§ Order of the Day road for the consideration of Commons Reason for disagreeing with the Lords Amendment.
§ EARL DE LA WARR:
My Lords, the Amendment which the Commons have disagreed to is in Clause 1, where your Lordships substituted "nineteen hundred and twenty-five" for "nineteen hundred and twenty-six." Their Reason for doing so is as follows: —The Commons disagree with this Amendment because it alters a charge on the rates, and the Commons consider it unnecessary to offer any further reason hoping that the above reason may be deemed sufficient.I move that the Commons Reason be now considered.
Moved, That the Commons Reason be now considered.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY:
My Lords, I think your Lordships have some reason to criticise the action of the Government in not having brought this Bill again before the notice of this House 222 except after such a long interval. This question was considered in the House of Commons nearly a month ago, and it has only now been brought back to this House. The result is that in order to discuss this very difficult question of privilege we are reduced to the fragment of time which can be spared from the debate on the Agricultural Wages Bill, on a Friday at the end of the Session. It is much to be regretted.
As regards the actual question, your Lordships will remember that when the Bill was before this House and the Amendment was inserted it was objected to on a question of privilege, and upon consideration by many of us that was not denied, but it was urged that it ought not to be a major matter as regards the question of privilege as it has nothing to do with the imposition of taxes. It has nothing to do with anything except rates, and, although it is a matter of privilege, yet it is a point which the House of Commons has been accustomed to waive if such a course is suggested. Notwithstanding the strong feeling of your Lordships no intimation was given to the House of Commons, so I am informed, that the Lords did desire that privilege should be waived on the present occasion. I think your Lordships have some reason to complain that their view was not submitted to the House of Commons. We always desire to treat privilege of the House of Commons with the greatest respect, and upon certain matters we never call it in question, not even with a view to its being reconsidered.
But there are questions of privilege which the House of Commons is accustomed to waive on due cause being shown. How can the House of Commons know that such a Cause exists unless the matter is submitted to them? They cannot know the strong view of your Lordships if the matter is not submitted to them. I understand that this particular question was put through as a matter of routine, the ordinary phrase covering a question of privilege was used by Mr. Speaker and the matter was allowed to slip through without a word being said. I am not blaming the Government specially. I think your Lordships have been badly used by Members of Parliament sitting in all parts of the House of Commons. Now the matter comes back covered by 223 the question of privilege. I do not think, on consideration, that I am prepared to say that the matter is not privilege in the most extreme interpretation of that word, and, therefore, there are only two courses open to us—to accept what the Commons have said or re-submit it to their consideration.
In, the dying days of the Session it is not likely that the matter will be reconsidered if we sent it back. It is not a matter of the first importance, and therefore I should not suggest that your Lordships should resist the Motion which the Government will make not to insist on the Amendment. I do desire, however, to place on record a protest on behalf of this House that these matters are not properly brought before the House of Commons when a strong feeling is expressed in your Lordships' House as to the desirability of privilege being waived. I should be grateful to the Lord President if he will undertake to convey to his colleagues in another place the strong view your Lordships take on this matter.
§ LORD PARMOOR:
My Lords, I agree with the noble Marquess that we are in this case dealing with a matter which is on the edge of privilege—it is a question of rates. The noble Marquess has stated that he does not attribute any fault to the present Government. I suggest that we should meet and talk it over. It appears that in existing circumstances matters of this kind are not dealt with in a satisfactory way in another place. I would willingly meet the noble Marquess in order to see whether matters of this kind can be prevented from slipping through on account of inadvertence. I do not think that this is a Government matter, and I do not know, at the moment, how the matter ought to be arranged, but I agree that some arrangement ought to be made. Perhaps we can meet and see what can be done.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM:
My Lords, may I say that many times, when I had the honour of sitting in the House of Commons, privilege Amendments were brought up, and the then Speaker always said in effect: "This is a privilege Amendment, but it is in the power of the House to waive that privilege." In this case, apparently, Mr. Speaker either forgot or omitted to make that statement, and apparently there was nobody on the 224 Conservative side of the House who was aware, or who remembered at the moment, that the waiving of privilege was by no means an unusual thing in the House of Commons. If I may venture to say so, I do not in any way wish to criticise the action of Mr. Speaker, but if the noble Lord would consult with Mr. Speaker as to whether on other occasions it might not be advisable for him to remind the House that they have that opportunity, I. think the difficulty might be met.
§ EARL BUXTON:
My Lords, I was very glad to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, the Lord President. His suggestion is, I think, that there should be something in the nature of a conversation, or possibly a conference, in regard to this matter, so that this point concerning the waiving of privilege may not be overlooked when Amendments from your Lordships' House come to another place. In the case of the particular Bill that is before us, I do not know exactly what happened, but my noble friend Lord Salisbury mentioned that the House of Commons had practically no opportunity of waiving their privilege. We discussed yesterday an even worse case when we were dealing with the question of privilege that arose on Amendments to the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill. It was worse—as I think noble Lords will see by referring to the OFFICIAL REPORT—in the sense that the House of Commons was put into a position of not even having before them, or being able to secure at the Table, your Lordships' Amendments in order to consider whether the question of privilege arose or not.
They had no opportunity, therefore, of considering the Amendments on their merits, though Mr. Speaker himself said at the end of the discussion that the privilege of the House was, on occasion, waived. But no such opportunity arose in that case, and no member really knew what the Amendments were. Your Lordships' Amendments went through under such conditions that no member had any opportunity of proposing or suggesting that privilege should be waived. I am certain that, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury said, no noble Lord in this House desires to claim any greater privileges for this House than exist at present, but I do think that it is well that 225 an opportunity should be given for considering these matters, so that the House of Commons might have every opportunity of waiving privilege if it desires to do so.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE):
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to make one observation on the particular question that is before the House. This was a pure question of money, and nothing else—a question of how much money should be voted. It is the fact that rates stand upon exactly the same footing as taxes, and, if the noble Marquess will refer to the relevant passages in Sir Erskine May's book, he will find that that is so.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY:
I do not know if I correctly heard the noble and learned Viscount, but I understood him to say that this was purely a question of voting money. But it was not a question of voting money at all. It was a question of rates, and only indirectly so.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR:
The noble Marquess evidently did not hear that I added in the next sentence that rates stand upon, the same footing as taxes, and it is so laid down by the greatest authorities we have. The Speaker took that view, and did not suggest to the House that there was any doubtful question of privilege. The matter is over, and what the House of Commons may choose to do on future occasions regarding these questions of privilege I do not know, but all that concerns us at the moment is that, this was not one of those questions in which privilege arises only incidentally. It was a pure question of money voted.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD:
My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will allow me to say one word in reply to the Lord Chancellor. During the time when I sat in the House of Commons my impression was exactly the same as that of the Lord President, and entirely different from that of the Lord Chancellor —namely, that rates were in an entirely different position. It is perfectly true that rates are sometimes treated as a matter of privilege, but they are not so treated on the same footing as alterations in taxation, or as an Amendment affecting taxation. This distinction has always been very clearly observed during my 226 experience in the House of Commons, and I am sure that any old members of the House of Commons will confirm me in that respect.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.