HC Deb 30 May 1878 vol 240 cc933-7

said, although he considered it inconvenient, he did not wish to raise any objection to a Vote being taken on account; but he must protest against the tone in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken with respect to the delay which had been occasioned by the discussions on the Votes in Committee of Supply. It could not be denied that there had been some obstruction, but the greater part of the discussions, so far as he had heard them, were, he believed, really bonâ fide, and many of the criticisms of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) were, in his opinion, very able and very much to the point. The Estimates were assuming enormous proportions, and it was, he maintained, essential to the public interests; that they should be fully discussed, in order that it might be seen whether the charge on the public could not be reduced; and with the view to secure that object, as well as to afford the Government reasonable facilities for the conduct of the Business of the House, he thought it might be well to appoint a Select Committee in the early part of each Session, to which the Estimates should be referred, and which should make a Report to the Committee of Supply on each class as it came up.


said, he might not be out of Order in referring to the reply the Chancellor of the Exchequer was good enough to give to the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) in regard to the Irish University Bill and the proposed Morning Sitting. On Tuesday last, he had ventured to predict that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer took a Morning Sitting he would get no Supply. His reason for that was that the Irish Estimates were the next Business, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been permitted to make considerable progress in Supply, these Estimates would have given rise to considerable discussion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had now skipped over these Irish Estimates and put down Class III., in which he felt very little interest, until the 14th Vote, relating to "Convict Establishments," was reached. It happened, therefore, that by the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so far as he was concerned, he should be able to facilitate the obtaining of Supply without any sacrifice of what he considered his duty. As regarded the general question of the impediments offered to the Government in the way of obtaining Supply, it had unfortunately happened that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had so frequently expressed his opinion on the conduct of Members who had criticized—he would not say opposed—the Votes in Supply, had been almost invariably absent from the House when the discussions on Supply were taken. The right hon. Gentleman must, therefore, have formed his opinions on the conduct of hon. Members on the reports—more or less vague—which had reached him from hon. Members who might have been equally ill-informed with himself. On one or two occasions in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer entered the House when Votes in Supply were being considered, they had been engaged in an unfortunate squabble of a personal character, which had been in every case created by some English Member who had not been present during the evening, and who, thinking that the time of the House was being wasted, got up in a flurry, and made charges of a disagreeable kind. That was the experience from which the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke, when he talked of the way in which Supply had been dealt with. He would submit to the right hon. Gentleman, as a fair-minded man, that if he wished to constitute himself a judge of others, he should, at least, sit in the House while Supply was being taken. If he could not, why should he speak in this rash way of the conduct of Members who had been in the House all the time that Supply was being taken? By far the greater amount of time in these cases was wasted in unseemly personal squabbles. ["Order!"]


The observations of the hon. Member, imputing misconduct to hon. Members of the House, and stating that personal squabbles are carried on in this House, which are not corrected, are unbecoming, and I must call upon the hon. Member to be more careful in his expressions.


But they certainly seemed to me to be personal squabbles.


If personal squabbles occur in this House, it is the duty of the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, to call to Order Members who are guilty of them. The hon. Member is not entitled to say that personal squabbles occur without their being corrected.


replied, that he did not say that personal squabbles occurred without their being corrected. On the contrary, the Chairman had very frequently corrected these things. He ventured to suggest to the hon. Baronet the Secretary to the Treasury at the commencement of the discussion of the Civil Service Estimates what the effect would be if that discussion which it was the duty of hon. Members to give them was even attempted, and his predictions had been verified. At the present moment, hon. Members who ventured to discuss the items of the Estimates were liable to an amount of ill-feeling which required more than ordinary courage to encounter. He would suggest that before next Session the hon. Baronet should consider the desirability of referring the whole of these Estimates to a Committee upstairs; and he believed, if a Committee had the opportunity of going through the items calmly and without heat, and calling the heads of Departments and others before them, they might reduce the Estimates by £5,000,000, or even £10,000,000, without any detriment to the public service; but, on the contrary, to its decided advantage. On the question why he, an Irish Member, should remain in the House and discuss Scotch and English Estimates, he might say that for some time he had confined his exertions to supporting measures promoted for the benefit of Ireland, which were, however, voted down by large majorities of English and Scotch Members, who frequently had not even listened to the arguments that had been used. He saw, then, that he was simply wasting his time, and he accordingly turned his attention to the Estimates, and endeavoured to check extravagance and stop sinecures, in the hope that he might in this way do some small good to those who paid taxes in Ireland. He was very well satisfied with the results that had attended his exertions since he had been in the House. He was sorry that the House had appeared, from time to time, to misapprehend his intentions and desires; but he was perfectly willing to live down the misapprehensions of the House of Commons, and he believed that it would some day admit that it had misunderstood him.


Sir, I am sure the House must feel very sorry to hear that the hon. Member considers himself a personne incompris, and that the services he has rendered to us have not been appreciated. I am certain that the general feeling of the House will be not to raise any personal discussion. What we meet for here is to discharge the Business of the country, not to discuss the merits of individual Members, or whether their action is or is not justifiable. I venture to apologize to the House for my own absence occasionally when the House was in Committee of Supply. I try to be here as much as I can. All that I have seen of the conduct of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury convinces those who have been here that he is perfectly competent for the work. I venture to request that the House will be good enough to abstain from unnecessary digressions upon questions of a personal character, and that, as we seem to be tolerably agreed, the course suggested will be pursued. I have to thank my hon. Friends here, and on the opposite side, who did not persevere with Motions of which they had given Notice on going into Committee of Supply. At the same time, in the remarks I made, I did not all wish to intimate any objection to the hon. Members taking the proper and usual privilege which belongs to Members of this House to raise questions upon going into Committee of Supply. I expressed a hope that, in whatever discussions occur before going into Committee of Supply, there would be some consideration for the general conduct of Public Business. If a large proportion of the time is spent in discussing one or two items, that may render it impossible to discuss other items which may be of greater or equal importance. The hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) spoke of the inconvenience of taking Votes on account, and he said that Votes on which discussions ought to be held are brought on late in the Session, and that discussion could not then arise. If a great deal of discussion occurs, we are driven to that necessity. With regard to the suggestion that the matter should be referred to a Select Committee, I will merely say that that is a large subject which I will not discuss at the present moment. I hope the House will not allow itself on this occasion, and without due preparation, to be led off into a discussion on such a large and important question as that. I hope I have said nothing which can give occasion for a continuation of anything like a personal discussion. We have one object in view—namely, to proceed with the Public Business, and I hope it will be the general feeling of the House that we should now proceed with it.


Sir, it does not appear to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in any way responsible for the discussion which has just been raised. I did not understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answering a Question which was put to him at an earlier period of the evening, to make any reflection whatever on the conduct of any Member of the House. All I understood him to do was to point out that, although there had been a considerable number of Sittings, very small progress had been made in voting Supply, and this made him propose a course which he admitted under ordinary circumstances would have been objectionable. For my own part, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could have done otherwise than he has done. I hope that the advice given by the right hon. Gentleman may be accepted, and that the House will see that an undue amount of discussion on a limited number of Votes must inevitably, in the end, have the effect of hindering a fair and full discussion of the great body of the Estimates. Therefore, I trust we may be able to proceed without any unnecessary delay.


hoped the House would guard itself against running from one extreme to another. Money should not be voted away without seeing to its application. It was not a dignified course for the Government to say that they were at a standstill, and could not get along. They ought to adopt some means to enable them to do their Business, and there were various ways in which they could improve the present state of things, without interfering with a due amount of fair criticism, if they took the trouble to do so.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," agreed to.