HC Deb 04 April 1879 vol 245 cc369-74

asked what time the House would meet on Tuesday?


I do not think it is very clear that we shall require to sit on Tuesday. My own proposal is that the House should rise on Monday. I think it would be the most convenient course that we should do as we have done on former occasions, and that I should make the Motion at the end of Monday's Business. This I shall do if we pass the second reading of the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill.


said, he had not put his Question because he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have been disposed to volunteer a statement on the subject. Since, however, the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the matter, the House might allow him to ask, Whether it was not contrary to all ordinary practice to move an adjournment for Holidays at the end of a Sitting? Such a Motion was usually made at the beginning of a Sitting. It was now all the more necessary that this practice should be adhered to, because of the Motion the Government had got passed in regard to the taking of Supply on Monday. He himself had supported this Motion; but it became doubly important that independent Members should not give up any of the other facilities they at present had for raising discussions. He wished to explain why he pressed this point. At the beginning of the Session the Prime Minister, in "another place," stated that the object of the Afghan War was accomplished; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in this House, stated that they had then reached a point beyond which they would not want to go.


I wish to point out to the hon. Member that he is going beyond the limits of a Question.


said, he hoped the House would excuse him for a moment, and to put himself in Order he would conclude with a Motion. The right hon. Gentleman further said, in answer to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, that Her Majesty's Government would soon be in a position to make a statement with regard to their Afghan policy. Nearly two months had elapsed since that time, and no such statement had been made. Rumours every day were reaching the country that a new and most important departure was about to be taken—a departure which, in the present position of Indian finances, might bring ruin upon her, and which certainly would involve most serious consequences. Under those circumstances, he was sure that the House would not think it unreasonable if, as an independent Member, he pressed the Government to name some time—he did not care whether it was this week or the week after—when they would be prepared to make their promised explanation of their Afghan policy. If they were prepared to say that they would do so soon after Easter, and they would meanwhile give an undertaking that no 'new departure would be taken, he should be satisfied, and he should be delighted not to have to trouble the House by bringing forward the Motion himself. Otherwise, he trusted the independent Members would offer their opposition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's suggestion to deprive them of the opportunity of bringing forward questions on the Motion to adjourn for the Easter Recess. It would be an idle farce and a waste of time for him to raise the question when the Motion for adjournment was made at the close of Monday's Sitting. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.

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


I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that it was very far from my intention to make any proposal that would exclude him or any other Member from raising any discussion he may wish upon the Motion for adjournment for the Holidays. I stated a few days ago that we should rise on Tuesday; but, subsequently, I had reason to believe that no Business would be taken on Tuesday, and that there was a disposition to promote the passing of the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill on Monday evening. Under these circumstances, it was my intention to have moved the adjournment on Monday; and I should naturally have done so at half-past 4 o'clock had I not received communications from certain Members—and among them one from the hon. Gentleman—that there were questions which they wished to raise on the Motion for the adjournment. If these questions were raised at half-past 4 they might easily run into a discussion, which would render the passing of the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill on that day impossible. I found, therefore, that I should be under the necessity of asking the House to sit on Tuesday, for the purpose of enabling hon. Members to bring forward their Motions, and I am still ready to fulfil that pledge. If, however, I should understand that it is not necessary to do so, I shall propose the adjournment at the end of the Business on Monday, as was done in 1870 and 1875. All will depend upon the character of the Notices that are given of questions to be brought forward on the Motion for the adjournment. With regard to the point on which the hon. Member has made a few observations, I wish to say this—when my noble Friend and myself made those statements to which the hon. Member refers, at the beginning of the Session, we stated that which was entirely our opinion. That was, that the Forces having advanced to the points at which they had arrived had attained practically the objects of the expedition. Subsequently to that there have been negotiations going on—I may remind the House of the death of Shere Ali, and the accession of Yakoob Khan—and those negotiations are still going on between the British Government and Yakoob Khan. There have been reports in the newspapers that those negotia- tions have been broken off, and that an immediate advance to Cabul was intended. I stated the other day—and I now repeat—that they are not broken off; on the contrary, they are actively proceeding; and, according to information we have received to-day, proposals of a very definite character are under discussion. Though we are not able to make these things move as fast as we could wish, I see no reason to suppose that they are not making material progress. Under these circumstances, there is no possibility whatever of our being called upon—at all events at present—to depart from the position which we have taken up. It is quite impossible for me on the part of the Government to enter into any details as to any movements which might be demanded by military exigencies, or to make that sort of engagement which would hamper us in the negotiations that are proceeding. But I say again that the negotiations are going on, and that they are by no means in an inactive state, and we are at this moment expecting further communications on the subject. I can conceive nothing more improbable than that there should be any departure from our present policy before the re-assembling of Parliament. Of course, we should be most anxious to take the earliest possible opportunity to make a full statement to the House on the subject; but I must leave the matter there. It is also to be distinctly understood that we have arranged with the Viceroy that no movement of any kind upon Cabul should take place without the most distinct orders from the Home Government. Under these circumstances, I would suggest what I think would be most for the convenience of the House—namely, that we should be allowed to make the Motion for the adjournment for the Holidays on Monday evening; but if there is any wish that there should be a discussion upon that Motion, I shall be quite willing to propose that there should be a Morning Sitting on Tuesday.


said, he had no desire to controvert anything which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, because it was no doubt true that negotiations were going on; but they might go on indefinitely, and he very much feared that they might go on for a very long time yet. Meanwhile, however, something else was going on. Almost every day they heard of engagements in which 200 or 300 persons were killed, and yesterday they had heard of a very serious accident which had occurred to the 10th Hussars. He thought, therefore, when these things were continually going on, it was only right that the House should be in a position to discuss this question, even although the negotiations were in progress.


said, he felt that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though perfectly fair in itself, placed him in a somewhat responsible position. He could not, however, forget the misunderstanding—not to call it by any other name—which took place last Easter. The House then separated with an assurance, as Members thought, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that nothing unusual was going to happen; and yet they scarcely got 50 miles away from London when there occurred an event which all regarded as being of first importance. But he did not like to be constantly harping on the past. He was willing to say—"Let bygones be bygones." It was, however, extremely difficult for a private Member to take upon himself the responsibility of raising such a discussion as he wished to raise. He accepted the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he considered it of the most extreme improbability that anything like a new departure from the present policy should occur before the re-assembling of the House after the Easter Recess. He also accepted the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he would take the greatest possible pains that nothing should be done by the Viceroy without communication with the Home Government, and that if there should be any departure of policy the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, at the earliest possible moment, consult the opinion of the House. Under these circumstances, he could not incur the responsibility of raising a discussion. Of course, he was not speaking for the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), whose Motion with regard to Afghanistan said nothing about the future, but simply referred to the present. He (Mr. Fawcett) begged to give Notice that he should not raise the discussion which he had intended to raise.


Probably it could not be avoided; but still I think the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has placed my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney in a position of somewhat greater responsibility than it is desirable should be cast upon a private Member. I think, however, my hon. Friend has exorcised a wise discretion in the course he has just announced his intention of taking. I think the statement he has elicited from the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a very strong one indeed, and contains an assurance as strong as, under present circumstances, it is possible for the House to expect from the Government. It is, of course, not possible for the Government here to promise that military movements will not take place in Afghanistan which may be rendered necessary by circumstances arising there; but I do understand we have now from the Government a distinct promise that it is not their intention during the Recess to take any new departure in the policy of the Afghan War; and that they are not aware of any circumstances likely to render such a now departure necessary or probable. Under all the circumstances, and having got the assurance—an assurance which we hold from them from the earliest days of the Session—that as early an opportunity as possible will be taken of explaining their views with regard to Afghanistan, I think, until the Government are in a position to make that statement, we are hardly in a position satisfactorily to debate the question. I understand that the Government do not corroborate the report which appeared in the newspapers that an advance upon Cabul has been resolved upon; and, as far as I am able to judge, we shall be in at least as good, if not in a better, position to discuss this question when we re-assemble in Parliament after Easter, as we should be on Monday next.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.