§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
asked, What would be the Business taken on Satur-and on Monday; and, when the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill would be proceeded with?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the Government were anxious to proceed with the Bill as soon as possible; but they were obliged to take the Public Works Loans Bill first. That would stand as the First Order on Saturday, and the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill would be taken as soon as conveniently might be.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he rose to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and, to put himself in Order, he would conclude with a Motion if necessary. He wanted to call attention to the state of the Older Paper. There were no less than 36 Orders of the Day—Government Orders—downforthat night, and almost the whole of them were in reference to matters which were still contested. Certainly, it was a serious inconvenience to many lion. Members of that House, that they should be brought down there lest any of those Bills should be brought on, as to the passing of which there could be no longer the slightest chance in the present Session. He did think it was not too much to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to clear the Paper a little, in order that some of them might be able to leave earlier than they would be able to do otherwise. Of those 36 Bills, four of them had not even reached the second 400 reading. They knew that, from time to time, the Government was bringing in new Bills, and Bills of considerable importance, which they hoped to be able to pass the present Session. For instance, there was an Amendment to the Artizans' Dwellings Bill, which was really very important, and which required consideration. Now, he did not say anything as to the Bills which were waiting in Committee; but he would say a word or two about one Bill which was awaiting its second reading, and that was the Public Works Loans Bill, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced he would take as the First Order on Saturday next. He begged to point out to the House that this was a Bill of the most important character. It affected something like 60 Acts of Parliament—materially affected them; for, in some cases, it amounted to a practical repeal of legislation. The proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were hotly contested, and he asked if it was possible that a Bill of that kind could be passed at this late period of the Session? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken a most unusual course. He had attached the contentious clauses of the Bill to an ordinary Money Bill, and to the latter part there was not the slightest objection whatever. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that he must get his money; but there was not the slightest objection to him getting his money, provided he removed the objectionable clauses. Now, he was quite sure that, even if it were possible that a Bill of this kind could be carried this Session, it was not right to the House that it should be passed. It was a subject of the greatest possible importance, which ought to have been brought on earlier in the Session, and if it had been brought on earlier in the Session, and the House were in favour of it, of course he should be prepared to accept the decision of the majority; but he was not prepared to accept the decision of a majority now, at the present period of the Session, upon a matter which affected, really to a great extent, the whole of our local government. The appeal he wanted to make was, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might relieve the Order Paper of some of those 36 Orders, and particularly with regard to this Public Works Loans Bill, considering the lateness of 401 the Session. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might abandon the clauses to which he had referred, leaving the whole matter for consideration, when it could be fully discussed in another Session. If the Bill were taken on Saturday, it appeared to him that opposition to the limits of obstruction would be perfectly justifiable. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
, in seconding the Motion, said, they had had the "massacre of the innocents" for the year, and what was asked for now was the massacre of the guilty—those Bills which had no chance of passing. There were eight or ton legal Bills on the Paper, some of which had not even reached the stage of a second reading. He called particular attention to the Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Bill, which the Government had suddenly brought forward, and intended to renew for three years, in order to tide over the General Election before dealing with the question. He considered such a proposition simply monstrous. Any important measure passed now in a House of 60 Members, at the fag-end of the Session, would not command the respect of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Chamberlain.)
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID
complained of the delay in the presentation of Papers on Egyptian affairs. This delay he attributed to the difficulties the Government thought they might be placed in by the questions that would be founded upon the documents he referred to. He appealed to the Government to give some opportunity for discussing Egyptian affairs, and the deposition of the Rhedive, observing that they would otherwise be considered to have deliberately shirked discussion because they could give no satisfactory explanation of their conduct. It was quite time that the constant interference of Her Majesty's Government in the affairs of small and weak countries should be put a stop to. If the question was not brought forward and properly discussed before the Session was closed, the Government would have disregarded the pledge which they themselves had previously given on the subject. The matter had been treated much too 402 lightly by the Government. [Cries of "Agreed!"] He was glad to find that observation carried conviction even to the prejudiced minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He also pointed out that there were several Bills which might be conveniently removed from the Notice Paper.
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
said, that the Public Works Loans Bill could not possibly be passed in its entirety in the few remaining days of the Session. At the same time, it was absolutely necessary that the money part of the Bill should be passed this Session, to enable the Commissioners to fulfil the engagements into which they had entered. He advised the Chancellor of the Exchequer to limit the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill to its two first clauses, which were really the only part of it that was asked for, and there would then be no objection to its passing on that side of the House.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
urged the withdrawal of the Bankruptcy Bill, and trusted that the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill would only be passed in its simplest form. This period of the Session was not the time to legislate in a crude and inconsiderate manner on such an important subject as Bankruptcy.
§ MR. HEYGATE
declared that if the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill were limited to the two first clauses, as suggested by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Thomson Hankey), it would not be sufficient to give the relief that was required, and would not, in fact, meet one-half of the case. The great majority of unlimited joint-stock banks were not in a position to avail themselves of any Act to limit their liability, by reason of the fact that too large a proportion of their capital was called up, and enough uncalled capital was not left to afford a sufficient security to their depositors. Consequently, some such clauses as those contained in the Government Bill, for providing reserved liability were absolutely indispensable. He earnestly hoped the Government would adhere to their proposals as far as those points were concerned.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
thought it would be dangerous to pass, in regard to Bankruptcy Law, what he might describe as an explaining Bill this Session, with a promise of a consolidating Bill 403 in next Session. Such an Act as he had referred to would be simply an unsettling, rather than an explaining Act. As the Bill now stood, there were no less than nine pages of Amendments to it, some of them of the most important character; and as the Long Vacation had commenced, it could not be expected that the legal Members would remain in the House to discuss it.
§ MR. ANDERSON
thought the House had not been fairly treated with regard to the Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Bill. That hon. Members took a very great interest in that measure was shown by the fact that there were four or five pages of Amendments on the Paper, and they were asked to shelve the question entirely for three years. He thought that was not a right course to take with the House. They had been promised that Bill over and over again, and now, at the end of the Session, Members were asked to give up their opposition to it. He himself was asked by the Government to take off his block, in order that this important Bill might be brought on at any hour, and rushed through the House, not in its present form, but as a Continuation Bill for three years, thus shelving the question of any amendment of the present law by the present Parliament. He thought that was going too far. The answer he gave was, that he would be very happy to take off the block if the Government would continue the Bill only for one year, and promise them a Bill again next year. He thought the House might be content with that arrangement, seeing that within a reasonable time it would have a chance of discussing this important matter.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he was not at all surprised at the complaints made by hon. Members who had addressed the House of the state of Business which the Order Book represented. On the contrary, he was convinced that these complaints were well founded. By far the greater part of the Bills introduced at the commencement of the Session were about to be thrust out at the end of it; while a complete uncertainty reigned as to which of their measures Her Majesty's Government would now press upon an exhausted House at the end of a weary Session. He hoped that the House would allow him to represent, but with 404 all possible respect for the House itself, that unless measures were adopted to secure time for the due consideration of important measures early in each Session, and. during the body of the Session, it was impossible that these measures should be considered by full Houses, while the energy of hon. Members were unexhausted. Experience had proved that there was no insurmountable difficulty in attaining that object, but much depended on the manner in which the House was led; and after what had occurred during the present and the two last Sessions, to which he would not further refer, it was manifest that, unless adequate measures were adopted for securing regularity and a reasonable expedition in the proceedings of the House, the House would always, at the close of each Session, when exhausted, find itself in the state of incumbrance and uncertainty which at present prevailed.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
admitted that the block of Business this year was unusually great, and he was anxious, as far as possible, to diminish the pressure upon the time of the House. At the same time, he thought there was great force in the remark of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), that if the time of the House in the early part of the Session was taken up in lengthened discussions, it was really impossible to get on with the Business as rapidly as they could wish; and when they were met by two practices which now prevailed—one of putting a block against every Bill, so as to prevent its being brought on at a late hour, and the other of asking for pledges that particular Bills should be brought on as a First Order on some day or other—it was impossible to avoid the difficulty in which they now found themselves. There were a great many Bills on the Paper which had marks against them, which, if persevered in, would render it impossible to proceed with them; but, as regarded some of them, he thought that hon. Members might be disposed to remove their objections, when they might pass—such, for instance, as the Chartered Banks (Colonial) Bill, as to which he did not feel at all sure, when it was understood there would be some strong objection to it; but, with regard to other measures, he thought the Government must come to a 405 conclusion, especially as to the Bankruptcy Bill. They regretted exceedingly that that Bill, which was prepared with great care by the hon. and learned Attorney General, could not, owing to the pressure of other Business, be brought on at a time when it could be fully and satisfactorily discussed; but after what had fallen from the hon. Member for Sheffield, who took the subject up in a practical way, and who spoke in the interests of the mercantile community, he could not but acknowledge that it was desirable and necessary to lay the Bill aside. There might be one or two other Bills in the same connection which, perhaps, might also go, but he would rather not name them at present. With regard to the Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Bill, it was, no doubt, promised last year that it should not be continued again, and that the annual continuance Bill should be brought forward this year, early in the Session, in a shape which would be more or less complete. This Bill had been brought forward, and it had been on the Notice Paper. There did not seem to be, certainly, the same reasons for pressing it forward as some hon. Gentlemen had suspected; but the Government was anxious that this should have been passed in the course of this Session. However, they found themselves so late in the Session that it was impossible to expect a full discussion of the important questions raised by the Bill. As the measure must be continued in some shape or other, he would propose to re-commit the Bill pro formâ, and cut it down, making it simply a continuance Bill. It would be proposed, however, to make it a continuance Bill for a single year, and it would be proposed to make a change in the law to this effect—that the trial of Election Petitions shall be before two Judges, instead of one. That change, he believed, might be made if they continued the Bill only for a single year. He thought there need be no delay in getting through the Bill as it would now be submitted to the House. As to other Bills, he should carefully go through the Order Book and see the Bills he could take off. He was very anxious to proceed with the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill, and he thought it was desired by the mercantile community. His hon. Friend the Member for 406 Peterborough (Mr. Hankey) suggested that the Bill should be cut down to the first two clauses. When the Bill got into Committee, it would be seen whether that course was thought satisfactory or not; he considered, from what had reached him, there would be two opinions on that question. He believed that, when they got into Committee, it would be found that the difficulties were not nearly so great as was supposed. Then there was the Public Works Loans Bill; and with regard to what had been said on that subject, he must say he did not think the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was the Member of that House who had a special and particular right to make an appeal. The Bill was one of ver}' great importance. It dealt with a matter to which he had, more than a year ago, called attention in a Budget speech. A question of considerable financial importance was involved, and it was a question on which the House ought to have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion. With regard to the fact that the Bill stood on the Paper so late in the Session, he must remind the House what had happened with regard to it. At the request of the hon. Member for Birmingham, he gave a promise, early in the Session, that the Bill should not be brought forward except as the first Order of the Day. A small technical error happened in the way the Bill was originally delivered. He never had the slightest hint that there was such an error as would impede the progress of the Bill, although that fact was perfectly well known to the hon. Member for Birmingham at an early period.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, it was perfectly well known to him that there was an irregularity in the Bill; but it was not known to him that it was not also known to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Then he was supposed to have allowed that Bill to remain on the Order Book for several months, knowing well that there was this irregularity in it, knowing, at the same time, that whenever the Bill came on, the hon. Member for Birmingham would be able to take advantage of it. The Bill was brought forward as the First Order of the Day on Wednesday fortnight, for the purpose of 407 fair discussion, and the irregularity was immediately pleaded, and he was obliged to put the Bill off. In these circumstances, he felt bound, in point of honour, not to break the pledge given earlier in the Session—that a Bill of this importance, which really would not take a very long time to discuss, should be brought forward. He was now asked to drop it. All he could say was—"I won't." He was exceedingly sorry to take any course that would be inconvenient to the House; but this was a matter in which personal honour was concerned, and it would be absolutely necessary to take some steps by which the judgment of the House would be taken on this Bill. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for Rochester (Sir Julian Goldsmid), he hoped there would be an opportunity found for the discussion of Egyptian questions. The hon. Baronet was in error in supposing that the Papers had been deliberately kept back. They were now nearly ready; indeed, he was surprised they had not been delivered already; and he hoped there would be time for a discussion of a question which the Government were most anxious to have discussed.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought that, considering all the difficulties of the case, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had treated the House very fairly; but he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), that this would be a lesson to them in future Sessions, to consider at the beginning how more effectively to carry on the Business. They had questions of this kind raised at the close of every Session; but he never knew an occasion when there was so much reason for them as now. He was glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that the Bankruptcy Bill could not be proceeded with and that the Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Bill would not pass without an important addition. The Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill, he quite agreed, they would have to consider; and as to the National School Teachers (Ireland) Bill, he thought it was evident that would give rise to a good deal of discussion. As to the Public Works Loans Bill, on which, on Saturday next, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must expect some discussion, he wished to say he was not aware of the irregularity until the day 408 it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Birmingham. He was rather surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not aware of the irregularity.
§ THR CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he wished to explain. What happened was this. When the Bill was brought in, he accidentally gave a wrong copy into the office. It was not sent to the Treasury, as usual, to be revised before being distributed; but as soon as he was aware that it was a wrong copy, he sent one of the officers of the Treasury down to the House to know what was the right course, and the officers of the House sent word that if he gave another copy in that would do. He took that course, and he took for granted that this correct copy would take the place of the one delivered by mistake two days before. He never heard a word on the subject again until the hon. Member for Birmingham raised an objection.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, no one thought of charging the Chancellor of the Exchequer with irregularity. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had lightened the Order Book of two important measures, and the House could not expect him to do more on so short a notice. He appealed to him whether, between that day and to-morrow, he could inform the House what other Business he intended to take.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
, referring to the Great Seal Bill, said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General knew perfectly well the terms on which he was ready to take off the Paper the Notice he had given, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman would only communicate to him that he agreed to those terms, the only objection he had to the Bill would be removed. Some remarks had been made as to the difficulty the House had got into in consequence of the little progress made with Public Business this Session. He thought there was a great deal of exaggeration on that subject. People out-of-doors were in the habit of saying that the House had done very little this Session, when they had really done a good deal. The Army Discipline and Regulation Bill was equivalent to three or four considerable Government measures. He had some means of knowing something about that Bill before 409 the commencement of this Session, and he always thought it would take a great deal of time. The number of days that Bill was in Committee did not exceed, or even equal, the number of days occupied in the consideration of the Ballot Bill, which probably had only a third as many clauses as the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. He did not wish an impression to go forth that the House of Commons was less capable, than at any former period, of performing the functions that devolved upon them.
§ MR. RAMSAY
was understood to express regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not acceded to the appeal of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Hankey) in regard to the Banking and Joint Stock Companies Bill. He also explained that his reason for putting down a Notice of opposition to the Chartered Banks (Colonial) Bill was that, not understanding fully the position of these banks, he could not assent to its principle. He disapproved the conduct of the Government with regard to it. It was only introduced on Saturday last, and it was read a second time on Tuesday morning, before the Bill was circulated. That was not a proper way to deal with a measure affecting important principles, of which the House had no cognizance. There was in the Bill nothing to show to the House what its principles were, and what the powers and privileges were which it proposed to grant and continue to the Colonial Chartered Banks. He deprecated such a mode of introducing an important Bill as disrespectful to the House, and calculated to make the public feel that the Public Business was not properly attended to. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to withdraw the Bill. He wished also to refer to the Scotch Poor Law Bill. This measure was introduced for the purpose of providing for Scotland an increased grant in aid of the cost of providing for the medical relief of the poor. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that it was not at all necessary that a Bill should pass through the House to effect the object desired. He offered the suggestion to the Government that the Board of Supervision should be given the sums deemed necessary to put Scotland on a footing with England and Ireland, subject to the condition that it 410 must be distributed according to rules to be laid down by the Government.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, with reference to the Irish Church Act (1869) Amendment Bill, that he had, in consideration for the convenience of hon. Members, made up his mind to withdraw the Bill before the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The real object of the Bill was to give redress to the poorer clergy who were wholly deprived of their incumbencies by the operation of the Church Act of 1869, though that Act did not contemplate such a result. Therefore, the Bill did not propose in any degree to challenge the principles of that Act. At this late period of the Session he was determined to move that the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill be discharged; but he hoped that next Session the Government would aid him in passing the Bill at as early a period as possible.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, that with respect to the Public Works Loans Bill, he might be permitted to say that he exceedingly regretted that the course he and his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had pursued should have given the Chancellor of the Exchequer any annoyance. It was certainly not his, or his hon. Friend's wish that the right hon. Gentleman should have experienced any annoyance. He thought, however, it only right to remind the right hon. Gentleman that a year ago, when the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardineshire (General Sir George Balfour) brought forward his Hypothec Bill, and before the second reading substituted an amended Bill in precisely the same way as had been done in the present instance, objection was immediately taken to the second reading by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, that the Home Secretary acted regarding the Hypothec Bill just as he and his hon. Friend had done respecting the Public Works Loans Bill. They, however, did not wish to have any unpleasant feeling in the matter, and regretted very much to learn that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should imagine that he had any ground of complaint against them. At the present time they would be quite willing to 411 allow the right hon. Gentleman to take the second reading of the Bill as a matter of form, if they were to understand that in Committee those portions of the Bill which were of a contestable nature should not be pressed at this late period of the Session, because although it was perfectly true that the Bill was introduced early in the Session, the right hon. Gentleman had never had an opportunity of placing it on the Paper in a position in which it could fairly be discussed. Therefore, they were entitled to say that if, in the expiring moments of the Session, a Bill was introduced involving matter of that kind, they would be justified in using every endeavour in their power to prevent the Bill passing. In reference to the Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Bill, distinct pledges were given last year by the Government to the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea. Those pledges had not been redeemed; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed that they should be allowed to continue the Bill for another year with slight alteration, the Government undertaking that next year they would deal with the question. He was in a position to say that the hon. Baronet agreed with the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, providing that there would be a repetition so to speak of the pledge given last year. He gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was willing that that should be so; but in order that it might appear in the records of their proceedings, he would ask the Homo Secretary, inasmuch as the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not, according to the rules of debate, speak again, to rise in his place and assure them that the Government would feel themselves under the obligation of dealing with the question early next Session.
§ MR. COURTNEY
felt convinced that if the Parliamentary Elections and Corrupt Practices Bill were extended to England, it would add largely to the expense of the trials and would diminish the efficiency of the Courts. It would be very difficult to spare two Judges in England, but it would not be difficult to provide them in Ireland. He noticed that the Report on the University Education (Ireland) (No. 2) Bill was set down for the First Order to-morrow; but he thought it should not be so taken until after the Bill had been reprinted.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
, said that there never had been any understanding that the University Education (Ireland) (No. 2) Bill should be taken as the First Order. Supply must be concluded before the Bill could be taken. If Supply were closed that evening, the Report of Supply would be taken tomorrow, and then the Bill in question would come on. With reference to the Irish Church Act (1869) Amendment Bill, the hon. Member (Mr. Plunket) had exercised a wise discretion in proposing to discharge the Order for the Second Reading. The subject was, no doubt, of great importance, but the Government did not feel bound to deal with it, as the Bill was intended to redress a grievance for which they were not responsible.
§ MR. MELDON
said, it would be impossible for the House to take the University Education (Ireland) (No. 2) Bill to-morrow, because it had not yet been reprinted.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
hoped the reprinted Bill would be in the hands of hon. Members in time to allow of its being taken at the Evening Sitting.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
, in response to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already signified that it was the intention of the Government to bring forward the subject of corrupt practices early next Session, and he did not know that any further pledge could be given. Although he was aware that the discussion which had taken place was quite natural, he must admit having been astonished at the minute details which had been spoken of by hon. Members, and as almost every Bill in the Order Book had been discussed, he hoped the House would be allowed to proceed with the Business.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that after he had made his statement upon the subject of the Bill on Saturday, it was possible hon. Members would not see much difficulty in the way of its passing.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.