HC Deb 14 July 1879 vol 248 cc314-44

I have now to move:— 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 on Wednesdays.. As I mentioned the other day, this is the same day of the year upon which a similar Order was made last year, and I need not detain the House by pointing out how very much we have still of Business to get through in the few weeks that remain before the natural termination of the Session. I would say that the first Business we have still before us is the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. Hon. Gentlemen are perfectly aware of the position in which that Bill stands in relation to the expiry of the Continuance Act which was passed in April; and I would remind the House that unless we are able to get that Bill through the House in the course of this week very great difficulty and inconvenience will arise. I hope it may be possible to conclude the Committee on the Bill, if not to-night, at all events, to-morrow, and that we may be able to take the Report on Thursday. Well, then, Sir, there are the Estimates, which are considerably in arrear. We have a great number of Votes still to take, including some important and pressing Votes, for which our Votes on Account are running out or have run out; and we shall proceed with these as speedily as we can. Amongst the Estimates there will be one which is not already before the House, but for which hon. Members will be prepared—that is, a Vote of Credit in respect of the War in South Africa. These Estimates will, of course, require some time for discussion. Then we have the two India Loans Bills, which will, no doubt, take a day or two for discussion. Then there is the Public Works Loans Bill. There is a good deal of opposition offered, I am aware, to that measure, which is upon the Table; but whether that measure passes in its entirety or not, it is absolutely necessary that a Bill should pass, because, otherwise, we shall have no funds out of which to make advances to local authorities that are expecting them. The advances last year are nearly exhausted, and the time has come to proceed with the matter. I pass over other minor matters which will take some little time; but the House will see that there is a good deal of urgent Business, and I think that the circumstances justify me in making the request which I now make to the House. There are upon the Order Book a considerable number of important measures. Some of these we had hoped at an earlier period of the Session we should be able to pass; but, from various circumstances which I need not now enter into, including, of course, the length of time which one Bill has occupied, it is obviously impossible that we should proceed with all of them. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General has already stated that we should not attempt to proceed with the Criminal Code Bill. We are very sorry indeed to lose the opportunity of passing so useful a measure this Session; but we hope it will not be the worse for waiting another year. I am sorry to say that the Patents for Inventions Bill is another Bill that we are not able to proceed with, and we must abandon the County Boards Bill, and the Irish Grand Juries Bill, and, as the House has already been informed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth), we shall not be able to proceed with the Rivers Conservancy Bill. I will not attempt at the present moment to make an exhaustive catalogue of Bills that we hope to proceed with; but there are two Bills that are, I think, of general interest, and which it will be desirable, if possible, that we should pass this Session. One is the Banks Bill. I do not know whether it will pass exactly in its present shape; but I hope it will be found possible to pass, at all events, an important portion of it. The other is a Bill which is of very great interest to the mercantile community and the country at large. I mean the Bankruptcy Bill. We hope it will be found possible to pass that Bill. I am aware that we have both the Bankruptcy and the Valuation Bills. It will be exceedingly difficult to get them both through. I will not say whether it will be possible; but, at the present time, we give precedence to the Bankruptcy Bill, and I hope the House will assist us in passing it. I have said I will not attempt to make an exhaustive catalogue of measures now, but I think, if the House will allow us the day's we are now asking for, and if we are assisted in endeavouring fairly to make progress, we may be able to close the Session somewhere about the usual time.

Motion made, and Question proposed' "That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions upon Tuesdays, Government Orders having priority; and that Government Orders have priority upon Wednesdays."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


said, he had listened with attention to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and the reasons which he had given; and he could not but think that he had given the House no sufficient reasons for granting to him those days of private Members which he requested. The demand for Members' days came, in his opinion, with singularly bad grace from a Government which had occupied so much of the time of the House with Bills commanding no assent from either side of the House, and which had occupied a still larger portion of public time by proposals provoking discussion, and which, after discussion, "were either altered altogether or abandoned by the Government. The Government could not ask to be exempt from charges of wasting public time, when it brought in such a Bill as a sham County Boards Bill, which had never a chance of receiving the assent of the House, and which could have been brought in only for the purpose of convincing everybody that Her Majesty's Administration was unwilling, or more probably incapable, of dealing with the problem of county government. Most of the followers of the Government could not utter a word on behalf of the County Boards Bill, which, nevertheless, had occupied a large part of the time of the House. But if he were to go into all the Bills which had been introduced without any apparently serious purpose, he would unjustifiably trench on the time of the House. Not only had the time of the House been uselessly occupied by Government by Bills of the nature of the County Boards Bill, but by discussions provoked by the Government's foreign and colonial policy. How much time had been absolutely wasted by the Government through their inexplicable indecision and their contradictory policy with regard to the administration of Sir Bartle Frere and the strategy of Lord Chelmsford in South Africa? How long had the Government uselessly occupied the time of the House by defending the indefensible proceedings of such officials and generals? How long had they presented an unyielding front, declaring that they would support Sir Bartle Frere and Lord. Chelmsford to the end, and then, after days on days of public time had been wasted, they turned round and gave up the very positions which they had defended so obstinately and with such disadvantage to the Public Service? Was such a Government entitled to demand the surrender of private Members' time? Some five or six days at the outside would be annexed by the Government. Had not a far larger number been wasted in the proceedings to which he referred? Again, in consequence of the extraordinary policy of the Government with regard to Irish University Education, the time of private Members had already been uselessly wasted, because they had been induced to abandon two Wednesdays to the discussion of that question, which ought to have been treated by the Government and approached on official authority, and which, after the two Wednesdays had been wasted, had been so treated and so approached. The whole of these two Wednesdays had been absolutely wasted for utterly incomprehensible reasons. Did the Government base their demand for the surrender of private Members' time on that comic University Bill which had already upset the gravity of the hereditary branch of the Legislature, and which was, doubtless, brought on to afford the humorous Members of the Government opportunities to play with the public time. A more worthy way of meeting any demand for increased time would be met, not by taking away the few remaining opportunities of private Members, but by placing the Public Business in the House in the first place, and then the recreation of Gentlemen who went to shoot in the season. He believed he represented a large body of public opinion in the Three Kingdoms, when he said that if the Business of the House was really so much at heart with the Government, they ought to compass it by lengthening the limits of the Session. He did not presume to interfere with the recreation of hon. Members. Whether hon. Members went to the theatre in the evening, or to the moors in the autumn, that was their business; but he protested against the regular sacrifice of the public convenience to the private convenience of a small section of Members. In saying this, he believed he was speaking the opinions not of tens of thousands, or of hundreds of thousands, but of millions. Hon. Members wished to go and shoot, and the least kind wishes they could offer were that they would shoot with more intelligence than they voted. The Government had wasted days of public time in irrelevant discussions on untenable Colonial policy and upon Bills of a sham character; and he hoped that at least a large minority would go into the Lobby against the utterly unjustifiable request which they now made.


observed, that everyone in the House, and nearly everyone in the country, was dissatisfied with the progress of Public Business in this House. [Ironical cheers.] He was glad he had stated a proposition which had been so universally accepted. Everybody was dissatisfied, and he was himself just as as much dissatisfied as any Member of Her Majesty's Government, or anyone outside the House who complained of obstruction. The delay in Public Business had been attributed by different Parties to different causes. One Party attributed it to the conduct of Public Business and to the character of that authority which held the reins of Government, and it had been said confidentially that the reins of Government in this House had broken in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that in consequence Business had not been expedited. It was his (Mr. O'Connor Power's) good fortune the other day to assure Mr. Speaker of his respect for his position and authority, and he was proud to avail himself of this opportunity of assuring the Chancellor of the Exchequer of equal respect for his position and authority; and if no one else would repel the accusation brought against the right hon. Gentleman, he would undertake, however feebly, to do it himself. He denied point-blank that the delay in Public Business was owing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had had unusual difficulties to contend with. An indefensible policy had been forced upon him by his Colleagues in the Cabinet. He trusted that however long they might be obliged to remain to finish the Business, the Session would not be unusually protracted. He trusted that the remainder of the Business would not be unduly protracted. He thought it was his duty to come down there and urge that the Session should not be unusually prolonged. He had come down to the House prepared to take his leave of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Knowing the Conservative Party to be a grateful Party, he hoped that before the House should meet again after the Prorogation they would reward the services of the right hon. Gentleman by decorating him with a Coronet, and translating him to that Upper Chamber where Obstructives ceased from troubling and where Ministers were at rest. It was said by some critics that the delay in the Business of the House was due to the protracted opposition of certain hon. Members who sat on this side of the House; but he (Mr. O'Connor Power) repudiated that accusation with almost as much earnestness as he did the accusation levelled against the Leader of the House. The delay which was complained of was really to be attributed to our present system of legislation—a system which had been frequently investigated, but for which no adequate remedy had yet been suggested by Her Majesty's Government, or by the numerous Committees which had sat to inquire into the subject. Every year, at this period of the Session, Bills upon which valuable time had been spent, and in connection with which there had been important discussions, were thrown aside; and the House, consequently, had the mortification of seeing that a great deal of its time and labour had been completely fruitless. These circumstances were attributable to the fact that the Paper was each year crowded with a number of Bills for proposed legislation which the House was quite unable to deal with. He suggested, as a remedy, that there should be some division of labour which would enable the Imperial Parliament to devote itself exclusively to Imperial Business, and give local authorities the power to transact local business. The conduct of Business in the House, and the manner in which much of it was shelved year after year, having attracted universal attention, surely the time had come to inquire whether some local machinery could not be set in motion for the transaction of local business, so that the Imperial Parliament might be relieved from the burden of petty concerns. He held that if the English people were not impervious to ridicule, a remedy would long ago have been found for a state of things which left the Government, at the end of every Session, with only one or two paltry or insignificant measures to point to as proofs of the industry of Parliament.


said, he proposed to add a few words to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to accept. The words were as follows:—"Except in the case of Bills which stand for Consideration, as amended, or for Third Reading." Knowing the difficulties that had been in the way of private Members, he was sure the House would not be surprised to hear that only four Bills stood in that position; and the ground on which he would urge the recommendation he had made was that those Bills had been read a second time, their principle had been affirmed, the details had been settled in Committee, and there they remained. But, by the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they would be swept away; and there would be no chance of proceeding further with them. Hon. Members who had had charge of a Private Bill would understand what responsibility they undertook, and they would agree with him, when he said it was hard that when the House had affirmed the principle of a Bill any individual Member could stop it from going on by the application of the Half-past 12 Rule. He thought that Rule should not apply to Bills which had passed through Committee. He had no doubt that the motives of any hon. Member stopping a Bill might be the highest with which man could be actuated. It was also true that he might be actuated by a crochet in which nobody else had any faith; and it seemed very hard, and scarcely respectful to the House, that a Bill of which the principle had been adopted and the clauses adjusted by the House should be stopped by a single hon. Member. If, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree to the proposal which he ventured to make, he did not believe that it would detain the House one day after the usual time of breaking up, and yet it would enable Bills affirmed in principle by the House to proceed to their legitimate end.


Does any hon. Member second the Amendment?


Yes, Sir; second the Amendment, although I did not catch its full import. So far as understand it, it refers to Bills which have been under the consideration of the House, and which could not be considered after half-past 12. But my object in rising was more particularly to point out to the House—


I rise to Order. I wish to ask, Sir, whether it is competent for any Member to second a Motion of which he says he knows nothing?


I did not say I knew nothing about the Amendment. I said I did not comprehend it quite fully; but I understood from hon. Members around me more or less of its import. I rise, however, more particularly to notice the surprise with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the House upon this occasion. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman gave Notice of his intention to make this Motion; but it is one of so serious a character that the House can hardly be expected to pass it without comment.

No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, the Bills which are to be sacrificed. Among them is the Criminal Code (Indictable Offences) Bill; and it is obvious that, as there were no fewer than 280 Amendments on the Paper, it would be impossible to proceed with that measure. I must, however, point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the question which has been raised by an hon. Member opposite, and which, I think, is entitled to grave consideration by the House. I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer has conceded two days for the discussion of important subjects—one to the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), and the other to the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett). One of the Motions refers, I believe, to the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin with respect to Greece, and the other to the water supply of the Metropolis. There is another question, which certainly ought to be discussed before Parliament rises for the Vacation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given Notice that it will be necessary to take a Vote of Credit for the South African War. Now, I look upon that question as one of paramount importance to the House and to the country; and I think the Government ought not to be allowed to bring this Session to a close without the Chancellor of the Exchequer granting to Parliament an opportunity of once again fully discussing that question. It would be very inconvenient, and I should be loth to make a Motion for the adjournment of the House in order to bring that question before Parliament and the country; but I do hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see the necessity of granting to Parliament a day, in order that they may discuss a question which has greatly excited this country, on account of the enormous expenditure it must entail as well as on account of the gross mismanagement with which it has been conducted. Why, it was only in this day's papers I read a sermon, I think it was by Bishop Colenso, in which that worthy man prayed that the last serious occurrence, which everybody deplores, might be a harbinger of peace, and might bring to a close an unjust and unnecessary war, which has already occasioned the loss of the lives of 10,000 persons. I am allowed to discuss this question on the Motion which has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I propose to do so now, in the hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will accord the favour to Parliament and the country of knowing more about this question than we yet do. There is one other question to which I wish particularly to refer, and that is with reference to the recent unhappy event which has prevented me from putting a Notice on the Paper, as I had intended to do. That has reference not only to what is now occurring in South Africa, but also to answers given by the Secretary of State for War on two or three previous occasions during the Session. After the Isandlana disaster there was a Court of Inquiry held. It was supposed to be in secret, and it sent home a Report. We were informed that the authorities at the Horse Guards would consider the question of making known the Report; but, up to this moment, no information has been given to the public with reference to that Court of Inquiry. Then there was a Court of Inquiry held on the subject of the Zlobani Mountain disaster, where a gallant friend of mine, Colonel Weatherley, had his whole corps—99 men out of 100—cut to pieces. I hold in my hand copies of two letters from two officers who were present on that occasion, and also a touching letter from the father of a young officer who was killed, and it is distinctly charged that certain of the men ran away, and refused to support the corps of that gallant officer—Colonel Weatherley—although, if they had supported them, as they were well able to do, the whole of the. corps would have been preserved. A Court of Inquiry was held upon that disaster. We know nothing of the result; it has been kept secret. But Parliament and the country ought to be informed what is the result of Courts of Inquiry when they involve circumstances which appear to trench more or less directly on the military capacity of the men who are engaged in conducting operations. In Afghanistan, a whole squadron of the 10th Hussars was swept away in crossing a river. A Court of Inquiry was held, and the Minister for War, in answer to two Questions addressed to him by a military Gentleman in this House, said, in effect—"You ought to know that Courts of Inquiry are secret, and that their results are not com- municated to Parliament. Therefore, I cannot communicate to the House what is the result of the Court of Inquiry with reference to the loss of that corps of the 10th Hussars." The results of the Courts of Inquiry to which I have just referred have been kept secret from the time of the holding until the present, and I apprehend they will not be communicated to us. But the other day a Court of Inquiry was held in South Africa, which we are told is secret; yet the result of that Court of Inquiry was published at the Cape, and is known in this country. It was given in detail—article after article, charging a gallant officer almost with cowardice in the discharge of his duties. Upon that I offer no opinion; but I wish to point out the injustice of men, of whatever rank, being placed in that position, and being made the scapegoat of offences which, for aught we know, may be due to others. Let us have justice; let every man, however humble in rank he may be, have justice, and let him not be publicly abused unjustly. That Court of Inquiry apparently held its sittings with open doors. It reported against one man, and not against two. Upon that Court of Inquiry a court martial has been held. Upon that court martial the very man who, perhaps, is most to blame in that transaction, Colonel Harrison, sits as a member. I ask—" Is this justice? "Is this the way in which our military affairs are to be conducted? Everyone who reads the history of that military event, which everyone with a heart must deplore, will see that the man who has been sent home to this country under arrest is not the only man, apparently, who is to blame; yet the result of the Court of Inquiry at the Cape has been made public, and everything has been heaped on his head as if he only were guilty; whereas this country, from the beginning to the close of these proceedings, condemns throughout the whole of the transactions the miserably inefficient conduct of the man who has conducted these military operations—Lord Chelmsford. I would not have lost the present opportunity of once again calling attention to this before Sir Garnet Wolseley arrives to stop, I hope, further loss of life, further mismanagement, and a further incapable display of military enthusiasm. I hope that, at all events, this question which I have risen to speak upon will not be lost sight of in the country, and that others here will join with me in endeavouring to point out to the Government how necessary it is that Parliament should have an opportunity of again discussing a question which has so deeply roused the sympathies and feelings of this country. This is the question which I wish to put to the Secretary of State for War, and it is a question which must be answered before we proceed to the discussion of the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. I have opposed that Bill from the beginning, not for the purpose of obstructing the progress of the measure, but because I believe it is fraught with injustice to the soldier. ["Order!"]


The right hon. Gentleman is clearly not in Order in discussing the merits of the Army Discipline Bill now.


I beg pardon of the Chair. I was carried away by my feelings. I had intended putting a Notice on the Paper; but I deferred doing so till this week. I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he will give any explanation as regards these Courts of Inquiry? Concealment, and worse than concealment, has been pursued as regards the Zlobani Mountain disaster, the Isandlana disaster, and also as regards what befell the troops of the 10th Hussars. Why have the results of those inquiries been kept secret, and why, in the case of Captain Carey—for I believe he is a captain now—has the result, as if it were to prejudge the case, been published at the Cape and in all the London papers? On the decision of the court martial, Captain Carey has been condemned and sent home to this country under arrest. This is a question which must be answered; and I again entreat the Government to give a day for a discussion on the War in South Africa. It is a question which goes home to the heart of everybody. It is costing us millions of pounds, and the lives of 10,000 human beings have been lost. The Government gave us assurances that they did not intend to make it a war of aggression, but merely a war of defence; whereas we read in the newspapers that Armies of from 10,000 to 20,000 men are advancing into the enemy's country. Surely those were facts which seemed to be inconsistent with the statement put forth by the Go- vernment. Now that the Government have promised to oblige the hon. Members for Chelsea and Hackney with a day for the discussion of questions in which they are interested, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us an opportunity of discussing a question which is of paramount importance at this moment to the honour and interests of this country.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Question, to add the words "except in the case of Bills which stand for Consideration, as amended, or Third Reading."—(Mr. Vans Agnew.)

Question proposed, "That these words be there added."


This is not the first time, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth has thought it convenient, and, I suppose, in accordance with what he believes to be his duty, to make a sudden, and, to my mind, a somewhat unjustifiable, attack upon the Government. He has attacked, without discrimination, all who are connected with the present unfortunate War in Zululand. I will say nothing as to the appropriateness of the occasion he has selected for his remarks. Only a few minutes ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that before long the House would be called upon to discuss and pass a Vote to meet the expenses of the Zulu War; and the right hon. Gentleman ought to have felt, as we all feel, that the proper occasion for the discussion of the conduct of the war will be when that Vote comes on for discussion. This is not the first occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman has come down and, taking advantage of his privileges, has made an attack on persons in command in South Africa without previous Notice. I hope the House will excuse me if I speak with a little feeling; but for any right hon. Gentleman to come down and discuss, without previous Notice to those who might otherwise have been in the position of defending them, the conduct of officers who have been concerned in the war, and to say that this movement, and that, and the other, had been disastrous and disgraceful, and reflected discredit upon all concerned—I say that, for a right hon. Gentleman to do this, and give no opportunity to those connected with the Service of ascertaining and making clear those facts which would enable a conclusive defence to be offered—that is, in my opinion, a course that is neither convenient to the House nor rightful towards the Public Service. With respect to the alleged concealment in the matter of the Courts of Inquiry to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, all I can. say is that, as far as that charge is thrown out against me, it will lie very lightly, for I have endeavoured upon all occasions to give the fullest and most ample information to the House and the public by such means as I believed most convenient and the most readily at hand. "With respect to Courts of Inquiry, I have stated on various occasions already what, with the leave of the House, I will state again—namely, that it is not the practice, and I do not think it is right or prudent to lay the proceedings of Courts of Inquiry, as such, on the Table of this House. We have had during the progress of the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill through the House a good deal of discussion with regard to these Courts of Inquiry, and I have never hesitated to express my opinion that they were not to be used as criminal courts, but were to be used for the purpose of enabling the responsible officer, through the means of others, to ascertain facts which he could not easily ascertain for himself; that their proceedings were to be looked upon as communications made to him, and that it was to his opinion only I would look. In the case of the Isandlana disaster, a great many facts were ascertained by the Court of Inquiry; and I did depart from the usual course, and did communicate to the House the substance of the facts which the Court had elicited. [Sir ROBERT PEEL: Zlobani.] With respect to that and other cases, I think the House will not expect me, without Notice, to enter upon a defence which, though I have no fear on my own account or that of others, yet, not having all the facts before me, would not be as complete as I should otherwise make it. As to relieving one officer from blame at the expense of another, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, I will observe that no word has ever escaped me in this House which would lead anyone to think that I would allow a particle of blame to be thrown upon anyone with my knowledge until the facts were be- fore me. I have received the same information as other persons about the court martial which sat upon Captain Carey. The evidence is not before me. I have seen the statement that the trial has been held; but I have had no opportunity up to the time when I came down to the House of knowing what the decision of the court martial was, nor have I had any of the facts before me. The proceedings of the court martial Bad not reached the War Office; whether they had reached the Judge Advocate General I do not know. I would once for all deprecate, if the right hon. Gentleman would allow me, this system of making attacks without Notice upon persons whom the Government, from want of Notice, may not be in a position to defend as completely as would otherwise be in their power. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, if he has any other accusations of this kind to bring, will, at all events, do me the courtesy of giving such Notice as will enable me to make a sufficient reply for those in whose defence I am bound to appear.


said, he was very glad that the House was disinclined to take upon itself the command of an Army in the field; but he regretted that, in reference to military matters, and especially those military inquiries, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and other hon. Members who had addressed the House, should have virtually disregarded that which was a Rule of the House—that the House would not by debate interfere in any matter that was brought to trial pendente lite, lest injustice might thence be done. He had not a word to say in defence of any of the officers mentioned; but he did hold that those officers had a right to a fair trial before competent tribunals, and that this House would do well to show, in their cases at least, the same delicacy which it was its wont to observe as to expressing any opinion with respect to the innocence or the guilt of any civilian whose conduct was likely to be brought before any of the Courts. His main purpose, however, in rising on this occasion was merely to express a hope—having heard that a most important educational measure was likely to reach the House at so late a period of the Session—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked independent Members to give up to the Government nearly the whole of the time belonging to them; and if any such measure should raise a wide discussion, and was met with many Amendments, it would not be proceeded with in a thin House during the present Session. [An hon. MEMBER: What measure?] He (Mr. Newdegate) would not be in Order if he were to refer to this measure more distinctly. But h would, however, quote an analogous case. He had seen in the last Session of Parliament a very important educational measure, connected with Ireland, passed in a thin House, when not more than one-fourth, or at the most one-third, of the Members of the House could be assembled; and he hoped that, in the instance he contemplated, Her Majesty's Government would not incur the grave responsibility of taking advantage of the weariness and thinness of the House to pass a measure with Amendments that might be attempted, but which the House, when fully assembled, might not, and, he believed, would not approve. With reference to what had been said on the subject of the conduct of the Business of the House, and as to who were responsible for the delay, of which the whole country was sensible, he would only observe that the causes of that delay could easily be traced by an analysis of the proceedings and debates of the House, and that he could conceive of no subject which more than that would be worthy the early attention of the House in the next Session of Parliament.


said, he did not rise to oppose the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which, indeed, he thought reasonable under the circumstances; but he hoped the Government would give their favourable consideration to the Amendment. He had charge of a measure which had passed several times through second reading, and he continually received letters asking him when the third reading would be taken. He had some difficulty in making his correspondents understand that one Member could, by using—he would not say abusing—the Forms of the House, prevent a measure from passing. He submitted to the House that to accept the Amendment would give effect to the wishes of the House, and the expenditure of a little time now would save a great deal next Session.


had supported the Ancient Monuments Bill throughout, and would do so again; but, even to pass it, nothing would induce him to tamper with the Half-past 12 Rule, which he held to be invaluable, not less with a view to the Business, than to the health of the House.


said, he did not think any time would be gained by taking Tuesdays and Wednesdays if the proposed Amendment were adopted.


took that opportunity of reminding the Chancellor of the Exchequer of his promise to produce the instructions given to Sir Garnet Wolseley. Now that he had arrived in South Africa, there should be no further delay in laying them on the Table. It was of great importance, as the House was about to adjourn in two or three weeks, that they should know whether the country was on the verge of a prolonged war. He observed from the latest information that the Army in South Africa was steadily advancing; and it was, therefore, most necessary they should know what really were the instructions which had been given to Sir Garnet Wolseley. He should also like to know whether the Government seriously intended to introduce to the notice of this House the famous University Bill, of which they had heard something "elsewhere?" If they did, he thought they would be like the sailor who cut off a few inches from the top of his blanket and sewed them on at the bottom. A great deal had been said about obstruction; but there was one serious form of obstruction to which sufficient attention had not been drawn, and that was the manner in which certain hon. Members availed themselves of the Half-past 12 o'clock Rule, in violation of the universal sentiments of the House, to stop the further progress of Business. The other day he asked for a Return with regard to the state of public business in Dublin, which he believed the Government were prepared to grant. He had seen sworn affidavits that in certain offices suitors had to wait for three or four years for a return of their accounts in Chancery. He had, however, no sooner put his Notice on the Paper than a Member on the Government side of the House put a blocking Notice against it, and thus the public of Ireland were precluded from getting information which they had a right to receive. Again, last Friday he asked for a Return as to the arrests for drunkenness on Saturday in Dublin. The information existed in Dublin, and he believed the Government would have allowed its production, because it was not a matter calling for the expression of any opinion; but it was simply asking for public statistics, which would show their own tale. A Government supporter, however, had availed himself of this vicious system of obstruction, and had placed a Motion on the Paper opposing the granting of the Return after half-past 12 o'clock.


Sir, it is probably convenient that considerable latitude should be given to a discussion of this character; but I must say that some of the subjects introduced, especially in the speech of my right hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment, appeared to me some what irrelevant. I must say I could see no connection between his speech and the Amendment relating to the third reading of Bills which had reached that stage. But, no doubt, my right hon. Friend saw some connection, which he was unable fully to explain to the House.


Does the noble Lord say I cannot explain the connection? [" Order !"] I beg to explain the connection I saw. The Chancellor of the Exchequer opened the full ground of discussion on the questions that were to come before us, and I took the liberty of calling the attention of the House to one which I thought important.


The speech of my right hon. Friend may have been a protest against the Motion; but, as a matter of fact, he did not speak on that Motion. He seconded the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wigtownshire, which had reference to the third reading of the Bills which had reached that stage. Whether it was appropriate or not, it is to be regretted that a question of the kind he brought forward should have been introduced, as the Secretary of State for War complained, without Notice. My right hon. Friend complained that the proceedings of certain Courts of Inquiry had not been laid on the Table; and he also made some very strong comments on the mode in which military operations had been conducted in South Africa. Now, as to Courts of Inquiry, I have not observed that my right hon. Friend has placed any Notice on the Paper for the production of Papers relating to Courts of Inquiry which he desires to see, and if he wishes to call in question the conduct of military operations in South Africa he will have an ample opportunity of doing so when the Vote of Credit is proposed. My right hon. Friend is really the most irregular Member in the House.


I rise to Order, Sir. I wish to know, Sir, whether those words are Parliamentary in the spirit in which they were uttered, and whether it is justifiable for the noble Marquess to apply them to a Member of this House?


The noble Lord has made no observation which calls on me to interpose.


If I have said anything offensive to the right hon. Baronet I should wish to withdraw it. I will withdraw the observation that my right hon. Friend is irregular, and I will say that his conduct is extremely irregular. My right hon. Friend seems to think we are here, not for the purpose of doing any Business, or even for the purpose of formally discussing the Motion on the Paper, but simply for the purpose of hearing eloquent speeches from him at the time and season he considers it most convenient to deliver them. I do not want to go further into the discussion of the subject which has been raised. I would only say, with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), and the speech of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), that they appear to me to raise some very important questions for the consideration of the House, although they did not do so at any unnecessary length. I have said, in the course of discussions in the present Session, that much of the delay in the progress of Public Business is owing, undoubtedly, to the fact that this House undertakes to do a great deal more Business than it is possible for it to do. I have expressed the opinion that until the House very seriously considers the manner in which it conducts its Business, and is willing to undertake a much greater control over the Business which, comes before it, we shall find this a constantly increasing evil. As to the observation of the hon. Member for Mayo, that a remedy may be found in allowing Local Bodies to transact more of their own local affairs than they do now, I do not think there is any very great difference between him and the House upon the subject. We should all be willing to entertain any reasonably conceived proposal to transfer some Business from this overworked House to Local Bodies. There may be a difference of opinion when we come to consider what those local affairs are, and what the Local Bodies which are to transact them may be. It seems to me this House would be willing to give a full and favourable consideration to that subject whenever it may be brought forward. The immediate object with which I rose was to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to let us have a clear understanding as to the engagement he gave the other night about the Motion of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) about the Berlin Treaty. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be willing, in present circumstances, to give the 22nd of July, for which the Motion now stands in the Notice Paper; but it would be as well the understanding should be made clear, and also that it should be understood whether the Motion stands for the Day Sitting, or only for the Evening Sitting after 9 o'clock. I would even express a hope that the Government would see their way to giving the whole day to the discussion—a course which, in the end, would probably be the most convenient to them, as the subject is a large one; and if the debate were commenced at 9 o'clock a Motion for adjournment could hardly be resisted, and would involve the loss of another day; whereas, if the whole day were given, the subject would probably be disposed of at one Sitting.


quite agreed with what had fallen from the noble Marquess, that much time would be saved if hon. Members would confine their observations to the subject immediately under discussion. But it was not to be wondered at that when the Government sought to secure all the available time of the House except Friday evenings and the occasions when Supplementary Estimates would be submitted, individual Members interested in particular subjects should take the opportunity of offering some remarks on the position in which they were placed. It depended on the arrival of despatches from South Africa when the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to submit Supplementary Estimates; but, no doubt, he would take the earliest opportunity consistent with the demands of other urgent Business. As to the court martial, it appeared to be possible that the subject might pass out of public ken and discussion before there would be an opportunity of saying a word on the subject in the House. The proceedings might be submitted to Her Majesty for confirmation before anybody in the House had the opportunity of asking a question upon them. He did not wish to prejudge anything; but if the court martial should result in pains and penalties to one man only of all the officers concerned in the lamentable occurrence, there would be a strong feeling of indignation in the country.


said, that when these gusts occurred between Members in high latitudes, Members below the Gangway naturally felt it was their duty to let them blow themselves out. He, however, felt some doubt as to the propriety of the attack which had been made by the noble Lord upon the right hon. Baronet, seeing that every possible obstacle had been put in the way of the discussion of the subject which the right hon. Gentleman wished to bring before the House. The Government must not be surprised if irregular opportunities were taken for bringing forward subjects when other advantages for doing so were regularly refused. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would adhere to his former assurance that the South African question should be discussed in the month of July.


desired to know whether it was intended to pass the Noxious Gases Bill?


asked whether the Government were prepared to drop that portion of the Public Works Loans Bill to which many hon. Members of the House objected, in order to make the Bill similar to that which was usually passed for supplying the necessary funds to the local authorities? If that were acceded to, he believed that the progress of the Bill would be very much accelerated.


said, he wished to say a few words as to the desirability of passing a measure which, in his humble opinion, was one of vast national importance—he meant the Bill authorizing the enrolment of Volunteer Corps in Ireland. It had passed a second reading after considerable discussion; it had been in Committee, and had been brought up on Report; and it now stood for third reading. But Notice of opposition had been given, and that Notice, under the Half-past 12 Rule, virtually took away all chance of passing the Bill into law this Session. He earnestly entreated the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. De la Poer Beresford), who had placed the Notice on the Paper in the exercise of his undoubted right, to withdraw the Notice. The hon. Member was present when the Bill was in Committee, and he never made the slightest sign of opposition, and he was present when the Report of the Committee was submitted, and the question was put whether there was any Amendment, and he was silent. Failing that appeal, he (Mr. O'Clery) must urge on the Chancellor of the Exchequer the expediency of his affording facilities for the Bill to be passed. He ventured to say that there was not a Member in the House, except the hon. Gentleman the Member for Armagh, who was opposed to the measure; and it would cause dissatisfaction in Ireland, if a measure of that kind, to which no one had made any objection, were killed by what he did not fear to call deliberate obstruction. The hon. Member had given no reason whatever for his action. He (Mr. O'Clery) had abstained from opposing the Vote for English Volunteers, because he considered there was a reasonable chance of his Bill being passed; but it must be remembered that at present Irish money was taken for English Volunteers, while Irishmen were denied the right of bearing arms in the national defence. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give him an opportunity of submitting the Bill to a third reading before half-past 12.


said, he had listened with the greatest possible pleasure to the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who had shown that he was quite aware that in every deep there was a deeper still. Hon. Members below the Gangway on that side were accused of extreme irregularity, and he was glad that the noble Lord had been able to find an instance of still greater irregularity on the Conservative side. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) begged the House to remark that the only person who had really risen to the height of that great occasion—the sacrifice of the innocents which occurred once every Session—was his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), who pointed out that there was only one remedy for the annual holocaust, and that was to remove from the House a considerable portion of the work which the House was incompetent to pass, not only from want of time, but on account of its ignorance. It was utterly impossible that hon. Members living in Great Britain could know what were the feelings and wishes of persons living in Ireland; and every year irritation was caused by the rejection of measures brought forward by the Representatives of Ireland. Well, who had attempted to remedy that state of things, and to enable the House of Commons to discharge its duties to the country? Only one class of Members—that class called Home Rule Members. When the noble Marquess spoke of its being desirable to adopt some method of removing a great mass of local legislation from the House when local legislation stopped the way, whom had they a right to expect to put out a helping hand? Undoubtedly, the responsible Leaders in the House. They—the Home Rulers—had made their proposition for self-government, and the House rejected it by an immense majority; but the evil still remained, and even those who were most opposed to that proposal now began to feel where the shoe pinched. Year by year it would become more and more impossible to avoid those disagreeable scenes which had occurred in the House this Session, and to prevent the country from feeling that the House of Commons had lost its hold over the people, because it was unable to perform its work. What were the Bills of' the Government? There were, among others, the Army Discipline Bill, the Criminal Code Bill, and a Bill on Banking. Would not these three Bills, if properly discussed, be enough for a single Session? If the whole time of the House had been given to them, it would have been a good year's work to pass them into law. But these measures were constantly obstructed by other Bills—Bills relating to other portions of the United Kingdom as well as to England. The noble Marquess had shown that he was alive to the subject, and he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) hoped the Government would become alive to it too. The Government had showered its blessings on Ireland by dangling before that country measures which were to be introduced; but had not brought any of them near enough to be grasped. Let the Government next year bring in a measure to remove from the House of Commons this mass of legislation, or if the occupants of the two Front Benches should change places, let the noble Marquess himself bring in a measure of the kind. But before the Session, closed, and Home Rule Members were sent home with the stigma which it was sought to lay upon them of obstructing the Business of the House, let the Government do them the justice to show that they were the only persons who had ever made a proposition to the House which would radically cure the congestion of Business. Hon. Gentlemen had immense reason to complain that, after they had brought their Bills up to the third reading, they should be unable at the last moment to carry them further; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer might very well accede to the appeal just made to him, and allow facilities for passing the Volunteer Corps Bill, the only measure relating to Ireland which had anything like conciliation in it. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) supposed the appeal would be of no use, and that next Session they would have a similar list of measures introduced which would have to be similarly sacrificed at the close, and that there would be the same wrangling and recrimination as before, because the Government would not take the proper steps to remedy the evil.


Sir, I am perfectly aware that every year, when it is necessary to make arrangements for abandoning certain Bills, it is only natural that observations should be made, and that hon. Gentlemen interested in particular measures should criticize the proceedings of the Government. We are by no means unwilling to be criticized, as our Predecessors have been; but I cannot help think- ing that on the present occasion the discussion has travelled somewhat beyond due bounds. The South African War is, no doubt, a subject of great importance and interest; but after the announcement I made that a Vote of Credit would be asked for, and considering, as I have to-night been reminded, that I have pledged myself to bring it forward in the month of July, I think it would have been more convenient had the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) abstained from the observations he has made. Fragmentary discussion on the subject is not convenient, and it is rather hard that we should hear observations made which are a prejudging of a case which is not now fully before us. I cannot admit, Sir, that the abandonment of Bills necessarily involves a waste of time. The discussions to which they give rise are sometimes very advantageous in paving the way for the passing of measures in a subsequent Session. For example, the Criminal Code Bill, which the Government were so reluctantly obliged to drop, could hardly fail to gain, when next introduced, by the criticisms which have been passed, upon it this Session. The noble Lord opposite has asked me what we propose to do with reference to the Motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke)? The hon. Baronet has put his Motion down for the Evening Sitting to-morrow week, and I have promised that I should give him that evening, or some corresponding evening, in the event of the House agreeing to the proposal which we now make. I think it would be convenient that the discussion should be taken upon the day originally fixed, and I am afraid it may not be in our power to dispense with a Morning Sitting on that day; but I should be glad to be allowed to think a little over the subject before making final arrangements. At all events, we shall not propose to take that particular evening for Government Business. Should the proposal which we have now made be agreed to, we shall not propose to meet to-morrow until 4 o'clock. A question has been put to me as to the Noxious Gases Bill; and it is our intention to proceed with that measure. In regard to the Public Works Loans Bill, I shall shortly state the course which it is the intention of the Government to take. With respect to the Amendment of my hon. Friend behind me, I am quite aware of the mortification which hon. Members must feel when, having brought their Bills to a certain stage, it is seen towards the end of a Session there is some doubt as to their reaching a conclusion. At the same time, it should be remembered that the fate which befalls these Bills is owing, in a large measure, to a Rule which the great majority of the House have decided upon—namely, the Half-past 12 Rule. The Rule is not one which the Government have pressed; but it has been passed, as I have said, by the great majority of the House, though opposed, I am bound to say, by the hon. Baronet the Member for Maid-stone (Sir John Lubbock). For my part, I am always desirous of doing all I can to facilitate the progress of Bills in the hands of independent Members, having due regard to the Government time; and, so far as it is in my power to do so, I have supported the Bill of the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. O'Clery). I should be very glad that that Bill, and the other Bills referred to, should make progress; but Her Majesty's Government are specially bound to consider the Bills which they have themselves introduced, and I fear I should lay myself open to the charge of having held out false hopes, if I promised to place at the disposal of private Members time which the Government require for the advancing of the Public Business. I cannot, therefore, accept, and I hope the House will not assent to, the Amendment which has been moved. A question has been asked by the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), as to a Bill which is before the other House of Parliament. I hope that that Bill will pass the other House and be submitted to the judgment of the House of Commons in a way and at a time which will be convenient to hon. Members. It is a Bill which ought not to be dealt with hastily or negligently, and I hope the House will have a full opportunity of considering it. With respect to the second question of the hon. and learned Member, as to the production of the instructions given to Sir Garnet Wolseley, I am not in a position to answer it at this moment, and, probably, the hon. and learned Member will give Notice of the Question for Thursday; but I trust the whole South African controversy will find its proper field when the Govern- ment come forward to ask for a Vote of Credit. I wish to express my acknowledgments to hon. Gentlemen for the manner in which the proposal has been received. It is always the desire of the Government so to arrange the Public Business as best to consult the convenience and save the time of the House; and in making this proposal I have only kept that object in view.


said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had very truly said that discussions upon second readings might materially advance and assist public opinion in arriving at a conclusion, even though Bills were abandoned for the Session; but in dealing with the Amendment of the hon. Member behind him let him consider how often a private Member's Bill should receive a second reading before becoming law. There should be some limitation drawn with regard to Bills repeatedly sanctioned, both in principle or second reading, and in detail by Committee; for it was an obstruction to Business to refuse such a Bill an opportunity of third reading. There was the University Bill, which had four times received the sanction of the House, and to postpone such a Bill indefinitely by relegating it to another Session was to waste all the time spent in bringing the measure up to the stage of Committee, and almost to the point of completion. It was sinking the ship when entering port. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might well have treated the Amendment more fairly, and his reference to the Half-past 12 Rule as a Standing Order deliberately affirmed and adopted, after mature consideration by the Committee on Public Business, was quite beside the question. The Amendment of the hon. Member did not, in any way, meddle with the Rule; but simply asked that Bills in the hands of private Members, having reached the stage of "Report," or of third reading, should be excepted from the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was a fair proposal. There had been of late a strong and growing tendency to encourage the idea, and to persuade the House, that there was no Public Business, except that brought forward by the Government of the day, every other Business being unworthy of consideration. Yet the business of private Members was often of the most important character, for it indicated the wants and the interests of constituencies throughout the country, and such as no Government could hope to deal with. These Bills were to the Government a sort of barometer to indicate the wants of the country. It was impossible to suppose that, with different nationalities and so many different interests represented in the House, Government could be accurately informed; and he really thought that a Bill, having passed through the ordeal of first and second reading and Committee, should have equal opportunities with Government Bills. In fact, the Committee on Public Business recommended such a course; and the Amendment now proposed simply sought to carry out that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not think fit to include in his Resolution at the beginning of the Session. It might be asked, how had the Government utilized the time accorded to them? The Government had surrendered to them by the House the right of moving Motions or going into Supply on Monday, and, in return, Government had undertaken to keep Supply down as the First Order on Mondays until all the Supplies were taken. But Government seemed to have forgotten that promise, and the House was in this position. To hasten the Army Bill, Irish Votes had been postponed to the later period of the Session. For a couple of Sessions Irish Members had been looking forward to the Irish Votes as the opportunity for bringing forward matters important to Ireland; but Irish Votes were postponed till the end of the Session, and then brought forward with a rush. The Government, having secured English and Scotch Votes, they dropped the practice of putting down Supply for Mondays, and pressed forward the Army Bill. He did not know whether he should be in Order in referring to some charges made against a section of the Irish Members in the public Press; but as he might not have another opportunity of referring to the matter with Mr. Speaker in the Chair, he should like, with the permission of the House, to say something which he thought would be appreciated by it. Against a number of them the most flagrant charges had really been made by the English newspapers within the last few days—charges which he thought would have constituted a breach of Privilege, but which he did not wish to treat as such, from his desire to save the time of the House, and also because he thought a reference might be made to the matter in the course of the discussion on the conduct of Business. Members of that House had been charged with a deliberate intention to bring Parliament and that House into contempt by endeavouring to obstruct Public Business. Nothing could be more false or unfounded than such a charge. It would, indeed, be an absurd way for an Irish Member to endeavour to obtain the restoration of the legislative rights of Ireland by endeavouring to bring into contempt the proceedings of that House. He denied that he ever had such an intention, and he branded as an unmitigated falsehood the statement that had been made that he intended to damage that House in any respect whatever. He had certainly endeavoured to damage the Government, and at all times to hit as hard as he could with the small means at his command; and if the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs (the Marquess of Hartington) had misunderstood his action, he wished to tell him that the only real and effectual opposition which had come from any part of the House, in regard to the measures of domestic legislation introduced by the Government, and which had been justified by results, had proceeded from a section of Irish Members, who had been branded as Obstructionists, and to whom, motives of the most extraordinary character had been imputed. If the noble Lord the Leader—he would not say of the Opposition, but of the casual assistants of Her Majesty's Government—had, with the great weight which his influence and position in the House gave him, devoted his attention, as they had done, to improving the legislative measures of the Government, a vast amount of public time, which had been wasted in the struggle of the Government with a small minority, would have been saved, and there would have been no need for them to have been so pertinacious as they had been in order to overcome the unreasonable opposition of the Government. The noble Lord had, unfortunately, chosen a different course. He had chosen to follow Lord Beaconsfield in his foreign policy. He did not wish to criticize that policy; but he was bound to say that the policy of Lord Beacons-field, which he commenced, not as part of his original programme, but after that Parliament had been a year or two old, had been a great deal more successful than had the domestic legislation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that House. The noble Earl had been successful in carrying out his policy against the opposition of the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs; but the Government had not been successful in that House in their policy of carrying imperfectly conceived measures without an Amendment. That was notoriously established in the Sessions of 1877–8, and again this Session. He thought it necessary to refer to charges which were as absurd as they were untrue. He, and those who agreed with him, did not wish to throw out the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. In fact, he should be very sorry if it were thrown out. All they asked was that reasonable time should be given for the consideration of the Amendments to that measure. There was yet ample time, without having recourse to such a measure as that which was adopted on the South African Bill, for which they were now paying the penalty. But even if there should not be time, it would not be difficult to renew the old Mutiny Act, reducing the number of lashes to 25. That would not be so dreadful an alternative to have recourse to. He thought the spectacle of one side of the House embarking in a physical contest—not a contest of brains—against the other would be one that would not result to the honour and dignity of the House. He, therefore, asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give Irish Members English fair play in connection with the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill—a course of conduct which would evoke Irish fair play from himself and his Friends.


said, that if the announcement of the Government, that they intended to get through the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill, was the reason for making this demand on the time of private Members, he, for one, would suggest that the best thing they could do was to renew the old Mutiny Bill until next year, and have the Army Bill brought in again next year after due consideration. If anyone would compare the simplicity and humanity of the provisions of the German Army Bill with those of the Go- vernment Bill, they would be ashamed of the time that had been expended on the latter.


expressed his willingness to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions upon Tuesdays, Government Orders having priority; and that Government Orders have priority upon Wednesdays.

Back to