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LORDS AND MEMBERS PRESENT, AND MINUTES OF PRO
CEEDINGS AT EACH SITTING OF THE COMMITTEE.
Die Martis, 24° Julii, 1923.
ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY.
Colonel Sir John GILMOUR. E. CLARENDON.
Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON. E. BEAUCHAMP.
Mr. LUNN. E. MIDLETON.
Mr. LEES SMITH,
Ordered.—That the Committee be adjourned to Tuesday, the 13th of November next, at Eleven o'clock.
Die Martis, 13° Novembris, 1923.
ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY.
Mr. FISHER. E. MIDLETON.
Colonel Sir John GILMOUR. V. ULLSWATER.
Mr. LUNN. L. DENMAN.
Mr. PRETYMAN. L. NEWTON.
Mr. LEES SMITH.
Colonel LAMBERT WARD.
The following witnesses are called in and examined, viz. :--Lieut.Colonel the Right Hon. Sir Leslie Wilson, G.C.I.E., Sir Arthur Thring, K.C.B. (See Minutes of Evidence.)
The following Draft Report is laid before the Committee by the Lord in the Chair.
“ The Committee have met and heard the evidence of Lieut.-Col. the Right Hon. Sir Leslie Wilson, G.C.I.E., and the Clerk of the Parliaments.
Owing to the impending dissolution of Parliament they will be unable to continue the enquiry. They have therefore Ordered the Minutes of Evidence, with the Proceedings of the Committee, to be laid before both Houses of Parliament."
The said Draft Report is then considered.
Ordered.–That the Lord in the Chair do make the Report to the House of Lords, and that Mr. Fisher do make the Report to the House of Commons.
Die Martis, 13° Novembris, 1923.
MEMBERS PRESENT :
Archbishop of CANTERBURY.
Mr. FISHER. Earl of MIDLETON.
Col. Sir John GILMOUR. Viscount ULLSWATER.
Mr. LUNN. Lord DENMAN.
Mr. PRETY MAN. Lord NEWTON.
Mr. LEES SMITH.
Col. LAMBERT WARD.
Lieut.-Col. The Right Hon. Sir LESLIE WILSON, G.0.1.E., C.M.G., D.8.0.,
is called in; and Examined as follows: Chairman.
It is customary for a new session to
commence about the second week in 1. Would you prefer to read your state
February, and the approximate number ment to us first?-I think perhaps it
of days on which the House sits until the might savo time if I ran through it
31st March, which is the end of the shortly. My proposals are, briefly, that
financial year, is 33. All this time, howthe House should meet for a new session
ever, is not at the disposal of the Governin November, and before Christmas
ment. The largest amount of time should do three things: firstly, pass the allowed to Private Members falls before Address in reply to the King's Speech; Easter and, after the ballot has been held, secondly, set up the Committees of Supply
Tuesday and Wednesday evenings after and Ways and Means; and thirdly, read
8.15 p.m. (counted as half-sittings) and a second time as many as possible of the the whole of Fridays are set apart for the important measures forecasted in the
consideration of Private Members' Bills King's Speech. The second proposal is and Motions. In an ordinary parliamenthat the whole time of the House up to tary week of five sittings this means that Christmas should be available to the the Government has about two-thirds and Government. The third proposal is that Private Members about one-third of the the session should terminate not later time. Of the thirty-three working days than the end of July.
before the 31st March, Private Members If the House met in November instead
have approximately eleven (12 half-sitof as at present in February, it would tings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 5 be possible to pass the Address in reply Fridays) and the Government twenty-two to the King's Speech before Christmas, (15 full sittings, 12 half-sittings, and i set up the Committees of Supply and Friday). After the Debate the Ways and Means, and read a second time Address, which usually occupies 6 sittings, some of the important measures fore- the essential financial business which is casted in the King's Speech. This pro- required by law to be passed before the posal would not only relieve the congested 31st March includes: -Supplementary state of business at the beginning of a Estimates either for money additional to session and leave the time after Christ- that already granted or for new services. mas more free for the discussion of the The accounts for the expiring financial necessary financial 'business, but would year must be wound up and parliamenenable the Standing Committees to meet tary authority for any extra expenditure early in February. I shall deal with the incurred since the last meeting must be question of the Standing Committees a obtained before the year ends. The numlittle later.
ber of Supplementaries presented during 45385
13 November 1923]
Lieut.-Col. The Right Hon, Sir LESLIE Wilson, G.C.I.E.
February and March in the four pre-war years and in the four post-war years differ considerably. The demands on the Exchequer arising out of the change from war to peace caused an abnormal number of Supplementary Estimates in the postwar years and therefore any guide as to the future should be based rather upon the pre-war years. It will be seen that in 1911 the number of Supplementary Estimates presented to the House were 20; in 1912, 16; in 1913, 14; and in 1914, 14. Then we come to the post-war years. In 1920 there were no less than 66; in 1921, 35; in 1922, 28; and in 1923, 11. It is almost impossible to form any estimate which would be in any way reliable as to the time that Supplementary Estimates are likely to occupy. So much depends on the nature of the estimate and the mood of the House. In 1912 there were 16 which occupied approximately 3} sittings; in 1914, there were 14 which occupied approximately 3 sittings; in 1921 there were 35 which occupied approximately 8 sittings; in 1922 there were 28 which occupied approximately 13 sittings; in 1923 there were 11 which occupied approximately 31 sittings. Those held back owing to lack of parliamentary time or for other reasons must be presented before the financial year ends and, apart from providing the Opposition with a means for obstructing the progress of business, often raise most controversial questions.
Then with regard to the Votes on Account for the Services, all grants made by Parliament are limited for use in the year for which they are given and any balances held by departments at the end of the financial year are surrendered to the Treasury. Thus it is necessary, in order to maintain the Services until the full estimates can be passed, to obtain some money votes for the Navy, Army and Air Services, and, in the case of the Civil Services and Revenue Departments, Vote
Account. Moving Speaker out of the Chair on Navy, Army and Air Estimates; Committee and Report stages of one or more votes for each Service and Committee and Report stage of the Civil Services Vote on Account, occupy at least seven sittings.
Then there is the Consolidated Fund Bill: A Consolidated Fund Bill is essential to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of the money so granted; and two sittings must be allowed for the Second and Third Readings. Therefore
a minimum of 15 sittings, which allows no time for supplementary estimates, is the least that can be allocated forDebate the Address, 6 sittings; Supplementary Estimates, an unknown number; Moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on Navy, Army and Air Estimates, and Committee and Report stage of necessary votes for each Service, 5 (at least); Civil Services Vote on Account, Committee and Report stage, 2; Consolidated Fund Bill, 2; total 15. There now remain 7 sittings out of the 22 available to the Government, which is slender provision for Supplementary Estimates; stages of any urgent Bills; contingencies, such as: Debates on questions of the day; adjournments on matters of urgent public importance and the setting down of opposed Private business by the Chairman of Ways and Means. This time, as the records show, has on many occasions been found entirely inadequate to pass the essential busines before the 31st March and allow amply for its consideration without taking the whole time of the House, passing special Guillotine resolutions (as in 1920 and 1913) and meeting on Saturdays.
I have put down here the amount of the Private Members' time which has been taken since 1911, and I will not trouble the Committee by reading it. With the exception of 1914 and 1923 a very large amount of Private Members' time has been taken to get through the necessary Government business. In 1914 the Government only took one Tuesday and Wednesday for the Address and in the last year they only took two Tuesdays and one Wednesday.
Then coming back to the question of the Standing Committees, as I mentioned before, there is little opportunity for the consideration of legislation before the 31st March, unless the Government takes the whole time of the House, as under normal conditions that period of a Session is devoted mainly to general criticism of the Government and of the Estimates for the Services. The chief legislative pro. posals of the Government are therefore necessarily postponed until after the Easter Recess, and consequently the Standing Committees do not seriously start to work until that date. Perhaps one or two urgent Bills are sent upstairs or considered on the floor of the House and several small Bills read a second time before Easter. In 1914 two Government Bills were sent up to Standing Com
13 November 1923]
Lieut.-Col. The Right Hon. Sir LESLIE Wilson, G.0.1.E.
mittees, one of which was reported before Easter but not considered. In 1923 six Government Bills were sent upstairs, one received Royal Assent-it was
a very urgent Bill from the Ministry of Labourone was sent to the Lords and two were reported but not considered before Easter. (In both these years Private Member's sacrificed little of their time to the Government.) This delay in starting the Standing Committees does not add to the smooth working of Parliament, and it certainly makes it very difficult to avoid flooding the House of Lords with Bills about the end of July, allowing little time for their consideration and passage into law before the Summer adjournment. The increasing work of Parliament makes a big call upon the time of Members, and work in Standing Committees and in the House is a severe strain. After Easter, when Standing Committees are working at full pressure, the House is considering important Government Bills, the Budget and Finance Bill and Supply, Divisions are numerous, the sittings late, and Members are required to be in constant attendance.
If the suggestion which I have made that the House should meet in November is adopted an Autumn Session must be accepted as inevitable. Even before the War an Autumn Session was not known-in fact, it was very much known -and the time seems far distant when it will be possible for the House to be in Session only seven months in a year.
Then with regard to the termination of the Session it will be necessary in some way to fix a date for the termination of a Session, and the best possible date would appear to be about the end of July so as to avoid sitting during the Summer months and to meet the convenience of Members to enable them to take their holidays at the same time as their families.
The Select Committee Procedure which was set up in 1913 and 1914 made recommendations similar to these proposals except that the Committee recommended the disposal of Supplementary Estimates before Christmas instead of considering legislation, and that the Session should end not later than the 15th July, and suggested a Standing Order to this effect. It should be noted that both Mr. Asquith and Lord Ullswater (then Mr. Speaker Lowther) were of opinion that the meeting of the House in November would be
guarantee that the Summer Session would be shortened, and in fact it would probably mean prolonging it, as there would be no dead end as at Christmas when Bills which cannot be got through before the Recess are dropped.
With regard to the time of holding the ballot for Private Members' Bills and Motions, the usual time of holding the ballot for priority for Private Members' Bills and Motions is at the beginning of the Session, and alteration would obviously be necessary if the Session were to commence in November, because that must necessarily affect the time of holding the ballot. Members could ballot, of course, in November for the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and the Friday Sittings after Christmas, but this course seems to me open to the criticism, and the very serious criticism, that the Government would not be in a position at the beginning of the Sessions definitely to announce the date of re-assembling in February.
Then there is the other question which has never yet been settled which arises out of the proposal that the House should . meet in November, and that is a question
to what Private Members' time is really allowed under the Standing Orders after Michaelmas. Standing Order 4 is the one which deals with this question. By Standing Order 4 the time allotted to Private Members is before Easter Tuesday and Wednesdays after 8.15 and Fridays; after Easter to Whitsuntide, Wednesday evenings after 8.15 and Fridays; after Whitsuntide to Michaelmas, the third and fourth Fridays; that is, when the Third Readings of Private Bills are taken; and after Michaelmas it would seem to be Wednesday evenings after 8.15 and the Friday Sittings. Paragraph (d) of Standing Order No. 4 was originally introduced by Lord Balfour in 1902, and it proposed that after Whitsuntide Government business should have precedence at all Sittings except the third and fourth Fridays after Whitsuntide. There was at the time considerable criticism on the ground that the rule was not limited, and Lord Balfour accepted an amendment to add “until Michaelmas." Since that Standing Order was passed whenever an Autumn Meeting has been held Private Members' time has never been given; the Government has always put down a Motion to take precedence for their business, It would therefore seem if this suggestion is