§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think I shall best consult the convenience of the House by being very-brief in the proposal which I now wish to submit to it. I have to ask the House to appoint a Select Committee to consider the best means of promoting the despatch of Public Business in this House; and I do so partly to redeem a pledge which I gave in the last Session of Parliament, and partly because I think it would be for the convenience of this House; and of Public Business that we should consider whether there are not some amendments which might be made in the method of conducting our proceedings. What I am anxious to induce the House to agree to is the appointment of a Committee with this object, and I should propose, among other names, my own to serve on that Committee. In the event of the House choosing to place me upon it, I should be ready to present to the Committee, on the part of the Government, certain proposals having for their object the greater facilitating of the conduct of Public Business in the House. I think those proposals, would be better, in the first instance, considered 'in the Committee than, as the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) proposes, by discussing them in the shape of Resolutions on the part of the Government. I desire to say that in making this proposal I have not at all exclusively, or even mainly, in view what may be called the interests of the Government in this matter. I have sat for many years in this House, and have had occasion to notice the course of Business both from an official and an unofficial position; and I think it will be for the convenience of all classes of Members and of the House at large that this matter, which is a very important one, should be considered frankly and fairly by those who have been most conversant with the subject, who have attended to the manner in which Business is conducted, and who have viewed it from different sides. I should be sorry to give the impression that I was making proposals that were intended simply to facilitate Government Business, and that 380 I was encroaching on what are regarded, and properly regarded, as the rights of the general body of Members. Nobody could be more reluctant than I am, either, to interfere with old-established rules, if they work fairly well, for the sake of introducing new ones that might at first sight look better; nor, on the other hand, is there anyone who is less disposed to infringe on undoubted rights of unofficial Members or of the House generally, or who is less disposed to infringe on the rights of minorities. I think it is most essential that, even if we have occasionally to suffer inconvenience, we should observe, and observe very strictly, those great principles which have been handed down to us by our forefathers in this House for so many generations. But I have remarked—as every hon. Member must have done—that from time to time it has been found convenient to revise and to some extent adapt our particular Rules of proceeding, in order to attain in a better way the objects we have in view. Business naturally changes; as a whole, Business increases; the number of hon. Members who take part in discussion naturally also increases; and, moreover, the amount of work that has to be done in Committee of Supply has of late years very much increased. I wish, therefore, particularly to consider whether this House is as well enabled now to perform that which is its principal object and purpose—the proper criticism of the Estimates in Committee of Supply—as it might be. I may be told—and I entirely recognize the rule —that it is is one of the first principles of the British Constitution, that the consideration of Grievances should precede the granting of Supply. But I would point out that when your Business is so conducted as practically to prevent hon. Members from taking their proper part, as they desire to do, in the discussion of Supply itself, that is a grievance on the part of hon. Members which ought itself to be considered. And although, no doubt, it is desirable that there should be as great a latitude as possible in the manner in which Business is conducted, and to give hon. Members the greatest possible freedom in bringing forward any subjects to which they wish to call the attention of the House, still there is nothing more important for hon. Members in all parts of the House 381 than that there should be as much reasonable certainty in the Business which is to be brought forward and discussed as is attainable. That is important for the Government; but it is quite as important, or perhaps even more important to other hon. Members, because the Government are obliged to be here, and if they are not doing one part of their Business, they are probably doing another. But it may happen, and often does happen, that hon. Gentlemen who come down to this House, perhaps at some little inconvenience to themselves, after remaining here for a considerable time for the express purpose of discussing a particular subject, and which they had reason to believe would be brought forward, may find that some wholly unexpected subject occupies the sitting, and they are compelled to go away without the opportunity, it may be, of afterwards taking part in the debate when the matter is again introduced. Now, I wish to have the opportunity of making to the Committee, consisting of such hon. Members as you may please to place upon it, some proposals. They are not many, nor very intricate, but they are proposals which the Government think it right to propose with a view to the simplification of, and the attainment of rather more certainty in, the Business brought before the House. I do not think it desirable to throw these propositions loose on the Table of the House, nor do I think that a desultory discussion would be the best way of thrashing them out, so to speak. I think that they would be first better considered by a Committee, from whom they would come in a shape in which they could be discussed by the whole House, and accepted, or modified, or rejected, as you may please. I desire to say, also, that although I purpose making these proposals, yet in order that the Committee should not be one of a "fishing" character, it would not be at all proper, in my opinion, to exclude from consideration any other proposals which other hon. Members thought they had a right to bring forward, and which the Committee might be disposed to entertain. I hope, however, it will be understood that these are the conditions on which the Committee is to be appointed—that this is a Committee for the purpose of considering the "best means of promoting the despatch of Public Business 382 in the House." I make this remark because there are one or two Amendments which go beyond the scope of the subjects to which I think the Committee's inquiry should be directed—as, for instance, when it is proposed that the Committee shall consider the possibility of the Imperial Parliament dealing with the affairs of the whole Empire—an Amendment which distinctly goes beyond the scope of the inquiry. It is not a question of how much Business Parliament can undertake, but how Parliament can do the Business it has to do in the best and most expeditious manner. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will be required to confine itself to that inquiry alone, and that it will not be asked to go into the longer and more difficult inquiry of the limits of Parliamentary jurisdiction. Again, I would wish to say that I am making these proposals for the consideration of Amendments in our course of Public Business on the assumption that every hon. Member will desire, in a fair and straightforward manner, to promote the proper conduct of the affairs of the House; and I am not making the proposals, as has been stated out-of-doors, with the view of meeting what is called "wilful obstruction." I have no such idea, and if at any time we have to deal with such a thing, we must deal with it on different principles and different grounds. I hope that such matters will never again cause us trouble in this House; but if any such misfortune should arise—which I do not anticipate—I trust that the House will be able to vindicate its own dignity, and to carry on its Business in spite of such untoward opposition. But apart from wilful obstruction, there are many occasions on which time is wasted—not wilfully but thoughtlessly wasted—and we ought to consider how, without limiting the free liberty of Members, we can get rid of the inconvenience which thus arises. I have argued for this Committee in very simple terms, and I see that several special directions are proposed, some of which lie within and some beyond its scope. Some, no doubt, may be brought under its consideration; but I deprecate the enumeration of them before the Committee is appointed. We need not give Instructions which would point to conclusions at which we are not likely to arrive in the debate to-night. Therefore, without any further comment, 383 I will move for the Select Committee of which I have given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of promoting the Despatch of Public Business in this House."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer)
THE O'CONOR DON,
in rising to move, as an Amendment, to add at the end of the Motion the words—and especially to inquire into the desirability of committing Bills, unless when otherwise ordered, to Grand Committees, instead of to a Committee of the whole House,said, that it would be in the recollection of the House that towards the close of the last Session he had intended to move that Bills read a second time should be referred to Grand Committees. He had meant to bring forward that Motion early this Session, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Motion rendered it necessary for him to do so in the form of an Amendment. If it were desirable that the Select Committee should be appointed—a proceeding the benefit of which in common with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr.Rylands) he doubted —it would be better to point out certain matters for its consideration than to leave it with so vague a Reference as was proposed. A Committee to be useful should have its attention directed to particular subjects, and it was in that belief that he had proposed that it should give particular consideration to the stage known as a Committee of the Whole House. Such a Committee, he thought, was almost a contradiction in terms, the very word "Committee" usually implying selection from a larger number of men intended to save the time and supplement the knowledge of the majority. That was a very generally adopted arrangement; but the House of Commons was unique in its adoption of a system which was certain to defeat its primary objects. One of these was the competent supervision and examination of details, which the present arrangement failed to secure. Nor did it save time, for the only difference between it and the House itself was that the Speaker was not in the Chair, and moreover further facilities were afforded for obstruction, since each hon. Member was allowed to speak as often as he chose. Decisions were very often come to in that House by Gentle- 384 men who had not heard a word of the arguments and did not understand the merits of the question. That was an evil which applied to all stages of their proceedings, but it applied in an especial manner to proceedings in Committee; for even if they heard the question put, it conveyed no information to them, and they could not tell on the spur of the moment what would be the effect of inserting or omitting certain words in particular clauses. It very often happened that when hon. Members came up to vote upon questions raised in Committee of the Whole House they were entirely ignorant, not alone of the merits of the question, but of what it nominally was; and this especially happened in relation to measures affecting Ireland and Scotland. There were, for instance, two measures affecting those countries with which it was proposed to proceed in the present Session—the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Bill and the Grand Juries (Ireland) Bill. He ventured to say that very few Members unconnected with Scotland knew anything about the first, and certainly very few unconnected with Ireland knew anything about the second; yet numerous Amendments would be placed on the Paper, which would be utterly unintelligible to any persons not acquainted from personal experience with the subject, and votes would be given by hon. Members who had heard nothing of the discussions, and who knew nothing of the Bills themselves. Again, how frequently did it not occur that a Gentleman had convinced those who had hoard the discussion in Committee that it was desirable to adopt a certain Amendment and then found himself defeated by a sudden rush of hon. Members who had not hoard the arguments, and had no idea what the Amendment was. Another defect was the haste and hurry in which Bills were often pushed through Committee without adequate consideration of their wording; while it was a thing of constant occurrence that Amendments were adopted in Committee on a Bill late at night and without much consideration to prevent its being lost for want of time, the result being litigation and the necessity for amending the law a year or two after. Now, his proposal was to do away with the system of having all the details of a Bill considered by the whole body of the House. 385 The proposal was no new one, and had in favour of it the authority of the late Speaker as well as of Sir Erskine May, who might, he believed, be looked upon as being almost its author. Various forms of Grand Committees had, he might add, been proposed. It had been suggested that the House, at the beginning of a Session, should be divided into such Committees, and that they should have submitted to them groups of Bills according to the subjects to which they referred, such as Education, Finance, and the like. To such a proposal he entertained the objection that it would fail to meet one of the great ends which he had in view—the consideration to some extent of the demands which came from Ireland, as well as other parts of the Empire, that the details of Bills should be considered by the Members who were most interested in them, and who understood them best. To the appointment of a Grand Committee of that kind there would, he thought, be the strongest opposition; and it was well that this should be known by discussion in the House before it was considered upstairs by the Select Committee for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer moved. It had also been suggested that on the second reading of a Bill a large Select Committee should be appointed by the House to deal with its details; but he was of opinion that the adoption of such a plan would have the disadvantage of giving rise to protracted discussions on the names of the Committee being submitted for the approval of the House. Another proposal which had, he believed, been made by Sir Erskine May was, that every Member of the House should be at liberty to serve on these Grand Committees; but were that proposal adopted without any restriction, one would hardly know who were serving on any particular Committee. Now, what he himself would suggest was, that at the beginning of each Session there should be a certain number of Standing Committees appointed, and among them a special Grand Committee for the consideration of Bills. relating exclusively to Ireland, another for those affecting Scotland, and, if deemed desirable, others for the consideration of particular classes of Imperial legislation, for Colonial Bills, and matters connected with India. To those Committees he would propose to give exactly the same powers 386 as were now possessed by Committees of the Whole House, but no more. They should have authority to consider the details of a measure and to report to the House, their Report standing in exactly the same position as the Report of the Committee of the Whole House did at present. He would not, however, suggest that the Committee of Supply should be done away with, or that control over the finances of the country should be given to any more restricted number of persons than the Members of the Whole House. If his plan were adopted, the advantage of a great saving of time would, he thought, be secured, because several of these Committees could be sitting at the same time; while they would secure the important advantage of having each measure carefully considered by those who were most conversant with its details. If the proposal were carried out in its entirety, there would also be the additional advantage that it would meet to a certain extent what he should call the national demand from Ireland to have more weight and influence in the decision of Bills by which that country was affected. He did not mean to say that this measure would quiet the demand for Home Rule, but it would at least mitigate the evil complained of. If it was not thought right to adopt his proposal in its integrity, and if Grand Committees composed of different nationalities were not acceptable to the House, another means might be adopted of arriving at the same result. It was this—When a Bill was read a second time, the Committee might be fixed for a certain day—say not sooner than a fortnight—and meanwhile hon. Members who wished to serve might be permitted to enter their names on a paper placed on the Table for the purpose. After a certain date this list should be closed, and no other Member allowed to join the Committee except on a special vote of the House. The result of this system, he believed, would be that only those hon. Members would join a particular Committee who were really interested in the subject to be discussed, and that consequently the discussion would be conducted mainly by hon. Members of the nationality most affected. Irish Members would, as a general rule, put down their names as willing to servo on Irish Bills, and Scotch Members on Scotch Bills; and in this way indirectly, 387 if not directly, a considerable step would be made in the direction in which he desired to advance. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that one main defect of the system now in force was that no one was aware when a particular Bill would come on. To remedy this he would propose that the Session should be divided into periods, one for English Bills, another for Irish Bills, and a third for Scotch Bills, by means of which not only would Business be facilitated, but hon. Members would be saved much inconvenience. If that was found to work well, he would not eventually despair of seeing the day when the Irish Business would be transacted by the Imperial Parliament in College Green, the Scotch in Edinburgh, and the English at Westminster. That, however, was a mere speculation, quite beyond his immediate object; and he would, for the time being, confine himself to moving an Amendment referring to the Select Committee the duty of considering the desirability of committing Bills to Grand Committees. He would also suggest that steps should be taken to obtain information as to the system of procedure adopted in other Legislatures, and especially as to the working of the bureau system in the Legislatures of France and the United States. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment.
At the end of the Question, to add the words "and especially to inquire into the desirability of committing Bills, unless when otherwise ordered, to Grand Committees, instead of to a Committee of the whole House."—[The O'Conor Don.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
rejoiced that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had decided on the part of Her Majesty's Government that the proposed Committee should deal with the question of Public Business generally. The House had had some experience on this question. In the year 1871 a Select Committee sat on the Public Business of the House, and that Committee made sundry recommendations; but subsequently circumstances changed in the conduct of the Business of the House, and practices were adopted by hon. Members of filling up the Order Book and otherwise, which 388 rendered it necessary, in the opinion of many hon. Members, and in his (Mr. Newdegate's) opinion also, that the House should again consider the question of the transaction of its Public Business. He himself had repeatedly urged that there should be another Committee on the subject; but the late Leader of the House (Mr. Disraeli) objected, though the proposal of another Committee on the Public Business generally was supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. What was the result? Why, that the difficulties of the House increased, and the right hon. Gentleman the late Leader of the House proposed a Resolution to the House with respect to the right of individual Members to "espy" strangers, and thus to exclude the public. That Resolution was passed; but it was not satisfactory to the House, was not renewed, and had not become a Standing Order. Then there were the Resolutions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Session. True, they survived for that Session; but they had not been found very effectual for their purpose, and there was no proposal to renew them. Twice in three years had proposals been adopted, with regard to the mode of procedure in the House, which did not meet with adequate consideration by the House to render them effectual. The only mode of amending their procedure, then, must be, as it had always been, to refer the whole subject of Public Business to a Select Committee, and to leave that Committee to devise the proposals to be submitted to the House. At the present moment there were several proposals before the House; and what objection could there be to hon. Members referring them, all or any of them, to the House, after the appointment of this Committee. If they found that all or any of them had not been considered by the Committee, that would be the proper mode of proceeding. First, appoint the Committee to inquire into the general Business of the House; then, if any hon. Member suggested grounds for believing that any point had not been considered, it would always be open to him to move an Instruction to the Committee; and the Members of the Committee, some of whom were always present in the House, could either accept the Instruction, or state the reasons why the Committee had not thought fit to 389 consider that particular part of the subject. The Business of the House was a whole, and every proposal relating to it that was made ought to be considered with reference to the whole. The House was one body; and if they were to take each separate proposal, as now suggested to the House, the danger was that the House would direct its attention to that proposal only, and lose sight of the relation of the suggested change to the whole Business of the House. He earnestly trusted, therefore, that none of the Amendments, of which Notice had been given, would be pressed. The fact that they were on the Notice Paper that night was, he thought, sufficient to ensure their due consideration when the Committee met. He was convinced that the Committee would not overlook them, but enable the House to form a deliberate opinion upon them, for the Report of the Committee would be based upon a consideration of the Business of the House as a whole. He (Mr. Newdegate) himself made a proposal in the year 1875, the Leader of the House having suggested that they should proceed by Resolutions. He was not going into a detail of the Resolutions which he then submitted to the House; he would merely say that they were a result of long and careful research, and of a good deal of labour on his part, which he must say the Leader of the House was good enough to acknowledge. But those proposals were submitted to a very thin House; the House was unwilling to consider them, and the first of them having been rejected, he withdrew the others. Those proposals, briefly stated, were that, in the case of a Bill proposed by an unofficial Member of the House, the House should resume its ancient practice of discrimination, and should, on the Motion for leave to introduce the Bill, ascertain what was the nature of the Bill, and the machinery by which it was proposed to carry it out, before it was permitted a place on the Order Book. That was the general scope of those Resolutions. He had abstained, however, from giving any Notice in this House on the subject; because, from the assurance that he had of the nature and general scope of the Notice given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and from the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave him last Session, that this Committee should con- 390 sider the whole subject of the Public Business of the House, he felt that he had no right, before that Committee was appointed, to give undue prominence to one particular part of the subject; for he felt confident that, when the Committee met, it would not slur over a question that had been acknowledged as important by the House. That a great change had taken place within the last few years in the conduct of the Business of the House he thought was manifest from the state of the Order Book, as compared with the state of the Order Book in previous years, and that change seemed to him sufficient to justify the House in instituting the proposed inquiry. Towards the close of last Session it was affirmed in the House that the transaction of the Business of the House had become so unsatisfactory to the country, that the position of the House in the eyes of the country was rapidly deteriorating, and such, he regretted to believe, had been the impression out-of-doors. The time was ripe for the appointment of the Committee on the whole subject, and he thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having redeemed his pledge of last Session by the proposal which he had now made.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
bore testimony to the necessity for some change in the manner in which Public Business was transacted. He complained of the manner in which time was wasted in the repetition of hopeless divisions, as occurred during the memorable 26 hours' Sitting of last Session, when no less than 23 divisions took place, in many of which the minority varied from four to six. It seemed to him that in such cases the sense of the House should be taken on the propriety of continuing the divisions. Opposed as he should be, without great consideration, to the appointment of a Deputy Speaker, he still thought that a Deputy might be empowered to put the Motion for the Adjournment of the House at a late hour. It would be well, too, that the House should meet in November, and be prorogued earlier than was at present the practice.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, the House had already had some little experience in the working of what was equivalent, if not superior to, Grand Committees. Bills of special importance were exceptionally referred to Com- 391 mittees of unusual size — the Cattle Plague Bill, for instance, and the Endowed Schools Bill were so treated. If they swept away the word "grand" what remained was only the affirmation of the principle that important Bills should be thrashed out in Committees upstairs before the steam-thrashing machine of the House was applied to the results of the primary process. That was now done in the case of every Bill sent to a Select Committee upstairs. He did not believe that Grand Committees would produce better Bills in the end, though the process of production would be inevitably lengthened, unless the arbitrary and impossible change were made of abolishing the Motion for recommitting Bills. Select Committees, chosen from Members specially fitted to deal with the various subjects referred to them, were far preferable to the pre-sent proposal; for these confessedly contained a large infusion of experts, whereas a Grand Committee would only be of the average quality of the Whole House—in short, nothing better than the House in small—whose conclusions would command no respect from the House at large, when they came back to it. If they wanted to alter the present system—as to which he said nothing—the only possible course would be more frequently to have large Select Committees of, say, 40 Members, to be appointed, as now, by the Vote of the Whole House. The scheme of Grand Committees would break down at the first stage when the system of their appointment came to be considered. The House never would submit to their being appointed by any authority except its own, and he merely begged it to imagine the delays, difficulties, and divisions which would environ and bewilder the nomination of a Grand Committee when any important measure was in prospect, and Party spirit was rife. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don), however theoretically valuable, was practically impossible, and would only lead to an increase of the catalogue of ingenious methods by which the Business of the House might be obstructed.
§ MR. ANDERSON,
who had placed upon the Notice Paper an Amendment to add the words—And particularly to consider the expediency of continuing (in place of recommencing) some 392 part of the unfinished work of one Session in the next Session of the same Parliament, and of putting some limit to the inordinate length of speeches,said, it seemed to him that the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don) had made out a fairly good case for the modified scheme of Home Rule which he had laid down in a speech of much greater length than he should consider it necessary to inflict on the House. One of the reasons which had induced him to put this Amendment on the Paper was that there was no subject on which the House had shown such extreme reluctance to carry out the recommendations of its Committees as it invariably did in respect to the Public Business. The reason was obvious. Public Business affected every individual Member of the House, and every individual Member thought himself quite as well qualified as any other Member, and perhaps better, to form and express an opinion on it. For that reason the experience of former Committees was far from encouraging. The House had treated the Reports of these Committees with something like contempt, and it would be difficult now to find a Member of any weight to serve on a Committee which was liable to be so treated. For his part, he preferred to place on the Paper proposals which he believed, if carried out, would be likely to bring about considerable improvement in their procedure. He had given Notice of two such proposals. The first was to the effect that the Business of one Session might be continued in the next Session, provided a Dissolution of Parliament did not happen in the meantime — in short, that the various Sessions of each Parliament should be continuous, instead of treating every Session not as a Session, but as if it were a Parliament. Important Bills which had been passed through Committee with great labour had been kicked out of the House of Lords without any consideration at all, because they were not sent up in time. On this account the legislation towards the end of a Session was of the most hurried description. They were obliged to pass Bills through the House in the most hasty manner in order that they might be in time to be considered by the other House. Now, his proposal was that a Bill which had passed the House of Commons in one Session should be taken in the House 393 of Lords in the beginning of the next Session. If that were done, there would be an end to the hurried work of the House of Commons at the end of a Session, and an end to the complete idleness of the House of Lords at the beginning of a Session. It would also save a great waste of legislative power. All the hours and the labour spent upon a Bill, unless it could be passed in a single Session, were entirely thrown away. Many important Bills which were well discussed and amended in one Session, had to be begun again the next, just as if they had never been heard of. This seemed such a waste of legislative power, that he could not conceive how it was tolerated from year to year. Another proposal was that some precaution should be taken to reduce the inordinate length of speeches. Since the last Reform. Act, a much greater number of Members were sent up who were desirous of taking part in the debates. If out of 658 Members only a dozen or half-a-dozen had time to take part in a debate, the House not only treated the other 650 very unfairly, but was not doing justice to the constituencies which returned them, and yet without some restriction it was impossible to get over that difficulty. Sometimes they had a four or five nights' debate, and yet the number of speakers was only about 30 that could take part in the debate. How was that to be got over except by making some limit to the length of speeches? All other Legislatures had means of doing so except ourselves, and we had attempted to establish one by Members crowding round the Bar, and endeavouring to stop a speaker by cries of "Divide, divide!" This was not only undignified and unseemly, but it was also extremely ineffectual, and he hoped that the House would find some other and better means of obtaining the desired end. He was quite willing that these proposals should come before the Committee, where he might be able to enlarge upon them at greater length.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
called the attention of the House to the fact that the Committees consisted of Members from each of the three Kingdoms— Ireland, Scotland, and England—so that the Committee bore the complexion of the House itself. It was suggested that Irish questions should be referred to Irish Members. That would be a very 394 great convenience in some cases, but in others it was a great inconvenience. In 1864 the Government thought it necessary to introduce a Coercion Bill. The Irish Members said that it was not at all required, and in the end they were proved to be right; and in that case it would certainly have been the convenience. If the Bill had been referred to Irish Members, they would have left nothing of it to be reported to the House save the title; but the result would have been that the Minister of the time being would still be of opinion that a Coercion Bill should be passed. The scheme of his hon. Friend (the O'Conor Don) was one which would, he believed, fail the moment they began to work it. There was a flaw in it. If they wished that Ireland should be ruled intelligibly— according to Irish ideas—then there was only one way to do it. If they rejected that, they could not have this scheme of Grand Committees. He trusted that the Committee would not be composed of those well versed in the official ways of the House, but that they would have Representatives upon it of opinion from all sides of the House, whether they had long been Members or not. Scotland and Ireland ought to be very fully represented. English Members had the power to act just as they pleased with Scotch and Irish Business; and, therefore, if they were now going to introduce new rules, it was only fair that the cause of the sister country, which was weak in comparison to England, should be fully considered.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he thought the whole tone of the discussion showed that hon. Members were thinking of something more serious than the appointment of this Select Committee. For his part, he could not but believe that if it had not been for the promise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Session they would not have had that proposal at that moment. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government had proposals to make which would materially promote the Business of the House, those proposals should be made on the authority of the Government. The present Government, whether rightly or wrongly, had achieved the reputation of referring nearly every question to a Committee, with a view of deriving an authority or obtaining an assistance in the formation of an opinion 395 which the country was entitled, to ask for at the hands of the Government itself. He was glad to learn that this Committee, if it was appointed, as he presumed it would be, was intended really to consider the best mode of facilitating the Business of the House and not indirectly to consider the conduct of individual Members. He had heard very little allusion to-night to anything which took place during the last Session of Parliament, and he hoped that this Committee would not find it necessary to enter into that matter; because, what-ever might be thought of the vigour or persistency of the course of conduct of certain hon. Members which had received a distasteful name, he would only remind the House that hitherto that very course of conduct had been considered a weapon of great value in this country, and both sides had had recourse to it. They might appoint these Committees over and over again, and nothing would come of it, because the Business of that House was greater than the House could manage. An hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) had complained of the speeches in the House being too long. As a general rule, sitting there as he did constantly, he did not think that was true, and he derived instruction from the speeches of hon. Members, who expressed themselves in intelligent and generally in dignified and business-like language. The proposal to refer Business to a Committee or a bureau, and the proposal to limit the speeches, were direct invasions of the privileges and intentions of Parliament. The sole object of Parliament was not to pass laws, but to promote discussion and to ventilate public questions. It certainly was not the wish of the majority of the Irish Members to obstruct or to interfere with the legitimate Business of Parliament. If their proposals were adopted in their integrity they would still form a portion of this great Assembly, and they would come there to assist in its deliberations upon all matters of external policy, and it would be the height of folly on their part to make the House of Commons the laughing-stock of the nation. He therefore rejoiced that no reference had been made to what passed in the last Session. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) when he was interested in a particular Bill—the Divorce Bill—received the ap- 396 plause of his Friends for the kind of obstruction he offered to its passing, and he spoke 72 times in the course of the discussion of the Bill. They know that in the discussion on the Army Purchase Bill, and on the Ballot Bill, many hon. Members were perpetually obstructing in a way which was supposed to do them great credit. He did not approve of the proposal that the House should be divided into Committees of different nationalities, for that would not got rid of the demand of the Irish people for self-government. He hoped great care would be exercised in selecting this Committee, and that Representatives would be taken from all sides of the House, whether they had long been Members of the House or not.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, the proposals of the hon. Member for Eos-common (the O'Conor Don) were exceedingly ingenious; but he thought when they came to be put to the test they would be found impracticable. It would be an insurmountable difficulty to adjust the strength of political parties in Grand Committees; and, as Sir Erskine May said, nothing would be gained by resorting to them if they were to be Committees of the Whole House under another name. It would be difficult so to constitute Grand Committees that all Members would be upon them who ought to be, or so that a Member would not be in one Committee when he was wanted in another. For these reasons he feared that Grand Committees would not work consistently with Government by Party. The proposed Committee ought to pay some attention to the nomination of Select Committees, from which Members with special qualifications were sometimes excluded because they had not influence enough with the Whips, who were naturally governed by Party considerations.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was justified in asking for a Committee, because the Business of the House was growing, and becoming greater than it could discharge satisfactorily, and it was the duty of every Member to offer any suggestion which he thought would promote the transaction of Public Business. But, as Members who were not on the Committee could not send their suggestions upstairs, he was afraid its inquiries would not obviate a discussion in the House 397 when the Committee made its Report. While he would not say Grand Committees could not be formed so as to promote the despatch of Business, he deprecated the constitution of them by-nationalities, believing that, as far as was practicable, the three Kingdoms ought to be legislated for on the same principles and in the same Bills. Last Session time was lost by having separate Prison Bills for each of the three Kingdoms; and this Session there would be a corresponding gain in passing the Factories and Workshops Bill, because definition clauses made it applicable to Scotland and Ireland. With regard to Business on Wednesdays, he suggested that instead of a Bill being talked out, a division should be taken upon it at half-past 5 o'clock. In that way they would get rid of the Bill, if it were an objectionable one. Of late years there had been an increase of Motions on going into Committee of Supply, so that Government had practically lost the Fridays; and it might be well to give the Government two Fridays in each month. It was worth considering whether there ought to be any discussion on going into Committee on a Bill unless there were Notice of an Instruction to the Committee, and whether, in Committee, the privilege of speaking twice on the same Motion should be restricted to the Member in charge of a Bill. If alterations of that character were carried out, much time might be saved; Government would have greater opportunities of proceeding with their measures, and hon. Members would get into the country at a much earlier period of the year than they could now do.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) had anticipated him in one of the suggestions he was about to submit to the House—namely, that Members should not be allowed to speak an unlimited number of times on every question in Committee. If hon. Gentlemen would consider what they wished to express there could be no difficulty or inconvenience in their doing so in one speech. He also thought some limit should be placed upon the power of moving Amendments in Committee. Nothing could be more inconvenient or prejudicial to the framework of a Bill than the practice of starting Amendments on the spur of the moment, of 398 which no Notice had been previously given. Everyone conversant with legal documents know how necessary it was to well consider any alterations introduced into them with reference not only to the context, but the general character of the document; and he thought that Members might fairly be required to give Notice of their Amendments to Bills on the Paper before proposing them in Committee. Without altogether agreeing with the hon. Member for Eos-common (the O'Conor Don), he thought that the Business might be materially facilitated by the reference of Bills to Select Committees, properly constituted, and such scandals as had been referred to with regard to the progress of Bills in Committee of the Whole House would be prevented He had been a Member of the Committee on the Endowed Schools Act, and ventured to think that the result of their labours had been most satisfactory, and if a similar course had been taken at first with the Supreme Court of Judicature Bill, many useful Amendments might have been made in it, and the labours of the House to amend it in a subsequent Session would have been rendered unnecessary.
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
said, it appeared to him that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had directed his attention to those matters which seemed to the right hon. Gentleman to be the most serious evils under the present system, and if they were to couple with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Motion any of the Amendments on the Paper they would not do any good; it would, on the other hand, be unwise to agree to any Amendment, as it would fetter the right hon. Gentleman in regard to what he promised to do in placing his views and those of the Government before the Committee. The fact was the House had on previous occasions collected evidence ad nauseam on this subject, and all they now wanted were some practical suggestions for consideration by the Committee, and adoption by the House. He was of opinion that the hon. Member for Roscommon, and other hon. Members who had placed Amendments on the Paper, would render great service to the House by not pressing them to a division.
§ MR. DODSON
said, that from the course of the debate two things were 399 evident—in the first place, it was evident that the House was disposed to agree to the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the appointment of the Committee; and, in the second, that it was not disposed to enter into an exhaustive discussion of the different Amendments on the Paper. Last Session the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he and his Colleagues would consider, during the Recess, the recommendations which had been made by Select Committees in previous years; that they would consult the authorities of the House, and be prepared to submit proposals to the House for their consideration this Session. He (Mr. Dod-son) understood from that, and he hoped, that at the commencement of this Session the right hon. Gentleman would come down to the House and make some direct propositions to the House. He had no very great expectations of the results of a Committee appointed to consider the Business of the House. There had been many Committees on the subject, but the fruits of their exertions had not been very great. He gathered from the observations of the right hon. Gentleman that the Government had considered the recommendations of the previous Committees, and that they had formed in their own minds a programme which they wished to submit not directly to the House, but to this Committee. He understood that the Government were prepared to undertake the conduct of the Committee, and that they would supervise and be responsible for its management. He did not, therefore, think it would be reasonable for the House not to accede to such a proposal. That being the case, and the terms of the Motion being wide enough to admit of the consideration, not only of the programme of the Government, but of any proposals that might be submitted aliunde by Members of the Committee, no advantage would be gained by the acceptance of any of the Amendments on the Paper. Neither could the suggestions that had been made be accepted as Instructions to the Select Committee without ample discussion. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) who suggested the suspension of Bills from one Session to another was not, perhaps, aware that the subject had been fully considered already. It had been considered three times—by two strong Com- 400 mittees of this House in 1848 and 1861, and by a Joint Committee of both Houses in 1869; and each had reported unanimously against such a proposal, He would mention one objection. A Bill might pass this House which the other House of Parliament might dislike, but might not be prepared to reject or abandon. It would be an easy alternative to suspend it for another Session. Again, those who had charge of a Bill might, having had the Recess to reflect upon it, get such Amendments as would alter its whole character introduced in the House of Lords; but, when the Bill came back, the House of Commons would not have power to debate those Amendments fully, but would have simply to accept or reject them as Lords' Amendments. Another objection was that this was a matter which affected the three Estates of the realm, and could not be dealt with except by Act of Parliament. He did not think that the suggestion that no Amendments of which Notice was not given should be received was practicable. Very frequently the adoption of an Amendment on the Paper rendered the adoption of other Amendments necessary of which no Notice could possibly be given. With regard to Grand Committees, the House had better leave the Select Committee free and unbiassed. He would wish, however, to ask how were these Grand Committees to be appointed? Were they to be large Select Committees, appointed as Select Committees usually were, with an equal number of Members taken from each side? If so, the majority of the House would sacrifice itself. Then, if the Grand Committees were to consist of Gentlemen specially conversant with particular subjects—such as legal Members for legal matters, commercial Members for commercial matters, agricultural Members for agricultural matters, and so on—it would infallibly happen that the majority of the House would in two or three Committees, at least, find themselves in a minority, with no chance of passing the Bills they desired. If, on the other hand, they were to have Open Committees, and Members were allowed to vote in all the Committees, the minority in Committee A might, when a division was imminent, send for the Members of Committee B to come and vote, on the understanding that they by-and-by would do a similar good turn. The effect of that 401 would be to establish a system of logrolling, which would be most injurious to the character of Parliament. He did not wish to express an opinion upon anyone of the Amendments on the Paper, or upon the suggestions which had been ventilated; and if he had used arguments against any one of them it was merely to show hon. Members that their views were not so easy to carry into practice as they seemed to suppose. The House was not in a mood to discuss any of these proposals fully, and therefore it would be bettor to leave all questions to be dealt with by the Committee, the reference to which would be in very general terms, and it would be open to the Committee to do what might seem to them to be right, and to make their own suggestions to the House in their Report. In his view, they should leave the Committee free and unfettered in its action.
§ MR. M'LAREN
thought that Grand Committees, limited as proposed by the hon. Member for Roscommon, would be dangerous and would not work as well as Committees of the Whole House, composed of Members from the different parts of the United Kingdom. As a Scotch Member, he had great confidence in the fairness of English and Irish Members in relation to Scotch Business; and having watched the course of Scotch legislation for 40 years, he thought his country deeply indebted to English and Irish Members. If Grand Committees were appointed, there would be danger, where money was involved, of Irish Members favouring their own country, and of Scotch Members favouring theirs. For instance, last Session there was a Bill before the House which dealt with the salaries of the Chairmen of Counties in Ireland. It was referred to a Select Committee, and he was surprised to see how quickly it came back with their salaries raised to £1,400 a-year, and the Clerks of the Peace to £600, £700, and £900 a-year; and, on asking an Irish Member how it was managed to get a Bill passed so rapidly with such a Schedule, he replied that the Committee was composed of 20 Irish Members and three English Members. He did not think it would have got through so easily if there had been more English or Scotch Members on the Committee. At the same time, he wished it to be understood that for this he did not blame 402 Ireland or the Irish. He was sure if it had been a Scotch measure of the same sort, and there had been an equal proportion of Scotch Members on the Committee, the same thing would have happened. There should be sufficient local knowledge in the Committee to explain every particular thoroughly, and there should be an impartial jury, consisting of about two-thirds or more of the number of the Committee, to give an impartial judgment.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, there was a Scotch Roads and Bridges Bill coming before the House, and also an Irish Grand Juries Bill. Now, he should not be able to understand the former question, and what he would probably do would be to vote with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren); and probably the hon. Member would in a similar way follow him in the vote on the Grand Juries question. Neither of them could fully understand a Bill referring to the local affairs of the country of the other. It would be well if the Government did not introduce more Business than could be really expected to pass during the Session. The system of trying to force the Business through in a hurry, without proper discussion, wasted more time than all the other systems put together. The result of such a method was that a Bill passed into law in one Session needed re-consideration and amendment in perhaps two or three following Sessions; and the complaint naturally followed that there were too many Acts of Parliament upon a particular subject, and then came the necessity for a Consolidation Bill. The plain result of all this was that, instead of one Bill being properly considered in a reasonable time, the whole affair occupied about four times as long as was really necessary. There was another point of consideration too—namely, the incapacity of the Government to estimate with any degree of accuracy the length of time that should be occupied on certain discussions. For instance, on a night last Session, when the Budget was introduced, the Government wished that the Public Worship Bill should be dealt with the same night, the result actually being a four nights' discussion upon what was estimated by them to occupy only one night. With the experience of the right hon. Gentleman, he ought to be able to estimate what time should be 403 occupied in a discussion according to the circumstances of the House. He further thought that a large majority of the Members of each Committee ought to be of the same nationality as the measures brought under its consideration. If the Committee proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were appointed, it would probably report towards the end of the Session. No further action would in all likelihood be taken in the matter, and thus another exemplification would be afforded of the manner in which the time of the House was wasted.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR,
referring to a remark that had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, he fully appreciated the advantages of getting into Committee of Supply; but they ought to have facilities for getting on with that Supply by an improvement in the mode of stating the requirements of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had last year promised that if he (Sir George Balfour) formulated his suggestions on this point he would take them into consideration. He had done so, and he begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman of his promise. It was only the portions of the Estimates which were different from those of the previous year that excited discussion. Following the example of the French Chamber, the House ought to have laid before it all the different sums and different changes in the Estimates. They could then vote the Estimates as the French Chamber did, with much greater usefulness to the country than they did at present.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he feared he could not congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the mode he had adopted of bringing this subject under the consideration of Parliament. He wanted them to refer the whole question to a Select Committee, and he had done so without including in the slightest degree the nature of the proposal which he intended to submit to the Committee. He did not think that that form of proposal was likely to save any time, such as it was suggested to do. After the Committee had duly sat upon the question they would come to the House with magnificent conclusions and recommendations, without in the slightest degree showing upon what these conclusions were founded. He did not think sufficient justice had been done to the 404 Amendment of the hon. Member for Eos-common (the O'Conor Don), which contemplated placing Public Business of various kinds in the hands of Committees composed of those Members of the House who were best able, from their local knowledge and experience, to deal with it. Whatever might be the decision of the House upon it, he would remind hon. Members that Home Rule represented Irish nationality; and if it were known in the popular constituencies of Ireland that Home Rule did not represent Irish nationality, they would see very little of Home Rule Members on those benches. What-ever was done, therefore, with the Resolution of his hon. Friend, he could not expect that Irish Members would abandon the national demand they had insisted on putting forward; and until that demand was conceded in a proper spirit, they could not say that their mission had been fulfilled. The bureau system of France gave the conduct of Public Business to the men most competent to deal with it; and the Amendment of his hon. Friend would hand it over to those best qualified by local knowledge and experience for dealing with it. As the Business of the House grew and accumulated, new and more extended machinery was required for disposing of it. Great social and political problems arose every day; and as Parliament undertook to grapple with them, it was useless for that House to attempt to retain its old machinery, which, though it answered very well 25 years ago, was now completely obsolete. He, therefore, urged the House to adopt the hon. Member's Amendment, and thus, while relieving themselves from the pressure of Business, make a concession to the national feelings of Ireland. His experience of modern Parliaments told him that it was impossible for anyone but the Government to succeed in passing measures through the House, the consequence of which was that the Government turned aside from its Executive duties, which should more properly belong to it, and turned to the duties which belonged to the Parliament. Whatever might be said about the Constitution of the United States—and he would not say that it was superior to the British Constitution—but whatever might be said of its defects, it was at least free from the difficulties to which he had called attention. It had no Ministerial responsibility in any way. 405 The prevailing majority in Congress, whatever it might be, was the only body responsible for legislation. He regretted that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Nowdegate) should have deprecated discussion at this stage of the numerous Amendments now before the House, stating that the Select Committee would be sure to consider them. The reason he should like all the proposed Amendments added to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that they represented the conclusions of Gentlemen who had devoted some attention to this question, find they also represented the labour and thought which these Gentlemen had given to these proposals. If the Select Committee would deal with these, it would prevent the necessity of going all over the discussion again. But if they merely appointed a Committee, saying in "general" terms that they had to consider the whole question of Public Business, and come down to the House with their bare decisions, he would undertake to say that would be as barren and fruitless in its results as had been those Committees which had previously sat, and they would find themselves a few years on in precisely the same position as they now occupied.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. O'DONNELL (for Mr. SULLIVAN)
moved to add at the end of the original Motion, the words—And whether the endeavour of the Imperial Parliament to deal with the legislative requirements of the three Kingdoms as to local affairs has not been a serious obstacle to the due and expeditious discharge of the general Business of the House.He believed that a direction of the kind which the Amendment contemplated would not be found to be superfluous or irrelevant. On the contrary, it seemed to him to be required in order to bring out of the appointment of any Committee the good which they all desired. When he remembered how earnestly and how often, on both sides of the House, the complaint had been made that the Irish demand for local legislation was not understood, it appeared to him that an Amendment like the present afforded an admirable opportunity for the Members of the present Government, and of the Administration 406 which had preceded it, acquiring the information which they had so frequently declared they desired with reference to the conduct of measures connected with Ireland, and therefore he did not think there could be any difficulty in accepting it. There was reason to fear that the Committee proposed was only likely to have the result of previous Committees, and prove abortive. He felt that there was a very strong necessity to add to the general proposition—to add something specific on that general ground. He felt that a specific recommendation was necessary to bring about that good that was required. Speaking as an Irish Member, he could say that the requirements of Irishmen were not understood, and this Amendment would give the requisite information wanted. He maintained that, if the Amendment were passed, the effect would be to direct the attention of the Committee to the nature of Irish demands and the concessions which, with all due regard to Imperial unity, might be made in the way of satisfying the people of the sister Kingdom. The unimpeachable and impartial evidence which would be adduced would tend to remove the ignorance of hon. Members as to what it was the Irish people required, and no doubt a practical and business-like solution would, in consequence, be found for the Irish difficulty. The terms of the Amendment were strictly moderate, and they answered all that could reasonably be required. They asked that the Committee should take into consideration—Whether the endeavour of the Imperial Parliament to deal with the legislative requirements of the three Kingdoms as to local affairs has not been a serious obstacle to the due and expeditious discharge of the general Business of the House.The Amendment was to review the course of legislation on general and local affairs, and in that review they might have a guide for the future working of legislation. He did not intend to speak further in support of this Amendment than he thought it his duty to do; but he would remind the House that they were always asked as to what were the local requirements of Ireland, and this Amendment would give what was local in contradistinction to what was considered Imperial. It only carried out the recommendations repeatedly made by English Members.
§ MAJOR NOLAN,
in seconding the Amendment, said, he regarded the House of Commons as the most perfect machine for doing Business that the ingenuity of man could invent; but unfortunately the internal arrangements of Parliament prevented it from efficiently dealing with Irish affairs. He had, therefore, been very much struck with the necessity for some such inquiry as that indicated in the Amendment; for, if Irish Business was to be properly attended to, he really believed it would occupy the entire attention of this House for two or three years. They saw the machinery for doing the work; but unfortunately the Irish Members were not allowed to work, and the English Members were taken up with matters of more importance. He thought that they ought to consider whether the English or the Irish Business could not be disposed of by Grand Committees or otherwise. It was thought the Motion was owing to what was termed the "obstruction policy" of Irish Members; but he thought that if something was done in the proposed Committee, as suggested by this Amendment, they might find some solution of the question. He emphatically said that Ireland was neglected in that House, because the English Members thought of the more important affairs connected with the other portions of the United Kingdom. He was convinced that if the question proposed in the Amendment was discussed, some light would be thrown on the difficulty.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "and whether the endeavour of the Imperial Parliament to deal with the legislative requirements of the three Kingdoms as to local affairs has not been a serious obstacle to the due and expeditious discharge of the general Business of the House."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY,
fearing that the Committee would not have time to deal satisfactorily with the question relating to the conduct of Irish. Business, would recommend his hon. Friend (Mr. O'Donnell) to withdraw the Amendment.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that, with the permission of the House, he would 408 content himself with having raised the question, and would withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. SPEAKER
decided that he could not move it, as he had already spoken to the question before the House.
Main Question put. and agreed to.
Select Committee appointed, "to consider the best means of promoting the Despatch of Public Business in this House.