SIR W. HARCOURT
, in rising to move—That for the remainder of the Session Government Business do have priority on Tuesday. That on Friday the House do meet at Two of the clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to Tuesday and the Morning Sitting on Friday,said: I shall, no doubt, be expected by the House to state the grounds on which Her Majesty's Government make this claim—this large claim—in respect of the 1597 time to be given to them for the transaction of business. I will do so with absolute frankness and in a manner that will give offence, I hope, to no Party or section in the House. The grounds on which the Government make this request are—first of all, the date indicated by the calendar; secondly, the business the House has to transact; and, thirdly, the relation of the Government to that business. As regards the date, I may remind the House that it is the 9th of April, and I think I need not remind the House of the abnormal circumstances that have taken place in the first quarter of this year. I will not refer to those circumstances in detail, for they are all familiar to the House. I will take this opportunity of cordially recognising the assistance the Government have received from the Opposition in transacting the necessary business in order to conclude the first quarter of the year. It is well-known that the Government were placed in an exceptional position. They were bound to conclude the financial business of the country by a particular date, and I am glad to recognise the assistance they received from gentlemen in all quarters of the House in performing that part of their duty. But what we are concerned with to-day is the future, and what remains of the Session on which we have entered. In these circumstances, I do not propose to do what has been done on some occasions and go through a number of precedents, because precedents really have no bearing upon the circumstances of the present time. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes: that is a well-founded observation, as I shall endeavour to show to the House. I will take it for granted that I shall have the assent of the House to this proposition, that if we can help it we are not to follow the example of last year. The continued and continuous sittings of Parliament are, I think, neither good for the House of Commons nor good for the country; and, if I may assume that, I hope it may be an element that we shall take into consideration in determining what we are going to do with the future of the Session. I would point out to the House that, according to the present arrangements, the business days at the disposal of the Government are eight in the month, and that is making no allowance for vacations 1598 at Easter and at Whitsuntide. You may multiply that by the number of months you desire the House of Commons to sit. I will not make that multiplication, but I observe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) has fixed the time when the Session is to be closed. It is a little old-fashioned, I think, but he and I remember when the Session closed on August 10: and that is the date that he now adopts. I shall not be so rash myself as to fix any date; but if I take the date he has adopted, the number of days at the disposal of the Government without any recess at Whitsuntide is somewhere about 36.
SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, 32. Therefore, according to the hypothesis of my light hon. Friend, 32 days are available to the Government to transact the business they have to deal with. I venture to say that those eight days in the mouth are not sufficient for the business that the Government have to transact in the House of Commons. I would venture candidly to desire the House to consider what is the business which the Government is expected to transact—and rightly expected to transact—in the course of a Session, and I will discuss this not in relation to one Government or another, but in relation to all Governments, as the question affects our successors as much as it does ourselves. The first and indispensable business is the administrative business of the Government connected with Supply and all that depends on it—all questions relating to the administrative business of the country at home, in the colonies, in India, in foreign affairs, and all the questions that lie outside the circle of legislative action. That is the first class of business the Government have to transact, and that nobody else can transact. The second class of business is what I should designate as legislation of a neutral character—that is to say, legislation not of a distinctly Party or political character, or of a highly controversial character, but of a sort and magnitude which only the Government can deal with. There are frequently proposals made by non-official Members of which it is said that the subject can only be adequately dealt with by the Government, and we are familiar 1599 with many measures of that kind. There must always be a certain number of Bills of that character which the Government must always deal with. Then there remain other Bills which I may call the controversial and political Bills of the Government. People sometimes ask "Why have Party and political measures at all?" Party government in this country is of the essence of your Parliamentary institutions and of the action of the House of Commons. I have always believed that the House of Commons could not exist except through Party government, and I have never joined those who see in it anything to condemn. It is a condition of your Party government that each Party in turn must have certain measures naturally not representing the sentiments and convictions of the Party opposite to them, but of the majority for the time being, and it is absolutely essential that the Government should bring forward great controversial measures which they strongly support and which those opposed to them equally strongly resist. I think that that is a fair description of the different classes of business which the Government have to conduct—are properly expected to conduct. If that is so, let us consider whether we can do that in the allowance of 32 days of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. I will venture to say that if we were to-day at the commencement of an ordinary Session, under the most average circumstances, the allowance of eight days a month to the Government would be absolutely insufficient to enable them to transact the business that is expected, and which the Government ought to perform. I venture to say that that is a subject in which hon. Gentlemen opposite are quite as much concerned as we are, and that that is a matter which they would do well to consider.
SIR W. HARCOURT
That is a question which I can hardly answer. Perhaps I ought to have stated more specifically that that is a part of the administrative business of the country. I am obliged to the noble Lord for reminding me that this year, as everybody knows, the financial condition of the country is such that the financial pro- 1600 posals of the Government must take considerable time.
SIR W. HARCOURT
That only adds to the strength of the consideration that I am endeavouring to bring before the House. Let us see what is the distribution of the time of the House. Out of five sitting days three are allowed to non-official Members and to the Government. I would ask the House whether that is a reasonable distribution of the time of the House? In my opinion it is not, if you are to have any limit to your Session, and you mean to impose upon the Government the business which it is expected to fulfil. It is said that in this House the Front Benches are regarded as the natural enemies of the non-official Members, and I suppose that it may also be said that the latter are the natural enemies of the two Front Benches. I venture to protest against that description. It seems to me that the two Front Benches, with all the defects that they unquestionably possess, are not a caste by themselves. They are, after all, the creation of the non-official Members. They are the recognised organs and instruments of their several Parties on both sides of the House, and give effect to their opinions and wishes and pledges. There may be good reason to get rid of them in their individual capacity, but you must have something of the kind; for without it, it is impossible that business can be transacted. After all, the Front Benches and the non-official Members on both sides are engaged in a common cause which it is to their interest to promote, and it is a question of policy and of expediency how the time of the House should be distributed. It is not denied that the Government have the whole administrative business to conduct and also the greater part of the legislative business of the House, whether controversial or non-controversial. I do not wish to be thought to disparage the services towards legislation and the great principles of Foreign and Colonial policy and other policies that have been rendered, and are capable of being rendered, by the non-official Members of the House. They have been of use in the past, and will be so in the future, but it will not be denied that at the present moment, for carrying to a practical 1601 conclusion any measure of importance, the Government is the only capable instrument. Now, if I am allowed to apply these observations to the present, I say that, in respect of administrative business and non-contentious and non-controversial business, the Government have a right to appeal to all sections of the House to give them ample time for dealing with that description of business. As regards the larger Bills of a more controversial character, and as regards the political Bills, I perfectly admit that we have no claim upon gentlemen opposite who are opposed to these measures and who desire to resist them. I cannot ask them—if I did I know I should not get it—that they will give us any facilities to promote any measures which they desire to see not passed into law. But, Sir, the time of the House is at the disposal of the majority of the House. Whether it be, as was the case in the last Parliament, a Tory majority, or whether, as in this Parliament, it be a Liberal majority, the time of the House is at the disposal of the majority. When it has been desired to give effect to political measures like the Crimes Act or the Home the Bill, the House has had no hesitation in affording the time necessary. I am stating what I believe to be unquestionably the truth—that the question of determining the disposal of the time of the House is a matter upon which the majority of the House has a right to decide. As I have said before, we have no right to expect the minority to facilitate measures to which they are opposed; but, for the same reason, the Government have the right to appeal to the majority of the House—by whom, in fact, they are placed in the position they hold—to give them the means and to afford them the support that is necessary to give effect to the Bills which they desire to see carried into law. We are the crew of a vessel which has a fixed destination; we have a voyage to make; we have a precious cargo to carry. [Ironical cheers.] I know that is a cargo which you do not desire to see carried. We, however, regard it as a valuable cargo. It has been placed in our charge, and we are responsible for it. In making that voyage, and in meeting the stormy seas and the winds and waves which we have to encounter from the Opposition, we desire to press straight on. We cannot afford to make calls at 1602 all the interesting spots on the way. That is not our business—it would be the business of a voyage of pleasure, which ours is not. [A VOICE: "Speak up."] I must appeal for the usual courtesies of Debate. We are pledged to go forward in the way to which we have pledged ourselves, and we ask the support of those who concur in our opinions and who desire the success of the measures to which we are committed. Those are the grounds—which I have endeavoured to state as impartially and calmly as I can—why I make upon the I majority of the House a claim and a request which the Government believe to be founded upon reason. We have asked no more than we consider that we absolutely require. I know we are to be I met with various Amendments. One Amendment upon the Paper is that our present request should be limited till Whitsuntide. That would be a waste of time, because we should then have to tight the battle over again. We, therefore, cannot accept that. Another Amendment is that we should take only Tuesday mornings, and not the whole of Tuesdays. We do not think that would be adequate for the purpose. My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby is more liberal, for he is going to propose that we should limit our request to August 10. I am obliged to him, but that would be rather like fixing a particular date beforehand as the limit for the duration of the Session. Besides these proposals, what is still more formidable is, that we shall most probably be pressed to make exceptions in in the case of particular Bills. If so, I may say at once that in the request now made there is no time for exceptions. If we once commence to deal with exceptions, we shall have a prolonged contest in which it will be very difficult to know to whom the apple is to be given. The Government have already committed themselves to give days for four special subjects. There is the Navy, the discussion upon which is to be taken, I hope, to-day, and, if necessary, to-morrow. There is to be a discussion on Uganda. And a day has been promised for Indian finance. Those days were promised as conditions of concluding the financial business; and an opportunity has also been promised for discussing the Eight Hours Bill. Beyond that we feel that it I is impossible for us to go. I have now 1603 endeavoured to state, as impartially as I can, the case upon which the Government make this request. It rests with the majority of the House to determine how it will dispose of its time, and it is for them to determine whether they are disposed to bestow on the Government that time which we consider absolutely essential to enable the Government to fulfil the duties that have been imposed upon them by the majority of the House and by the majority of the country.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That for the remainder of the Session Government Business do have priority on Tuesday. That on Friday the House do meet at Two of the clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to Tuesday and the Morning Sitting on Friday."—(sir W. Har-court.)
MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Whatever we may think of the substance of the demand made upon us by the right hon. Gentleman, nobody who has heard his speech will accuse him of adopting, in recommending the substance of the Motion to the House, a tone likely to embitter the Debate. He has made his speech and his proposal in a manner as likely to recommend it to his opponents as well as to his friends as, I think, was possible under the circumstances. Nevertheless, he will not be surprised to hear that, in however soft and tender accents he makes this proposal to us, the substance of his request is of such a character as to make it absolutely impossible for us to give a willing assent to the policy he asks us to accept. In the first place, I ask the House to note that the right hon. Gentleman has abandoned the course hitherto pursued by his predecessors in Office in asking the House to give up its time to the Government. He has not rested himself in any way upon precedent, but has laid down certain general propositions, which he thinks ought to command our assent. I do not, however, hesitate to say that the independent or the private Members of this House will practically give up all the rights which they have hitherto enjoyed if they assent to the propositions. It may or it may not be proper for the Government to make this claim upon us at this time. To that I shall address myself directly, but for any Government to come down to this House and say that, by the Standing Orders, the Government had only eight days a 1604 month, which are quite inadequate for Government business, is practically to cut at the very root of every privilege which private Members enjoy, not merely at the beginning or end of the Session, but at any period of the Session, and I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has found it necessary to place his claim upon such very broad bases, and lay deep the foundations for future aggressions on the part of those who may succeed him in the office he holds. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was not going to appeal to precedents, and I notice that those against whom precedents tell usually prefer to go to first principles to support their proposals. It is a very natural taste, and the right hon. Gentleman has laid before us the first principles to which he appeals with all his accustomed clearness. And what are they? He says that the responsible Government of the day, the creation of the majority of the House, are bound to carry through certain classes of business, which he proceeded to specify. He gave the first place to Supply, and I should be quite ready to make this concession to the right hon. Gentleman, that if Supply really was taken at a convenient period of the Session before the House was utterly worn out towards the middle or end of it, private Members would probably have very little cause to complain, because it is upon Supply that private Members can with most effect bring forward their grievances. It is upon Supply that private Members can best bring forward their own views, and can best criticise the action of the Government in Office. I am not complaining of the right hon. Gentleman bringing Supply on at a late period of the Session. That has been the course adopted by his own Government, by many previous Governments, and the late Government. But even if he is going to put down Supply in the list of the business that the Government has got to get through, and is going to quote Supply as a reason why private Members should be expected to lose their privileges at the early part of the Session, then I think private Members have a right on their part to demand that the Government should bring on Supply at a time when private Members are able adequately to discuss it. But no such promise was given by the right hon. 1605 Gentleman; no hint was given by him that a different course would be taken with regard to Supply than that which was adopted by them last year and by us in the year before. I presume, therefore, that they will carry out their own policy and their predecessors policy, and relegate Supply to a period when practically a full discussion of the Estimates and of the principles underlying the Estimates is really withdrawn from the great mass of the House of Commons. Having dealt with Supply and casually mentioned a certain amount of non-Party legislation which the Government have to get through, the right hon. Gentleman went on to talk of Party measures, and he appeared to think that there were those on this side of the House who objected to bringing forward such measures. If there be such critics I do not rank myself among them. Of course, the Government exist for the purpose of bringing forward Party measure, and the Opposition, as an Opposition, exist for the purpose of criticising them. I make no complaint of the action of the Government in producing Party measures, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make no complaint when we proceed to criticise them. But what I do complain of is that the Government are so long in bringing forward these controversial measures. The Queen's Speech has not been before us very long, but, after all, it has been before us for upwards of a month, and the Government have not yet brought forward these controversial matters of which we have heard so much in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will say, "Oh, that is because we had-to pass a certain amount of financial business before Easter, which took up the whole time of the House, the whole time of the Government, and the whole time of private Members, and you cannot complain of us for deferring to the present period these controversial measures which it is our business to lay before the House." Put the Government have not made the best of their opportunities. What have they done since we met? I give them all the time before Easter. Granted that they were to occupy' us as they chose to occupy us during the whole of last summer, last autumn, last winter, and this spring, then I admit that in this Session before Easter they 1606 had no time or opportunity to bring in any of their measures. But since Easter they have had all the ordinary advantages which a Government possess of the days allocated by the Standing Orders of the House. How have they spent those days? Have they spent them by bringing forward these controversial measures? Not a bit of it. Those measures are still to be brought forward. We are still ignorant of what they are; and all we have had is this foolish proposal about a Scotch Committee, which is not legislation at, all, but which is, as far as I can gather, the fad of a single Minister and of a single section in the House. It, has occupied all the time of the Government since Easter, and, as far as I am able to forecast, its future, it, is likely to occupy a good deal more if they insist upon proceeding with it. What is the use of coming down to the House when you mismanage your business in this fashion, and making this appeal on the merits, because, forsooth, more than eight days in the month are required by the Government for forcing through the House the controversial measures referred to? I could have wished that if the right hon. Gentleman found it out of his power, or inexpedient, for the purpose of controversy to go into a discussion of past precedents, he had at all events exercised his ingenuity in giving to us a forecast of his future action. We have had no forecast. No attempt has been made by the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government to toll us when he means to bring on Supply, and in what order he means to bring on the measures of the Government, or what measures the Government hope to pass. The whole future of the Session is absolutely obscure. We do not know what, the Government intend, or what they mean to carry through, and in this state of absolute darkness we are asked to vote away our privileges. I do not think it is my special business to stand up here as a guardian of those whom the right hon. Gentleman calls unofficial Members. Perhaps I may observe that he rather prided himself on the phrase "unofficial Members," and I think with small reason. The term unofficial Members is extremely inconvenient and misleading. Gentlemen on this Bench are unofficial Members; but according to the ordinary 1607 usages of the House, they are not private Members, and when the two Front Benches are joined together in a common condemnation by private Members, it is evident that they include us who are, nevertheless, despite what the right hon. Gentleman says, undoubtedly unofficial Members.
MR. A. J. BALFOUR
By private Members I mean gentlemen in the House who do not sit on these two Benches, and by non-private Members I mean those who hold or have bold office. It is not my special business to stand up for the rights of private Members as distinguished from official or ex-official Members, and I am bound to say that the levity with which private Members are now in the habit of passing through Resolutions in which it is doubtful if they believe, and in which it is certain their Leaders do not believe—and Resolutions which everybody knows will be inoperative and so much waste paper—makes mo feel that possibly we might employ our time sometimes much better than we did at a late hour last Tuesday. It is not impossible that the Government have in view a similar misuse of the time of the House with regard to next Tuesday, and they probably share my view that, if the House of Commons is to discuss the abolition of the House of Lords in the same spirit in which it discussed Scotch Home Rule, there is no Government business which would not afford a better means of spending our time, or a better field for displaying our energy. But though I do not feel that I am bound to stand up for private Members, I must express my opinion that they have been extremely ill-used in the course of the last and the present year. Recollect that one consequence of taking every day in the week for Government business is not merely that you deprive private Members of their legitimate opportunities of bringing forward subjects of interest to them, but you double the work of private Members. A private Members' night is a private Members' night in two senses of the word. It is a private Members' night, because some bring on Motions and discussions on that night, while others go home to bed and do not return. They, therefore, have a double privilege on these nights, and 1608 when by this cruel Resolution you propose to deprive them of these privileges at one blow I think it is-rather hard. Probably, if the right hon. Gentleman had gone back to the precedent which he despises, he would have found that there have been cases where Tuesday mornings have been taken as early in the Session as in this year, but they have only been taken before Easter when private Members-have had their fling. Well, Sir, private Members have had no fling for nearly 12 months. For nearly 12 months these unfortunate legislators have never been permitted the luxury of a count; they have been dragged down to the House night after right, never to do their own business, but always to do the business of the Government. Having given up without a murmur every hour of their time before Easter to aid the Government in getting through the necessary financial business, I do think it is rather hard to comedown 10 days after the Easter holiday—having taken care to waste every one of these 10 days yourselves—and ask them to give up a great deal more of their time to the Government. I think that is very unkind, and the right hon. Gentleman must know that, as far as we are concerned, we cannot willingly assent to the proposal he has made. But at the end of his speech he ceased to endeavour to persuade his opponents, and turned round for a vote of confidence to his friends. Sir, I am sure that that vote of confidence will be given. The Government must have sunk low indeed if upon a mere question of the management of the business of the House they cannot bring into the Lobby a sufficient number of their own friends to support them. But I did not quite follow the poetical metaphor with which the right hon. Gentleman closed his speech. As far as I understood it, he was the captain of a ship bearing a precious cargo-not particularly specified in any invoice that I know of, and we are the winds and the waves, so far as I can make out, which are threatening that vessel with shipwreck. Well, Sir, I do not know whether the metaphor is a very good one, but it certainly expresses, I should think,, very accurately some phases of the present situation. I myself am not endowed by nature with the qualities to make me enjoy a sea voyage, but I can only hope 1609 that the Government are happier in their vessel than I should be in any vessel, even a more seaworthy one than that of the Government. I am afraid, Sir, that they have more formidable dangers before them than the horrors of sea sickness. I think I see traces of the fact that the winds and waves, as the right hon. Gentleman expresses it, are gradually making their impression on that vessel, and that leaks—not very formidable leaks, perhaps—have been sprung, and have been stopped by methods of a not very permanent character. Meanwhile, however, I may reassure the right hon. Gentleman by saying that, whatever may be his future destinies, I do not think he is likely to suffer shipwreck to-day. The winds and the waves on this occasion, as on others, will do their best to impede his course, but he will survive our efforts. I do not think, however, that he has, either from the general point of view or from the point of view of the unofficial Members, shown any sufficient reason why we should give him privileges which in similar circumstances have never been asked for by his predecessors in Office.
SIR D. MACFARLANE (Argyll)
said, he was one of the unofficial Members who occupied one of the two first places affected by the Motion of the Government. He was not going to dispute the right of the Government to take the time of the House, but the Government must have known for weeks that about this time it would be necessary to take the whole time of the House, and he complained that they did not give notice four weeks ago of their intention, in order that hon. Members might be saved the necessity and worry of the ballot, and still more the necessity of getting up subjects. To-morrow night he should have had the opportunity, but for this Motion, of calling attention to the financial condition of India in relation to Great Britain, and he complained that they should be discussing the question of taking Tuesday only on the day before. Why should they not have got a month's notice? A cook got a mouth's notice, and surely a Member of Parliament ought to get as much. He trusted that in future the Government would, when they foresaw the necessity of taking the whole time of the House, give due notice to hon. Members, so as 1610 to avoid difficulties' and heartburnings, and appeals for exceptions. For himself, much as he appreciated the position he occupied for the two days which would be affected by this Motion, and highly as he appreciated the subjects he had intended to bring forward, he must, say honestly that he appreciated the stability of the Government more, and although it was a sacrifice, he would support the Government in a Division which would rob him of his privileges. He appreciated the advantages of a Liberal Government more than any private Motion that he could bring on, and for that reason he should support the Government in the Division.
MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
, as an agricultural Member, desired to utter one or two words of earnest protest against the course which the Government had seen fit to adopt. Important as were all those questions, the consideration and discussion of which might be affected by the course of the Government, he ventured to say that none of them equalled in importance the great question of agricultural depression. How could the Party opposite and the Government any longer keep up their pretence of sympathy with the agricultural interest? He did not think the agricultural labourers would now continue to be their dupes. This ought to be the finishing touch to that gigantic fraud which, he was sorry to say, the Government had, with some success, carried out before the country during the last few years. It should be the last straw which should break the camel's back. What had been the conduct of the Government in regard to agriculture, and how had they redeemed those numerous promises with which they had deceived and cajoled the agricultural labourers? They granted a Commission to inquire into what everyone knew already, except the Minister of Agriculture—namely, the causes of agricultural depression; but when any remedy was proposed or desire evinced to bring this great question before the country, how were they (the Opposition) met? They were either opposed or snubbed. He called to witness as to this the way in which a deputation on a most important question was received the other day by the Minister of Agriculture. That was the way in which agricultural interests 1611 were treated, and now, when at last a chance was offered to bring the question of this great agricultural depression he-fore the House and the country by discussing the Motion of which the hon. Member for Essex had given notice for Tuesday week, how were they treated? Again the Government interposed, and by this most arbitrary and uncalled-for action made any discussion impossible. There were two things, to his mind, absolutely clear: first of all, that the Government were utterly incapable of managing the affairs of this country; and, secondly, that they were supremely indifferent to the agricultural interests.
MR. J. E. REDMOND (Waterford)
I am not one of those Members who sympathise very much with the grievances of private Members. I have sat now in this House for 12 years, and my experience has been that the time devoted to private Members has not, on the whole, been very productive of good to the country, and I am bound to say, Sir, the Resolution proposed by the Leader of the House, if carried, would, in my judgment, leave a sufficient portion of every week available for private Members. It would leave Wednesday absolutely free for private Members to bring forward their Bills, and leave the evening sitting on Friday also available for the discussion of private Members' grievances. We cannot afford to forget the experience of past years, as indeed has been alluded to by the Leader of the Opposition—that when private Members have come down to this House to discuss these private Members' grievances, other private Members have taken advantage of the occasion to stay away from the House, with the result that the House was counted out and valuable time lost. Therefore, if the Government of the day has the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons, and the majority of the country, and if that Government has serious and important legislative work to perform, then, for my part, I think the supporters of the Government are justified in coming for at least as much of the time of the House as is asked for in this Resolution. But having said so much, I desire to press respectfully upon the Government for some information as to what the public business is that they intend to proceed with. This is an occa- 1612 sion upon which it seems to me that possibly a good turn may be done for the interests of the county I represent if Irish Members would use the opportunity of endeavouring to extract from the Government some promise as to their course of procedure with reference to Irish measures. I am aware, Mr. Speaker, that in the course of the Queen's Speech the first measure mentioned was an Irish measure, touching very nearly an important Irish question—that is the question of the evicted tenants. That measure was put in the very forefront of the Queen's Speech; but on the very first night, I think, of the discussion on the Address to the Throne, I and some other Members asked from the Government an assurance that the place accorded to that Bill in the Gracious Speech from the Throne would be observed in the order of Business during the Session. We had, Sir, a right to claim that that Bill should have precedence, because the House will remember how that question of the evicted tenants in Ireland has been treated. The House will remember that when this Government came into power in the month of August they were pressed to call an Autumn Session of Parliament together for dealing with that question, and many people thought in Ireland that the opportunity thus afforded would be the best opportunity available for the Government to settle this question. Very many people, even at that time, immediately after the General Election had taken place, when the opposition to the Government had not become so embittered as it afterwards did, owing to the discussions on the Home Rule Bill and other matters, thought that then possibly many of the landlord class in Ireland would have been willing to make a compromise on this question, and the Bill might have been passed into law. The claim that was then made on the Government was rejected by them, and, in spite of the protests which were made, they adjourned the meeting of Parliament for six months, and they issued a Commission to inquire into facts which were notorious, which every man in Ireland and out of it was perfectly well acquainted with. Then, when the next Session of Parliament assembled, of course the Home Rule Bill took precedence of the question of the evicted tenants, and 1613 again an Autumn Session was called last year. We asked from the Government for a limited portion of that Autumn Session to deal with the question of the evicted tenants, and again our claim was rejected. And what was the excuse made? I am speaking by the card when I say that upon 100 platforms it was stated that the Government refused to introduce this Bill in the Autumn Session because they intended in the Session of this year to make the evicted tenants' question the chief, the most urgent, and the first measure they would introduce, and, therefore, we asked on the Debate on the Address to the Throne whether the place accorded in the Queen's Speech to that measure would be maintained. We got an unsatisfactory answer, and it appears now that the measure is to be put back until after the Registration Bill has been passed into law. That much we know; we do not know how much further back still it may be put in the future. We do know, however, it is not to be taken until after the Registration Bill. I hope that the proposals which the; Chief Secretary is going to put forward will be laid before the House and the country immediately. But even that is not sufficient. Having done that, it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty to press on with the Bill as fast as possible. I see no reason why it should be put into a position next to the Registration Bill. I am not saying that the whole of the time of the House during the next few weeks should be devoted to this question alone; but I say it is not too much for us to say that the Registration Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill should be taken pari passu. But instead of that it appears to be the intention of the Government to put back the Evicted Tenants Bill until the Registration Bill has passed into law. After that the Government is to consider whether this Bill shall have the second or what place. There appears to me to be some competition between the backers of the Evicted Tenants Bill and the backers of the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. Of course, the Welsh Disestablishment Bill is one which has my very hearty sympathy—first upon its merits, and also because of the many obligations which we are under to the Welsh Members who desire to have it passed. After 1614 all, charity begins at home. The Welsh Disestablishment Bill cannot be so urgent for the Welsh Members as the Evicted Tenants Bill is for us. I have mentioned these matters because I think it is due to the House and due also to Ireland that before Irish Members are asked to vote in favour of the Government proposal to give all the time of the House to Ministers it is right to inquire from the Government some assurance of what the course of public business will be in reference to these Irish questions. I have stated elsewhere, and I state here, that I am greatly afraid that the chance of passing the Evicted Tenants Bill into law has enormously diminished, if not entirely disappeared, through the delay which has already taken place. The duty of introducing that Bill and passing it into law rests with the Government because of the pledges which have been given in their name; and it is a violation of the spirit of those pledges to postpone any further the introduction of this Bill to restore tenants to their homes as promised by the right hon. Gentleman, who is a Member of the present Cabinet. Under these circumstances I, for one, although I have little sympathy with the claims of private Members, will not take the responsibility of voting in favour of the Motion of the Leader of the House unless we receive an assurance that this Bill will be introduced at once and pushed forward step by step with the Registration Rill, and not be relegated to the end of the year, when some crisis may precipitate a Dissolution, and the Session end without any serious attempt having been made to grapple with the matter. I hope the Government will state their mind openly upon this matter, seeing that up to the present they have spoken no straightforward word upon it, but have contented themselves with expressions of goodwill and sympathy to the evicted tenants without saying what practical step they would take to restore them to their homes and to bring this Rill to a successful issue.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. MORLEY,) Newcastle-upon-Tyne
The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to call for some remarks from myself. Those remarks will be very short, and I am afraid that in the course of them I shall not be able 1615 to inform the hon. Member of what he professes a desire to know—namely, the precise order and place we shall give in the business of the Government to the Evicted Tenants Bill: because we are now asking the House two things—first of all, to show that they have confidence in the Government, by placing time at its disposal for the accomplishment of the work they have in hand; and, second, to leave the distribution of that time in the hands of the Government, so that they may dispose of it in the way which to them seems most fit. The hon. and learned Member has related the history of the dealings of the present Government with the question of the evicted tenants, into which I do not think it would be right or relevant that I should follow him. He says we ought to have had an Autumn Session in 1892 in order to bring forward an Evicted Tenants Bill, which he believes would then have had a good chance of becoming law. I think I know as much about the inner concerns of the evicted tenants' question as the hon. and learned Gentleman, and all I can say is that unless all the information which I had at my disposal was faulty, it is not correct to say that the measure, if brought forward that year, was likely to receive the support of the Irish landlords in this House or elsewhere. Apart from that matter, I entirely deny the hon. and learned Member's assertion that the Autumn Session of 1892 was a favourable time for bringing forward that matter. The appointment of the Commission is an old story, and has been fully discussed in this House; but I do say that Commission was the means of collecting and bringing to light information without which no Bill could have been adequately and efficiently presented to this House. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot suppose that I, who am responsible for the administration in Ireland, am likely to allow the Evicted Tenants Bill to fall into such a position that it would be put out of our power to pass it into law this Session. I have said again and again in this House that I am as alive as any Irish Member, and more alive, perhaps, than some Irish Members, as to the urgent importance, if it can possibly be done, of persuading this House, and it might be another House, to pass this measure into law. 1616 I do not despair of bringing in that measure in a form which ought to command the assent of every reasonable man, both in this House and elsewhere. This is one of the measures for which we are asking that the time of the House should be given to us. The hon. and learned Member, and other Irish gentlemen interested in this matter, may rest assured that there is no intention whatever to play with this important question. On the other hand, we shall keep it where it now is, in the front rank of the measures with which we are prepared to go in this Session.
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced this matter in a tone so moderate and mild, and his speech was dealt with afterwards so humorously by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that I think it is possible that the extreme importance and magnitude of the change which it is now proposed to make in our Parliamentary practice may have escaped the observation of the House. That it is a change of great importance and magnitude is shown convincingly by the speech to which we have just listened from the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, falling as is his wont into terms which exceed in definiteness those of his colleagues, has made it clear for the first time that the Government are asking us to deal with the question of the disposal of the time of the House in the shape of a challenge upon a Vote of Confidence. I have never known before, upon a question of this kind, anything like the solemnity of the appeal which has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to their followers to follow them into their Lobby upon this matter. As a rule, this excessive pressure has not been brought to bear upon the Members of a Party when a question of this kind is brought forward, and I think the House may fairly conceive that there is some good reason for it upon the present occasion. Why should we regard this as a matter of extreme importance? I suppose that, according to the definition given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the Opposition, I am a private Member of this House. I do not sit upon either Front Bench, and 1617 I was not a Member of either of the two last Governments. Although I am a private Member, I do not stand hero as an advocate of their claims, and I may frankly confess that I do not care a brass button what becomes of them. I have never seen any great utility in the discussions which under our present system take place on private Members' nights. It would be altogether different if the House had a power of selection; but I find that, according to our present practice, it is almost always the greatest bore who gets the first place. But although he is able to get the first place, he is not able to get Members to come and hear him; and the result is, that the time of the House, which might be much better occupied, is entirely wasted. Therefore, while I acknowledge the magnitude of the change, I rejoice that for the first time we have a Government which comes here and says that it is for the majority of the House—that is, the Party majority—to dispose of the time of the House, and proceeds to dispose of the time of the House by cutting the ground altogether from under private Members. The sham of private Members, after the vote which I suppose will be taken to-night, will be once for all disposed of. Hereafter every Government which desires time for its own measures will be entitled at the very beginning of the Session, before private Members have had a single day at their disposal, to come down and quote this precedent and say "the time of the House belongs to the Party majority, and the Government of the day make it a matter of confidence that they should have the whole time of the House."[Cheers.] Now, Sir, no doubt that is a change of very great magnitude which appears to be willingly accepted by my hon. Friends below me, and which undoubtedly will serve as a most useful precedent in the future. Therefore, so far as private Members are concerned, I do not feel at all antagonistic to the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I do feel disinclined to give more time to this Government. I have no objection whatever to take it away from private Members, but I do not see that these gentlemen deserve it, and I do not see that they are in need of it, or that they have made out any case whatever. I have heard a good number of 1618 discussions on similar points, and hitherto always two things have had to be shown, or at all events two points have been brought against the Government, and they have been asked to show reason in reference to them: the first is, that there is an emergency which justifies the demand for time; and the second is, that this emergency is not the result of gross mismanagement on the part of the Government. I remember in the time of the late Government they had to ask for the whole time of the Mouse, but they never asked for it so early as it is asked for on this occasion. At that time my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton invariably attacked the then Leader of the House, and said it was a monstrous proposition, that he and his Government had got themselves into a hole through gross mismanagement, and that, under the circumstances, there was no justification for giving them the whole time of the House. I assume, at any rate, I am justified in applying the same sort of test to the present proposal. If there be an, emergency, it is wholly the fault of the Government, and why should we give them more time under the circumstances? They have misused the time they have had, and what ground have we for supposing that they will make any better use of the time for which they ask? What is the emergency? The emergency consists in the fact that this is April 9. Is there not a little confusion in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? What has the fact that it is April 9 got to do with the question? It shows that we are in the fourth month of the year, and is it because we are in the fourth month of the year that he thinks the period has come for asking for the whole time of the House? Usually, we have considered this question with regard to the time of the Session. As regards the Session, we are in the first month, and, as far as we have gone, the Government have every reason to congratulate themselves on the generosity of the House. They have got more in a month than the late Government ever got in two months. They have got the whole of the Supplementary Estimates and part of the ordinary Estimates. They have concluded the financial business of the year, and they have introduced and 1619 taken the First Readings of one or two Bills. What more do they want in a month of only eight days of Government time? Under those circumstances, it is perfectly absurd to pretend that there is any emergency. It may be said, and it is quite true, that, although this is only the first month of the Session, it is the fourth mouth of the year. If we are to consider January and February and part of March as part of this Session, and if we are to deal with the matter as though we were in the fourth month of the Session, we must consider what was done in January and February. The Government would be in the position of a Government which in the fourth mouth of the Session had already succeeded in passing two Bills of first-rate importance—the Parish Councils Bill and the Employers' Liability Bill—and had, in addition, accomplished the other work to which I have referred, and who then came down prepared to make arrangements for winding up the Session. Under these circumstances, the first thing we should expect the Government to do is to tell us what Bills they are going to drop. The illustration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a very unfortunate one, and when it has been so heckled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition I am almost ashamed to return to it. I must, however, point out that when a vessel in the position in which he describes himself and crew—a vessel which some of us think is badly managed and overladen, and which, as he says, has got, above all, to get to a fixed destination—finds itself in trouble, in a storm or a hurricane, those in charge jettison a part of the cargo. If the time has come when we must consider that we are in the fourth mouth of the Session, I think we have a right to call upon the Government to jettison a part of their cargo, and no longer to flourish in our faces the more pretence, as we all know it is, of a whole number of Bills, like the Evicted Tenants Bill and a great number of others that had been put down for electoral purposes without the slightest chance of being proceeded with. I now come to consider whether this so-called emergency—which I do not think is an emergency at all—is not due to the mismanagement of the business of the House by the present Government. I will put my charge against the Government in one word— 1620 that they have wasted an immense amount of time in pressing forward a Bill which has not a hearty supporter even on their own side. I refer, of course, to the Home Rule Bill. I say there is not a single section of the Party which supports the Government which was heartily in favour of the Home Rule Bill. [Cries of "Oh !"] Certainly not the Irish Members—certainly not either section of the Irish Members, at whose instigation the Bill was presumably brought in, but both of which sections took opportunity again and again in the course of debate to show that they regarded it as a very imperfect satisfaction of their demands. And certainly no one here can honestly say that it was a Bill which was popular with the constituencies in the country. That is what has made the difficulty. Had that been a popular Bill the whole course of matters would have been perfectly simple; for when that Bill was defeated the Government would have appealed to the country, and if they had come back, as they would have come back, on the hypothesis that the Bill was popular, with as large or a larger majority, they would have been able to proceed with the Bill with every chance of immediate success. But they did not dare to go to the country on that Bill. There is not a man on this side of the House who will contradict me when I say that not one of them advised the Government to take a Dissolution on the Home Rule Bill. There is not a single one of them who believes that, if they had taken a Dissolution on that Bill, they could possibly have obtained a majority. As the Government did not dare to take their principal measure, which had never been before the country, and obtain a decision upon it, what was the position in which they found themselves? They were bound to endeavour to retrieve the situation by bringing in a whole lot of other measures which they thought would be more popular than the Home Rule Bill. This is the reason why the Queen's Speech has been crammed on two occasions with the most contentious items of the Newcastle Programme, and that is the meaning of the Autumn Session which has brought about the state of things in which we find ourselves. Even then the Government did not carry out their policy properly. Their object was a bad object, because I 1621 call it neither more nor less than an attempt to deceive the constituencies of the country. I call it nothing more nor less than an attempt to take the decision of the country upon the wrong issue. But, even if the object were right, the methods by which they endeavoured to secure it have been entirely wrong. What ought they to have done? They know what they ought to have done, because they professed when they asked for the Autumn Session that they would bring forward non-contentious Bills. They brought forward Bills which, so far as principle was concerned, were non-contentious. I refer to the Employers' Liability Bill and the Parish Councils Bill; but when those Bills came into the House how did the Government treat them? The Employers' Liability Bill was conducted throughout, I do not hesitate to say, by the Home Secretary in a more aggressive manner than any Bill in our time. [Cries of Oh!"] Does anyone deny that? Will anyone toll me of any other Bill of the same importance upon which the Minister conducting it has refused every single Amendment which was moved by his opponents? I do not believe such a case can be quoted; and I go further, and say——
My right hon. Friend has made an assertion as to facts on most imperfect information. He was not present in the House when a great part of the Debate on that Bill took place. I will inform him that there was hardly a single clause in the Bill as it left this House which was not amended, and in which Amendments proceeding from the right hon. Gentleman's own friends were not accepted by the Government.
MB. J. CHAMBERLAIN
It is quite true that I was not present during the whole of the Debate; but I am able to read, and I have read most carefully all that took place. The right hon. Gentleman says he accepted a number of Amendments. Yes, he did; he accepted an immense number of Amendments from his own side. But my point is, that he did not accept one single Amendment, except formal Amendments, not one Amendment of the slightest importance from his opponents.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to go into a discussion as to the details of the proceedings upon the Employers' Liability Bill.
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I am much obliged to you, Sir. I am afraid I was about to be led away by the interruption to which I was subjected. My point is, however, simple. I say, as regards the Employers' Liability Bill, there was, in effect, one Amendment of great importance urged on the right hon. Gentleman even by his own supporters, which he refused, and before which, in a fit of temper, he dropped the Bill. The Parish Councils Bill was introduced in a most conciliatory speech by the Secretary of State for India, and had he been allowed his way that Bill would have been carried in less than half the time which it actually took. I do not hesitate to say that many weeks of the time of the House were wasted because the right hon. Gentleman was put aside by his colleagues, and highly contentious matter was introduced at the last moment into the Bill. I say, under these circumstances, the Government have no one to thank but themselves for the condition in which they find themselves. They occupied the House until the 5th of March, or an Autumn Session they ought never to have held at all, and which in any event ought to have been concluded before Christmas, and it is because of the manner in which they treated those two Bills, which were brought in before the Autumn Session, that we find ourselves now on April 9 without having made any considerable progress with the legislation of the present Session. Nor in this Session have they done much better. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the extraordinary folly of the Government in introducing a highly contentious Constitutional question like the Scotch Committee question at a time when, as they say, the)' cannot possibly deal with the important business which they have put upon the Paper. Why did they not introduce the Registration Bill instead of the Scotch Committee? I beg to warn the Government that, if they go on with the Scotch Committee proposal, they will waste at 1623 least two, and very likely three, weeks of the time of the House. Do not let me be misunderstood. I do not mean the discussion upon the Committee. That, of course, will be concluded in a comparatively limited space of time; but just see how a proposal of that kind will affect all our business. Already notices are down to refer Bills coming before us to a Committee of London Members, and I suppose a similar Motion will be made with regard to Welsh Bills. I think you will find that if this proposition is carried out the question will be continually cropping up in the course of the Session, and there will be a most unjustifiable waste of time in reference to a proposal which is brought before us by the Government as though it were a matter of business of comparatively small importance. I think I have shown that not only is there no emergency, but that the delay in business is entirely due to the attitude of the Government. Under these circumstances, I do not think they have the slightest right to call upon us to give them all the time of the House. What use are they going to make of it? Will they tell us now in what order they are going to take their Bills? If they continue to go on as they have been doing we shall only have a repetition of what occurred last Session. We shall only have a waste of time and temper without being much more forward at the end of the Session than we are at the beginning. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to admit that the Government made a mistake last Session, because he said there seemed to be a universal agreement that business ought not be conducted in the same way this Session as it was last Session. But unless the Government are willing not only to continue this Session for an unusual time, but to have an Autumn Session, it is impossible for them to make any reasonable progress with the Bills they have put in the Queen's Speech. It is perfectly well-known that if there is kept hanging before the House of Commons a large number of Bills, one is apt to interfere with the others. It would be a much more straightforward course and a much better course for the progress of business if the Government would undertake to say what are the Bills to which they attach importance, and then we should know upon official authority that as regards the other Bills 1624 in the Queen's Speech they are put there for show, and not with any idea of serious progress. There is only one other suggestion I have to make to the Government. I see they are in really an embarrassing condition. I am afraid these difficulties will crop up again and again. I do not think that if they got the whole of the time of the House they would be able to do much better than they are doing now, and I would advise them to cut the Gordian knot at once and give us a Dissolution.
MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had commenced by saying that he was neither an official nor an unofficial Member. He (Mr. Labouchere) wondered what he was. In his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman was neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, nor good red herring. He thought he had never heard a speech which had gone so much round the subject without coming to the actual question before the House as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It appeared that the right hon. Gentleman did not care one brass farthing for private Members, but that whilst he did not want them to have the time of the House he did not want the Government to have it. Who, then, in the name of wonder, was to have the time of the House unless it was to be the right hon. Gentleman himself? Was the House to have speeches inflicted upon it by the right hon. Gentleman every evening? The right hon. Gentleman said the Government had mismanaged their affairs. He (Mr. Labouchere) had not perceived that the Government had more mismanaged their affairs than every Government he had known had done. They commenced the Session late. That was not their fault. [Opposition cries of "No !"] Well, it was their misfortune and not their fault. They had to go through Supply, and it was impossible to say that they had mismanaged their business on the three Government days which had since elapsed. As to the Scotch Grand Committee, he could not understand how any English Members could object to allowing the Scotch Members to leave other Members in peace while they went into a room by themselves and discussed the Law of Hypothec or any other Scotch question. He should have thought that no proposal would have secured such 1625 universal consent as a proposition of that character. The right hon. Gentleman said the Government mismanaged business last Session. Apparently, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, they were to be forced to waste the time of this Session because they wasted the time of last Session. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government had brought in last Session an Employers' Liability Bill, and bad not been conciliatory over it, and he went on to suggest that they should be punished because the former President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had been exceedingly conciliatory over the Parish Councils Bill. No matter what the Government did they would never find favour with the right hon. Gentleman. Whether they were conciliatory or uneonciliatory; whether they wasted time last Session or not; whether they were anxious or not to waste time in the present Session, the right hon. Gentleman was prepared at any moment to make a speech against them and to find some recondite reasons for voting against that which he supported in former times. He (Mr. Labou-chere) had noticed that almost every Member who had spoken had declared that for private Members he entertained the greatest contempt. From the Government point of view a private Member was a public nuisance. The private Member was expected to go down to the House and to hold his tongue; be was expected to cheer Ministers, to vote for them whatever they did, and invariably to declare that his Leaders were the wisest and best human beings in the world. When the Party was in Opposition, the private Member was told not to "let things go too quick," and he was expected to keep alight the sacred lamp of Opposition. Under these circumstances, he (Mr. Labouchere) thought that private Members were most useful, whether their Party was in power or was in Opposition. As to private Members' Motions, it was obvious that when 600 gentlemen balloted not very wise Motions would occasionally be brought forward. But, at the same time, the ballot sometimes gave priority to some very useful Motions. Last week a very valuable proposal in regard to Home Rule for Scotland was made by a private Member and was adopted by the House. Of course, 1626 the adoption of that Motion would encourage Ministers to go on in the path of Home Rule. It had always been held that reforms wore agitated outside the House at first; that they were then brought forward in the House by private Members' Motions, and such Motions were subsequently moved again and again until at last the majority became so large that the proposal was taken up by the Government. He never knew a Government yet that did not object to private Members' Motions, because very often a very nasty and inopportune Motion was placed on the Paper. The tendency of Governments on a variety of questions was to "sit on the fence," and the object of their supporters was to bring them over to their side of the fence. It frequently happened that, by means of a private Members' Motion, Ministers were obliged to show their hand and to adopt a course which they would not have adopted but for the bringing forward of that Motion. The same thing was always said on one side or the other in these Debates, the only difference being that when gentlemen were on the Treasury Bench they said one thing and when they were on the Front Opposition Bench they said the other. He was sorry the Government could not make an exception in favour of the Tuesday which had been obtained by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Dalziel). He was bound to say that if the Government were ready to leave the question concerning the House of Lords as it stood at present, he did not think their supporters need even complain of his hon. Friend's day being taken away. The House had passed a Resolution of a most drastic character in regard to the Lords. The majority of the House who had voted for that Motion stood on firm ground, for all they had to do was to call upon the Government to give effect to the will of the majority. If the Government were not prepared to do that, he confessed that, as far as he was concerned, they would not enjoy that amount of confidence which he at present entertained for them. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) in thinking that it was somewhat unfair on the part of the Government to make this question one of confidence. He had always thought that these matters were 1627 left entirely to the discretion of the House. He himself had moved Amendments on proposals of this kind, and those Amendments had been accepted by the late Mr. W. H. Smith when Leader of the House. If he thought the Government would assent to an Amendment he should move one now, but he did not want Ministers to be turned out. If they chose to make this a question of confidence, they really obliged him to vote for them. He would not allude to all the measures that had been referred to in the Queen's Speech, for, to tell the truth, he did not believe that many of those measures would be brought in or carried. Members knew, however, that they would have a Budget. He hoped the Budget would be an excellent one, and he should be sorry if Ministers were deprived of the opportunity of bringing it on. He knew also that they meant to bring in a Registration Bill. He thought that before a General Election took place the franchise ought to be expanded more than it was at present, and it was, therefore, desirable that the Registration Bill should pass. Until, therefore, the two eggs of the Registration Bill and the Budget had been laid, and, if they were good eggs, hatched by the House, he should not vote against the Government on a mere matter of detail such as that which was now before the House when he was told that if they were beaten they would resign.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt) had been quite correct in dividing Members into official Members, ex-official Members, and unofficial Members.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he was not competent to dilate upon the last category mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. Having occupied a seat in the House of Commons for a long time, and having sat on every Bench in it, with, he thought, scarcely an exception, he was of opinion that the discription given by the right hon. Gentleman of the various classes of Members was a correct one, and it was certainly the one adopted by Mr. Disraeli and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). To leave this somewhat technical point, he must enter a 1628 most distinct protest against the manner in which a very formidable fundamental change not only of the Standing Orders of the House, but in the practice and Rules of Parliament, had been treated by the Government on this occasion. The House was asked to make a very stringent Regulation under which the Government might forward their business during the remainder of the Session. It was also asked to alter fundamentally the Standing Orders of the House. He had frequently seen Standing Orders of the House made subject to alteration, but how had these alterations been accomplished and prefaced? When they had been at all of a formidable and drastic character they had always been preceded by a thorough inquiry before a carefully-selected Committee of the House. He had known many such Committees appointed in his time. These Committees had been composed of the most experienced Members of the House, selected impartially from both sides with an admixture of Members of lesser experience, so as to make the Committee representative of all sections of the House. The Government had cast these precedents to the winds, and they seemed to think that a casual majority was to be at liberty at any moment to tear up Standing Orders, to be a law unto itself, and to establish such Rules as it thought tit for the purpose of driving through Party business according to the exigencies of its own political organisation. He ventured to say that was a revolutionary proposition. It was all very well to say the majority must prevail, and that that was to decide how this business was to be carried on. He (Mr. Lowther) could only say that search where they would through the annals of Parliament and the Constitutional history of this country no precedent for such a doctrine could be found. He would undertake to say that the Standing Orders of the House, originally framed with the utmost caution and care, had never been subjected to any permanent or quasi- permanent alteration without the most careful scrutiny and inquiry. Reference' was made a short time ago to the proposal of the late Government with regard to carrying Bills over from one Session to another—a measure of which he strongly disapproved, and should have voted against 1629 It if it had been pressed in the House of Commons. The Government of the day relegated that proposal to a Committee impartially chosen—chosen according to the recognised principle in which Committees had always been hitherto appointed—with the result that the proposal did not meet with sufficient support to justify the Government in proceeding with it. The Government, he said, had upset all precedents. But what did they now ask the House to do? They asked the House to hand over to them this additional time without having complied with another condition which under these circumstances was always recognised—and that statement he challenged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to contradict. In making an application of this kind it was customary for the Government to inform the House of the specific purposes for which they demanded the unusual facilities. The right hon. Gentleman opposite knew that towards the end of the Session or the close of the financial year the Government found that the state of business was such that additional facilities were urgently needed for the transaction of public business, and the practice had been to inform the House precisely how matters stood and state the actual measures that were urgent, and give an assurance that those measures and none other would be submitted for consideration. He defied any Member of Parliament, be his experience what it might, to controvert that statement. How did the Government propose to allocate this time? They were driven to the ordinary sources of information to arrive at any conclusion. He had a strong suspicion that this House was being made use of for purposes which were usually discharged by a vacant hoarding round a building in course of building on the streets. This House was to be made a block on which were to be plastered advertisements and sky-signs of the most hideous and ghastly description. So far from the time which the Government asked the House to place at their disposal being used for the purpose of making up arrears in the business of the country, it was for the purpose of advertisement—Party and political advertisement—that their time was to be appropriated and misused. He ventured to say that there 1630 never had been a greater abuse of what he might call brute force and Party vote. Many Members who had preceded him had assumed that the Parliamentary conscience was sufficiently dead to swallow a proposition of this kind on purely Party grounds. He dared say hon. and right hon. Gentlemen had gauged the situation with adequate care and forethought. He regretted to find that there appeared to be very little disposition to discuss the question as one of great Constitutional precedent, but rather as an exhibition of Party strategy and political chicanery which either Party would be justified in using—or misusing. He was afraid that was the tendency of this Debate. His sympathies were with those who had hitherto had by the Standing Orders of the House certain privileges and facilities placed at their disposal by fundamental Rules which were not capable of being altered at the mere caprice of Ministers or will of a Party majority, He deeply regretted this dangerous innovation in Parliamentary practice. It was one which, he thought, boded ill to the independence of the House, and he trusted there would be many Members who would record an emphatic vote against it.
MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
said, that as far as the non-official or private Member was concerned, he had not received very much satisfaction from any of the Leaders of the Parties who had spoken during the Debate. There seemed to be only one opinion amongst: the whole of these gentlemen, that was that having got beyond the necessity of using private Members' nights themselves they wanted to wreck them and take them away from other Members as speedily as possible. This Debate was one of the annual farces which occupied so much of the time of the House. If the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition really believed what they had hinted to-night, that so little good occurred from the advantages that private Members enjoyed, the sooner they made arrangements between themselves to alter the Standing Orders permanently the bettor it would be for procedure in the House. Private Members would then know that it was not worth their while putting their names down for the ballot and co-operating with their 1631 friends and trying to get an expression of opinion upon some subject which they were deeply interested in, although it might not be interesting to the Party opposite. He hoped that if it was understood that Tuesdays were to go away from private Members, the change would be affected in a Constitutional manner in the future. There was nothing for which they had to thank the Leaders of the House. He was sorry the Government would not listen to the private Members who had gone through the ballot, and who represented a very strong body of opinion in the House. He had himself given notice of a Motion in reference to election expenses, a subject upon which some hon. Members held very strong opinions as to present arrangements. Of course it would be out of Order to discuss that matter, and he would only say they desired very earnestly to get an expression of opinion of the House how far they would go in the direction of giving equality of opportunity to poor men for entering the House. However, he was to be sacrificed with the rest of the Members who had already succeeded at the ballot. The course taken by the Opposition had made it impossible for this Motion to be discussed as it might have been as one with regard to the procedure of the House of Commons. The Opposition had chosen, as far as he could see, to make it an occasion of a Vote of Censure on Her Majesty's Government. The whole question of procedure had been put on one side, and they were not able, therefore, to take the action they should have liked to take with regard to the way in which the time of the House should be occupied. If they were to have an alteration in the procedure he sincerely hoped it would be made at once, and then private Members would know where they were; but he was one of those who took a different view as to what private Members had done in the past. He differed from those who thought that the action of those gentlemen had not been beneficial to the legislation of the country. Looking at the history of the country, some of the greatest reforms which had passed through Parliament had been introduced in the first instance, and pressed year after year whenever opportunity had offered, by some private Member who had started 1632 alone or with only a small number of Members at his back; but by persistence, and by the growing strength of that small Party, those reforms had eventually been placed upon the Statute Book—not, he admitted, by the private Members themselves, because just as their efforts were coming to fruition the Government for the time being had taken up those measures, and had taken good care to secure all the reward due to the efforts of the private Members. He looked sadly, therefore, upon the way in which, during several past Sessions, the time of private Members had been gradually encroached upon, and if that kind of thing was to go on the sooner the private Member was swept out of existence in that House the better, and every Member would then recognise that he was only a voting machine when he took his seat within those walls.
MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
said, he hoped the hon. Member who had just sat down would have the courage of his convictions, and would oppose this proposal. They had not heard many protests from private Members in the House, hut he ventured as one of them to oppose this most unprecedented proposal. He was not surprised at the Leaders of the House, of the Opposition, and of the little Unionist Party on the other side sneering at the rights of private Members, because they could get a hearing whenever they chose. They were in a very different position to the ordinary Members, and were not, as a matter of fact, affected in the least. What they were called upon to decide was whether they were to have any rights or privileges at all. These proposals hitherto, during the last few Sessions, had been supported by some kind of excuse, some kind of apology to the House from the Government for making that request; but on this occasion they had heard nothing of the kind. They were simply asked, practically, to establish the principle that in future private Members had no right except to vote. Private Members on the other side of the House need not be afraid of consequences if the Government were beaten. The Government had by this time got used to that operation. They were beaten on the Address, and had been beaten on the average about once a week ever since. Still, that did not seem to affect their position, 1633 and therefore he did not see why hon. Members opposite need he afraid of voting- in opposition to this dangerous proposal. Were private Members to have any rights at all? Arguments had been put forward that they did not make very good use of their time; but that had nothing to do with the question. If they did not choose to come down to the House on Tuesdays and Fridays, that was their own business; and he thought it was better sometimes that the House should be counted out than occupied in assisting the present Government to forward their measures. The question was, whether private Members wore justified in supporting their own rights? If hon. Members opposite chose to vote like sheep, as if this was a Party question, the consequences must be on their own heads. He did not think, however, as far as Parties were concerned, they need be afraid of consequences. He had no desire to bring forward any special grievance of his own, though, as a, matter of fact, he had put down a very useful Bill, which he thought would have received the sanction of the Government. They were, in fact, being deprived of the right to bring in private measures, and he could submit to the House a list of Bills and Resolutions by private Members which were quite as useful as anything the Government had brought forward. He regretted very much the attitude taken by the hon. Member opposite, who always, when he sat on that side of the House, used to be the guardian angel of private Members' rights. How he had come to change and run away from his principles it was hard to understand. His action that, evening tended to destroy the last rag of faith in the consistency of eminent politicians. There was no reason, however, why other private Members on either side of the House should follow his example; and if they allowed themselves to be slaughtered on this occasion they would never get another chance. They would certainly lose their privileges if they failed to stand by one another.
MR. DALZIEL&c.) (Kirkcaldy,
said, if anything would justify Her Majesty's Government in bringing this Motion before the House it would be the attacks made on this occasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had stated to the House and to the country 1634 that private Members' Debates were useless, and that it would be far better there should be no opportunity afforded for such Debates to take place at all. That example had been followed by another right hon. Gentleman, for not only had he said that the private Members' evenings were employed uselessly, but he justified the proposal of the Government by saying that two or three weeks' additional time would be required before the Scotch Grand Committee could be carried through the House if the Government persevered in it. Clearly the plea for the private Members was a delusion and a farce. It was time that the Radicals on that side of the House had some kind of intimation of what the attitude of tins Government was going to be towards the Second Chamber. It would be to the advantage of the Government, the House, and the country, if they had a Debate upon that question. He was simply putting that forward from a friendly point of view. The Government must feel strongly upon that point, for they had seen the work of last year thrown to the winds, and the prospect was that their work this year again would be practically useless. That seemed, therefore, one of the most pressing questions for the moment to the Government. He was content to rest in the belief that at the proper time, some occasion probably more favourable than the present, the Government would be prepared, not on a private Member's Motion, but upon their own initiative, to put forward a policy on the question. He had no doubt as to his duty upon the present proposal. Hon. Members opposite had invited them on that side, of the House to join in defeating the Government. That was, in reality, the purpose they had in view, but the hon. Member opposite was hardly a, skilful tactician if he thought he was going to take them with him into the Division Lobby. As far as he had had an oppor-tunity of judging, none of them had any idea of taking action in the slightest degree embarrassing to the Government, in which they had complete confidence. They believed the Government were about to bring forward a programme which would justify them in giving it their confidence, and that this demand was made to enable them to carry through the programme to which they were 1635 pledged. They would hold the Government responsible if those pledges were not fulfilled, and for those reasons they had no hesitation in giving the Government their support.
§ THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Lambeth, Brixton) moved to leave out the words "for the remainder of the Session," and to insert "until Whitsuntide." A great deal might be said for the Resolution if there were any fear that the present congestion would still he existing in three or four weeks' time. That was a matter which rested not with Members of the House but with Her Majesty's Government. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had pointed out, it was for the Government to state how much of their proposed legislation they intended to go on with and how much of it they meant to abandon, and by that means lighten the ship. If they would get rid of part of their cargo the congestion would be to a great extent relieved, and a good deal of valuable time would be left to private Members. He pointed out the absence of any proviso that this appropriation by the Government of the whole time of the Session would not be extended to any Autumn Session. It had always been agreed that whenever such a demand was made it should only be for the Session and should not extend beyond. With regard to the limitation to Whitsuntide, the Government would themselves admit that the time after that was not of such great value to them. In the first place, before Whitsuntide the Budget would be introduced, and as they were told that this year the Budget was going to be of great interest and of supreme importance, it would be better if the discussion upon it could proceed virtually de die in diem, if it was going to be very controversial and to contain, as was stated, matters of great moment. Therefore, as regarded taking the whole time of the House for that particular measure, he did not believe there would be strong opposition from any part of the House. But what they did object to was that the whole of the private Members' time should be sacrificed for the purpose of introducing and parading a number of Government Bills which it was impossible could ever become law. That would be a deliberate and indefensible waste of time. Upon that point he would earnestly appeal to hon. Mem- 1636 bers opposite who were interested in Private Bills, because after Whitsuntide Tuesday evenings were of great value to private Members, because Bills which had then reached any stage were proceeded with; and private Members' Motions never had the same amount of vitality after as they had before Whitsuntide, if very substantial progress was not made with them. He therefore appealed to hon. Members opposite for their support on this occasion. Allusion had been made to the Evicted Tenants Bill, the Local Veto Bill, and the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. Did hon. Members prefer to see a merely formal introduction of those measures, or did they prefer that progress should be made with useful legislation of their own? Then several contentions measures, like the Rating of Machinery Bill, had been mentioned, raising questions which ought to be taken seriously into consideration. Most heartrending appeals were made to hon. Members last Session in charge of Bills, which the)' had got read by overwhelming majorities, not to press them, and they were asked whether, as they could not be passed owing to the Government taking the time of the House, they would not allow them to be referred to Select Committees? They recognised that impossibility, but should have thought of that before giving up their rights to the Government. It was very easy to be wise after the event; and if private Members wished to have a chance for their measures they must make up their minds now which way they would act. If they would vote for his Amendment they would know they had done their best to forward their own Bills; but if they did not they could not in justice expect hon. Members on that side of the House to strike a blow for them to enable them to pass their Bills into law. He was sorry one hon. Member was absent who last Session, when this proposal was made, said he would always, no matter what Government was in power, stand up for the rights of private Members, but would give the Government the time they wanted for the purpose of passing the Homo Rule Bill. The hon. Member for Sunderland then said, as the occasion was exceptional, he would not struggle for private Members' rights, for it was not every year that the Government had to remodel the Con- 1637 stitution. It was to be hoped the Government did not intend to remodel the Constitution this year, and he therefore hoped his Amendment would be supported. This was not a merely temporary alteration which the Government was making, but they were absolutely going to the whole root of Parliamentary procedure. Unless private Members would unite to strike a blow now, it would be absolutely useless for them to attempt any private legislation whatever, and he earnestly appealed to them for support.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "for the remainder of the Session," in order to insert the words "until Whitsuntide."—(The Marquess of Carmarthen.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
* SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
hoped that Liberals would not listen to the voice of the charmer opposite, charm he never so wisely. With regard to this invasion of the rights of private Members, private Members were themselves to blame for the position in which they stood. Talk of driving six omnibuses through Temple Bar! Why, 600 would be nearer the mark. On the second day of the Session he took his chance of the ballot, and came out 243rd. Of the 242 gentlemen before him, not more than four or five who were successful in obtaining first places had the slightest chance of getting their Bills beyond a Second Reading. It was said they should preserve their Tuesday evening rights on the chance of being able to ventilate questions with a view to subsequent legislation. But how were their Tuesday evenings to be used? One hon. Member wished to bring forward a question dealing with the House of Lords. But he should remember they had already had a Debate on the privileges of the House of Lords, and he thought the time had arrived when there should be action and not discussion. Then there was the proposal of his hon. Friend below him (Mr. J. Rowlands), which was very important, but it was not new, for it was upon this very question be gave his first vote on entering the House 25 years ago. The hon. Member for Flintshire had down an important Motion for another Tuesday, and he had no doubt the hon. Member was most anxious to save that particular Tuesday. He had heard a good many Debates 1638 on bimetallism, and while they were going on he had felt very like James II., who when he heard the plaintiffs case wanted to decide for the plaintiff', and when he heard the defendant's case wanted to decide for the defendant, but when he heard the reply he did not know how to decide. That was very much the position in which he found himself on the question of bimetallism. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) had contrasted the position of the Evicted Tenants Bill with the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, but unless the Motion of the Government were carried there was not the slightest possibility of either the Tenants Bill or the Welsh Bill being passed further than the Second Reading. As a rule, he was not an advocate of questions of this kind being decided on Party lines, buthehoped this Motion would be decided on Party lines, because then they would be able to recognise not only their open enemies but their false friends. Of course they should have against them the Conservative Party and the Liberal Unionists, but he hoped that every man calling himself Liberal, and that all Irish and Welsh Members, would vote in favour of the Motion of the Government.
MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said that, as a private Member be wished to remind the House that upon many occasions during the last Government he supported the rights of private Members. The large bulk of the House were private Members, and without doubt much of the important legislation had been brought about in the first instance by private Members. There was one point raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should like to answer. The right hon. Gentleman asked what was the Business of the House? That was exactly what they had been asking over and over again, and could not get to know from the Government. He ventured to-day to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the Behring Sea Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman did not condescend to answer until the question was put a little later by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The Debate now must be confined to the Question of taking the time of the House up to Whitsuntide—that is the particular Amendment before the House.
said, of course he bowed to the ruling of the Chair, but from now to Whitsuntide the House had 1639 certain privileges which it would lose afterwards, and this emphasised, with all respect to the Chair, the point he was making. Unless the Amendment of his noble Friend was carried, those of them who had chances in the ballot would really be cut out altogether by the proposal now before the House, and they said that if the Government had taken advantage of their opportunities, and not wasted the time as they had done, there would have been no reason why this Motion should have been introduced before Whitsuntide. He did not know whether he should be in Order in referring to the circumstances of last week, but last Thursday was lost because the Government thought proper to become the partisans of a certain Municipality. On that day which was thus wasted they ought to have had brought on one of those measures the Government wished to introduce. They thought they ought to have the Tuesdays and Fridays up to Whitsuntide for the Motions that were down for those days, and they were most anxious for, and not the least afraid of, the great Debate there was to have been on the House of Lords. That Motion was to have been brought forward by a supporter of the Government, but the Government seemed to be afraid to bring it forward, as they did not know on what side they were going to stand; and, therefore, the Government were desirous of burking these awkward questions. He, therefore, thought that as private Members they ought to resist in every possible way the action of the Government on this Motion. They (the private Members) were a very downtrodden race, and their only chances lay in the early period of the Session, usually before Whitsuntide, when they had an opportunity of bringing Motions forward. His experience was that after Whitsuntide the private Member became practically a voting machine. They desired to have an opportunity of bringing before the House those questions in which their constituents were interested, and, therefore, he thought that private Members on both sides of the House were bound to support the Amendment.
MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, that having given notice of an Amendment, he should like to say that in giving notice of it his object was to impress upon the House that the words 1640 "for the remainder of the Session" were remarkably indefinite. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have told them something more of what was in the minds of the Government. They had got now an indefinite term—"the remainder of the Session," and they might have the experience of last year over again, with a Session lasting over 14 months, and they were to give the whole time of the House for those 14 months to the Government, because under the Motion as it now stood the Government could not only take the whole of the usual time of the House, but could keep the House sitting until next April, or any other time, and then claim, under this Motion, to have the whole time of the House, and take it for any Bill or any subject they chose. The Government had not told them even now what Bills they intended to press forward; therefore, he did not think they should have the time of the House for an indefinite period without letting the House know what further they intended to do. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he (Mr. Heneage) was more liberal than the noble Lord, and had put down the date as the 10th of August, and if the right hon. Gentleman refused his Amendment be would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was going to sit through the whole of the Autumn? If the Government meant to do that which was generally the object for which the whole time of the House was asked, wind up the Session, why not accept the Amendment, or some other date, say the 1st of September? Unless they wore told what the Government intended, he thought it was perfectly monstrous for the Government to come down, without a single Bill being read a second time, and say they wanted the whole time of the House for what they liked. Unless the Government gave them some more information than they had given them already, they ought to do everything they could to restrict the period. So far as he was concerned, he should support the Amendment of the noble Lord, and then he presumed that his own Amendment would be out of Order.
MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, he only desired, in supporting the Amendment of the noble Lord, to enter 1641 a protest against the proposal of the Government. He was only a simple agricultural Member, and last Tuesday be put down a Notice of Motion on the Paper dealing with agricultural depression. The Notice did not obtain a good place, but it would develop for tomorrow three weeks. His object in putting down that Notice and in speaking now was not factious opposition, or was—to use the expression of the hon. Member for Norfolk which had now become classical—the vote at the bottom of it, but because he believed that, with the exception of his colleague in the County of Essex, no one knew the ruin and disastrous condition prevailing in the Eastern Counties. That was solely his reason in speaking now, to point out that the condition of agriculture in the Eastern Counties was absolutely deplorable.
* MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he would not detain the House long, but there was one point he desired to mention. It seemed to him the Government, by the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was going wholly against every precedent they had on this matter. He remembered that on the 28th of November, 1891, a Motion was made of this kind, and an Amendment was moved to it. The proposal was to take the time of the House until Christmas. That Motion was made by the late Mr. W. H. Smith, and was a very modest proposal to that now made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But how was it met? The then Leader of the Opposition, the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), used these remarkable words—There is no precedent touching such a Motion as this. He has precedents to show that on former occasions, after the commencement of the Session, demands have been made on the House for certain important measures, but this was not an application for this or that important measure, but for Government business generally,and on that account the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Midlothian opposed Mr. Smith's Motion, although it was only a modest Motion up to Christmas, and the whole of the then Gladstonian Party supported their Leader in opposing it. The hon. Member below him, the Member for Bradford, used very remarkable language. He said—You have wasted the whole of last Session with your Compensation Bill.1642 The hon. Member drew a graphic picture of the waste of time and said—You punish private Members for the mismanagement of business by the Government during the last Session of Parliament.That was exactly what he said now, the Government had mismanaged the business of last Session and they made private Members suffer for their mismanagement, and it was because the noble Lord proposed to limit the Motion that at all events he should support him, and in doing so he thought they had precedent all along the line.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 268; Noes 244.—(Division List, No. 19.)
MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, the next Amendment stood in his name, and he proposed to move it in a somewhat different form to that in which it stood on the Paper, because, of course, it was perfectly true, even under the present Standing Orders, that Government business had priority on Tuesday mornings. He should, therefore, propose to alter his Amendment by omitting the words "Government business do have priority upon," so that the whole paragraph would run thus—That for the remainder of the Session on Tuesday and Friday the House do meet at 2 o'clock.He made this proposal in order to bring the Government proposal more into accordance with what had been the usual practice of Governments when they had taken the time of the House. The precedent of departing from the Standing Order ought not to be lightly adopted. There was no doubt whatever that if this Motion was passed it would relate, as the Leader of the Opposition had stated, not only to Government business this Session, but it would serve as a precedent for all succeeding Sessions. That was to say, that this was about the last opportunity they would have of fighting for the rights of private Members. He agreed that very often the time alloted to private Members was wasted, and the principal advantage of a private Members' night was that most of them could go to bed at a reasonably early hour, which was a strong argument for private Members' nights in a Session like the last, which extended over 11 1643 months. If the Government had said they would afford private Members another opportunity of discussing grievances by putting down Supply at a reasonable time—even once a week for the remainder of this Session—he would not have brought forward this Amendment, because Supply would afford a much better opportunity of discussing grievances than would a Motion on a private Members' night. But, instead of that, the Government had brought forward a proposal which was so distinctly against the Standing Orders, and against the established practice of the House, that it ought to be passed by something more than a mere Party majority. If hon. Members sitting on the Government side of the House attached any importance to their own Motions which they had on the Paper they would undoubtedly vote for his Amendment. The Government had only got 18 of a majority at the best, and of the Motions down for the next four Tuesdays no less than 11 of them were in the names of hon. Members sitting on the Government side of the House. No less than eight of them had got the first or second places for their Motions, whilst only three Members on the Opposition side of the House had got their names down for Motions at all, and they had not got first place. If these hon. Members attached importance to their own Motions they could not vote for the proposition of the Government as it stood, and they ought to vote for the Amendment. He claimed that, the Amendment was not brought forward from Party motives, but simply in the interests of private Members and of fair discussions in this House. All preceding Governments that had asked for further time for public business had not dropped private Members. They had taken only Morning Sittings on Tuesday, with the result that there had been plenty of time for the consideration of public business without private Members being deprived of the opportunity of bringing forward important Amendments. The present Government, however, had not adopted this course. They had, instead, brought forward a Motion which absolutely shut private Members out, and he was not at all sure that the time they were to give themselves would be actually devoted to urgent public business. If he felt it was 1644 to be profitably employed, he might agree to the proposal of the Government; but they had got no guarantee whatever of this. Take last Session, for instance. The Government, took the whole of the time; it was the longest Session on record, and yet it was the most barren of legislation. He thought more work might be done in this House if they did not take up so much time. The eight hours day which had been adopted in the Government factories might very well be applied to Government time in this House. If the Government followed the usual practice, and only took five or six hours on Tuesday, they would get through as much in those five or six hours as if they took the whole day, and then private-Members who had important Motions could bring them on at 9 o'clock. In ordinary Sessions he admitted that a good a good many of the Motions brought forward by private Members were crotchets, but that was not the case this Session. The Motions which stood for the first four Tuesdays really related to matters of the greatest possible importance, and which might be discussed with advantage and profit, such as the Indian home charges, the payment of returning officers, the question of the currency, and the depression in agriculture. Then there was the Motion, which was to have been proposed next Tuesday, upon the House of Lords. The latter was not a subject that could be discussed on mere Amendments in Committee of Supply, but one which ought to be dealt with, and decided one way or another, and upon which the Government ought to give a definite opinion. It was the last legacy of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, when he was leading the House. Had it dropped already, and become a subject in which the Government took no interest whatever? There could be no doubt that the object of the Government in not bringing forward the usual Motion, which was brought forward by all Governments at this time of the year, but in its stead bringing forward a Motion to exclude all private Members, was to burke the discussion by Members on their own side of the House of these questions. The Opposition were-not afraid of discussing them; they ought to be brought to a definite issue, and they wanted the country to know the views of the Government upon them. It was, 1645 because such questions could only possibly be brought to a decision upon Tuesdays that he did not want Tuesdays to go. The only possible opportunity a private Member had of raising an important Motion was by bringing it forward on Tuesday—the private Members' day—as a substantive Motion, which could be brought to the test of a Division, and upon which the Government had to express an opinion by its vote one way or the other. Unfortunately, these were the very Motions which the Government, departing from the practice of all other Governments, were about to preclude them from discussing. The only argument of the Government was that of urgency. That was the cry they heard the whole of the last Session, and they knew what came of it. Only four weeks of the Session had passed; there might be 10 months yet to run for ought they knew, and for this Motion now to be brought forward on the plea of urgency was one of the most ridiculous proposals ever made. Would the Government themselves give effect to the last legacy of the hon. Member for Midlothian? Would they allow a private Member to bring on his Motion about the House of Lords and give the House an opportunity of discussing it? Last Tuesday the Government ran away from the discussion on Scotch Home Rule, but the House passed an important Resolution upon that subject, which he should like to know if the Government intended to give effect to? Were they going to give effect to the decision of the House of Commons or not? If not, how were they to deal with the Lords for not doing so? The House of Commons had deliberately said that this matter of Scotch Home Rule was of urgent importance, yet following the example of the House of Lords—whom they never ceased to abuse—the Government said they attached no importance to what the House of Commons might say, and declined to take any notice of this question of Scotch Home Rule. There were several Bills of a neutral character which were of the greatest importance to the commercial community and others, such as the Bills for the amendment of the law relating to Building Societies, Limited Liability Companies, and so on; but if the Government were to have the whole time of the House, how did they 1646 know that any of these measures would be brought forward? His main reason for not agreeing to the particular suggestion of the Government was that for the first time they were now asked to vote the whole time of the House in confidence. That was a perfectly unheard-of thing. The Government asked them to shut their eyes and vote them the whole time of the Session without in the least knowing what it was to be devoted to. The conduct of the Government in the way they had hitherto wasted time was not such as to induce them to comply with such a demand—which was unprecedented—especially when they had no indication whatever of what they were going to do when they had got the whole of the time. What they had heard to-night was that the Government did not know themselves. The fact was, that a struggle was going on between the different groups who formed that brotherhood, who dwelt together in unity in such a remarkable fashion, as to particular Bills in which they were interested, and the Government kept these things in the dark because they intended to deceive as far as possible each one of these groups. He repeated that it was in the interests of private Members generally that he had brought forward this Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Government business do have priority on Tuesday. That," in order to insert the words "on Tuesday and."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
SIR W. HARCOURT
I should be ill-occupying the time of the House if I endeavoured to answer the observations made by the hon. Member. I have already stated by anticipation all that the Government have to say in answer to that part of the speech which may be called argument, and there was a great deal of abuse of the Government to which it is not necessary I should reply. A very large percentage of the time of the House has been occupied by the hon. Member. Now, his point of view is that the right of private Members is a sort of personal privilege. I take it that private and unofficial Members bold that 1647 time in trust for the country, and this sort of claim was put forward humorously by the Leader of the Opposition that it was the privilege of private Members to have a Count-out if they liked, and that they could do what they pleased in their own time. That really is an admirable illustration of the point of view which champions of the rights of private Members take of the situation. The hon. Member was extremely indignant with hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who, having obtained by ballot places for their Motions, have thought it right, for considerations which seem sufficient to them, to waive that right in the interests of those subjects which they thought even greater than those subjects in which they take a special interest. In my opinion, the Members who have taken that view have taken a more worthy view of the duties of private Members than the hon. Member opposite takes. He seems to think that a man has nothing to do but to think of himself and the position he will occupy in reference to his Motion. The hon. Member is perfectly entitled 10 take that view and to act consistently upon it, which he does very much; but he has no right to condemn other Members who take a less egotistical view of their situation in this House. As to taking the whole of Tuesday, a day on which some Members have important questions to bring forward, these Members looked at the question very carefully, and have come to the conclusion that there is something even superior to their own Motions, and that is the general policy of the Tarty to which they belong and the Government which they support. In desiring to further that policy and support the Government, which after all is their organ and instrument for carrying out their views, they are taking a course which, I venture to say, the country will approve much more than that which the hon. Member opposite has suggested they should follow. The Government fully considered this matter, and they think that they ought to ask the House for the whole of Tuesdays. At the Morning Sitting on a Tuesday it is quite true that when there is formal business we get on very well; but it often happens that some controversial question prevents the main business from being reached until a late hour in the afternoon, and 1648 then the Government make very little progress. Therefore, it is thought better to take the whole sitting. The hon. Member says that the Government have a long Session of 10 months before them. That really depends on hon. Members who occupy the time of the House; and the hon. Member himself would be well advised if he would spare the House of Commons a little more than he does. I hope that the manner in which the business will be conducted this Session will not necessitate any such expenditure of time as the hon. Member contemplates, and that the House under the circumstances will not accept his Amendment.
ME. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman was at perfect liberty to abstain from replying to the speech of my hon Friend. There is nothing in our procedure to compel a reply to the speech of the speaker immediately preceding him. But, though the right hon. Gentleman has chosen not to deal with the arguments of my hon. Friend, he need not have introduced into his own speech a most unnecessary and personal attack on my hon. Friend, who may have delivered himself very freely about the Government as a Government, but certainly did not condescend to personal invective upon any Member of the Government or any hon. Member opposite. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has repeated what he told us earlier in the evening, as to the reasons which induce the Government to prefer the whole of the Tuesday sittings. Of course, if the Government want time it is very natural that they should prefer to take the larger than the smaller slice of the time of private Members. But that preference on the part of the Government is the only argument which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thought right to adduce against the course which all his predecessors have adopted under similar circumstances. The Government fail to understand that they are making not only a great, but an unprecedented, demand on the time of private Members, and have not realised that they should give something in return. What we ask in return is a little confidence on the part of the Government. During the four hours which this Debate has occupied the Government have not vouchsafed a single reply either to the questions I myself put, or to the questions 1649 put by other hon. Members. We have all pressed on them, as a simple return for the immense demand they were making on us, that they should tell us what their own programme is to be. At present we know absolutely nothing about it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer recited the promises which the Government have given us, and which I am sure the Government will fulfil with regard to certain Debates on certain questions; but we know absolutely nothing as to the course they mean to pursue in the case of the absurd Scotch proposal, or as to the order in which they mean to bring in their Bills. A most interesting quotation was given earlier in the evening by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone from a speech by the late Prime Minister on a similar, but less drastic, Motion by the late Mr. Smith. The late Prime Minister laid down that these demands on the time of the House should be made in reference to particular business of great importance. What is the particular business of great importance in this instance? They have not told us. Their language almost suggests that they do not know themselves. I do ask, in the name of common sense and the ordinary conduct of our affairs, that, before the main question is finally disposed of to-night, the Government will tell us for what specific purposes they hope in the immediate future the unexampled privilege they ask from us is to be employed. I do not say that such a statement would remove all our objections. But we should, at all events, feel that we were not wholly without guarantee as to the way in which this blank cheque was to be filled in, and that we were not voting away our time and convenience while getting absolutely nothing in return.
MR. P. SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
said, the Leader of the Opposition had seemed surprised at the change in the tone of the two speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He (Mr. Smith), however, could not say that there was anything very astonishing in the change. At the time of the first speech, the ship was labouring in the sea with the winds and waves beating on it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was constrained to make a vow to any saint or god who 1650 would help him out of his difficulty. At the time of the second speech the ship had weathered the point, and the right hon. Gentleman was able to return to his usual and well-understood mode of sailing in his handling of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston. The right hon. Gentleman had said that Morning Sittings were of comparatively little use. Then why did the Government ask for Friday mornings? Let them agree to a compromise if they did not care to accept the proposal before the House; and if they considered Morning Sittings of such little value, let them give private Members the whole of Friday and take to themselves the whole of Tuesday. But he (Mr. Smith) confessed that in this matter he very much differed from the right hon. Gentleman. He thought that a great deal of work did get done in Morning Sittings, and, from the point of view of private Members, he thought that two short sittings were better than one long one. He would prefer sittings from 9 to 12 on Tuesdays and Fridays to one long sitting on Friday. If the Government would take the mornings of Tuesdays and Fridays and retain those evenings for private Members, they would not only greatly help in their own business, but would also be following precedent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer declined to have anything to do with precedents. No doubt precedents taken from the calendar were of no use. It was useless to say what was the state of things on the 9th of April in other years, because the whole situation had been so altered by the abnormal length of last Session and the way it had encroached on the present Session. They could not found any argument as to what was reasonable to-day on considering what was reasonable on the 9th of April last year, or the year before, or the year before that. But they could found an argument upon precedent if they looked at the number of sittings in previous Sessions. In 1889 private Members had nine evening sittings on Tuesday, and in no case did they have the whole of that day. In 1890 they had four evening sittings on Tuesday, and only the whole day in two instances. In 1891 they had five evening sittings on Tuesdays, and six whole Tuesdays; and in 1892 they had 10 evenings, and only four whole 1651 Tuesdays. Morning Sittings were greatly developed by the late Government, and the length of evening sittings was reduced. At first they could continue until 1 o'clock in the morning, but subsequently they were cut short at midnight. No doubt a sitting from 9 to 12 in the evening did not give time for a full and elaborate discussion, but it did give time to bring forward and ventilate a subject and take the opinion of the House upon it. With regard to the argument as to "Counts-out," they must happen so long as the selection of subjects was left to chance; but it would be perfectly easy to propose a scheme by which priority at evening sittings should be given to the subject which obtained most support. If that system were adopted, it would, he thought, be a considerable improvement upon the present arrangement—of leaving the whole thing to chance. It would get over what seemed to him the only serious argument against the value of evening sittings—namely, the chance of an uninteresting subject getting the first place, and the House getting counted out. No doubt, it was not possible for private Members to carry through serious legislation, except on the most rare occasions, but it was quite possible for them to take hold of questions in their preliminary stages when no Government would commit itself upon them—when even hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Opposition Bench would not commit themselves upon them. Gentlemen on the back Benches could take up such questions, and many instances might be cited in which measures which were now admitted to be of great value had been first brought forward by private Members. Perhaps the most striking case in point was the way in which the present Secretary for Scotland (Sir G. Trevelyan) had brought forward the question of the County Franchise whilst occupying the position of a private Member. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had no right to despise precedents. Private Members had rights which the House had admitted year after year. He did not say that those rights were definable according to the calendar, but he maintained that taking previous Sessions the figures worked out very much to the same effect so far as the privileges of private Members were con- 1652 cerned, and this formed a strong argument against the present action of the Government. It was all very well for a professional cynic like the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) to take the line that one Party was just as had as another, and that when in power each proposed that which when in Opposition it resisted. But there had been a very substantial and considerable difference between the attitude of the present Opposition when they were in power and that of the present Government. In 1889, 1890, and 1891 Government business had precedence at 108 sittings, while private Members' business had precedence at 33 sittings; but in 1893 Government business had precedence at 211 sittings and private Members' business at only 19 sittings. Under the late Government private Members had one-quarter of the time of the House, but under the present Government they had had less than one-tenth. During the present Session the case of private Members was a good deal worse, because they had scarcely had any evenings at all. He admitted that eight days a month was not time enough for the Government to carry their business; but, as a matter of fact, statistics showed that eight days a month, or two-fifths of the whole time of the House, was not all the time Governments had taken during recent years. Instead of two-fifths of the time, they had taken three-fourths, and that seemed to him a much more reasonable fraction of the time of the House for the Government to have than that they should have the whole of the time. What security was there that the Government would leave private Members the Wednesday Sittings and Friday nights? They were entitled to some assurance from the Government on that point. In any case, it seemed to him that the precedent which was now being set would be followed in future. All Governments wanted more time. Any Government that ever existed could make excuses for asking for the time of the House just as good as they had heard to-night. Every Government that had the confidence of the House could come down and make a pathetic appeal to its supporters, and make the question one of confidence. That precedent was one which he did not think any Government in the future would forget. 1653 Certainly, he did not think the Opposition would forget it when they came into power. This matter of precedent, which Radicals and Home Rulers might very well set some store by, because it was for more gentlemen who supported the Government than Unionists of any shade who were anxious to have an opportunity of setting down Motions, and of arguing them as private Members. It might well be that a Unionist Government on coming into power might feel embarrassed by some Resolution set down by some Member of the Opposition. They would have an excellent weapon to their bands—a certain defence which the House might be confident they would avail themselves of in this precedent of coming down without any particular reason and without specifying the purpose for which the time was required, and demanding as a matter of confidence nearly the whole time of the House. After this he did not see how hon. Gentlemen could oppose such a claim. It was because he thought the Government would have ample time if they took only Tuesday mornings instead of the whole of Tuesdays, and because he regarded it as a safer precedent—better in the interest of the House, if private Members and of the Government itself—that he urged the acceptance of the Amendment.
MAJOR DARWIN (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, that of the Debates in the House gentlemen sitting on the Front Benches usually got the lion's share. It was right that they should, because these gentlemen were to a certain extent the spokesmen for the rest of the Members. Rut when they came to a subject relating to the rights of private Members, he thought the House should be indulgent to those who wished to take part in the discussions. Those on the Front Benches who had long had a dislike to Tuesdays and Fridays Motions took a rather prejudiced view of the subject, and for that reason it was especially desirable that private Members should intervene. They were asked to give up Tuesdays to the end of the Session, and the hon. Member for Preston proposed that some modification should be made in the demand. And in making the proposal it was only right to point out that the Government had already had an abnormal amount of time 1654 this year—from Christmas to the beginning of the present Session. That ought to be taken into account. There had been only two Tuesdays available for such discussions as usually took place on those evenings this year, and the demand of the Government was that there should be no more Tuesdays available. The Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer entirely did away with the privileges granted to private Members by the Standing Orders. The proposal of the Government involved a complete change of precedent. On every previous occasion when a Government had asked for privileges of this kind they had been able to show what actual time of the House had been previously spent on measures, and that that time would be wasted unless their demand was acceded to. It had always previously been the case that the Government had introduced large proposals, and that any restriction in their legislative programme would lead to the wasting of the time already spent on legislation. The present Government, however, could put forward no such argument, for they had introduced no large measures, and not a single hour of Parliamentary time would be wasted if no restriction of private Members' time was made. Such a change in precedent could only be justified by showing that the existing Rules of the House were not suitable, or by proving that the circumstances were very exceptional. They did not know what line the Government took up. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was true, had said that at present there was not a reasonable distribution of the time of the House. Why, then, did he not propose some alteration of the Standing Orders of the House? That was the way to meet the case. There were many Members of the House who doubted whether the time taken up by abstract Resolutions usually discussed on Tuesdays and Fridays was really a good distribution of rime. But when they came to discuss individual cases of this so called waste of time they found great difference of opinion. There was hardly a subject brought before the House which some Members would not think justified the time occupied on it. On Tuesday last they had a discussion on mining royalties, and those gentlemen who brought it forward expressed what he might call 1655 the official view of the miners. It appeared to be of interest to the mining industry that they should——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member must not follow up the discussion on mining royalties.
said, he apologised. He was only trying to illustrate the advantage of such general discussion to the country at large. He agreed that the question as to whether these abstract discussions were useful or not was an open one; but if the Government thought that time should not be devoted to them, let them propose an alteration of the Standing Orders. But he did not understand that the Government based their argument upon that. The Government claimed exceptional circumstances as their reason for demanding the time of the House. The only exceptional circumstance the Government could allege was that they were endeavouring to force more legislation into the Session than was possible; and if that was accepted as an excuse for the Government taking the time of private Members thus early in the Session, it was a certainty that every future Government would be able to claim the same indulgence. He was afraid they were now doing away for all time with the rights of private Members on Tuesdays—at the end of the Session, if not for the whole of the Session. Still, as the present Government did not make the change by altering the Standing Orders, when they were again in Opposition they would resist a Motion like this in the interests of private Members, and so obstruct Unionist legislation. It appeared to him that they ought to deal with the question at large, and settle permanently what was to be done in the interests of both Parties in the House. He should certainly vote against the proposal of the Government if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston—which would afford a reasonable solution of the difficulty—were not accepted.
§ SIR M. J. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, he objected most strongly to the course proposed by Her Majesty's Government. He was not going to argue the matter out because they had already had it argued out much better than he could have done it. The absence of all precedent for the Government proposal had been shown. He felt that in launch- 1656 ing forth this policy and in laying down practically new Standing Orders they were making a new precedent which would be followed in future years, so that practically from this time private Members' Motions would be shut out on Tuesdays. The only way in which a private Member could bring forward a question was by making a Motion, and whether they were crotchets or not their constituents in many cases had sent them there with a mandate to bring certain matters before the House. If they were shut out they could not fulfil that mandate. But he had risen rather to suggest that the Government should give some indication of the subjects they intended to press upon the attention of the House, because it now had before it a bill of fare for which all the time of the House would be insufficient. Only the other day he (Sir M. J. Stewart) was one of a large deputation to the President of the Board of Agriculture. The answer the right hon. Gentleman gave was unsatisfactory and a Motion was down for next Tuesday on the subject. The go-by had now been given to the subject. They were threatened in this respect with a great divergence from the policy pursued during the past 18 months. They were led to believe that the Minister in charge of the Department was as convinced of the utility of slaughtering animals imported into this country at the port of debarkation as they were; but the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion were directly opposite. That was one of the subjects that would be shut out from discussion by the Motion of the Government. He would ask the Government whether they really thought that by forcing a Motion of that sort on a very large minority of the House they were really advancing the business of the House? When they were compelling 244 Members as against 268 to do a certain thing, it required a good deal more compulsion than taking Tuesdays and Fridays to accomplish their purpose. He therefore thought the Government were making a great mistake in the action they proposed; and if they accepted the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Preston, they would in all probability advance their measures more than if they had a large Opposition struggling hard against what they had been com- 1657 pelled to do by a small majority. Members, and especially Scotch Members, would like to know what questions were to be brought before the House by the Government on Tuesdays and Fridays. The House had been assured, on the authority of the Minister in charge of Scotch business, that they were to have a Grand Committee, and that the Government were pledged to do all they could to secure that result. The next day they had had an assurance from the same right hon. Gentleman that Scotland was to have Home Rule. They should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues agreed with that view; and what they really intended to do with regard to Scotch business?
* MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
said, he thought the discussion had not been very complimentary to private Members. If private Members who never aspired to oven the most subordinate position in the Government would have no opportunity of expressing their views, or of doing useful work, the attractions of the House would be reduced to a great number of independent men. Private Members who took up questions at present formed a very useful percentage of the House. Many not very ambitious, but very useful, Bills had been carried by private Members. A great many questions had also been raised by private Members the discussion of which had laid the ground for legislation. Resolutions had been moved and carried by private Members which convinced the Government of the necessity of dealing with certain questions, and legislation had been the result. A great deal of most useful work had been done in this way on Tuesdays and Fridays as well as on Wednesdays. No doubt a certain number of private Members got first places for questions of no importance. But that was the misfortune of the business being arranged by the chance of the ballot. It certainly was no argument against the policy of appropriating a reasonable portion of the time of the House for private Members to occupy in raising questions in which they were interested. Take the four Tuesdays which the proposal of the Government would completely cut out. Next Tuesday one of the Members for Somersetshire proposed to call the attention of the House to the Charity Commission, and to suggest that 1658 it should be reconstituted so as to place it more directly under Parliamentary control. He saw no more useful or more practical subject than that. Since he had had the honour of being a Member of the House—now some years—he had frequently heard dissatisfaction expressed with reference to the Charity Commission. A great deal of the time of the House had been taken up at inconvenient times with the question of the affairs of charities and the action of the Commission. Then the hon. Member for Argyllshire, who had had a large Indian experience, was to have called the attention of the House to East India home charges. He did not know of a more practical subject than that. It was true that the hon. Member for Argyllshire had said he considered the introduction of the question of less importance than maintaining the Government in Office, and that as the defeat of the Government would lead to resignation he thought it better to subordinate that particular question to the interest of the Government; but the consequences feared need not happen. If the hon. Member for Preston's Amendment were carried, the Government might still remain in Office, and an interesting discussion would be secured just the same. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had also an important Motion for discussion—namely, the plurality of offices in the Public Service; and, lastly, one of the Members for Essex had a Motion relating to agricultural matters. The Member for Essex represented a constituency suffering from grievous agricultural depression; and he wanted to call the attention of the House to a phase of the question which could be very profitably discussed at the present time. The Minister for Agriculture had refused to inquire into the present rules as to the compulsory slaughter of cattle imported into this country at the port of debarkation. Deputations had waited upon him, but no opportunity had been afforded for pressing any argument upon the attention of the Minister. If the hon. Member for Essex had only the smallest opportunity of pressing this matter upon his attention, useful and practical service would be done to the agricultural community. These subjects might be dealt with in a concise way, and suggestions made of great value which would pre- 1659 pare the way for the action of the Government later on. If the Amendment were accepted, while the Government would get the Morning Sittings for their business, there would be left an opportunity for the discussion of a number of matters which could be usefully discussed in the best interests of the House and the nation. To take another day, Tuesday the 17th the hon. Member for Wandsworth had a subject for discussion with regard to the disparity of representation between the various constituencies of this country. The hon. Gentleman represented 100,000 people, which was twice as large a population as many other Members of that House represented, and he naturally wanted to press this subject upon the attention of the Government. On the following Tuesday, the 24th, the hon. Member for Finsbury proposed to move a Motion relating to the expenses of returning officers. Very great advantage would be obtained by discussion upon that matter, which actually bore upon one of the subjects—the Registration Bill—which the Government had in hand. On the following Tuesday, the 1st May, they had again the question of the depression of agriculture down for discussion; surely that was a fitting subject to occupy the attention of the House. He must say he viewed with serious apprehension this inroad of the Government's upon the rights of private Members. As it was, the Government enjoyed not only the two days which were usually known as Government days, but practically a considerable portion of the private Members' days. The questions which were put to Ministers and the answers which were given were more or less Government business, and Government business frequently cropped up, and therefore it was "unjust to say that private Members took three days a week as compared with the two days alleged to be taken by the? Government. He should vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston, and, if that was not carried, against the Motion of the Government.
* MR. FREEMAN-MITFORD (Stratford, Warwick)
said, the hon. Member who had preceded him had made reference to the deputation which had waited upon the Minister for Agriculture. He 'was a Member of that deputation, and he placed upon the Paper a 1660 Motion with regard to that matter. He wished that the Motion had fallen into better hands than his, but, at the same time, as it stood in his name, he should like to express the bitter disappointment which he was sure would be felt by the agricultural community—that it was impossible to make any Motion with regard to this question. The reply which was made to them was simply read from a prepared document, and contained no answer to the arguments which had been advanced by speakers. They were used to such replies from the Treasury Bench. He wanted to bring forward a most important Motion which stood in his name, but he desired to point out that he was deprived of any opportunity of presenting to the House a Resolution which might have some beneficial influence upon the agricultural interest of the Kingdom.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, that he much regretted this extraordinary proposal of Her Majesty's Government to take away the time of private Members. These encroachments had increased rapidly within late years, and he had always done what he could to oppose them. But this case was the most indefensible of all. We were not now, as now presented, at the close of the Session, but quite at the commencement. The Session had not yet lasted a month, and of that month—he did not complain of it, because there were special and sufficient reasons—the Government had monopolised almost the whole of the time that the House had sat. Now, why did they make this unusual demand? It was not that our Rules and Regulations had proved in any way defective. His hon. Friend the Member for Islington moved a few days ago for a Committee to inquire into the Rules, and the Government resisted the proposal as being quite unnecessary. Nor could it be from any unusual prolongation of debate on the part of the Opposition. The Government would not allege that. They were allowed to introduce their Bills without opposition and almost without debate, and as a matter of fact they had made unusually rapid progress with Supply. The Government, by their proposals for a Scotch Committee, had themselves frittered away the time of the House on what the hon. Member for Glasgow called a pottering 1661 and peddling Amendment. They had told us that they were in favour of Home Rule for Scotland; why, then, did they press for a Grand Committee? Was it for the present Session? He believed that they could certainly have got their Scotch Bills through Committee in less time than it would take them to obtain the Grand Committee and then get the Bills referred to it. The Government would not allege that the time allotted to private Members was wasted. What had been the greatest changes made in our laws during the past century? The answer would include the reform of Parliament, the extension of the franchise, free trade, and education measures. But all these were private Members' questions—some of them had been repeated year after year; and it was only after private Members had educated public opinion that Governments took these questions up. Of course, when questions were ripe for solution the Government had advantages in carrying Bills which no private Member possessed. Yet there were many important measures which had been actually carried by private Members. He might mention the Free Libraries Act. Again, the Bills of Exchange Act, which codified and regulated the whole law relating to bills and cheques, was a private Member's Bill. Even when private Members' Motions wore negatived, the discussions often were of great value, so that even if the measures failed to pass, the time of the House could not on that account he considered as having been wasted. The Motion of Friday last with reference to royalties was rejected, but the announcement of the view of the Government in the able speech of the Home Secretary was important; it would clear away many fallacies and misapprehensions, and soften, if not remove, the feeling of grievance which undoubtedly existed. There was a general impression that the object of this proposal was to shelve inconvenient questions. The Government would, he supposed, carry their Motion about a Scotch Committee. Well, then they could not, with any semblance of justice, refuse them an English Committee, but they might deprive them of any opportunity of proposing it. Would they give them a day to bring it on? He himself was in charge of two ques- 1662 tions at the present time, and he would endeavour in a few words to point out the importance they were to the country generally. They were all agreed as to the importance of conciliation and arbitration in trade disputes. Now, one of the Bills he was in charge of related to that subject, and was brought in on behalf of the London Chamber of Commerce. It was supported by the Chambers of Commerce throughout the Kingdom; it had been drafted under the instructions of the London Conciliation Board, and was supported by the great London Trade Unions. Surely such a Bill and one so supported ought not to be shut out. It was true that the Government had a Bill of their own relative to the same question, but there was hardly more in it than in the dummy which his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade presented at the Table. The Bill, as the Government had framed it, really did nothing at all, and gave the Board of Trade no power which it did not already possess. The other question was one dealing with the terribly long hours of labour in shops. It was no question of eight hours, or 10 hours, or 12 hours even, but of 14 or 16 hours a day; and most of the shop assistants, it must be remembered, were women. The facts had been unanimously reported on by a Committee of this House, and their Report had never been denied. There was not a city or town where great meetings had not been held and resolutions passed in support of their Bill. It was founded on a Resolution passed unanimously in that House, supported on behalf of the Government by the Home Secretary, which was to the effectThat, in the opinion of this House, the excessive and unnecessarily long hours of labour in shops were injurious to the comfort, health, and well-being of all concerned; and that it was desirable to give to Local Authorities such powers as might be necessary to enable them to carry out the general wishes of the shopkeeping community with reference to the hours of closing.These long and unnecessary hours undoubtedly affected the health, comfort, and even the life of probably 1,000,000 of their countrymen and countrywomen, and yet the Government could not give them an evening or even an hour for its discussion. What were the questions for the sake of which this 1663 course was proposed? He would allude only to those that had been mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The first measure mentioned in the Royal Speech was the Evicted Tenants Bill. Why were the tenants evicted? Because they did not choose to pay their rents. Not that they could not, but because they would not. Speaking, for instance, of the Lugga-curren tenants, the hon. Member for South Kerry said thatthey were able to pay their rents, but it was a fight of intelligence against intelligence—a case of diamond cut diamond.And yet as they would not pay for themselves, though they could, it was now proposed that somebody else was to pay for them. He would not, however, discuss the merits of the measure; but he should like to ask, How' many persons did it affect? The Mathew Commission reported the number of tenants on the Plan of Campaign estates at 1,300, of whom 400 had been reinstated, leaving something less than 1,000. Yet to these 1,000 individuals the time of the House was to be devoted, and for the 1,000,000 shopkeepers and shop assistants the Government could not spare an evening, and worse than that, not even an hour. Another subject mentioned in the Speech wasthe reform of the present method of conducting inquiries into fatal accidents in Scotland.That might be useful and desirable, but surely it was not a matter more urgent or important than many of those which private Members wished to bring before the House. In conclusion, he submitted that the Government had no case for the Resolution they proposed, and he hoped the House would maintain the rights of private Members, and leave them the moderate proportion of time which after careful consideration had under the present Rules been allotted to them.
SIR J. GORST (Chatham)
said, that the right hon. Baronet had called great attention to the various measures of usefulness that had been introduced by private Members in the first instance, and had put that fact forward as one reason why the time of private Members should not be limited, even for the purpose of giving more time for Government business. He had been in the House for 1664 many years, and he was bound to confess that during that time he had seen a great deal of the time of the House wasted by private Members. It was not the first time that a Government had found it necessary to ask for the time which, under more favourable circumstances, would have been at the disposal of private Members. It was a usual thing for the Government once or twice in each Session to make such an appeal to private Members. The real reason, he believed, that induced the Government to ask for this extra time was never stated to the House. But in former cases they had given some reason for their doing so, which, if not very readily believed as the real motive by the private Members who were affected by the change, was at any rate a plausible one on the face of it. He ventured to say that the Government was always anxious to have their movements wrapped in a little mystery. Moreover, they undoubtedly had an inclination to make as much of any little emergency which might give them an opportunity to make this request as was possible under the circumstances. What the Government most disliked was a sharp criticising of any measure they introduced. They were always animated by a very powerful object. They had to submit their measures to the criticism of independent Members of the House. The House existed for two purposes. Its sole business was not that of legislating. In his judgment, a far more important function than the business of legislating was that of watching the administration and policy of the Executive Government of the country, and giving utterance to public dissatisfaction with such policy and administration, and making the Government defend themselves in public and give the reasons for the particular measures they proposed. The Government did not like this. It was a very odd thing that people never liked to be criticised. But if the independent action of their political opponents was intolerable to the Government, still more intolerable was the independent action of their political friends. If Governments generally were nervous about the action of their supporters, he supposed Her Majesty's present Government were more nervous about that action than any Go- 1665 vernment which had ever existed. Their political supporters had so many different views, were animated by so many different objects, and were supposed to pursue their views in such a very inconvenient and headstrong fashion that he imagined the Government lived in constant terror as to what their supporters might do next. There was a very remarkable illustration of independent action on the part of Government supporters last Tuesday night, and he had no doubt that the experience the Government had that evening of independent Tuesday evening Motions had induced them to make up their minds to suppress them altogether, otherwise why should they have pursued the totally unprecedented course they were pursuing this evening? If the Government would propose an alteration of the Standing Orders so as to give them the whole time of the House, the House would, no doubt, he disposed to discuss such a proposal, and there might be very strong reasons why such a course should be taken. Speaking entirely for himself, he had a perfectly open mind on the subject, and was perfectly ready to discuss any Amendment of the Rules of Procedure and the Standing Orders of the House which the Government might propose. As it was, the Standing Orders were, Session after Session, being made into a farce. What was the good of having Standing Orders if during nearly the whole of the Session they were to be suspended. If the Resolution of the Government were passed the present Session would be remarkable as the only one in modern times in which independent Members had had at their disposal only a single Week of the time of the House. Before Easter the House had to suspend the Standing Orders in order to enable the Government to pass their financial business. By way of showing their gratitude to the House for their action in that matter, the Government asked hon. Members a week later to suspend the Standing Orders for the rest of the Session. He should have thought it would have been better to alter the Standing Orders so as to give the Government the whole of the time, and to allow private Members to have Tuesdays and Fridays as an exceptional thing. Hitherto Governments, in taking the time of the House, 1666 had done so piecemeal. They had taken Tuesday morning first and Tuesday evening afterwards. A great deal of business could be done on Tuesday morning, which was an excellent time for discussing Bills in Committee. Never before had the Government asked in the first instance for the whole of the Tunes-days, and their only reason for doing so now was that they wished to get rid of a number of inconvenient questions which would otherwise be brought forward by their own supporters. They did not want to have to continue to exercise their ingenuity in fencing with questions or to adopt the manœuvre of leaving the House in order to avoid the necessity of giving an opinion or of voting on Motions brought forward by their own supporters. They, therefore, took the bull by the horns, and suppressed the Tuesday Motions altogether. The Government could not trust their supporters, and consequently they dare not allow the House any longer to enjoy those privileges which the Standing Orders were intended to safeguard. This was the reason why at the very beginning of the Session they asked the House by this unprecedented Motion to suspend the Standing Orders all round.
LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
There are many arguments that can be urged against the proposal of the Government. In the first place, I lay down that there is no precedent for this Motion at this time of the year, and I have a right to speak on the subject, for my Parliamentary memory is long, extending over 20 years, and is also very active. I say positively that this is an unprecedented Motion in the first month of a Session of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) commented on the fact that this was the 9th of April, and argued that the Motion was premature. But what has been the origin of this Motion. Yon, the Government, kept the House sitting last year for an unprecedented period, amounting to nearly 10 months in the year. That is the cause of your difficulties now. Having kept the House of Commons sitting for 10 months you called Parliament together again on the 12th of March. You had your necessary finance Votes to pass, 1667 and you got all the assistance you could from the Opposition. How do you recognise it? Before three weeks are over you come down to the House and you propose to appropriate Tuesdays as a whole and Fridays for Morning Sittings, You knock on the head the whole of the rights obtained by ballot by private Members during the first few weeks of the Session. That is your treatment of your supporters; that is your treatment of your opponents. I do not believe that any Leader of the House has ever made such a proposal before. I would remind the House that the proposal will not long rest here; the Government will before long endeavour to appropriate the whole of the time of the House. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, that is cheered. The Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed a faint hope—and it struck me he had a faint heart—that this Session might not be like last Session. You are on the high road to producing a fac-simile of last Session. What is the worth to private Members at this period of the Session of Wednesday and Friday Morning Sittings? Coercion of the House of Commons like this does not lead to the passing of those innumerable Bills which are controversial in the highest degree, and which you apparently, from the Queen's Speech, hope to pass. You have concealed from us the order of your Bills. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the order is administrative. Has he forgotten the Budget Bill, and does he think that from the nature of his Budget it will not require a great deal of discussion? Does he think he will be able to go into the Budget Bill immediately after he has introduced his Budget? It is absurd to think that he will be able to bring in the Budget Bill before Whitsuntide. What Bills are you going to bring in before Whitsuntide? Have you the right to take the time of the House of Commons and not say what you are going to do? Have you the right to leave not only your supporters, but the Opposition, whose numbers are very nearly as high as yours, in utter ignorance as to your programme up to Whitsuntide? You take all the time of the House practically. Is the taking away of the Morning Sitting on Tuesday consonant 1668 with precedent when you conceal from the House every information they desire? I have never known of any Ministerial proposal equal to that. The proposal of the Government last year was as had as ever was made, but this exceeds it. Yet your majority fluctuates from a defeat by one on an order for a Bill which the Government supported to majorities first of 18 and then of 15 on the Motion for the adjournment of the Debate on the Scotch Grand Committee, and on no occasion can you muster more than 24. Are you going to take all the time of the House with a majority like that? What was your majority last year? It averaged 45. What is your majority now? Heaven knows! There is another point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the only Member of the Government who has spoken to-night. Nobody has had the courtesy to reply to the very courteous, the very humorous, the very good-natured, and the very brilliant speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I say that is extraordinary conduct. You make an enormous demand, and one Member of the Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, makes a most curious speech, which pretends to tell everything and concede everything. The Chief Secretary for Ireland made a brief speech, and did not notice a single argument used by my right hon. Friend. These are strange proceedings; they are proceedings which I have never seen practised in my Parliamentary experience; they are proceedings which will not profit you, because the Opposition is nearly of the same strength as yourselves, and in time you may find yourselves defeated. Your policy is certainly against the interests of the House. You may possibly persuade your followers to vote for you mechanically to-night; but you will find it hard to carry through the Newcastle Programme and the great Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a majority of from 1 to 15. I express the opinion which I have a right to express from a long experience of this House, and from a good deal of knowledge of its customs. You are pursuing a policy which was initiated last year of abandoning all the privileges and customs of private Members, and you are asking us 1669 to be your accomplices in an act which is unprecedented, and which from the Parliamentary point of view is unnecessary.
ME. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he rose principally to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, He did not join in the attacks which had been made on private Members and on their Motions, for he would remind the House that there was scarcely a single measure of any importance passed by the House that had not been brought within the range of practical politics by the action of private Members on private Members' rights. Therefore, he should express his regret that the Government had taken all the opportunities of this Session from private Members. But he noticed that on the fourth Tuesday there was a Motion down to consider the question of the depression in agriculture. Unless the Amendment were assented to, the opportunity for discussing the question would be absolutely taken away. He would remind the House that there was scarcely a single Member—certainly not a Member of a rural constituency—who did not in his election addresses and speeches declare his anxiety to consider the question of the depression of agriculture: and though it might appear to affect only the rural constituencies, he ventured to say that there was not a trade or a branch of manufacture in this country that was not affected by the condition of agriculture. Good trade and had trade were relative terms for prosperity or depression in agriculture. He had a question to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, he was sorry to see, was always popping in an out. He thought they ought to have the head of the Government present when important questions were addressed to him, and especially when they were discussing a question moved by the right hon. Gentleman himself. But he would ask any Leader of the Government, if there were a Leader present—and he hoped the House would insist on some sort of answer—whether the Government would give a day for the discussion of the condition of agriculture in this country? They had promised a day for the discussion of several matters, including the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill; but would they promise a 1670 day for discussing a matter affecting the greatest industry of the country? The question was—Would the Government give a day for the discussion of the condition of agriculture—a question affecting our greatest industry, and which affected every man, woman, and child in the country, whether living in our towns or in the rural districts. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the country would approve of the action of the Government in shutting out all opportunity of discussing that important question, but the Government displayed a singular objection to testing the opinion of the country upon that or upon any other point. He wanted some assurance on the part of the Government on that subject. He had listened to the attack that the hon. Member for Northampton had made upon private Members. The hon. Member had tried his best to get out of the category of private Members, but had failed in doing so, and perhaps that was the key of the temper he had displayed, and had made him so bitter in his attack upon them. The Government were having a bit of electioneering practice that evening, but shuffling their cards would not change their hand. If the Government refused to give a day for the discussion of the depressed condition of agriculture the country would know what value was to be attached to the abundant promises which they and their supporters had made during the last General Election. He reiterated his request, which he hoped would be backed up by other speakers, and as the Government were practising electioneering tactics he suggested that they might go a step further and give the day he asked for.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, this was not merely a question affecting private Members, but whether the Standing Orders of the House were to be put aside without any reason being assigned. The cynical levity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, relying as he did upon his majority of 24, and the careless levity of hon. Members opposite in dealing with so important a question, was surprising. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had used lamb-like language to which they were unaccustomed from that quarter 1671 with a tremendous majority of 24. But finding that if he had the majority of votes he had the minority of arguments on his side, the right hon. Gentleman had turned round, and, like a modern Goliath, had fallen on the unfortunate Member for Preston. The hon. Member for the Kirkcaldy Division had been pleased to show a great contempt for private Members, who were, he said, a farce and a delusion. They might have expected support from him as the private Member who carried the famous Motion for giving Home Rule to Scotland. Was that a farce and a delusion? Perhaps it was, and this was the more to be suspected, because having a still more important Motion for one of these very days now in question, he had now ran away from it, and had announced that he was going to vote with the Government. However, private Members were not a, farce and a delusion, whatever the hon. Member for the Kirkcaldy Division might be.
explained, that in what he had said he was only putting Ins own interpretation on the speech of the hon. Member's Leader.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he was not, a private Member. The question was whether they were going to try to save any remnant of their Standing Orders and privileges from the capacious maw of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had himself a very important Motion on the Paper for to-morrow with regard to pluralists which he had already on three occasions postponed at the request of the Government on the very ground that he would be able to bring it on tomorrow, which he was now to be prevented from doing. Consequently he had been defrauded. Private Members had balloted, and some of them had got forward places for their Motions, had prepared all their facts, and were ready to come down gravid with argument when they were thus summarily disposed of. His own place was not a very forward one, but he was not unmindful of the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who said that the bores always got the first places. In these circumstances, it was very hard that the Government should now snatch away the opportunities which private Members had thus secured. Having examined all the precedents from 1868 1672 down to the present time, he asserted that such a proposal had never been made except either upon special grounds for a special purpose, or at the end of the Session in order to wind up business. No special ground had been here put forward, nor had any emergency been shown. No Bill had been named that it was urgent to pass. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had merely said that he was in charge of a precious cargo; but why did he not bring up a few bales and cases of this cargo and let them see what it was like? The right hon. Gentleman was fond of calling himself an old sailor. He (Mr. Bowles) called him an old soldier. Before Easter the right hon. Gentleman had begged for the time of the House on the ground of financial necessities and had got it. Now he turned round on his benefactors. Having like a mendicant begged them to give the Government more time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer now came forward with a bludgeon to rob them of the remainder, like a foot-pad. All he alleged was that this was the 9th of April, as though they were well advanced in the Session, whereas they were only at its fourth week. No obstruction was oven alleged. It was not their fault that the Session did not begin until the 12th March, but the fault of the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues in overloading the ship, and the Government could not complain if the same result followed again, for as last year, like Pharaoh's lean kine coming up out of the river, their measures had eaten up the Session, so they would eat up this Session too and be none the better for it—they would still be as lean and ill-favoured as ever. This proposal was not made in good faith, because of the necessities of the Government or of the situation, but it was a last despairing attempt to cover previous failure and to prepare for future failures. Nobody knew that better than the right hon. Gentleman himself—it was simply a last despairing attempt to amuse the electors, while it would only give Ministers and their supporters further time to make further blunders.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 247; Noes 219.—(Division List, No. 20.)1673
MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, that, although the Government proposed to take the whole time of the House for the rest of the Session, they had given the House no information as to the purposes to which they intended to devote it. Last year, in spite of the large time at I the disposal of the Government, the whole of Supply was crowded into a fortnight, and did not receive fair discussion. He, therefore, moved the addition of the following proviso to the Motion of the Government:—Provided that in each week during the remainder of the Session the consideration of the Estimates in Committee of Supply shall be sot down as the first Order of the Day on one night on which Government business has priority.If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not undertake to give one day a week for the purposes of Supply, would he undertake to say that Supply should be dealt with fairly and at an early period of the Session? If the right hon. Gentleman would give an assurance to that effect it might meet the difficulty: if not, he should certainly press the Amendment to a Division.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,
Provided that in each week (hiring the remainder of the Session the consideration of the Estimates in the Committee of Supply shall be set down as the first Order of the Hay on one night on which Government business has priority."—(Mr. Heneuge.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
SIR W. HARCOURT
I must say, Sir, that the Motion of my right hon. Friend is unnecessary, because under the Standing Order Supply is always set down one day in the week. But I take it that that is not the real meaning of the Motion. What my right hon. Friend means, I presume, is that the Government should undertake that on some day in each week effective Supply should be taken. We have, however, shown that we are inclined to deal fairly with Supply, because in a short time we have had at our disposal I think we have made as much progress with Supply as has ever been made at this time of the year. No Government has ever been called upon to fulfil such a condition as this Amendment would impose upon them, for no 1674 Government can undertake beforehand what may happen during the Session. My right hon. Friend asks me to give an undertaking that Supply should be fairly dealt with, and I have no hesitation in giving that undertaking. I hope my right hon Friend will not press the Motion, as the House is desirous of proceeding with the very important business involved in the Behring Sea. Fisheries Bill.
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I think the right hon. Gentleman has met the appeal of my right hon. Friend in a conciliatory tone. The position, however, is that there will be no opportunity at all for an unofficial Member to bring forward any question except by moving the Adjournment of the House. At the same time, if the right hon. Gentleman is able to carry out his present intention with regard to Supply, I think the Amendment might be withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question proposed.
COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said, he would like to ask whether any opportunity would be afforded by the Government for discussing the present position of agriculture, and he would like to know whether they refused to give a day?
SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not deny the importance of the subject to which the hon. Member has referred, but if I should undertake to decide as to the competing claims of different subjects upon the attention of the House I should inevitably become involved in complications from which it would be vary difficult to extricate myself. I feel sure, however, that in the course of the Session, and practically at no very distant date, an opportunity will present itself for a discussion on the subject of that agricultural depression which we all deplore.
MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he hoped an opportunity would be given for a discussion of the depression in agriculture, on the ground that the Government had deprived an hon. Member of an opportunity of moving a Motion on the subject early in May. Days had been granted for the eight hours for miners and for 1675 other questions, and it was not unreasonable to ask for a single day to discuss the agricultural question, and so to test the pledges which had been given by so many Members.
SIR W. HARCOURT
I am asked to give a day in exchange for one which I am said to bo taking away, but I must question the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman, because the Motion to which reference has been made is the third on the Paper for Tuesday, May 1. The first Motion refers to the currency question, and the second to what is called "Peers' disabilities," so that the agricultural question has to take its chance after those two engrossing questions have been discussed. I think, therefore, that the demand made upon me is not a fair one under the circumstances.
MR. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)
said, it seemed to him that the present Government had failed altogether to appreciate the present position of the agricultural interest, which was in a most deplorable condition, and he asked whether the Government could not give a day for the discussion?
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 249; Noes 223.—(Division List, No. 21.)
§ Resolved, That for the remainder of the Session Government Business do have priority on Tuesday. That on Friday the House do meet at Two of the clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to Tuesday and the Morning Sitting on Friday.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will, To-morrow resolve itself into Committee of Supply."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer)