HC Deb 28 February 1881 vol 258 cc1865-74

Sir, I am sorry to say that it has not been possible for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury to be in his place to-day to make the Statement which he promised on the Business of the House. I will therefore endeavour, as shortly as I can — but I am afraid somewhat imperfectly—to state what the intentions of the Government are. It is unnecessary for me to remind the House that, although we met about a month earlier than the usual time, we have now reached a period when, in ordinary circumstances, we should have been sitting about three weeks, and should have made very considerable progress with our ordinary Business. But the present state of the case is that not only the whole of the time usually allotted to independent Members has been absorbed, but practically no progress whatever has been made with the ordinary Business of Parliament. In these circumstances it is necessary, on the passing of the Bill for the Protection of Person and Property in Ireland, for the Government to review its position, and take into consideration its future course. I will very briefly state the considerations to which it seems to us to be necessary to call the attention of the House. The first of these is that the Peace Preservation Bill, which was one of the measures announced at the opening of the Session by the Government, is, in their opinion, necessary for the preservation of peace and order in Ireland, and which I might properly describe as supplementary to the Protection of Person and Property Bill, has not yet been introduced. The second point to which I wish to call the attention of the House is that, under the operation of the Resolution of the 26th of January, all other Business is to be suspended until that measure is passed. The third question is that of Supply. The fourth is the extreme desirableness, not to say necessity, of the early introduction of the Land Bill. The fifth is the claim of independent Members to be restored as soon as possible to the possession of their rights. There are only two of these points on which I need detain the House by a few words of explanation. It is unnecessary to say a word as to the extreme anxiety of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury to introduce at the earliest possible moment the measure relating to the Irish Land Question. My right hon. Friend never concealed his opinion that it is from this measure rather than from any temporary repressive measure that any permanent improvement of the condition of Ireland is to be looked for. But Her Majesty's Government are of opinion, and the House has supported them in that opinion, that it was necessary, in the circumstances, that the temporary measure of a repressive character should be introduced and disposed of before the introduction of the Land Bill; but, independent of that decision, my right hon. Friend was strongly of opinion that it would not conduce to the calm and deliberate consideration of the proposals of the Government that discussion should concurrently be going on as to measures of a repressive and a remedial character. It is, therefore, not from any hesitation on the part of the Government that delay has taken place and may still take place in the introduction of the Land Bill. It is solely on account of the great and, as we think, the excessive delay that has intervened in the discussion of the Protection of Person and Property Bill which has just been disposed of. We do not think that the Government is in any degree chargeable for that excessive delay. We do not think that the Government have spared any labour of their own, nor have they refrained from what was more painful to their feelings— namely, urging upon the House the desirableness of making great and unusual sacrifices to diminish that delay. The only other point to which I need refer is the position of Supply, and the House probably is hardly aware of the position in which we stand in that matter. First, as to the Army Estimates, the Vote for the men is necessary as the foundation of the Army Discipline Continuance Bill. That Bill contains clauses for the abolition of flogging in the Army, and will probably occasion some discussion, and it is absolutely necessary to pass it before the Easter Recess. Vote 1, for the pay of men, must be obtained at the latest by the 21st of March. It would be extremely desirable if it could be obtained a few days previous to that date. The position of the Navy Estimates is nearly the same. The first Vote for the pay of officers and men must be obtained on or before the same day—the 21st of March; and then, as regards the Supplementary Estimates, the time is still more pressing. The Supplementary Vote for the Army and Navy, mainly in connection with the war in the Transvaal, will probably raise considerable discussion. Other Supple- mentary Votes, for the Irish Constabulary and the Law Charges Vote, will also probably give rise to some discussion. These must be obtained before the 21st of March, in order to form the foundation of a Ways and Means Bill, which must be passed before the conclusion of the financial year. In these circumstances it will be necessary to have five or six Sittings in Committee of Supply before the date referred to—the 21st of March. Well, then, reviewing this position from that point of view, the Government have come to the conclusion that, anxious as they are to introduce at the earliest moment the Irish Land Bill, and to restore as soon as possible to independent Members the possession of their rights, time will, in the end, be saved, delays prevented, and probably much confusion avoided, if they ask the House for a further period to continue to devote itself exclusively to Business which has been either declared by the House to be, or, as I have shown, is practically of an urgent and pressing character. The two subjects to which I refer are the Peace Preservation Bill and the Business of Supply. The statement I have to make is that to-morrow my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, in the absence of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, move for leave to introduce the Peace Preservation Bill. We shall claim for that Bill the benefit of the Resolution passed on the 26th of January, subject to a reservation which I shall almost immediately state. We shall also, to-morrow, propose, at half-past 4, in accordance with the Resolution of the 26th of January, that this Bill is urgent. It is, in our opinion, simply a part or supplement of the Protection of Person and Property Bill. It is of a character much less severe, and is simply a continuation of certain clauses of an Act which was in force this time last year. Of course, such a measure is open to criticism—it is open to obstruction—if hon. Members are so disposed to treat it, but, at the same time, it is, in our opinion, a measure which does not offer a very large field for legitimate discussion, and, under the operation of urgency, it may be, as we desire it should be, fully and sufficiently debated without any great expenditure of time. As I said, we claim the benefit of the Resolution of the 26th of January subject to a reservation, and I will proceed to state what that reservation is. I have stated, in regard to Supply, that we shall propose to the House to interpose, if necessary, in the consideration of the Peace Preservation Bill, the Business of Supply from time to time when the exigencies of the Public Service require it, and a similar reservation may be necessary to be made in favour of the consideration of the stages of the Mutiny Bill, which, as I said, must pass before the end of the financial year. I cannot have any doubt that the House will practically assent to the proposal I have had to make. How it is to be technically secured will, of course, be subject to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Subject to your opinion, I submit that the Order of the House, as required by the Resolution of January 26, will be practically attained whenever the House thinks fit to order that the Peace Preservation Bill be postponed to a subsequent day instead of the next day, or that its consideration should be adjourned for the purpose of taking up the Business of Supply or the Mutiny Bill. That, of course, is a question which is mainly for your consideration. Sir, and to be decided at any time the point may arise. I do not think I have anything to add, except that the House is aware that Supply is the first Order on the Paper to-night, and, as stated on a previous occasion, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, looking to the great importance of the Statement he wishes to make, earnestly hopes he may be permitted to make that Statement to-night. My right hon. Friend will have to advert to many questions of great importance which have been more or less under discussion during the last three or four years, such as Army enlistment and various questions of Army organization. It would be desirable—in fact, it is almost essential—that at least a fortnight should intervene between the Statement he will have to make and his asking the House to give a money Vote. If he is not able to make that Statement to-night, Supply will have again to be put down on Thursday, and he will take the opportunity at that time of explaining to the House in greater detail the course he will be disposed to take.


asked whether the Government were prepared to name a day for the introduction of the Irish Land Bill?


said, the right hon, Gentleman the Prime Minister had undertaken that, when a statement was made in reference to the order of Public Business, an answer should be given to the question whether the Government proposed to claim Urgency for the Land Bill as well as the Coercion Bills.


asked whether the reason why the Land Bill was not to be introduced was that it was not ready?


asked whether it was intended to proceed with the Supplementary Estimates for the Army, the Navy, the Irish Constabulary, and the Law Charges before or after taking the first Vote on the Army Estimates for this year?


As I have on the Paper the first Notice of Motion on going into Committee of Supply, I shall have the greatest possible pleasure in yielding my place to the Government. With regard to the statement just made by the noble Lord, and with every wish to facilitate the proper progress of the Business of the Government, I hope that neither the noble Lord nor the House will think it discourteous if I say we should like to take until to-morrow to consider what would be the best advice we could give on the matter. I should like to ask the noble Lord, or you, Sir, one Question. If the question of Urgency is to be raised to-morrow, of course upon that question there can be no debate. I do not know whether it is the intention of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury to raise the question to-morrow as to taking Monday for Supply. If so, that would be an opportunity for the expression of opinion. Otherwise it is difficult to see what opportunity there would be for any debate at all on the somewhat complicated arrangements proposed by the noble Lord.


asked whether the Government proposed to take all the days of private Members?


wished to know whether, if Urgency were voted for the Peace Preservation Bill and Supply, and the various stages of the Mutiny Bill were interposed, the latter would come under the Urgency Rules; and if that was so, he should like to ask, further, whether the Rules Mr. Speaker had laid down as applicable to Committee were applicable to Committee of Supply, and whether Mr. Speaker would consider it his duty to make any fresh Rules for regulating the conduct of Committee of Supply while Urgency remained?


If a Motion of Urgency was made to-morrow, would it not be competent to discuss the question? ["No !"] He was under the impression that it was only when Urgency was being carried out that Motions could be made without discussion?


asked whether, in the present state of Business, it was necessary to sacrifice two hours on Ash Wednesday?


said that the second of the 15 Notices on the Paper on going into Supply stood in his name, and he should he happy to give way.


said, that he had on the Paper a Notice to which he attached great importance; but, after the appeal made to him, he should be happy to postpone it, trusting that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would facilitate its being brought on at a future time.


I will endeavour, as well as I can, to answer the numerous Questions put to me. I think I have stated with sufficient clearness that it is impossible for us to name a day for the introduction of the Land Bill until after the Business to which I have referred—and some hon. Members seem to forget that the House has already decided that it shall be proceeded with—has made further progress. The question whether it is intended to propose Urgency for the Irish Land Bill had better be deferred until my right hon. Friend has named a day for the introduction of the measure. It is not our intention, in the present state of Business, to propose the Resolution with regard to Supply on Monday. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition pointed out the other day that, on a former occasion, there was a discussion which occupied two or three nights on that Resolution, and we do not think it desirable at present to run any risk of so great a loss of time. As to the Supplementary Estimates. I have already staled that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War does not wish to take the Vote for men on the Array Estimates of this year until a fortnight after his Statement has been made, if such delay be possible; but it may be necessary to Vote the Supplementary Estimates sooner than that. As to taking the days of private Members, I have again to point out that, under a Resolution of the House, that is already the state of the case. The House has agreed that until the Peace Preservation Bill is disposed of it shall be taken from day to day. As to Ash Wednesday, I desire to consult the feelings of the House; but my own impression is, that if the House agree to the Motion I propose to make to-morrow as to Urgency, that Motion would constitute a very strong reason why we should depart from the usual practice, and why we should not sacrifice any portion of the day.


said, he wished to ask if the proposal of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury, which stood on the Paper for to-morrow, was withdrawn, what opportunity would be given to the House to discuss the very extraordinary proposals of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, who was to come down to-morrow and move Urgency—a Motion on which no discussion could take place? He would ask whether Supply would be taken under Urgency?


With reference to the Question addressed to me by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), I have to say that the Rules relating to Urgency would not relate to Committee of Supply, unless the House were to vote Supply to be urgent.


reminded the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India that he had not replied to his Question, Whether the Land Bill was withheld because it was not ready?


said, a good many Irish Members had left town under the impression that there would be a short suspension of hostilities; and he wished, therefore, to ask whether a little more time could not be allowed before the introduction of the Arms Bill, to enable them to obtain the presence of their Colleagues, so as to secure reasonable discussion?


The noble Earl (Earl Percy) asked me whether there will be any, and, if so, what opportunity for discussing the question as to Urgency. I submit it is not for me to interpret or explain a Re- solution which the House came to unanimously a short time ago. The time for the noble Lord to have raised the question was when the House came to that unanimous conclusion. In reply to the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), I may say that he has not given the correct reason for the delay in the introduction of the Land Bill.


said, the noble Lord had misunderstood his Question. It was not whether the question of Urgency itself could be discussed. It was, whether the proposals which the noble Lord had laid before the House, and which contained a good many other points besides Urgency, could be discussed.


The proposals I have indicated would, I imagine, be most conveniently discussed when the opportunity arises. When it is proposed to adjourn the discussion of the Peace Preservation Bill to a future day, for the purpose of taking up the Business of Supply for the Mutiny Bill, that, I suppose, would be the time to raise a discussion.


I understood, from the statement of the noble Lord, that the only matter for which Urgency is to be asked to-morrow is the Peace Preservation Bill, and not Supply.


Yes, Sir; that is so.


said, he understood that Urgency was to be voted for the Peace Preservation Bill; but that it was not intended to proceed with that Bill from day to day, to the end of passing it through the House; but that other Business, which was not urgent at all, might be interposed between the various stages of the Business which has been declared to be urgent. He wanted to know from Mr. Speaker, whether, having before the House a particular measure which had been declared to be urgent, it was possible to take one stage to-day, another next month, and a third in July; and that it might still be declared urgent in July, non-urgent Business being taken in the interval? He wished to know, whether, according to the Speaker's ruling, it was consistent with the theory of Urgency that non-urgent Business should be taken in sandwich alternations between the stages of a Bill which was urgent, or, whether Urgency was merely declared for the purpose of gagging a discussion upon particular measures?


When the House thinks proper to order the postponement of a measure in regard to which Urgency has been declared it will be at liberty to do so.


asked whether, seeing the details which, from day to day, were laid before the public as to the war in the Transvaal, the Government did not think it right that the House of Commons should be informed what the object was which they had in view in prosecuting that war?

[No answer was given to this Question.]