THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I believe it will be for the convenience 163 of the House, If the Prime Minister is able to state whether he can make arrangements for the resumption of the debate on the Publication of the Debates and the Exclusion of Strangers earlier than the time now fixed? I would also take this opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman, When it is his intention to take the debate upon the Budget Resolutions?
§ MR. DISRAELI
I very much regret, Sir, that the debate should have terminated so unexpectedly and unsatisfactorily on Tuesday night, and that no conclusion was arrived at on the subject of the Resolutions which were then before the House. There certainly was an understanding—at least, on this side of the House, and I think a general understanding—that until the debate was concluded and the opinion of the House on the points in reference to Privilege which it involved had been taken, no hon. Member would avail himself of his individual privilege of "espying strangers." I beg to state most distinctly that I charge the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) with no malâ fide in the matter. From what I have seen of that hon. Gentleman and of his conduct in this House, I am quite sure he is totally incapable of taking such a step. But the hon. Member, who is of a disposition somewhat impetuous and excitable, arrived at a conclusion which, with a little more Parliamentary experience, he would find was not warranted. Now, Sir, the Motion of the noble Lord consisted of a series of Resolutions, and the opinion of the House was asked upon the first. Those who were interested in the matter might have spoken generally upon those Resolutions; but it is quite impossible that, after so short a debate and no vote having been taken upon the first Resolution, the subject could be considered as exhausted, or the opinion of the House expressed upon a matter which is, probably, more complicated than some hon. Gentlemen seem to imagine. I remember when I was first asked to conduct the Business of the House nearly a quarter of a century ago, I declined on the ground that I had never been in an official position, and, therefore, did not feel myself equal to the discharge of its duties. I afterwards consulted the late Lord Lyndhurst upon the matter, and he told me that, although it 164 was a fact that, with the exception of my own case, there was only one in the history of the country in which an offer of the Leadership of the House had been made to a Member who had had no previous official experience whatever, he still advised me to accept the office. "But," he said, "there is one thing I would impress upon you. Do not let anything induce you to define in writing the unwritten law of Parliament. If you refrain from doing that," he said, "you will keep out of many difficulties; but if you once attempt it you will, as manager of the House, find yourself in inextricable confusion." I confess that the opinion of such a man—perhaps one of the most sagacious of this century—had great influence with me; and although I am not myself unprepared, under certain circumstance, to refuse to yield to it, I am still of opinion that it requires on the part of the House the utmost caution before they can arrive at any satisfactory solution of a subject so difficult as that to which I have referred, although some hon. Gentlemen think it so easy to do so, and for this reason—that in dealing with one part of the unwritten law of Parliament you are making precedents for dealing with other parts which are absolutely necessary for the defence of the rights of the minority and of the liberties of England. I should, therefore, have been glad if the debate had come to a conclusion on Tuesday night. I think we might have arrived at some solution, if only of a temporary character, which would have allowed the House gravely and completely to consider the question. I am not going to conclude with a Motion, because I believe that, under such circumstances as the present, it is not unusual for the House to extend its indulgence to one in my position when speaking of the conduct of Public Business and of circumstances connected with that Public Business. But there can be no doubt that the unfortunate interposition of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) prevented that debate from being concluded, and that there is no immediate prospect of its being resumed. I admit that it is impossible, after what has occurred, to leave matters, even for a very short time, as they are; and, therefore, I am going to put a Notice on the Table of the House which I will move to-morrow if I have an op- 165 portunity of doing so, to the following effect:—That if, at any sitting of the House, or in Committee, any Member shall take notice that strangers are present, the Speaker, or the Chairman (as the ease may be) shall forthwith put the question that strangers be ordered to withdraw, without permitting any debate or amendment.I wish, Sir, now to make a few observations upon the state of the Business of the House, with regard to what has occurred and what might occur, and what prospects we have in this Session of dealing with the Bills before the House. Charges have been made against the Government—it is easy to make charges—as to its management of the Public Business and the wasting of so much time upon Privilege debates, which it is said have caused such an obstruction to the conduct of business and the prosecution of Government measures. Now, the fact is that the Privilege debates have not wasted an hour of the public time so far, and they have been no obstruction to the prosecution of Government measures. I have been furnished with an abstract of what has been done, and what I find is this. The House met on the 5th of February. Including Morning Sittings, there have been 26 Government days since that date. Two days in the first week were occupied in bringing in Bills, four since with the Regimental Exchanges Bill, nine with the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Bill, four with the Artizans Dwellings Bill, three with Supply, and one each with the Merchant Shipping Acts Amendment Bill, the Friendly Societies Bill, and the Budget. Therefore, in fact, the Privilege debates have not interfered with the conduct of the Public Business. What has interfered, and what is likely to interfere with the conduct of the Public Business, is a question which I wish to bring under the consideration of the House in order that we may have clear ideas in reference to it. The great obstacle to the prosecution of the Government business has been the opposition which has been offered to the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Bill. But in mentioning that fact, which is shown by the table I have just read to the House, from which it appears that nine days have been occupied by that opposition, I wish it to be clearly understood that I make no charge whatever 166 against any hon. Members for having offered that opposition to the Bill. They were in their Parliamentary right in taking the course they have done with regard to it. It has been said that some hon. Members have used that right excessively; but I do not bring such a charge against them. I believe that, on the whole, taking into consideration the fact that they were determined to offer an unflinching opposition to the Bill, they have not exceeded their Parliamentary right, although I cannot help regretting that, in opposing that measure, they did not take into consideration the fact that the Bill was a modified one, drawn in a conciliatory spirit. But, while I admit the full Parliamentary right of those hon. Members to oppose that Bill, I hope they will not deny the full Parliamentary right of myself and my Colleagues to pass it, and I may state that to pass that Bill is our intention, and that we shall not relax our efforts until we have accomplished that object. Do not, however, let the House suppose that there has been any mismanagement on this question which has retarded the prosecution and the progress of any measure of great importance to the welfare of the country. It has been alleged that it is owing to the want of firmness on the part of the Government that this opposition—which I admit to be constitutional and Parliamentary—to the Peace Preservation Bill has been protracted. I can only say in reply that I have offered to that opposition an unbroken front, and I must take this opportunity of thanking my hon. Friends around me for their constant attendance, and for the gallant manner in which they have supported Her Majesty's Government throughout. It should be remembered that there is nothing unusual in a Peace Preservation Bill for Ireland being opposed in this manner. I will not advert to the discussion that may have occurred on an Arms Act at a time when the House of Commons was broken into fierce parties, and when factious manœuvres were resorted to; but I will take a period which is often referred to, as one when the conduct of Public Business was such as maintained the high character of the House. I will take the year 1843, when Sir Robert Peel was at the height of his power and prosperity, and when his policy was not questioned by any one in 167 this House except with regard to the passing of a Peace Preservation Bill, and when even as regard its majority his Government was more powerful than that of the Ministers who now sit on these benches. Let me show what occurred at that time with regard to a measure almost identical with the present. On the 28th of April, 1843, leave was given to bring in an Arms Bill, not so complicated in its character as the present. On the 26th of May Lord Clements made a Motion against the Bill. The second reading of the Bill came on on the 29th of May, and the discussion upon it occupied three days. Our difficulties in connection with the present Bill have been much greater.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is now entering into matters of argument and he is therefore out of Order.
§ MR. DISRAELI
It is not my intention to offer any argument on the subject at the present moment. I will confine myself to stating facts, and if the House desires that I should do so I will conclude with a Motion. I was about to show that the Bill went into Committee on the 15th of June, and that it was in Committee for nine days. The Report was brought up on the 24th of July, and it was not agreed to until the 27th of July. The third reading took place on the 9th of August. The House will, therefore, see that what has occurred in the present instance is not unusual in Parliament with regard to Peace Preservation Acts for Ireland, and that it is totally out of the power of any Minister to restrict fair discussion upon such a question. I will say no more upon that point; but perhaps the House would wish me to make some statement as to the measures which are now upon the Table, and the progress of which has been arrested by the opposition which has been offered to the Peace Preservation Bill. There are a great many measures which the Government have introduced, either in the House of Lords or House of Commons, and the principle of which has been approved by their having been read a second time. We believe it is of the highest importance to the country that these measures should be carried. I have ascertained, so far as I can do so by investigation, and by those estimates which one makes on paper, the manner in which the time of the House will be dis- 168 posed of during the next three months, and it appears to me that all these measures may be carried—if there be only fair opposition to be encountered—and that the Business of the House may be virtually closed by the end of July. At the same time, however, I think it but fair to say that, from a sense of duty, it is the determination of Her Majesty's Government to carry all those measures, and that we shall adhere to that resolution, even if we feel it our duty to advise Her Majesty not to prorogue Parliament until these measures have received the Royal sanction. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn. Being on my legs I ought to give Notice that it is our intention to proceed with the Budget Resolutions to-morrow morning.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Disraeli.)
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I do not intend to avail myself of the opportunity offered by the Motion with which the right hon. Gentleman has concluded to follow him through the statement which he has thought it necessary to make on the subject of questions of Privilege of the House, and also on that of the state of Public Business. But I should like to take the opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman one further question, and to premise that question by a very short statement. The House will recollect that the immediate cause or origin of the question of Privilege with which it has been called on to deal was a Motion made by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis) with respect to the publication of certain proceedings of a Committee upstairs. After a not very satisfactory discussion upon that subject the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it was his intention to make to the House any proposals on the subject of the relation between this House and the Press arising out of the publication of our debates; and the right hon. Gentleman having stated that such was not his intention, the hon. Member for Louth said he would avail himself of another privilege of Members of this House in order to force upon the attention of the House and of the Government what he considered to be an unsatisfactory condition of affairs with 169 reference to the publication of our debates. The Motion which the right hon. Gentleman intends to make with regard to the exclusion of Strangers may be—and I am not prepared to say it is not—a satisfactory settlement of this question; but I think it will not be satisfactory to a majority of the House that this question should be officially disposed of without the House having an opportunity of fully considering that other question which led in the first instance to this particular exercise of Privilege. The question, therefore, which I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman is, whether he will undertake that within some reasonable time—I do not ask for an early day—an opportunity shall be given for the resumption of the adjourned debate on the first Resolution which I moved, in order that the opinion of the House may be taken upon the relations that exist between the Press and the House with regard to the publication of the debates. In fact, the point might arise whether that Resolution being now upon the Table of the House it would be competent for the right hon. Gentleman to move another affecting the exclusion of Strangers until the Order of the Day for the discussion of my Resolution has been discharged or determined upon by the House. At all events, the House will feel that this question of the rule bearing upon the publication of our debates should be settled. Of course, it is impossible for me as a private Member to secure any opportunity for the renewal of the debate on my Resolution without the assistance of the Government. I have no observations to make in reference to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the position of Public Business, except that it appears to me a somewhat unusual and inconvenient course that the right hon. Gentleman should take the opportunity afforded him on a Motion for the adjournment of the House of answering, so far as I can understand, an article which appeared in The Times of yesterday. I am not aware that any imputation has been thrown upon Her Majesty's Government in this House for the length to which the discussion upon the Peace Preservation Act has been carried; but I have observed that certain observations to that effect have been made in the leading journal to which I have referred. I do not think that this is a 170 convenient time for the discussion of that question, and I merely wish to observe that the right hon. Gentleman has, both on this and on former occasions, told the House that he is a stickler for preserving the precedents of the House, and to ask whether there is any precedent for the course he proposes to take of dealing with the Budget Resolutions at a Morning Sitting? I cannot help thinking that if persisted in there would be very considerable inconvenience in taking an important discussion of that character at a Morning Sitting. If the state of Public Business is such that it cannot be conducted without an interference with the privileges of private Members, I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be more convenient if he would ask for to-morrow evening instead of to-morrow morning. We all know what is the position of hon. Members who have Motions down on the Paper for Friday if the House has a Morning Sitting and has to re-assemble at 9 o'clock; and I feel sure the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) would just as soon give up his right to bring forward his Motion at all as that it should be interfered with by the Budget Resolutions being taken at 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has made a very strong statement with regard to the intentions of the Government, to carry all the measures which they have placed upon the Table of the House. I had imagined that that was a matter which rested rather with the House than with the right hon. Gentleman. But I am sure that several hon. Members, who have thought that there has been some want of energy on the part of the right hon. Gentleman in conducting the affairs of the Government in this House up to the present time, will certainly have no cause to complain of that in the future.
§ MR. DISRAELI
With respect to the remarks of the noble Lord, I may say that in regard to the Budget it would, of course, be more agreeable to us that it should come on on Friday evening. That evening, however, is appropriated to hon. Members over whom I have no influence, but whom the noble Lord is in a position to advise. If the course of Business can be so arranged that the Budget discussion shall come on in the 171 evening, and not in the afternoon, the wish of the Government will be fully met. [Mr. GLADSTONE: But we ought to know definitely.] So far as we can say at present it must be taken at a Morning Sitting. With regard to the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, I must confess that—feeling I was intruding rather on the attention of the House—I did not sufficiently notice that point. I think the 25th—the day which I first mentioned to the noble Lord—would be a very convenient day for the resumption of the discussion, and I believe no difficulty would stand in the way. If it be not practicable to obtain that day, I shall certainly feel bound to use my utmost endeavours to secure to the noble Lord the continuance of a debate which I myself believe would be highly advantageous to the House.
I am bound to say that in the course of the many years since I first entered Parliament I have rarely listened to a statement from the Leader of the House with greater regret than I have just done to the statement we have now heard from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. As my noble Friend has just observed, besides the unwritten law of Parliament, there are precedents of Parliament; and there is one precedent—one rule—which above all is important, and that is that due respect should be paid by the Ministers of the Crown, and by the Leaders of the House, to the liberties of hon. Members. I never within my recollection heard an approximation even to the statement we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. I am sorry to feel it incumbent upon me to take notice of it; but the right hon. Gentleman states that the Government have introduced a number of measures, and he did not even condescend to specify what those measures were. Speaking of them in the gross and wholesale, he told the House that if they thought fit to confine themselves to what he considered the proper limits of time for discussion, Parliament might be prorogued in July. He nevertheless failed to specify any one of that mass and bundle of measures which he said it was the intention of the Government to carry, and with respect to which he stated that he must keep the House sitting until all those measures were dis- 172 posed of. Now, Sir, in no heat of language or use of epithets, but in all seriousness and earnestness, I would appeal not less to Gentlemen on that side than to Gentlemen on this side of the House to know whether this is a becoming tone and method of proceeding on the part of the First Minister of the Crown. I do not wish to use any epithet beyond this; but I do feel it necessary to follow my noble Friend in entering his protest against such a cause; and I claim for my own liberty to say, that if such a tone should be again adopted, even by a person holding the high station of the First Minister of the Crown, I will reserve to myself the right to take such steps as I may see cause for. I have a word or two to say with respect to the Budget. I own it is with great surprise that I hear the right hon. Gentleman state on a Thursday afternoon "it is our intention to proceed with the Budget to-morrow at 2 o'clock." Well. Sir, in the first place, as has been stated by my noble Friend, it is entirely without precedent to bring forward the Budget—the principal discussion of the Budget and its general character and features—at a Morning Sitting, and this for the most obvious reasons. It is upon that subject, more even than upon any other, that we desire the advantage of the presence of those amongst our Members who have experience in finance, and whose necessary business requires their presence in the City at that hour. I must, therefore, say that if, under very great pressure, the right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to make an appeal to the House, and to say that, if no objection was taken, he wished, under the circumstances, with regard to Private Business, the Budget should be taken at 2 o'clock, that undoubtedly would have been the way to secure favourable acceptance of the proposal, though possibly not without serious inconvenience. But I must say that it is most objectionable at this short Notice, in defiance of all precedent, to announce positively, on the part of the Government, and not on the part of the House—no Morning Sitting having, so far as I am aware, been appointed for to-morrow—that the Government would proceed at 2 o'clock with that Business, in total disregard, apparently, of the convenience or inconvenience of those Gentlemen to whose usual and necessary detention in the 173 City I have already adverted. With reference to the Budget I am sorry to say for myself that it will be necessary for me to make observations—perhaps rather more detailed observations than I should wish—upon many points that have been raised on the Financial Statement for the year. As far as I am concerned, I will make no difficulty whatever; but, at the same time, I own that if the meeting is to be held, and for that purpose, I should have acceded to the proposal with infinitely greater satisfaction had the right hon. Gentleman, in the tone he used and the language he adopted, been a little more considerate with regard to the Rules of the House, and with regard to the convenience of Members, as well as the right and title of the House to fix the time and method of its own proceedings.
§ MR. DISRAELI
When I mentioned a Morning Sitting I was of opinion that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had sounded the feeling of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter. Otherwise, I should not so rudely have announced the intention of the Government with respect to bringing forward the Budget at a Morning Sitting to-morrow. I see the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) in his place, and if he would make an arrangement so as not to bring forward his Motion to-morrow night, we could then take the Budget. But we are in the hands of the hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I should not dream of standing in the way of the House with regard to bringing forward the Budget Resolutions to-morrow night. I would, however, ask, not on my own behalf, but in the interests of private Members generally, that some means should be afforded them for bringing forward the Motions which stand in their names, and for this reason—that hon. Members having given way before without a definite promise from the Government have been disappointed in not finding another opportunity of submitting their propositions. On a recent occasion the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government made an appeal to the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) not to bring forward a Motion which he had on the Paper. Ultimately it happened that the noble Lord did not give way, whilst the hon. and learned Member for Lon- 174 donderry (Mr. C. Lewis) and myself did give way, without asking for a day, and I think in the circumstances it is better that I should ask for a day on this occasion.
§ MR. DISRAELI
If the hon. Baronet will communicate with me I will endeavour to make a satisfactory arrangement.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I confess that I have heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government with some disappointment. I was the first Member of the House this Session to call attention to the confusion of matters in the Order Book with reference to the opportunities afforded to non-official Members for bringing on their Motions. It appears to me that there was ample reason for the appointment of a Committee to consider the questions which have arisen with respect to the state of Public Business and the Privileges of non-official Members of the House. I had entertaimed the hope that some such Committee would be suggested or sanctioned by the First Minister of the Crown; but, on the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman has clearly informed us that, so far as he is concerned, he will do nothing towards remedying that confusion to which I have alluded, and he has announced his intention of taking Government measures from day to day, claiming to himself the power obtained under the Resolutions of 1869 of appointing Morning Sittings, and thus aggravating the difficulties which we all feel in regard to bringing forward any Motions we may desire to submit to the consideration of the House. With regard to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman as to the position of the Irish Coercion Bill, I think the precedent the right hon. Gentleman cited—that of the Arms Act of 1844—was a very unfortunate one. It is the first instance I remember of the gross abuse of debate in Committee, by debates not on details, but repeated debates on principle. I little expected to hear the First Minister of the Crown applaud such a transgression of the rules of legitimate debate. I am sorry to say that the practice of opposition in Committee has been sanctioned by the conduct of the Conservative Party during the last Parliament. I lamented that circumstance at the time, and I lament it now; because it is the means by which, more 175 than by any other, the debates of this House become unduly protracted. It is now almost impossible to prevent repeated allusions to the principle of a Bill in Committee—a thing which is contrary to the former and better custom of this House. No one can doubt that these repetitions and irrelevancies tend to degrade the debates of this great Assembly and to lower their standard.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I do not know that it is quite understood on this side of the House whether the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government intends to make his Motion to-morrow respecting the exclusion of Strangers.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I should like to put my Motion on the Paper; but as the Budget is fixed for to-morrow, it may be more convenient to take that Motion on another day.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.