HC Deb 12 April 1878 vol 239 cc1229-39

Sir, I rise to make a complaint against the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the conduct of Public Business; and, though I always feel that the concluding with a Motion for Adjournment is a course attended with great inconvenience, yet it is a course which a private Member is driven to in his own defence. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), at the desire of many hon. Members on this side, and with a view to promote the convenience of the House, put a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the course of Business. The right hon. Gentleman stated fairly enough the desire of the Government to get through their financial measures, and intimated that if the Government were successful in getting through Committee of Ways and Means, and in getting the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill read a second time, then they would take the further stages of those measures on Monday; but he made no allusion whatever to a Morning Sitting to-day. I am quite aware that he did allude to the desire to pass the Public Works Loans Bill; but clearly there was no understanding that the measure was of a nature that it must be finished before the Holidays, or that it occupied the important position given to the other financial measures. But what I complain of, and what others have a right to complain of, is, that due consideration is not given to private Members. I am sure that hon. Members on either side of the House would never wish to see Parliament a mere machine, the wires being pulled by the Administration. I am glad to see the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) in his place; and I recollect an occasion— under a Whig Government—when he complained in strong terms of the Government taking Morning Sittings without due Notice. Of course, private Members are entirely thrown out of their arrangements when, at a late hour the previous night, or perhaps the same morning, the Sitting is appointed for 2 o'clock. I do not wish to insinuate that there was any intention to suppress information; but there is no doubt that the statement made was of a most limited kind. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told us that, in the event of not getting through the whole of the Business contemplated last night, he should then ask for a Morning Sitting, we would have been prepared for it. I say that the suppression of that statement entitles me to declare that the House has not been properly treated by the Government; and I say that, personally, I very much complain of the course which the Government have taken in this matter. Why are we, as private Members, to be invited here at Morning Sittings, in order that we may pass these measures of the Government? The Government have had sufficient time for these measures. They call us here three weeks before the ordinary period, and these three weeks, so far as the Business of the Session is concerned, have been practically thrown away. The Government Business seems as much behind just now as ever it is. I know what Members of the front bench will say—they will make use of the old excuse—obstruction; but I say it is under cover of the cry of obstruction, that the rights and privileges of private Members will be violated. I charge the Government with being responsible, to a very large extent, for the present state of Public Business; at all events, we are entitled to say that the Government, if they wish to get through their measures well and quickly, should not try to take away the privileges of private Members. Take the case of last night. I can answer for it, that there was a desire to facilitate the proceedings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So far as I myself was concerned, I felt a deep interest in the question which was before the House, and in the circumstances under which additional taxation was to be imposed on the people. I was strongly opposed to the proposals of the Government, and yet I avoided taking any part in the proceedings last night with the view not to interfere with the progress of Public Business, and other hon. Gentlemen took the same course. Not only last night, but on many previous occasions, there has been a continual desire on the part of independent Members, and on the part of Her Majesty's Opposition, to facilitate the progress of Public Business. Mention of the Opposition reminds me that we have practically no fighting Opposition. The Government have a large majority, and they press down to the level of uniformity all the hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. Now, we are called upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under peculiar circumstances, to hurry through these financial measures. I object to the course the Government have taken in driving us into this corner, and saying— "You must pass our measures without discussion, or we will take away your Holiday." Yet it is the fact—the Chancellor of the Exchequer will correct me if I am wrong; but I presume I am right—that if we get no further than the Report of the Committee of Ways and Means—if we are not able to pass the Bill before Easter—it would not prevent the Chancellor of the Exchequer receiving the additional tax he is imposing on incomes. It is quite clear that the effect of this hurry will be that one of the most objectionable Budgets that has ever been laid upon the Table of the House will be got through the House without due consideration. We have heard the strongest possible objections urged to the financial proposals of the Government. We have even heard these objections from the benches opposite. That is an extraordinary circumstance, and one that ought to have great weight. I think I may say that there is an almost unanimous objection to the proposals of the Government; and I believe it is only necessary for the country to realize what the Government are proposing, to enlist strong expressions of opinion from the constituencies.


The hon. Member is out of Order in entering upon a discussion of the Budget.


Sir, I am afraid I have been very much out of Order. I was merely trying to show the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I have a strong feeling on the subject, but that I have been anxious not to interfere unduly with the Progress of the Business of the Government. If they expect private Members to facilitate the proceedings of the Government, they ought themselves to respect the rights and privileges of private Members. I have a Motion down on going into Committee of Supply. I believe it to be a matter of great importance, and that the present moment is not an inopportune one for its discussion. Through the action of the Government, the advantage I have obtained through the ballot is taken from me. During this Session, the Government have, in a most unprecedented manner, taken from private Members the opportunity of discussing public questions. If it could be reckoned up, it would be found that the amount of time the Government had obtained from private Members was wholly unexampled. I beg to move the Adjournment of the House.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he should like to call attention to the way in which the Morning Sitting had been taken to-day. He was not one who desired to deprive the Government of the assistance or attendance of Members of the House whenever it was required. He thought the Government ought to treat private Members fairly, and that the trick which was perpetrated last night ought not to be repeated. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to be under the impression that he had said last night that a Morning Sitting would be taken to-day. Looking at the report of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in The Times, it appeared that he distinctly intimated to the House that the further stages of these Bills would be taken on Monday next. The usual mode was to put down a Notice of Motion that the House would have a Morning Sitting, or if that was not done, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the Government bench for the time being, stated that it was the intention of the Government to move to meet at 2 o'clock. Every Member of the House was under the impression that there was to be no Morning Sitting; but, when it was asked when the Report would be taken, the answer was—"This day at 2 o'clock." He found there was a great feeling of indignation in the House at the idea that there was to be a Morning Sitting, when they discovered the thing had been done in the way he described. Undoubtedly, this Session, the Government had taxed the patience of private Members to a very great extent. It was only reasonable that the Government should act with some kind of fairness to private Members, which he did not think they did. On Tuesday night last, the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) had a most important Bill for second reading, which was reached a few minutes after 12 o'clock. Still, one of the Government Whips and an assistant Whip went deliberately round the Government benches, and removed every Member from that side of the House; and while this extraordinary proceeding was going on, they could see one of the Government Whips laughing at them. He did not wish to detain the House, or he could go through a whole series of cases wherein the Government had not dealt fairly with private Members; and they therefore asked that the Government should treat them with some kind of fairness, which the majority of the Members of the House were only too anxious to show to the Government. They could not too strenuously resist the taking of important steps in the House without due Notice being given. When he entered Parliament, in 1874, he found there was a system of putting most important Questions without Notice from the Chair, and at the end of the Sitting it was the habit to hand up Notices of Motion to the Speaker, and they were put from the Chair as a matter of course, because they came from the Government. They were successful in resisting that system; but now the thin end of the wedge was sought to be driven in again.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Rylands.)


recommended those hon. Members who were always complaining of private grievances to remember that they might make other hon. Members, who had grievances also, but said nothing, turn round upon them. He hoped that the House would be allowed to proceed with the Business it had in hand.


hoped hon. Members would try to meet the convenience of each other. If there was to be obstruction, it should be in the proper way, and this was not the proper way.


said, he was exceedingly sorry that there should be, or should appear to be, any ground for the complaint made by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) and the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon). He was very anxious at all times to conduct the Business of the House as fairly as he could. He was especially anxious that there should be nothing of the nature of an underhand proceeding, or savouring of what the hon. and learned Member for Kildare had described as a trick. There was nothing of the kind intended last night, and he was exceedingly sorry if, from any want of clearness on his part, he had led hon. Members to misunderstand the course which the Government proposed to adopt. He thought he had made it clear that the Government were anxious to get on with the Public Loans Bill, because, although it was not part of the Budget of the year, it was part of the arrange ments. The Government ought to have the means of raising money under the Act which had been already passed, and they would not be in a position to raise the money unless this Bill were passed before the Easter Holidays. He thought he had also made it clear that the other two Budget Bills should be got through, in order that the House might be able to rise on Tuesday; and he intimated that if they were not able to do so it might be necessary to have a Morning Sitting to-day. When they had taken the Committee on Ways and Means, the evening was consumed in the discussion of some portions of the Budget only, and an appeal was made to him by some Friends who were anxious to discuss some portions of the Budget for an opportunity of discussing those questions, especially the Income Tax. He thought at once that if that was to be done on Monday, that would be taking up the greater part of the evening; and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get through the financial Business. He, therefore, thought he was entirely justified, in accordance with what he had said in an early part of the evening, in proposing that there should be a Morning Sitting to-day. He could only say, that in conducting the whole Business of the Session, it had been the earnest desire of the Government to make provision for the demand of Members not connected with the Government for the discussion of the subjects which they wished to bring before the House. The Government had been peculiarly circumstanced by the debates which had arisen on foreign policy, which had thrown out some of their calculations. Arrangements had been also made for promoting, from the time of the Government, a discussion on the Irish Sunday Closing Bill. He was quite aware he had had to ask for more Morning Sittings than were usual at this period of the Session, but he thought hon. Members would see that the object of the Government had been the general convenience of the House and the progress of Public Business. On the other hand, something more was wanted than mere abstinence from willful obstruction—there ought to be an endeavour on both sides to act together in a conciliatory and friendly spirit, in order that all Business might be advanced as satis factorily as possible. He trusted the hon. Member for Burnley would not press the question of Adjournment, but that both sides would try to make the best of a bad job.


said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was entirely mistaken if he supposed that he had yesterday made any reference to a Morning Sitting to-day. He had certainly made reference to a Morning Sitting on Tuesday. He (Mr. Parnell) had been listening very attentively to the right hon. Gentleman, and could say that no such allusion to a Morning Sitting to-day had been made, nor was it reported in any of the morning papers. He understood the right hon. Gentleman only to refer to Tuesday next. He himself had no objection to Morning Sittings, but the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had really hit the nail on the head, and had indicated that he was coming to appreciate the true position of the Government Business. The right hon. Gentleman said it required something more than the absence of a mere desire to obstruct, and that it required from individual Members a desire to facilitate Government Business. If the right hon. Gentleman could impart that desire to certain Members, whom he would not indicate at present, he would get on much better than he did at present. He did not say that the right hon. Gentleman would ever succeed in getting through all the Government Business. There would, however, be much less complaint on the part of many hon. Members with regard to the Government conduct of Business; but as long as the Chancellor of the Exchequer persisted in adopting the course which the Government had adopted towards his country, it was perfectly impossible for him to feel that interest in forwarding Government Business. It was more than could be expected from human nature, that an Irish Member, who had strong opinions in regard to Irish affairs, should take that interest in the bad and imperfect measures of the Government which the Chancellor of the Exchequer desired him to take. The only way to give him (Mr. Parnell) an interest in Government Business, would be to forward one or two good measures for Ireland at the beginning of every Session. It was true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present when the count-out that had been spoken of took place, and he could not therefore be supposed to be particeps criminis; but the conduct of one of the Junior Lords of the Treasury, to whose Office a salary was attached, was exceedingly curious on that occasion. He went deliberately round to the Members on the Conservative side of the House at a quarter-past 12, and induced them to leave whilst the Attorney General for Ireland was replying to his Motion to have the Irish Church Act Amendment Bill read a second time. That was Bill for which he had been waiting for many nights. When he saw the hon. Member going round the benches, he knew it was a sign of a count, and he at once sat down, so that he had not an opportunity of stating his views with regard to his own Bill, which was of pressing importance, and which had been miserably obstructed. As long as these things were done, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not expect Irish Members to take an interest in Government Business. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the old maxim, "that one man could bring a horse to the water, but 40 could not make him drink."


desired to state his impression of what had taken place. On the previous day he had spoken to his right hon. Friend before coming down to the House about the course of Business, and had suggested that it would be necessary to have a Morning Sitting on Friday, if certain Bills did not get through their stages last night. He had distinctly heard his right hon. Friend last night state to the House that, supposing those Bills were not then carried through their stages, it would be requisite to have a Morning Sitting on Friday, and that they would have to take further stages of those Bills on Monday and Tuesday, on the latter of which days they might, perhaps, require to have a Morning Sitting.


said, he had listened very attentively yesterday to the right hon. Gentleman, and certainly had not heard any allusion to a Morning Sitting to-day. But they had now the positive evidence of the hon. Baronet that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of it. Perhaps he had done so in an undertone. He acknowledged the fair manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer conducted the Business of the House; but it was important that, when the privileges of private Members were to be interfered with, there should be no room left for misunderstanding as to the arrangements which were come to. He suggested that the hon. Member for Burnley should withdraw his Motion.


regretted that that debate should have occupied so much time. A Select Committee on the Public Business of that House was now sitting, and he thought that the propriety of requiring Notice to be given of the intention to change the time of the meeting of the House ought to engage the attention of the Select Committee. There ought, in his opinion, always to be a formal written Notice of any such intention on the part of the Government. The Business of the House ought not to be conducted by compromise. Their time of meeting ought to be fixed, so as to prevent the majority of the House, who of necessity were generally absent, from being taken by surprise.


corroborated the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman say that there would be a Morning Sitting, and he had himself afterwards mentioned the fact to another hon. Member.


said, that not only he, but an hon. and gallant Member near him, had heard the intimation given, that a Morning Sitting would be necessary, if certain specified Bills were not got through their stages; and he was surprised that hon. Gentlemen should complain, because they must have heard several Orders of the Day fixed to come on at 2 o'clock that day.


observed, that if hon. Members in his part of the House had been defective in the sense of hearing last night, they at least had the sense of seeing, and did not fail the other night, when the hon. Member for Meath was counted out, to perceive that the Government openly cleared the House. He hoped the Government would make some reparation to the hon. Member for Meath, by affording him another opportunity for the discussion of his Bill.


said, the hon. Member for Burnley would have an opportunity of bringing forward his Motion at 9 o'clock, and if his Motion was not of sufficient interest to secure the presence of 40 Members, it could hardly be one worth introducing at all. ["Divide!"]


thought it was remarkable, that when his hon. Friend who had last spoken said a very few words much to the point, he was met with cries of "Divide!" from his own (the Ministerial) side of the House; whereas, when hon. Gentlemen opposite made long speeches, with little in them, they were listened to very patiently.


said, that the hon. Member for Meath had adopted the suggestions which were made last year; but, notwithstanding, the opposition of the Government to his Bill had become more intense. Last year the Bill was met by objections, but this year it was met by the contrivance of a count. They had all observed how the leading Spokesmen on the Government side had kept away from the question of the count, which spoke highly for their prudence. Last night, official Members of the Government went about the House inquiring what hon. Members would bring Motions on. That inquisitiveness naturally suggested the idea that it was likely, if Friday night was really to be a private Members' night, the Government would have recourse to a Morning Sitting; but if very few private Members were to bring on Motions, the Government would be content with an ordinary Sitting.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.