HC Deb 15 July 1878 vol 241 cc1472-82

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved, pursuant to Notice— That after To-morrow, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motion upon Tuesdays, Government Orders having priority, and that Government Orders have priority upon. Wednesdays.


I have no doubt, whatever may be the feelings of some hon. Members whose opportunities will be interfered with by this Motion, that the great majority of the House will be ready to accede to this, or indeed to any other Motion which would have the effect of putting an end to this already protracted Session. But I think that the House will expect before it passes this Resolution, that some information should be given to it with respect to the use which the Government intend to make of the additional time thus placed at their disposal. I do not propose to go through the list of Go- vernment measures in detail, and I am not prepared to say that there are, for this time of the year, any unusual number of Bills, with which progress has been made, which there is not any probability of passing. There are some measures on the Order Book, which it has long been quite evident the Government do not intend to press, and it is very desirable that they should take this opportunity of informing the House, as far as they are able, what measures it is intended to press and what are to be abandoned. Some of the most important Bills with which progress has been made are Bills relating to the subject of local government. The County Government Bill has been dropped for a very long time, and I believe it is understood that it is not the intention of the Government to persevere with it any further. There are the Highways and Valuation Bills, and I should doubt whether it would be possible for the Government to pass the latter of those measures this Session. I cannot help thinking that it is to be regretted that the Government should have introduced so many Bills relating to this matter, if it was not their intention to persevere with them, or if they had not a reasonable prospect of passing them; because, when a variety of measures are before the House together, there is a tendency to waste time, not only by the period actually occupied in the discussion of any particular measure, but because questions creep into the discussion as to other measures, and re-act upon it. I will not anticipate the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, doubtless, prepared to make, and I will leave it to hon. Members who take particular interest in the measures before the House to put questions to the Government respecting their further progress; but there is one other point to which I wish to refer before I sit down, and that is the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave the other day with reference to the Motion standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich for to-morrow. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he would not be able to dispense with a Morning Sitting to-morrow so as to give my right hon. Friend the whole evening. Now, I think, considering the very great importance of the question which is to be raised by my right hon. Friend—and considering the large amount of time of the House which the Government are now about to appropriate, it would be very desirable if they could find it possible not to ask for a Morning Sitting to-morrow, but to give up the whole of Tuesday to the discussion of this Motion.


Sir, I have no wish to oppose the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but rather to give every facility for bringing the Session to a close; but when he asks the House to give up to the Government all the time usually devoted to Private Members' Business, I think I may fairly appeal to him to know what he will do to facilitate the passing of the Sunday Closing Bill for Ireland? That Bill has been in my charge all this Session; but it has really become the possession and property of the House, on account of the overwhelming majorities in its favour, and from the time which has been devoted to it. It is but reasonable for me to ask what course the Government intend to adopt with regard to it, especially as the House has already spent 54 hours on it? We none of us wish that all the time which has been spent on this Bill should be lost, and the Government will do wisely to get rid of the question this Session. I, therefore, appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us the assurance that this Bill will be read a third time at the earliest opportunity.


Sir, I do not intend to dwell beyond a very few words on the appeal made by my noble Friend, because I think it would appear as if my own personal convenience was involved in it; but I wish to point this out to the Government, that it may be right to consider why it is that the Motion of which I have given Notice has occurred at a period of the year when, undoubtedly, time is very scarce, and when it seems invidious to press the Government. The reason of the delay has been this—that whereas the Act was passed in India with extraordinary expedition on March 12, it was not until the beginning of July that any Papers were laid on the Table of this House. A discussion was begun—and I was not surprised at it—early in the month of March or April; but I myself made an appeal to hon. Members on this side of the House to waive any discussion, because the Papers were not in our hands, and we were not in a position to approach the subject satisfactorily. I could not have had the smallest conception that three or four months would elapse before we were to be placed in the possession of information on which we might proceed. I have no doubt this delay was owing to exceptional causes; but I think Her Majesty's Government will see that it does constitute a claim to afford such opportunities as they can for the discussion now that we have approached it. I wish to say one word on the appeal just made by the hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don). With regard to that, I feel convinced that Her Majesty's Government, as men of sense and the regulators of the Business of the House, will give some encouragement to it; because it is really too formidable that Members of this House, whether they are approvers or opponents of the Bill, should look forward to a renewal in future years of the operations which we have gone through during the present Session. My hon. Friend says that nearly 60 hours have been consumed in the discussion upon this Bill. What is the meaning of that? It means that more than one-twentieth part of the entire time at the disposal of this House, for all subjects whatever, foreign and domestic, has been consumed in considering whether during the period of four years public-houses in Ireland shall be closed on Sunday. There is a disproportion in that which is very grievous, and it is quite evident that—I will not say the same obstinacy—the same gallantry and the same tenacity which have been exhibited during the present Session in opposing this Bill will not be wanting in future years. We should again find ourselves sitting here at 3 o'clock, at 5 o'clock, at 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning, unless we are permitted now to give a small amount of time for the disposal of it. I would venture to point out this—that if the Government intend to allow some reasonable opportunity to be devoted for this purpose, it will be very desirable that it should be done soon, because the subject is entirely new to the House of Lords, and it is one which the House of Lords has as much a right to entertain independently as we have. It is of the greatest importance that, if it goes there, it should go under circumstances when it can be properly discussed, and not in the crowd and hurry of the last days of the Session.


said, he would not presume to dictate to the Government what course they should take with regard to giving further facilities for the Bill of a private Member; but he must be allowed to make this remark—that perhaps in the history of Parliamentary proceedings there was not a single instance of so many facilities having been given to the promoters of a Private Bill as had been given to the hon. Member for Roscommon in relation to the Irish Sunday Closing Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had characterized the discussions which had taken place in opposition to that measure as an unprecedented waste of time; but he would ask him if the minority would have ventured to occupy all that time if it were not that they felt they were backed up by the great majority of the Irish people. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of majorities having been obtained in favour of the Bill; but, in reality, there had been only one majority registered on behalf of it, and that was the majority on the principle of the Bill on the Motion for its second reading; and he protested against the opposition which had been subsequently given to the measure being described as a useless waste of time, seeing that it had given an opportunity to the growing opinion of the people of Ireland to develop itself against the Bill, which it had done in a most unprecedented manner.


hoped that some distinct statement would be made as to the course which it was intended to follow with regard to the various Government Bills which were before the House relating to Ireland. He found that, at the present time, there were altogether in different stages of progress 33 Government measures on the Order Book of the House. Of these, a dozen, he thought, were Irish Bills. There were on the Paper for that evening five Government measures affecting Ireland, most of them for second reading; there were 72 Votes to be taken in Committee of Supply; the Indian Budget had not been touched; and a Supplemental Estimate was about to be brought forward. Under these circumstances, he thought it was not unreasonable to inquire, what Irish measures the Government intended to force on at that period of the Session?


hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider the propriety of dropping, for this Session, the Medical Act Amendment Bill, which had received considerable opposition from all parts of the House.


said, that a discussion must arise on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, through the fault of the Government in not having introduced the Corrupt Practices Bill, which they had promised year after year. They had distinctly assured the House last year that they would bring the Bill in early this Session; but, as yet, they had not redeemed their promises. The law as to corrupt practices was in a most imperfect state, and greatly needed reform. With regard to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich on the subject of the Indian Vernacular Press Law, he could not but think that the discussion would lead to a most imperfect and unsatisfactory result if it did not begin till 9 o'clock. He considered that it would be better for the dignity of the House, and for the power of the country in India that the discussion should receive ample treatment, which it could not do if it only began at 9 o'clock. Many hon. Members would be tempted to oppose the Motion now made unless some promise on the subject was given.


desired to know, when the Government proposed to go into Committee of Supply again on the Navy Estimates; and, whether the Government would adhere to the understanding that fair opportunity should be given for the discussion of those Estimates; because there were several very important matters which would come on for discussion at that time?


, referring to the Irish Fisheries Bill, of which he had charge, asked, what course the Government intended to take, after the House had in a former Session passed a Resolution acknowledging the necessity of dealing with the question?


said, he must join in the appeal which had been made to the Government to give to-morrow night for the discussion of the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. On a former occasion the Government distinctly said that if the subject were not then pressed, they would recognize the importance of a full debate when the Papers were laid on the Table. Considering the importance of the Press Act in itself, the manner in which it had been passed, and also the manner in which the Home Government had had their hand forced by the Government of India, he thought it must be obvious that such issues as were involved could not be debated in a Sitting which began at 9 o'clock. He would make an earnest appeal to the Government to allow to-morrow evening to be taken for the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich.


agreed with the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) as to the importance of the questions to which he had referred, but drew a different conclusion with regard to them. It would be far better that the discussion should not take place at all this Session. Whether a half, or the whole, of an evening were taken for the consideration of the subject, it would be an incomplete discussion.


said, that in the present state of Public Business, and considering the period of the Session at which they had arrived, it would be desirable that the Scotch Members should be informed which of the Bills relating to Scotland now before the House were likely to be passed in the course of this Session. He would therefore ask, which of those measures was it the intention of the Government to adhere to; which of them were the Government determined to carry through? If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to answer those questions that evening, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would do so in the course of the present week.


wished to know, on what day the Army Estimates would be proceeded with, when the question of supplementing the Army Examination by physical competition could be discussed?


Sir, I am very much indebted to the House for the manner in which they have received the main proposition which I have submitted—namely, that the remaining Tuesdays and Wednesdays shall be given to the Government Business. I think it is for the convenience of the House, as well as for that of the Government, that that arrangement should now be made. We have had, as the noble Lord has truly said, a rather protracted Session, beginning so early as we did; and I think the time has quite come when we may endeavour to see our way towards the conclusion of the Business that lies before us. At the same time, I do not think that the day has yet actually arrived for that which is technically known as the Massacre of the Innocents. I think it would be unwise and indiscreet in us to throw over, at the present moment, a large number of Bills, some of which it might possibly be found in our power to pass; but I think it is quite reasonable that the House should ask what are the Bills we attach special importance to, and what are those we have every expectation, and hope, and intention, so far as we can, of carrying. Now, there are two Bills, certainly, which stand in the first rank. One is the Bill of which we are to move the second reading to-night—the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Bill. The other is the Cattle Bill, which stands for progress in Committee to-morrow. I think it is very desirable that we should lose no time in making such progress as we can with those two Bills. That brings me to the question which the noble Lord put with regard to the Business for to-morrow. When I was asked the other night by the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), whether the Government would dispense with a Morning Sitting to-morrow, in order that the whole evening might be given to the discussion of the Motion of the right hon. Member for Greenwich, I pointed out that it was of importance that we should proceed with the Cattle Bill, and I objected to the alteration of our arrangements on that ground. I still think it would not be for the convenience of the House that we should put off the commencement of that Bill in Committee. But I would wish to make this proposal. I feel the force of the appeal which has been made—that ample time should be given to discuss a question of such interest as that which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) proposes to raise. What I suggest would be this—I have already made a Motion that, after to-morrow, Orders of the Day should have precedence of Notices of Motion upon Tuesdays—that is, with a view of taking a Morning Sitting to- morrow and proceeding with the ordinary Notices in the evening. Now, if the House would be willing to allow us to begin to take Tuesdays, not after tomorrow, but on to-morrow, and to allow us to begin the Cattle Bill in Committee to-morrow, at an evening regular Sitting, I would then undertake in the following week—say, to-morrow week—to place that Tuesday at the disposal of my right hon. Friend for the discussion of the question which he desires to bring forward. If that arrangement were acceptable, I should be glad to fall in with it. If not, I should propose to make the Motion in the form in which it stands at present. In that case, the Order of the Day, which has already been made, for the House to meet at 2 o'clock, for the purpose of proceeding with the Cattle Bill, would stand. I think the House will see that, in making that proposal, I am anxions to accomplish two objects. One is to give a proper time for the discussion of the Cattle Bill, which must take more than one night, in Committee, and with which it is desirable to proceed when we take it up. The second object is to give ample opportunity for the discussion of the question of the Vernacular Press. [Mr. GLADSTONE assented.] I understand that that arrangement is accepted. Under these circumstances, I shall ask presently for leave to withdraw the present Motion, and propose to leave out the two words. "after to-morrow;" and I shall have to make a Motion to correct the form of the Order in which it has been made. With regard to the other Bills which we have before us, there are two or three which the Government hope to proceed with, and to carry through. We propose to proceed with the Scotch Education Bill, and the Scotch Endowed Schools and Hospitals Bill. Both of those Bills are in such a state that we think we may fairly expect to carry them this Session. Then there is the Highways Bill, which stands for Report, and has yet to go to the House of Lords. I have no doubt we shall proceed with that measure. With reference to the County Government Bill, as the noble Lord has pointed out, it has been understood for me time that we have practically abandoned the hope of being able to proceed with that measure this Session. I will say nothing at this moment about the Valuation Bill. It would be pre- mature to say what we should be able to do with that measure; but we must proceed with the Highway Bill first. There are some Bills of smaller dimensions, but still of importance; and, considering the progress they have made, I think we ought to expect to proceed with them. There is, for instance, the Bishoprics Bill, which has made certain progress. There is the Territorial Waters Bill, which, having reference to its important and international character, certainly ought to be carried. Then there are the Admiralty and War Office Bill, the In-closure Bill, and some others which I hope we shall be able to proceed with. We do not intend to proceed this Session with the Under Secretaries of State (Scotland) Bill, or the Law Clerk (Scotland) Bill. With regard to the Criminal Code, that has already been explained. With regard to the Medical Law Amendment Bill, it would be premature to make any statement upon the subject; and I should prefer to take a little time before deciding what course the Government would adopt with regard to that measure. As to the Irish Bills, there is, of course, the important Bill now before us—the Intermediate Education Bill—and, possibly, we may be able to pass the Statute Law Revision Bill. I do not think we shall be able to pass the Bankruptcy Bill. With regard to one or two other Bills, it would not be possible at this time to give any definite answer. The hon. Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don) and others have called attention to that very interesting measure, the Sunday Closing Bill. I could not undertake to fix a day for it; but I think the House will feel that, after the length of time which has been spent in considering it, and the stage at which it has arrived, it would hardly be rational that the House should not proceed with it. I hope that an opportunity of doing so may arise. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) has referred to the Navy Estimates. I am, of course, anxious to get on with them and other Estimates; but I am bound to say that the Estimates which at present press most on us are the Education Estimates; and I hope we shall be able to proceed with them on Thursday next. So far as I can calculate at present, without knowing what contingencies may arise, I think we may look to take the Navy Estimates about Tuesday, the 30th, if we are ready to take the Indian Budget on Monday, the 29th; but without knowing what debates on important questions either of general or of foreign policy, it is almost premature to attempt to fix precisely the days on which these matters can be brought forward. I have endeavoured to give, as far as I can, general information to the House of the position in which we stand. I admit that there is some ground of complaint as to the Corrupt Practices Bill not having been introduced. I am afraid that at this period of the Session we can hardly hope to pass that Bill; but I think I can promise, at all events, that we will make every exertion to lay it on the Table before the end of the Session. Under these circumstances I beg to withdraw the Motion which I have made, and to substitute for it one with the words "after to-morrow" omitted. Then I shall move, with regard to to-morrow, that the Orders of the Day which are appointed for to-morrow at 2 o'clock be deferred until to-morrow.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Resolved, That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motion upon Tuesdays, Government Orders having priority, and that Government Orders have priority upon Wednesdays.—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

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