely to have the Second Beading of the Evicted Tenants Bill on an early date next week—I think Tuesday. Unless I have altogether miscalculated the time at our disposal, I am under the impression that, even if we sit on Fridays, that leaves us about fourteen working days in which to get through the vast accumulation of business which at this moment lies before Parliament. I ask your Lordships to recollect that within that limited time we shall have to dispose of the Evicted Tenants Bill, of the English Small Holdings Bill, of the Scottish Small Holdings Bill, and of the Scottish Valuation Bill, besides a whole series of other Bills, not perhaps of the same importance, but still in many cases requiring examination.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend behind me reminds me that I have left out a very important measure, the Criminal Appeal Bill, which has already been discussed in previous years in this House, and in regard to which many noble and learned Lords undoubtedly would desire to express their opinions. I venture to say that in the face of those facts some explanation is due to your Lordships' House. I suggest that if the noble Marquess really does hope within anything like the limits of time indicated by the Prime Minister to make any approach to a satisfactory progress with all these Bills it would be far better that he should take this House into his confidence and tell us now, or at any rate as soon as possible, what his general idea is as to the time which might be devoted, at any rate, to the most important of the measures of which I have spoken.
§ *THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The MARQUESS OF RIPON)
My noble friend who has just sat down has based most of his observations upon a belief that I have consulted and discussed with the Prime Minister the course of proceedings in this House during the rest of the session, and that the speech made by my right hon. 735 friend on Friday last was the result of consultations of that kind. I am sorry to tell my noble friend that he is mistaken in that idea. I have, unfortunately, been obliged to be absent from this House on account of questions of health, and I did not return to London till Saturday last. Therefore my friend has raised up an imaginary consultation with the Prime Minister.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My imaginary consultation did not include my friend the noble Marquess.
§ *The MARQUESS OF RIPON
My answer applies only to myself. I know nothing beyond that I was not here at the time. I am obliged to my noble friend for giving me an opportunity of saying it. I feel I owe an apology to this House for my absence. [Noble Lords: No, no.] I should not have left unless I had found it necessary, and I hope your Lordships will excuse me for having taken that leave. My noble friend evidently, from his Question, does not expect any detailed information at the present time, because he says "I will ask the Lord Privy Seal if he will give this House any information, and, if so, when." When he put that Question down, he evidently felt that I could not at this moment have any fresh information to give to this House beyond that given to the public by my right hon. friend on Friday last. That is the case. I feel very strongly that my right hon. friend is perfectly justified in asking for the earliest possible information with respect to the prospects of the present session. I do not deny at all that, as far as this House is concerned, those prospects do not appear altogether satisfactory, but I shall be in a much better position before long, I hope, to give a statement as to the prospects of proceedings of Bills in the House of Commons than I can be in at the present moment. I must now rest my answer upon the speech made by my right hon. friend on Friday last. I quite agree that the number of Bills of which he spoke is a very formidable list. Some of them, I also agree, are measures of very great importance, but I can assure my noble friend that every effort will be made to bring those Bills up to this House at the earliest possible date. One of the Bills mentioned especially 736 —the Crimininal Appeal Bill—I believe passed its Third Reading last night or rather this morning and will therefore come up to this House immediately. The clerks at the Table inform me that it has come up and been read a first time in this House. I cannot at the present moment enter into more details with regard to the prospects of the other measures, but I will at a later date when I am able to speak with more certainty of what those prospects are. I will endeavour, if I can, to make a statement to my noble friend in regard to the whole of those prospects.
When I look to the last part of the Question as it stands upon the Paper, I confess that I am filled with considerable surprise. My noble friend asks me to tell him approximately the number of days which in my estimation will be sufficient for the discussion of the more important of these measures. My Lords, how can I give my noble friend any information upon the subject? It does not rest with His Majesty's Government, it rests with the noble Lord opposite—my noble friend himself is the leader of the vast legions in this House who settle the length of time discussion takes and the course which is to be followed. If we are able in any degree to regulate the proceedings in this House in that sort of manner, it is only due to the courtesy and the good feeling of the Opposition which is so powerful and which we have to face. It is for my noble friend to say what time he will require for the discussion of these Bills. I cannot say how long they will take. He must therefore excuse me if I do not undertake now and if I do not hold out any prospect of being able to undertake at a later period to answer that part of his Question. No doubt the position this session is one of which your Lordships—I admit it—have a right to complain, but I can only say, although August 24th may seem to be a very late date for the prorogation of Parliament, nevertheless I have in my experience known sessions which have lasted later than that under very different circumstances and with very different difficulties to encounter. I can only hope that your Lordships will be prepared to give to those measures, when they do come up and as soon as they come up, the fullest consideration you can. We will be prepared to afford every possible 737 facility for that purpose, but 1 cannot undertake to prophesy what may be the course which the majority of this House may think fit to pursue in regard to the discussion of those Bills.
§ LORD NEWTON
I venture to ask whether it is really the case that nobody upon the Front Bench has been consulted at all with reference to the disposal of the remainder of the time of the session. The noble Marquess is not the only representative of the Government on that bench; there are other noble Lords upon it who surely are qualified in every way for a consultation of this nature. The noble Lord who has just spoken has given utterance to certainly the most modest expressions that I have ever listened to either in this House or another place. He has assumed almost the position of a nonentity and thrown himself, so to speak, upon the mercy of the Opposition. As I have said, I have never heard an announcement of such a modest character made before, but in view of the treatment with which he has evidently been subjected by the head of the Government perhaps it is not altogether so surprising as it ought to be.